Sunday, June 30, 2013

Water Tower #2

Water Tower #2  is inspired by a photo (shown below) taken from the upper level of a tour bus, somewhere in Greenwich Village.

It measures 24" x 18", and is a collage of hand-dyed cotton, superimposed with a stitching line of heavy black cotton thread.

The fabric used for the sky was created using a low-immersion dye process. With less water in proportion to the dye solution and the cloth, the result is more mottled and splotchy.

I read somewhere recently (and I wish I could remember where) that artists have three choices when depicting landscapes.

They can use a realistic colour palette.

They can use an exaggerated colour palette.

They can use an invented colour palette.

This third option allows me to use the shapes of the urban landscape as a vehicle for playing with colour.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Water Tower #1

Here is a new piece, inspired by a photo I took last month in the Hell's Kitchen neighbourhood of Manhattan.

The distinctive rooftop water towers of NYC were at one point required for all buildings taller than six stories. In order to supply water to the upper floors, the water pressure would have had to be so high that it would have caused the pipes on the lower floors to burst. The towers are so iconic that in 2006 the neighbourhood of Tribeca passed an ordinance requiring water towers, functional or decorative,  on all buildings.

The piece measures 24" x 18", and is made of hand-dyed cotton, collaged and superimposed with a stitching line of heavy black cotton.

A second piece, Water Tower #2, is in progress.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hudson and Region Studio Tour

I am delighted to participate again this year in the Hudson & Region Studio Tour, September 28 - 29.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the tour, a blog is now up and running. The idea is that each of the fourteen artists will post about their current work, their inspiration, their events, their materials, photos of their studios, etc.

During its first week, four of the artists have submitted tantalizing previews of their work. Please consider "following" the blog to keep informed about this special event.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Water towers

Peering over my open passport, the immigration agent carefully looked me over. "Why are you going to New York?" she asked.

"I'm going to visit some art shows," I answered.

"You're just going to look at art?"

"Well, I plan to take some photos of the city for my own art."

"You can't take photos of Montreal?"

"They don't have water towers in Montreal."

That's what I blurted out when I was unexpectedly put on the spot about my "aesthetic vision". And the agent let me enter the U.S. anyways.

Thinking back to that conversation, and sorting through the photos I did take, I realized that the water towers in my photos make for very good focal points: isolated cylinders perched like lonely, watchful crows overlooking a jumble of cubes and rectangular prisms.

I've started a new piece, based on one of my water tower photos. Who knows? Perhaps I'll make all four.

Of course I have made pieces based on Montreal photos too. What I need to do more often is get myself downtown with the single-minded purpose of finding interesting subjects for my work.

Here's what art quilter Leni Wiener had to say when she was asked about using photos to inspire her work:

"I always start with a photo because all the information I need is right there for me; I don’t have to figure out the perspective, the proportions or where the light and shadow would be.  Taking the photo into Adobe Photoshop and applying a cutout filter reduces the image into manageable masses of color.  I print the resulting “pattern” in the full size of the finished piece.  Fabrics are assigned, paying close attention to value.  Then I use freezer paper to cut out each piece and lay it in place like a puzzle."

You can find the rest of the interview with Leni on Deborah Boschert's blog. I'm a big fan of Leni's. I met her at the SAQA conference in Santa Fe this April, where she gave me a coaching session. Leni, a New Yorker, is unapologetic about using her camera, rather than a sketchbook, to make her art.

And if you can direct me to some water towers in Montreal, please let me know!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chihuly exhibition at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

This Wednesday my text'art group (regrettably without Pam) visited the new exhibit of Chihuly glass at Montreal's Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Some of the pieces were created especially for this show, like the one below, which features driftwood salvaged from the Pacific Northwest, close to Chihuly's home. It was positioned dramatically at the top of the museum's magnificent beaux-arts style stairway.
An octopus' garden effect was created by using hundreds of beautiful glass pieces of varying size, arranged on a transparent ceiling under which the viewer walked. As we looked up into the light, we could appreciate the transparencies created by glass on glass, and small "putti" hiding amongst the fantastic creations.
Many of the most striking pieces were hung like pendulous chandeliers. They were lit with carefully placed spotlights, rather than being lit from within.
Admittedly some of us enjoyed the show more than others, but we all agreed we would have liked to have seen more. The Museum's website includes a fine preview of the exhibit and a time-lapse video of the The Sun's assembly on the museum's steps.

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Against the Grain: exhibition of wood at the Museum of Arts & Design

I've enjoyed revisiting the art shows I saw while in New York. Posting to this blog helps me to consolidate my thoughts on what I have seen. I hope you've enjoyed sharing these reflections with me.

Here is the last of the shows I will post about, "Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft and Design", which runs at the Museum of Arts & Design through September 15, 2013.
Scrapwood Wallpaper,
Oak Chairs in Scrapwood

Piet Hein Eek, Netherlands 

For those of us who are fans of patchwork, here's a photo of two chairs camouflaged against some wallpaper. The artist says (of a cupboard made of the same material) that it was "my reaction against the prevalent craving for flawlessness. I wanted to show that products that weren't perfect still can appeal to our sense of aesthetic and functionality." Note that the wallpaper is not made of wood, but of paper, printed with a digital image of scrap wood.

A Custom Sabotage by Metered Events
(inspired by Dwayne Johnson's Mouth), 
Phoebe Washburn, United States

Says the curator's note for the work at right, "The potential for wood textures assembled and assemblaged from different sources to suggest space and narrative is seen in the work of sculptor Phoebe Washburn.... The surfaces of her wood structures focus us on the ingenuity of her combination of found and used elements...."

Wooden Textile Walnut, Elisa Strozyk, Germany

At left is a third piece with references to patchwork. Laser-cut wood pieces are bonded to viscose fabric (which is actually made of cellulose). "Strozyk reclaims wood veneers left over from workshop projects and shapes them into small pieces before attaching them to the backing by hand. ...[Her invention] is seen as a response to an increasingly immaterial world."

Grapes, Ai Weiwei, China

One of Ai Weiwei's "recurring themes is the questioning of our attitudes towards history and tradition. In this work he clusters stools that he describes as dating from the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911) in such a way that their seats are bunched together - like grapes," compromising their functionality. The artist "debunks the preciousness with which we regard 'antiques' and raises questions about the veracity of such antiquity as promoted in the market."

King, Shao Fan, China

At left is a piece made by Weiwei's compatriot, Shao Fan.

"This particular work combines a chair from the Ming Dynasty with a contemporary one. Through this juxtaposition Shao commented on the cultural changes and contrasts that he experienced in China today. It also is a 'tongue-in-cheek' commentary on the presentation of modern reproductions passed off as antiques that is a common practice of antique dealers."

Nest chair, Nina Bruun, Denmark

Here are photos of two novel pieces of furniture, that show some of the innovative things that can be done with wood. First, Nina Bruun's chair, made of ash and inspired by a bird's nest.

SOFA_XXXX, Yuya Ushida, Japan

Finally, this ingenious accordion sofa is constructed of bamboo chopsticks and steel fasteners, and may be expanded and contracted.

SOFA_XXXX, Yuya Ushida, Japan (detail)

Says the artist, Yaya Ushida, "the beauty of the simple geometrical structure and its repetition always fascinates me." Trained as a mechanical engineer, Ushida is fascinated with bridges and structures such as the Eiffel Tower.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Playing with Fire: Glass Exhibit at the Museum of Arts & Design, NYC

With the exciting show of Chihuly glass at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts opened yesterday, I thought it timely for me to include some photos of glass taken at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York last month.
Marine Group, 2008, Steffen Dam, Denmark
The show runs through August 25, 2013, and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the American Studio Glass movement. It features more than 100 works of glass from the Museum's collection, as well as promised gifts and additional contemporary works on loan. My favourite piece is shown above.

Untitled No. 202 (Triptych), 2012, Peter Bynum, United States
The large triptych above is made of six layers of tempered glass, acrylic paint, LED lights, and steel brackets. A detail shot of the side of the piece is shown below.

This last piece is not part of the temporary show, but is permanently installed in a stairwell of the Museum. It is made of stained glass and copper foil.

Seeing is Believing, 2008, Judith Schaechter, United States

To see more images from the show, please visit its website.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Gravity & Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui

Drifting Continents, 2009
aluminum, copper wire

Showing at the Brooklyn Museum of Art until August 4 are more than thirty works by the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui. To quote from the text on the website, "Anatsui converts found materials into a new type of media that lies between sculpture and painting...."

Gli (Wall), 2010
aluminum and copper wire

Further, "Included in the exhibition are twelve recent monumental wall and floor sculptures, widely considered to represent the apex of Anatsui’s career. The metal wall works, created with bottle caps from a distillery in Nsukka, are pieced together to form colorful, textured hangings that take on radically new shapes with each installation. Anatsui is captivated by his materials’ history of use, reflecting his own nomadic background. Gravity and Grace responds to a long history of innovations in abstract art and performance, building upon cross-cultural exchange among Africa, Europe, and the Americas and presenting works in a wholly new, African medium."

Ozone Layer, 2010
aluminum and copper wire

The piece on the left, Ozone Layer, was placed under a fan and the air current caused some of the unsecured bits of metal to flutter and tinkle like wind chimes. 

Waste Paper Bags, 2004 - 10
Aluminum printing plates, paint, copper wire

To quote from the wall card, "Made from discarded plates used for printing everything from newspaper sports, political and obituary pages to wedding invitations, the malleable sheets comprising Waste Paper evoke everyday Nigerian life through universally recognizable forms.

"They may also suggest a particular Nigerian experience that affected this Ghanaian artist. The forms resemble large woven bags that became known as "Ghana must-go" bags in the early 1980's, when Nigerians hostile toward Ghanaian refugees who had fled political and economic unrest suggested they pack their belongings in such sacks and return home. They speak to the artist's own nomadic history, while recalling a tragic moment that challenged his pan-African ideals."

Currents, undated
Wood cut with chain saw and painted

It was also interesting to see some of El Anatsui's earlier sculpture in wood.

Seers, 1993, modified 2010

Kente cloth, 1930 - 1950
cotton and silk

On display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was another sculpture by El Anatsui, Between Heaven and Earth. It was displayed directly across from a piece of Kente cloth, produced in Ghana between 1930 - 1950. These costly cloths were worn by men at festivals, religious celebrations, and at events marking important transitions in an individual's life. 

Between Heaven and Earth, 2006
aluminum and copper wire

To quote from the curator's notes, 

"The undulation of this work evokes that tactile quality [of the Kente cloth], and its resplendent color scheme of gold, red, and black translate and transpose the aesthetic of finely woven silk into the medium of base metal recycled from liquor bottle caps."

The use of salvaged liquor bottle caps no doubt adds another layer of meaning to these pieces. With all the glitter and visual texture of a Klimt painting, the artist is also saying something about colonialism and the detritus of consumerism.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

John Singer Sargent at the Brooklyn Museum

Recently I was fortunate enough to visit the exhibition of Sargent's watercolours at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The text on the website reads, in part,
"This landmark exhibition unites for the first time the John Singer Sargent watercolors acquired by the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the early twentieth century. The culmination of a yearlong collaborative study by both museums, John Singer Sargent Watercolors explores the watercolor practice that has traditionally been viewed as a tangential facet of Sargent’s art making. The ninety-three pieces on display provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to view a broad range of the artist’s finest production in the medium."
One of the first things  I noticed about the work was the way the artist framed his subjects, cropping dramatically. When others painters were presented with the vista of a famous garden, they would include the important landmarks. Sargent would come in close to find his subject, a "fragmentary slice" of the landscape, as illustrated at left with his Venetian scene.

Bedouin Camp, 1906
For those of you who paint with watercolour, the notes on the technical aspects of the paintings would be of great interest. Here is the text of the label accompanying Bedouin Camp, shown below.
"Sargent often used undiluted colors straight from the tube. In some instances he bulked colors further with the addition of zinc white paint. Unlike oil paints, watercolors can only be applied to a certain thickness before the paint shrinks and begins to crack as the water evaporates. In this work, Sargent pushed the physical limits of his medium, as can be seen in the buildup and cracking of paint in the face and turban of the squatting Bedouin at the lower right."
Sargent's actual paints, in their tubes, are on display, so you can see exactly which brands and pigments he favoured.

The show continues until July 28. A 12-minute video of a contemporary watercolourist attempting to reproduce one of Sargent's paintings can be found on the museum website.