Sunday, January 31, 2016

Alice Neel

Recently I saw the film "Alice Neel" at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. In conjunction with the exhibition of the Beaver Hall painters, the museum has organized the screening of several films on women artists, with this one being the last of the series.

I have seen Alice Neel's paintings in New York, and have been awed by her style of portraiture: raw and direct, with some influence of the German expressionists.

You can read about Neel's life on-line. Her family/estate maintains a website that gives a thorough biography (1900 - 1984) and includes many images of her work.

The film was made by her grandson Andrew Neel, and it includes interviews with Neel herself, her family and friends, as well as footage of her at work. It is available on DVD and Netflix.

Abdul Rahman, 1964, Alice Neel
The arc of Neel's life follows the "tragic genius" trope so popular in literature and the public imagination, including the triumphant "plucked from obscurity" finale. Born in Pennsylvania to a middle-class family, Neel began her formal art education in her teens, enrolling in full-time studies at 21. She fell in love with a senior art student from a well-to-do Cuban family, and the brief time she spent living with him in Cuba began her lifelong concern with social justice.

Still in her twenties, she lost her first child to diphtheria and then her second child, who was kidnapped by her husband and raised by his Cuban family. She suffered mental health issues at this time but continued to find solace in her painting.

When the Depression arrived, Neel was lucky enough to be hired by a WPA project for artists, which gave her a living wage while allowing her to paint the struggles of the displaced and unemployed.

Nancy, 1980, Alice Neel
The  WPA ended and Neel survived as a single mother on "relief". By this time she had had other lovers and two more children. She spent much of her welfare income on canvases and oil paint, and lived a squalid, bohemian lifestyle. Her sons felt loved but neglected as children, and were deprived of life's necessities, even basic security. (Note: one became a doctor, the other a lawyer.)

Self-portrait, 1980, Alice Neel

As a realist painter, Neel was pushed aside by the tidal wave of abstraction. Portraits were a hard sell, especially when their subjects were the dispossessed. Neel moved from the artistic enclave of Greenwich Village to live in Spanish Harlem. This decision isolated her from the galleries, agents and fellow artists who might have furthered her career. Only in the late sixties did she renew her involvement with the New York artistic circle.

Slowly her art gained recognition. Feminists championed her work, especially her portraits of female nudes, including those of pregnant women. In 1974 a retrospective was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and in 1976 she was inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Since her death in 1984, appreciation for her work has continued to grow.

The film raises some compelling questions, among them:

"What does the painted portrait give us that photography does not?"

"How do we understand the intrinsic value of a work of art, beyond fashion, trend and public acclaim?"

"What do we mean by 'artistic success'?"

"What is the place of self-promotion in the management of an artist's career?"

"What is the cost/benefit of the single-minded pursuit of one's art? Is that cost weighed differently for men and women?"

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A first for me!

I have just finished a piece made to order for a SAQA Call for Entry. Though I've been a member of Studio Art Quilt Associates for a number of years, this is my first-ever entry to an all-member show. The show is to be called "Tranquility", and it will travel for more than three years, being shown first at the Houston International Quilt Festival in November 2016.

Come Sit with Me, Patrick Caulfield 2, 30 x 30
Of course just because I've made an entry doesn't mean that it will be accepted.

Until now I've mounted my cityscapes onto painted, stretched canvas. This is not permitted for this exhibition, so I have had to attach a facing and hanging sleeve, a typical presentation for a quilt show. As well, I had to densely quilt the piece so that it lies flat, something that I usually achieve with the canvas mounting.

The minimum height requirement is 30", which I have met. The piece measures 30" x 30", and that is more than twice the size of my standard 18" x 24". I used commercial prints as well as hand-dyes, and chose colours and stitching patterns that evoke a quiet calm.

And what about that title? Patrick Caulfield ( 1936 - 2005) was a British artist whose interiors were defined by a strong black line and flat colour. I feel an affinity for his work, and decided to reference him in the title.

Dining Recess, Patrick Caulfield1972
An exhibition titled "Turmoil" is planned to run concurrently with "Tranquility", and it is suggested that entrants submit work to both shows. I have an idea for this second show, and I'm going to try to see it through and have it ready to submit by the end of February. Meanwhile, Come Sit with Me, Patrick Caulfield will be a welcome addition to my upcoming solo show in Ottawa.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cineplex: In the Gallery series

We are fortunate to have access to this series of films about art, hosted by the Cineplex chain of movie theatres. I was able to make it to the first film, and look forward to seeing some of the others too. Philadelphia's Barnes Collection is the focus of the Renoir movie, and as I already have my tickets for a visit there in March, I should make a point of seeing that one at least.

Here's the schedule:

Florence and the Uffizi Gallery, January 21 (3-D) and February 21 (2-D)
Goya: Visions of Flesh and Blood, February 11 and 28
Renoir: Reviled and Revered, March 10 and 20
Teatro alla Scala: Temple of Wonders, March 31 (3-D) and April 3 (2-D)
Leonardo Da Vinci: The Genius in Milan, April 14 (3-D) and May 1 (2-D)
Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, May 19 and 29
The Papal Basilicas of Rome, June 9 (3-D and 2-D)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Poésie muette / Poetry Unspoken

Syncopated Rhythm, 18 x 18, hand-dyed cotton, collaged and stitched
Delighted to report that "Syncopated Rhythm" is one of 30 works chosen from 60 entries for the show 

"Poésie muette / Poetry Unspoken"

 Galérie Beaux-Art des Amériques
3944 rue St.-Denis, Montreal QC

January 21 - March 12, 2016

reception: Saturday, February 6, 1 - 5 pm

All works measure 18" x 18", and were inspired by a snippet of text (poetry, prose, type, etc.) The inspiration for "Syncopated Rhythm" was from Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino:

"[The city's] secret lies in the way your gaze runs over patterns following one another as in a musical score where not one can be altered or displaced".

All the chosen works can be viewed on-line. A list of artists follows:

Abed, Mouna - Bastien, Lyne - Beaudin, Anna - Burry, Catherine - Charbonneau, Patrice - Coté, Michel E. - Cropsal, Jean-Michel - Csaszar, Andras - Dubreuil, Heather - Dunlap, Joseph - Gagné, Lise - Gorney, Nickey - Hamel, Normand - Harries, Brian - Hood, Craig - Karanika, Helen - Malo, Jean-Pierre - Maloukis, Rose - Massé, François - Meister, Jean-Guy - Moffat, Normand - Mulligan, Lorna - Ouellette, Johanne - Parallax Theater - Passarello, Theresa - Pyx, Roberta S. - Routaboule, Danièle - Shvil, Donna - Tenti, Bruno - Vargas, Oscar

Monday, January 18, 2016

La Mémoire de Hudson @ Auberge Willow

Last year, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Town of Hudson, fifteen local artists came together and produced canvases celebrating a particular aspect of the Town's history.

Many of these works are now on display at Auberge Willow, 205 Main Road in Hudson, until the end of March.

An official opening for the show is planned for this Saturday, January 23, 6 - 8 pm. Music will be provided by Roger Mann. Please consider coming by!

To read more about the show, check out the booklet produced by participant Mona Turner.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Every now and then I like to give myself a creativity boost by reading something inspirational about the process of "making". In the past, I have relied on Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, and The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.  I posted on this blog about the latter book some years ago.

This new book, Big Magic by best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) is my latest find,  and I would recommend it.

Pressfield's text uses forceful military imagery (the book's subtitle is "Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles"). This is unsurprising, coming from a former Marine, an honorary citizen of Sparta, and the author of Tides of War, The Afghan Campaign, and The Warrior Ethos. Much of Pressfield's book deals with resistance, and what is needed to overcome resistance.

Where Pressfield sees creativity as a Warrior, Gilbert views it as a Trickster. To quote her, "Trickster energy is light, sly, transgender, transgressive, animist, seditious, primal and endlessly shape-shifting."

Gilbert proposes that ideas drift through the ether like fireflies, looking for a likely host who will receive them, nurture them, develop them, and birth them. Creativity is built into our genetic code, and is responsible for the survival of the species. In a sense we are all born creative. We may express it as potters, composers, problem-solvers, or ice-skaters. We may not achieve acclaim or financial reward from what we make, but we can all live "a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear", "an amplified existence".

Many of us think that if we cannot support ourselves through our art, that we have no right to call ourselves artists. Gilbert reminds us that putting financial pressure on fragile gifts is a sure way to crush them. She encourages us to "stick with our day jobs", and allow our creativity to flourish without requiring it to buy the groceries.

Some of us may fear that if we can't make something truly original, it's just not good enough. Gilbert prefers authenticity over originality. If we can make something that allows our individual voice to come through, then we have made a unique and valuable contribution to the world.

Finally, Gilbert is all about the joy of embracing our creative inclinations, because that is, in the end, what gives value to our lives.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The art quilts of Kathleen Probst

Lava, Kathleen Probst, 2015
In my exploration of the use of organic shapes in minimalist composition, I stumbled upon the stunning work of Kathleen Probst, an American textile artist whose solo show opens this month at the Visions Art Museum in San Diego, CA.

Rising, Kathleen Probst, 2015
Probst achieves an effect of transparency with her careful choice of colours, using hand-dyed cloth. Her quilting adds a subtle dimension and texture to her pebble-like shapes. She works quite large, with dimensions ranging between 30" and 60".

Dipped Dimension, Kathleen Probst, 2014
If you visit her website, you can see the evolution of Probst's work as she reduces her imagery to its essence.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Inventing Abstraction - Week Five

For the fifth and final class of "Inventing Abstraction", instructor Jessica Houston introduced us to the work of three women artists from the early years of the twentieth century.

Vertical-Horizontal Composition, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, 1916
The first was Swiss-born Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943), a Dadaist, a Constructivist, and "considered to be one of the most important artists of geometric abstraction of the 20th century." The pan-European Dada movement arose from the chaos of the first World War, challenging the political system and the role of art. As part of her work with the Dadaists, Taeuber-Arp constructed marionettes and participated in dance, theatre and film. Much of her early work found expression in tapestry, clothing, costume and interior design.

Composition with Circles and Semi-Circles, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, 1935
Many of her paintings were inspired by the manipulation of a single shape, which might be cut into halves and quarters and painted in various colours and arrangements. Like many artists, she employed "variations within limitations" to explore her visual ideas.

Cut with the Kitchen Knife
 through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic,
Hannah Höch, 1919

Hannah Höch (1889-1978) is considered to be one of the originators of photomontage. A German, the Nazis considered her to be a "degenerate", and her relationship with the Dadaists was uneasy because of her feminist leanings. Photomontage is a form of collage that plays with scale and shifting realities to make new visual statements, often subversive. For example, a central motif in the above image is a headless female dancer juggling an over-sized male head.
Sonia Delauney, coverlet, 1911
Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) was a Ukrainian-born French artist who, with her husband Robert, co-founded the Orphism movement. Her work in modern design included the concepts of geometric abstraction, and the integration of furniture, fabrics, wall coverings, and clothing. Referring to the patchwork blanket above, made for her infant son, she said, "When it was finished, the arrangement of the pieces of material seemed to me to evoke Cubist conceptions, and we then tried to apply the same process to other objects and paintings."

Sonia Delauney, Electric Prisms, 1914
She was influenced by the Impressionists and post-Impressionists in her use of complementaries to create simultaneous colour contrast.  You can observe some of this in the painting above, with the reds and greens, the blues and oranges, energizing each other. To me, some of the structure of this painting is reminiscent of the construction of a quilt, with small, rectangular units connected to make a larger composition.

Sonia Delaunay, Bal Bullier, 1914
Some of her paintings suggest the influence of Kandinsky and Klee.

After viewing and discussing many images from these three artists, our assignment was to take a cue from one of the artists and further develop some of the imagery we produced in earlier classes. Some shells were provided for those who wished to play with positive and negative like Taeuber-Arp, repeating a single shape. Another option was to make a photomontage using images found in magazines, inspired by Hannah Höch. Some of us chose to work with cut-out shapes and colour contrast, à la Delaunay.
Week 3
Week 3

I chose to extend an idea I began in Week Three. I used black construction paper shapes glued onto mottled, neutral backgrounds, exploring the relationships between the pebble-like shapes.

Week 5 
Week 5
Week 5
Week 5
Week 5
I found this excellent five-week class has inspired me to play with new imagery, and to consider how some of these visual ideas could be expressed in cloth and stitch.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Through Our Hands, edition #7

The latest free issue of Through Our Hands magazine is now available to read on-line, with ninety pages of beautiful full-colour illustrations, information and inspiration. A pdf version is available for a small charge, for those who prefer to read off-line.

British-based, this publication profiles more than a dozen textile artists, including Canadians Kate Bridger and Sandra Meech. I especially enjoyed learning about the graphic work of Marilyn Carter, the paper quilts of Maggie Paykel, and the unique vision of Luke Haynes.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Port Clyde #3, #4, #5

Port Clyde #3, 24 x 18
Some months ago, I decided to make some new work for my February solo show at the Arts Ottawa East gallery. I had always wanted to realize this image of a Maine coastal village in a larger size, having made it in 11 x 8.5 (twice) and 8 x 6 (titled Connectivity).

Port Clyde #4, 24 x 18
These pieces measure 24 x 18, and they will hang together on one of the gallery's larger walls.  The technique I use to make these cityscapes doesn't readily lend itself to work larger than, say, 24 x 24. As I would like to work bigger, I have been thinking about this issue for some time, and one solution that I have considered is to make separate pieces that will hang together.

Each of these began with an inspiration piece of mottled sky cloth, and the other colours were chosen, in part, to complement the backgrounds.

Port Clyde #5, 24 x 18
Because of other commitments, a few months elapsed between the inspiration and the execution. I enjoy my work much more when I am carried along by the enthusiasm of the original impulse. Listening to audiobooks in my studio kept me engaged through several hours of the finishing stage, which can feel, well, repetitive, especially if working on a single image in triplicate!