Thread Heads: Fiber Art Abounds

      For those of us engaged in the fiber arts, it's a joy to hear about exhibits burgeoning around the world. In Northern California, for example, there is a healthy population of fiber artists, with shows opening regularly at art centers, galleries, museums, or other institutions. Some are entirely dedicated to fiber, such as the traveling Korean exhibition that I co-curated (see post 18 June 2017), "Renegade Fiber" at Marin MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Novato, CA (May 27 - July 2), and "Thread Heads" at Berkeley Art Center in Berkeley, CA (October 21 - November 26). Also, it's no longer unusual to include fiber entries in overall art shows. I feel fortunate to have my work juried into some of them. The more exposure fiber art gets, the less ghettoized it is.

So here are some images from two exhibits I just mentioned. They reflect how wide-ranging fiber art has become, incorporating natural and synthetic fibers as well as traditional and innovative methods, objects, and products, not to mention dimensionality. If you're not already familiar with the latest in fiber art, you'll see that imaginations are soaring and broadening the definition of art.

The first few images are from "Renegade Fiber."

"Oops," by Tina Maier. Textiles, found objects, and wire. Marin MOCA.

"Oops," by Tina Maier. Textiles, found objects, and wire. Marin MOCA.

"Big Smile," by Carolyn Burwell. Hand woven, hand dyed monofilament. Marin MOCA.

"Big Smile," by Carolyn Burwell. Hand woven, hand dyed monofilament. Marin MOCA.

"Monochromania #16-1362TCX-16-1463TPG," by Sooo-Z Mastropietro. Cotton lycra fabric tubes on painted canvas, glue, thread. Marin MOCA.

"Monochromania #16-1362TCX-16-1463TPG," by Sooo-Z Mastropietro. Cotton lycra fabric tubes on painted canvas, glue, thread. Marin MOCA.

"Echeveria," by Katie Gutierrez. Linen and encaustic. Marin MOCA.

"Echeveria," by Katie Gutierrez. Linen and encaustic. Marin MOCA.

"Tube," by Leah Cabinum. Up-cycled inner tube rubber, wire, wood, paint, hardware, and tire parts. Marin MOCA.

"Tube," by Leah Cabinum. Up-cycled inner tube rubber, wire, wood, paint, hardware, and tire parts. Marin MOCA.

"Esme with Love & Squalor," by Gina Telcocci. Reed, plaster, wood. Marin MOCA.

"Esme with Love & Squalor," by Gina Telcocci. Reed, plaster, wood. Marin MOCA.

Detail of "Esme with Love & Squalor," by Gina Telcocci. Marin MOCA.

Detail of "Esme with Love & Squalor," by Gina Telcocci. Marin MOCA.

"Yellow Polyhedron," by Marty Jonas. Thread. Marin MOCA.

"Yellow Polyhedron," by Marty Jonas. Thread. Marin MOCA.

Juried by fiber artists Marion Coleman, Karen Hampton, and Tali Weinberg, "Thread Heads" examines the current state of Bay Area fiber arts and poses the question: “What social and political circumstances are influencing the craft movement of the new millennium?” The works of a dozen artists grace the walls, floor, and ceiling of the gallery. However, without explanations, I have to admit that, in some instances, I wasn't able to discern what social and political influences are exerted on the artwork. Nevertheless, it's interesting to take a close look and try to figure that out.

"Fly" (2017) + "Natural" (2015), by LaQuita Tummings. Textiles, beads, 3-D butterflies. Berkeley Art Center.

"Fly" (2017) + "Natural" (2015), by LaQuita Tummings. Textiles, beads, 3-D butterflies.
Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "Fly," by LaQuita Tummings. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "Fly," by LaQuita Tummings. Berkeley Art Center.

When standing close to Lia Cook's weavings, you notice only an abstract pattern. A face doesn't appear unless you move back far enough.

Detail of "Positivity Su Data" (2014), by Lia Cook. Woven cotton and rayon. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "Positivity Su Data" (2014), by Lia Cook. Woven cotton and rayon.
Berkeley Art Center.

"Positivity Su Data" (2014), by Lia Cook. Woven cotton and rayon. Berkeley Art Center.

"Positivity Su Data" (2014), by Lia Cook. Woven cotton and rayon.
Berkeley Art Center.

If you can't get to the show, here are a few more images to consider. They represent an extensive variety of techniques and materials appearing in the realm of fiber art.

In the center, "Phase" (2016), by Karrie Hovey, needle felted wool. On left wall, "Memoir 8 - La Ciudad" (2017), by Laura Raboff, wool and thread. Followed by "Supplemental 322x" (2017) and "Purl 322x" (2017), handwoven jacquard, hand embroidery, and, on a pedestal, "Microbiology Lab Series II" (2016), hand embroidery, all by Ruth Tabancay. Followed by "Somewhere in Me There Lives Giselle" (2016) and "Why Am I not Where You Are" (2016), quilts of silk and cotton, by Alice Beasley. On free-standing wall, "Openwork 2" (2017), made of steel wire by Lily Homer. Berkeley Art Center.

In the center, "Phase" (2016), by Karrie Hovey, needle felted wool. On left wall, "Memoir 8 - La Ciudad" (2017), by Laura Raboff, wool and thread. Followed by "Supplemental 322x" (2017) and "Purl 322x" (2017), handwoven jacquard, hand embroidery, and, on a pedestal, "Microbiology Lab Series II" (2016), hand embroidery, all by Ruth Tabancay. Followed by "Somewhere in Me There Lives Giselle" (2016) and "Why Am I not Where You Are" (2016), quilts of silk and cotton, by Alice Beasley. On free-standing wall, "Openwork 2" (2017), made of steel wire by Lily Homer. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "Openwork 1" (2017), by Lily Homer. Steel wire. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "Openwork 1" (2017), by Lily Homer. Steel wire. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "Why Am I Not Where You Are" (2016), by Alice Beasley. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "Why Am I Not Where You Are" (2016), by Alice Beasley. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "Microbiology Lab Series III" (2016), by Ruth Tabancay. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "Microbiology Lab Series III" (2016), by Ruth Tabancay. Berkeley Art Center.

"Little Memoir Dresses" (2016), by Laura Raboff. Cotton, thread. Berkeley Art Center.

"Little Memoir Dresses" (2016), by Laura Raboff. Cotton, thread. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "Little Memoir Dreses" (2016), by Laura Raboff. Cotton, thread. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "Little Memoir Dreses" (2016), by Laura Raboff. Cotton, thread. Berkeley Art Center.

"Us vs Them" (2017) + "Still Adjusting" (2017), by Alice Wiese. Embroidery thread on cotton fabric. Berkeley Art Center.


"Us vs Them" (2017) + "Still Adjusting" (2017), by Alice Wiese. Embroidery thread on cotton fabric. Berkeley Art Center.

"This Old (Demolished) House" (2017), by Renee Owen. Mixed media. Berkeley Art Center.

"This Old (Demolished) House" (2017), by Renee Owen. Mixed media. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail from "This Old (Demolished) House" (2017), by Renee Owen. Mixed media. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail from "This Old (Demolished) House" (2017), by Renee Owen. Mixed media. Berkeley Art Center.

"In Twine" (2017), by Karrie Hovey. Manufactured felt. Berkeley Art Center.

"In Twine" (2017), by Karrie Hovey. Manufactured felt. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "In Twine" (2017), by Karrie Hovey. Manufactured felt. Berkeley Art Center.

Detail of "In Twine" (2017), by Karrie Hovey. Manufactured felt. Berkeley Art Center.

Questions and Comments:
What do you notice about fiber art shows today compared to work you saw in the past?
If you're a fiber artist, what new materials or techniques do you employ that you didn't when you first started?
What is it about fiber art that appeals to you as a viewer and/or an artist?

Expressing Identity through Art

Over the centuries, many artists have used art as a vehicle for exploring questions about identity. Even though our ethnic heritage or sexuality informs who we are, identity is fluid rather than fixed. Our personal experiences as well as the sociopolitical realities of our time can revise how we see ourselves or how others perceive us. As both individuals and members of communities, we keep reconsidering our place in the world, wherever we live. This is especially true for those of us who are immigrants.

Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA

Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA

When I was invited to a reception at Mills College for In-Between Places: Korean-American Artists in the Bay Area, I immediately knew I wanted to attend. As an immigrant to the U.S. when I was just a child, I am familiar with this search for cultural identity and trying to figure out where you belong. The eight artists who created new work for this show exist bi-culturally: their art is not considered American in their adopted country nor Korean in their home country. Using approaches to art making that are traditional and contemporary, Korean and Western, the artists express the reality and complexities of this ambiguous identity.

"Turn Right, Turn Left" (2017), four-channel video installation by Minji Sohn.

"Turn Right, Turn Left" (2017), four-channel video installation by Minji Sohn.

Minji Sohn's video installation in an enclosed space invites visitors to fully experience her intense performative art by stepping on the small stage and following directions. Moving back and forth amid fast flashing lights feels discomfiting and disorienting. It's what Sohn has felt all her life as she flew between continents every few months, living in between countries and cultures. Turn Right Turn Left examines categorization itself through the constant shifting between two options: move or stand still, become part of the crowd or go it alone, dress in black or white. Seeking to find her way as an artist, Sohn has realized that complying to an authoritarian voice that instructs her which way to turn leads neither to resolution nor to an ultimate destination. Instead, she has created a manifesto for herself, though she doesn't suggest that it's advice for other artists:

Let us not be bound by ideas of how we must be. Let us not be told to be or do anything that feels wrong. Let us define for ourselves what the right timing and the right places are. Let us speak the unspeakable and question the obvious. Let us not be afraid of being hated, disgusted, shamed or pointed a finger at. Let us not be limited by meaningless, quantifiable labels of age, sex and race or use them as excuses; or let us use those labels to empower and inspire us. Let us be and make only what is true to who we are. Let us just be. Let us make no compromises.

Painted canvas under plexiglass in "Chorus of Trees" (2017), by Younhee Paik.

Painted canvas under plexiglass in "Chorus of Trees" (2017), by Younhee Paik.

The individual works in this exhibit are not easy to capture fully through photography because of the spaces they occupy, the different components that comprise them, and the movement inherent in some. Minji Sohn's is one example, but so is Younhee Paik's Chorus of Trees, which consists of black and white charcoal drawings on rice paper as well as an acrylic painting on canvas under plexiglass on the floor. Taking in the artwork means walking on the plexiglass to see the colors and brushstrokes as well as looking up to see the drawings, which hang like scrolls.

"Chorus of Trees" (2017), by Younhee Paik.

"Chorus of Trees" (2017), by Younhee Paik.

Paik offers viewers an opportunity to feel a kind of wonder, similar to when we gaze upward in an actual forest. If these monochromatic drawings were suspended outside, we might hear them rustle like real branches and leaves and hear birds flitting through them and calling out. According to Mills College Professor Mary-Ann Milford-Lutzker, one of Paik's first impressions of California was how different the light and shadows were from those in Korea. In choosing trees as her theme, she knows that our responses to Nature are universal, not specific to one culture.

Charcoal drawing in "Chorus of Trees" (1917), by Younhee Paik.

Charcoal drawing in "Chorus of Trees" (1917), by Younhee Paik.

Being an immigrant often entails many sacrifices in order to establish a new life in another country. For Kay Kang, a huge part of that was missing the later years of her father's and grandmother's lives before they passed away. My Journey/Bahljhachwee and From East to West incorporates traditional socks or beosun to reflect longing for her family. To create them, she recycled Korean bed linens made of ramie (fiber derived from a flowering plant in the nettle family Urticaceae, native to eastern Asia). Her family had used the linens during the hot and humid Korean summers many decades earlier. The feet cast in plaster represent the steps she has taken during a journey of 46 years since she immigrated to the United States.

"From East to West" (2017), by Kay Kang.

"From East to West" (2017), by Kay Kang.

Detail of "From East to West" (2017), by Kay Kang.

Detail of "From East to West" (2017), by Kay Kang.

"My Journey/Bahljhachwee" (2017), by Kay Kang.

"My Journey/Bahljhachwee" (2017), by Kay Kang.

Kang also created beosun with sumi ink and acrylic on hanji (handmade Korean paper) and collaged them on canvas. She explains that these paintings describe "the life journey and evolution of women." Traditionally, Korean women wore white cotton socks not only to keep warm, but also to make their feet appear daintier. Especially in front of one's elders and men, bare feet were not considered feminine. Her beosun depict the transformation "from a protected woman to a bare-footed, independent, strong-minded woman in America." Kang admits that she might not have had the courage to express her feminist concepts in Korea, but she feels free to do so in the Bay Area.

"Guests Missed" (2017), by Kay Kang.

"Guests Missed" (2017), by Kay Kang.

In Guests Missed, inspired by the guest book Kang received from her family in Korea, the beosun are inscribed with letters and records of visitors who attended her grandmother's memorial in 1974 and her father's a year later. At the time, her family decided not to upset her by informing her of these deaths. When she learned of her father's passing, she was not aware that her grandmother had died a year before. Her grief and sense of alienation were that much greater, for she'd had a deep relationship with her grandmother, who taught her calligraphy at the age of five.

"Hills and Water" (2017), by Miran Lee.

"Hills and Water" (2017), by Miran Lee.

Miran Lee also uses fiber in her artwork. For Hills and Water, she worked with Korean silk and ramie which she had collected over a decade. From her mother, she inherited two rolls of 50-year-old ramie, wrapped in old Korean papers containing the name of the person who had woven the cloth. Lee spent two years meticulously hand sewing (unbelievably tiny stitches!) the fabric that had traveled from the east end of Korea, where she's from, to the west end of the United States, where she lives now. Her work reflects an old saying in Korea--"unfamiliar mountains and water"--that describes the feelings of foreignness and homesickness in an unfamiliar place.

Detail of "Hills and Water" (2017), by Miran Lee.

Detail of "Hills and Water" (2017), by Miran Lee.

While the blues, greens, and purples are reminiscent of sky and water, the neutral colors reflect rocks and hills--the environment of the San Francisco Bay Area. In using Korean fabrics and sewing techniques from hanbok (traditional clothing) and bojagi (traditional wrapping cloths), Lee has successfully combined aspects of her native country and her adopted country.

Detail of "Hills and Water" (2017), by Miran Lee.

Detail of "Hills and Water" (2017), by Miran Lee.

Nicholas Oh made the life-size figure Chinktsugi out of ceramic, wood, resin, and paint. Instead of avoiding the issue of discrimination, he challenges assumptions about Asian Americans, who are regarded as foreigners. According to Oh, the title of his work is a word play on kintsugi, a Japanese method for fixing broken pottery that uses lacquer mixed with gold or silver dust. It highlights cracks and repairs to signify events in the life of the object while simultaneously embracing its flaws. Oh finds similarities between his hyphenated identity and this technique and its underlying philosophy. For example, he says that some people consider his lack of extensive knowledge of Korean culture a flaw. Yet others see him generically as Asian and have no compunctions about hurling insults and slurs at him.

"Chinktsugi" (2017), by Nicholas Oh.

"Chinktsugi" (2017), by Nicholas Oh.

In Chinktsugi, Oh includes motifs from Japanese and Chinese cultures as well, such as an auspicious blue dragon (symbol of strength and fortitude) and Chinese hexagrams and symbols of good fortune (sign of hopefulness). Oh adds that when he tries to make non-Asian cultural references and to comment on other issues through his art, he is often criticized for going outside of his "race."

Detail of "Chinktsugi" (2017), by Nicholas Oh.

Detail of "Chinktsugi" (2017), by Nicholas Oh.

In Justice or Else, eight life-size, headless figures, made with ceramic, wood, paint, and patina, are dressed in military garb and hold billy clubs. The impression is one of negativity and menace. While serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Oh faced racism and ignorant ("headless" or nonthinking) stereotyping. When he moved to the Bay Area to attend college, he observed a diverse mix of different cultures. He met other Asian Americans who were carrying both the heritage of their ancestors and the pride of being part of another place. Inspired by others in San Francisco, he was finally able to truly be himself. Oh's intention in his artwork is to focus on "the fact that social issues in America are real and present. That racism is real, injustice is real, segregation is real and [that] these issues impact all of us, not just one particular group of people."

"Justice or Else" (2015-16), by Nicholas Oh.

"Justice or Else" (2015-16), by Nicholas Oh.

There are other works on view by Jung Rang Bae, Sohyung Choi, and Young June Lew.  As the exhibit runs until December 10, I hope you'll have an opportunity to visit Mills College in Oakland, CA and see all of them. Independent Curator Linda Inson Choy and Consulting Curator Hyonjoeng Kim Han (Associate Curator of Korean Art, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco) have done a masterful job of hanging the thoroughly contemporary show with a sense of traditional East Asian aesthetics, whose concepts transcend time and place.

For example, because space is as important as form or content, each artist is given ample height and width for her/his work to breathe freely. I especially welcome the overall spaciousness after feeling overwhelmed by shows in the 19th-century French Salon mode, where it seems every square inch of wall space is covered and I don't know where to look. Being able to walk around and under the pieces with ease affords viewers a variety of perspectives. In addition, In-Between Places embodies an elegant simplicity. It is evident in the repetition of shapes and stitches, in the contrast of charcoal and ink on white paper and canvas, in scroll-like drawings, along with other details.

While the artists have inhabited in-between places, the exhibit beautifully demonstrates how it's possible to integrate both cultures through diverse styles, techniques, mediums, and subject matter.

Questions and Comments:
Based on your own experience or the experiences of people you know, what are the challenges that immigrant artists confront?
How can we honor our cultural heritage while also embracing the one we live in?
How has art changed your mind about sociopolitical issues?
How do you address such issues in your own artwork?

Pressures and Tensions in Art

I learn a lot from the research and reflections of those who have had a great deal of formal training in the fine arts and art history. Reading and discussing enable me to better understand my own experiences in art. I respond intuitively to what I view and create, relying on my visual and kinesthetic senses. Something will feel "right" or jarring or unmoving. I'm not always able to articulate why, but at times I find that someone else's words will help me clarify those feelings. 

Lately, I've been delving into Constructivism, which is increasing my awareness of particular aspects of non-objective art in the 20th century. While this philosophy of art and architecture originated in Russia around 1913, during subsequent decades, it had a pervasive impact on modern art movements as well as on graphic and industrial design, architecture, theatre, film, dance, and fashion.

"Bewegtes Tanzgeschmeide" (1960-70), by Jean (Hans) Arp. Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Remagen, Germany. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Bewegtes Tanzgeschmeide" (1960-70), by Jean (Hans) Arp. Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Remagen, Germany. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

In a book about Constructivism that's now 50 years old, I came across George Rickey's thoughts about tangents and pressures. Just as a deeply intense color can be stimulating, certain artistic devices can also create excitement. Sometimes it's an explicit instability of composition achieved through exquisite balancing with top-heaviness. As Rickey points out, the result appears to contradict the logic of "gravity, vertical-horizontal references, the horizon line, space and perspective."

"Elementary Construction"(1916), by Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966). ©Collection Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo by Nic Tenwiggenhorn. Source: http://arpmuseum.org/en/museum/museum/the-arps.html

"Elementary Construction"(1916), by Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966). ©Collection Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo by Nic Tenwiggenhorn. Source: http://arpmuseum.org/en/museum/museum/the-arps.html

"Composition" (1931), by Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Composition" (1931), by Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

The tension also comes from having tangential shapes barely touch or press against the frame or each other.

"Parasols" (1938), by Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943). Source: https://krollermuller.nl/en/sophie-tauber-arp-parasols

"Parasols" (1938), by Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943). Source: https://krollermuller.nl/en/sophie-tauber-arp-parasols

A sense of compression or swelling can lead to a squeezing out of the space.

"Untitled, No. 5" (1957), by Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996). Source: http://leonpolksmithfoundation.org/art-work/drawings-and-collages/

"Untitled, No. 5" (1957), by Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996). Source: http://leonpolksmithfoundation.org/art-work/drawings-and-collages/

"Black Development" (1963-65), by Victor Pasmore (1908-1998). Source: https://www.google.com/

"Black Development" (1963-65), by Victor Pasmore (1908-1998). Source: https://www.google.com/

Rickey points out other devices, such as lines or contours that approach each other or the frame but never make actual contact; masses that just miss the frame or one another, leaving narrow gaps between them; an emphasis on acute angles; forms that appear to have been pulled and stretched; and the interruption of linear elements as lines cross them.

"White and Green" (1959), by Carmen Herrera (1915- ). © Carmen Herrera. Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/carmen-herrera-9101

"White and Green" (1959), by Carmen Herrera (1915- ). © Carmen Herrera. Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/carmen-herrera-9101

"Here Comes Trouble," by Terry Jarrard-Dimond. Source: http://studio24-7.blogspot.com/2009/12/compositional-conversation-stage-15.html

"Here Comes Trouble," by Terry Jarrard-Dimond. Source: http://studio24-7.blogspot.com/2009/12/compositional-conversation-stage-15.html

These artistic techniques are possible in any medium. The works above encompass cloth, metal, paper, paint, and wood. If you're not drawn to non-objective art, the devices of pressure and tension are visible in representational art as well. I find them more obvious in geometric and geometric-like shapes.

Before I read Rickey, I wouldn't have used the word "exciting," but now I consider the off-kilter compositions provocative in an inviting way. The pressures and tensions make me want to look longer and more closely. They make me want to not only enjoy them, but also figure them out.

Question and Comments:
What elements do you find exciting in artwork?
Do you notice them more in non-objective or representational art? Examples?
How do you apply these ideas in your own work?

Never Too Old, Never Too Late

Last weekend, I went to a wedding reception at a local art gallery. It’s a venue where I’ve enjoyed viewing the work of other artists and been delighted to have mine exhibited as well. The latest show at Spindrift is “Celebrating Women Painters.” 

"Formations," by Sandy Ostrau. Source: http://www.sandyostrau.com/landscape/

"Formations," by Sandy Ostrau.
Sourcehttp://www.sandyostrau.com/landscape/

As I walked around and talked with people, I noticed some books stacked on a side table, books about women artists. Maybe it was rude, but I couldn’t keep myself from perusing them and then sitting down with one in particular. I mention this because, after a long history of women artists being ignored, this seems to be a good year for their getting acknowledged--those who are alive and those who are gone. For example, earlier this year, the Palm Springs Art Museum hosted “Women of Abstract Expressionism”--12 American artists who worked in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City during the late 1920s to the early 1960s. 

"Epic" (1959), by Judith Godwin (diptych) National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. Source: https://www.psmuseum.org/calendar-2/287-women-of-abstract-expressionism

"Epic" (1959), by Judith Godwin (diptych) National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. Sourcehttps://www.psmuseum.org/calendar-2/287-women-of-abstract-expressionism

Another major show--“Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction”--is on view at New York’s Museum of Modern Art until August 13. While I’ve not been able to visit either of these exhibits (and there are probably others I’m not aware of), I was struck by the fact that, at least in some cases, recognition of many women artists often does not come until later in life, if it comes at all.

"Untitled" (1954), by María Freire (Uruguayan, 1917–2015). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Source: www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/

"Untitled" (1954), by María Freire (Uruguayan, 1917–2015). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Source: www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/

At the reception, the book that captured my attention and made me sit down is about Carmen Herrera, a Cuban abstract, minimalist painter who has resided in New York since the mid-1950s. Before that, she also lived in Paris. In an interview last year, she is seen still creating new work at 101! In January, a retrospective, “Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight,” ended its run at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The book I examined is a catalogue by the same title. 

In 2016, Herrera quipped that when she was younger, no one knew she was a painter, but now they're starting to. "I've waited so long," she commented, and then referred to a saying: "If you persevere, you will triumph." She laughed heartily when she added, "Yes, I persevered almost a century, and I made it." 

Carmen Herrera at her retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Source: http://artishockrevista.com/2016/11/28/carmen-herrera-reconocida-gran-retrospectiva-whitney/

Carmen Herrera at her retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Source:
http://artishockrevista.com/2016/11/28/carmen-herrera-reconocida-gran-retrospectiva-whitney/

The media call such artists “late bloomers.” But is it the artists who bloomed late, or did the art world simply take its sweet time? Herrera didn’t sell her first painting until 2004, when she was 89. Then, suddenly, the Museum of Modern Art acquired a handful of her work. Five years later, at 94, she was profiled in The New York Times as “… the hot new thing in painting.” Now, Lisson Gallery in London represents her and has mounted several shows. 

"Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Source: http://artishockrevista.com/2016/11/28/carmen-herrera-reconocida-gran-retrospectiva-whitney/

"Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Source: http://artishockrevista.com/2016/11/28/carmen-herrera-reconocida-gran-retrospectiva-whitney/

Herrera is truly an inspiration for those who doggedly refuse to give up what they love to do, despite the lack of acclaim and sales. She has commented that being female was definitely a barrier. Gender issues were not a figment of her imagination. When she tried to enter her art for an exhibition at a gallery in New York, the curator (who also was female) told her she could not include the paintings because they were created by a woman. Yet, Herrera persisted.

"White and Green" (1959), by Carmen Herrera. The Tate, London. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"White and Green" (1959), by Carmen Herrera. The Tate, London. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

She remains ever enthusiastic about her geometric abstract art, in love with the beauty of the line, a result of her studies in architecture at the University of Havana. She recalls, “There, an extraordinary world opened up to me that never closed: the world of straight lines, which has interested me until this very day."

"Untitled" (1974), by Carmen Herrera. Lisson Gallery, London. Source: http://www.lissongallery.com/exhibitions/carmen-herrera

"Untitled" (1974), by Carmen Herrera. Lisson Gallery, London. Source: http://www.lissongallery.com/exhibitions/carmen-herrera

In a 2012 Phaidon interview, she was asked: "What's next?" Her response: What a question to ask a 97 year old!...I want to make larger works, but then there is the problem of getting them in and out of this studio—the lift is tiny, the staircase crooked, and I never go out. So…I have choices to make—how to make them larger, or seem larger, or maybe make the world smaller?

"Fireboard" (1918), by Grandma Moses. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Fireboard" (1918), by Grandma Moses. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Herrera is not the only woman artist for whom recognition was a long time in coming. Whether you care for her folk art or not, Anna Mary Robertson Moses (“Grandma Moses”), born in 1860, is another example of “you’re never too old; it's never too late.” Though she loved to draw as a child, farm life demanded all of her time and energy. Once she raised five children in upstate New York, she took up painting rural scenes because arthritis made it too painful to hold a needle for embroidery. Moses displayed her paintings in a drug store window, where an engineer and collector noticed them in 1938 and bought the whole lot. The Museum of Modern Art included three of her paintings in an exhibition, “Contemporary Unknown American Painters,” when Moses was 79. Originally, she sold her work to people she knew, charging only $3 to $5 each. Fast forward to 2006, when one of her winter scenes commanded $1.2 million at Christie’s. She died in 1961, a year after LIFE magazine put her on its cover for her 100th birthday. Yet another woman who waited a century.

Anna Mary Robertson Moses (1952). Photo by Roger Higgins. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Anna Mary Robertson Moses (1952). Photo by Roger Higgins. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

There are many other artists--in the musical, visual, and literary arts -- who “bloomed” after they turned 70. It’s heartening to know that "wilting" doesn’t have to be an option. The difference is in what we decide to do. When I lived on Maui, I met a woman who told the story of how she got into the work she was engaged in, at an age when others wouldn't have considered going back to graduate school. She'd already raised her children and wondered whether she might be too old by the time she got her advanced degree. One of her sons said, “Mom, so what? You’re going to be __ [pick a year] anyway. You might as well do what you want.”

A final comment on how age doesn't have to matter; in fact, it can provide a valuable edge. Writer Annie Proulx, in an interview with Luck Rock for The Guardian (5 June 2016), remarked that she doesn't regret how long it took for success to arrive:

You have time to have a life, to see change, to understand a bit how people work, how the world works, how society works, how things shift around, how slippery things can be, everything from politics to personal relationships. It's a great advantage to have that stuff under your belt when you start to write [or engage in other arts].

Questions & Comments:
What would you do next if you didn't think you're too old and it's too late?
What other artists"bloomed" during later stages in life? Why did they not let age get in the way?

Translating tradition Into contemporary art

It's amazing what can happen when you're interested and receptive while visiting another country and exploring its culture.

As some of you know, I have had wonderful experiences visiting South Korea. During my first trip, in Seoul I met artist and teacher Misik Kim, who is Regional Representative for SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates). Our conversations resulted in co-curating an exhibition that is now traveling in Northern California.

Korean Voices in Fiber: Translating Tradition into Contemporary Art is at the Sacramento Fine Arts Center in Carmichael until June 25. Last Saturday, our reception included Korean food and drink as well as a bojagi demonstration by Youngmin Lee, a Korean textile artist and teacher who lives in the Bay Area. People were fascinated as they watched her sew tiny stitches and hold up beautiful pieces of Korean textile art.

Youngmin Lee demonstrating bojagi at Sacramento Fine Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Sangho Lee.

Youngmin Lee demonstrating bojagi at Sacramento Fine Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Sangho Lee.

The Korean Peninsula has been engaged in a wide variety of fiber arts--everything from weaving to basketry--since ancient times. People grew the plants from which they extracted the fibers and dyes with which to create fabric and paper. They fashioned them into clothing as well as many household, decorative, and ritual items. Museums in Seoul and other parts of the country display such historical objects.

Shoes and baskets made from hanji (Korean handmade paper). Jong le Nara Paper Art Museum, Seoul.

Shoes and baskets made from hanji (Korean handmade paper). Jong le Nara Paper Art Museum, Seoul.

Because few people in America are acquainted with Korea's rich cultural and artistic history, this fiber art show highlights examples of some of its traditions through contemporary interpretations. There are 25 artists represented. Many are award winners whose work has been exhibited internationally. Some are also respected designers and professors in textile arts departments at Korean universities.

The materials they employed in creating their artwork range from such natural Korean fibers as silk (oksa, nobang, saekdong dan), ramie (mosi), hemp (sambe), cotton (myeon), and paper (hanji) to metallics and synthetics. The techniques embrace the traditional practices of patchwork piecing (jogakbo), hand stitching, weaving, and embroidery along with the modern practices of machine sewing, laser cutting, and digital textile printing. 

Korean textiles at Gwangjang Market, Seoul.

Korean textiles at Gwangjang Market, Seoul.

With growing interest in DIY projects, recycling and repurposing, and sustainability, the once domestic craft of bojagi (Korean wrapping cloth) is a great illustration of economy and resourcefulness. Korean women have long made good use of every last scrap left over from constructing clothes, bedding, and other household items. It was also an outlet in which they could express their aesthetic sensibility. Bojagi has become a unique fiber art form that has expanded worldwide into fashion and design, architecture, and beyond. Like quilts that have moved off beds and are now hung on walls, bojagi are also recognized as more than practical home goods. They, too, are on the walls or suspended from ceilings at art shows and museums.

"The Aesthetics of Line--Moon Jar" (2017), by Young Won Kwon. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"The Aesthetics of Line--Moon Jar" (2017), by Young Won Kwon. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The Korean fiber artists were tasked with finding inspiration in their cultural heritage. How they illuminate the theme of the show varies greatly. The traditional source for artist Young Won Kwon's entry above is the moon jar, a type of Korean porcelain made during the late 17th through 18th centuries of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The shape as well as the milky color of the glaze remind one of a full moon.

White porcelain moon jar. Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea, National Treasure of the Republic of Korea, no. 309. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

White porcelain moon jar. Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea, National Treasure of the Republic of Korea, no. 309. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Ye Ryung Cho chose a different kind of pottery, used since ancient times to store water, bean paste, rice, alcoholic beverages, etc. While these are jars that constantly get filled up and emptied, the "container" she created is for holding light.

Traditional Korean storage jar. Photo provided by artist.

Traditional Korean storage jar. Photo provided by artist.

"Beyond" (2017), by Ye Ryung Cho. Tyvek ®, silk yarn, acrylic paint. Photo courtesy of artist.

"Beyond" (2017), by Ye Ryung Cho. Tyvek ®, silk yarn, acrylic paint.
Photo courtesy of artist.

Unbeknownst to one another, three artists chose the same traditional source, folk paintings (minhwa) of chaekkado or chaekgeori ("books and things"), which evoke a Confucian scholar's study. While in the West, books are placed side by side on horizontal shelves, in Korea, they were traditionally stacked vertically, along with paper, ink, brush, ink stone, archaic bronze vessels, porcelain, fruits, and flowering plants.

Chaekkado or Chaekgeori. Photo taken from a book, courtesy of Inyul Heo.

Chaekkado or Chaekgeori. Photo taken from a book, courtesy of Inyul Heo.

Each artist interpreted the chaekgeori in her own way through weaving, joomchi, or printing on silk.

Chaekgeori (2015), by Jungsik Kim. Hanji (handmade Korean paper); joomchi (ancient Korean paper-making technique), hand stitching.

Chaekgeori (2015), by Jungsik Kim. Hanji (handmade Korean paper); joomchi (ancient Korean paper-making technique), hand stitching.

Chaekkado (2017), by Inyul Heo. Wool, copper plate; tapestry weaving, cloissone enamel. Photo courtesy of artist.

Chaekkado (2017), by Inyul Heo. Wool, copper plate; tapestry weaving, cloissone enamel. Photo courtesy of artist.

Chaekkado (2017), by Hae Hong Chang. Oksa (Korean silk); lenticular printing, ssam sol stitching. Photo courtesy of artist.

Chaekkado (2017), by Hae Hong Chang. Oksa (Korean silk); lenticular printing, ssam sol stitching. Photo courtesy of artist.

Eun Hee Lee found her inspiration in gwi jumeoni, a traditional accessory. Such pouches--rounded for women, squared off for men--were needed because traditional Korean clothing (hanbok) had no pockets.

Two kinds of jumeoni (men/women). Source: http://glimja.deviantart.com/art/Jumeoni-461692626

Two kinds of jumeoni (men/women). Source: http://glimja.deviantart.com/art/Jumeoni-461692626

Gwi Jumeoni (2017), by Eun Hee Lee. Hand-dyed cotton; free-motion machine quilting, raw edge appliqué. Photo courtesy of artist.

Gwi Jumeoni (2017), by Eun Hee Lee. Hand-dyed cotton; free-motion machine quilting, raw edge appliqué. Photo courtesy of artist.

Some of the artists worked with Korea's national colors (red, blue, white, black, yellow), which appear in flags, kites, Buddhist temples, etc. Yoon Kyung Kim is one of them.

"Meditation" (2015), Yoon Kyung Kim. Hand-dyed Korean cotton; machine pieced, kantha stitching. Photo courtesy of artist.

"Meditation" (2015), Yoon Kyung Kim. Hand-dyed Korean cotton; machine pieced, kantha stitching. Photo courtesy of artist.

Others employed neutral colors. For example, Yun Suk Jung deconstructed two jeogori (jackets) and durumagi (long coat) more than 100 years old and created an entirely new bojagi, “Over Time—Remember.”

Antique jeogori, which Yun Suk Jung deconstructed toward creating bojagi.

Antique jeogori, which Yun Suk Jung deconstructed toward creating bojagi.

Yun Sunk Jung creating bojagi with tiny stitches.

Yun Sunk Jung creating bojagi with tiny stitches.

Young Soon Hur took her inspiration from the image of a two-crane badge. It's part of the system of insignia of rank for civil and military officials that was adopted in 1454 by the court of the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910) from China's Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Square badges of embroidered birds and animals on silk were worn on the front (hyung) and back (bae) of official costumes. Young Soon Hur digitally printed the image repeated in her piece.

Badge (Hyungbae) of the Upper Civil Rank with Two Cranes. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.  Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Badge (Hyungbae) of the Upper Civil Rank with Two Cranes. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.  Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Detail of "Cell 2017-26" (2017), by Young Soon Hur. Felt, metal; digital textile printing, transfer printing. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Detail of "Cell 2017-26" (2017), by Young Soon Hur. Felt, metal; digital textile printing, transfer printing. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Of course, there's more. If you've ever responded to a call for entry theme, you know how many different results can emerge. To me, this demonstrates the endless imagination of artists, the limitless possibilities of what we can create when given even a simple idea. And this is true the world over. While following traditional parameters, each person comes up with an individual interpretation.

Since I've provided only a glimpse of Korean Voices in Fiber: Translating Tradition into Contemporary Art, I hope that, if you're within driving distance of any of the venues lined up till the end of 2017, you'll visit the exhibit to view the rest. 

In the Sacramento area: June 6-25, Sacramento Fine Arts Center (SFAC), Carmichael, http://www.sacfinearts.org/, simultaneous with "Focus on Fiber," 6th annual national show.

In the Santa Rosa area: July 28-September 3, Sebastopol Center for the Arts (SEBARTS), Sebastopol, http://sebarts.org/index.php/visual-arts/upcoming-exhibitions/, simultaneous with "Fiber Art VIII," International Biennial Fiber Arts Exhibition.

On the Sonoma-Mendocino coast: October 6-November 18, Gualala Arts Center (GAC), Gualala, Global Harmony Series, http://gualalaarts.org/.

I'm grateful for all the support I have received from co-curator Misik Kim, liaison Youngmin Lee, and translator Heejae Iacovino as well as Carol Wittich (SFAC), Catherine Devriese (SEBARTS), and David Susalla (GAC) for their enthusiastic willingness to host the traveling exhibit .

For one viewer's impression and more images of the exhibit, see Jenny Lyon's post: http://quiltskipper.com/2017/06/korean-voices-in-fiber-at-the-sacramento-fine-arts-center/

Questions and Comments
Have you transformed something traditional into a contemporary artwork? What inspired you? How did you translate tradition into modernity?

What cultural expressions in other countries have influenced you to create your own artwork?

Art Lessons for Unexpected Students

"What is art for?" is a short question that has long been pondered by many individuals. Answers are endless, depending on who's responding.

Some people are certain that art has, above all, a therapeutic value: Its purpose is to heal different levels or aspects of our being. Others say it's meant to shock and shake us out of complacency about important issues. Still others understand art's role as that of telling stories--the mythology and/or history of a people--or of imagining a different world. Some consider art as a way to make money. For others, it's a means through which to express emotions, spiritual visions, and ideas.

Jacob's Ladder (c. 1805), by William Blake. British Museum, London. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Jacob's Ladder (c. 1805), by William Blake. British Museum, London. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

According to author and lecturer, Ellen Dissanayake, there are four key premises regarding the role art plays in human life. First, we have a basic need to embellish, decorate, and personalize. The arts also engage and activate our senses, which can have a powerful effect on our body, mind, and heart. The arts are involved in sacred and non-sacred rituals as well. And, last, we share cultural experiences through art, whether making it or receiving it in community.

Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala. Source: https://gandenmonkstourpgh.wordpress.com/tibetan-buddhist-ritual-arts-practices/

Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala. Source: https://gandenmonkstourpgh.wordpress.com/tibetan-buddhist-ritual-arts-practices/

Navajo sand-painting ceremony. Source: http://maninthemaze.blogspot.fr/2011/06/sacred-art-of-navajo-sandpainting.html

Navajo sand-painting ceremony. Source: http://maninthemaze.blogspot.fr/2011/06/sacred-art-of-navajo-sandpainting.html

For those who think of art only in lofty terms--that is, irrelevant to our everyday life--they might be surprised to learn how practical it can be in something as simple yet essential as seeing better. I have sometimes wondered whether we enter the field of art because we are already keenly aware of what's around us and in our mind or because we want to perceive even more acutely and art can help us do that. Since I never demarcated before and after in my own life, in terms of art involvement, I can't say which is true. I do know that I tend to be visually alert. Nevertheless, details can escape me when I become preoccupied and distracted. That's why I was intrigued to read about what law enforcement personnel and medical professionals are deriving from viewing art. It's teaching them to be more skillful in their work and not let important details escape them. Don't we all want our health care practitioners and police officers to be more effective on the job? At times, we might find that our lives are in the hands of their observational skills.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632), by Rembrandt van Rijn. The Hague, Mauritshuis. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632), by Rembrandt van Rijn. The Hague, Mauritshuis. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

In order to get medical students and young doctors to look up from their laptops and observe patients more closely, Linda Friedlaender, senior curator of education at the Yale Center for British Art, and Irwin Braverman, a dermatologist at Yale's medical school, teamed up in 2001 to initiate a program of developing the art of looking by actually looking at art. Since then, other medical education programs have availed themselves of this tool.

How it works: First, participants spend at least ten minutes with a painting at a museum; then they're asked to describe it in as much detail as possible; and, finally, they explain what the artwork represents. The result, eventually, is better diagnostic and descriptive skills. For example, at Brigham and Women's Hospital, first- and second-year medical students can meet weekly with curators at museums in Boston to study a variety of concepts, such as symmetry, texture, form, and motion. Viewing a limestone sculpture from various angles gets translated into observing breathing patterns in patients with respiratory illnesses in different positions. After inspecting El Jaleo by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), they assess balance, stance, and step in patients with gait issues. Those students who have attended the 9-week course have made 38 percent more observations when examining patients than those who have not taken it.

El Jaleo (1882), by John Singer Sargent. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

El Jaleo (1882), by John Singer Sargent. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

One participant, Dhruv Khullar, has written that while the learning is "subtle and indirect," it still "ingrains insights deep within your consciousness. You feel and know even before you can think or speak." Now a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, he has found the lessons in Yale's program popping up unexpectedly while doing patient rounds, noticing and describing more: "asymmetry on an old man's face...angry purple blisters...shadowy contours of pneumonia on an X-ray."

But improving diagnosis is not all that the program accomplishes, according to Khullar, who also blogs for the New York Times. It helps students deal with the ambiguity inherent in both art and medicine by broadening their thinking. Instead of rushing to what may prove to be a misdiagnosis, they consider a number of possibilities before arriving at an interpretation of what they see in a patient. In addition, studying art helps doctors to interpret emotional expressions better.  So, instead of relying mostly on technological testing, doctors become more capable of evaluating a person's condition using their own senses, which is how physicians were originally trained before the onset of sophisticated equipment.

Portrait de Mme Morisot et de sa fille Mme Pontillon ou La lecture (1869/70), by Berthe Morisot. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Portrait de Mme Morisot et de sa fille Mme Pontillon ou La lecture (1869/70), by Berthe Morisot. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

The New York Police Department might seem another unlikely population for art lessons, yet his kind of learning has important ramifications for them as well as the medical students. Last year, Amy E. Herman, an art historian and attorney, escorted a group of officers through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Building on the program started at Yale, she has also worked with FBI agents, CEOs, ER physicians, first responders, and others who need to improve their visual perception and communication. She told the cops they weren't there to learn about art per se. Rather, she was "using art as a new set of data" to help them better employ their skills on the job. For Herman, a work of art is not simply a cultural, aesthetic, or commercial object. It's "an invaluable repository of visual detail" that can help shed light on, for example, how to approach a murder scene. In other words, it's an aid to critical inquiry.

The Horse Fair (1852-55), by Rosa Bonheur. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

The Horse Fair (1852-55), by Rosa Bonheur. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Herman had the officers take a good look at Rosa Bonheur's The Horse Fair (1853-55), Picasso's At the Lapin Agile (1905), John Singleton Copley's Mrs. John Winthrop (1773), Goya's The Nude Maja (1797-1800), and Lucian Freud's Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995). As with the medical students, the police were asked questions about the artwork: What did they actually observe? What narrative did they discern? And so on. Because no two people see anything or anyone in the same way, their answers varied (and sometimes were humorous). It was an opportunity to realize what they'd overlooked. Often, what's right in front of us doesn't get remarked on. The cops listed the color of Mrs. Winthrop's eyes, her dress and the chair, the ribbons and lace, the jewelry, and the fruit. No one mentioned the mahogany table and her reflection in it. Yet noting obvious or minuscule details could mean the difference between life and death and between apprehending perpetrators or losing them. [For Herman's talk at Google:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4v_tn4nyjwE ]

Mrs. John Winthrop (1773), by John Singleton Copley. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

Mrs. John Winthrop (1773), by John Singleton Copley. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

I consider the special lessons described above as a way of introducing mindfulness to overcome what Herman calls "inattentional blindness." Others are teaching it to different populations and calling it "slow looking." Herman calls it "visual intelligence."[See earlier blog posts:  http://exploringtheheartofit.weebly.com/blog/slow-looking and http://exploringtheheartofit.weebly.com/blog/april-06th-2014/.]

It doesn't matter what we label the act of viewing; it matters what shifts inside of us. Henry Thoreau wrote, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see” (Journal, August 5, 1851).

Questions & Comments:
Has being an artist or lover of art changed the way you look/see/view? If so, how?
How have you helped others to see better through your own art?
What is your experience with children around this issue of looking/seeing? Do they see more/better?
Is "inattentional blindness" something that happens only to adults?

DON'T FORGET TO PLAY

Creativity is intelligence having fun.      
--Joey Reiman

When you're involved in creating something, do you find yourself thinking, "This is drudgery" or "What fun!"? How we label what we do can make a big difference in how we feel about it.

Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer conducted a study to determine what effect our words have on our experience of engaging in an activity. Using cartoons from a Gary Larsen calendar, all the participants performed a series of tasks of increasing difficulty. For half of the group, the task was defined as work and, for the other half, as play. Even though the tasks were exactly the same for both, the individuals in the "play" group enjoyed them. In contrast, those in the "work" group reported that their minds wandered as they made the effort to complete the assignment.

Source: http://raebear.net/comics/work/

Source: http://raebear.net/comics/work/

Around the world, playing is a natural for kids. Even without toys, they can make up a game or build a structure with whatever materials are at hand. Play stimulates curiosity and imagination, and thus creativity as well. It's an important part of learning. As adults, we too often fall into the trap of thinking that play is for slackers, having fun is a waste of time, unproductive or purposeless. Instead, we're supposed to be serious! But what if that kind of thinking leads to dreading what we do, considering it simply a chore to get through? And what if play is what truly produces the results we want in our artwork, and in life in general?

Source: www.pinterest.com

Source: www.pinterest.com

People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing. 
                                      --Dale Carnegie

Image by Christoph Niemann, Sunday Sketching. Source: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/christoph-niemann-reddit-ama

Image by Christoph Niemann, Sunday Sketching. Source: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/christoph-niemann-reddit-ama

Image by Christoph Niemann. Source: http://pinterest.com

Image by Christoph Niemann. Source: http://pinterest.com

Recently, I watched some videos of German illustrator and graphic designer Christoph Niemann. His whimsical creations make me think that play/fun informs his work. I read that every Sunday, he would sit down with a blank piece of paper and a random, everyday object. He didn't know what he was going to draw, except that it would include whatever was right there. He turned pennies into scoops of ice cream, bananas into horse legs, a fork into a giraffe, a comb into a car grille, and highlighters into light sabers. You can see his humorous art on his website and in these videos:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9O9Eo5Laniw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWErvK30mp4

Source: https://www.wired.com/2016/12/sunday-sketching-christoph-niemann-tells-brutal-truth-creative-process/

Source: https://www.wired.com/2016/12/sunday-sketching-christoph-niemann-tells-brutal-truth-creative-process/

Whatever inspiration is, it's born from a continuous "I don't know." 
--Wisława Szymborska

http://www.naeyc.org/play

http://www.naeyc.org/play

Play is the answer to the question: how does anything new come about? --Jean Piaget

Brian Sutton-Smith (1924-2015), a New Zealand play theorist, spent all his working years attempting to discover the cultural significance of play in human life. In a 1967 study, he demonstrated that participants who were given a task to imagine various purposes for an object were likely to come up with many more ideas if they were permitted to play and tinker with the object first. Why? Other research indicates that while playing, we're in a psychological state in which it feels okay to wonder "what if?" and even to fail. That allows us to freely explore the unknown.

"Die Hexe mit dem Kamme" (The Witch with the Comb), 1922, lithograph by Paul Klee. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Die Hexe mit dem Kamme" (The Witch with the Comb), 1922, lithograph by Paul Klee. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Swiss-German artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) greatly admired and was inspired by the art of children for their direct and naïve renderings. He tried to achieve that untutored simplicity by experimenting with artistic techniques, working with intense colors and line drawing in an unstudied way. He applied paint to everyday materials (burlap, cardboard panel, muslin) and in a nontraditional manner (spraying and stamping). It meant breaking academic rules of painting in oils on canvas.

"Templegarten" (Temple Gardens), 1920, by Paul Klee. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

"Templegarten" (Temple Gardens), 1920, by Paul Klee. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

"Insula Dulcamara" (1921-1938), by Paul Klee. Oil and colored paste on printed newspaper on burlap foundation. Zentrum Paul Klee (Museum), Bern, Switzerland.

"Insula Dulcamara" (1921-1938), by Paul Klee. Oil and colored paste on printed newspaper on burlap foundation. Zentrum Paul Klee (Museum), Bern, Switzerland.

As "Klee at Play," a recent exhibit at SF MOMA demonstrates, Klee was dedicated to exploring the creative and transformative possibilities of play. I was tickled to learn he made whimsical hand puppets for his son, Felix, fashioned from scraps of cloth, papier-mâché, and found objects. Between 1916 and 1925 he produced about 50 of them.

Puppet by Paul Klee. Museum of Modern Art, SF.

Puppet by Paul Klee. Museum of Modern Art, SF.

Interestingly, as an instructor at Bauhaus, the German art school that combined crafts and the fine arts from 1919 to 1933, he was the only one who did not grade his students. Perhaps he sensed that grades would stifle their creativity rather than encourage freedom of expression and new insights.

"Stachel, der Clown" (Prickle, the Clown), 1932, etching by Paul Klee. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

"Stachel, der Clown" (Prickle, the Clown), 1932, etching by Paul Klee.
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

I experienced this firsthand a few weeks ago, when I decided to dye with rust for the first time. I'd been collecting rusted objects for probably a year, without a clue as to what I'd do with them. Since I knew nothing about the process, online I learned about using a 50/50 solution of white vinegar/water. I took some old cloth, layered it with rusted pieces or wrapped it around a rusted object, then sprayed the batch with the solution, covered it with plastic in an old baking pan, and let it sit for a day or so. When I opened the plastic, removed and rinsed the cloth, I was delighted--like a kid who'd just found some candy. I hadn't planned any of it and couldn't envision ahead of time how the scraps of cloth would look, yet I was pleased with the results. Even more, I felt happy because I had played. I went into this new activity without expectations, simply wanting to experiment. I felt no anxiety about performance. I had no particular goal. I wasn't concerned about the outcome being great or terrible. I was simply engaged in the process. It's clear that play is about openness rather than fear and judgment.

IMG_5109.JPG

I have similar experiences when I attend open sessions of a college group at my local art center. I get to play with materials and techniques that are not part of my repertoire. For me, it's like dropping into a kindergarten class. In the last one, we played with stamps and different inks. I found myself repeatedly stamping with a particular shape or pattern in layers. The results were abstract designs that I'd like to transfer to cloth. I had no idea this was going to happen. I just played in the sandbox du jour and had fun with what unexpectedly occurred. If you have a friend or several with whom you can form a play group, try it out. Let each person take a turn in sharing something with the others.

Professor Langer says, "If we stop judging ourselves, creating art becomes more possible." So, instead of putting off new activities because we're afraid of making a fool of ourselves, we can take up the paintbrush or flute. We can enjoy playing with them rather than worrying about what others think of our painting or music. Langer offers an example from the life of French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954). A woman visiting his studio examined a painting he had just completed and declared: "The arm of this woman is much too long." He quickly retorted, "But, madame, you are mistaken. This is not a woman, this is a painting."

"Yellow and Plaid Dresses" (1941), by Henri Matisse. Source: https://theartstack.com/artist/henri-matisse/yellow-and-plaid-dresses

"Yellow and Plaid Dresses" (1941), by Henri Matisse. Source: https://theartstack.com/artist/henri-matisse/yellow-and-plaid-dresses

As I continue to explore rust dyeing and collage, in turn, they're leading me to imagine a whole new way of displaying my textile art. In the middle of a frustrating period about something else in my life, this kind of playing affords me moments of lightness and joy. As American painter Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) suggests in his "10 rules for beginning creative projects": Attempt what is not certain. American visual artist Ann Hamilton adds: One doesn't arrive--in words or in art--by necessarily knowing where one is going.

This is not to say that we never plan what we're doing or take our art seriously. Not at all. But play is a crucial element in having our work evolve. It's about fully engaging in an activity or process, in the present moment rather than jumping into the future with evaluations and projections about what might or might not result.

Questions & Comments:
In The Creativity Challenge, KH Kim lists eight signs of a creative person: big-picture thinking; spontaneous; playful; resilient; autonomous; defiant; risk-taking; daydreaming. Do you check off "playful" to describe yourself?
How do you include play in your creativity?
What happens when you play in a new medium, with different tools or techniques, or in a field completely other than your own?

Artists and Nature

I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.                        --John Muir

Nature draws us out to explore, then gently sends us inward to reflect. Most often, we wind up feeling better as we gaze upon the moment-to-moment changes in the ocean, sky, mountain, desert, forest, meadow, or garden. We might be awed by the tiniest flower, bird, or insect, cheered by a profusion of color, intrigued by creatures looking for food or a mate, lulled by the incoming and outgoing tides, the rippling circles in a lake, or a babbling brook.

Sunset at the Pacific Ocean

Sunset at the Pacific Ocean

As artists, how do we capture that experience? How do we translate it visually, acoustically, or tactilely? Do we try to render it as realistically as possible?

When I approached the following artwork at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, initially I thought it was a photograph. But that didn't make sense, for I was in a gallery devoted to 19th-century European art. When I got close enough to take a careful look, I realized it's actually an oil painting. Before photography took over as king of realism, the fine details of representation rendered by Swiss artist Alexandre Calame (1810-1864) convey a palpable sense of the landscape.

"Riverbed at Rosenlaui sur Meyringen" (c.1862), by Alexandre Calame. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"Riverbed at Rosenlaui sur Meyringen" (c.1862), by Alexandre Calame. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"Riverbed at Rosenlaui sur Meyringen" (c.1862), by Alexandre Calame. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"Riverbed at Rosenlaui sur Meyringen" (c.1862), by Alexandre Calame. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

If we don't choose the exactness of realism, do we abstract the scene so that, while it's not recognizable, it still conveys the essence of a landscape or seascape? Through different kinds of strokes, the Impressionists blurred the details and, instead, offered an "impression," as in this painting by French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

"Low Tide, Yport" (1883), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The Clark Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"Low Tide, Yport" (1883), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The Clark Institute, Williamstown, MA.

Detail of "Low Tide, Yport" (1883), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The Clark Institute, Williamstown, MA.

Detail of "Low Tide, Yport" (1883), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The Clark Institute, Williamstown, MA.

The tendency toward abstraction continued even more strongly in the 20th century. Working with scenes in upstate New York, American artist Arthur Garfield Dove (1880-1946) explored how to depict motion. As the title card at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston describes, "Blues, greens, and yellow resonate and harmonize in overlapping arcs, filling a canvas punctuated by tree trunks that seem to leap above the horizon." Without the title and description, would we know this?

"Dancing Willows" (c.1944), by Arthur Garfield Dove. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

"Dancing Willows" (c.1944), by Arthur Garfield Dove. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

American painter Joan Brown (1938-1990) presents a thick, clotted mass of paint strokes at the center of her Abstract Expressionist painting "Brambles." There isn't even the slightest hint of representation, yet the feeling is one of an almost impenetrable mass, the way we encounter actual brambles.

"Brambles" (1957), by Joan Brown. Oakland Museum of California.

"Brambles" (1957), by Joan Brown. Oakland Museum of California.

Around the world, nature is depicted with paint, wood, clay, fibers, metal, and more. The results might be stylized, traditionally indigenous, classical, avant-garde, particular to a place or era.

"Autumn View," by Fiona Robertson. Machine and hand embroidery. Source: http://www.fionarobertsonartworks.co.uk/

"Autumn View," by Fiona Robertson. Machine and hand embroidery. Source: http://www.fionarobertsonartworks.co.uk/

There's even a Japanese stone art known as suiseki, influenced by Chinese scholar's rocks many centuries ago. Unlike sculpture, they are not deliberately carved to reflect landscapes, but are found intact in rivers, oceans, and karst. They are selected because of their expressiveness through shape, color, and texture. Considered objects of beauty to be gazed upon and enjoyed the way one might interact with a painting, suiseki remain unaltered in their natural form, but placed in a wooden base.

Like the simplicity of suiseki, some forms of East Asian nature painting leave out more than they include; the viewer imagines the rest. It's a different kind of abstraction.

"Goose and Reeds, Willow and Moon." Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color and gold on paper, by Maruyama Ōkyo (Japanese, 1733–1795). Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

"Goose and Reeds, Willow and Moon." Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color and gold on paper, by Maruyama Ōkyo (Japanese, 1733–1795). Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

"Celebrated Waterfall" (1820–1830), by Yanagawa Shigenobu (Japanese, 1787–1832). Polychrome woodblock print. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

"Celebrated Waterfall" (1820–1830), by Yanagawa Shigenobu (Japanese, 1787–1832). Polychrome woodblock print. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

"Sun and Plum Branches," Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807–1891). Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

"Sun and Plum Branches," Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807–1891). Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Not everyone tries to illustrate, whether realistically or abstractly, what they see in nature. For some artists, actually working directly with its raw materials is what results in a different kind of art. British sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy immediately comes to mind.

"Wood Line" (2011), by Andy Goldsworthy. Made from eucalyptus branches laid out in a sloping, sinuous curve through a eucalyptus grove in San Francisco's Presidio. Source: http://www.for-site.org/project/goldsworthy-in-the-presidio-wood-line/

"Wood Line" (2011), by Andy Goldsworthy. Made from eucalyptus branches laid out in a sloping, sinuous curve through a eucalyptus grove in San Francisco's Presidio.
Source: http://www.for-site.org/project/goldsworthy-in-the-presidio-wood-line/

Known for his land art, especially through the 2001 documentary film Rivers and Tides, Goldsworthy creates site-specific ephemeral sculptures with rocks, leaves, flowers, pine cones, snow, stone, twigs, thorns, and icicles. His intention is to understand nature by participating directly in it as intimately as possible. He explains:

Movement, change, light, growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work. I need the shock of touch, the resistance of place, materials and weather, the earth as my source. Nature is in a state of change and that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather. Each work grows, stays, decays. Process and decay are implicit. Transience in my work reflects what I find in nature....I couldn’t possibly try to improve on Nature. I’m only trying to understand it by an involvement in some of its processes.

"Touching North" (1989), by Andy Goldworthy. Source: http://visualmelt.com/Andy-Goldsworthy

"Touching North" (1989), by Andy Goldworthy. Source: http://visualmelt.com/Andy-Goldsworthy

"Green to Yellow Leaves" (1980), by Andy Goldsworthy. Source: http://visualmelt.com/Andy-Goldsworthy

"Green to Yellow Leaves" (1980), by Andy Goldsworthy. Source: http://visualmelt.com/Andy-Goldsworthy

Ephemeral installation by Andy Goldworthy. Source: http://visualmelt.com/Andy-Goldsworthy

Ephemeral installation by Andy Goldworthy. Source: http://visualmelt.com/Andy-Goldsworthy

Recently, I came across other artists who utilize nature as their palette and canvas. For example, Ian Ross and Andrés Amador manipulate sand. Ross works with a rake to make giant designs on beaches in California. By "carving" into the smooth surface where the tide has receded, his own type of ephemeral and impermanent art form emerges. 

Source: http://ianrossart.com/project/installation/

Source: http://ianrossart.com/project/installation/

Source: http://ianrossart.com/project/installation/

Source: http://ianrossart.com/project/installation/

In the San Francisco area, Andrés Amador also employs a rake to create works of art that can be bigger than 100,000 sq. ft. After he spends hours developing contrast through wet and dry sand, the tide washes it all away. Only a photograph and a memory remain.

Source: http://www.viralnova.com/beach-art/

Source: http://www.viralnova.com/beach-art/

Source: http://www.viralnova.com/beach-art/

Source: http://www.viralnova.com/beach-art/

Given that everything is impermanent anyway, including ourselves--after all, we, too, are nature--does it matter whether our artistic creations live on or disappear?

Questions & Comments:
How does being in a natural environment affect your artistic sensibility?
Do you bring the experience back to your studio and let it inform you subconsciously? Do you try to recapture the scene?
Do you work outdoors? Paint au plein air? Work from sketches and/or photographs?
Do you prefer representational art of natural scenes or are you more inclined toward the abstract?
What artists come to mind for their relationship to Nature?

Sunset at the Pacific Ocean.

Sunset at the Pacific Ocean.

How Do We Respond?

What artist has not reflected on her/his intention in creating art? We ask ourselves what the purpose of our work is and the effect we hope to achieve. Talk to a dozen artists and you'll get a dozen different answers to this question.

Some of us could be engaging in a formal exploration of themes, colors, techniques, materials, or styles. Others are recording observations of places, people, animals, and events. Perhaps we simply want to decorate space or capture beauty. Maybe we're expressing dreams, exorcising inner demons, evoking emotions, moving toward healing. We might be attempting to make visible what's spiritually invisible and to understand our place in the world. If we're deeply disturbed by issues of a social, political, and/or economic nature, the challenge of our art could be to exhort public action.

Detail of "Red Disaster" (1963), by Andy Warhol. Silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Derived from a photograph of the electric chairs in Sing Sing Penitentiary in Ossining, New York, where alleged Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed on 13 January 1953, at the height of the Cold War. 

Detail of "Red Disaster" (1963), by Andy Warhol. Silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Derived from a photograph of the electric chairs in Sing Sing Penitentiary in Ossining, New York, where alleged Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed on 13 January 1953, at the height of the Cold War. 

If our desire is to confront the conditions of our times or even earlier periods, how do we go about doing that? What will affect viewers to open up and see things through another heart and mind? Does our artwork have to be blatantly political? Can we offer something that enables people to calm down in the midst of discord and turmoil? Do we create art full of rage in the hope that it will provoke people to act, or do we employ humor? What will be most effective in generating awareness and discussion of charged topics?

"The Rich Soil Down There" (2002), by Kara Walker. Cut paper and adhesive on painted wall. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In 19th-century American homes, small and delicate silhouettes of loved ones and happy domestic scenes decorated the walls. Finding silhouettes, and racial stereotypes, reductions of human beings, Walker transforms this quaint tradition by turning an entire museum wall into a large tableau of racial and sexual violence in the pre-Civil War South.

"The Rich Soil Down There" (2002), by Kara Walker. Cut paper and adhesive on painted wall. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In 19th-century American homes, small and delicate silhouettes of loved ones and happy domestic scenes decorated the walls. Finding silhouettes, and racial stereotypes, reductions of human beings, Walker transforms this quaint tradition by turning an entire museum wall into a large tableau of racial and sexual violence in the pre-Civil War South.

"No Vote, No Voice" (2017), by Alice Beasley. Textiles. This is Beasley's response to the day the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and turned its back on voting as central to democracy.   

"No Vote, No Voice" (2017), by Alice Beasley. Textiles. This is Beasley's response to the day the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and turned its back on voting as central to democracy. 

 

"Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming Out)," 1840, by Joseph W. M. Turner. oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A year after the reprinting of Thomas Clarkson's 1808 History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, this painting coincides with the first meeting in London of the World Anti-Slavery Convention to campaign for the end of slavery.

"Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming Out)," 1840, by Joseph W. M. Turner. oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A year after the reprinting of Thomas Clarkson's 1808 History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, this painting coincides with the first meeting in London of the World Anti-Slavery Convention to campaign for the end of slavery.

Detail of Joseph Turner's Slave Ship (1840). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Detail of Joseph Turner's Slave Ship (1840). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

"Untitled" (2011), from the series Shakyō rōjin nikki (Diary of a Photo-Mad Old Man), by Nobuyoshi Araki. Source: http://artradarjournal.com/2015/05/15/japan-after-fukushima-10-artists-making-art-about-the-disaster/. This is Araki's response to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster, the largest nuclear incident since that of Chernobyl in 1986. Using scissors, he created gashes in 238 photographic negatives, creating the appearance of black rain, gaping wounds or nails clawing for help.

"Untitled" (2011), from the series Shakyō rōjin nikki (Diary of a Photo-Mad Old Man), by Nobuyoshi Araki. Source: http://artradarjournal.com/2015/05/15/japan-after-fukushima-10-artists-making-art-about-the-disaster/. This is Araki's response to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster, the largest nuclear incident since that of Chernobyl in 1986. Using scissors, he created gashes in 238 photographic negatives, creating the appearance of black rain, gaping wounds or nails clawing for help.

 Rendering of "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors," by Ai Weiwei. Commissioned by the Public Art Fund, this Chinese artist and activist will build more than 100 fences across New York City in response to the international migration crisis. He was an immigrant in NY in the 1980s for 10 years. Source: various online news releases.

 Rendering of "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors," by Ai Weiwei. Commissioned by the Public Art Fund, this Chinese artist and activist will build more than 100 fences across New York City in response to the international migration crisis. He was an immigrant in NY in the 1980s for 10 years. Source: various online news releases.

Not every artist feels compelled to tackle vexing issues in a direct visual statement. At least for now, I am one of them. However, this doesn't necessarily mean remaining silent. I've chosen to be involved in hands-on action for immigrant members of my community. But those who do choose to give public voice to their concerns and resist the wrongs they perceive approach their art projects in individual ways. The images I've gathered reveal how certain artists have responded to the conditions they know about through personal experience or learn about through the news as well as friends, relatives, and colleagues. In some cases, the work of a single artist, such as Doris Salcedo, can vary greatly in form and material.

"Untitled" (2008), by Doris Salcedo. wooden tables, wooden armoires, metal, concrete. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.

"Untitled" (2008), by Doris Salcedo. wooden tables, wooden armoires, metal, concrete. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.

The image above and the one below are of works from "The Materiality of Mourning" by Salcedo, a Colombian artist based in Bogotá. They contain items that convey both a familiar sense and an unsettled feeling. The furniture is piled together at disjunct angles; the chairs are partially crumpled or otherwise damaged. They seem to reference domesticity, but they embody tragedy, for they are no longer useful and the homes in which they might have resided are no longer inhabitable by those who have fled for their lives.

"Thou-less" (2001-2002), by Doris Salcedo. carved, stainless steel chairs. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.

"Thou-less" (2001-2002), by Doris Salcedo. carved, stainless steel chairs. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.

In my early twenties, I was fortunate to live and work in Colombia during a halcyon period, when a reign of horrific violence did not grip this beautiful country. Born in 1958, Salcedo, did go through the turbulence and brutality, and members of her own family were among the many people who vanished. Her sculptures and installations address the pain, trauma, and loss that Colombians have suffered because of a ferocious civil war among government forces, drug cartels, leftist guerrillas, and right-wing paramilitaries. At the same time, she provides space for both individual and collective mourning. Her artwork deals with the fact that beyond grief lies the unbearable emptiness left by the disappearance of loved ones.

Click the link for a short video in which Salcedo guides viewers through this terrain and demonstrates why "art cannot explain things but it can expose them--that's why art here is so important and necessary": https://www.theguardian.com/cities/video/2016/jul/26/artist-doris-salcedo-bogota-forces-work-brutal-video

While the images above are of hard materials, Salcedo's work is also of a delicate nature. A Flor de Piel, below, is a large "shroud" made of real rose petals sutured together by hand. According to the artist, the piece is intended as "a flower offering to a victim of torture, in an attempt to perform the funerary ritual that was denied to her.”

A Flor de Piel (2013), by Doris Salcedo. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA. Measuring approx. 11 ft. x 16.5 ft., this tapestry is comprised of thousands of treated and preserved, hand-stitched rose petals and intended as a shroud for a nurse who was kidnapped and tortured to death.

A Flor de Piel (2013), by Doris Salcedo. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA. Measuring approx. 11 ft. x 16.5 ft., this tapestry is comprised of thousands of treated and preserved, hand-stitched rose petals and intended as a shroud for a nurse who was kidnapped and tortured to death.

Detail of A Flor de Piel (2013), by Doris Salcedo.

Detail of A Flor de Piel (2013), by Doris Salcedo.

Close-up of suturing rose petals for A Flor de Piel, by Doris Salcedo. Source: http://www3.mcachicago.org/2015/salcedo/works/a_flor_de_piel/

Close-up of suturing rose petals for A Flor de Piel, by Doris Salcedo. Source: http://www3.mcachicago.org/2015/salcedo/works/a_flor_de_piel/

Equally delicate is Disremembered, a series of fragile-like, ghostly blouses that Salcedo developed after interviewing mothers who had lost their children to gun violence in Chicago. Through these sculptures, based on one of her own blouses, she gives form to the lost bodies deeply mourned by their families yet often ignored by society. Each one is made of raw silk threads interspersed in an irregular pattern with more than 12,000 tiny, blackened needles. The result is a kind of hair-shirt that both suggests and inflicts pain.

"Disremembered" (2014, 2015-16), by Doris Salcedo. silk thread and nickel-plated steel. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge MA.

"Disremembered" (2014, 2015-16), by Doris Salcedo. silk thread and nickel-plated steel.
Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge MA.

Detail of "Disremembered," by Doris Salcedo. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge MA.

Detail of "Disremembered," by Doris Salcedo. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge MA.

What else do artists do when faced with something so atrocious as to be unimaginable? When World War II revealed inhumanity on a scale never before witnessed, they responded to the horrors in every medium.

German painter Max Beckmann (1884-1950) created a portrait of the era with traditional still-elements--skulls, extinguished candle, playing cards--to intimate the frailty, unpredictability, and impermanence of life. He created Still Life with Three Skulls in 1945, during the final months of the war, while living in Amsterdam, where he had fled in 1937. He described those years as "a truly grotesque time, full to the brim with work, Nazi persecution, bombs, and hunger."

"Still Life with. Three Skulls" (1945), by Max Beckmann. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

"Still Life with. Three Skulls" (1945), by Max Beckmann. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Polish emigré Arthur Szyk (1894-1951), a book illustrator and one of the most prolific political artists of World War II, presented other images, such as the one below. Did it serve in any way to turn the tide against Hitler? Can we ever know what the impact was?

"Madness" (1941), by Arthur Szyk. Magnes Collection, University of California, Berkeley.

"Madness" (1941), by Arthur Szyk. Magnes Collection, University of California, Berkeley.

Some people tried to capture what was happening through photographs, in the hope that someone would eventually know the reality, not the lies. An exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, "Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross," is only one of many such endeavors. Between 1940 and 1944, at great risk to himself and his family, Ross hid in places where he was forbidden to go and concealed a camera inside his coat in order to take pictures that depict the tragic poignancy of being singled out for genocide: driven by extreme hunger, people desperately dig for the rotten potatoes thrown away by Nazi soldiers; taken from their parents, children are literally carted off to a death camp; forced into deportation, people leave behind their dishes and food pails. He hid some 6,000 negatives in iron jars in an iron-rimmed box, which he buried in the ground. Miraculously, he survived and was able to unearth the documentation, much damaged by groundwater, once the war ended.

Children being deported to Chelmno and Nerem death camp (1942), photo by Henryk Ross. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Gallery of Ontario.

Children being deported to Chelmno and Nerem death camp (1942), photo by Henryk Ross. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Gallery of Ontario.

Food pails and dishes left behind by deported ghetto residents (1944), photo by Henryk Ross. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Gallery of Ontario.

Food pails and dishes left behind by deported ghetto residents (1944), photo by Henryk Ross. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Gallery of Ontario.

There are so many other works of art that I could include--famous and not famous--about violence committed against women, children, and other beings, against the oceans and forests, against people of one religion, ethnic group, race, nationality, or another--but the list is endless and a blog isn't supposed to be. Just know that artists everywhere are resisting and protesting in the name of immigration rights, housing, healthcare, free speech, equal opportunity, religious freedom, indigenous rights, environmental protection, LGBTQ rights, and much more.

But what happens when art is used for opposite reasons? In the play Leni, at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley, California, the main character, Leni Riefenstahl, says: It's just a film. Can a single piece of art really be so dangerous?  It's an important question. In Riefenstahl's case, the answer was "yes." Though lauded for artistry, her films "Triumph of the Will" (1935) and "Olympia" (1938) were funded by the Nazi government, which used them as powerful propaganda tools: to glorify Aryan beliefs about racial "purity" and the superiority of the "Germanic master race" to take over the world. Yes, art can be dangerous when used against others. Which leads me back to the question at the beginning of this post: What is the purpose of our work and the effect we hope to achieve? Added to that, what is an artist's responsibility in polarizing times, such as our own?

I'll end with some words from poet Mary Oliver's latest book, Upstream: Selected Essays:  "...the power of every idea is intensified, if not actually created, by its expression in substance....[T]hose who are the world's working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward."

Questions & Comments
How do artists play a galvanizing role in shaping popular opinion on the defining issues of our times?
Is an artist responsible for how his/her artwork is used?
What work of art changed your mind and heart about a troubling political/social condition?
How do you use your artistic voice to express your stance on issues of concern?

*Note: To receive an email notification of any new comments to this post, click "Comments" then the "Subscribe via email" link located above the comment field.

1,800 Pieces

A few days ago, when I stopped by our local health clinic, I was stunned to see a flyer about an upcoming talk: "Collecting, Accumulating, Chronic Disorganization, and Hoarding." After the many dozens of responses to an earlier post on this topic (3 Feb), of course, I had to read further. I'd never heard of such a presentation in a medical venue. I'd never heard of such a presentation, period.

According to the notice, the guest speaker will address the fact that an estimated 4-6% of the general population experiences some level of disordered behavior called hoarding. Is this psych speak? Does that number apply to people who accumulate objects with which to create art? And does it include individuals like Rene di Rosa (1919-2010), who collected 1,800 pieces of eclectic artwork by 700 to 800 artists and displayed them in three galleries (including his former residence), across a sculpture meadow, and around a serene 35-acre lake, all set in a vineyard of 217 acres ?

35-acre lake at di Rosa

35-acre lake at di Rosa

Recently, I toured di Rosa with two old friends whom I've known since the end of the 1970s, when we all lived in Napa Valley. Located in the Carneros region of the valley, it is truly a lovely place to while away hours looking at a wild variety of art in a country environment, especially in spring weather. We enjoyed the opportunity to be outdoors, where sculptures punctuate the landscape in every direction. The first one appears at the end of the walkway that leads visitors from the parking lot to Gatehouse Gallery.

from parking lot to Gatehouse Gallery entrance at di Rosa

from parking lot to Gatehouse Gallery entrance at di Rosa

Seated Woman with Vase (1998), by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Outside Gatehouse Gallery.

Seated Woman with Vase (1998), by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Outside Gatehouse Gallery.

Although there are also sculptures inside Gatehouse Gallery and the former home of Rene and Veronica di Rosa, most of the larger works are on the grounds; for example, on the road up to the house, alongside the lake, in the residence courtyard, and throughout the meadow beyond it. A jitney transports visitors from Gatehouse Gallery to the upper area.

Mississippi River II (1966), by David Lynn. Cast aluminum on concrete piers.

Mississippi River II (1966), by David Lynn. Cast aluminum on concrete piers.

Converted from a winery, the former residence of Rene and Veronica di Rosa is a Napa County Landmark, 130 years old, .

Converted from a winery, the former residence of Rene and Veronica di Rosa is a Napa County Landmark, 130 years old, .

Reclining Nude #2 (1987), by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Reclining Nude #2 (1987), by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Viola de Lodi (1988), by Robert Arneson. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Viola de Lodi (1988), by Robert Arneson. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

From Grandmother Series (California Dress), 1978, by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

From Grandmother Series (California Dress), 1978, by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Matter Contemplates Spirit (2001), by Stephen Kaltenbach. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Matter Contemplates Spirit (2001), by Stephen Kaltenbach. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Lynched Volkswagon (1966). Rene di Rosa created this red car installation hanging from the boughs of a eucalyptus tree in back of the residence.

Lynched Volkswagon (1966). Rene di Rosa created this red car installation hanging from the boughs of a eucalyptus tree in back of the residence.

sculpture meadow and hills beyond the residence

sculpture meadow and hills beyond the residence

Looking through arch of one sculpture toward For Veronica (1987), by Mark di Suvero. Steel, paint. Created for Veronica di Rosa.

Looking through arch of one sculpture toward For Veronica (1987), by Mark di Suvero. Steel, paint. Created for Veronica di Rosa.

The above images just touch on how much is outside. Inside the house, I was overwhelmed by the amount of art that could be crammed--literally, from floor to ceiling--into one building.

kitchen wall of Residence Gallery

kitchen wall of Residence Gallery

All for Me (1966), by Charlene Milgrim. Found objects. Residence Gallery.

All for Me (1966), by Charlene Milgrim. Found objects. Residence Gallery.

Rene di Rosa's story is an interesting one. He was born and raised in Boston, graduated Yale University, worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, and tried his hand at the great American novel while living in Paris, then gave up urban environments for a rural life. Before California became world renowned for its wine, he bought 465 acres in 1960, planted grapes on 250 of them, and studied viticulture at the University of California, Davis. He went from befriending the avant-garde artists, writers, and musicians in San Francisco to also getting to know a group of counterculture artists at the newly founded art department of UC Davis. Many of them became lifelong friends. In the 1980s, he sold his winery to afford him the means with which to invest in creating an “art preserve” for the public. He invited artists to create new works on the property. In order to accommodate his ever-growing collection, di Rosa constructed buildings to house it. He opened the "art park" in 1997. Among the well-known artists are Robert Arneson, Joan Brown, Paul Kos, Manuel Neri, Viola Frey, Robert Hudson, Peter Voulkos, and William T. Wiley.

living room and mezzanine in Residence Gallery

living room and mezzanine in Residence Gallery

mezzanine in Residence Gallery

mezzanine in Residence Gallery

I have to admit that I was daunted by the sheer volume of art in the former residence of di Rosa and his wife Veronica, herself an artist. My head was aswirl as I looked around, up and down, in and out. I found it impossible to give so many pieces--their shapes, colors, styles, materials, textures, concepts--adequate attention. But, given enough time, anyone can learn a lot about what interested Northern California artists during the second half of the 20th century and the boundaries they trespassed, and be inspired by what they did on their own terms.

I can deeply appreciate what all that amassing of art meant for the particular coterie of artists from the 1950s on that di Rosa favored. His support of their experimentation, defiance of convention, and nose-thumbing at the so-called authorities of the art world nurtured their freedom in maintaining anti-commercial, even subversive, values. Today, re-purposing and assemblage are common. However, creating with found objects and non-traditional materials has not always been an acceptable art expression at galleries and museums. An iconoclast himself, di Rosa didn't care, for he wasn't an art snob. He wanted people to have their own experience, without any need for expertise in the field.

Gigolo (1989), by George Herms. Found objects. Gatehouse Gallery.

Gigolo (1989), by George Herms. Found objects. Gatehouse Gallery.

Untitled R (1990), by George Herms. Assorted shoes, plywood, wire. Gatehouse Gallery.

Untitled R (1990), by George Herms. Assorted shoes, plywood, wire. Gatehouse Gallery.

E Flat (1986), by Robert Hudson. Mixed media. Mezzanine of Residence Gallery.

E Flat (1986), by Robert Hudson. Mixed media. Mezzanine of Residence Gallery.

Nimbus (2000), by David Ireland. Steel, concrete, gold leaf, wood panel. Gatehouse Gallery

Nimbus (2000), by David Ireland. Steel, concrete, gold leaf, wood panel. Gatehouse Gallery

Warren Walter, William (1981), by Richard Shaw. Porcelain with decal overglaze. Gatehouse Gallery

Warren Walter, William (1981), by Richard Shaw. Porcelain with decal overglaze. Gatehouse Gallery

Eschewing the jitney, my friends and I walked along the lake to return to our cars. We marveled at what one person can accomplish because of a keen interest, commitment, and the resources and resourcefulness to realize a dream. His aesthetic preferences may not resonate with everyone, but di Rosa performed a great service. In spanning the art movements of the Bay Area, his 1800 pieces provide a tangible presence of Northern California's art history and an example of what hoarding art can achieve. He left a legacy to be admired and enjoyed in a natural setting.

Diretto di Passaggio (Aqueduct) (1990), by Veronica di Rosa. Steel, patina, rust. By the lake.

Diretto di Passaggio (Aqueduct) (1990), by Veronica di Rosa. Steel, patina, rust. By the lake.

Twist (1990), by Archie Held. Steel.

Twist (1990), by Archie Held. Steel.

Questions & Comments:
Individually established art preserves and museums have been growing in number. In addition to di Rosa's, I've visited Oliver Ranch (Geyserville, CA) and The Clark (Williamstown, MA) in the U.S. and several in Japan and Korea. What places have you found? What were they like? What kind of art do they exhibit?

Seeing the kinds of materials and found objects used in the di Rosa collection, what inspires you in creating your own art? How can you put to good use your own kind of collection?

 

It's Not What You Think It is: Unexpected Art in Unexpected Places

What happens when we look more closely, whether with the naked eye or equipment? Incredible details come into focus, bringing with them the possibility of beauty and interest we might never have conceived of. That's what some scientists and artists have discovered. As a result, a certain kind of artwork has been emerging because of technological advances and a discerning eye. In a winning combination of science and art, what is observed microscopically can be magnified into large images that defy a viewer's guess as to what they might be. To me, they register as abstract paintings or textile designs. In fact, there are artists using such images to create their own work in these mediums.

While the subjects have been aspects of nature, for the most part, imagine what would occur if you suddenly zoomed in on all those things you have lying around your house and studio or rusting outside. What new art might be inspired by such "stuff"? What if you zeroed in on the carcass of a long-ago abandoned car or the mildewed pattern on a wall you pass by every day? How might these tiny designs fuel your creativity in a big way?

Detail of rusting fuel storage tank. West Coast, Ireland.

Detail of rusting fuel storage tank. West Coast, Ireland.

I had an experience of this just the other day when I was up the coast in Mendocino County. I stopped in to see an exhibit at Partners Gallery in Ft. Bragg, California, and when I walked back to my car, I suddenly noticed something. I took full-frame and close-up images. Can you guess what the first two details are? Abstract watercolors? Coffee- or wine-stained paper?

Now look at the complete images. Are they artwork in a gallery's windows? It turns out that paper was taped to the front windows of an empty storefront. Because of condensation on the glass, the paper developed an unexpected pattern as though an artist had created watercolors that look like maps. Unlike the artists' images that follow, there's nothing technical about these impressions, but I offer them as an incentive to not hurry past and discount what seems to be nothing at first glance.

Fernán Federici is a renowned molecular geneticist and award-winning microscopist who takes stunning photographs of plants at the cellular level. It all started more than five years ago, when he was a Ph.D. student in biological sciences at Cambridge University. While working with microscopes and fluorescence microscopy, he found himself staring at spectacular colors and patterns. He got permission from his adviser to post images on his Flickr site. Here are a few of his plant art. Would you have known what they depict?

El Choclo ("corn cob"), by Fernan Federici.  Source: http://www.featherofme.com/fernan-federici-microscopic-photographs-of-plants/

El Choclo ("corn cob"), by Fernan Federici. 
Source: http://www.featherofme.com/fernan-federici-microscopic-photographs-of-plants/

Plant art by Fernan Federici. Source: http://www.featherofme.com/fernan-federici-microscopic-photographs-of-plants/

Plant art by Fernan Federici. Source: http://www.featherofme.com/fernan-federici-microscopic-photographs-of-plants/

Diospyrus Lotus, by Fernan Federici. Source: http://www.featherofme.com/fernan-federici-microscopic-photographs-of-plants/

Diospyrus Lotus, by Fernan Federici.
Source: http://www.featherofme.com/fernan-federici-microscopic-photographs-of-plants/

And then there's the incredible photography of crystals by Lee Hendrickson. If asked, I would have said the first image is of feathers, but it's not. The second could be a kind of grass, but it's not. The third has to be a watercolor, but it's not. And the fourth reminds me of a mountainside on an old Chinese scroll, but it's not. Try guessing and then check out the captions for big surprises.

"Mystique," crystalline acetaminophen, by Lee Hendrickson.  Source: http://www.photographyofcrystals.com/

"Mystique," crystalline acetaminophen, by Lee Hendrickson. 
Source: http://www.photographyofcrystals.com/

"Caffeine 4 p.m.," crystalline caffeine, by Lee Hendrickson.  Source: http://www.photographyofcrystals.com/

"Caffeine 4 p.m.," crystalline caffeine, by Lee Hendrickson. 
Source: http://www.photographyofcrystals.com/

"The Palisade," crystalline phenylethylamine found in chocolate, by Lee Hendrickson. Source: http://www.photographyofcrystals.com/

"The Palisade," crystalline phenylethylamine found in chocolate, by Lee Hendrickson.
Source: http://www.photographyofcrystals.com/

"Impression," crystalline Truvia, a non-caloric sweetner from Stevia plant, by Lee Hendrickson.  Source: http://www.photographyofcrystals.com/

"Impression," crystalline Truvia, a non-caloric sweetner from Stevia plant, by Lee Hendrickson. 
Source: http://www.photographyofcrystals.com/

There are, of course, many more images as well as a mathematically calculated art of fractals, but that's for another post. There have also been exhibits around the country (and perhaps internationally) on this growing relationship between science and art. Betty Busbyis a prolific fiber artist whose work exemplifies that relationship. She renders microscopic images highly magnified in various kinds of textiles, using a range of surface design techniques.

[For an earlier post on science and artexploringtheheartofit.weebly.com/blog/mutual-inspiration-science-and-art]

"Fungia," by Betty Busby. Source: http://www.bbusbyarts.com/

"Fungia," by Betty Busby. Source: http://www.bbusbyarts.com/

"Intercellular," by Betty Busby. Source: http://www.bbusbyarts.com/

"Intercellular," by Betty Busby. Source: http://www.bbusbyarts.com/

Clearly, for some artists, science has become a great source of artistic inspiration. And, for some scientists, art is what their research can turn into. Then there are those artists who never used technology to achieve similar results. Take American painter Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), renowned for her large flowers. She explained how she came to create them:

It was in the 1920s, when nobody had time to reflect, that I saw a still-life painting with a flower that was perfectly exquisite, but so small you really could not appreciate it. … I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.

O'Keeffe's words strike me as the best reason for enlarging the tiniest nuances. It's what enables us to see and appreciate the fantastic art that is Nature itself.

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Mining the Past, Creating in the Present

Earlier this month, I spent a whirlwind weekend in the SF Bay Area, combining art exhibits, a film, and meetings. Although all different, they stimulated thoughts about originality, an issue that often arises in artistic circles: If I use cloth that someone else dyed or wove or embroidered, is my textile art not original? If the artist "copies" someone else's work but gives it a slightly different twist, is that plagiarism? Whose art is it anyway?

Jim Jarmusch. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcUwxcbhtdQ

Jim Jarmusch. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcUwxcbhtdQ

This all started with the film "Paterson." Curious about what was behind the story--the daily life of a bus driver who's also a poet--I decided to do an internet search. In the process of reading about the filmmaker, Jim Jarmusch, I came across something he said in an interview:

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.

Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don't bother concealing your thievery--celebrate it if you like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: "It's not where you take things from, it's where you take them to."

Godard's quote has stayed with me: What we do with what we've "taken," where we go with it, is what counts. After all, is there any subject matter for art that doesn't already exist? When it comes to what inspires us to create something new, we turn to the past and to perennial sources--nature, emotions, people, animals, ideas, beliefs, geometry, and so on. In a sense, it's like playing a piano. In an address presented on the occasion of his 2014 exhibition "Let the Games Begin," Gerhardt Knodel, fiber artist and former director at Cranbrook Academy of Art, said:

A piano offers eighty-eight keys to be played. Which ones to choose? Endless combinations have been explored, realms of melodies and harmonies and rhythms have been uncovered in that field of eighty-eight keys, but the appetite for pursuing the potential is not spoiled by what has been done before.

On the contrary, we mine from the past what captures our attention and fuels our creativity in the present.

Screened Icosahedral Lamp (2013), by Phil Webster; 3D-printed plaster composite with LED light.

Screened Icosahedral Lamp (2013), by Phil Webster; 3D-printed plaster composite with LED light.

Coincidental to my going to the movies, earlier in the day, I viewed "Reverberating Echoes: Contemporary Art Inspired by Traditional Islamic Art," curated by Carol Bier, at the Doug Adams Gallery in Berkeley. In the show's title, notice the word "Inspired by" rather than "Designs Stolen from." The seven artists of diverse backgrounds draw upon an Islamic visual heritage, one which is not necessarily inherent in each one's personal history. Does that mean that they're appropriating from another culture, that they're copying the patterns of anonymous artists and artisans from the past? Or can we see their artwork as appreciation? The old adage, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," comes to mind. Two examples from the show follow.

Born in Michigan, conceptual artist Nazanin Hedayat Munroe has studied Persian art history. In the work below, she combines textiles that recall "the sheen, drapery, and translucency of silk, long cherished in the visual arts of Iran." She also references the poetry of Nizami (d. 1209) and Hafez (d. 1389). But clearly she has originated her own expression.

"100 Destinies, 2015," by Nazanin Hedayat Munroe. Textile and mixedmedia installation: hand-painted silk gown, dressmaker's form, thread, map pins, and poems of Hafez on cardstock.

"100 Destinies, 2015," by Nazanin Hedayat Munroe. Textile and mixedmedia installation: hand-painted silk gown, dressmaker's form, thread, map pins, and poems of Hafez on cardstock.

Detail of "100 Destinies, 2015," by Nazanin Hedayat Munroe.

Detail of "100 Destinies, 2015," by Nazanin Hedayat Munroe.

Chris Palmer, born in Pennsylvania, studied origami with Japanese masters and also visited the Alhambra (Moorish palace and fortress complex) in Spain. Using mathematical formulas, he explores the two distinct and ancient cultural traditions of tilings and tessellations by folding handmade paper and undyed silk to create lines and geometric patterns.

"Shadowfold Whirlspools" (1997), folded and pleated silk, uncut and undyed, by Chris Palmer.

"Shadowfold Whirlspools" (1997), folded and pleated silk, uncut and undyed, by Chris Palmer.

"Shadowfold Zillij Dodecagrams" (2010) and "Shadowfold Zillij Octagrams" (1997), folded and pleated silk, uncut and undyed, by Chris Palmer.

"Shadowfold Zillij Dodecagrams" (2010) and "Shadowfold Zillij Octagrams" (1997), folded and pleated silk, uncut and undyed, by Chris Palmer.

Folded and pleated silk, uncut and undyed, (detail), by Chris Palmer.

Folded and pleated silk, uncut and undyed, (detail), by Chris Palmer.

Folded and pleated silk, uncut and undyed, (detail), by Chris Palmer.

Folded and pleated silk, uncut and undyed, (detail), by Chris Palmer.

[If you can get to Berkeley to see these works up close as well as those of the other artists, the exhibit runs until May 26.]

Then the latest member magazine from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) came in the mail and, once again, the question of inspiration and originality popped up. This time, it concerns two celebrated artists, one French, the other American. Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) first became obsessed with the art of Henri Matisse (1869-1954) when he was a student at Stanford University. As he put it, "Right there I made contact with Matisse, and it has just stuck with me all the way." Over time, Diebenkorn incorporated elements--both the how and the what to paint--that drew him to the French painter's oeuvre. The upcoming exhibition at SF MOMA includes about 100 paintings and drawings by both artists. When you look at two below, do you doubt originality? 

"View of Notre Dame" (1914), by Henri Matisse. Museum of Modern Art, NY.  Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_of_Notre-Dame

"View of Notre Dame" (1914), by Henri Matisse. Museum of Modern Art, NY. 
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_of_Notre-Dame

"Ocean Park #79 (1975), by Richard Diebenkorn. Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth, Texas. ©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn. Source: http://www.themodern.org/ocean-park-79

"Ocean Park #79 (1975), by Richard Diebenkorn. Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth, Texas. ©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn. Source: http://www.themodern.org/ocean-park-79

There are countless instances in which artists become enchanted and engaged with the art of another culture or a particular painter, sculptor, weaver, or ceramist. And why not? As American painter Lee Krasner (1908-1984) once said, "We are all influenced by other artists. Art brings about art." We come across things that others have made: We like the way they patterned the fabric. We're drawn to the mark-making or the combination of gems and metals or the thick brush strokes. We're dazzled by the geometrical pattern in a mosaic floor. If we then create something using those inspirations, is our work still original?
[see also 17 August 2014 post: exploringtheheartofit.weebly.com/blog/whats-original]

I look for understanding about this issue through a bit of etymology. The word "origin" is derived from the Latin oriri, to rise, and defined as "the point at which something begins or rises...something that creates, causes, or gives rise to another." By the 14th century, "original" meant "not secondary, derivative, or imitative" but "inventive; new." Since 1942, "originality" is construed as "freshness of aspect, design, or style; the power of independent thought or constructive imagination." Perhaps "constructive imagination" is the answer. Using what we chance upon, are drawn to, or find interesting, we use our imagination to construct something new, something that authentically originates from ourselves.

Questions and Comments:
What does originality mean to you?
If you find yourself wanting to use something from another artist, how do you make it your own?
What examples of blatant imitation, copying, or plagiarism come to mind? 

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Artists as Hoarders

As an artist, you're bound to collect stuff. After all, how can you create art without lots of paint, paper, canvas, clay, stone, metal, fabric, thread, and yarn? But how much stuff? Has your textile stash migrated into every part of the house because one closet won't hold it all? Is your garage so packed with recycled materials for assemblage that you can't park your car in there? Do you have any space left for yet another bin of plastic pieces in the barn?

If you're already wondering whether you're a hoarder, rest assured that I won't be visiting to check. Instead, here's another definition of hoarding to consider--collecting for repurposing. Now, doesn't that sound better?

An obsessive collector, Clare Graham doesn't give any of this a second thought. His stuff--a staggering amount of dominoes, buttons, ropes, wires, pop tops, scrabble tiles, yardsticks, swizzle sticks, bottle caps, soda cans, tin cans, and other disposable items--is piled in a 7,000-square-foot warehouse, MorYork, in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. He started his "habit" in Canada, when only eight years old, using the dozens of drawers in a roll top desk to catalog and organize such found items as crystals, rocks, and animal bones. As an adult, Graham often waits years to accumulate just the right size, texture, and quantity of objects before piercing, stringing, collaging, and bundling them into his unique sculptures. I saw a room loaded with them at the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles in October 2014. Incredible recycling!

Detail of Telephone Wire Wall Hanging (2006), by Clare Graham.

Detail of Telephone Wire Wall Hanging (2006), by Clare Graham.

Telephone Wire Wall Hanging (2006), by Clare Graham.

Telephone Wire Wall Hanging (2006), by Clare Graham.

Pop-Top and Asparagus, Cafe Chairs, Furniture, Strands, and Ball Sculptures (2011), by Clare Graham.

Pop-Top and Asparagus, Cafe Chairs, Furniture, Strands, and Ball Sculptures (2011), by Clare Graham.

Detail of Bottle Cap Tower and Empire State Building (1992), by Clare Graham.

Detail of Bottle Cap Tower and Empire State Building (1992), by Clare Graham.

Detail of Pop-Top and Asparagus, Cafe Chairs, Furniture, Strands, and Ball Sculptures (2011), by Clare Graham.

Detail of Pop-Top and Asparagus, Cafe Chairs, Furniture, Strands, and Ball Sculptures (2011), by Clare Graham.

Bottle Cap Tower and Empire State Building (1992), by Clare Graham.

Bottle Cap Tower and Empire State Building (1992), by Clare Graham.

Button Yin Yang Tapestry (2006), by Clare Graham

Button Yin Yang Tapestry (2006), by Clare Graham

Detail of Button Yin Yang Tapestry (2006), by Clare Graham

Detail of Button Yin Yang Tapestry (2006), by Clare Graham

By Clare Graham.

By Clare Graham.

Detail. By Clare Graham.

Detail. By Clare Graham.

Louise Bourgeois, born in France in 1911, saved nearly every item of clothing she wore. She also accumulated everything else--from wood and plaster, to latex, marble, bronze, and glass--to create her artwork. In the 1990s, she decided to use her own clothes as sculptural elements, on various hanging devices and in enclosed installations or "cells." It seemed a logical choice. Because she barely left home once in her 80s, she stopped needing her many outfits for different occasions and was no longer concerned with fashion in the way she had once been. Then, in 2002, at the beginning of her 90s, Bourgeois constructed the linen binding and pages of Ode a l'oubli ("Ode to Forgetting/the Forgotten") out of 60-year-old, monogrammed hand towels from her trousseau for a 1938 wedding. Working from one page to the next for six months, Bourgeois cut, arranged, and stitched her own used clothing as well as sheets, tablecloths, napkins, and leftover scraps to form 32 fabric collages that comprised the "book."

Part of Ode a l'oubli (2004), by Louise Bourgeois.  Source: https://www.pinterest.com/maracantabrana/ode-%C3%A0-loublie/

Part of Ode a l'oubli (2004), by Louise Bourgeois. 
Source: https://www.pinterest.com/maracantabrana/ode-%C3%A0-loublie/

Page 9 of "Ode a l'oubli" (2004), by Louise Bourgeois. Source: https://www.moma.org/

Page 9 of "Ode a l'oubli" (2004), by Louise Bourgeois. Source: https://www.moma.org/

Artists Judith Selby-Lang and Richard Lang collect plastic, lots and lots of it. While most people put their plastic remains into recycling bins to be picked up, since 1999 the Langs have been bringing home plastic debris they find washed up on Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco. They clean, sort by color, and categorize thousands of pieces. Then they "curate" these bits of plastic and fashion them into artwork--sculptures, prints, jewelry, and installations--that has been exhibited internationally. Their on-going "archeological" project about our throwaway culture and plastic pollution of our seas has been featured on NPR and in film festivals. And it all started on a first date. Click here to see the vimeo.

Judith Selby-Lang and Richard Lang at Kehoe Beach, Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Source: http://beachplastic.com/

Judith Selby-Lang and Richard Lang at Kehoe Beach, Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Source: http://beachplastic.com/

Chromagreen, by Richard and Judith Selby-Lang. Source: http://plasticforever.blogspot.com/

Chromagreen, by Richard and Judith Selby-Lang. Source: http://plasticforever.blogspot.com/

Chromagreen, by Richard and Judith Selby-Lang. Source: http://plasticforever.blogspot.com/

Chromagreen, by Richard and Judith Selby-Lang. Source: http://plasticforever.blogspot.com/

There are many more artists who turn accumulations into particular artwork. Pascale Marthine Tayou, born in Cameroon in 1967, creates large installations to address political, social and environmental concerns. In some, he adorns crystal glass figures with beads, plastic flowers, and feathers, or he pierces Styrofoam with thousands of pins and razor blades and stacks hundreds of birdhouses against a wall. He also embellishes "dolls" with cable ties, key rings, plastic bags, brightly colored beads, brushes and plastic knives, or piles up colored plastic bags and wraps and binds with cloth, sewing and knitting himself. For videos of 2015 "World Share" installations at The Fowler Museum at UCLA, click here.

After three colorful images of Tayou's art, the final two photos are of "Man's Cloth," by the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui. Renowned for his large-scale, complex, intricate, yet flexible metallic cloth-like wall assemblages, he lets curators alter their shapes with each installation. For a video of "Gravity and Grace," click here. For "Man's Cloth," El Anatsui sourced the thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal from local alcohol recycling stations in Nigeria and bound them together with copper wire. It is a kind of homage to kente cloth, woven by the Asante and Ewe peoples and probably the best known of all African textiles. El Anatsui's artwork references colonial and postcolonial economic and cultural exchange in Africa, consumption, and environment. But he also points to the power of human creativity and ingenuity to transform what has been discarded and even to make it beautiful. As the saying goes, "One man's [woman's] trash is another man's treasure."

One part of "Boomerang" (2015), by Pascale Marthine Tayou.  Source: http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/exhibitions-events/pascale-marthine-tayou-boomerang

One part of "Boomerang" (2015), by Pascale Marthine Tayou. 
Source: http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/exhibitions-events/pascale-marthine-tayou-boomerang

Installation by Pascale Marthine Tayou. Source: https://alchetron.com/Pascale-Marthine-Tayou-849771-W

Installation by Pascale Marthine Tayou.
Source: https://alchetron.com/Pascale-Marthine-Tayou-849771-W

Installation by Pascale Marthine Tayou. Source: https://alchetron.com/Pascale-Marthine-Tayou-849771-W

Installation by Pascale Marthine Tayou. Source: https://alchetron.com/Pascale-Marthine-Tayou-849771-W

"Man's Cloth" (1998-2001), by El Anatsui. British Museum, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Man's Cloth" (1998-2001), by El Anatsui. British Museum, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Detail of "Man's Cloth" (1998-2001), by El Anatsui. British Museum, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Detail of "Man's Cloth" (1998-2001), by El Anatsui. British Museum, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

So feel free to keep collecting but don't forget to put all that stuff to good use: create more art with it or share it with others to help them create art too.

Questions and Comments:
If you're a collector/hoarder, what do you accumulate and what's your particular attraction to those items?
How do you use the materials/objects you amass to create art?
Who are your favorite artists who work with huge amounts of materials?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Memories and Art

We all have memories, lasting and fleeting. Over time, new ones appear while others gradually fade away; some become more vivid or change in tone and content. And then there are those memories that aren't really our own yet haunt us, memories of episodes that occurred many decades before we were born.

The arts have been and continue to be a particularly fertile ground where all kinds of memories, pleasant and unpleasant, have seeded new work. An exhibit in San Francisco is a particularly good example of this. From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art is on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) until April 2. It brings attention to the stories that were lived by others but somehow turned into the artists' stories as well.

"What Goes Without Saying" (2012), by Hank Willis Thomas. Wooden pillory and microphone.

"What Goes Without Saying" (2012), by Hank Willis Thomas. Wooden pillory and microphone.

CJM Assistant Curator Pierre-François Galpin and independent curator Lily Siegel have brought together the work of 24 artists who grapple with their past--secondhand rather than direct experiences. A widely diverse group, they question and reflect on ancestral and collective memory through sculpture, installations, fiber, photography, sound, video, and mixed media. While at least five artists focus on the Holocaust, others address the American War in Vietnam and Cambodia, the Turkish genocide of Armenians, the legacy of racial injustice in America, the Korean War, World War II in Okinawa and Greece, the Mexican Revolution, indigenous culture in Alaska, and more.

Kevlar Fighting Costumes (2015), by Nao Bustamente. An homage to the courageous women soldiers (soldaderas) who fought in the Mexico revolution (1910-20. Re-imagined traditional garments, only now with protection against bullets and knives.

Kevlar Fighting Costumes (2015), by Nao Bustamente. An homage to the courageous women soldiers (soldaderas) who fought in the Mexico revolution (1910-20. Re-imagined traditional garments, only now with protection against bullets and knives.

The exhibit is multi-layered, appealing to our senses and emotions, provoking not only thought but also compassion. It was originally inspired by Dr. Marianne Hirsch's research on what she calls "postmemory." Because there is so much to convey about this subject and about the individual artists themselves--how such memories affect them and how they work with them through their art--I can't begin to address this all here. Nor can I include photos of everything, especially because of the mirror effect of some pieces (basically, you'd see me taking a picture!). I'll introduce a few examples and, if you're interested, you can watch vimeos, skypes, panel presentations, and other communications from the artists on the CJM website. Given the enormous number of refugees in the world since the 20th century, this is an extremely compelling issue. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that there is a huge population suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome because of their own memories and those of generations before them.

From the series "Immortality: The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War,” by Binh Danh.

From the series "Immortality: The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War,” by Binh Danh.

Artist Binh Danh, who visited Vietnam for the first time since he left as a child on a refugee boat in the 1980s, was struck by how much the landscape has remembered the trauma of war. Growing up in the U.S., he saw photos of children with missing limbs because of bombings and Agent Orange. To capture those times and effects, Binh Danh uses the natural chlorophyll process. He produces a digital transparency, places it on top of a living leaf, sandwiches that between glass and a backing board, and then exposes it to the sun. Combining technology and nature in this way is new to me, so I was especially struck by how well it represents the poignant tragedy of war in Vietnam in the fragility of a leaf. As the leaves die, so will the pictures, though memories linger.

"Mother Load" (1996), by Yong Soon Min.

"Mother Load" (1996), by Yong Soon Min.

Yong Soon Min, born as the Korean War ended, immigrated to California when she was seven years old. She uses the Korean tradition of bojagi (patchwork) to create her installation representing different eras. She sewed together black and white photographs from the Japanese colonial period that she printed on fabric. She also stitched together color photographs to make a carrying cloth for a bundle. In addition, there is camouflage fabric representing the Korean War, her mother's red scarf, hanbok (traditional women's costume), and shoes. The artist cut some of these items in half to indicate that a part of oneself gets left behind in the native country while the other starts a new life elsewhere. "Mother Load" is about bearing the load of memories her mother transmitted.

"Mother Load" (1996), by Yong Soon Min.

"Mother Load" (1996), by Yong Soon Min.

If you've read the book or seen the movie, "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis," you'll recognize the name Eric Finzi and the objects in his aluminum and glass sculpture. He is a descendant of a family that witnessed the fascist takeover of Italy and that was deported to concentration camps in Germany. Strong memories related through stories told to us by others can become internalized and deeply entangled with our identity and place in the world. As Finzi says, "A story and family memory can assume as much importance as anything that has happened to you. The collective memory can be incredibly powerful." Perhaps this is so because memory is not necessarily voluntary nor dependent on historical facts, but can be a conglomeration of feelings and sensations.

"Tennicycle" (2014), by Eric Finzi.

"Tennicycle" (2014), by Eric Finzi.

Loli Kantor, a photographer based in Fort Worth, Texas, was born in France and grew up in a Holocaust survivor community in Israel. Bernice Eisenstein, a mixed-media artist based in Toronto, also was raised among survivors. On the other hand, Lisa Kokin is not a child of survivors, yet watching film footage of Holocaust victims as a child in Long Island, New York, traumatized her as though she, too, could experience the horrors. She has spent a great deal of her artistic career confronting the fears that were embedded by what people she never knew had endured. "Inventory," her mixed-media gut installation on two walls, is composed of more than 1,000 scraps of cloth and paper, earrings, buttons, and other small found items that comprise the lives of such individuals. Kokin created it after visiting the Buchenwald concentration camp, where she saw piles of humble objects left behind by those who were killed. She says that her artwork is a way to process information. Though it doesn't entirely eradicate the terror, it does help. She believes it's her responsibility as an artist to address past events of import so that future generations can place them in an appropriate context. All of these artists are using their work to oppose the unfortunate tendency toward cultural amnesia.

"Inventory" (1997), by Lisa Kokin.

"Inventory" (1997), by Lisa Kokin.

Detail of "Inventory" (1997), by Lisa Kokin.

Detail of "Inventory" (1997), by Lisa Kokin.

Although raised on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Silvina Der-Meguerditchian had four grandparents who were Armenian refugees. When her uncle approached her with her grandmother's suitcase and said he'd throw it out if she didn't take it, she found a treasure trove of documents and photographs. She knew this was her connection to the many people who were part of her heritage, people spread far out from their homeland. She decided to knit them all together by crocheting the photographs with wool to create the "carpets" she calls "Family I and Family II." They're a reconstruction of something old and something new, a way to recover a sense of belonging that she felt had been taken away from her.

"Family I and Family II," by Silvina Der-Meguerditchian.

"Family I and Family II," by Silvina Der-Meguerditchian.

Detail of "Family I and Family II," by Silvina Der-Meguerditchian.

Detail of "Family I and Family II," by Silvina Der-Meguerditchian.

My final images are of a rug cooperatively woven of 2,000 silk ties in the village of Kalavryta, Greece. Foutini Gouseti, born in Athens but now based in Rotterdam, heard a story from an old man who was only a boy during World War II. In 1943, the entire male population over the age of 14 was executed and the town destroyed by the Nazis. Only women and children survived in ruins, partly through international relief efforts. The boy was sent to pick up and bring home what was designated for them. When his mother opened the big package, rather than badly needed food and clothing, she found 2,000 silk ties. For the boy, this was a happy memory because of the many bright colors during such a dark time. For the mother, it was not the hoped-for relief. Not knowing what else to do with the ties, she wove a traditional kourelou carpet. The old man remembers that they were starving and freezing, but they could walk and sit on silk. Gouseti's Kalavryta 2012 is a contemporary recreation of the one that was made from the strange gift of ties.

"Kalavryta 2012," by Fotini Gouseti.

"Kalavryta 2012," by Fotini Gouseti.

Detail of "Kalavryta 2012," by Fotini Gouseti.

Detail of "Kalavryta 2012," by Fotini Gouseti.

While the exhibit title refers to a phrase found in word and song in Jewish practice: l’dor vador—the call to pass tradition from one generation to another--the exhibit itself embraces many historical events of different cultures. Who could have anticipated that this phrase would eventually take the form of passing on memories from generations that actually experienced dreadful events?

Questions and Comments:
What memories have you inherited about experiences that are not your own? Have you incorporated them in your artwork and, if so, how?

French writer Marcel Proust (1871-1922) is famous for pointing out how our senses trigger memories. Dipping a madeleine into a cup of tea--the smells wafting into his nostrils--unleashed a flood of memories that became his 7-part novel, À la recherche du temps perdu(Remembrance of Things Past). Has something similar happened to you? Did you turn those memories into some form of art?

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Making Marks: Writing and Art

Source: https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2016/07/mark-making-ideas/

Source: https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2016/07/mark-making-ideas/

Mark making is an essential aspect of creating a work of art. We make marks with a pencil, a piece of pastel, charcoal or chalk, a brush and paint, a needle and thread, and all kinds of other instruments that let us incise lines, dots, shapes, and patterns into clay, wood, metal, stone, and plastic. The marks can be straight or squiggly, rigid or loose, singular or repetitive. They can express emotions, movement or stasis, order or chaos, weakness or strength. The range is infinite. It is with "letters" as well.

Writing is a particular form of making marks to communicate, record history, and preserve religious teachings. It is also an object of beauty in itself. That's why, ever curious, I went to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco last Saturday to attend a program on "The Story of Writing in the Arts of Asia."  I'm fascinated by the unusual and appealing marks that other people easily understand, but which I read simply as interesting lines and shapes, such as this sign in Seoul or these calligraphic versions of love in Arabic (al-hubb) and Hebrew (ah-ha-vah). To me, the elegant black lines appear to be dancing.

Al-hubb, by Larisa.lar24. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Al-hubb, by Larisa.lar24. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Ah-ha-vah, by Michel D'anastasio. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/maltin75/4803612829/

Ah-ha-vah, by Michel D'anastasio. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/maltin75/4803612829/

And then there's the calligraphy of China, Korea, and Japan. While the various images I include are from disparate regions and civilizations--Middle East and East Asia--I find mark making oddly unifying. Despite the barriers we encounter in language, there's something in the beauty of the strokes that connects all of us. Maybe it's because the arts have long had the power to transcend cultural differences.

"Crossing the Frozen River,"a poem in running script, undated, by the Kangxi Emperor (1654—1722). The Palace Museum, Beijing. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Crossing the Frozen River,"a poem in running script, undated, by the Kangxi Emperor (1654—1722). The Palace Museum, Beijing. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

E Sun-shin calligraphy. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

E Sun-shin calligraphy. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Budo" shuji, brushed by Kondo Katsuyuki, Menkyo Kaiden, Daito ryu. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Budo" shuji, brushed by Kondo Katsuyuki, Menkyo Kaiden, Daito ryu. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

I came to the tour, led by inspiring docent Julia Verzhbinsky, with some questions: Do the letters of the Hebrew alphabet have any bearing on those of Sanskrit? Do the hieroglyphs of Egypt share any commonality with the ideograms of Chinese? And where and when did writing first go beyond its practical purposes and blossom into art?

First, of course, there are those marks that were made on cave walls and rocks tens of thousands of years ago. Then, dating to around 3200 B.C.E., we have the earliest cuneiform tablets from Sumeria (between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers) as well as small bone and ivory tablets in early hieroglyphic form from Abydos (on the Nile). Gradually, those marks morphed into others.

Ritmal-Cuneiform tablet (ca. 2400 B.C.E., Kirkor Minassian Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Source:https://commons.wikimedia.org

Ritmal-Cuneiform tablet (ca. 2400 B.C.E., Kirkor Minassian
Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Source:https://commons.wikimedia.org

Coffin of Herishefhotep; Abusir, 9th/10th dynasty. Ägyptisches Museum, Leipzig, Germany. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Coffin of Herishefhotep; Abusir, 9th/10th dynasty. Ägyptisches Museum, Leipzig, Germany. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Too readily, we forget that extensive travel over trade routes has existed for many thousands of years (without jets!) and that soldiers and merchants carried a lot more than arms and material goods. For example, Aramaic, which originated in Mesopotamia and is ancestral to Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic, spread all the way to the Indus Valley under the Archaemenid Empire (4th to 6th centuries B.C.E.). I saw evidence of this on a miniature Buddhist stupa from the ancient area of Gandhara and on statues of the Buddha. Although Chinese is considered completely original, it's hard not to notice similarities between early marks in China and those made elsewhere.

Chart of seal script, National Museum of Korea, Seoul.

Chart of seal script, National Museum of Korea, Seoul.

The earliest mark making in China seems to have been on oracle bones. I am drawn to the seal script that was derived from such "pictures." I can guess what they represent and find out what they mean through Google, but I appreciate them just for their interesting combination of lines. Since I'm not a calligrapher, instead I'm eager to abstract and stitch them onto fabric or paper. Although I've never been to China, I saw the marks above at The National Museum of Korea in Seoul. There I also learned about the Korean attitude toward calligraphy, which is considered one of the major arts that a true intellectual should master. Historically, to be truly adept, the calligrapher needed great knowledge about literature, history, art, and philosophy, for spiritual depth was valued along with artistic beauty. Even modern Chinese scroll paintings that I've seen, for instance, at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, bring together the three arts of painting, poetry, and calligraphy. 

"Plum Blossoms" (1965), by Xiao Ru. Asian Art Museum,  San Francisco, California.

"Plum Blossoms" (1965), by Xiao Ru. Asian Art Museum, 
San Francisco, California.

"Red and Green Plum Blossoms" (1944), by Ye Gongchuo (1881-1968). Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Red and Green Plum Blossoms" (1944), by Ye Gongchuo (1881-1968). Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Collected Letters" (2016), by Liu Jianhua. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Collected Letters" (2016), by Liu Jianhua. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Parler Seul" (1947), by Joan Miró. Source: http://www. allposters.com/Posters_i10212240_.htm

"Parler Seul" (1947), by Joan Miró. Source: http://www.
allposters.com/Posters_i10212240_.htm

For some artists today, such as Shanghai- based Liu Jianhua, a letter can be a visual unit of art in itself. He created Collected Letters (2016) by suspending cascading porcelain letters of the Latin alphabet and the radicals that form Chinese characters. Taken out of their practical role as building blocks of language, they become sculptural compositions in their own right. Liu Jianhua was inspired by the Asian Art Museum's collection of Chinese ceramics and the building's original identity as the main public library of San Francisco.

"Collected Letters" (2016), by Liu Jianhua. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Collected Letters" (2016), by Liu Jianhua. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California.

Those of us involved in fiber/textile art are aware that mark making is a big topic of conversation these days. Some artists stitch in abstract marks while others add actual text and recognizable letters. Painters such as Paul Klee and Joan Miró included marks that are reminiscent of scripts from long ago in other cultures. It's ironic that the more we think we're creating something new, the more we realize that we're tapping into something very old. Ancient art, contemporary art. The East, the West. In the end, I don't see any divisions. Influences and inspirations run in both directions.

"Insula Dulcamara" (1938), by Paul Klee. Source: https://learnodo-newtonic.com/paul-klee-famous-paintings

"Insula Dulcamara" (1938), by Paul Klee. Source: https://learnodo-newtonic.com/paul-klee-famous-paintings

Questions and Comments:
What kinds of marks are you drawn to in art and writing?
What do you use in your artwork: your own marks? lettering/script in your language or other languages?

Lino cuts on polymer blocks, by digital designer and artist Charmaine Watkiss.  Source: https://charmainewatkiss.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/lovely-lino/

Lino cuts on polymer blocks, by digital designer and artist Charmaine Watkiss. 
Source: https://charmainewatkiss.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/lovely-lino/

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A New Year for More Art

Source: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/

Source: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/

I shouldn't be surprised that the end of another year has rolled around. Still, I can't help thinking, "2017 already? How did it get here so fast?" Maybe because I engaged in a lot of deeply satisfying travel and art activities, the months simply sped by. The old expression that time flies when you're having a good time is the perfect answer.

Thank you for accompanying me during these months of posting about my experiences with and thoughts about art, whether locally or in another country. I very much appreciate your communications. Even if you don't comment, that you're out there reading my blog is a companionable gesture in itself.

I'm going to complete 2016 and begin 2017 with some quotes to reflect on. These are from On Art and Mindfulness, by artist, author, and physicist Enrique Martínez Celaya.

Gleann Fhiodhaig, Scotland. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

Gleann Fhiodhaig, Scotland. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

Being an artist is not a posture or a profession, but a way of being in the world and in relation to yourself....Understanding who you are as an artist should be thought of as a life-long process inseparable from your work....Growth does not have to be systematic. The way of the artist is a meandering path.                  

"Migrant Mother" (1930s), by Dorothea Lange. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Migrant Mother" (1930s), by Dorothea Lange. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

The qualities that distinguish great art from the rest are, directly or indirectly, related to ethics. At the heart of great art you will find love and compassion....A great work of art cannot come fromhatred or cynicism.  

"Frau, Korb tragend (before 1918), by Käthe Kollwitz. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Frau, Korb tragend (before 1918), by Käthe Kollwitz. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Balancing Act, Quinn Dombrowski. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Balancing Act, Quinn Dombrowski. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

There is no comfortable foundation for an artist to stand on. Do not look for it, and if you find it, get off it....An artist’s practice should account for uncertainty and instability that is always part of an honest inquiry. Expect change. Embrace accidents and mistakes.
 

Western Bluebird at Ralph B. Clark Regional Park, Buena Park, CA. Photo by Davefoc. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Western Bluebird at Ralph B. Clark Regional Park, Buena Park, CA. Photo by Davefoc. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Art tends to be a solitary experience for the artist, but it becomes less so if you have some relationship with nature and if your work is connected to life.

Arches National Park, Utah. Photo by Don Graham. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Arches National Park, Utah. Photo by Don Graham. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

According to poet Mary Oliver, “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” Next year, don't look back on 2017 with regret. Pick up your pen, needle, spindle, brush, or whatever you use and start creating today.

Dawn at the Coorong National Park, South Australia. Photo by Mundoo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Dawn at the Coorong National Park, South Australia. Photo by Mundoo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Happy New Year!
May 2017 dawn bright with creative promise for you.

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LOOKING AT FACES

What is it about faces that compels us to look? They don't have to be handsome or famous to draw our attention. Any face can be interesting, captivating, or intriguing, without celebrity or accepted standards of beauty. Isn't the face what we notice first in others, whether human or animal? There don't even have to be real persons connected to the faces we see in the arts.

Stranger, by Helgi Halldórsson, Reykjavík, Iceland. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Stranger, by Helgi Halldórsson, Reykjavík, Iceland. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Portrait of Pablo Picasso (1915), by Amedeo Modigliani. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Portrait of Pablo Picasso (1915), by Amedeo Modigliani. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Female chimpanzee at Twycross Zoo UK, by William H. Calvin. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Female chimpanzee at Twycross Zoo UK, by William H. Calvin. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Faith Obae, by Chris Combe, York, UK. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Faith Obae, by Chris Combe, York, UK. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

That's exactly what struck me about "A Face Explored," an exhibit by textile artist Susan Lane, at Vacaville Art Gallery in Northern California until December 30. The fourteen faces on the walls don't refer to anyone in particular. Lane didn't start out with the intention of capturing the visages of people she knows. Rather, she wanted to explore the process of working in a series because she'd read that it challenges one's creativity: ironically, imposing limitations can lead to expansion. The result is a body of work that clearly expresses her own voice through faces that, because of the cohesive quality of the exhibit, may seem the same yet are entirely different.

As the series evolved, Lane found herself considering the latest iteration to be her favorite thus far. But that kept changing. She started with line drawings, began to fill in shapes with color, then created new shapes and even incorporated text, all to support the mood of the piece. Split images--the two-faced look--also emerged. They're reminiscent of masks, showing simultaneously our bright side--what we want to project to the world--and our shadow side--what we prefer to keep hidden from view.

What proved fascinating is how Lane was able to combine and recombine similar elements to create a new feeling in each face. If you look carefully, you'll see the same nose structure, lips, and eyes throughout, but they don't feel repetitious in a "same-old, same-old" way. Each face is infused with an entirely unique look.