Sunday, June 28, 2015

Art treasures on the French Riviera

Let's try to think of some good reasons to visit the French Riviera.

Food? Landscape? Sunshine? Beaches? Hmmmm. How about these six little gems:

Musée de l'Annonciade

Musée de L'Annonciade, St-Tropez, is housed in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Annunciation, built in 1510. Its collection of paintings focuses on the period of 1890 - 1950, specifically the Nabis, Pointillist and Fauve movements. Most of the Big Names are represented here: Signac, Seurat, Vuillard, Bonnard, Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck, among many others.

Musée Picasso, Antibes

Musée Picasso, Antibes, is the first museum in the world dedicated to Picasso. Housed in a chateau formerly known as the Grimaldi Museum where Picasso lived in 1946, this smaller venue has 245 works by the artist.

Musée Matisse

Musee Matisse, in Nice, gathers one of the world's largest collections of work by Matisse, who lived and worked in Nice from 1917 to 1954.

Fondation Maeght, building and grounds

Fondation Maeght, St-Paul-de-Vence, is one of Europe's greatest modern art museums. Paintings by Bonnard, Braque, Chagall and Kandinsky are found here, and the terrace gardens display Alexander Calder's mobiles, Hepworth's sculptures and fountains and mosaics by Miró. Giacometti figures fill the courtyard.

Musée National de Marc Chagall

Musée National de Marc Chagall, Nice, is dedicated to the religious and spiritual works of the Russian-born artist, and includes drawings, paintings, mosaics, stained glass and sculpture. TripAdvisor rates this museum as the #5 best attraction on a list of 189 "Things to See in Nice".

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice. Sculpture and paintings from the 17th to the 20th century, including work by Bonnard, Fragonard, Monet, Sisley, Vuillard and van Dongen. An exhibition titled "Raoul Dufy: La Promenade comme Motif" runs from June 12 - October 4, 2015.

Full disclosure: I am thrilled to have a trip planned to Nice this September, with a direct flight booked and an apartment in the centre of town reserved. I understand that local buses and trains are cheap and frequent, taking travellers to all the small towns nearby, even to Monaco.

Pinch me! If you've been to Nice, and have any good travel tips, please share them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Boston and Cape Cod: inspiration for cityscapes

While on holiday in Boston and Cape Cod, I was able to find a few scenes that might serve as subjects for a future Cityscape.

The first shows the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, taken from an adjacent parking lot.

Others were taken in various small towns we passed through: Sandwich, Falmouth, Dennis, Yarmouth, Barnstable, Chatham, and Nantucket. We saw a number of great art shows on the Cape, but none of them allowed photographs. 

At this point none of these images strikes me as a really good subject, but sometimes with the right cropping and fiddling, I can get something useful.

The architecture on the Cape is similar to what I've seen in coastal Maine.

Some of these scenes were first observed from the seat of a bicycle. The height I got while biking gave me a good angle on the scene. But because I couldn't use the camera while on the bike, I lost that advantage when taking the actual photo.

These later ones were taken in Provincetown, which is a ridiculously unmanageable place. Commercial Street, no wider than two lanes, forms the spine of the village and extends for a good two miles, with the centre third of that devoted mostly to "commerce".

On that two-lane street is one-way car traffic, two-way bicycle traffic, one lane of parked cars, and maybe one and a half sidewalks. Remember that this is a busy commercial artery, with perhaps 250 shops, bars, galleries and restaurants, delivery trucks stopped for unloading, pedi-cabs and throngs of pedestrians. Parking is hard to find, so bicycles are the preferred mode of transit for the locals. There is no option to widen the street because most of the houses and shops are built very close to the road.

To add to the merriment, an international film festival was being staged during our visit. I can only imagine what it must be like in-season.

With the roses in bloom, both Cape Cod and the Maine shore make for wonderful early summer holidays.  Maybe next time I will spend less time touring around and more time on watercolour sketching.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Three favourite pieces from the Boston Museum of Art

The Boston Museum of Art is well worth a visit, with a fine collection ranging from antiquities to contemporary art. Though I spent much of my time with the Sargents, Monets, Van Goghs, and Cezannes, I thought I would post a few of my favourites from lesser-known artists.

Louise Nevelson, Mirror-Shadow VII, 1985
painted wood
One of my favourite sculptors is Russian-born American Louise Nevelson (1899-1988). The piece above, about two meters in width, was accompanied by this text:
"Complicated and yet stark, precarious but somehow balanced – Nevelson's works, like those of the Cubist painters who inspired her, push recognizable forms toward abstraction. She collected scrap wood, pieces of furniture, even wheels and then stacked, assembled and bolted them into carefully framed compositions. Often, she painted them entirely in black.... For Nevelson, black had a mystical sense of wholeness: it 'is the total color. It means totality. It means: contains all'."
Theaster Gates, Sweet Land of Liberty, 2013
decommissioned fire hoses
For the fibre aficionado,  above is a provocative commentary by Theaster Gates, American, born in 1973.
"For Gates, these salvaged fire hoses are a symbolic reminder of the struggle for civil rights, encapsulated by the now iconic images of Alabama's police using high-pressure water hoses and dogs to disperse peaceful civil rights demonstrators in May 1963. The title, taken from the lyrics of the patriotic song My Country, 'Tis of Thee...,  is a stark irony in this context, and a reminder that racial equality continues to remain elusive for many." 
El Anatsui, Black River, 2009
aluminum bottle labels, bottle caps, copper wire

Finally, a work that is essentially sculptural, but with references to textile, from one of my favourite contemporary artists, Ghanaian El-Anatsui, born in 1944.

El Anatsui, Black River, 2009 (detail)
aluminum bottle labels, bottle caps, copper wire
"El Anatsui worked with a team of assistants to assemble discarded liquor-bottle caps and wrappers into a metallic tapestry. When pinned to the wall, its rolling hills and valleys recall a topographical map. At center, a black river – is it oil? people? water? alcohol? – seems to seep across a border. Liquor wrappers with names like "Dark Sailor" and "Black Gold" hint at Africa's long history of slavery and colonialism, as well as today's conflicts over natural resources, especially oil. The patterns made by some of the wrappers at lower right resemble traditional Ghanian kente weavings...."
El Anatsui, Black River, 2009 (detail)
aluminum bottle labels, bottle caps, copper wire
an example of kente cloth

These three pieces were all made within the last thirty years.  Who says contemporary art is inaccessible? Sometimes, I admit, I do.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Artists & Makers magazine

Interweave Press offers a new magazine addressed to artists and crafters. The focus is not on technique, but on developing your business. Three issues have been published to date: Winter, Spring and Summer 2015. These may be ordered on-line as downloads, each priced at $9.99 US.

Each issue includes profiles of a number of artists and artisans in a wide range of mediums: paper-making, jewelry, ceramics, textile design, and mixed media, to name only a few.

Topics include clever designs for booths at art/craft fairs, optimizing your use of social media, licensing your art, using vanity press and vanity galleries, customer service, craft schools and much more.

And yes, there are a lot of ads, but they can be a useful introduction to new products, books, and conferences.

Though I found many of the articles to be simplistic, too basic to be of much value, I suggest that if Artists & Makers magazine interests you, you might download the most recent issue and decide for yourself.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Through Our Hands, Issue #5

In the past, I have posted links to the British magazine Through Our Hands, which showcases contemporary stitched textiles, print, painting and mixed media.

While the first four issues were available free on-line, the magazine has developed to the point that the latest issue is being sold for a very reasonable £3, or roughly $6 Canadian.

The cover of the current issue shows one of the sensitive renderings in embroidery by Jenni Dutton, who lovingly documented her mother's decline in a series of stitched portraits, in the account "Jenni Dutton: The Dementia Darnings".

I enjoyed the profiles of artists Sue Stone, Margaret Ramsay, Mary Beth Schwartzenberger and Sandra Meech. The issue is loaded with high-quality colour images and includes informative ads.

You can access a free sampling of the magazine's contents here or purchase the 68-page download here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Greenwood Project, Take 3

After two false starts on the foreground, I am pleased to present this tribute to Greenwood, our local historical museum. One of the difficulties with a commission is that you must meet the expectations of the client. I felt I had to do justice to the image of Greenwood, rather than using it as a jumping off point for my own whimsy.
Greenwood: Layers in Time,
mounted on painted gallery canvas
I stitched a dark grey line to delineate the shapes of the building and the trees, and then removed the stabilizer film with a hot iron. With the stitching line and the added trees, the upper half of the composition holds its own with the lower half. It is quite a trick to have a foreground fill more than half the canvas and yet be subordinate to the subject in the upper half.
Suggestion of flagstone path, script, scilla and circles
I was able to suggest the scilla by adding some stitching in blue and blue-violet rayon thread. I added a little texture to some of the layers by stitching small circles, and also referenced the rocks of the wall bordering the house with stitching. Some of the printed cotton features vintage text, suggesting the history of the house, dating back to 1732. The treatment of the foreground reminds me of my Walk in the Woods series from eight years ago.

Suggestion of rock wall
The quilt was finished with a backing and a facing in plain muslin. I tacked beige felt to the back of the quilt, and then glued the felt to a painted canvas and treated the quilt with a UV protectant. This is the first time I have painted the edges of the gallery canvas in colours that continue those of the quilt.

original inspiration photo
Fourteen canvases, each celebrating a part of Hudson's history, and each measuring a vertical 40 x 30, will be on display at the local community centre for the month of August. Even though this project took an inordinate number of hours, I am happy to have been included in the initiative, and look forward to seeing how the other artists handled their assigned themes. I will post photos of the exhibit once it is hung.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Greenwood Project, Take 2

When my text'art group saw the foreground I had created for my Greenwood project, they expressed concern about the direction it was taking. This resulted in a major re-think for me. I decided to proceed with the building itself, the upper half of the composition.

Greenwood gets the Cityscapes treatment
My technique includes tracing the working drawing onto HeatAway stabilizer, a transparent film, which then serves as a placement guide for the shapes I cut from cloth and fusible web.

The first shape goes onto the sky fabric.
In the photo above, you can see the first shape placed on the sky fabric, with the line drawing acting as a placement guide. When all the shapes are in position, the filmy stabilizer is set aside and a hot iron bonds the shapes to the sky background. Then the stabilizer is repositioned over the collage to serve as a stitching guide.

Building with foreground
Once the building was assembled, I was able to assess whether the foreground worked with the subject. As you can see, the foreground is overpowering the house. In retrospect, I should have completed the assembly of the house before beginning the foreground.

One suggestion (of many) made by my friends was to veil the foreground with coloured tulle to soften its impact. The tulle "knocked back" the foreground, but not enough. So...

A double layer of soft yellow tulle, pinned onto the right side
... back to the dye pots. I used olive, olive mixed with grey, and olive mixed with orange, to get lighter, more muted hues for the "garden" area.

Remember that cotton looks darker when it's wet.
I used the greyed-down colours to strip-piece layers. But the effect was still too strong.

Second foreground with more muted colours.
I decided to reduce the curving effect of the layers and eliminate the blue. Finally, on this third attempt, I felt the foreground was subordinate to the subject of the Greenwood house.

brown and blue eliminated, curves minimized
I was able to suggest the flagstone path, but otherwise tried to keep the transitions from one layer to the next very smooth.

Though at this point I was running low on printed fabric of a suitable colour, I had some cream-coloured cotton with text printed on it. I threw some of that into the dye vat to harmonize with the other layers. As well,  I stamped sepia paint onto green-dyed cotton to suggest script for another layer. My intention is that these fabrics will reference the layers of history in Greenwood's past.

I felt better after talking to some of the other artists participating in this project. Some of them have also been struggling, and admitted to two or three drafts before settling on a final approach.

Next instalment: adding a tree or two, stitching a line drawing on the house, quilting the foreground, and more. Watch this space!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Greenwood Project, Take 1

Greenwood, as seen from
Main Road

I don't often take my inspiration from local architecture, but I am making an exception for a very special reason.

This year, my town of Hudson (pop. 5500 or so) celebrates its 150th anniversary. Local artist Daniel Gauthier has mobilized 14 artists to produce a series of canvases on the theme of Hudson. Each of us has been assigned an aspect of Hudson's history as the subject of a contemporary 40" x 30" painting. All will be displayed together this summer.

Greenwood, seen
from the water's edge.

I was pleased to learn that my commission is Greenwood, a heritage home that serves as a regional historical museum and as the home base of Storyfest, our local literary festival. My fascination with buildings led Daniel to choose this topic for me.

Greenwood is known for its beautiful lakefront garden, so I waited until the enchanting blue scilla carpeted the lawn before visiting the site. I prefer to portray architecture without a lot of foliage obscuring the lines of the house.

One of the challenges of the project is that all canvases must be vertically oriented. It wasn't difficult to settle on this photo, at right, one of thirty I took for source material.

Nickel (for the roof) and Hollandaise (for the walls)

I knew I wanted to stay true to the actual colours of the house, so my first task was to dye a pale, soft yellow for the building, and a grey-green for the roof.  My dye supplier suggested Hollandaise and Nickel, and that proved to be a good match.

I had a mottled blue and white fabric on hand for the sky.
strips of printed cottons
cut and ready for piecing

After much thought, I decided to use strips of printed, commercial fabric, together with hand-dyes, for the layers of grass, stone, scilla and scrub in the foreground. The technique of strip-piecing is one I used some years ago. I included some cotton printed with antique text to suggest the layers of history that Greenwood is built upon.

getting a feel for how
the colours work together

It was useful to have a mock-up of the colour palette on my design wall as the strip piecing progressed.

At right, you can see how the pieced foreground looks positioned against the sky background. The lines of the building are faintly visible, drawn onto a film of heat-soluble stabilizer that acts as a placement guide for the walls, windows and doors to be fused into place.

The project is challenging because of its size, the vertical format, and because I am combining a representational technique for the structure with an expressive approach to the foreground.

How will it evolve? Unexpectedly. Check out the next post for an update!