Sunday, February 18, 2018

Josef Albers in Mexico

While in New York earlier this month, I visited the exhibition "Josef Albers in Mexico" at the Guggenheim Museum. The one-minute video, above, serves as a quick intro.

Variant/Adobe, Orange Front, 1948-58, Josef Albers
oil on masonite

I have long been a fan of Albers' colour studies. I've also been interested in the work of his wife, textile artist Anni Albers. Both Josef (1888-1976) and Anni (1899 - 1994) were German-born, and both studied and then taught at the Bauhaus until the school was closed by the Nazis in 1933. They then emigrated to the U.S., where they taught at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and strongly influenced a whole generation of American artists and craftspeople.

The Albers visited Mexico 14 times, and the exhibition includes many hundreds of their photos of Pre-Columbian ruins,  clearly laying out how the architecture made a huge impact on Josef Albers' imagery.

Study for Sanctuary, 1941-42, Josef Albers
ink on graph paper

Memento, 1943, Josef Albers
oil on masonite

Biconjugate, 1943, Josef Albers
oil on masonite

Over the years I have been intrigued by the way that Albers used his colour studies to explore the interactions of colour. This show at the Guggenheim suggests that the format for these studies was derived from his experience of the pre-Columbian ruins on his travels to Mexico.

Study for "Homage to the Square",  1958, Josef Albers
oil on masonite

Study for "Homage to the Square: Closing", 1964, Josef Albers
Oil on masonite

Study for "Homage to the Square: Starting" 1969, Josef Albers
Oil on masonite

Study for "Homage to the Square", 1974, Josef Albers
Oil on masonite

The exhibition continues until March 28, 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

New Project Underway, Part 1

Our Text'art group of fibre artists has undertaken a project in association with the Maude Abbott Medical Museum at McGill University. (I blogged about this last month.) Due in seven weeks, I am happy to say that my contribution is well underway.

As it's not yet complete, I thought I would share some of the products and processes involved in my piece, which is inspired by the surgical instruments in the museum's collection.

One of the first things I did was to collect an assortment of hand-dyed linen and cotton from my stash. I looked for subtle colours without a lot of chroma, in keeping with the antique quality of the artifacts in the museum. Originally I considered this to be a complementary scheme of gold and blue, but there is a touch of red in there too, so it might be better described as a dulled-down mix of the primaries (yellow, blue and red). Or you could just say it is a mix of warm and cool hues, including neutrals.

Lauma, one of the Text'art group, contributed some aged linen that added the perfect hint of antiquity.

A small patch of texture was created by stitching scrim to a background of hand-dyed cotton. 

One of the elements in my composition is made of layered synthetic tulle and synthetic organza on top of hand-dyed cotton, with a stitched motif of "pebbles". It was then distressed with a heat gun. The photos below show how the upper layers have been burnt away, creating a very "organic" texture.

trying out the heat gun on tulle (above) and organza (below)

A sample, made by layering organza and tulle on top of cotton,
stitching, and then applying heat to burn away the synthetic fabric
Now, why would I have two heat guns, you might ask.
One of them is stronger, the other more moderate. I think.

Artist Transfer Paper was an effective way to incorporate photo images into the project. It's also a useful method of adding text to a composition.

I've had this product tucked away for several years.
always being careful to seal it tightly after use.

an example of image transfer, applied to mottled, hand-dyed cotton.

Light Steam-a-Seam 2 allowed me to "fuse" cut-out cloth shapes onto a cotton or linen background, later to be machine-stitched into place.

The seed-like shapes have been fused onto a background of hand-dyed cotton.
The photo shows some of the threads and beads I am "auditioning"
to add detail to this element.

And finally, when the project is completed, I will add a coat of Fabric Shield, which protects the textiles from dust and from fading due to sunlight exposure.

Hope to share more glimpses of the work in progress soon.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed

Just before it closed, I was able to take in the recent show of paintings by Edvard Munch at the Met Breuer.

Self-Portrait: Between the Clock and the Bed, (1940-43)
His last significant self-portrait was begun at a time when Munch was
organizing the bequest of many thousands of his works to the city of Oslo.

The painting that lends its title to the exhibition is shown above. A self-portrait, it positions the artist between the faceless clock (time is up?), and his bed, where he expects to die. The walls in the background are lined with many of his paintings.

The selection of works confirmed the general impression that Munch (1863 - 1944) was not, to use a current expression, "comfortable in his own skin." The Norwegian artist, best known for his iconic "The Scream" was, in his later years, preoccupied with illness and death, and had conflicted feelings about women that were vividly expressed in the paintings on view.

The Night Wanderer (1923-24)
Munch described the second half of his life
as a "battle just to keep myself upright". 

Several of the images depict Munch's physical struggles, including insomnia and bronchitis.

Sleepless Night: Self-Portrait in Inner Turmoil (1920)

Man with Bronchitis (1920)
The rapid brushstrokes, vivid colours, and
thinly applied paint imply the feverish nature of the artist's illness.

Here are two of the six paintings he produced that were inspired by the death of his sister. Note that the technique of the later one is much more vigorous. Munch seems to be pushing his style into the Expressionism for which he is best known.

The Sick Child (1896)
This is the third of six treatments of this image.
Munch used a technique of layering paint and then scraping away colour.

The Sick Child (1907)
Munch's technique becomes more radical,
conveying emotion with a quivering brush stroke.

This next painting recalls the famous Death of Marat, by the French painter Jacques Louis David. It was inspired by an incident in Munch's life that involved an argument with his fiancée and resulted in him shooting himself in his hand.

The Death of Marat (1907)
Note the experimental painting technique.

His portraits of women reflect his discomfort with sexuality.

Puberty (1894)
Note the fearful unease of the figure, and the looming shadow.
Madonna (1895-97)
sainted mother or temptress?
Model by the Wicker Chair (1919-20)
Model Annie Fjeldbu is most often depicted clothed or partially clothed,
but here, head bowed, has thrown off her gown and robe.

In 1944, Edvard Munch, aged 80, died of pneumonia and cardiac disease. He bequeathed to the city of Oslo 1,150 paintings, 18,000 prints, 7,700 drawings and watercolours, and 13 sculptures.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Louise Nevelson @ Pace Gallery

Untitled (Sky Cathedral), 1964
more than 8 feet high, almost 11 feet wide 

As so often happens when traveling, it's the events that you stumble upon that make the biggest impression.

While walking through the Chelsea neighbourhood in New York, I noticed a banner for Black & White, a show opening that evening at Pace Gallery. As I've always loved the work of Louise Nevelson, I made a special effort to return to the area two days later to see the show, which was swarming with visitors.

Dawn's Presence - Three, (1975 - 1980)
Over ten feet tall, and over ten feet wide, it is
the artist's only complete white environment held in private hands.

"Louise Nevelson (b. 1899, Kiev; d. 1988, New York), a leading sculptor of the 20th century, pioneered site-specific and installation art. She is recognized for her sculptures comprised of discarded furniture and other wood elements found in the area surrounding her studio. Composing these elements into nested, box-like structures, she would then paint them in monochromatic black, white or gold – transforming disparate elements into a unified structure. She also experimented with bronze, terracotta, and Plexiglas, moving as well into collage, works on paper, and the realm of public art. With her compositions, Nevelson explored the relational possibilities of sculpture, summing up the objectification of the external world into a personal landscape. Although her practice is situated in lineage with Cubism ad Constructivism, her sense of space and interest in the transcendence of the object reveal an affinity with Abstract Expressionism. Nevelson represented the United States at the Venice biennale in 1962, and today her work is held in over ninety public collections worldwide."

Many of the black sculptures were grouped in a room with black walls, illuminated by blue light. requiring the viewer's eye to adjust to the minimal light conditions. This is how Nevelson preferred her black-painted works to be shown.

The exhibit continues until March 3, 2018.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Don't Tell Ken Burns Quilts are Quaint

A recent article in The New York Times is part of an ongoing series in their Art & Design section, called Show Us Your Wall.

The article coincides with a newly-opened show at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, titled Uncovered: The Ken Burns Collection.

The International Quilt Study Center & Museum is located on the University of Nebraska - Lincoln's East Campus and houses the largest publicly held quilt collection in the world.

Here's a powerful quote from Burns about his relationship with the antique American quilt:
"As a collector, I'm looking for something that reflects my country back at me. Quilts rearrange my molecules when I look at them. There's an enormous satisfaction in having them close by. I'm not a materialist. There are too many things in the world, and we know that the best things in life aren't things. Yet there are a few things that remind me of the bigger picture.
"We live in a rational world. One and one always equals two. That's okay, but we actually want—in our faith, in our families, in our friendships, in our love, in our art—for one and one to equal three.
"And quilts do that for me."
—Ken Burns

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Upcoming visit to NYC

Planning my art itinerary right now for an upcoming holiday in New York. Might as well share it with you as I navigate through the various websites.

I'm really excited to see the one-woman show for Elizabeth Catlett at the gallery Burning in Water. I posted here about this artist when I saw her linoprints at the Whitney last summer. I was alerted to this show by the listing in The New Yorker. The reviewer wrote, in part,
"Think of this superb, small selection as an amuse-bouche for the major museum retrospective that, as the art world belatedly catches up to overlooked brilliant women, is all but inevitable."
I should also be able to take in the exhibition at the Met Breuer on Edvard Munch.

"This exhibition features 43 of the artist's landmark compositions created over a span of six decades, including 16 self-portraits and works that have never before been seen in the United States. More than half of the works on view were part of Munch's personal collection and remained with him throughout his life."

At the Met Fifth Avenue is a show of David Hockney. I am not really familiar with his work but this show will serve as a good introduction. This two-minute video gives us a taste.

And of course, while at the Met, I must see what the New York Times has called "the must-see show of the season... an art historical tour-de-force."

On display are 133 of Michaelangelo's drawings, three marble sculptures, his earliest painting, and a wood architectural model of a chapel vault. The exhibition draws on works from 50 public and private collections in Europe and the United States.

Visiting the Guggenheim New York is often a mixed pleasure. It seems almost every time we go, a good part of the museum is closed to the public. To compensate for this, the admission fee is reduced.  And it has happened that the museum itself doesn't open until 45 minutes after the posted opening time, with no explanation given to the unhappy crowd gathered outside. It might be worth the visit just to see the show "Josef Albers in Mexico".

At the Jewish Museum, I hope to see Modigliani Unmasked, a show comprised of 150 drawings, paintings and sculptures.

Jeanne Hébuterne with Yellow Sweater, Amadeo Modigliani, 1918-19

I remember seeing Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party when it toured Montreal almost 40 years ago. It found a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2007 and is now the focus of a special show, Roots of the Dinner Party: History in the Making.

Exceptionally, there is nothing much of interest to me at the Whitney, the Neue Galerie, the Museum of Arts and Design, the Frick, the American Folk Art Museum, or MOMA. It seems to be a time when many temporary exhibits are closing, post-holiday-season, with the new shows yet to be installed. In fact, a few of the shows detailed above will have closed within days of my visit. But there is always serendipity to add a pleasant surprise or two to the mix!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

New project in development, Part 3

Walk in the Woods #5, 2007

Thinking about how to represent organic materials using fibre has brought back memories of my "Walk in the Woods" series, undertaken some ten years ago, and the later "Seeds, Pods and Husks" series.

Seeds, Pods and Husks #1, 2008

One of my favourite ways to represent cellular growth and decay is to stitch a synthetic sheer to a cotton, and then use a heat gun to burn away some of the sheer fabric.

sheer brown organza pebble-stitched to a red cotton base,
then distressed with a heat gun

sparkling sheer stitched onto brown cotton,
then distressed with heat gun

Cheesecloth can suggest a fibrous network:

cheesecloth, painted and stitched into place

Scrim (rather like a starched cheesecloth) can suggest patches.

scrim stitched onto a cotton base

Random stitching on a wash-away stabilizer can create a kind of netting. Fascia?

random machine stitching with heavy thread onto wash-away stabilizer.
then secured onto a cotton base

The effect below was made by painting and then burning into Lutradur.

suggesting the surface of distressed bone?

Applying ink to cloth using bubble wrap can suggest cellular degeneration.

I am having fun looking back at techniques I used a decade ago, and considering how I might use them in my new project on the subject of surgical instruments. As with the Walk in the Woods series, I might make a grid of interlocking and overlapping rectangles. Some of these could have an image of a surgical tool on an interesting background, and others could simply be small patches of organic texture.

A grid seems rather bloodless for the topic of surgery, when you consider how surgery is a form of violation of the body. And yet, my piece is to be inspired by the collection of a medical museum, and what is a museum display if not bloodless? Further thought required....

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

New project in development, Part 2

from Surgery of the Ambulatory Patient,
by L. Kraeer Ferguson

Seeing this illustration in an antique medical text reminded me of the connections between stitch and surgery.

Surgeons use suture material to make a "running stitch"

running stitch on printed cotton

or an "interrupted stitch", like these two. (Interrupted because each stitch is separately tied off.)

And surely French knots resemble the knots used to secure suturing.

French knots

And then, too, stitch can be used to resemble various textures of organic material.  A pebble stitch can indicate organic growth, perhaps a cross-section of bone?

pebble stitch, machine-sewn

A chain stitch might indicate a kind of bacteria. As might a seed stitch. And what about bugle beads?

chain stitch

seed stitch
bugle beads
Closely-spaced machine stitching might resemble the striations of muscle.

closely-spaced zigzag, machine-sewn
with glossy rayon thread

A small meandering stitch might look like the villi in the digestive tract, or polyps.

meandering stitch, machine-sewn with metallic thread

Gently curving stitch lines or lines of couching suggest muscle fibres...

machine stitching

or blood vessels.

couched embroidery threads

In my next post I will go beyond simple embroidery and beading to explore more ways to suggest organic materials using innovative fibre techniques.