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.

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.

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.

To see what I mean, check out these detail shots. You'll also notice the texture created through the application of thread, yarn, other materials, and stitching.

As I viewed the faces in the gallery, I came up with my own interpretation of emotions that I think they convey. However, I found out that my impressions don't necessarily match what Lane experienced and strived for in creating them. What we bring to or take from a work of art is not always what the artist intends. And that's okay. There are no title cards for Lane's faces because she prefers that the viewer bring her/his own story to it. Her own experience in making the faces was that sometimes there was a story about the face and sometimes there wasn't. But once a piece is completed, a story unexpectedly emerges.

Our brain wants to identify what's going on in another face, for that's part of our crucial self-preservation instinct ever since the earliest humans roamed the plains of the Serengeti so many thousands of years ago. Still, sometimes to our dismay and danger, we don't read expressions correctly. The face we see may not be true or authentic. Actors can put on many faces required in their roles and make us believe what's not actually there.

For centuries, artists have tacitly understood how important our faces are in evolution and social life. In portraying them--from ancient Egyptian renderings to modern abstract paintings--they arouse both our perceptions and reactions. Artists can capture a face as they sense it in a model, presenting it just as it appears or revealing something deeper behind the facade. Lane's faces make me want to learn more about them, even though there's no one there but the artist herself.

[For more photos, www.susanlanetextileart.com/] 

Questions and Comments:
What are your favorite faces in the long history of art? 
Which artist expresses faces in a way that captivates your interest? Can you explain what the attraction is?
Do you portray faces, realistically or abstractly, in your own artwork? If so, what is it about faces that impel you in that direction?

*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.

What's Universal? Part 2

Minimalism is universal. Abstract is universal. Geometric is universal. That's what an exhibit at The M. H. de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park makes clear, just as the play I saw in Berkeley conveyed the universality of certain emotional issues and ethical choices [see 11/13/16 post].

"Laura's Quilt" (2007), by Gyöngy Laky. The M.H. de Young Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Laura's Quilt" (2007), by Gyöngy Laky. The M.H. de Young Museum, San Francisco, California.

When I walked over to the entrance wall of "On the Grid," I was surprised to find not cording, but twigs held in place by nails. "Laura's Quilt" (2007) was created by Gyöngy Laky, an American artist born in Hungary.

Once I entered the gallery, I found an interesting and beautiful variety of textile works from around the world that share the same characteristics attributed to the 20th-century school of abstract art known as Minimalism. While the movement included such artists as Donald Judd, Sol Le Witt, Dan Flavin, and Agnes Martin, the pieces on exhibit were created by weavers and other artists/ARTisans, mostly from different cultures. However, they all use a gridded arrangement as a patterning device and/or repetition of simple geometric shapes. As the description of the exhibit states: These objects reflect the movement's core principle that there is a beauty in simplicity that is both universal and timeless.

Tibetan apron panel, 1900s. Wool; twill weave.

Tibetan apron panel, 1900s. Wool; twill weave.

Woman's tunic (phyang) of cotton and silk, ca. 1900. Burma, Asho Chin people.

Woman's tunic (phyang) of cotton and silk, ca. 1900. Burma, Asho Chin people.

Korean wrapping cloth (bojagi), piecework made of bast fiber.

Korean wrapping cloth (bojagi), piecework made of bast fiber.

Detail of Korean wrapping cloth (bojagi).

Detail of Korean wrapping cloth (bojagi).

Woman's skirt panel (pagne) from Gorea Island, Senegal.

Woman's skirt panel (pagne) from Gorea Island, Senegal.

Detail of woman's skirt panel (pagne) from Gorea Island, Senegal.

Detail of woman's skirt panel (pagne) from Gorea Island, Senegal.

Japanese Buddhist altar cloth (uchishiki), early 1800s. Silk, gold leaf on paper strips, twill lampas, supplementary-weft patterning.

Japanese Buddhist altar cloth (uchishiki), early 1800s. Silk, gold leaf on paper strips, twill lampas, supplementary-weft patterning.

Detail of Japanese Buddhist altar cloth, late Edo period.

Detail of Japanese Buddhist altar cloth, late Edo period.

Soto Zen Buddhist's priest robe (kesa), Japan, ca. 1603-1868, piecework of bast fiber (ramie or hemp) and appliqué.

Soto Zen Buddhist's priest robe (kesa), Japan, ca. 1603-1868, piecework of bast fiber (ramie or hemp) and appliqué.

Detail of Soto Zen Buddhist priest's robe.

Detail of Soto Zen Buddhist priest's robe.

Man's headdress (abe), late 1800s, Melanesia, Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz Islands. Paper mulberry barkcloth (lepau), painted by hand.

Man's headdress (abe), late 1800s, Melanesia, Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz Islands. Paper mulberry barkcloth (lepau), painted by hand.

Detail of man's headdress.

Detail of man's headdress.

Detail of man's headdress.

Detail of man's headdress.

Breast cloth (kamben cerek or wastra tirtanadi), 1900s, Indonesia, Bali. Cotton; plain weave, spaced warp, discontinuous weft.

Breast cloth (kamben cerek or wastra tirtanadi), 1900s, Indonesia, Bali. Cotton; plain weave, spaced warp, discontinuous weft.

Detail of Balinese breast cloth (kamben cerek or wastra tirtanadi).

Detail of Balinese breast cloth (kamben cerek or wastra tirtanadi).

Detail of Nigerian/Igbo door.

Detail of Nigerian/Igbo door.

Nigerian door, Igbo people, 1800s; iroko wood.

Nigerian door, Igbo people, 1800s; iroko wood.

Bark cloth (siapo), 1900s, Polynesia, Samoa. Paper mulberry barkcloth, block printed, painted.

Bark cloth (siapo), 1900s, Polynesia, Samoa. Paper mulberry barkcloth, block printed, painted.

Detail of Samoan bark cloth (siapo).

Detail of Samoan bark cloth (siapo).

One of the most compelling works, because of its transparent layers, is also the largest in the exhibit. American artist Rebecca R. Medel meditatively created "Wall of Windows" (1990) with cotton and linen, knotted netting, warp- and weft- resist dyeing (ikat). It has an ethereal quality as it moves between form and formlessness. She states in the title card, "My work is about the spiritual, about infinity, about other than this physical plane of existence." Although the process was complex, the resulting installation is the epitome of simplicity, of minimalism.

"Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca R. Medel.

"Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca R. Medel.

Side view of "Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca Medel.

Side view of "Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca Medel.

Side detail of "Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca Medel.

Side detail of "Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca Medel.

What does minimalism mean to you--in art you view or art you create?
What examples come to mind when you think of minimalism and simplicity?
If minimalism and the simplicity of geometric shapes appeal to you, can you describe why? If they don't, what isn't appealing about them?

*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.

What's It Made Of?

In my last post, I said I'd continue with "What's universal?" next time, but I'm going to interject something different between the two parts because of a small exhibit I just saw at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. In some ways, it recalls contemporary Japanese basketry shows that I have viewed in the last few years. [See images in 11/8/2014 post.] The baskets were, in no way, functional but purely sculptural.

"The Sculptural Turn: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics" focuses on a generation of Japanese potters following World War II. They moved from functional forms such as vases and tea-ware to sculptural ceramics as well as from apprenticeships to university studies. They are clearly engaged in a conversation with art movements since the second half of the 20th century. This group also includes the first Japanese women to distinguish themselves in what has been a historically male field. These clay artists have gone beyond tradition and convention by innovating works in exciting, often organic, shapes and textures while still employing time-hallowed materials and techniques with great finesse.

One of the things that I found fascinating about the works in "The Sculptural Turn" is that they don't appear to be made of clay. Each one I gazed at reminded me of some other material. For example, up close, the piece above, "Untitled" (2009) by Ogawa Machiko, looks like meringue. It is actually stoneware and porcelain with pooling glass. In the exhibit catalogue, she explains, "It is my passion for the earth that drives my continual search for the essential in art. The vessel form, with both interior and exterior space, enables me to best pursue this quest--it is not about making vases. Rather, I am inspired by the concept of emptiness within the whole."

When I looked at "Moment in White C" (2012) by Fujino Sachiko, I immediately thought of strips of felt. Yet it, too, is stoneware, with a matte glaze. Not surprising is the fact that this artist worked as a fashion designer and fabric dyer in Kyoto before she studied with pioneering female ceramicist Tsuboi Asuka in the 1980s. 

The third one could be petrified wood covered in fungus. "Untitled" (2012) by Futamura Yoshimi is a combination of stoneware and porcelain. She blends the two to achieve the collapsed rugged form.

In the fourth image, the upper piece struck me as rusted metal and the lower piece as coral, but again they're not. "Mindscape" or "Kei" (2014) by Mihara Ken is multi-fired stoneware. The artist considers it his job "to help the clay express its beauty. Clay leads, and my hands follow. I do not know what shape my work work is going to end up even while I am making it...Once in the fire, the piece is no longer mine--it has its own life and resolution."
"Tentacles Sea Flower" (2013) by Katsumata Chieko is chamotte-encrusted stoneware with glaze.

Another organic shape is "Quiet Submersion" or "Shizukani Shizumu" (2014) by Hattori Makiko. It is made of porcelain but, rather than being smooth, it has a delicate almost barnacle-like texture. She has said of her work that she would be happy if viewers were drawn into it because of the visual and tactile impact of the surface before seeking an explanation of what she has created. She also explains that her process is incessantlyrepetitive, but she doesn't tire of "this Zen-like operation." Instead, she confronts it "with a very relaxed transcendent state of mind." The smaller work above "Quiet Submersion" is "Plant Growth" (2015) by Fujikasa Satoko, stoneware with matte glaze.

The exhibit contains more pieces from the Kempner and Stein Collection, but the images here should give you an idea of some of the thrilling leaps Japanese ceramicists have made. If you're in the Bay Area, go have a look for yourself. I'm not a potter but, as a textile artist, I can't help but appreciate the textural qualities I saw and be inspired.

Questions and Comments:
As an artist in one medium, what other mediums do you find inspiring?
In your own artwork, how do the materials you work with give the impression of being something else?

*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.

Quitting Art?

I've not been able to post these last few weeks because I was intensely involved in activities in South Korea. I am part of a team of four women (Lissa Miner, an American woman living in Seoul; Youngmin Lee, a Korean woman living and teaching bojagi in California; Misik Kim, a Korean woman living and teaching in Seoul; and myself in California) working on two projects. Three of us are bringing a Korean fiber art exhibit to art centers in Northern California next year. And three of us are organizing a 10-day culture/fiber art tour to South Korea next October. I flew over to deal with important details for both.

I was also invited to give a presentation on creativity and facilitate a workshop on "Composing in Small Spaces: Textile Cards." (Many thanks to Misik Kim for the invitation.) The day-long event took place on the green campus of a former university in Suwon, just outside of Seoul. It has been turned into a center for art, craft, and design, called Smart Republic of Korea. It includes studios, classrooms, and galleries. My group met on the ground level in a large area with high ceilings, where we enjoyed a lovely breeze coming in from the open doors.

The following images are from the textile art workshop upstairs where Misik Kim teaches in addition to her classes at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't write about my workshop experience, but focus instead on the inspiring artwork I viewed in private and national museums and galleries as well as the patterns and shapes that captured my attention wherever I looked. (For example, in and around Seoul there are such interesting bridges that I'd love to do a whole series of wall hangings based on them.) But I have decided to share my day in Suwon first because of how one student in particular responded. I think it's relevant to anyone pursuing a passion and wondering whether it's really the right track to be on.

Before we started the workshop part of the day, I shared my philosophy about creativity, which includes spontaneity and improvisation but not perfectionism and formulas. We don't have to know ahead of time exactly what we're going to wind up with. I also told them that I wasn't there to teach a technique. Rather, my intention was to convey an open-minded attitude toward art-making. I encouraged them to "sing" with their own unique voice, to bring forth what only they could express. I was able to do this thanks to Mihe Shin, a photographer/artist, who generously translated for me the entire day.

Then I gave a simple demonstration and general instructions for creating a small textile card that fits inside a photo frame card, which in turn fits inside a deckle envelope. It can be sent, gifted, framed, or become part of a larger project. This exercise is a way to prime the pump, cut through blocks, spark ideas, try them out, and invite surprises. My emphasis is on letting the class time be fun. I urge participants to feel free to experiment and play, with no agenda in mind, thus allowing something new and different to arise.

I set out a pile of fabric scraps and design samples, some papers, beads of many colors, and other items for embellishment. The women also brought their own stuff to work with. Everyone was given already-cut pieces of flexible but solid material to serve as the foundation, along with a fusible and a cropping frame. They could do any kind of stitching, by hand and/or machine. No limits, except for size.

As I walked around the "mess" on every work table, I watched as each woman did something entirely different from the woman next to her. One braided strips of white slinky fabric as part of her background. Another cut out the circles in a fabric's pattern so that aspects of a second fabric underneath could appear through the holes. Yet another layered small pieces of organza. Everyone did some hand-stitching. I was glad they jumped into it right away. It was as though all I had to do was give them permission not to follow someone else's pattern but to originate their own design. By the end of the short workshop, some people had made at least two cards. 

I had the whole group display their cards on tables at the front. Although they'd all received the same guidelines, the creative diversity was fascinating. Also, I never said they should stay within the frame or expand beyond it, yet some of the women clearly moved out of the box. Though I had lined up some of my own cards on the ledge of the blackboard, I was gratified to see that no one had made anything like mine. Each card was truly an original work. And several gave me some new ideas.

In the end, it was not the resulting card that mattered but the process they'd gone through--how they felt and what they learned. Since there was no formula to follow and nothing to copy, I wanted to know how the exercise affected them. Because I'd not seen anything these women created in the past, I couldn't assess whether what I saw was a big departure from their usual expression. 

At first, the women were shy to voice their feelings. Then, gradually, I heard how much freer and looser and more spontaneous they were in engaging with the materials, maybe trying something different since there were no strict rules, no test, and no judging, for I had encouraged them to remember what it was like to be in kindergarten. 

Then one woman was brave enough to step forward and reveal her heart. She had been conflicted about attending the workshop, for it meant skipping a class. At the last minute, she'd decided to come. She expressed how it was exactly what she needed, for she had reached a crossroads where she was torn about what to do. She shared with us that she has felt lonely, that her artwork isn't cherished by others, yet that of her studio mate is. Her doubts had grown to the point where she found herself on the verge of forsaking art altogether. Now, she knew she wouldn't give up.

How the workshop experience and my words flipped a switch inside her, I certainly can't explain. But when we shift our attitude, when we let go and simply move inside the process rather than fixate on some outside measurement, something happens--things get clear and we know that we have to follow our passion, regardless of the circumstances, however we can.

I told the young woman that Van Gogh, among so many other artists, had to paint, even though no one supported his art except his brother Theo. Yes, it definitely feels wonderful when we receive kudos for our artwork, be it dance, music, weaving, or writing. But perhaps the difference between being an artist and not being one is not whether someone praises what we make, publicly displays it, or purchases it, but whether we have to keep creating anyway. 

Questions & Comments:
Have you ever been at a point where you wanted to give up making art?
How did you overcome it, if you did?
What would you advise others at the brink of forsaking their passion?

*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.

Exploring the New SF MOMA

Last Sunday, I finally had an opportunity to visit the newly expanded and greatly transformed Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco (SF MOMA). Given what I discussed in my July 6th post about how much we can/cannot take in during a museum visit, I kept in mind what several readers and I agreed on: If you eat from the whole smörgåsbord, count on getting indigestion! With seven floors devoted to art, the museum has enough to keep you there for days. I limited myself and felt joyful when I walked out, eager to explore other galleries next time. I'm keen on discovering places and art I haven't seen yet.

Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA. Photo by Henrik Kam. Source: https://www.sfmoma.org/

Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA. Photo by Henrik Kam. Source: https://www.sfmoma.org/

I love the "new" museum. It is not only more spacious (the galleries alone have gone from 70,000 to 170,00 sq. ft), but also filled with more natural light along with views of the neighborhood. Terraces now invite you to walk outside among sculptures with a garden wall as backdrop. I appreciated being able to get fresh air in the presence of real plants and Alexander Calder's work. Whereas the "old" museum felt closed in, the latest incarnation feels open.

Maquette for "Trois Disques" (Three Disks), formerly "Man" (1967), by Alexander Calder. Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace, floor 3, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Maquette for "Trois Disques" (Three Disks), formerly "Man" (1967), by Alexander Calder.
Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace, floor 3, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

The Living Wall is a wonderful addition for its greenery, its environmental consciousness, and its connection to art. The largest of its kind in the United States (almost 30 feet high and 150 feet wide), it was designed by Habitat Horticulture. The approximately 20,000 plants of 37 different species (40 percent of which are native to the state and the San Francisco Bay Area) are irrigated by a recycled water system. And the wall is stabilized by felt made from recycled water bottles and polyester. Visitors were lining up in front of it to take photos of each other.

"Big Crinkly" (1969), by Alexander Calder. Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace, floor 3, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Big Crinkly" (1969), by Alexander Calder. Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace, floor 3,
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

The galleries have everything, even items that some might not consider art at first glance (even at second and third glances!). No matter, for wherever I walk, whether inside or outside, what I see first are shapes, forms, and flow lines. I saw lots of them and, of course, color, as I went from room to room or out to a terrace. I was surprised by artwork I don't remember viewing at SF MOMA prior to the expansion, perhaps because they couldn't be accommodated in the old setting or because they're recent additions.

"In Winter Burrows" (1985), by Martin Puryear. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"In Winter Burrows" (1985), by Martin Puryear.
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Two Plus Seven" (2004) by Martin Puryear. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Two Plus Seven" (2004) by Martin Puryear.
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Richard Serra's "Sequence" is particularly striking in size, shape, and texture (waterproof steel). Raised in San Francisco, as a teenager, Serra worked in steel mills in the East Bay. I stepped around and through "Sequence" as though I were traversing a canyon. Serra has said, "I found very important the idea of the body passing through space, and the body's movement not being predicated totally on image or sight or optical awareness, but on physical awareness in relation to space, place, time, movement."

The sheer vastness of the two torqued ellipses connected by an S-shape is awesome. I learned that Serra and a German steel fabrication plant have collaborated for nearly twenty years to develop both the machinery and manufacturing areas that are capable of creating such large-scale complex forms. "Sequence" was the first artwork to be set in SF MOMA's new building; then exterior walls were erected around it.

"Sequence" (2006), by Richard Serra. Floor 1, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Sequence" (2006), by Richard Serra. Floor 1, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Sequence" (2006), by Richard Serra. Floor 1, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Sequence" (2006), by Richard Serra. Floor 1, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

My immediate impression of Ellsworth Kelly's "Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance" was to wonder whether he'd been inspired by scrap quilts. The title card explains that, when he found a bunch of colorful gummed paper squares, he turned them into a series of gridded collages by randomly selecting the colors. One of them became the basis for the oil painting below. According to the museum's description, chance techniques kept Kelly "from following any conscious or subconscious guidelines for balance in these compositions. The unexpected color juxtapositions break down any clear distinction between figure and ground, a disruption that Kelly found fruitful and would soon make a central concern of his work." His intention was for viewers not to analyze or interpret his work but to experience its structure, color, and surrounding space instinctively, physically.

"Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance" (1951-1953), by Ellsworth Kelly. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance" (1951-1953), by Ellsworth Kelly. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance" (1951-1953), by Ellsworth Kelly, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance" (1951-1953), by Ellsworth Kelly,
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Accustomed to Kelly's rectangular or square colorful paintings, I wasn't aware that he was one of the first artists to create irregularly shaped canvases, some of which I saw at SF MOMA.

Ellsworth Kelly Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Ellsworth Kelly Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Quite a few of Gerhard Richter's paintings remind me of lovely fiber art that has been dyed, painted, and otherwise manipulated in interesting ways. When I came upon "Geäst" (Branches), I overheard two women on a bench discussing what they imagined could be reflections in a forest stream or pond.

"Geäst" (Branches), by Gerhard Richter, 1988. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Geäst" (Branches), by Gerhard Richter, 1988. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Geäst" (Branches), by Gerhard Richter, 1988. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Geäst" (Branches), by Gerhard Richter, 1988. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Although I'm not much inclined toward figurative art, "Walking Man #2" by Nathan Oliveira made me pause because of its intense texturing and mood. Questions arose in my mind about what's possibly going on with this man: Where was he walking? What was he feeling? The landscape seems so stark, the emotions dark. Along with Richard Diebenkorn and others, Oliveira was part of the development of the Bay Area Figurative style.

"Walking Man #2" (1959), by Nathan Oliveira. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Walking Man #2" (1959), by Nathan Oliveira. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Walking Man #2" (1959), by Nathan Oliveira. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Walking Man #2" (1959), by Nathan Oliveira. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

One of the things that amazes me about abstract art is how much non-literal work can convey something we know and feel in our environment. To create the rhythm and surf-like pattern of "Three Pointed Waterfall," Pat Steir smeared and hurled white paint onto a black-washed canvas. Because I wasn't familiar with her work, I did a bit of reasearch and learned that John Cage and Agnes Martin were long-time mentors in her ongoing search for the essence of painting. Cage taught her the importance of egoless “non-doing” and the role of chance. Martin conveyed how an artist invests his/her spirit into a work. So Steir poured the paint, let it flow downward along its own unpredictable path, keeping herself out of it by allowing gravity, time, and the environment to decide the result. A blending of Buddhism and Taoism?

"Three Pointed Waterfall" (1990), by Pat Steir. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Three Pointed Waterfall" (1990), by Pat Steir. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Three Pointed Waterfall" (1990), by Pat Steir. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Three Pointed Waterfall" (1990), by Pat Steir. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

I remember an exhibit of Ruth Asawa's work at SF MOMA years ago. of which I have the catalogue. I was glad to see some of her delicate yet strong fiber art is still there.The shadows they cast are like a secondary intangible work.

"Untitled" (S.114, ca. 1958), by Ruth Asawa. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Untitled" (S.114, ca. 1958), by Ruth Asawa. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Untitled" (S.114, ca. 1958), by Ruth Asawa. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Untitled" (S.114, ca. 1958), by Ruth Asawa. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

I enjoyed coming across more fiber art after a sea of paintings, drawings, and metal or wood sculptures. The textile collage below, with brass, thread, and wood, is by Romanian artist Greta Bræsecu. On the title card, I read that it is "the capstone" to a series of abstract compositions which she produced over a period of six years, in which the Greek myth of priestess-sorceress Medea "becomes a metaphor of creation through defiance and subversive transformation." An fascinating point about Bræsecu's life is that she did not leave communist Romania while other intellectuals were fleeing. She managed to express radical ideas by using handcraft-like techniques and simple gestures that avoided scrutiny for ideological content. Who knows, maybe the apparatchiks figured that a woman working with cloth was more domestic than political!

"Metabola" (1981), by Greta Bræsecu. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Metabola" (1981), by Greta Bræsecu. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Metabola" (1981), by Greta Bræsecu. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Metabola" (1981), by Greta Bræsecu. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Because male artists and white artists still predominate, I noted when a work belonged to a woman or a person of color. Sadly, I didn't find equality, though Diane Arbus has a room devoted to her photography and Agnes Martin has a small alcove of paintings. There are large canvases by Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner and a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera by Kahlo. Perhaps the floors I've not yet visited will reveal more art by Asian, Hispanic, African, and African-American artists.

Detail of "Harm's Way" (1987) by Joan Mitchell. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Harm's Way" (1987) by Joan Mitchell. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Harm's Way" (1987), by Joan Mitchell. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Harm's Way" (1987), by Joan Mitchell. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

On the other hand, I was glad to notice that at SF MOMA fiber art is integrated into various areas according to artistic movements or periods rather than segregated from the so-called fine arts. This makes me hopeful for textile art in general, especially because the fifth floor, which I didn't reach, has a major fiber piece. Claudy Jongstra of the Netherlands was commissioned to create a site-specific mural installation in a transitional space between the white-walled galleries and the outdoor rooftop garden. On a lower floor, I watched a video interview with her about the entire process involved--from tending a flock of Europe's oldest breed of sheep (Drenthe Heath) for their high-quality wool through natural plant dyeing and felting. I look forward to seeing the finished product on my next visit.

SF MOMA's holdings are greater than 33,000 works of art and design. All I could and wanted to do was focus on a few galleries on a few floors. Although I have lots more photos to share, I'll end here with arguably the most unexpected experience. Opening the door into the Ladies' Room reminded me of stepping into a color-filled James Turrell elevator at another museum. Every inch of SF MOMA is dedicated to art in one way or another!

Ladies' Room at the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Ladies' Room at the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Questions & Comments:
Even if you're not a fan of modern art, what can you cite as interesting, intriguing, or challenging about it?
If you are a lover of modern art, what about it floats your boat?

*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.

Taking in Art in Poland

The opening of the 15th International Trienniale of Tapestryon May 9th was one reason I recently visited Poland, for the event takes place in my father's city, Łódź. I first heard about it in 2013, but couldn't attend then. Though I had been in Łódź in the late 1990s, at that time I knew nothing about such happenings, for I had not yet gotten immersed in textile art. In fact, I didn't even know the history of the city. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it was the center of a thriving textile industry in the 19th century. Called the Polish "Manchester," Łódź supplied goods for the Russian Empire, which spanned from East-Central Europe all the way to Alaska.

"Beautiful Waiting" (2015), by Sylwia Jakubowska. International Triennale of Tapestry 2016, Biała Fabryka ("White Factory"), Lodz, Poland.

"Beautiful Waiting" (2015), by Sylwia Jakubowska. International Triennale of Tapestry 2016, Biała Fabryka ("White Factory"), Lodz, Poland.

Detail of "Beautiful Waiting" by Sylwia Jakubowska.

Detail of "Beautiful Waiting" by Sylwia Jakubowska.

Photo taken from one of 4 wings of the Centralne Muzeum Włókiennictwa (Central Museum of Textiles), Lodz, formerly "The White Factory," erected by the family of Ludwik Geyer in 1835–1886. Site of the International Triennale of Tapestry.

Photo taken from one of 4 wings of the Centralne Muzeum Włókiennictwa (Central Museum of Textiles), Lodz, formerly "The White Factory," erected by the family of Ludwik Geyer in 1835–1886. Site of the International Triennale of Tapestry.

This wouldn't mean anything to me except that my father once told me something about his father, who I now realize played a small role in that huge enterprise. My grandfather could look at a piece of cloth through a loupe and discern how to create that pattern, that is, how to set up the looms to weave it. That bit of family history remained in my memory bank for ages until one day it struck me that, though I had never learned how to weave, there I was, working with textiles. I felt a need to return to Łódź and see for myself where all this had started and how it eventually became a showcase for contemporary fiber art.

Briefly, Łódź began as a small settlement on a trade route and, by the early 20th century, grew into one of the most densely populated and polluted industrial cities in the world. Weaving originally took place in dark, dismal hovels, but some mill owners built huge steam-powered factories that turned their families into dynasties on a par with, if not wealthier than, the Rockefellers.

Izrael Poznański's Palace, originally a family residence, now the Museum of the City of Łódź.

Izrael Poznański's Palace, originally a family residence, now the Museum of the City of Łódź.

Eventually, the boom went bust due to a series of catastrophes: The Bolshevik Revolution (1917) and the Civil War in Russia (1918-1922) ended the lucrative trade with the East; The Great Depression (1930s) and the Customs war with Germany closed western markets to Polish textiles. After decades of labor exploitation, workers' protests and riots erupted.

Today, the factories and mansions are museums and galleries, with parks and gardens. For example, Izrael Poznański's Palace (see photo above), originally a family residence in the Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque style, houses the Museum of the City of Łódź. Several rooms on an upper level are dedicated to a hometown boy, the renowned classical pianist Artur Rubinstein (1877-1982). The lower level is a gallery, where I viewed an exhibit of paintings and lithographs by local abstract artist and professor Andrzej Gieraga.

"Intruz" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

"Intruz" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

"Bez Tytulu III, ok" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

"Bez Tytulu III, ok" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

Walking along city streets, I also came across art on old building walls and in alley ways: The face/tree directly below and the mirrored glass in a pattern of roses underneath that are two instances.

Street art on a building in Lodz, Poland.

Street art on a building in Lodz, Poland.

In this alley off Piotrokowska St. in Lodz, someone created a pattern of roses, using bits of mirrored glass to cover building walls.

In this alley off Piotrokowska St. in Lodz, someone created a pattern of roses, using bits of mirrored glass to cover building walls.

I visited the Museum of Art, located in another Poznański palace, and a cultural center where shows ancillary to the Triennale were hung. There are more than 90 such related exhibitions and events that take place across Poland as well as its borders during this year. But the most extensive exhibit is the one for which I had traveled so far, the Triennale itself. With the work of 136 artists from 46 countries displayed on 3 floors, there's no way I can include everything here. Instead, what follows is a mere sampling of the wide variety of fiber art I witnessed. It's come a long way from the cotton and wool textiles once woven for an entire empire. The definition of fiber art is stretched to include pieces that do not even consist of fiber, but may entail a relevant interlacing technique, such as the rusted metal in "Modulator" by Leonora Vekić of Croatia.

While I took photos of the entire show, it is hard to capture the feeling of being in the presence of particular pieces. Photographic images just don't have the same impact as standing in front of or walking around them. I've selected those that come across more sharply in terms of shape, color, and texture, or that are unexpected in some way.

"Modulator" (2014), by Leonora Vekić, Croatia.

"Modulator" (2014), by Leonora Vekić, Croatia.

Detail of "Modulator" by Leonora Vekić.

Detail of "Modulator" by Leonora Vekić.

"A Dream in the Rain (En la lluvia el sueño) (2010-2013), by Sara María Terrazas., Mexico.

"A Dream in the Rain (En la lluvia el sueño) (2010-2013), by Sara María Terrazas., Mexico.

Detail of "A Dream in the Rain," by Sara María Terrazas

Detail of "A Dream in the Rain," by Sara María Terrazas

"The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

"The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

Detail of "The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

Detail of "The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

The title cards at the Triennale do not contain information about materials and methods, but in many cases, I could guess. In the two images (one full and one detail) that follow of Judith Content's work, I know that her wall pieces are hand-dyed, pieced, and quilted silk.

"Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

"Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

Detail of "Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

Detail of "Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

The slightest breath of air set Alina Bloch's multi-layered "Genesis" in motion, so it never looked the same from moment to moment. 

Front view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

Front view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

Side view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

Side view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

"Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

"Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

Detail of "Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

Detail of "Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

"Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

"Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

Detail of "Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

Detail of "Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

In her piece, "Mass Suicide," Androna Linartas of Mexico replicates the ancient system of quipu to convey a powerful message about the dangers of smoking. Quipus, also known as "talking knots," were devices used in the Andean cultures (South America) to collect data and keep records. A quipu usually consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. Linartas created hers with cigarette butts.

"Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

"Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

Detail of "Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

Detail of "Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

"Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

"Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

Detail of "Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

Detail of "Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

Questions and Comments:
Does your family have a particular textile history? Where did it come from?
What surprises/fascinates/interests you about fiber art today?
What traditional techniques with non-traditional materials (or vice versa) have you used in your art? 

*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.

Mutual Inspiration: Science and Art

There was a time when I narrowly thought that science and art exist at opposite ends of a spectrum. It was hard to envision Einsteins and Pollocks collaborating. Yet, according to an article I read last month in the New York Timesthat's exactly what's happening at the Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Cambridge. The results are innovative, to say the least.

From the "Sandcastles" Series by Vik Muniz and Marcelo Coelho. Source: http://totb.ro/foto-castele-desenate-pe-un-graunte-de-nisip/

From the "Sandcastles" Series by Vik Muniz and Marcelo Coelho.
Source: http://totb.ro/foto-castele-desenate-pe-un-graunte-de-nisip/

For example, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz was able to etch superfine lines on a single grain of sand. It took four years of trial and error in co-operation with lab technician Marcelo Coelho at M.I.T's Media Lab. Muniz used an electron microscope with a focused ion beam to create images of castles. They were then scanned and printed large scale for a series called "Sandcastles."

The article goes on to describe other projects, including the fabrication of art pieces with trained virus cells (!) and Tomás Saraceno's utopian vision of flying around the world on one of his buoyant sculptures. His observation of spiders has led to gallery-sized web sculptures reminiscent of neural pathways and and the ever-expanding cosmos.

"Galaxy forming along filaments, like droplets along the strands of a spider´s web" (2008), by Tomás Saraceno.  Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Source: http://artpulsemagazine.com/venice-biennale-making-worlds

"Galaxy forming along filaments, like droplets along the strands of a spider´s web" (2008), by Tomás Saraceno. 
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Source: http://artpulsemagazine.com/venice-biennale-making-worlds

I found the MIT project interesting because, a few months earlier, I had responded to Pence Gallery's call for entry on “The Consilience of Art and Science.” While my textile submissions weren't juried into the show, the chosen pieces were definitely thought-provoking. Take Anna Davidson's "Fungal Quilt," 5" x 5.5', made with fungus, potato dextrose agar, thread, and polyurethane. A scientist and an artist, Davidson invited other scientists to a quilting bee, where they created the quilt made from other organisms. Her intention was to create a dialogue between science and domesticity.

"Fungal Quilt" (2014), by Anna Davidson. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists  and http://www.clayburgcreate.com/annadavidson/anna/uncategorized/665//Davidson.html

"Fungal Quilt" (2014), by Anna Davidson. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists
and http://www.clayburgcreate.com/annadavidson/anna/uncategorized/665//Davidson.html

New Mexico fiber artist Betty Busby, inspired by biology and paleontology, creates beautifully detailed and colorful macro pieces. Made of cotton and wool, "Third Colony," 65"x42", was also in Pence's science and art show.

"Third Colony" (2012), by Betty Busby. Source:  http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Bushby.html

"Third Colony" (2012), by Betty Busby. Source: 
http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Bushby.html

Although her 12"x12" acrylic painting "Shine a Light" reminds me of stained glass windows in a cathedral, Canadian artist Pauline Truong is depicting tagged human breast cancer cells, captured by an innovative technology called Multiplexed Ion Beam Imaging (MIBI). Discovered by scientists at Stanford, UC Davis, and San Francisco, MIBI uses secondary ion mass spectrometry to image antibodies that have been labeled with pure elemental metals, which enables researchers to examine multiple proteins simultaneously.

"Shine a LIght" (2015), by Pauline Truong. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Truong.html

"Shine a LIght" (2015), by Pauline Truong. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Truong.html

Pence Gallery's call for entry made me reflect on what artists and scientists have in common. Rather than considering one group more right-brained and the other more left-brained, I realized that they share a great deal.

Franz Liszt (c1869), by Franz Seraph Hanfstaengl.  Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Franz Liszt (c1869), by Franz Seraph Hanfstaengl. 
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

First, there's the element of imagination, so essential to both. As Hungarian composer, pianist, and conductor Franz Liszt (1811-1886) reputedly said, "Without imagination there is no art and neither science." Without imagination, artists and scientists would not have the enthusiasm to push against the boundaries of what's already known or what's already been done, nor how we know and do.

Albert Einstein (Vienna, 1921). Photo by Ferdinand Schmutzer. https://commons.wikimedia.org

Albert Einstein (Vienna, 1921). Photo by Ferdinand Schmutzer. https://commons.wikimedia.org

Then there's the fact that scientists and artists ponder similar questions because they observe the world, working toward an understanding of life: What is our place in the universe? Who are we? What are we? Where are we headed? German-American physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955) believed that "the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science."

While many artists work intuitively rather than logically, they still engage in a step-by-step process, just like scientists. Science and art are disciplines that embrace similar features, such as experimenting, investigating techniques and materials, exploring the environment, human and nonhuman beings, activities, weather, seasons, inner life, and more. Scientists and artists transform what they've experienced and share their perceptions, insights, perspectives, and solutions. While they use different means and mediums, they both offer discoveries we can apply or simply behold. They work long hours in labs or studios, undergoing frustration, disappointment, and failure until they achieve their goal.

T'ung Jen, Hexagram 13 of I Ching, Fellowship/Heaven over Fire

T'ung Jen, Hexagram 13 of I Ching, Fellowship/Heaven over Fire

One of the pieces I submitted to "The Consilience of Art and Science" is based on T'ung Jen, Hexagram 13 of the I Ching. To me, it represents the relationship between science and art. T'ung Jen is defined as "fellowship" and formed by the trigrams Heaven over Fire. It's about working together to attain a desired objective. Imagination from the heavenly realm (ideas out of thin air?) is forged in the fire of discipline to produce results. Artists inspire scientists and scientists inspire artists--both are groundbreakers. Scientific breakthroughs have enabled artists to use new mediums in their creativity; artistic breakthroughs have presaged scientific explanations. Differences and similarities in cooperation rather than conflict.

"T'ung Jen - Fellowship/Heaven over Fire (Hexagram 13 of I Ching)," by Mirka Knaster.

"T'ung Jen - Fellowship/Heaven over Fire (Hexagram 13 of I Ching)," by Mirka Knaster.

Questions and Comments:
How would you describe the relationship between science and art? Where is there compatibility; where is there tension?
How has science helped artists in their creative endeavors? How has art helped scientists?
How do you use science in your art?

*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.

Being True to Your Art

As the new year began, two well known but divergent artists made their final farewell: Pierre Boulez (1925-2016), French composer and conductor, on January 5; David Bowie (1947-2016), English singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer, on January 10. Though they lived in radically different realms of music, they shared some similar opinions about creativity.

Pierre Boulez at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium (2004).  Photo by Franganillo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Pierre Boulez at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium (2004). 
Photo by Franganillo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

n a recent email, one of my readers cites Boulez for his influence on her determination to stay true to the art she wants to make, not the art that anyone else might expect or the art that captures the latest market trends. In an interview, Boulez said:  You must not think really of reaching an audience. You must think first to express yourself.
That means creating anew, rather than relying on the same old familiar things that have become comfortable and garner public appreciation, not bothering to change. Because of his constant experimentation, Boulez often met with criticism and was called an enfant terrible. That never stopped him.

Bowie was a master of shapeshifting, embodying multiple musical styles and personae, even becoming a painter and an art collector. His philosophy about creativity? He liked to shake things up: 

Every time I’ve made a radical change it’s helped me feel buoyant as an artist.

David Bowie at Rock am Ring Park Music Festival, Germany (1987). Photo by Jo Atmon. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

David Bowie at Rock am Ring Park Music Festival, Germany (1987). Photo by Jo Atmon. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

The emails I received about the passing of these musical stars coincided with an email from another reader. Her anecdote resonates with the statements they made. As one of the only fiber artists in a show, she learned that, in the gallery's guest book, one visitor left the following comment: ""Why is there fiber? It is not art." A lively debate ensued. The upshot was that, afterward, the person who wrote the comment conceded that he was starting to understand, like the galleries themselves, that fiber art, in its many forms, is ART.

The people engaged in fiber art could bypass the barriers and rejections as well as the lack of understanding and simply take up watercolor or oil painting, long considered fine art. But, as Boulez remarked, first we need to express ourselves--in the medium and ways in which we want to express ourselves. People have to catch up with us, rather than we have to follow their dictates.

From Wassily Kandinsky (1913). Rückblicke. Berlin: Sturm Verlag. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

From Wassily Kandinsky (1913).
Rückblicke. Berlin: Sturm Verlag.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

When Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) disappointed the critics with an exhibition in Berlin in which he didn't present what he'd done before (the explosive colors of his Munich period), he reacted against them with these words:

They barricade themselves against anything new. But this is precisely where the artist's task lies: to fight, to paint against the commonplace. Art must push forward. Mere explosions in art are ultimately boring.

It's not surprising that all these quotes came to me in this past week. Before 2015 ended, I knew of at least five fiber art shows in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, though there were probably more. I had a chance to visit four of them (and had two of my own works in one of them). Given the person's negative reaction to fiber as not being art, it was extraordinary to have all these exhibitions running simultaneously--two in museums, two in arts centers, and one in a community foundation building. To me, this is an indication that people, museums, and galleries are finally catching up with what others have known for a long time: You can be as artistic with fiber as you can be with clay, oils, watercolors, ink, or marble, maybe even more so.

What follows is a mere handful of images (there are hundreds) from these shows demonstrating the vast variety of fiber artists being true to expressing themselves, whether there's an audience or not. It turns out there is one, and it's growing.

"Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi," by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo). "Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi," by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo). "Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

Detail of "Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi" (stainless mesh, paper, yarn, indigo, pencil), by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo).  "Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

Detail of "Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi" (stainless mesh, paper, yarn, indigo, pencil), by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo). 
"Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Collecting Shadows" (flax, sewing yarn), by Raija Jokinen (Helsinki). Fiber Arts VII, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Collecting Shadows" (flax, sewing yarn), by Raija Jokinen (Helsinki). Fiber Arts VII, Sebastopol Center for
the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Parallel Dimensions" (recycled wool, wool blends, cotton)), by Maureen Whalen Cole. STRATA, SAQA  Northern California/Northern Nevada, Harrington Gallery, Firehouse Arts Center, Pleasanton CA.

"Parallel Dimensions" (recycled wool, wool blends, cotton)), by Maureen Whalen Cole. STRATA, SAQA
Northern California/Northern Nevada, Harrington Gallery, Firehouse Arts Center, Pleasanton CA.

"Grey Funnel" (continuous grey ribbon), by Sabine Reckewell. The Sculpted Fiber, The Art Museum of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA.

"Grey Funnel" (continuous grey ribbon), by Sabine Reckewell. The Sculpted Fiber, The Art Museum of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA.

"Annie Creek" (textiles, weaving), by George-Ann Bowers. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation, Novato, CA.

"Annie Creek" (textiles, weaving), by George-Ann Bowers. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation, Novato, CA.

"Bridge 4" (merino wool, yak, silk, mixed media), by Jenne Giles. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation, Novato, CA.

"Bridge 4" (merino wool, yak, silk, mixed media), by Jenne Giles. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation,
Novato, CA.

Questions and Comments:
What does it take to be true to your creative vision, regardless of what's currently popular?
What holds you back from taking the next leap in your artwork and not caring what anyone else thinks?
Does it disturb you when an artist takes a different direction from his/her work that you love? If so, why?

*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.