Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tina Struthers

Tina Struthers is a fibre artist, costume designer and cultural mediator. Living not too far from me,  I have recently met her and become more familiar with her work.

Untamed, 2017, 80" x 122"
part of the Flow exhibit, Festival of Threads, Oakville 2018

I saw one of Tina's large pieces in the Flow exhibit when I visited the World of Threads Festival in Oakville earlier this month. I studied it carefully, intrigued because it exhibited the same variety/unity dynamic that I have been exploring in my painting. For example, I could see that denim was used in the piece, in various places: sometimes crumpled, sometimes pleated, sometimes dark, sometimes faded and sometimes frayed. But each instance of its use related to the others visually. The gold velveteen was used in a similarly inventive way, manifesting itself in different forms throughout the work.

Untamed is an example of the artist’s preoccupation with movement and migration. The movement may be like that of water, or mud, or lava: ebb and flow, fluid matter finding its path and navigating around obstacles. An extension of this concept is migration: the movement of animals and people. The artist statement on Struthers’ website articulates the "undercurrents" in her work.

from Beauharnois show

Tina was born in South Africa, and has spent the last ten years in Canada. Emigration is part of her life experience. She has a fine arts education, and was also trained in dressmaking. Sometimes her large sculptural pieces resemble pattern pieces that might be used to fashion a garment, with openings for armholes or necks.

from Beauharnois show

from Beauharnois show

from Beauharnois show, detail

Since my visit to Oakville, I was fortunate to take in a solo show of Tina's work at a civic centre in Beauharnois. Tina graciously met with our group there, and talked to us about her work and her influences. 

from Beauharnois show

from Beauharnois show

from Beauharnois show, detail

back row: Dianne Robinson, me, Michele Meredith
front row: Lauma Cenne, Tina Struthers, Colleen Paul
absent: Helena Scheffer, who organized the visit

and my thanks to all of you for so kindly sharing your photos of the show

Tina is often involved in theatrical productions. Recently she designed the costumes for a play at our local theatre, Fessenden Follies: A Steampunk Revue, by David Fennario.

Another important aspect of Tina's work is "cultural mediation". One such project is currently underway in my town of Hudson, Quebec, as we look back on the devastating flood of May 2017. Tina is serving as a facilitator for a project that allows residents to respond to a crisis that not only physically threatened many of our homes, but that brought us together in new ways as we came to the assistance of our neighbours. Leading projects like this often requires Tina to collaborate with municipal officials, designers and engineers.  She has developed expertise in applying for government grants to support these efforts.

And still more recently, Tina spoke to the local Hudson Artists group. Our members were fascinated to see her works in fibre up close and to learn about her themes and projects. I will be following her career with great interest!

For more information, please visit the artist's website.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

At Eternity's Gate: On Being Vincent Van Gogh

I have lifted this article directly from 
The movie is currently in limited distribution.

With At Eternity’s Gate, Julian Schnabel offers us a journey into the universe and the mind of Vincent Van Gogh, an artist who, despite skepticism, ridicule and illness, created some of the most beautiful and loved works of art in the world.
As a painter himself, the filmmaker is less interested in a factual account of Van Gogh’s life than in a subjective experience, like a backdrop for his deeply troubled protagonist. The landscapes he invites us to observe sometimes seem really eternal, and more than one scene is devoted to the simple observation of Van Gogh and the overwhelming beauty he sees.
Rather than simply suggesting madness affecting genius, the filmmaker portrays artistic creation as less of an action than a state of being. The film, winner of the Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival, stars Willem DafoeRupert FriendMads MikkelsenMathieu AmalricEmmanuelle Seigner, and Oscar Isaac.
Vincent Van Gogh died at the age of 37; Willem Dafoe is 61 years old. Despite this age gap, Dafoe portrays the painter with a physical and spiritual power similar to the one he transcendently portrayed in The Last Temptation of Christ. The director, a friend of Dafoe for 30 years, rejected the idea that the actor was too old for the role, saying that Dafoe was in better shape than Van Gogh at the time of his death.
À La Porte De L’éternité / At Eternity’s Gate, Julian Schnabel –
Dafoe wanted to be as close as possible to the artist, and to become a painter himself. He roamed the same nature, the same landscapes of Arles painted by Van Gogh, closely followed by the director of photography, Benoît Delhomme.
“We forget ourselves and enter this other territory, guided by what we know and our imagination,” he explains. “The film is an expression, an orderly recording of this experience. When you do it with someone like Julian, who had a connection with Van Gogh and who has painted all his life, it’s a very intense experience, and the stakes are very high also. You get involved in a profound, transformative way.”
À La Porte De L’éternité / At Eternity’s Gate, Julian Schnabel –
“Not all roles, or movies, are like this one. This powerful film was a pleasure to do.” Dafoe feels a connection between his interpretations of Van Gogh and Jesus Christ in The Last Temptation of Christ. “The two men were trying to reconcile the ecstasy they felt with the dreary worldliness of their lives,” adding that Van Gogh’s isolated daily life was difficult to reconcile with that joy and rapture he sensed in nature … Van Gogh felt a strong spiritual impulse, and wanted to find that union with nature. And he found it through painting.
At Eternity’s Gate gets its title of an oil painting of Vincent van Gogh that he made in 1890 in Saint-Rémy de Provence, in early May, about two months before his death, usually considered a suicide. But in one of the written proofs that he did not commit suicide, he wrote: “I do not wish my death, but if it happens, I’ll take good note of it.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Lesson 10, "100 Drawings"


What an amazing journey this has been. Best class ever! The Jane Davies "100 Drawings" workshop was offered in a ten-week on-line format. This meant that participants had a full seven days to respond to the week's assignment, and had access to their own workspaces throughout. An in-person workshop is faster-paced, and participants may not have all of their supplies at hand. With the blog format, we could benefit by seeing the completed assignments of the other students, and the direction each received from the instructor. We had time to check out the recommended Pinterest site, and to watch demos on Youtube.


For our final class, we were asked to set the parameters for our own lesson. Our proposals were vetted by the teacher, who was able to offer advice about narrowing our focus, or suggesting we just tweak the requirements of a previous lesson.


I chose to have another go at an area I have found troublesome. Jane Davies often approaches a new piece by putting down a very active collage, featuring colour, shapes and pattern. She then repeatedly obscures parts of it, adds more detail to other areas, obscures some more, and continues until a focal area "emerges" from the chaos. That's what I wanted to do! So I revisited Lesson 8 and Lesson 9.


Maybe I just don't handle chaos well.


Anyway, here are my eight "explorations". I limited myself to neutral and muted colours, plus black and white, and a dash of saturated colour for interest.


As I write this, I haven't yet had the teacher's feedback on these. But I do have a few of my own ideas about how my approach might be improved.


Each week's assignment required us to comment on our own work. We were encouraged to really "see" each piece: not what we intended to paint but what was actually there, on the paper. Not how we worked, but how each element in the painting interacted with the others, and how it impacted the whole.


These are not to be thought of as finished works. They are all 12" x 9", using acrylic paint, collage, water-soluble crayon and charcoal.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

World of Threads Festival 2018

Untamed, Tina Struthers (Quebec)
Cotton, reclaimed denim, velvet, embroidery thread; textural layers machine and hand stitched

This biennial showcase of local, national and international contemporary fibre and textile art includes 303 artworks by 65 artists. Staged in Oakville, Ontario, it runs until November 25, 2018.

Nets, Mary-Anne Wensley (Ontario)
Pig gut, sausage casings, linen thread; many rounds of soaking & rinsing of the gut,
which is then shaped and laid out to dry. Knotting and tying square knots.

Nets, Mary-Anne Wensley (Ontario)

In the main gallery is Flow, the major exhibition of the festival,
"inspired by the natural processes and rhythms of the world around us. Some works drape and hang from the ceiling, others use found and repurposed materials. These elemental works bring to mind swirling rivers, cascading waterfalls and gradual erosion. Some works evoke a universal scale with floating gas and stardust. Others are more grounded and feel like mud slides, bubbling lava, dripping sap, decaying plants and churning debris. This show is filled with the energy of one form changing into another over long periods of time."

Black Crow Blues, Helena Scheffer (Quebec)
Commercial & artist-dyed cotton, silk, synthetic fabric, polyester threads, cotton batting;
collage, machine quilting

As well as the main show, many artists had small solo shows. Among my favourites:

You are here, Eszter Bornemisza (Hungary)
Newspaper, threads, carbon sticks, dyed, over-printed, ripped newspaper;

Paula Kovarik (Tennessee)

Paula Kovarik (Tennessee)

Through the Woods, Lorraine Roy (Ontario)
cotton and synthetic fabrics, cotton batting, acrylic paint;
machine raw edge appliqué, machine embroidery, machine quilting

Call of the Heart, Lorraine Roy (Ontario)
Cotton & synthetic fabrics, cotton batting batting, acrylic paint;
machine raw edge appliqué, machine embroidery, machine quilting

Integration, Lorraine Roy (Ontario)
cotton and synthetic fabrics, cotton batting, acrylic paint;
machine raw edge appliqué, machine embroidery, machine quilting

The World of Threads includes works in paper when the paper is used as a kind of fibre. One of the most striking works on display was an installation of hand-cast vessels in paper. More than 3000 items, shipped in from New York state, were individually arranged by the artist.

In Between Presence and Absence, Sun Young Kang (New York)

In Between Presence and Absence (detail)

Other sculptures, though not made of fibre, referenced fibre techniques, like weaving, knotting and wrapping.

Water Shadows series, Julia White (Ontario)
made with recycled bicycle tires

In the Round series, Melanie Chikofsky (Ontario)

In the Round series, Melanie Chikofsky (Ontario)

This year's is the fourth edition of World of Threads that I've attended. It seems that the volume of work has been steadily shrinking, as have the number of venues. The show this year was confined to one site, a community centre, and work displayed in the hallways was compromised by inadequate lighting and by annoying music blaring through loudspeakers. The work itself is well worth seeing and deserves a better venue.

For more information, go to the World of Threads website.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Lesson 9, "100 Drawings"

The Jane Davies on-line class I am taking continues with Lesson 9.  We were asked to make a minimum of six (ideally ten) examples of compositions that used 80% or more of an interesting monochromatic mix of colours, and 20% or less of "something else".

That "something else" could be anything: a bit of collage, a scribble, a dab of bright colour, an area of high contrast. We were encouraged to make the "something else" as small as possible, to see just how even the smallest smidgen of variety/contrast can enliven a painting.

#1. The "something else" here is a bit larger than the 20% allowed.

It sounds simple enough, but my brain has become an echo chamber of earlier lessons, especially the previous Lesson 8. Its approach of making a very busy collage and then overlaying most of it with paint, isolating a small area of activity amidst a quieter "breathing space", has much to offer. I wanted to revisit this approach, as I had such trouble executing it. That may have been a mistake. In terms of results.

In the example above, you can see how some of the textures of collaged material peek through the blue paint. This enriches the quiet space with visual and physical texture. There is no pre-planning with this approach. The artist learns to capitalize on happy surprises. And the active area emerges through an opening in the paint, well-integrated into the piece as a whole.

As I continued with the assignment, I decided to simplify a bit, and began the following pieces with a background  of reds and orange-reds and pinks, various hues and tints. I added visual texture by printing, and making marks with water-soluble crayon and paint markers.

#2. The "something else" is awkwardly placed, but does
meet the parameters of the lesson.

#3. This one is similar to the one above, though I like it more.

#4. This began with the red background, but then I covered most of it
with grey paint and added some texture. It is so boring.
The grey could be more interesting with more variety of value and hue.

#5. Again, this began with an interesting red background and then 
was partially covered with large, textured shapes in greys and celadon.

#6. This began with a large black mass, which was covered with small shapes
in neutral colours, including a few bits of cloth and text. It is surrounded
by shapes in lighter, neutral grey. The red patch is the "something else".
It could be reduced by half and might have even more impact.
The black is competing with some of the impact of the red, but
I do quite like the piece as a whole.

The comments I received from the other participants and from the teacher were very supportive, so I will just take a deep breath and forge ahead with Lesson 10. I am learning so much!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Lesson 8, "100 Drawings"


I wasn't able to do the assignments for Lesson 7 of the on-line class "100 Drawings", offered by Jane Davies. I was just way over-committed. Even this week I've submitted only the minimum of six samples.


Lesson 7, the week I missed, was an assignment to create interest with monochromatic colour schemes in a striped format. Interesting compositions were to be made with minimal differences in value, in hue, in texture and in edges (hard, less hard and dry brush.) Some stamped pattern was allowed, and so was some variety in the width and length of the stripes. It was an exploration of "the quiet".


Earlier,  Lesson 6 focused on maximal variety, creating extremely "busy" compositions. So it is only to be expected that this latest lesson, Number 8, is about combining zones of minimal variety (quiet areas) and maximal variety (active areas) in our samples. In fact, it was suggested we limit the active areas to less than 25% of available space, and include another 25% or so as "transitional" areas.


It was great to see what the other students submitted. Some of it was really gorgeous. I also appreciated visiting Jane's Pinterest board, "Busy Quiet Balance", and seeing the video that accompanied the lesson. Jane is known for putting down lots of detail and contrast and then obliterating much of it with paint. This creates areas where the complexity is partially hidden, and gives a sense of ambiguity and mystique. It allows for exciting, unexpected things to emerge because so many decisions are made on-the-go.


The point was made that "quiet" and "busy" are relative qualities. Although the demo showed vibrant and intense colour contrasts, I decided to limit my palette to a quieter range that I am more likely to explore in my own work. And though I did some "obliterating", I used that approach far less than Jane does.


All of these measure 9" x 9", and use acrylic paint, collage, cloth, and watercolour crayon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

"How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration"

This book by Dr. Ellen Winner, Professor of Psychology at Boston College, was published earlier this week. According to the Amazon description, it addresses some questions from philosophy, such as:
· What makes something art? Can anything be art? 
· Do we experience "real" emotions from the arts? 
· Why do we seek out and even cherish sorrow and fear from art when we go out of our way to avoid these very emotions in real life?  
· How do we decide what is good art? Do aesthetic judgments have any objective truth value?  
· Why do we devalue fakes even if we -- indeed, even the experts--- can't tell them apart from originals?
· Does fiction enhance our empathy and understanding of others? Is art-making therapeutic? 
Other topics are questions that are more practical, like:
· Does learning to play music raise a child's IQ?
· Is modern art something my kid could do?  
· Is talent a matter of nature or nurture? 

I found out about this book last week, when the Wall Street Journal published an article by the author, Dr. Ellen Weiner, describing her research on whether we can distinguish paintings made by children from paintings made by professional abstract artists.  Sounds interesting? I've already put in a request at my local library for this new title.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

So pleased!

Delighted to receive an Honourable Mention at the recent Fall Show of the Hudson Artists. It was awarded by the two judges for "strong composition".

My artist statement reads,
"[The series] Time and Again is inspired by “deconstructed” buildings. The structure remains, but new layers and textures are revealed as time and usage wear down surfaces."

These are mixed media pieces: acrylic paint, watercolour crayon and charcoal, with bits of cloth, print and wallpaper collaged in; paper mounted on cradleboard.

Time and Again #4, 24" x 24"

Time and Again #5, 24" x 24"

Time and Again #6, 24" x 24"

Word of the day: palimpsest. From the Oxford Living Dictionary:
- A manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.
- Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
- example: "Sutton Place is a palimpsest of the taste of successive owners."
- Origin: mid-17th century, via Latin from Greek palimpsēstos, from palin 'again' + psēstos 'rubbed smooth'.
- also: palimpsestic (adjective)