Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Robert Rauschenberg

How do I love thee, Robert Rauschenberg? Let me count the ways.

Ruby Goose, Robert Rauschenberg, 1979

Ruby Goose, Robert Rauschenberg, 1979 (detail)

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC:

Reservoir, Robert Rauschenberg, 1961
oil, wood, graphite, fabric, rubber, metal on canvas

At the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington DC:

Dam, Robert Rauschenberg, 1959
oil paint, photomechanical reproductions, cloth and metal on canvas
"Dam is one of the influential hybrid works known as the Combines that Robert Rauschenberg made between 1954 and 1964. Described by his contemporary Jasper Johns as 'painting playing the game of sculpture,' the Combines incorporate both two- and three-dimensional elements, many of which Rauschenberg collected from the streets of his Lower Manhattan neighbourhood. In an often quoted statement from 1959, the artist wrote: 'Painting relates to both art and life... (I try to act in the gap between the two.)' Reflecting the unexpected contrasts and continuous flux of urban life, Dam invites the viewer's eye to roam among its parts, making unexpected connections between high and low, word and image, art and everyday life."
At the Museum of Modern Art in New York:

Rebus, Robert Rauschenberg, 1955
Bed, Robert Rauschenberg, 1955,
oil and pencil on pillow, quilt and sheet on wood supports

I love the way Rauschenberg combined collage, paint, text and silkscreen printing with found 3-dimensional objects. Though no longer an uncommon practice, it was innovative in its time.

To hear a conversation between Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Stephen Zucker about Bed, and about the place of Rauschenberg in the history of modern art, click on the brief video below:

Sunday, June 26, 2016

National Museum of Women in the Arts

While in Washington DC this past April, I visited the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  What a beautiful venue! Private groups often rent space in the building to hold special events. This museum is the only one in the world devoted exclusively to art made by women.

Here is the text from one of the panels placed near the entrance:

Art and Feminism
Visual art in the 1970s reflected dramatic political and cultural shifts occurring globally. In the U.S., the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights and Women's Movements challenged mainstream values. Feminist artists and activists protested the unequal representation of women in museums, galleries, and publications. Colleges and universities responded by introducing women's studies curricula and feminist art history classes.
Seeking imagery that could form the core of feminist art, some artists created abstracted symbols that reference the female sexual body. Feminist artists worked in traditional fine art media such as painting and sculpture, but they also pioneered experimental art forms such as performance and video. They attained critical recognition for weaving, sewing and assemblage - processes that had previously been classified as handicrafts. Feminist art put strong emphasis on subjective experience. Content often reflects artists' direct experiences within both the domestic and professional spheres as well as critiques of popular culture. Much feminist art is also representational. This sets it apart from the abstract minimalist style prevalent in the 1960s, which was praised by critics and associated almost exclusively with male artists.
I'd like to share here some of my "finds". Of course my photos do not do justice to the experience of seeing these works in their museum setting.

Louise Nevelson, Reflections of a Waterfall II, painted wood, 1982

Louise Nevelson, always one of my favourite sculptors, was 83 years old when she made this work.
"When she was in her sixties, Nevelson became known for her wood sculpture installations comprising columns and walls filled with objects such a newel posts, baseball bats, picture frames, and driftwood. Waterfall is more allusive, with simpler shapes that suggest running water, rocks and bridges. The large scale and dramatic play of light and shadow within Nevelson's sculptures prompted one critic in the 1960s to describe her works as 'appalling and marvelous, utterly shocking in the way they violate our received ideas on the limits of sculpture.'"

Helen Frankenthaler, Spiritualist, acrylic on canvas, 1973

"Rather than apply paint with a brush Frankenthaler poured paint onto unprimed canvas and allowed the pigment to soak directly into the fabric. Her innovative stain technique emphasizes the essential flatness of a painted surface, while the broad swathes of pigment envelop the viewer in an environment of colour. Frankenthaler's work formed a bridge between gestural abstract expressionist painting of the 1950s and colour field painting of the 1960s."
Susan Swartz, Gentle Morning, Acrylic on linen, 2007

There was no explanatory label for the Susan Swartz painting, but I thought it was lovely: atmospheric and painterly.

Maria Elena Vieira da Silva, The Town, oil on canvas, 1955
"Vieira da Silva was a key figure within the field of expressive abstraction in post-war Paris, where she lived and worked for nearly 60 years. Her paintings explore how space can be simultaneously suggested and collapsed or flattened on the two-dimensional surface of a canvas. The grid of black linesand short brushstrokes in this work creates an abstract pattern that seems to shimmer and pulsate like blinking lights and fast-moving traffic."
Here's a short video that will introduce you to the National Museum of Women in the Arts:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

In April I attended the annual SAQA conference, held this year in Philadelphia. It was during a casual conversation with another registrant that I learned about the Magic Gardens. A short walk from our centrally-located hotel, I thought it warranted a visit.

To quote from the facility's brochure:

"Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is a nonprofit visionary art environment and community arts centre located in Isaiah Zagar's largest public artwork.

"Spanning half a block, the museum includes an immersive outdoor art installation and indoor galleries. Zagar created the space using nontraditional materials such as folk art statues, found objects, bicycle wheels, colourful glass bottles, hand-made tiles, and thousands of glittering mirrors.

"The site is enveloped in visual anecdotes and personal narratives that refer to Zagar's life, family, and community, as well as references from the wider world such as influential art history figures and other visionary artists and environments.

"In 1994, Zagar started working on the vacant lots located near his studio. He first constructed a massive fence to protect the area then spent years sculpting multi-layer walls out of found objects.

"In 2002, the Boston-based owner of the lots discovered Zagar's installation and decided to sell the land, calling for the work to be dismantled. Unwilling to witness the destruction of the now-beloved neighbourhood art environment, the community rushed to support the artist.

"After a two-year legal battle, his creation, newly titled Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, became incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the intention of preserving the artwork at the PMG site and throughout the South Street region."

The installation reminded me of a visit to the Hundertwasser museum in Vienna, with its mosaics and bizarre architecture. I felt that I had fallen down the "rabbit hole", separated from the real world and immersed in a strange and fantastic labyrinth.

This kind of art is often labelled as "outsider". But Isaiah Zagar is not a social isolate. He is a community activist. He earned his B.F.A. in Painting and Graphics from the Pratt Institute in New York City, and he has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

And if you have a chance to visit Philadelphia's Magic Gardens? Prepare to be amazed.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Papeterie Saint-Armand

We are fortunate to have in Montreal a renowned maker of artisanal papers, Papeterie St-Armand, located at 3700 St-Patrick Street, a few blocks from the Atwater Market. Their unassuming entrance, a yellow door positioned below ground level in a huge, old industrial building, gives no hint of the wonders inside: papers speckled and striped, smooth and rough, in every colour of the rainbow. 

Our text'art group was lucky enough to be given a tour by David Carruthers, who founded the paper mill in 1979. He explained that all his paper is made of rags, off-cuts from manufacturers of clothing and bed linens. The cloth remnants are chopped into little bits before being beaten into pulp. The colour of the rags determines the colour of the paper.  The black paper, made from black denim, is favoured for photo albums.

Other materials used include jute, linen, sisal, and occasionally leaves. Many of the papers are available for sale in small, postcard-sized bundles, or bound as notebooks and sketchbooks.

textile off-cuts, chopped
While we did see some technicians hand-screening paper, most of the production comes off the assembly line, powered by a machine made in Edinburgh, 1949.

A corner of the plant is sectioned off and filled with drawer after drawer of metal type. Printing can be done to order for posters, wedding invitations, book covers, etc.

Papeterie St-Armand stages special events on the last Saturday of every month, from 10 am to 1 pm. Check the bulletin section of their website to see just what will be presented: monotype printing, hand-screening, or the opportunity to bring your own media and try them out on a variety of papers. Papers of all kinds may be purchased during business hours, 9 am - 5 pm, Monday - Friday.

A 5-minute video made at the Papeterie St-Armand and showing its manufacturing process is available here:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


I recently saw the 2014 film "IRIS", a profile of fashion icon Iris Apfel. The director, then 88-year-old Albert Maysles, since deceased, is best known for his movies "Grey Gardens" and "Gimme Shelter".

Iris Apfel is the 93-year-old style maven who has had an outsized presence on the New York fashion scene for decades. A description of the film from the ImDb film review site says,
"More than a fashion film, the documentary is a story about creativity and how, even at Iris' advanced age, a soaring free spirit continues to inspire. IRIS portrays a singular woman whose enthusiasm for fashion, art and people are life's sustenance and reminds us that dressing, and indeed life, is nothing but an experiment. Despite the abundance of glamour in her current life, she continues to embrace the values and work ethic established during a middle-class Queens upbringing during the Great Depression."
The film offers us a glimpse into her very eclectic home, a veritable museum of curiosities. We also witness the loving relationship she has with husband Carl, some seven years her senior.

I would have liked to have had more of a backstory in the film. Apfel credits her mother as having been a big influence in her life, but we don't learn much about her mother, or even about her own career as a designer. What was her interior design work like? What exactly was her contribution to the White House? The movie is more a snapshot of her life now rather than an exploration of her influences.

The film is available as a rental or purchase on Amazon, and also as a free download.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Women's Work

Our little town of Hudson (pop. 5000) has not only an active group of quilters, but a newer group, Hudson Fine Craft. This lively bunch meets regularly to explore new techniques and to organize exhibition opportunities.

Congratulations to Carol Outram, Joanna Olson and Kathryn Lamb, who have worked hard to pull together a collaborative project involving Hudson Fine Craft, the Hudson Historical Society, and the Hudson War Memorial Library.

antique patterns for dolls' clothes, McCall's

Women's Work is on display at the Hudson Historical Society Museum, with many artifacts relating to needlecraft. Antique scissors, thimbles, needles and pincushions have been collected from Hudson's attics and are now showcased along with examples of weaving, quilting, and lacemaking.

Grandmother's Fan quilt, on loan from Inge Lawson
Grandmother's Fan quilt (detail)
I was intrigued by the tiny paper patterns for doll clothes, and by the "Make Do and Mend" wartime government pamphlet. A fine example of an antique Grandmother's Fan is on display, having been rescued for a few dollars from a charity shop. Admittedly, the quilt is a little threadbare, but its decorative embroidery stitches more than make up for that.

Untitled, Phyllis Spriggs

A companion exhibition is currently running at the War Memorial Library. Thirteen works of contemporary textile art, employing a wide variety of techniques and materials, have been hung on the library walls for the pleasure of visitors. Each piece measures 16" square.

Starlight in Silk, Marlise Horst

The artist participants are:
  • Carol Outram
  • Joanna Olson
  • Michele Meredith
  • Sharon Gallagher
  • Monique Verdier
  • Madeleine Leger
  • Phyllis Spriggs
  • Marlise Horst
  • Ann Letellier
  • and myself.
Artisanes to the Core, Monique Verdier

The Hudson Historical Society Museum is located at 541 Main Road, and is open Wednesday - Sunday, 10 am - 4 pm.

The library is found at 60 Elm Street, and hours are published on its website.

The shows will continue into the summer. More images from the library show are below:

March Hare, Joanna Olson

Untitled, Sharon Gallagher
Still Life with Pillows, Heather Dubreuil

    Wednesday, June 8, 2016

    Hudson Artists Spring Show

    With fewer artists than usual in the AHA Spring Show, 28 compared to an average of 33 or so, there was still lots of energy at the opening night on Friday. I find that usually I can't take photos at the vernissage, because I am so busy chatting with visitors and other artists.

    I went back at a quieter time to get these pix:

    My colour studies, acrylic paint on paper, mounted on birch cradleboard, 10" x 10"
    and four mini-collages, 6" x 6"
    My work was displayed back-to-back with Michele's:

    Michele Meredith's compositions in raw silk,
    the larger three framed under glass, the smaller on 6" x 6" stretched canvas
    The event was well-attended, and Michele and I each sold a piece. A total of 18 works were sold, with net sales approaching $5000.

    The group plans to paint the boards a dark grey for the next show, with the hope that the holes in the boards will visually recede, giving more prominence to the works on display. It seems that most community art groups have less than ideal venues to display their work: lighting, floorspace and methods of hanging are often compromised. Still, these local shows help add to a lively community cultural scene.

    Sunday, June 5, 2016

    Berkhamsted #4

    Based on a photo I took visiting my cousin's home in England, this 12" x 12" was made as my contribution to the 2016 SAQA benefit auction.

    Berkhamsted #4, 12 x 12
    hand-dyed cotton, fused appliqué, machine-stitched

    It almost didn't get made, and it will no doubt arrive late. I was running out of time as the deadline approached, but then I realized that I could use this as a work in progress for my recent workshop at the Courtepointe Quebec conference, to demonstrate my Cityscapes technique.

    I was pleased to be able to share my expertise with a small group of enthusiastic learners at the conference, and I hope that they will send me some photos of their finished projects.

    More information about the SAQA auction will be posted in the months to come.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2016

    Latest 12 by the dozen challenge: Paul Klee

    My 12 by the dozen group has begun a new series of challenges. Our first series was inspired by a particular word (Reflections, Connections, Structure, etc.) and the second series was sparked by a specific colour.

    For this new series, we are responding to the work of a particular 20th-century artist. Member Patricia A'Bear chose Paul Klee as the focus for this first quarterly challenge. We were free to concentrate on a single painting, or on his entire oeuvre.

    Senecio, Paul Klee, oil paint on gauze, 1922
    I chose this painting, Senecio, as my starting point. I always assumed it represented a child, but then I learned that the title can be translated as "Old Man", from the Latin, "senescere", or "to grow old". Still, I find the colours suggest youth and light-heartedness. From this painting, I chose my palette, and I also used some of its simple curves and shapes.

    As the final assignment for the Jane Davies course Beyond the Colour Wheel, participants were asked to take the small, 3-colour collages we had made and "tile" them together. In other words, to take those 3" squares or rectangles and put them onto a grid, with no spaces between, just to see what they looked like arranged as a group. So my response to the 12 by the dozen challenge also met the criteria for the last assignment of my on-line course.

    Patchwork, made of hand-dyed cotton, 16" x 16"
    Many of Klee's paintings suggest a patchwork or a mosaic, with small square-ish shapes "tiled" to form a kind of loose grid, so my use of a grid is also a reference to Klee. I tried to use the colours in more or less the same proportion that Klee used them in Senecio.

    In summary, I'd say that I like the original painting, I like the colours, I like the shapes, and I like the idea of a grid. But somehow, in my interpretation, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. I think that without the organizational structure of a recognizable face, the piece has no unity. It's a hot mess: it looks like it went through the blender. Klee's painting has a variety of small, medium and large shapes. My patchwork has only small and smaller. It's one thing to fulfill the requirements of a class assignment or a group challenge, but it's another thing to make good work.

    Your thoughts?

    To see the other responses to our latest challenge, some of them spectacular, please visit the 12 by the dozen website or blog.