Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Paris in the Days of Post-Impressionism @ MMFA

The Port of Marseille, Albert Marquet, 1916, oil on canvas

More than 500 paintings, drawings, prints and posters have been assembled for this summer's blockbuster show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Amazingly, the works belong to a single private collector, who remains anonymous.

The Flowering Tree, Achille Laugé, 1893, oil on canvas

I was thrilled to visit the show on its opening day, but I plan to return soon, taking the opportunity to listen to the detailed audioguide, available free on the museum's app.

View of London, Maximilien Luce, 1893, oil on canvas

Many of the artists represented will be familiar to the casual visitor (Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Lautrec, Morisot) but other names will be new to many of us. The informative text posted alongside the works outlines some of the artistic and social issues faced by the artists of the time.

Saint-Tropez, Fontaine des Lices, Paul Signac, 1895, oil on canvas

The exhibition continues until November 15, 2020. To manage the number of people in the gallery, visitors are required to book timed tickets, either on-line or by phone.

Cruiser Decked with Flags in Antwerp, Othon Friesz, 1906, oil on canvas

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Preview of upcoming auction at Heffel

Once again, Heffel will hold a live auction of fine art at its Toronto location. The Post-War and Contemporary Art will be auctioned on July 15, 2020, at 5 pm, and the Canadian, Impressionist and Modern Art will be auctioned later that day, at 7 pm.

Most of the items to be auctioned were on display at the Montreal branch of Heffel for the past three days, and I was lucky enough to catch the event. The preview has not been well-publicized, as the venue is not suitable for large crowds during this pandemic.

The Heffel Gallery in Montreal is located in a fine old mansion on Sherbrooke Street. Below are some interior shots of the preview. Sadly, they fail to capture the dazzling quality of the works on view, or the grandeur of the setting. Artists include Christopher Pratt, Alex Colville, Jean Paul Lemieux, Joan Mitchell, Emily Carr and Jean Paul Riopelle. Also represented are most members of the Group of Seven.


The Heffel website includes photos of all the works to be auctioned. By clicking on any image, you can access a close-up, as well as biographical information about the artist, the provenance of the painting, and the price it is expected to sell for at the auction. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Sketchbook Explorations, Part 3

I continue to follow the activities in the downloaded course I have purchased from Jane Davies, which I first posted about here. Lesson 2 of the program has us working with circles.

The first activity is to make circles in as many ways as possible. We are not to consider "composition", just go for variety: using as many techniques as possible to make circles and ovals. I chose to limit myself to black and white.

Here are some of the techniques I used:
  • stamping with rubber stamps
  • stamping with bottom of paint bottle
  • collage with painted deli paper
  • fat marker, donuts
  • thin and medium markers, pebbles
  • graphite crayon, scribbled and smudged
  • watercolour crayon, wetted
  • stencilling pattern 
  • smudged charcoal
  • circles with interrupted line
  • smudging into circle using a stencil
  • smudging outside mask
  • circle cut from rectilinear paper, collaged
  • circles scribbled with marker
Here are some of the aspects I observed:
  • solid circles vs. donuts vs. outlined circles
  • circles extending beyond edge of paper
  • circles-in-circles
  • circles touching circles
  • overlapping circles
  • circles in a grid
  • circles in a line
  • variety of size

Following up in this next part of Lesson 2, we are asked to fill a page with circles, then go back in with a second medium to augment the first layer.

The solid circles, in a grid layout, were made with
paint markers, then decorated with silver paint.

These circles touch each other. They were made
with a white china marker, and then a dilute wash
of acrylic paint was applied. Collaged deli paper
fills in some of the larger shapes.

More circles that touch each other.They were made
with water-soluble crayon, wetted, and then
 scribbled circles were added with a white paint marker.

Overlapping circles were made with acrylic paint.
Then a black marker filled in lines in the background,
including the circular holes.

The last part of the lesson was to use circles to suggest something spare and airy...

then something claustrophobic...

then something that combined open and airy with claustrophobic....

Finally, the assignment asked us to use circles to create a sense of direction...

then a sense of rhythm...

then a sense of "narrative".

For sure, we are being put through our paces. I'm happy to be following this course with two friends, so we can share ideas and observations.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Rosie Lee Tompkins, improvisational quilter

In a recent piece in the New York Times, June 25, 2020, art critic Roberta Smith celebrates the improvisational quilts of Rosie Lee Tompkins, whose work is very much a part of the African-American quilting tradition. The article, "The Radical Quilting of Rosie Lee Tompkins" is subtitled "A triumphal retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum confirms her standing as one of the great American artists – transcending craft, challenging painting and reshaping the canon."

The article tells the story of a devoutly Christian California quilt maker, and the devoted collector, Eli Leon, whose obsession with her work resulted in a significant donation to the University of Berkeley.

The exhibition that sparked the article is currently mounted at the Berkeley Art Museum, continuing until December 20, 2020. While the museum is closed due to the pandemic, the show itself is available as a 70-minute virtual tour on the museum's website, as well as a slideshow.

The New York Times article ends:
"There are many museum exhibitions on lockdown in the United States right now. They closed in one world and will reopen in a very different one, and the relevance of “Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective” has only expanded in the hiatus. The sheer joy of her best quilts cannot be overstated. They come at us with the force and sophistication of so-called high art, but are more democratic, without any intimidation factor.
"Her work is simply further evidence of the towering African-American achievements that permeate the culture of this country. A deeper understanding and knowledge of these, especially where art is concerned, must be part of the necessary rectification and healing that America faces.
"Tompkins seems to have been an artist of singular greatness, but who knows what further revelations — including the upcoming survey of the Eli Leon Bequest — are in store. The field of improvisational quilting by African-American women is not small, but beyond the great quilters of Gee’s Bend, Ala., and a few others, their work is not widely known. Rosie Lee Tompkins’s version of what Eli Leon called “flexible patterning” may have been more extreme than anyone else’s. Or perhaps not. It would be gratifying to learn that she did not act alone."

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Sketchbook Explorations, Part 2

Creamer #1

Continuing on with Lesson 1 (see previous post), my next assignment was to do blind contour drawing. You are to look only at the subject of your drawing, and never at the paper before you. You allow your eyes to slowly follow the lines of your subject, at the same time guiding your pencil or pen without looking at the paper. 

Creamer #2

I was disappointed with my first efforts, as I used to be able to do this quite well.

Salt Shaker

But the point of the exercise is to put your observational skills and focused attention to work, to slow down your brain. It's really a form of meditation.

Flip Flops

I was pleased with my last effort, the Flip Flops. There is something charming about the imprecision.

The final assignment in Lesson 1 was "contour drawing". In this case, we are allowed to look at the paper while drawing. I've done very little drawing over the last few years, relying more on my camera, so this was challenging, but satisfying too.

Three examples are below:

Two Jugs

Flip Flops

Now looking forward to Lesson 2.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Sketchbook Explorations, Part 1

I've recently signed up for a course designed by Jane Davies, with whom I've taken a number of workshops in the past. This is a downloadable course: it has no feedback from the instructor and no interaction with other students. It features a structured set of exercises, accompanied by a few video demonstrations.

Jane Davies offers a number of these classes, which can be found on her website, along with many video tutorials. I chose something very basic and fundamental: Sketchbook Practice. I hope that having the structure of a class like this will help me re-engage with my studio practice, as I have been so distracted these last months.

I am lucky to have two friends who have decided to join me in this venture, and I look forward to sharing the experience with them.

I begin the first lesson by gathering up all the mark-making materials I can find in my studio. I limit myself to the colour black. The idea is to make lines, just exploring the different qualities of each medium. Can you make a thick line, a thin line? What if you reduce the pressure? Can you smudge the line? Add water to the line? Use your non-dominant hand?

The next assignment in Lesson 1 is to use line to express an emotion. Here are my efforts:




(I like this design, though I'm not so sure
it expresses Envy.)

Continuing with Lesson 1, we are asked to do some "blind scribble" using various marking tools, and then, with eyes open, to apply some watercolour to the scribble.

If you look closely, you can see the white scribble,
created with a china marker, which resists the water colour paint.

I've never been one to use a sketchbook, but I can see the value in this kind of exercise, even if it's just to loosen up.  The final part of Lesson 1 will include blind contour and contour drawing. Looking forward to further explorations!