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Gallery Hopping In Nashville, TN

While planning a road trip from Little Rock to Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN, I noticed a perfect opportunity to stop over in Nashville where I could visit the growing list of cool art galleries, as well as visit a dear college friend. IMG_6101Staying overnight both Friday and Saturday, thanks to my kind hosts, allowed plenty of time for multiple stops. More importantly, and quite unexpectedly, we were able to spend quality time in the galleries, where owners and sales people were professional as well as encouraging, even when I mentioned my interest in gallery representation.

One of our most delightful surprises and longest stays, was at the Bennett Galleries where we were immediately greeted by Emily Cothran. Upstairs there is a frame shop, though this is a fine art gallery with many long established art contacts – from well known artists to top decorators to savvy collectors. The art styles represent a range including figurative, landscape and abstract. Though there is a wide variety, there is also a common larger theme: provoking, interesting, high-quality work.

IMG_6082The surprise came as we stood at the top of the stairs admiring a large abstraction that included random bits of architectural and figurative drawings embedded in the layers. This painting did what I most love…it gave the viewer the opportunity to discover and imagine. The longer we stood gazing at the heavily textured surface, the more information was revealed. The only problem was that the painting was hung in a position that was difficult to see closely. I suspect the layered surface, created with paint, pencil or charcoal, and fabric, would continue to delight upon closer inspection. MylesBennett-Affair16onWorktable-mixedmediaoncanvas-61x64

As we stood discussing the piece, Emily explained the artist, Myles Bennett, attended the Rhode Island School of Design and now lives and works in Brooklyn. At that moment, a young man strolled up as if on cue…it was the artist himself! Unbeknownst to Emily, Myles was visiting Nashville for a few days. When deeply appreciative of a specific piece of art, it is always a treat to meet the artist and hear his or her thoughts. We had the pleasure of talking with Myles about his work, education, family, and all sorts of topics. What perfect timing!frothy-monkey-12-south

After a quick coffee at the Frothy Monkey in the hip “12south” neighborhood, we headed downtown to The Rymer Gallery, The Arts Company, and Tinney Contemporary. Like many artists thinking about how technology is changing our lives and changing how we relate to each other (for both better and worse),Seduction 1 John Jackson I am always excited to see this topic tackled and was delighted to find the provocative paintings of John Jackson currently hanging at The Rymer Gallery. Many of his pieces incite thoughts about technology’s influence on intimacy as well as what we view as “real.” The space at The Rymer Gallery is clean and open, which creates a calm environment and allows a deceptively large volume of work to hang without feeling crowded. We then moved a few doors down to Tinney, which was closed due to the installation of a new exhibit.

The tour would not have been complete without a visit to the ultra avante garde art space, Zeitgeist, where we were fortunate to meet contemporary multi-media artist, Lain York. lyonkunown(frommainroom)912 He  showed us his work made of vinyl strips which led to a discussion about the expanding definition of art and potential art materials. As Lain spoke, I thought of the recent “State of the Art” exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of Art (for more information, scroll down to see earlier blog post) and how the exhibit presented to the public a show in which there were almost no limits on materials used in today’s art. To many, it was baffling, and not necessarily art, but to artists, the show was ground-breaking validation. And before I could ask, Lain mentioned his awareness and appreciation of the Crystal Bridges exhibit.yorkfairfax3215

Zeitgeist represents a variety of artists. My impression after visiting the converted warehouse is that the space provides a place for artists who are combining mediums and art forms (for example, think of dance, film, light, and sound combined to create a performance piece), who are experimenting with materials, and who are successfully communicating ideas through alternate uses of materials. This is a place to visit, and think, and learn. Thanks to Lain, we were educated about several of the represented artists, about recent exhibits, and about the purpose of the space.

In thelcg-open-outside-1218x360 mood for a scenic drive, we decided to head to historic Leiper’s Fork to visit Leiper’s Creek Gallery. I’d communicated with owner Lisa Fox through email years ago and was excited to meet heMel Rae Hear-and-Their-18x18-encaustic-2014r and talk about her art and the artists she represents. Warm and welcoming, Lisa told us about the gallery, about the historic area and surrounding businesses and about several of the artists. It was well worth the drive (which was stunning in the afternoon light) and a nice complement to a busy day in the city.

Because of meaningful conversation and contacts made at each gallery, it turns out a full day in Nashville wasn’t quite enough time to visit each gallery on my list. I’ve got another list going for next time with Cumberland Gallery at the top, followed by Tinney Contemporary. I would also love the visit the tiny space called “Nashville’s Smallest Art Gallery,” which according the the website, “measures a miniscule 27 inches wide by 37 inches tall, but has been attracting the work of top artistshow-thumbs from around the US world, and local Nashville artists alike. In a former life, the gallery was a neglected, graffiti-covered display case. Soon with a little help from some Goo Gone, a razor blade, and a total interior makeover, the gallery started to take shape, and on March 15, 2008 NSAG was born.” Seriously? How cool! Perhaps my next visit can coincide with the art walk, which I hear is quite a scene. Thank you to all the fine folks in Nashville’s art galleries, and a big thank you to my kind hosts, Chuck and Tony.

And thank YOU for reading! Next up: An enriching experience in so many ways at the world renowned Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.IMG_0074_2

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Part Two: A return to Harbour Island with visions of art

It is hard to imagine how art could possibly capture the essence and beauty of Harbour Island, a tiny slice of heaven off North Eleuthera in the Bahamas. While sketching and photographing during a recent visit, I realized there are countless images and ideas that could be conveyed with drawing and painting. Abstractions could aim to capture the onslaught of brilliant light and color. The abundant foliage could make a limitless subject for botanical themed work. As a figurative artist, the temptation to capture the beauty and kindness of the people is irresistible.

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But I can’t seem to escape the ideas mentioned in Part 1 (the previous blog entry) about the visual cues of time passing, and sometimes standing still, and of history, and of nature always altering, and reclaiming and continuing with or without us. So I’ll use images that prompt us to go back, to see the past, to wonder about our memories and the time before us. Perhaps in a strange combination, I can evoke the past while presenting figures who now have their turn at this magical place in the present.

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One way to sort through the ideas and options is to seek inspiration in the work of others. Luckily, there is an fine art gallery nestled amongst the cottages and business in town. Upon entering the Princess Street Gallery, one quickly becomes aware of the talent – from both local and international artists – behind the poignant drawings and paintings. DSC_0451The work includes a variety of styles and subjects ranging from landscape to figurative. The overall impression when entering the space is much like the visual impression of the island – both the art and the island present breath-taking beauty, vivid color, creative patterns and vibrant people.

DSC_0443Though he was busy preparing for a customer meeting, owner Charles Carey gave me a few minutes of time to talk about his business. After growing up in Nassau and working in New York City, Carey relocated to Harbour Island and noticed “numerous artists on the island creating work with no where to show it.” With the grin of someone who loves his job, he explained that opening the gallery “was an experiment, really.” Nineteen years later, I’d say his experiment produced success for Carey, for the artists on his roster, and for collectors.

I was particularly drawn to two artists whose approaches, style, and subject matter seem to be opposite of each other, yet each artist captures a deep truth about island life. Native Bahamian and former house painter, Amos Ferguson uses repetition and bold shapes to create recognizable imagery in an abstracted environment full of color, texture and pattern. ferguson_polkadots330 His ferguson_longleglizzie330work is immediately delightful, and on closer inspection, viewers notice a narrative or deeper meaning behind the deceptively simple figures. While the paintings can be perceived as child-like, don’t be fooled. The compositions are masterful and indicate a natural talent and gift.

I first saw the work of Stephen Scott Young in a private collection,DSC_0446 the same collection that inspired me to study figure painting in grad school. So it was a meaningful treat to view several pieces displayed at Princess Street Gallery.  His ability to perfectly execute anatomy, from expressive faces down to each carefully placed finger and toe, is unrivaled amongst watercolorists. But it is the choice he makes in the details, guiding our eyes and thoughts, that describes the mood, character and lives of the figures with brilliant clarity. He shows us the outside of stephen scott youngeach person as well as the individual spirit and circumstance which is perhaps one reason for his international success.

As I search for a way to present people, define space, and share the spirit of this place, I think of other artists and their methods. Those at Princess Street Gallery show me capturing the essence of Harbour Island is possible. The opportunity to spend time here, a place of lush growth, crystal clear water, and deeply kind people is a delight for anyone and a visual cornucopia for an artist. Creating meaningful art to represent such a magical place is a challenge for which I am deeply grateful and ready to face. Perhaps next entry, I’ll share a few pieces from current painting efforts. Until then, below are are few early sketches.

I hope you are having a lovely summer. Thank you for reading!

Laura

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Returning to Harbour Island amongst poignant beauty and memory

DSC_0806This is part one in a two part series about a recent visit to a magical place that remains in my heart and mind no matter how far away I am. When I was a girl, I dreamed about living on Harbour Island in the Bahamas and believed I would someday grow up to become a resident art teacher and artist there. But sometimes we pursue our dreams and other times we shelve them, assigning them to the wide realm of childish fantasy.

Slide-063 - Copy Slide-013 (2)It feels somewhat disrespectful to say that frequent family visits to the island led me to consider the place a home…there were and are Bahamian residents with long and rich histories, and we were simply tourists, no matter how attached we became to the people and place. Our visits, sometimes several times a year, were always temporary and fleeting. Despite our status as visitors, my brother and I became friends with many of the islanders, especially the children near our age who we met on the beach, or on the streets, or on a maDSC_0115keshift dance floor somewhere, or on the sand flats at one end where we could walk way out into the ocean at low tide.

This year, encouraged by my brother, my parents generously broke our hiatus from Harbour Island and invited the family to revisit this place so thick with memories and stories and natural beauty. Some of the stories are our own, like when I was 8 years old, we entered an Inn called Ocean View to find a donkey named Francis milling about in the living room. Or our visits to Angela’s for countless dinners sitting under the stars amongst the roosters. IMG_5808 While sitting at Angela’s this time, listening to her great-grandIMG_5817daughter read a book, I realized that instead of isolated moments in time, the stories and memories continue to evolve, and that life continues with or without us there.

Some stories, belonging to others, became our own folklore as we watched island families grow, events occur, and traditions unfold. For example, when my parents first visited 40 years ago, they explored an abandoned palatial home on one end of the island. As the story goes, a Greek shipping magnet built the opulent home for his new bride. In addition to the home and gardens, the compound included a short airstrip that ended in the crystal clear bay DSC_0167known as starfish alley (though as children we knew it as a barracuda den) and a dock for multiple yachts. A few days after the wedding, the bride ran away in the night, deserting her new husband and home. The grief stricken man walked way, never to return.

My parents tell of walking through the house where they found furniture such as a dining room table, frozen in time, with beautiful place settings, stemware and candle sticks, as if the home was waiting for its occupants to return. Soon after my parent’s initial visit, the mansion was partly destroyed in a fire, and the remaining objects found new hoDSC_0164mes. My brother and I carefully explored every nook and cranny as children, imagining the missing tenants and expecting ghosts to drive us away. And each year, from age 8 to 25, I watched nature reclaim the structure. DSC_0172This year, I was relieved to find so much of it still standing tall and proud.

As I walked around the island this time, amongst the schools, the restaurants, the shops and the homes, I considered a line I recently read in a novel by Orhan Pamuk: “When you love a city and have explored it frequently on foot, your body, not to mention your soul, gets to know the streets so well after a number of years that in a fit of melancholy, perhaps stirred by a light snow falling ever so sorrowfully, you’ll discover your legs carrying you of their own accord toward one of your favorite promontories.” While this is not a place of snow, there are other elements to stir my melancholy and my legs each morning carried me to points I’d long forgotten.IMG_5845How will I capture the sheer beauty of this place in my paintings? Will I even try? The beauty I see is filtered by concepts about life and death, the passage of time, ideas about the closed chapter of childhood, and a hyper-nostalgic longing. As I sketched and photographed during endless walks on the island, I found myself searching for something that no longer exists. But fragments remain, such as the narrow swath of rough concrete that once was the airstrip but is now covered with heaps of rusted metal and the island’s natural growth reclaiming what man once built. Fragments such as the fig tree decorated year round in Christmas lights led to a longing for a place that is now only memory intertwined with what exists in the present.

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Will I paint in an attempt to capture profound beauty? Or I am compelled to incorporate evidence of history and time passing? Perhaps a worthy artistic attempt could be made with painting specific objects, such as shoes, shells, bouys, and remnants of previous lives. In the recent New York Times magazine article, “On Photography,” Teju Cole writes, “Objects have the strongest memories of all…” and “objects are what remain, remnants of something that was before, a moment, experience, person, situation that no longer exists.” Perhaps I can take a cue from Cole and simplify complex ideas, memory, history and the beauty of Harbour Island into paintings of meaningful objects.

DSC_0775DSC_0579Inevitably, I will over analyze and complicate as I produce this body of work; the consequence of allowing too much emotion into the process. I will think of my childhood friend, Dawson, who I looked so forward to seeing this visit but who, I learned, died in a boating accident two years ago. And I will think of others who are gone and some who have arrived and how everything changes while so much stays the same. I can hope these ideas and the accompanying emotion will make an appearance in my paintings and allow viewers to deeply connect with the art while I express years of impressions of Harbour Island.DSC_0582Next up: Harbour Island Part Two will cover island art as a source of inspiration. Thank you for reading!

A visit to our nation’s capitol leads to appreciation of “30 Amercians” at the Arkansas Arts Center

DSC_0930Our recent trip to Washington DC included many compelling sights, exhibits and tours. Experiencing memorials such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, hearing speakers such as Holocaust survivor Gideon Frieder, and seeing exhibits such as “The Struggle for Justice” at the National Portrait FriederGallery each provided potent priming to return home and deeply appreciate an exhibit at our very own Arkansas Arts Center.

Though each of the included artists is African American, the exhibit “30 Americans” leaves race out of the title. This alone gives us much to consider. Why are certain races consider to be “different”? Different from what? Why do we label? How do those labels help or hurt us? It is as if this exhibit title alone teaches us to stop labeling, that it is not necessary, that it does not provide a benefit to anyone, and that we can and should see us all as human and drop the need to separate based on color. IMG_5198

Having said that, this exhibit certainly is about the distinction of skin color, about what life is like for people with dark skin, and how our culture – from advertising to language to sports to music – continues to imbed in our collective thoughts rigid definitions for what is means to be “white” and “black.”

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Artist Virmarie Depoyster, whose own work uses the element of color as a powerful design tool, discusses the use of color in “30 Amercians.”

The exhibition is on display through June 21st and many family activities, artist lectures and events are planned to help facilitate interest and engagement with visitors. For example, a series of films is scheduled to coincide and connect with the exhibit. Select Fridays at noon, premier artists are scheduled to lecture and guide visitors through the galleries. On May 7th, the “30 Americans” collectors, Donald and Mera Rubell, will visit Little Rock for a lecture that is open to the public. I had the good fortune of attending the opening reception which included a lecture by contemporary artist, Hank Willis Thomas. His provocative work is exhibited all over the world, and his ideas have the ability to deeply alter the way we view ourselves and our commercial culture.DSC_0061 Thomas stated that he works like a Trojan horse, making slight changes to accepted advertisements to enable viewers to see the harmful and sinister consequences of accepting commercial imagery as truth about people.

During the presentation, Thomas instantly engaged the audience when he asked us to stand up and hug the nearest stranger. His amiable demeanor allowed listeners to connect and accept his thoughtful perspective – which must have been a new way of thinking for many. While the commercial portrayal of race is a large focus of his work, Thomas uses advertisements to show viewers the skewed definitions we absorb about many groups of people. thHis work allows viewers to reevaluate the imagery that surrounds us and sense our error in accepting images as truths when in fact, commercially produced images about people are created by a few, whose motives are financial. mastercard

While their points are ultimately varied, Thomas’s observations about abundant and erroneous imagery in modern life reminds me of a statement made by Belgian artist, Michaël Borremans, who explained during a lecture at the Dallas Museum of Art (if interested, scroll down to see earlier blog posts about the Borremans lecture and exhibit) that we should all take responsibility for the images we allow in our minds and we should accept that the images are created without our best interests at heart. The fact is, these images impact what we think, how we feel, and what we believe, which gives the creators great and dangerous power.

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“The Long Jump by Carl Lewis” by Henry Taylor, 2010

The opening night presentation by Thomas provided an excellent introduction to the entire exhibit, providing the audience with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the purpose of the displayed work. The work allows us to see from the perspective of the artists, which opens our eyes to views otherwise unknown for some. As Thomas stated, our perspective should always be in question, and always shifting. The exhibit “30 Americans” is a powerful way to continue a shift in our perspective and instigate questions about how our beliefs are formed.

Please visit http://arkarts.com/ to learn about the exhibit and coinciding events. Thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

Washington DC Part 2: Escape to the National Portrait Gallery

DSC_0961 DSC_0962With so many historic sights and outstanding museums, it can be difficult to prioritize what to see in Washington, DC. Busy tourist times, such as spring break, make it is a good idea to balance each day with places you know will be mob scenes with places offering escape. The National Portrait Gallery draws crowds but manages to disperse visitors so you feel almost alone amongst the many treasures this DSC_0953museum holds. So you can fight the crowds in the International Spy Museum, or the Ford Theatre, and then dart across the street into the Portrait Gallery, take a deep breath and relax. But don’t relax for too long…there is almost too much to see here and the exhibits can cause delight, new awareness, and even brain fatigue due to artistic and curatorial excellence. Because of the sheer size and number of outstanding exhibits, I will share some details and responses to just three of the current shows on display.

On the ground level, we visited the startling display, “Portraiture Now: Staging the Self.” As an artist currently in the middle of a self-portrait commission, I was curious and excited to see this exhibit and discover some methods, materials, and ideas contemporary artists are using to present images of the self. The six artists displayed are each of Latino background and four of the six use photography as their central medium.

"El Nino" by Rachelle Mozman

“El Niño” by Rachelle Mozman

We find ourselves in the era of the “selfie,” which gives me a certain discomfort about self portraits. In fact, as I speak about my current pieces, I find myself using the third person. For example, I’ll ask a colleague “Is her nose too long? How does she relate to the space?” I can’t bring myself to acknowledge that the image is me, wanting to avoid the elevation and hyper promotion of the self that our selfie culture propagates. However, the self portraits exhibited here are a far cry from selfies, which makes me ask, what makes these pieces so provocative as well as humble? How can art be aggressive, assertive, bold and patient, clever, discreet? The answer, I suspect, lies in the brilliant way the artists present larger, communal ideas in the work, making the art about so much more than themselves and allowing viewers to become a part of the idea as we bring our own experiences to interpreting the pieces.

"Duplicity as Identity: 50%" by Maria Martinez Canas

“Duplicity as Identity: 50%” by María Martínez Cañas

Another element of success comes with a skill honed by many  successful contemporary artists: the ability to make a complex method or idea appear straightforward and simple. This attribute, often unappreciated, may explain why some people see art and say, “oh, I could do that!” No, no you probably couldn’t. It looks simple, but it is not. There is a misunderstood brilliance in this artistic  approach. For example, in the series, “Duplicity as Identity,” photographer María Martínez-Cañas presents photos that slowly merge her facial image with her father’s and communicate ideas about identity, passage of time, individuality, the undeniable role of genetics in our lives, and gender. The photos are straightforward, seemingly simple images but the ideas are complex and rich for various levels of interpretation.IMG_5175

Before heading upstairs, we warmed up in the beautiful central terrarium of the building (the tropical atmosphere of this enclosed courtyard provided a welcome warmth during a DSC_0955frigid week of weather). On the second floor, I expected to find a room of portraits by Elaine de Kooning. To my surprise, there are rooms and rooms of portraits. I can’t decide if my glee was caused by her use of color and energetic brushstroke, or the discovery of so many public figures painted by Willem’s slightly less famous but no less talented spouse, Elaine.  Her style reminds me at times of Alice Neel (see below left). Both artists are able to capture the spirit and character of the sitter with great economy of brushstroke. And they both succeed in a skill I’ve struggled to acquire: careful and occasional placement of detail…just enough to provide essential information about the person. Alice

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“Marjorie Luyckx” by Elaine de Kooning

One of my all time favorite  Elaine de Kooning portraits (Harold Rosenberg, below left) appeared just before I exited the exhibit. Look at the feverish brushwork around the space and body juxtaposing the relaxed position of the figure. The languid position of Rosenberg’s body parts and his debonaire facial expression contrast the vigorous and energetic brushstrokes. It is like someone screaming the word “whisper.” Elaine’s portraits reveal the influence she and her husband had on each other. However, instead of abstracting beyond recognition to reach a deeper truth, she is able to parse out and emphasize a few recognizable details to present a likeness of her models as well as reveal an inner truth of each person’s character.

“Woman, I” by Willem de Kooning

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“Harold Rosenberg” by Elaine de Kooning      

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“George Washington Carver” by Betsy Graves Reyneau

 

After the whirl of color and brushwork, I found myself in the exhibit titled, “The Struggle for Justice,” which was engaging on multiple levels and a lesson on the power of art to communicate vital actions and cultural messages. Activists from the 19th century to today, who have advocated in one way or another for social justice, are presented by various artists. The artists do not just present a physically accurate portrait in honor of the figures. Each artist creatively puts to use particular materials, design and composition to reveal information about the figure’s atmosphere, work, character and ideas. For example, in the portrait of George Washington Carver, painted in 1942, the artist emphasized his curious expression and methodical hands as he closely examines a plant. His work on behalf of sharecroppers and migrant farmers, his agricultural discoveries, and his interest in nature are evident due to the handling of paint, position of the body, facial expression, subject matter and painting composition.

The National Portrait Gallery has been exceedingly thoughtful about representing a wide range of advocacy work in “The Struggle for Justice.” There are portraits of people fighting for women’s rights, birth control rights, race related rights, education rights, voting rights, labor rights, and more. Experiencing the exhibit provides an intimate way of understanding the evolving laws and social needs of a still young nation. Perhaps my favorite piece was of Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

"Eunice Kennedy Shriver" by David Lenz

“Eunice Kennedy Shriver” by David Lenz

Created by David Lenz, the first place finalist of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2006, the portrait beautifully demonstrates Shriver’s passionate advocacy for children with intellectual disabilities. She gazes fondly at a boy who looks at us boldly and knows he is seen in return. The rest of the group, representing children of several races, genders and ages, stands close together as one strong unit with the exception of a girl who has stepped forward into the light – her body has an angelic glow and her arm is raised in a hopeful position. The basking sunlight is powerful and hopeful and there are dark clouds behind them. The artist designed a composition that tells so much more than a traditional formal portrait.

Reading is only one way to learn about history and our leaders. Artwork is another way to learn; it is a visual vehicle that delivers thought-provoking information to viewers. When planning our trip to Washington DC, I failed to anticipate the degree to which the National Portrait Gallery communicates as it presents the work of some of the world’s best artists and some of the world’s most outstanding, engaging and informative portraits.

As usual, thank you for taking the time to visit my blog/portfolio site. Up next: the Arkansas Arts Center brings it. What, you ask? 30 Americans. It is a must see show with a must discuss agenda. I’m not sure I’m up for the task, but I’ll try my best.

Lauradownload-4

Washington DC Part 1: Escape to the Hirshhorn

DSC_0779The spring break crowds in addition to throngs of school groups in our nation’s capitol were thick and loud, though there were many places to find solace while enjoying incredible sights. For example, the various memorials were heavily visited but managed to feel peaceful and provocative. There were also some museums that provided a reprieve. Though certainly well-attenHirsshorn buildingded, both the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Portrait Gallery allowed visitors time and space to really look at and think about the exhibits. And the exhibits themselves showcased engaging, informative superstars in the art world with the capacity to enlighten the minds and thoughts of those who visit.

For today’s post, I’ll talk about the HirsshornHirshhorn. My interest was peaked before our trip to Washington DC, when I read an article (see link below) about the new Director, Stéphane Aquin, a Canadian who is expected to provide the museum with a shot in the arm on luring visitors to a more dynamic and competitive institution. Perhaps the museum could become more edgy or controversial, but it is hard for me to imagine how it could become more alluring. The striking shape of the Hirshhorn Museum is reminiscent of a cylindrical pot with hefty feet to support the thick walls. Next to the ornate Smithsonian DSC_0854Castle, the modern building begs curiosity.

The exhibit, “At the Hub of Things: New Views of the Collection,” on the top level of the cylinder displays a jaw dropping roster of international power house artists. With each curvilinear room, a group of renowned pieces appears and I DSC_0853pulled at the sleeves and whispered to my daughters, “Look, girls! A Francis Bacon! (see image below) What do you think of those oddly abbreviated body parts?” (to which they answered, “that’s kind of groooossss.”). DSC_0850And, “Look, a Robert Rauschenberg like the one you’ve studied at Crystal Bridges Museum! Remember the random use of text?” (“yeah, yeah, mom, we remember”). “Oh my goodness, look at this Christopher Wool. What doDSC_0845 you think of that languageDSC_0842 and pattern he creates and then obscures with large black marks so we have to dig to see what is there?” (silence).  “Look at this Rothko! Remember the exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center last year?” (“not really”). “OK, girls, take a careful look at the Joseph Cornell box. You will probably make one in art class someday and now you’ve seen one in person!” (“Ok, thanks, mom”). “OK, Phoebe, I know this Lucien Freud is a bit startling with the naked man splayed out like that, but what do you think of the rags built up in the corner? (“Mom, this one is making me so uncomfortable.”). And so it went as we followed the curve past Jasper Johns, Joan Mitchell, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Philip Guston, and so many other great artists from the second half of the 20th century. Though my girl’s lackluster enthusiasm was slightly disappointing, they were enormously patient as I studied and considered each piece, in awe of this collection belonging to the Hirshhorn.

In a shift from art objects and materials to the use of video, the exhibit, “Days of Endless Time,” magnifies the passage of time in a way that forces viewers to slow down with theDSC_0855 presented images and perceive information in a way that is rare in our fast-paced, image laden world of digital media.

Truth be told, I was afraid of feeling anxious or impatient in the slow environment, as I have a bad habit of always being rushed or trying to maximize my every moment. But the images are so contemplative that viewers, including my girls, tend to stand and stare longer than they may intend or realize. We entered a meditative mood amongst these video productions and were entranced in the simple seeming though often complex scenes. Many were like meaningful paintings, but instead of stagnant, these images slowly change and move, offering vastly more possibilities and information than a still image can typically provide. DOET_Robert_Wilson_Lady_Gaga

For example, in the piece , Lady Gaga: Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière d’après Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres, 2013 by Robert Wilson, there are multiple references to time and the references work together in a palpable synergy. For starters, the title references a historical artist, Ingres, which immediately cues the past. Yet, as historic as the artist, background and clothes appear, there is something strikingly modern about the woman. These conflicting  impressions compress the passage of time. The reference to Ingres makes us think of a painting but that thought is interrupted by the medium, video, which indicates slightly perceptible movement of the figure – clearly not a painting. If patient, the viewer will see her blink, breathe, or move her hand. The composition allows viewers to think she is imitating an Ingres model which alludes to complex ideas about art copying life and life copying art and art copying art.

My brain gets a bit scrambled as I then start to think about art being a mirror and reflecting reality….in this case the video art seems to scream “real” but it reflects art from the past…and what was that art originally reflecting? She becomes both the Ingres model from the past and not the Ingres model from the past. Again, conflicting information distorts our sense of time. Furthermore, the model is a well known object of art in contemporary pop culture – Lady Gaga transforms herself into various confounding visual objects that distinguish her from stereotypical female vocalists and force viewers to consider her as an idea rather than a person. That realization leads me to appreciate the artist’s model choice. This is not a portrait of a woman, it is a portrait of an idea.

And of course, who can avoid the confrontational messages of Barbara Kruger? I’d seen her work in books and was delightfully surprised to find her text based installation, Belief + Doubt, in the lower level of the museum. DSC_0857

There’s much more on display at the fabulous Hirshhorn – I hope to have provided enough description to encourage you to visit if given the opportunity. Next up…a visit to the National Portrait Gallery. Thank you for reading! Laura

Click here to read about the new Director of the Hirshhorn.

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The Dangerous Logic of Wooing, 2002 by Ernesto Neto

 

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Michaël Borremans’ “As Sweet as It Gets” is darkly delicious – Part 2

The Artist Conversation (please see Part 1 for insights on the Borremans exhibit)

IMG_4988  Dr Grove

After savoring the exhibit, “As Sweet as It Gets” by Michaël Borremans at the Dallas Museum of Art, I walked, passing a lively concert in the dining area of the museum, to an auditorium for the Artist Conversation. After introductions were made, Borremans and curator, Dr. Jeffrey Grove, launched into several interesting topics. First, the artist IMG_5006mentioned how important titles are to his work. Usually I think of titling the work upon completion, but the language describing an idea is something Borremans thinks about earlier in the process. Sometimes, he explained, he titles the work before producing the piece (which may be more like titling an idea), sometimes during, and sometimes after. Choosing language to attach to a visual image is an important part of Borremans’ process and contributes to his perspective on his job as an artist, “Making art is a form of communication. It is a dialogue.” While his work tends to lack complete answers, the text he uses in titles offers hints of insight, nudging us along as we try to understand.

Throughout the conversation, he expressed an awareness of the impact his art has on audiences, how his work is perceived, and what ideas are communicated. “As an artist,” he stated, “I should always be critical of what I am doing.” Furthermore, and in a departure from many contemporary artists, Borremans stated that an artist must be careful about the art he puts in public places; he does not want his work to disturb people. I found this remark to be especially insightful a few minutes later as he discussed how he hopes people will perceive his work – he strives for a balance between beautiful and dark and wants people to see both, not just one or the other. “I want to make a painting that is just as beautiful as it is violent…I want that contradiction.” Sometimes the work is more beautiful than violent… duckAnd sometimes it is more violent than beautiful…

borremans headlessBut usually, he strikes a perfect balance…

Borremans girl headAs I often feel overwhelmed with pervasive media sources in modern life, I was especially grateful to hear the artist express frustration with the abundance of imagery that assaults our eyes, ears and minds. He explicitly recommended we take responsibility for what we let in and be critical of what we allow in our minds. This is a point people either wholeheartedly understand or flat out don’t. I don’t read gossip magazines or give them to my children…there are too many incredible things to fill our minds – a movie star’s failed tummy tuck simply does not have a place on my radar. “Pick and choose purposefully, and simplify,” Borremans advised.

When discussing the use of technology compared to traditional methods in art making, he stated, “Painting is very basic. It is a tool, like a hammer. We will always use it.” When borremans - punishedconsidering other mediums that interest him, he continues to gravitate toward painting. “You can create a winborremans skirtdow on another world, a world you cannot enter. You can’t do this with sculpture. Sculpture is in our space, our world.” Though Borremans does work with sculpture, it is not something he feels ready to show. It is as if sculpture is a studio tool he uses to dig deeper into his painting and drawing ideas. For example, he explained the painting, Four Fairies, 2003, was initially created to become a sculpture. Additionally, as mentioned in the previous blog entry, the artist investigates ideas using a cross medium technique ovborremans houseer many years. “I have a very long dialogue with my drawings. I pull them out of the drawer and go back and work on them for many months, or years.” He will draw something, make a model of it, redraw it based on the new model, make a video with the model, and create a series of paintings based in the video (see the House of Opportunity series with various pieces produced from 2002 – 2013) .

Borremans made an intriguing statement about painting from nature when Dr. Grove asked about the recent appearance of animal subjects in the work. He stated once something is dead, it loses its previous meaning, identity. By not living, it becomes a different thing, an object instead of an animal. I am curious about his frequent use of dead animals and animal models (the models are in the form of figurines with a glaze sheen emphasizing their falseness). The various animals in his work cause a confusing thought process about what is real and whaborremans duckt is fake, what is inanimate, and what is animate, and how the definitions oMichaël BorremansDead Chicken201340 x 60 cmoil on canvasf these terms becomes blurry.

Borremans became especially animated when he talked of a turning point that was the consequence of getting stuck in 2012. He had many ideas but could not focus or turn the ideas into work. The solution came in the form of a new workspace when a friend offered to let Borremans move his studio into a chapel. The change of space, and working alone with only a Virgin Mary figure to keep him company, provided intense focus and infused his thoughts with memories of a Catholic upbringing. He stated that in the new workspace “the holy spirit came to me.” He seemed to say this in both jest and seriousness, explaining that one never completely shakes off early and strong religious influences provided by devout Catholic parents. “It sticks with you,” he stated, “It doesn’t mean I’m a practicing Catholic but it is part of me and part of our culture and I allow it.” 065 Michael Borremans - the son

I ALLOW IT. Mmm, this reminds me of his earlier comments about allowing only certain images to enter his environment and about consciously constructing the world we choose. My thoughts are tempted to dive off into a deep discussion (thought I’m not sure I’m entirely capable) on free will, hyperreality and commercialism of modern life…but I really want to stick with the exchange between Grove and Borremans.

Though he did not speak in depth about other artists, Borremans did refer to the artistic evolution of greats such as Goya, Velazquez and Rubens. “They never stopped learning, experimenting, and changing in order to continue to develop ways to communicate ideas.” The exhibit, “As Sweet as It Gets” showcases a thoughtful artist roughly midway through an evolving career and based on the evidence, I suspect it will get even sweeter. In discussing his prior career as an etching and drawing teacher and his decision to leave teaching, Borremans eloquently states, “You put everything at stake to become what you really are…I thought if I failed, at least I tried.” Thank goodness he tried.

PS Sincere thanks to Sid and Richard for your hospitality. And for anyone in the Dallas area, do yourself a IMG_5016favor and stop by one of the two locations of The Gem! IMG_5013

Next post…shifting from an established artist to an emerging artist…video clips and comments about my current body of work, now showing at Boswell Mourot Fine Art through April 2nd. Thank you for reading!