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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