borremans dead chicken and boys

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!

Michaël Borremans_The Devil's Dress

Michaël Borremans’ “As Sweet As It Gets” is darkly delicious

A trip to deliver a painting to the Irving Museum of Art quickly took a turn in purpose when I read about an event at the Dallas Museum of Art. An exhibition by Belgian artist, Michaël Borremans, was scheduled to open and I have admired his work for years. In my graduate thesis, I wrote about the influence of one of his paintings, Four Fairies, in my work and yearned to see his work in person as opposed to only viewing paintings online and in bofourfairies_borremans3oks. Learning about the exhibit made me deliriously happy, and then came the icing on the cake…the artist would be present for a “conversation” with the show’s curator and all I needed was a ticket to attend. WAIT A MINUTE. I could sit right in front of an international superstar, one of my all time favorite living artists? For 5 bucks?

Juggling work with motherhood can be challenging…I’m often riddled with guilt when choosing work or an art related activity over spending time with my precious daughters. However, I almost never leave town without them, and I schedule my studio time around their schedules. Surely one quick trip to Dallas was acceptable, right?

Here is the information I found when researching March events at the Dallas Museum of Art: “The DMA hosts the United States premier of the internationally traveling exhibition Michaël Borremans: As Sweet as It Gets, co-organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Center for Fine Arts, Brussels (BOZAR). The exhibition brings together the artist’s paintings, drawings, and films from over the last fifteen years in a single survey. Join contemporary Belgian artist Michaël Borremans in conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Grove, curator of the exhibition and the DMA’s former Senior Curator of Special Projects & Research, for insights into Borremans’ life and work.”

After about 30 seconds of consideration, I purchased a ticket and knew I would somehow get there. Those with a ticket for the artist talk could also get a sneak peek of the exhibit two days prior to the official opening. This was truly as sweet as it gets. Making the quick trip even more fun (and economical) was a childhood friend’s offer to let me stay overnight.

At this point in my career, listening to a great artist speak about his work, process, inspiration, and use of materials, is a vital boon to my ideas and work. And if that sounds dramatic, I will use an example provided by the artist himself during the conversation. He spoke of Goya, and of seeing Los Caprichos as a teen. The moment he saw the etchings, something in him shifted and his ideas for his future were altered.393px-No_te_escaparas - Goya - Los Caprichos los_caprichos_de_goya_f_010

Artistic influences profoundly shape an artist’s life and work. I find art’s extreme power to influence is difficult to describe. I, too, am influenced by artists and by Goya in particular. When studying art history in Madrid as a 20-year-old college student, I visited Goya’s work at the Prado. The paintings, both those with disguised darkness and those with overt malevolence, luresaturn_devouring_his_sons-larged me in and pushed me away. I’ve never been able to shake the power those paintings held over their viewers. Since then, I see the work of Goya at every opportunity, which is rare, as I do not travel often beyond the United States. But I did get to see those etchings, Los Caprichos, in Santa Fe, NM last year and the genius of Goya startled, scared and bewildered me again. His ability to capture the human condition – both the comedy and the darkest of human behavior – is unparalleled. Perhaps this partly explains why I am drawn to the work of Borremans. He simply presents complex and dark insights to being human. His paintings are alluring, confounding, disturbing and provoking, in a beautiful and violent presentation.

Before I share more about the artist’Borremans - the whistlers comments, let me take you on an abbreviated tour of the exhibit. Not to boast, but I do believe I was the first visitor allowed in…okay, I was a little too excited, but what the heck, it’s fun being passionate and eager. Anyway, upon entrance, I accidentally rushed through the first room, wanting to be alone for a moment. As a longtime admirer of Edouard Manet, I first noticed a piece titled, The Whistler, 2009, which is reminiscent of ManeManet the Fifert’s The Flute Player, 1866. The body position and brushwork between the pieces are similar but Borreman’s painting is darker, not just in hue, but in mood, in message.

Injury to the body is common in his work. There are burns, lacerations, detached body parts and truncated torsos in impossible positions. Often, when my eye could detect no injury, there were aggrieves marks such a rude stab by the paintbrush to the eye in Colombine, 2008.Borremans - colombine

The figures should look uncomfortable but their downcast faces appear neutral, lacking any expression or response to the awkward position, or injury they display. It is as if the people in Borremans’ paintings become objects, and are dehumanized conveying a dark message about being human. Many of the figures are painted in the same tones as the background space making thBorremans - figurinee bodies appear to be the same importance, or the same substance, as their surroundings. I also immediately noticed several paintings of seemingly simple objects. A branch, a mask, a toy, figurines. Whether these objects stand alone in a painting or are presented with human figures, they dominate the space.

For example, in Man Wearing a Bonnet, 2005, an inversion exists where the man becomes a prop used to display a bonnet. The bonnet is oddly alluring with floppy little ears built in and various paintings of the same subject provide multiple views of the bonnet. Is this what deconstructionists do with writing? Strip away meaning, take apart notions, and flatten ideas and impressions so there is nothing remaining but a deep truth found only in nothingness? And exactly what is the deep truth expressed by Borremans? Even after closely listening to the artist speak about his work, I have no answer to that question. Perhaps not knowing is part of the delicious appeal.Borremans - bonnet

I am attracted to the figurative work of Michaël Borremans for many reasons. His paintings are simple yet become complex upon further thought. They prompt the viewer’s mind to unravel a tangle of ideas, often too dark to consider closely. They are beautifully executed – his drawing skills are superb and his brushwork, paint application and color palette are the strangest mixture of calming and energizing, both luscious and void, both warm and cold. Describing the work of Borremans is a process of using contradictory language, rightly so. In case you are confused, let me provide an example. Many of the figures are in positions indicating they could be dead. However, the artist’s use of rich warm tones in the skin indicates blood flow and vivaciousness. These confounding contradictions let viewers intuit something is not right.

After viewing paintings of various sizes in the first four large display halls, a shift in medium occurs with the display of a film titled, The Storm, 2006. The 35 mm grainy film is projected by a colossal piece of noisy equipment and the image on screen flickers. The Borremans-The-Stormambiguous flicker of light could be indicating a damaged or aged film reel or could indicate an intermittent loss of power in the mysterious scene – a room void of detail, purpose or time. The image of three seated men in the room is almost stagnant but the flickering lights and jumpy screen add a rhythmic quality. Though the men appear to be completely still, viewers perceive very slight movement, perhaps breathing, which makes viewing the one minute loop very different from viewing a still photograph that is flickering on a wall.

After the film, the exhibition is filled with drawings, three-dimensional models, photos, and films on small monitors mounted borremans - houseon the walls amongst drawings. Using pencil, watercolor and gouache on found paper and boards, we find lots of little heads and body parts, experiments with scale, repeated drawings of the same subject with varying views and settings, and the artist’s notes and handwriting. The sketches and notes provide some insight to the development of ideas, certainly more insight borremans - punishedthan is provided by the reticent paintings (let me clarify, it is their silence, and lack of answers that make the paintings outstanding amongst contemporary figurative art).

Often, viewers can recognize objects or bodies that appear in paintings earlier in the exhibit. For example, The Greatness of Our Loss is a sketch of two male bodies, which reappear in the painting titled, Two Bodies, 2005. Or a film, such as Add and Remove, 2007 shows a scene that reappears in nearby drawings. Worth noting is that three drawings, The Walk, Sunset, and Add and Remove were each created in 2002 and the film displaying the same shelves with miniature trees being added and removed was produced in 2007. It is as if the artist is borremans Add and removedigging away at the meaning of a thing, and at possible perception based on material and presentation. He explores body positions and objects with relentless agitation and circles back to previous ideas, forcing himself and viewers to look, and think, and look again, and think more – possibly over a long period of time – about a repeated image.

IMG_4540Having studied and copied (my attempt is on the left) the painting The Goldfinch, 1654, by Carel Fabritius, I was delighted by the simple painting of two bird specimens (titled 10 and 11, 2006) and curious about the artist’s slippery attempt to explain why he now paints from nature, something he previously declined. For the next entry, I will talk about Borreman’s brief Borremans birdsexplanation of how he chooses subject matter and several other insightful topics he discussed during the artist “conversation” with curator, Dr. Jeffrey Grove.

Until then, thank you for visiting!

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Revisiting Italy…In My Mind and in My Work

DSC_0748Today’s post is a preview to my upcoming exhibit on display at Boswell Mourot Fine Art February 28 – March 5 and again March 21 – April 2, 2015. Upon completion of grad school, I briefly wondered what would drive me to create a body of work in addition to my commission business. The answer presented itself as I applied for, planned, and attended an artist residency in remote southern Italy. The experience provided enough inspiration to last a lifetime and fuel countless bodies of work.

So I see this show as a scratch in the surface, as a beginning to a lifetime of visually exploring ideas I’ve contemplated for many years, ideas that Italy poignantly highlights in a lavish display of architecture, art, sculpture, monuments, ruins, and relics. IMG_4053 DSC_0880DSC_0907 DSC_0381DSC_0087    DSC_1000

 

 

 

This body of work is an attempt to consider and communicate ideas. Specific themes surfaced repeatedly during my travel research: the passage or suspension of time; the strong influence of history in daily contemporary life; and, visual cues contrasting the ancient with the modern. For example, several paintings examine the presence and participation of inanimate objects (see below left image and consider the statue, the key, the chains underfoot, the cell phone, and the purse), such as religious relics and sculpture, in contemporary life. DSC_0755

In Italy, I began to see the omnipresent visual references to history as beacons of light. Details in stonework, in sculpture, in ancient relics and ruins allow the past to shine on contemporary life by guiding us with ancient clues, philosophy and lessons. This body of work examines visual evidence that seems to contrast modern life but actually surrounds, shapes and embodies today’s inhabitants of Italy. DSC_0742

Viewers of this new body of work can consider ideas about history in our their own lives. The work integrates figurative imagery with layers of text, pattern and drawings in a manner that both hides and reveals information, causing viewers to seek answers and ponder the abstracted space in which the figures exist. My hope is that the work invokes thoughtful contemplation for viewers, as it did for me during the creative process.

And if that all sounds like a bunch of artsy talk, take a look at the above painting and I’ll show you what I mean. I hope you will want to study the figures and ask, “Where are they? Are they together and do they know each other? What is their relationship? Is he in her past, present or future? What is that book in her hand? What is he writing? What does that text say in the background around the woman? Who are the faded figures and are they people in his mind, his memory? Is he writing about them? What are those architectural drawings fading into the background?” There are not always answers to these questions. The point is to consider the work, apply it to your own experiences and ask questions that keep you engaged in something, in anything! There is a Robert Rauschenberg piece at Crystal Bridges Museum and the label states his work is about “the effort of searching for meaning rather than specific meaning itself.” Look at the images in your world and in the art you see, and think. You might reconsider an issue on your mind, or see something in a new light. If my work can provoke this type of exploration, then I’ve had some measure of success.

Thank you for visiting! And please visit Boswell Mourot Fine Art in Little Rock, AR if you’d like to see the paintings in person.

 

 

Mary Sims angel

A long awaited visit to the David Lusk Gallery in Memphis

IMG_4826After years of hearing about this gallery and admiring the artist roster from afar, I finally got to visit the David Lusk Gallery this past weekend. The two current shows, by artist Mary Sims and artist Tyler Hildebrand are great examples of the effectiveness of seeing art in person, as opposed to viewing online photographs of art. First, seeing the materials in both shows had a much greater impact on my perception and interpretation of the work. Second, viewing the work in person allows the size of the pieces, which are for the most part larger than life, to impact the viewer’s feelings and alter the relationship between the viewer and the presented figures.

Mary Sims angelThe vibrant work of Mary Sims (1940 – 2004) combines what appear to be conflicting images, mythology and historical references in the current show “Zuma and the Bible.” There is a tension between people, and perhaps between races, as figures appear to be either dominant or subservient in each composition. Religious iconography appears, such as the yellow halo (seen above in “Dream a Little Dream”) but the woman stares boldly out at the viewer, changing the mood from holy to defiant, as if she were being forced to dress up as an angel. Each painting contains multiple pointing devices moving our eye round and round, which is helpful, as there are details to discover with each rotation. For example, I initially somehow missed the tiny people at the feet of the woman in “Her Daddy Gave Her Magic” (below) and my awareness of the little figures completely changes my perception of the large central figure. IMG_4807

These paintings are full of tension and contrast: the rich colors contrast the messages of indulgence, power and dominance; the intricate patterns and fabrics reference multiple cultures; the clothing within each painting indicates various periods of time (see the Egyptian head dresses with the garter belt and high heels below); and the strange interaction between animals and humans is at times comical as well as disturbing (see the little dog in “Ship of Fools” below). Viewing the paintings of Mary Sims is a way to feel simultaneously uncomfortable, bewildered and mischievous. These are each works one could spend a lot of time with, as if the paintings could change and grow with a viewer. As an artist, creating imagery that prompts discovery and rediscovery for a viewer is a personal goal and is one that Sims acmary sims.potapher_cornutohieves with provocative panache. ms.ship_of_fools

Tyler Hildebrand, an artist based in Cincinnati, delights, surprises and then disarms viewers with his show, “Granny Whitey: New Paintings, Drawings & Film.” The tone is set upon entrance to the gallery with actual shag carpet covering the floor and the presence of an old television, chair and full ashtray in the center of the gallery space. Visitors immediately know that we are trodding in someone’s memories of 1970s Americana.

Many of the paintings combine some type of consumption to the point of harm with a comical edge. IMG_4804Perhaps it is the presence of a child like drawn line that gives the pieces a certain humor and light mood. Additionally, most of the paintings are on found objects such as imperfect cardboard and old Dunkin Donuts boxes. But then the thick, bludgeoned, and sometimes bleeding bodies present a dark element. All of the figures are distorted with either enormous, elongated necks or no necks at all and bulbous bodies that seem to expand in uncomfortable proportions. It is as if the heads (our brains) are shrinking and the bodies are expanding causing the gross destruction of ourselves and each other. th.bowieAs I reflect back on the paintings, my smile at the quirky details fades and I realize how many of the pieces have hitting, bleeding, and fighting. For example, there are multiple images of guns, in collage style application or childish drawings. See the piece titled “Bowie” (here to the right): why does the man in bed have a machine gun? And what to make of “Wastin Away Again” (below)? Hildebrand provides these hints: the figure is too big for the enormous canvas, he has a tiny angry face much too small for his body, he holds a TV remote, and there is an empty speech bubble. th.wastin.away.again

My intention was to write more about the materials, such as pieces of scrap paper imbedded in the paintings, but the drawings and paintings on top of the found papers and materials dominates my response to the work. And finally, it occurs to me. Hildebrand is able to tackle a topic which I tried and failed* in my own work during an assignment in grad school: the portrayal of American consumer culture and what we are doing to ourselves physically and intellectually as we embrace fast food and immediate gratification. Perhaps because of my own preexisting interest in the topic, I am prone to see these themes in the work of Hildebrand. But the more I consider the details the artist presents (text such as “Where’s my Playstation?” and images of Waffle House, Cracker Barrel, beer cans, cigarettes, and violent acts when the figures don’t get what they want), the more I realize the brilliance of Hildebrand’s images and style. He doesn’t preach to us, he simply lures us in with a childlike technique that initially seems fun and light-hearted. However, stay a moment and consider the details – the visual hints such as blood and brand names – and the fun, youthful approach serves as bait luring the viewer’s thoughts to something pervasive and dark.

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Now that interstate construction is improving, I look forward to visiting the David Lusk Gallery for future shows. If they are a fraction as provocative as the work of Mary Sims and Tyler Hildebrand, it will be well worth the easy drive from Little Rock to Memphis.

Up next…

Lately, I’ve shared museum and gallery experiences in this blog. For the next entry in early March, I’ll write about my own recent body of work and will report on how the opening night lecture goes. For now, I better run put the finishing touches on “An Italy Experience: Reflections on Past and Present” scheduled to open Feb. 28 at Boswell Mourot Fine Art. Thanks for reading!

*here are two failed paintings where I tried to address manufactured food issues – I was told they are pedantic and offensive, which was not my intention.IMG_4832 IMG_4833

James Drake at the Blanton Museum in Austin, TX

A quick visit to the Blanton, worth every minute

I have the pleasure of driving through Austin at least once a year and one of my first stops, straight from I-35, is the Blanton Museum of Art on the UT campus. In need of a coffee and a walk, the moderately sized facility never fails to satisfy and is always a reprieve from the long drive. Add the varied special exhibits, and it becomes a slice of heaven after too many billboards and fast food signs along my route.

IMG_4567So, with only one day in Austin last week, I found myself making plans with my daughter and niece. When brainstorming good rainy day activities, I gave the Blanton a hard sell. Fortunately, these two budding artists were enthusiastic about the plan and off we went.

Sadly, by the time I post this, the exhibit, “James Drake: Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash),” has only a few more hours for viewers to experience as much excitement as I’ve ever seen in drawings (the final day is today, Jan 4). The exhibit showcases, pinned to the wall from floor to ceiling, 1,242 individual drawings which were the result of Drake’s commitment to produce at least one drawing per day for two years. At times the multiple drawings form a cohesive image and idea; other times, the individual sheets of paper flutter autonomously and create a random snapshot of the artist’s stream of consciousness as he moves from one subject to another, or repeats one item or type of subject in an effort to practice and better understand the object.

IMG_4569Often, Drake incorporates text into the drawings, which either emphasizes or contrasts the visual images. Sometimes the text appears in the form of commercially printed material and is glued directly on the drawing paper and used as a background underneath drawings. Some words are large and stenciled, some are tiny and hand written, reminiscent of a journal entry or personal reminder. The longer I stood in front of each large wall, filled with papers, the more I realized the vast variety of mark making – variety in subject matter, variety in value, and variety in materials. Drake seems to be working hard to determine the most effective materials and methods to communicate. He even uses some type of scientific graph paper with mechanically made lines measuring something (someone’s heart rate? some sort of geological movement?).

This variety reminds the viewer that meaningful marks can be made in infinite ways with multiple materials, all in the name of drawing and communicating. His work inspires me to think about how old the concept of mark making is…on walls, then tablets, then paper. As old as it is, drawing is as modern and futuristic as it is ancient. Drake manages to capture historic, traditional elements as well as contemporary applications of drawing, which I find to be one of the most fascinating and enjoyable results of the display.

IMG_4568Along that thought, what delights me the most, is the combination of traditional figurative work and all that other mark making. The presence of such variety creates an engaging and complex contrast. Yet, with all the variety, there is a simplicity, a calmness or orderliness to the chaos. There are few colors, mostly varying degrees of black and white, though sepia tones and red are integrated from time to time. And there is plenty of white space – empty areas that serve as calm spots amongst the high energy of the drawings. At times, Drake reminds me of the great artist and drawer, David Bailin, whose energetic compositions are unique due to an extreme and fearless fervor of mark making. Both artists are able to create abstractions and complex spaces in their drawings using a strange combination of figurative representation with lines that I can only categorize as “other” (think of the above mentioned graph paper with the seismograph like lines).

Had I stayed longer and more closely examined the drawings, the text, and the collage style imbedded papers, I would surely have a more thorough and thoughtful response to share. But the two little artists were hard to corral and off we went to the second floor* after immersing ourselves for a little while in the mind of James Drake.

Thank you for reading, and good luck getting to the Blanton before 5:00 pm today!

IMG_4585 *Regardless of the museum’s special exhibits located on the first floor, the second floor holds alluring treasures worthy of repeat visits, such as an exquisite Alice Neel painting, a meditative Adolph Gottlieb, and the installation show here, by artist Cildo Meireles.

A Spectacular Exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

DSC_0049 DSC_0050The buildings, designed by Moshe Safdie, present visitors with an architectural delight. The curved walls and linear roof lines form a jointed exoskeleton huddled like a cluster of dormant crustaceans in a watery valley. Regardless of what lies inside the magnificent hull, the outside is certainly worth a visit.

Once a visitor has marveled over the lush landscaping, the winding trails, the various sculptures and the materials forming the structure of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, she must remember there is much to experience on the inside, as well.DSC_0052

 

 

 

 

 

What lures my group up from Little Rock this time is the groundbreaking “State of the Art” exhibit of American avante garde artwork. Museum curators visited studios across the country and selected work by 102 artists for a diverse presentation of materials and ideas from the studios of today’s American artists.

While the crowds are not suffocating, there is a buzz in the air created by the excitement of numerous visitors. People seem truly interested in understanding the works and there are multiple audible “ah-ha” moments rippling throughout the galleries. A couple of the works try too hard to force found objects into an art context, such as the stack of sombreros on blowing fans reminiscent of Donald Judd’s Minimalist wall mounted rectangular forms. But who am I to say? Other visitors might connect with and marvel over that piece. There certainly is something for everyone, as an emphasis on materials (and variety of materials) is a strong theme in the show. Speaking of materials, an important distinction occurs to me as I consider the variety of pieces. This is an exhibit of what is happening in art studios across the country, not an exhibit of what is happening in the art business in our country. The curators seem to have no fear about crossing preconceived boundaries between fine art, craft and technology. DSC_0251 DSC_0257The end result is a presentation of work unfiltered through the business of art giving us a view of what artists, regardless of professional acumen, are making and saying. This is not to say all of these artists are emerging and undiscovered. Many of the artists represented are, indeed, established and already included in fine art museums, galleries and collections. But by visiting nearly 1,000 artists in all areas of the United States, the curators chose artists based on messages and materials and the show mirrors a cross section of what is happening in all types of studios, not just those who have risen to the top of an industry.

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As a painter, I am naturally drawn to many of the 2D pieces, particularly the figurative works of Vincent Valdez (see photo to the right), Delita Martin, and Mequitta Ahuja. Each work by these three artist conveys a strong sense of history and narrative. As with much great art, the pieces can be viewed multiple times with new observations and discoveries made each time.

There are a large number of video and installation pieces as well as an inventive use of materials, such as thread, plastic, glass, wood, recycled objects, and even smoke. DSC_0264Despite the alternative methods and use of materials, most of the artists succeed in communicating a message that can engage viewers, providing just enough information to allow us to “get” the piece, or at least ask relevant questions. To me, this is what makes the show wildly successful.

On the road trip home, our car held three visual artists and one writer, and boy, did we have lots of comments and questions. Despite a thorough visit, I’m ready to return, for one more look at the provoking and engaging exhibit, State of the Art.

NOTE: Below are snapshots of the helpful brochures which allow a wide variety of museum visitors to engage and appreciate the exhibit. I was tempted to work on the games below in the brochure meant for children!

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(Interrupted) Reflections on Italy

In conclusion…

Even the taxi ride to the airport was another grand tour of Rome. I don’t know what all we passed, but there is just too much beauty and history to see. After a two hour delay due to mechanical trouble, we are now airborne leaving Rome. The woman next to me is talking loudly to herself (in Hebrew?) as if we are all going to die indicated by her occasional English statement, “oh a God, oh a God. What is wrong with this airplane!? What is happening. WHAT IS HAPPENING? AYE AYE OH GOD!” I’m trying to make a soothing face and sound to help her simmer down. On top of her building hysteria, I think she might have some sort of bronchial infection or the whooping cough or something. I saw her pop a few pills and am praying they are for sleeping.

Though reflection may take a little more time and distance, I can’t help but to think about what this trip means to me, what I learned and how it impacts the way I think and create artwork.

I learned that most people are the same as each other. I learned that most people have some kindness in them. I learned that we are all impacted by the news, media, and literature we have at our disposal. I learned that McDonalds is doing a good job marketing and selling to Europeans. I learned that many people are jerks when on sidewalks and when it comes to waiting in line. I learned that the USA is in its infancy. I learned that short shorts with bottom cheek hanging out has spread across the globe as acceptable attire for young women. I learned that history is not past, it is living and breathing in every present moment and human thought and decision. I learned that art, philosophy and religion are one in the same and have the same source. I learned that communication can happen without words.

Not one time did I feel unsafe. Not one single time. I was nervous about pickpockets and guarded my belongings, but never did I feel unsafe. As a female traveling alone all over a country, I think this is of utmost importance. I am also extremely grateful that I never got sick, not even a stomach cramp! How fortunate! My knee, which has endured multiple surgeries, held up beautifully and never even hurt, which is unusual. I never even had a crick in my neck or a headache! So so so thankful!

Ok, my reflecting is made difficult by the aforementioned seatmate. From time to time, we read about these people in the newspaper when it gets bad enough…you know, the disruptive lunatics on airplanes. I suppose I should be grateful I’ve never had this happen before. I don’t even know where to begin…she has no sense of personal space, leans over and literally drapes her arm on top of my body. Keeps talking to me, though not in English, and she leans her head ONTO me. We are talking about physical contact here people. I know there are cultural differences with how people interact in crowded spaces but I am getting uncomfortable with this level of physical contact.

When lunch arrived, the stewardess asked if we wanted the chicken or pasta meal and my seat companion kept saying both. She and the stewardess went round and round about how she couldn’t have both, just one. Throughout the meal, each time a flight attendant walked by, the lady asked for a second meal. Eventually, she received another lunch and dumped the whole thing in her purse! Later she dug it out and ate it! She keeps offering me peanuts, which I suppose is nice but she leans way over and puts the bag in my face and I feel like she is tempted to suffocate me with a bag full of peanuts.

I am now TRYING to watch a movie (keep in mind, I’ve been on this plane for over 9 hours now with this woman). She gets up and down from her seat constantly and when people need to pass, she won’t move from the aisle. She asks for drinks when they aren’t serving drinks. I tried to take a nap, and I swear she intentionally poked me in the arm for the entire 45 minutes. When I finally dozed off, she reached across my body and opened the window and the bright light startled me and I was awake (she has the aisle seat and I am in the window seat). I finally gave up and she said something about how I needed some light on me.

As I awoke, I realized she has a full whiskey drink. Seconds later, the drink is empty. A few minutes later the drink cart came around, and she ordered another and the stewardess said, “another?” I don’t know how many I missed while dozing. Based on the fact that she just fell down in the aisle, I’m thinking she’s had more than enough. I’m watching my movie and she holds the glass IN MY FACE and says “whoo whoa whoa, wheezkey, wheezkey, wheezkey.” I’m serious, the cup almost hits my face. I managed to discreetly flag down a flight attendant who, seeing the distress in my eyes, leaned way over so I could whisper, “for the sake of everyone, I beg you to not serve her another drink!” The flight attendant gave me a knowing look and a confirmation nod.

The woman is such a prowler, I have a feeling if she wants a drink, she will wander the plane until she finds an attendant who will serve her one. She pokes at me and interrupts me constantly and asks strange questions. Ok, she just got her baggage down from the overhead and she AND the suitcase fell down onto her and a seated man in another row! He helped her up. Lots of commotion and very loud oying coming from her. She just crawled back into her seat…is poking me on the arm now pointing to her lips which are oozing blood! I suggested that she go to the bathroom to clean up and ask for ice. She came back and started poking me again while I am still trying to watch the movie. She wants me to look at her lips again and I think she wants to show me that the ice is helping.

Now she just asked me to look at a list of phone numbers, loan her my mobile phone and let her call her son. I told her I do not have inflight phone service. Now she is doing what she did with the lunch service. She waits a minute, and asks the same question again and again. “If i cood jus cawl me son!!!! Oye oye oye! I jeest need yuar phone ta cawl me son!” She is up again.

Ok, after reading the book, The Gift of Fear, I am finally learning to listen to my instincts, and I need to move. NOW is my opportunity because she is in the bathroom, or lord knows where. Ok, I just asked a flight attendant if there is another seat, ANYWHERE (I’m about ready to hide in the bathroom). At first, I sensed he thought I was persnickety. But I told him about a few choice moments and he said, “AHHHH! I’ve had my eye on her and have noticed her disruptive and strange behavior. Let me check on a different seat for you.” I packed up licketysplit and by the time he returned and said 19H, I was outta there. My new cabin is like a whole new world. Dark, civilized, quiet. My new seat mate is simply sitting and watching a movie. Three more hours (13 hours total on this plane due to a two hour delay this morning), and I am elated. I really don’t care how much longer we have, as long as I do not have to spend another moment with the deranged woman.

Oh my new seat mate is delightful. After an hour is silence (golden), she asked me for help with reading something in English. We ended up talking about her country, Greece, and she explained how she views the economic problems there. Because I get most of my  information from the news media, it was particularly interesting to hear her perspective on the Greek people, the education system and the general work ethic. Her fiancé has left the country to find a good job and she is traveling to see him and is distressed about their future together and whether or not it can be in Greece.

Now I am on the flight from Atlanta to Little Rock. Initial observations: people here are friendly and for the most part, courteous. People do not crowd each other or shove each other. People reach out and help each other like the person who just helped me get my luggage into the overhead bin a minute ago and the person who just helped two young boys traveling alone. People seem a bit more relaxed and less guarded. My friend, Joan, and I discussed these observations and she concurred, stating, “You should see England! We are all so puritanical, and like order and rules, manners and courtesy. It is in our history and in our genes.” Her comments made me think of my Danish friend, Cecilia, who observed that manners can be kind but also can be counterproductive to being honest and true to ourselves. She argued that her “Nordic sensibility” helps her speak openly, bluntly, and neutrally about her feelings and needs. Regardless of our nationality, striking a balance between self service and kindness toward others is an admirable goal and, for me, a work in progress. The people I encountered on this amazing adventure – whether from Italy, Scotland, Denmark, England, Iran, China, or Germany – lent kind words or gestures in their own cultural style and I am forever grateful.

To friends, family, peers and strangers who found this blog interesting enough to read, thank you for your interest and supportive comments during the past several weeks. Until the next adventure, or an intriguing art topic arises, Ciao!

LauraIMG_4020