Courage to Create

28 May

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?  These words of Vincent VanGogh ran through my mind as I read about Zarina Hashmi last week.

Zarina Hashmi was an American artist who went by only her first name, Zarina.  She recently passed away in April from Alzheimers.  Born in India, she used Islamic type decoration as visual elements in her art.  Her geometic style is similar to the minimalist style of the 1970s.

According to Gallery Espace in New Delhi, India, Zarina has a unique “ability to distil emotion down to its most essential and expressive forms.”   To view some of her artwork at Gallery Espace, click here: www.galleryespace.com She has many pieces from a 2007 show that are unique paper cast sculptures.

After doing a lot of travel, she began incorporating maps into her art work.  She expanded her ideas to include topographical details of cities that had been altered by political turmoil, such as India, NY, Baghdad, Kabul, and others.

MoMA has 43 Zarina works online that you can view on their website.  www.moma.org    She has a lot of interesting art but her prints are what interest me the most.  In an interview with editors of the 1970 issue of Vrishchik, she states that she didn’t have a lot of space or money when she first moved to NYC, so she devised her own paper casting mold by drilling holes in plastic.

In 1980 she was invited to co-curate an exhibition and design the catalog for the A.I.R. Gallery in NYC but they didn’t want her to show in it because of her race.  They just wanted her to do the work of curating and making the catalog.  In the end, things worked out and she did end up participating.

Zarina created many woodcut prints as well as her own paper, sculpture, drawing and often paired writing or words printed in Urdu, her native language from India.  She taught in several universities, NY-FAI, NYU and Cornell.  Her work was important to the art world because she explored home, displacement, and memory in a profound way through her prints.

Courtney Stewart with the Met Museum Research Department of Islamic Art questioned Zarina about the role of an artist in society.

“I think we are witnesses to the times we are living in.” stated Zarina.  She went on to explain how she saw Aligarh, her hometown, divided by a politically drawn line separated into India and Pakistan.  1947 was a tragic time where she saw villages burning with the British partition.

When asked “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?”, she said “Keep on working.  Just keep on working.  You will find a language for yourself.”

She reminisced “Everybody can draw, you know – skills don’t make art.  That is the least important part.  I’ve been a teacher for 25 years in this country, so I can teach the skills.  Ideas make art.  There are lots of people who can’t draw but they can make big art – great art, because it comes from ideas.  You can teach skills but you can’t teach ideas.”

Despite her not attending art school she had a long and successful art career.  The Jeanne Bucher Jaeger Gallery in Paris, writes that Zarina became more and more convinced that a superior force guided her life.  In accepting this light, she began using gold leaf the past few years, as she considered her artistic voyage as more of a universal spiritual destination.

To read Zarina’s biography, go to zarina-hashmi.com or the artist’s official website at www.zarina.work

Video: Zarina YouTube Video by Tate

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The 9th Street Women

27 Apr
Hard cover book "The 9th street women"

The 9th Street Women by Mary Gabriel

The 9th Street Women is a book about the New York City art scene from 1930 through 1950s written by author Mary Gabriel.  The book covers five influential women who helped to revolutionize the modern art world: Lee Krasner, Elaine DeKooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler.

This book is long at 944 pages but it kept my interest the whole time.  I was impressed with the way Gabriel developed the characters into memorable artists weaving history into the stories.  I was able to see how these artists impacted the art world.

Each woman played a role in the new art movement.  They challenged the traditional roles of women, questioning what society was telling.  They challenged the male dominated art scene of New York and in their own personal lives.

Elaine DeKooning boldly rejected the housewife role to take up her brushes with a more fulfilling role to her as an artist.  There were even times when other women discouraged her, yet she ignored their criticism to pursue her art career.

The book does a great job setting the stage with American history and gives the reader both historical and artistic reference.  I liked that Gabriel took time to point out the men who supported these women throughout their various challenges.

I find it inspiring that these women set aside discouragement and negativity to exercise their talents by pushing forward with their art.  They didn’t do it for fame or fortune but to become the best artist they possibly could be.  This book reminded me that we all have talents and need to continue to use them and develop them regardless of who acknowledges or approves.

Reading about how the women networked, strategized, and developed their art made it clear to me how challenging it must have been for them and how brave they were to push ahead with their art.  Although women still have a lot of challenges in the art industry we can draw encouragement from these 9th street women.

Have you felt challenged to give up your art?  Have you overcome artistic discouragement?  Please share!

Gold Leaf & Spirit Art

13 Mar

Delita Martin, a printmaker from Texas, inspired me with her rich patterns and deep colored paintings.  Martin uses reference photos from models and creates what she calls “spirit women” that are artistic composites in her work.

In a recent article by Lyric Prince (https://bmoreart.com)  she explains that her figures have identities and attitudes that could be anyone’s. “They are us, they are all of us.”, she states.

Martin’s solo exhibition is at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, “Calling down the Spirits”, located in Washington, D.C.  (https://nmwa.org/)  through April 19, 2020.   To read her artist statement or watch a short video interview, click here: https://vimeo.com or obsidianlit project  Her website: blackboxpressstudio.com

Her techniques were very interesting to me, particularly with how she combined gelatin prints, acrylic, fabric and hand stitching heavyweight papers, layering them upon each other.  The pieces have the feel of a quilt and also of a print at the same time.  The dark blues are present throughout several of her pieces which I like very much, along with circular patterns and stitching that helps unify the pieces.  Her use of gold leaf reminds me a little of Gustav Klimt yet it’s not overwhelming and feels just right.

She makes connections of spiritual and social movements from the past and into today’s world with her distinctive art providing a sacred connection.  When I look at the patterns, shapes and figures, I contemplate the influences, attitudes, and thoughts of these people.  I think of the colorful layers to a person’s life, and consider what influences have helped to build the patterns of their life.  Then I ponder what kinds of patterns dominate mine…  Have you thought about patterns in your own life and art?  Please share with me your insight.

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Modern Art Pioneer

18 Feb

I was asked about a pioneer who I admire and immediately thought of Edgar Whitney.  I felt he was a modern art pioneer because of how he shared his great talent through teaching.  Many of his students went on to become great painters and teachers, influencing modern watercolor painting in a positive way.

Edgar Whitney was born 1891 and died 1987.  He worked 25 years in Commercial Art, then 5 years as an Art Director before becoming a full time artist and teacher.  The American Watercolor Society lists him as a Master Watercolorist and has an annual award in his honor.  His dedication to American Watercolor greatly influenced our modern day art.

“There are only 2 things that matter in life – your friends and your art.  Everything else is worthless.”  ~ Edgar Whitney

How did I come across Edgar Whitney, my friend asked.  I was interested in finding an artist that painted in a similar way to my mother.  When I came across Whitney’s art, I knew this was it.  His paintings were what I was really looking for – very impressionistic and loose with lots of movement, spontaneity and texture.

Since he was no longer alive, I realized the only way I could learn from him was to learn from his students.  I spent about 10 months researching who his students were and even located some classes from them.  Some of his students were Cheng Khee Chee, Barbara Nechis, Tony Couch, Frank Webb, and of course there are many, many more.

I realized I could learn a lot from his books and for the next five years I dove into studying and practicing his way of painting.  Every class that came up with any of his famous students, I attended.

“No door is closed to a stubborn scholar.” ~ Edgar Whitney

I admire the way he was able to share his style and technique and had some students who went on to become famous painters and teachers.  From what I heard, he had a tendency to push his students and he was quite an interesting character.

“You have chosen to spend your time and money on esthetics.  Others can cheat you, a craft cannot.  It’s the only area in life where you get back what you’ve put in.”  ~Edgar Whitney.

Who do you admire as a pioneer?  What pioneer qualities do you possess or desire?  I’d love to hear some comments.

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Portraits in Play-Doh

27 Jan

 

Eleanor MacNair is a London Photographer who has developed a unique and interesting style where she shoots photographs rendered in Play-Doh.

MacNair keeps her tools amateur with off-the-shelf Play-Doh, a wine bottle as a rolling pin, water, knife and a few other simple items.  She explains that for a child’s material, Play-Doh is difficult to work with, since it dries, cracks, shows imperfections and she finds she must work quickly.  She also likes that it is possible for anyone to use it and create something similar.

MacNair’s process includes time to research and discover photographs that appeal to her, then after studying them, render them in Play-Doh.  Next, she shoots her own picture of the Play-Doh scene.  She is not interested in copying the original photograph but recreates her version as a tribute to the original.  She seeks out interesting parts of the original photograph to focus on.  Then once she has her own photograph of the creation, she takes it apart and uses the materials for the next one.

MacNair works full time in PR but has been pleasantly surprised by her Play-Doh project turning into much more than she imagined.  Her recent commissions include CULTURED, Cosmopolitan UK and Vogue Bambini.  You can follow her creations on Instagram or Tumblr.   You can check out her website EleanorMacnair.com.

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On Drawing and Painting

13 Dec

In the wintertime I paint almost exclusively in the studio.  Here I can paint from drawings or pictures I took as reference during the summer months or use my imagination.  Now is the time I can interpret any scenes that interest me while also making note of the words I may have jotted down on the corners of my sketches.  “Stippled sky” or “Mottled grass” give me clues to the scene in my art journals.  Although some items need to be more carefully rendered –  most other times details can be left to the imagination.

I try to think of drawing as exercise and fact-finding while painting for me is more explorative and experimental.  When I develop a picture I prefer to emphasize the abstract and textural qualities of the object.

Truth be told, I am hooked on watercolor with its fluidity and transparency.  I delight in wet-into-wet process but have also found that in order to paint more abstractly, I must experiment.  So I stipple and blot, crinkle and scratch until the surface reveals the look I’m seeking.  There is no sacred part but I always try to keep in mind the initial idea that prompted me to sketch or paint at first.

Wintertime can be a fabulous time of exploration and adventure!

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Expressive Gesture

30 Nov
Wilderness Welcome 72 1200 with logo

“Wilderness Welcome” watercolor by Katie Turner

I’ve had some great conversations with artists about whether or not they like their touch to show in their work.  What do I mean by “artist touch”?

When applying a medium to paper, it will take on a texture.  The way an artist builds the painting with paint strokes, softness, boldness, neatness or spontaneity – all of this works to establish the “artist touch”.

So, should an “artist touch” be visible in the artwork?

I’ve heard two schools of thought on this.  The first argument points out that the viewer’s focus ought to be on the image, not the paint quality.  This perspective views brushwork and gesture as distractions.  These artists want the viewer to have an immediate response to what is being said, not how it’s said.  To these artists, texture and technique should be secondary to the message and it would be even better if texture and technique are completely unnoticeable.

The second position suggests that brushwork and gesture are the artists signature.  These artists believe it’s important to see the artist hand in the work.  With this argument, how the artist says what they say is critical to the message.  The brushwork and gesture enhance the message, emphasizing the content of the painting.

Whatever you choose, to emphasize gesture and brushwork or not, you will definitely establish a texture of some sort and this touch gives an inner life to a piece of art.  Keep in mind that different textures stimulate our senses in different ways.  In the same way that no two people have the same handwriting, no two artists apply their paint in the same way.  I’ve illustrated a few types of texture below.  Although this is not a complete example of all the many hundreds of textures, you can see how each brush style has a different textural feeling.

texture samples

Experimenting with various brushwork and gesture in your art can be a key to discovering which you prefer – expressive gesture or hidden?   Have you thought about how much of the “artist hand” you prefer in your paintings?  Either way, it’s a fabulous tool to have in your creative toolbox.

Thanks for reading.  I’d love for you to share your thoughts.

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Technology & Art

3 Nov

david hockney book

After reading David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, I can begin to see how technology changes the arts.  In the same way the camera lucida and its lenses changed the way paintings were developed, technology continues to impact the art world.  Today digital art and computer manipulation continues to impact art through multi-window perspectives, multiple viewpoints and easily blurs the lines between illusion, fantasy and reality.

The same way the camera has shortcomings with perspective, computer aided art, and film also has shortcomings.  The computer cannot provide vision or passion.  Only the artist can supply the heart and vision behind the art.  There is a danger of relying upon the computer and forgetting that it is only a tool.  The hand, heart, eye and passion of an artist are far more complex than any computer will ever be.

Still the technological advances we have today are amazing.  We have gone from 2-D still pictures, to moving film, even to 3-D!  Who knows how the next 100 years will change art or in what way?  These are exciting times to be an artist!

Have you ever thought about the tools you use and how they impact your own work?  In what ways has technology impacted your creative endeavors?

 

Plastic Entanglements

11 Oct
robson red

“Isla”, 2014 Plastic debris (PET & HDPE), aluminum rivets, tinted polycrylic, mica powder, by Aurora Robson

Did you know that almost every piece of plastic ever made still exists today?

Plastic waste is one of those unique things that takes 1000 years to decompose and when plastic does break down, the small bits of toxic chemicals, such as bisphenola A (BPA) and PS oligomer end up in the digestive tracks of animals.  Plastic is now even being found in humans.  Plastic never disappears.  It will be around long after we are gone.

The Chazen Museum of Art (University of Wisconsin-Madison) has a new exhibit that gives a timeline of this unique modern material – plastic.  Curated by Joyce Robinson and guest curators, Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor and Heather Davis, the show addresses ecology, aesthetics and materials with contemporary artwork.  Sixty works by thirty artists explores environmental entanglements with plastic.

Although plastic is one of the most successful inventions and adds convenience, hygiene, and accessibility the artwork also displays the darker side.

Willie Coles Chandelier

When I entered the lobby of the Chazen Museum a monstrous Chandelier hung from the ceiling overhead.  Artist, Willie Cole created the piece entirely of plastic water bottles.  It was a particularly interesting piece considering how this plastic garbage is so translucent and how it pays homage to our vast consumerism and our culture of convenience.

Inside the galleries I watched an eerie video by Tejal Shah, an artist from Goa, India.  A cross between science fiction and modern dance, “Landfill Dance” shows a troupe of dancers in white cockroach dresses dancing upon a massive landfill.  Their movements around the piles of garbage are a strange interaction that makes me think of a future apocalypse.

Dianna Cohen, an artist from Los Angeles displayed a large plastic shopping bag mandala.  During meditation she hand-stitched the piece which made me reflect about what material things I accumulate.

purple

“Ona”, 2014 Plastic debris (PET & HDPE), aluminum rivets, tinted polycrylic, mica powder, by Aurora Robson

One of my favorite pieces was by Aurora Robson, born in Canada but now lives in upstate New York.  Her two pieces titled “Ona” and “Isla” were glittery and whimsical.  It was hard to believe they were created out of garbage.  She believes that if she crafts her art well enough, the plastic will hopefully never enter the waste stream again.  As an artist, I was particularly inspired by her perspectives.  I would recommend other artists to check out her video interview on her website below.

The show does an excellent job with getting the viewer to think about positive and negative aspects of plastic use but also to ponder personal choices and the future world as well.

There were many more artists in the show which I may write about in another blog post but for now I would encourage those in the Madison, WI area to check out the show at Chazen.  The Plastic Entanglements show is up until January 5, 2020 and it’s free.

 

www.chazen.wisc.edu

www.williecole.com

www.aurorarobson.com

 

Female Artists Missing from History

17 Sep
Poppy Pattern small 200 dpi with logo

“Poppy Pattern” Watercolor on Yupo paper 26″x 34″ by Katie Turner

Do you know that there are dozens of amazing female artists left out of history books?

After reading “The Guerrilla Girls Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art” written by the Guerrilla Girls, I heard many names that were new to me.

Female artists have struggled for proper recognition for their artistic abilities for centuries.  For some, their fathers, husbands, brothers took the women’s art as their own, adding signatures and selling it as their own.  A few gained some notoriety, but unfortunately, historians ignored the accomplishments of most of them.

Many of the female artists covered in this book deserve a closer look.  They were innovative, developing new ideas that changed the art world. These women showed the world another viewpoint.

Even into this modern era of art, women find it difficult to be taken seriously, have museum or gallery shows and sell at the same level as male artists.  But today there are more women exhibiting, reviewed and collected than ever before, although numbers are still less than their white male counterparts.

The women in this book make great examples for artists.  Additionally, women today, benefit from living role models and mentors, finding inspiration and support.

Many museums and galleries in Europe and New York are exclusionary, giving attention to more of the male artists.  Research tells us it gets better for women and artist of color, the further you geographically go from Europe and New York.

The book encourages theorists and women artists to finish up arguing over feminism, cultural constructs and female sensibilities to get on with the more important things – make great art!

Let’s do all we can to value other’s art and definitely, keep making great art!

 “Painting well is the best revenge!” ~ Guerrilla Girls

Some of the more “unknown” female artists from history:

  • Christine de Pizan
  • Lavinia Fontana
  • Elisabetta Sirani
  • Onorata Rodiani
  • Properzia de Rossi
  • Maria Robusti
  • Artemisia Gentileschi
  • Judith Leyster
  • Maria Merian
  • Rachel Ruysch
  • Angelica Kauffmann
  • Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun
  • Rosa Bonheur
  • Edmonia Lewis
  • Julia Margaret Cameron
  • Harriet Powers
  • Camille Claudel
  • Sonia Terk Delaunay
  • Claude Cahun
  • Alexandra Exter
  • Hannah Hoch
  • Gunta Stoltzl
  • Kathe Kollwitz
  • Dan Yuliang
  • Tarsila Do Amaral
  • Augusta Savage
  • Alma Thomas
  • Maria Montoya Martinez
  • Eva Hesse
  • Ana Mendieta