Tag Archives: creativity

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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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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See Like an Artist

20 Aug
Confined Watercolor Warm up

“Confined” watercolor on paper by Katie Turner.   The view is from a platform above an enclosed courtyard.

 

After thumbing through one of my old graphic arts books, I was thinking about how artists learn to express themselves visually and learn to see, not just using the sense of sight.  Matisse said that when he ate a tomato he just looked at it, “But,” he said, “When I paint a tomato, I see it differently.”

It’s true that artists see the world differently.  Seeing things differently enable an artist to deliver a message through their art.  Some say artists have heightened awareness.  How is it that an artist can see something different from others?

Some artists learn through life drawing classes.  Sometimes it can be a real struggle but life drawing classes can be a real growth opportunity for an artist.   They look, analyze, translate what they see into marks on paper and along the way acquire visual skills.  Learning how to “see” makes it possible to conceptualize more unique and original designs.

Some art classes don’t teach students to see but give them quick shortcuts to produce life drawings.  Historically, drawing was thought unnecessary and a lot of design students graduated from art school without any drawing at all.  As time continues, the pendulum swings back and forth with what is taught in school.   When representational art is popular, you will see more formal drawing classes available and when it’s not, less formal will rule.

There are many exercises available to hone your drawing skills that will also grow your ability to “see” creatively.

 

Here are my favorites:

  1. Turn things upside down before sketching. By placing an object in an unusual position it forces the mind to look more closely at it.  This forces us out of automatic drawing mode and trains us to draw what we see.

 

  1. Draw the negative spaces only. Concentrating on drawing these abstract shapes forces your mind away from preconceived ideas.

 

  1. Squint or use Red Acetate Film when sketching. Squinting or using this red acetate will quickly simplify any complex subject into simple shapes and values.  Your mind will be less likely to focus on the detail.

 

If you put just a few exercises into your daily practice, you will be “seeing” and drawing better in no time.  When the artist has better visual awareness, the door to creativity is opened.

 

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Art Masks Identity

16 Jul
Nick_cave from wiki

Nick Cave picture by Bowmanga 

Nick Cave is a Chicago based artist (originally from Missouri) who has some very interesting art that combines fabric, sculpture, dance and performance.

I first heard about Nick Cave while reviewing ISEA (International Society of Experimental Artists) 2019 symposium workshops. I found one workshop that involved creating a “Nick Cave” style soundsuit.  What is a soundsuit?  It is part sculpture, part costume and a bit of dance.

Cave has been creating soundsuits since 1992 using many found objects, fabric and other items.  He created these life size suits in response to racial experiences.  The suits usually have sound when worn, due to the sticks and twigs that he adds during the creation but often museums display the suits as static sculptures.  He uses the soundsuits as a way to confront identity.  He has created over 500 of these suits so far.

The soundsuits fully conceal the body and serve as a second skin that obscures race, gender and class.  Cave wants you to wonder, “What am I encountering?”  Viewers can look at these figures without bias towards identity.

“I don’t ever see the Soundsuits as ‘fun,’ they’re really coming from a very dark place.”  Nick Cave states.

Some schools are using the soundsuits idea as projects to teach children about identity.  Check out this video from a Detroit school here.

Here is a really short 2 1/2 minute video about Nick Cave’s Soundsuits click here.

Nick Cave’s Soundsuits video by PBS, click here.

Nick Caves exhibition at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts here.

Nick Caves represented by www.jackshainman.com

For more information on ISEA: https://www.iseaartexhibit.org/

Nick-Cage-Soundsuits1

Some of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits.  Photo from http://www.b4moda.com/nick-cave/.

In My Spare Moments: The Art of Harold F. Schmitz

23 Apr

I recently came across an announcement for a historical art show “In My Spare Moments: The Art of Harold F. Schmitz” at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, Wisconsin.  The artist, Harold Schmitz, was working in advertising when he was drafted into WWII in 1942.  He became a map maker with the 955th Topographic Engineer Company for the next three years.  After the war he became an art director for Northwestern Publishing House.

Although I find many things relating to war extremely disturbing – particularly the horrors and suffering related to it, I do feel it’s valuable to keep an open mind to what can be gleaned.  It is also fitting to give honor to those who sacrificed and served our country.

The show features 40 drawings, photographs, letters and a recorded oral history by Schmitz.  The recordings, completed prior to his death in 2013 include Schmitz discussing his art.

“Viewers of this exhibit will witness the fascinating evolution of an artist influenced by an alien but beautiful environment and his work as a wartime Army cartographer,” said Michael Telzrow, Wisconsin Veterans Museum Director.

Without even viewing the show, I can see the importance of sketching, drawing, documenting the world around us.  As artists, we are the window to the past, present and future, providing our interpretation of the world and events around us.  How fortunate that Schmitz took the time to practice his craft, despite circumstance.  When I think of the artist-soldiers who found the drive to create like that, I am inspired to brush away any of my own lame excuses.  Documenting our lives through art is great artistic exercise.  The art is needed just as much as the photography.

If you are in Wisconsin and would like to visit this show check out the links below:  https://www.wisvetsmuseum.com/exhibition/the-art-of-harold-f-schmitz/

https://www.wisvetsmuseum.com/contact/

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Ignore the Critics

31 Mar
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" Red Carpet Arrivals - 2013 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival

Photo from IMDb

Have you ever thought of trying something new?  Have you ever considered doing something completely different and unusual? Has anyone ever told you to just forget it?

Well, Jim Carrey’s story will make you smile.

For those of you who don’t know him, he is an American-Canadian actor and comedian.  Carrey is known for the many movies he has starred in – such as The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cable Guy and many more, but how many of us know that he is a prolific artist?

carrey painting

Jim Carrey at work in his studio. Photo from NARTNET

It’s true!  In addition to his funny antics as a child, he would spend time drawing and making art.  Later in his life he began painting to help him deal with difficult things.  He certainly had his fair share of sorrows.

In 2012 he began to share his artwork with the world through twitter.  He was advised by critics not to share his art because he was known for his acting, not art.  His response:  that year he had his first gallery show.

carrey eva

Jim Carrey,  Eva (2016). Photo from WMAG

In 2013 Carrey continued on with his directing and also starring in movies.  He also spent time painting and even wrote a children’s book titled “How Roland Rolls” – a tale about a little wave.  In 2015 his personal life took another downturn when his ex-girlfriend committed suicide.  The art helped him through another emotional time.

It wasn’t until 2017 when he had his second art exhibition called “Sunshow”.  Carrey states: “Life opens up opportunities to you, and you either take them or you stay afraid of taking them.”

valentine carrey

Jim Carrey, Valentine.  Photo from JCONLINE

He explained that one winter was so bleak that he felt like he really needed color and so began painting obsessively with color until his home was filled with paintings.  There were so many paintings that there was no place to sit.  The colors represent the things he loves and his inner life is reflected in his paintings.  He explains that his artwork reveals things about himself he didn’t understand.

Art critics say actor turned artist is more common than people realize.  Actors have attempted to become artists with only a handful succeeding.  The critics believe it’s some kind of a joke or publicity stunt for an upcoming movie he might be making.  They said “The art Carrey has been showing would be turned down if he offered it to a Salvation Army store.  It gives amateurs a bad name.”

Still, Carrey is happy he didn’t take the negative advice and keep his art to himself.

He has a short documentary video on his art and the role it fulfills for him which you can find online by just googling Jim Carrey – I Need Color.

Carrey said: “It is better to risk starving to death than surrender. If you give up on your dreams, what’s left?”

carrey jesus

Jim Carrey, Electric Jesus. Photo from JCONLINE

Carrey believes art is merely a model of your inner life.  He describes his Jesus paintings as full of electric energy with healing accepting eyes.  He says he uses many colors because you can find every race in the face of Jesus.

He explains, “As far as I can tell, it’s just about letting the universe know what you want and then working toward it while letting go of how it comes to pass.”

Jim Carrey doesn’t know if painting really teaches him anything but he does admit to it freeing him.  The bottom line of it for him is love.  Whether its performance, sculpture, art we all want to show ourselves and be accepted for who we are.

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