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      

by Betsy Graves Reyneau

“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!

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