Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Marie-Claire Blais @ Galérie René Blouin

This past weekend, Michele and I visited Papier 15, an art fair showcasing 40 Canadian galleries, focused on works on paper: photography, prints, sculpture, drawing and painting. Associated with this event was the Art Hop, organized by the Canadian Art Foundation. One of the galleries on the Art Hop was a real find.

Showing at Galérie René Blouin, 10 King Street in Old Montreal, are works by Marie-Claire Blais. Not the well-known Québecoise author, the gallery owner was quick to clarify.
Trained as an architect, Blais now works full-time as a visual artist. Her current solo show, which ends June 6, shows materials-based work. The pieces pictured here measure anywhere from 40 inches to more than 100 inches in width. They are made from burlap, which the artist hand-dyed in subtle shadings of charcoal and black. The patterns were created by thread-pulling, the careful snipping and precise removal of vertical threads in the fabric.

While her earlier hangings are draped loosely, more recently they are hung stiffly, forming crisp rectangles against the wall.

Included in the show is sculptural work, again made of burlap but this time coated with plaster and shaped into free-standing forms. Not shown here are large works in plaster on board. While the plaster is still wet, Blais drags a wide, purpose-built wooden "comb" upward over the plaster, creating ridges which appear as irregular vertical lines, white-on-white.

I have seen a good deal of contemporary art in the last few weeks, much of it as part of the Séminarts program offered through the Musée d'Art Contemporain. I find I am especially drawn to those works that are materials-based, like these by Blais. Rather than an image being the focus of the work, the viewer is drawn in to see how the material is manipulated in unexpected ways. Many contemporary works in textiles and paper would fit into this category.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

On-line class with Jane Davies, Part 2

Lesson 4

My on-line class "Keys to Dynamic Composition" with Jane Davies continues.

Jane has a rather unusual approach to the design of her instruction. She is very specific and exacting in the assignment for each lesson. By limiting the parameters of the exercise, she expects to drive home a very specific learning.

Lesson 4

In Lesson 4, we explored Pattern. Pattern can be seen as being on a continuum with texture, with pattern a stronger element and texture more subtle.

We were required to begin with a painted background, and then add small, medium and large pattern elements, some denser, some sparser. We could apply paint directly, or print onto the surface using a variety of found objects, like the eraser end of a pencil or a bottle cap. We were encouraged to experiment with different materials, like marker pen, water-soluble crayon, etc.

Jane suggested that my results would have been livelier if I had used more variety of colour and value in my background painting, and I have to agree.

Lesson 5, Part 1

The topic of Lesson 5 was Line. We warmed up by using a variety of media to make lines on paper: bold, hesitant, thin, thick, staccato, serene, etc.

Lesson 5, Part 1

Our first assignment was to take three squares or rectangles and arrange them in a grid-like format on a painted background.

Lesson 5, Part 1

We were to work in an analogous colour scheme and in a small format. I cut my shapes from cloth and used matte gel medium to glue them to the paper.

Lesson 5, Part 1

Then we were to add a single line, black, white or coloured. The line could connect the shapes, bisect or divide the shapes, move tangentially beside a shape, reinforce a shape, or add a new element to the composition.

Lesson 5, Part 2 Open Grid collage with line

The next part of the assignment was to collage coloured papers to an unpainted surface in an "open grid" formation, that is, a grid-like arrangement of squares and rectangles that had open spaces, revealing the background.

Lesson 5, Part 2 Open Grid with line

We were then to add a single line to the composition, a line that moved from one edge of the paper to the opposite edge, and that acted to unite or divide the shapes, to reinforce the shapes or to add another element to the composition.

Lesson 5, Part 3
Cloth shapes collaged onto paper
in cruciform

Finally, we were asked to revisit one of the formats we had used previously:

- a gridded collage of squares and rectangles on a painted background
- a vertical landscape collage with paint
- a cruciform collage on a painted background
- patterning using only paint, without collage, or
- an open grid

and to add line to it to enhance it in some way.

Above, after adding paint, texture and line

I decided to attempt another cruciform composition, using collage and paint. This time, rather than using papers cut from magazine or painted collage papers, I turned to my collection of hand-dyed and patterned fabric and fused the shapes cut from cotton to the paper background with iron-on web.

Lesson 5, Part 3
Cloth shapes collaged onto paper
in cruciform 

Admittedly, I have been chafing at the restrictiveness of the assignments, and my own awkwardness at handling paint, but this final exercise became an "Aha!" moment for me.

If I could "collage" cloth shapes to paper, I could also "collage" cloth shapes onto cloth. I could use patterned cloth, hand-dyed cloth, or cloth that I paint myself, using silkscreen or monoprint to add texture.

And for line, I could use stitch.

Above, after adding paint, texture and line

I'm hoping to have an opportunity to incorporate some of these approaches in my own work when the class is over.

It would give me an opportunity to work larger, and in a more abstract way, embracing pattern and colour, but essentially with the same basic shapes that are so fundamental to my cityscapes series.

Experiencing a class in another medium may have turned out to be just the fresh perspective I have been waiting for.

Bring on Lesson 6!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lakeshore Artists show at Fritz Farm

I'm always impressed by the variety and high standard of work on display at Lakeshore Artists shows. Consider a visit to their annual spring show, to be held at Fritz Farm in Baie d'Urfé, April 24 - 26.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

On-line class with Jane Davies

I've been pursuing an on-line class, Keys to Dynamic Composition, with Jane Davies, who works with collage and acrylic paint in an abstract style. The six weekly sessions each include a downloadable set of written instructions and one or two video demonstrations.

I'm enjoying the play with paint and collage, with colour, shape, and texture, and I am of the opinion that working outside of one's usual medium is a great learning experience. It's enlightening to see the assignments as posted by the other participants, and the feedback from the instructor. "What works well, and why?"

Lesson #1, one of two samples I made

The lessons build on each other nicely.

In Week One, the assignment was to make a collage using hand-painted papers in a variety of squares and rectangles, small, medium and large, in a grid pattern. We were challenged to use a narrow range of hue and value to create an interesting composition. So, unity is created by a sameness of colour, and variety is created with different-sized elements.

We were told to disregard such considerations as creating a focal point, having the eye travel around the piece, etc.

Lesson #2, one of four samples I made

In the second week, we were required to work in a "vertical landscape" mode.  We began by creating a background of collaged newspapers and pages torn from old books, which we then muted with a neutral-coloured paint. Then a busy central area of coloured, collaged shapes was created and sandwiched by two quieter areas, foreground and "sky".

Paint was applied with a brayer and a straight edge, and this allowed the edges of the base collage to be revealed. The paint was also used as a way of obscuring the central set of coloured shapes, creating a "veil" of semi-opaque colour to add mystery and ambiguity to the composition.

It was useful to keep in mind the strategy of using a variety of different-sized elements.

Lesson #3, one of four samples I made

The third assignment was to use the "cruciform" shape to make an interesting composition from collage and paint. We were encouraged to create painted texture by stamping, stencilling, and lifting paint, to obscure the borders between positive and negative shapes.

Working with these techniques is different from my work in cloth, because of the ambiguity and "lost edges" available to painters. On the other hand, there are some wonderful painters who didn't employ those techniques. Matisse? Picasso?

Mucking about with collage papers and paint is great fun, and I'm looking forward to the second half of the class. Stand by for Part 2.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"The Man Who Saved the Louvre"

As part of Montreal's annual International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA), I attended a screening of "The Man Who Saved the Louvre", the compelling story of Jacques Jaujard, one-time Director of the Louvre. The 60-minute film is an effective blend of historic photos and film, with the addition of animation.
"In 1938, when France was hoping Hitler wouldn’t invade, one man, Jacques Jaujard, thankfully foresaw what was coming. He knew that if Paris were bombed or seized, a trove of valuable artworks would be destroyed or looted. As this film explains, for Jaujard, director of the Louvre Museum, saving this artistic heritage was equivalent to saving world heritage, and even humanity itself. In August 1939, ten days before France declared war on Germany, Jaujard closed the doors of the Louvre; that same night, 800 works were packed up with the help of a team Jaujard had organized months before. Filmed historical footage and animated segments tell the tale of this daring rescue operation spearheaded by an almost anonymous visionary who ended up saving the Louvre."

To get a sense of the dramatic story and the restrained use of animation, have a look at this trailer. Released in 2014, this documentary may soon play at your local theatre, or on a specialty television channel.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Papier15 and Gallery Hop Montreal

Mark your calendars for these two interconnected events:

1. Papier15: Contemporary Art Fair of Works on Paper
Montreal’s Papier is one of the only art fairs in North America to put a unique emphasis on paper. For its eighth year, Papier hosts 40 galleries and 400 artists from across the country. Papier remains accessible, both to beginner collectors and to the general public: admission is free, as are the fair’s talks, tours and catalogue.
Complexe de Gaspé, 5445 av. de Gaspé, 10th and 11th floors
Friday, April 24, noon – 9 pm
Saturday, April 25, 11 am – 7 pm
Sunday, April 26, 11 am – 6 pm.
The de Gaspé hub is home to six artist-run centres and hundreds of artists’ studios. Mile End is now a burgeoning venue for contemporary Canadian art, with the highest density of artists and cultural workers in the country.

2. Gallery Hop Montreal: Art. Talks. Tours.
Saturday, April 25, 2015
This year’s Gallery Hop Montreal is taking place in conjunction with Papier15. The Canadian Art Foundation will have a booth at Papier15 where you can learn about all of the MTL Hop events, and many Hop tours and talks will start at the fair. The two major gallery tours offered, in either English or French, are of the Belgo Building and Griffintown/Old Montreal. Many other galleries are participating, and you can find a list of them with their addresses by going to the event’s website.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Woman in Gold: the painting, the exhibition and the film

When I am lucky enough to get to New York City, I always make it a point to drop in to the Neue Gallery on 5th Avenue at 86th Street, part of Museum Row. For one thing, I love its on-site Café Sabarsky, and try to time my visit so that I can indulge in their wonderful cake and coffee, mit Schlag. 

The decor of the café is inspired by the traditional Viennese coffee house from the turn of the last century, and somehow between the coffee, the cake, the period decor and the elegant waiters with their waist-to-knee white aprons, I am transported to another place and time.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, the Neue Gallery....

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Gustav Klimt

The gallery specializes in German and Austrian art of the early 20th century, and I've seen excellent solo exhibitions there of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. The highlight of the permanent collection is Klimt's dazzling portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. This single painting is the subject of a special exhibit being staged through September 7, 2015, to coincide with the release of the film "Woman in Gold", starring Helen Mirren.
 "Gustav Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer: The Woman in Gold," [is] an intimate exhibition devoted to the close relationship that existed between the artist and one of his key subjects and patrons. Included in the exhibition will be a display of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, paintings, related drawings, vintage photographs, decorative arts, and archival material."

The film has been criticized as being dumbed-down, too Hollywood, too melodramatic, and it is all of those things. But it is also the compelling and true account of a woman who took on the government of Austria, asserting her claim on a masterpiece that was stolen from her family by the Nazis and displayed for years at Vienna's Belvedere Palace as the property of the state. After an eight-year battle, she won her case. Ultimately, she sold the painting to Ronald Lauder, co-founder of the Neue Gallery, for $135 million and distributed the bulk of the proceeds to charity. She stipulated that this portrait of her aunt Adele always be on display to the public.

If you've had the good fortune to spend time in Vienna, you will enjoy spotting familiar scenes, as much of the movie was filmed on location there. The fascinating story gives us a glimpse, admittedly simplistic, into the complicated intrigue surrounding art stolen by the German occupiers, and its restitution to its rightful owners: an issue very much in today's headlines.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Santa Cruz de Tenerife
For years I have had a photo of Tenerife, torn from a travel magazine, posted on my design wall. I have always loved Mediterranean hillside towns, the way they have developed so organically, adapting to a twist of the road or an outcropping of rock. They look a bit like termite nests, though more picturesque, of course.

The 12 by the Dozen blogging group of art quilters has decided that our next challenge will be "Lily White". This is very much a challenge for me, as I find it difficult to work with white. So often in nature, white reflects the colours around it, and when in the shadows, it turns into violet, or blue, or grey. Nevertheless, I decided this was the Moment for the Mediterranean Hillside Town.

I chose a printed cotton, a mottled green-and-brown, to suggest the vegetation and rock that serves as a background to the dwellings, and then blocked in the large white shapes with a facing of white cotton, so there would be minimal show-through of the dark background. Then I cut small squares and rectangles of white, beige, grey, tan and orange to serve as the buildings themselves. The windows are so small they are indicated with ink, and the stitching in grey thread goes all around the small shapes to secure them.

I am happy with this piece, which serves to remind me of a visit to the Canary Islands a few years ago, but have settled on another scene I want to translate into fabric for our 12 by the Dozen challenge. So, I am now free to post this image. The challenge isn't due until the end of May, so I will have to wait until then to reveal my official response to "Lily White".

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"Finding Vivian Maier" and "Art and Craft"

At the recent Hudson Docfest, two of the screened films had similar subjects. Both offered a fascinating look into the lives of eccentric, even troubled, artists and both are available to view on-line.

My favourite film in the festival was "Finding Vivian Maier", the story of a mysterious and complicated woman who, since her death, has been recognized as an exceptional photographer. Maier made her living as a nanny for a succession of American families, using an assumed name and an approximation of a French accent. She was rarely seen without a Rolleiflex around her neck.

Her work came to light when thousands of her negatives were auctioned off to a young man who was looking for some vintage images. He was intrigued by the accumulated detritus of Maier's life found in the storage containers he acquired, and began an investigation into her life.

The film is visually compelling, with a gripping narrative. It consists largely of interviews with those whose lives intersected with Maier's, and of the black-and-white photos developed from her film. We learn that Maier was at times abusive with the children in her care, that she was a hoarder, and that she had an obsessive concern for her own privacy.  But her photos show someone with a keen eye for the human condition, and they have been internationally acclaimed since their discovery.

To see a trailer for the film and to read a review, click on the Rotten Tomatoes link.

"Art and Craft" tells the story of Mark A. Landis, an art forger who donated a large number of copied works to more than 60 art museums, over a period of more than 20 years, often using an assumed name. Often he would provide a falsified document to support his story of the provenance of the work.

Landis has not been charged with any crime, because he never profited from his fraud.

An exhibit of some 60 of his forgeries was staged at the University of Cincinnati Gallery in 2012. Also on display was the priest's costume that Landis sometimes wore in the course of his misrepresentations. Landis actually attended the event.

"Art and Craft" was partially financed through Kickstarter, and released in 2014. To see a trailer of the documentary and read a review, go to Rotten Tomatoes.

Two damaged spirits with a misguided talent, each looking for love in their own strange way.