Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Lorraine Pritchard @ Galérie Beaux-Arts des Amériques

I have followed the career of artist Lorraine Pritchard with interest for several years now. She is represented by the Galérie Beaux-Arts des Amériques in Montreal, and is currently the subject of a solo show at their St.-Laurent Street venue.

Like Agnes Martin, Pritchard was raised on the Canadian Prairies. The two artists share an affinity for the vast landscape of crop lines and fence lines, reaching uninterrupted to the horizon under an enormous sky. This vision is evident in Pritchard's recent series of tall rectangles on washi paper, featuring fine, pencilled parallel lines running edge-to-edge, closely spaced, creating bands of colour.

What Lies Between, 2019
95 drawings, ink and coloured pencil on washi,
each 21.75" x 6.75"

The visitor to the show is greeted by a wall with 95 such banners, mounted in grid format. During the vernissage, when the space was crowded with well-wishers, the banners trembled with the changing air currents.

Above is a variation on the use of parallel lines drawn on washi paper, with the paper folded to cast shadows and create a multiplicity of shapes.

Other series by Pritchard could be described as calligraphic.

Clearly the artist brings great focus and discipline to these drawings. And yet other series are more about the large gesture and these are, perhaps, my favourites.

I enjoy the variety I see in these compositions: opacity and transparency, over and under, subtle transitions and bold contrast.

Often they include a drawn line that acts as a counterpoint to the great swaths of transparent colour.

More images from the current exhibition are available on the gallery's website.

The show continues until November 16, 2019.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

"How Do We Look", by Mary Beard

Published in 2018, this book is barely 200 pages long, but it turns the conventions of art history on its head.

Rather than a parade of (mostly male) artists ("one damn genius after another" is the author's phrase), Mary Beard focuses on the "social history" of art. How did the art function in its society? What purpose did it serve? What does it tell us about its time, and how much does it continue to shape our perceptions today? She shifts the focus from the "maker" of the art to the "audience" of the art.

The author readily admits how much she was influenced by Kenneth Clark and his BBC series "Civilization" (1969), but she broadens the conversation by drawing on references from outside the Western canon, including examples from South America, Asia and the Islamic world. She also turns our gaze to include women artists and artisans, and to explore how art reflects (and fails to reflect) the role of women in the world.

Beard is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, a fellow of Newnham College, and Royal Academy of Arts Professor of Ancient Literature. She is the Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement. Despite all these impressive titles and her obvious erudition, Beard writes in a most accessible style.

If you're interested in the more modern and inclusive take on art history, this would be a good book to begin with.

And here's an interesting footnote: Mary Beard was a co-presenter for the 2018 BBC update of the Kenneth Clark series, newly titled "Civilizations". But when the series was edited for American PBS, much of her footage was removed. Beard claimed that her appearance as an older woman was unwelcome, and that the series was modified to become more "anodyne". She urges anyone interested to watch the BBC version of "Civilizations".

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Jean McEwen @ the MMFA

Marking the twentieth anniversary of his death, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has staged a show of the work of Montreal painter Jean McEwen. Untamed Colour: Celebrating the Art of Jean McEwen continues until February 2, 2020.

His paintings are large, and their textural qualities make a strong impact on the viewer. McEwen was known to apply the paint to canvas with his hands.

Of the works on display, one of my favourites is this one:

The Madness Driving Love No 3, 1966

The central area in red is flat and opaque, contrasting with the two outer rectangles of mottled violet. A thin, hard-edged gold line outlines each of the three main shapes.

Making a strong impression as the viewer enters the exhibition's large room is:

Long Plumb Line No. 2, 1961

This richly-textured work in oil, evoking a patina of age, was shown in McEwen's first solo show in New York, in 1963. That same year it was also included, with eight of his other works, in Canada's entry to the 7th Sāo Paulo Biennial.

Similarly stunning is:

Loophole Crossing Blue, 1961

Others of McEwen's paintings have a quieter palette.

Temple of Joy, 1977.

Jean McEwen was self-taught. Early in his career he came to know Paul-Émile Borduas, and then Jean-Paul Riopelle. Later, he became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and a lecturer at the Université of Québec and at Concordia University.

A description posted at the exhibit reads:
"By displaying works that span McEwen's near-fifty-year-long career, this exhibition underlines the understated monumentality, continuity and haunting beauty of his practice. The artist often used his hands to apply paint directly on the canvas, yet his paintings nonetheless eschew the drama of gesture, exploiting instead the intensity and expressiveness of colour. Their numerous successive layers of paint simultaneously suggest a rugged and polished surface while retaining a geometric structure and potent symbolic form that elude specific interpretation."

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The New York State Capitol Building

Returning home from a driving holiday in New England, we spent some time in Albany, New York.

Albany is a curious city. As the state capitol of New York, much public money has been spent on its government buildings. The city is almost entirely low-rise, with the exception of some modern governmental skyscrapers, which are poorly-integrated into the landscape of the city centre. They are connected by a cavernous underground plaza, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, lacking in amenities or storefronts. The whole complex was built between 1965 and 1976, at an estimated cost of $2 billion.

view of Albany's historic capitol building,
surrounded by modernist government buildings

Here is what architecture critic Martin Filler wrote about the complex, in The Making of Empire State Plaza:
"There is no relationship at all between buildings and site, neither at grade nor atop the podium, since all vestiges of the existing site have been so totally obliterated. Thus, as one stands on the Plaza itself, there is an eerie feeling of detachment. The Mall buildings loom menacingly, like aliens from another galaxy set down on this marble landing strip."
The neighbourhood around the plaza is run-down, and includes a number of condemned buildings. Our innkeeper explained that the people who work for the state are well-paid, and want to live in the suburbs. What she didn't explain was that the centre of the city had been hollowed out by the evictions necessary to accommodate a modernist dream. I found out more about this history by reading the Wikipedia entry here.

Apparently there is a large collection of mid-century art in the complex. I saw only a few examples, and assume that one must enter the various skyscrapers to see the almost 100 sculptures and paintings.

Our hostess recommended a tour of the historic state capitol building. Here are some of the photos I took on the very informative tour.

This image of a hallway underlines the impressive nature
of the state capitol building, built 1867-1899.
The mosaic floor was laid piece-by-piece, by hand.

Examples of fine craftsmanship abound.
Much of the woodcarving was done on site, and the artisans
were mostly immigrants from Scotland.

Many of the materials were also imported, like this panelling of Italian marble.

The state senators meet here, and the galleries are open to the public.
Our guide pointed out some unfinished details in the building, which
was plagued with cost over-runs. The building was declared "finished" in 1899,
at a cost of $25 million, worth almost $800 million today.
It was the most expensive government building of its time.

Originally, the building was to be capped with a dome,
but the idea was scrapped due to structural concerns.

Three successive teams of architects were hired, as costs escalated.
Each team worked in a different architectural style.
Thomas Fuller was the original architect, beginning in 1867
with a Classical/Romanesque style.
He also designed the parliament buildings in Ottawa.
The next two floors were done in a Renaissance Classical style,
and the final work was considered to be Victorian-modified Romanesque.

A second assembly room. The light fixture, seen in part
on the right, weighs twelve tons.

The stonecarving was all done in place.
The capitals of the columns include faces of historic figures,
as well as those of some of the craftsmen.

A tour of the capitol building is offered four times daily, and I would recommend it. Albany also has two worthwhile museums within walking distance, the Albany Institute of History and Art and the New York State Museum.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Storm King sculpture park

The southern-most art destination on our recent trip to New England was the Storm King sculpture park in Cornwall, New York. Ever since I learned about this site, I have wanted to experience it for myself. The park is named for its nearby mountain. The project began in 1960, and its 500 acres now receive 200,000 visitors each year.

We arrived on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and it was already busy, though never crowded. Trams travel a circuit to help visitors to reach all corners of the vast space. Rental bikes are also available on site.

Visitors are asked not to touch or stand on the sculptures. Exceptionally, a few are meant to be touched, and they are so labeled in the handout and on the site plaque.

A panoramic view taken from near the hilltop museum building.
The landscape seems to extend endlessly in all directions.

The rolling hills offer many vantage points.

Almost all the sculptures may be viewed up close.
Here is Untitled, by Joel Shapiro, 1994

Black Flag, Alexander Calder, 1974

Visitors enjoy interacting with the sculptures,
sometimes striking a pose for photos.

Here, a viewer performs a physical exam of Three Legged Buddha, by
Zhang Huan, 2007.

Alternate view of Three Legged Buddha. The sculpture weighs
more than 12 tons. The head is a self-portrait of the artist.

Some sculptures were placed in relation to water features,
like Roy Lichtenstein's Mermaid,  1994

An example of land art, Storm King Wavefield by Maya Lin, 2007-8.

Lin's best-known work is no doubt the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington DC. Storm King Wavefield, above, consists of seven nearly-400-foot-long waves, ranging in height from ten to fifteen feet. It is considered to be an environmental reclamation project, situated on what was once an 11-acre gravel pit that supplied material for the New York State Thruway. The rhythm of the masses replicates the scale of a series of mid-ocean waves.

Another example of land art is Storm King Wall, by Andy Goldsworthy, 1997-98.

The stone wall continues on either side of a small pond, up the hill and into
 the woods. It measures 2278 feet, and is Goldsworthy's largest work to date.

These Ionic columns are massive in scale, and overlook a vista.

Some sculptures interact with each other.
In the foreground, North South East West by Lynda Benglis,

Others relate to the trees and detritus in the woods, or mark the margin between
open ground and forest.
Here, Eight Positive Trees,  Menashe Kadishman,  1977

Other sculptures, like City on the High Mountain, by Louise Nevelson,
are more stand-alone.

The website for Storm King is a rich source of information about all of their 100-plus sculptures. It allows you to search by artist, by title or by decade, and offers details about the making or installation of each piece. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Hudson Artists Fall Show


My series of patchwork hearts has won a Judge's Choice at the show. So pleased!!
Four awards in the last four shows.

untitled, acrylic collage, 16" x 16"

Delighted to be showing some of my recent work at the Fall Show of the Hudson Artists.

untitled, acrylic collage, 16" x 16"

I've submitted my two recent acrylic collages, as yet untitled. Suggestions for names are welcome!

City in Ruins #1, acrylic collage, 10" x 10"

As well, four of my recent "radical collages" will be on display. This series, titled "City in Ruins", required four layers of collage, alternated with vigorous sanding and painting, to achieve a "distressed" surface.

Stitched Hearts, made of hand-dyed and commercial cottons, 8" x 6" framed

I will also be hanging small, framed "stitched hearts". Made of hand-dyed and commercial cotton and machine-stitched, these pieces are priced to be bought in multiples!

The show opens on Friday evening, October 18, at 7:30 pm, and continues from 10 am - 5 pm on Saturday, October 19 and Sunday the 20th. Over 30 artists will be showing at the local community centre, 394 Main Road in Hudson.

A painting by member Olia Stielow will be raffled off in support of the local bird shelter, Le Nichoir.

Once again some of the members will submit their work to two outside judges. The awards will be announced at the vernissage, when visitors will be welcomed with wine and refreshments. I will be working the sales desk that evening and hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio

A recent holiday in New England included tours of historic homes, including Hildene House in Manchester, Vermont, home of Robert Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln. A memorable part of these tours was the opportunity to walk through forested pathways on the house grounds.

Acres of woodland at The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in Lenox,
are carpeted with periwinkle. In the spring,
when it's blooming with blue flowers, it must be a thrilling sight.

This was our experience as we approached the Frelinghuysen Morris house and studio for our guided tour. I have to ask you to imagine the sensation of the crunchy mulch underfoot, the gentle breeze that rustled the leaves, the fragrance of autumnal decay, the dappled sunlight and the hum of the cicadas. The 46-acre estate also includes a formal garden and a small pond.

The studio space was inspired by Fernand Léger's studio
 in France, as designed by Le Corbusier

George L.K. Morris grew up on these grounds in Lenox, Massachusetts. As a young man from a wealthy family, he pursued an interest in art and was hired by MOMA to travel to Europe and buy work for their collection. He was friendly with the French painter Fernand Léger and others. In the early '30s, he had this studio built for himself on the grounds of the family estate. Around this time he married Suzy Frelinghuysen, an accomplished opera singer and visual artist, and together they enjoyed a privileged life, much of it spent in Europe.  Their own art collection included paintings and sculpture by Léger, Picasso, Miro and Gris, among others.

Entrance hall to house, with Morris's fresco

Within a few years a house was added to the studio, designed by the couple and meant to be a part-time residence. Morris himself painted the frescoes.

The living room, with its original furnishings.
The floor has recently been replaced with new leather tiles, as per the original.
Note Morris' fresco on the wall at right.

The light-filled studio

The visit included a one-hour video documentary on the lives of the couple, and a one-hour tour with a very knowledgeable guide. Go to this link for more information about the Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

An art-infused holiday in Massachusetts

On a recent "art and culture tour", our first stop in western Massachusetts was Williamstown, just south of the Vermont border. Williamstown is the perfect little college town, as though designed by Disney. It is home to Williams College, established in 1793.

street view as seen from the entrance to the art museum
of Williams College

This liberal arts school, with an enrolment of little more than 2000, has a fine Museum of Art. Teachers in various disciplines (history, religion, biology, among others) select a few pieces from the museum's art collection to augment their required reading lists, and these are displayed at the museum's entrance. In this way, casual visitors like me are given a new perspective on the art collection. As part of a biology class, for example, an Albers colour study might be a topic for discussion on visual perception.

The Williams College campus is bisected
by the main street through town.

The Clark Institute in Williamstown,
with its charming lily pond in the foreground

Next stop in Williamstown was the Clark Art Institute, commonly referred to as "The Clark". The architecture of the building is very striking, and the holdings are impressive. The Clark is best known for its collections of French Impressionist paintings, especially Renoir, as well as some major pieces by John Singer Sargent and by J.M.W. Turner.

John Singer Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris, 1880

Camille Pissarro, Piette's House at Montfoucault, 1874

Camille Pissarro, Route de Versailles, Louveciennes, Rain Effect, 1870

Then it was on to North Adams, home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, better known as  Mass MoCA. While there, we especially enjoyed the immersive light and hologram installations of James Turrell. To get a sense of how this enormous space, formerly industrial, has brought new life to a struggling corner of the state, you might want to watch this:

What else did we see in Massachusetts? The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge is definitely worth a couple of hours. We had an excellent tour of The Mount, the turn-of-the-century home of author Edith Wharton, that gave us a glimpse into her life and times. Her estate includes formal gardens and fifty acres of beautiful woodland.

The Mount, home to Edith Wharton, in Lenox

We also spent a half-day at the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield MA, where we enjoyed live demonstrations of basket weaving, blacksmithing, and woodworking. We learned about the lives of the 100 or so one-time residents of this religious community by touring their dormitories, schoolroom, farm fields and barns.

There is one more art-themed attraction in Massachusetts that I want to share with you, but it will have to wait for an upcoming post.