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Endless Inspiration at Princess Street Gallery

There is much to love about Princess Street Gallery on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. The stunning collection of photography, drawings, paintings, books, jewelry, shells, and decorative wares beautifully captures island life. There are prints and pieces that one can slip into luggage for a reminder of this place after returning home. There are also museum level artists, such as Stephen Scott Young and Amos Ferguson, whose work is in collections around the globe.

Amos Ferguson, A Family Around the Dinner Table

What fascinates me most are the various ways artists from all over the world approach creating artwork influenced by Harbour Island in one way or another. There are realistic landscapes, abstractions, loosely painted figures, graphically drawn portraits, black and white photographs, traditional oil paintings, conceptual pieces, and mixed media works.

Some of the artists are Bahamian, some are not. Many live in the area which provides an intimate insider perspective; many live far away which provides fresh eyes and observations of a visitor. I find it interesting to consider how ones’ own place inevitably alters perspective and choices when creating artwork.

Visiting artists are more likely to see things as new. Whether valid or not, we get the feeling we are making a discovery and want to create artwork to share the discovery with others. We can be hyper attentive to details that are different from home…from the crisp school uniforms to the wild cemeteries to the vibrancy of the poinsana tree. DSC_0582I live in a land-locked state in the U.S., so the abundance of water continues to amaze me. Noticing the artwork here, I am not alone in my awe of the water. For artists who live elsewhere, there is an automatic (conscious or subconscious) comparison to other places. Perhaps this is why details here grab our attention and endlessly delight. They are different than what we are used to seeing and the prolific beauty can be stunning.

The local artists seem to capture images of community, of familiar faces, and of daily life. Their art can give us insight to life in the islands, to the people, places and things that are both exquisite as well as common.

Stephen Scott Young, Independence Day

I suspect I am oversimplifying by placing artists in two categories: local and visiting. Inevitably, my mind gravitates toward these thoughts because, for years, I have considered the role of the visitor in a community and the ethical questions that form when an “outsider” tries to document a place and people.

After talking at length about these ponderings with the manager of Princess Street Gallery, I came to more clearly understand some important guidelines for the visiting artists: be respectful, listen more than talk, don’t make assumptions, and ask permission before drawing or photographing people. (Thank you, Donna!)

I am now sifting through sketches and photos as I begin work on a new group of paintings inspired by the island and the people here. In the meantime, if you find yourself strolling the pink sands of Harbour Island, be sure to cool off at the Princess Street Gallery. You are sure to enjoy the sites – and insights the artists provide – of a very special place.

Thanks for reading!
LauraIMG_1261

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From Creating to Admiring Art in a Matter of Minutes

I’d only been sketching a few minutes when a friendly voice approached. “Whatcha doin’?” he said as he sat on the bench. After spelling his name, Theophilus said, “Most people call me “T.” I’d been here so many times as a child, and thought I’d met every person and explored every detail of the island. But there are always people to meet and learn about and there is always more to see and consider.

I’d been drawn to this social corner store for several days, sometimes snagging a seat on the shady bench across from Terrie’s Take-Away and other times, sitting the sun on the side deck of the liquor store. Though this spot was hot, I loved the view of the Terrie’s, cloaked in sea grapes, surrounded by chickens, cats and people. From here, I can also see Uncle Ralph’s house and tableau, a group of items on a glass table that for years Ralph has arranged – and rearranged – with found items: shoes, conch shells, beer bottles, crumpled paper bags. I’ve never seen an artist or art professor arrange a still life with as much flair or cohesion of disparate items as Ralph who explained, “That table I work on and this whole corner – the store, the license plates, the colors – is a result of my own creative expression. We are all creative and this is my way of showing it.”

Uncle Ralph’s Still Life, 2015

Uncle Ralph’s Still Life, 2018

With his words in mind, I considered the act of photographing, sketching and painting Ralph’s corner. In my art, I am copying another person’s art. Ralph composed this corner and I am simply presenting it from one view. So much art is like this, especially two dimensional work which must be why my friend Angela half jokingly calls two dimensional artists “flat-eye” indicating that all we do is copy while 3D artists CREATE. She’s got a point, I admit. But copy I continue because the magic of drawing and painting is in creating a little portal to show the viewer a place, color, idea, memory, or person. It can be a reminder or a window presenting a person or place we have known or a painting can introduce an idea or place not yet imagined by the viewer. I believe there is value to the prompts two dimensional art becomes. So with due credit, and permission from Ralph, I find myself drawing at his corner frequently on a recent trip to Harbour Island. And talking with people like T.

Sometimes, when sketching, it occurs to me that I don’t get much accomplished. People are friendly and curious and I end up in deep conversation more than I end up drawing. It also occurs to me that I can sketch at home but I can’t talk with Ersley, Donna, T, Ralph, Bernadine, and Bernadette at home. Being with them now is my only chance to hear their stories, their views, and their wisdom. In paying attention to people, I learn about a place that, though distant and not my place, has been in my heart since I first visited as an 8 year old. My hope is that the stories of the people here are conveyed in my paintings and one way to start this process is to listen closely…which brings me back to T.

T told me about his work as a fishing guide and about the people he meets from all over the world. He also told me, with intense passion, about his brother’s artwork. He went into great detail about the driftwood his brother and sister-in-law prepare for paintings and about the colorful scenes and people the talented couple, Ersley and Maxine Wilson, are able to create. The pride, admiration and support in his voice was contagious so I packed up and headed down to the shop, following T’s instructions.

Along the way, however, I was temporarily distracted by the church were Stephen and I married 22 years ago. It was being decorated for a wedding and I had to stop for a quick sketch. I’d barely begun when a man approached asking about my drawing. After several questions, he described his own artwork and his self taught methods. Before I could respond, a golf cart flew by with T hanging off the back yelling, “Laura, That’s my brother! That’s my brother!”

I am delighted by the multiple coincidences but shouldn’t be surprised. This is how things go here with people who are willing to help each other and talk to each other. The lives here are a part of a tightly woven web and if a visitor is lucky, she can find herself caught in the web and a part of the connected community…at least on the periphery for a magical moment. Again abandoning the sketch, I walked briskly to the bayside and found the Wilson’s store. But not before saying good-bye to Ersley who gave me a bonus tip: “My 13 year old, Madison, will be working in the shop. Be sure you ask her to sing you a song, her own song.”

Some 13 year olds might clam up if a stranger approaches and requests a song out of the blue, but as I stood in the middle of the store, Madison sang a song about summertime and I knew I was in the most special spot in the world at that very moment.

I’m not sure what I expected after each of the Wilson brother’s passionate descriptions of the paintings, but I was immediately enamored with the work hanging in the space. Coming in all shapes and sizes, there is a definite cohesion to the group due to the use of color and the intimate portrayal of island life: Maxine and Ersley are able to beautifully capture the water, the sky, the greenery, the people, the animals and the architecture in a way that a visitor, like myself, can not do. Calling the artwork simple is not quite the right word. As an artist who tends to overcomplicate compositions and scenes, I greatly admire the straightforward approach in the Wilson’s work. In one last stroke of luck on our final evening on the island, I happened to meet Maxine (thank you, for the introduction, Charles!). She explained that often the couple collaborates on the pieces, with Ersley doing the drawing and Maxine doing the painting. I wish I’d been able to talk with Maxine more and get to know that family better – within a few chance encounters, I learned of multiple talents. And it all started with meeting T down at Terrie’s Take-Away. Perhaps next time, I’ll learn even more about the Wilson’s.

Next up: endless sources of inspiration everywhere including, of course, the Princess Street Gallery. Thank you for reading! Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One “Ah Haa” moment after another in beautiful Telluride

IMG_4298Telluride, CO is one of those places that has appeared and reappeared on my radar for many years. Imagine my delight when the opportunity to finally visit presented itself in the shape of a teaching job. Not only is the town known for its festivals, art scene, long list of heavenly summer and winter activities, and foodie atmosphere, there is an additional resource that serves locals and visitors well – the outstanding Ah Haa School for the Arts. Just visit the website to see the countless events, classes and activities hosted by the school. IMG_4343The school is so enthusiastically embraced by the community that growth has exceeded the space for a second time since its inception in 1990. Partnering with the city of Telluride, plans are in the works to move into a 10,000 square foot space in 2020. In the meantime, the bustling program, which includes a full schedule of children and adult art classes, is located in the historic train depot next to the gondola and along the idyllic river trail at the base of the Telluride Ski Resort.IMG_4250

For the past four years I have worked to hone a mixed media workshop. Teaching the class roughly 5 times a year brings me great joy. It is an alternative to spending long hours in the studio on commission jobs and getting ready for exhibits. Meeting and getting to know the students, who come into the class with varied degrees of art experience, is a highlight and has lead to many treasured friendships. Equally as valuable (as many teachers express) is the process of teaching – the demo prep, the lectures, the critiques, the exposure to student opinions and perspectives – provides me with a boost of inspiration, gratefulness and education.

IMG_4231Last week at the Ah Haa School was no exception to the joys and benefits of teaching. After settling in at the Mountainside Inn, I walked over to the art school to meet the people I only knew through email and to see the workshop space. Then I headed over to the recently renovated and wildly popular, Wilkinson public library to present a lecture about the purpose of art, mixed media techniques, and my own two bodies of work. Afterward, one of the students kindly offered to take me to a local favorite, Esperanza’s, for a quick bite. Starting with the shuttle driver from the Montrose airport and ending in a lively bar discussion about affordable housing, I immediately noticed the uplifting, positive, engaging atmosphere created by the people of Telluride.

The next day during our class introductions, I quickly realized the positive encounters IMG_4239from the previous day were not just beginner’s luck. In fact, as the students told a little about themselves and their workshop goals, I found myself in awe of their experiences, careers and achievements. I was relieved to learn that many of the methods and materials on my agenda were new to most of the students, so I would have something to offer the accomplished group.

For anyone out there interested in the agenda, here is a bare bones outline I use for the Mixed Media workshop series:

  1. Various ways to apply paint
  2. How to make and use stencils and stamps
  3. Image transfer 
  4. Collage techniques
  5. How to use gel medium (ie building texture)
  6. Incorporating lines, doodles, drawings and text

Throughout the workshops, we also discuss:

  1. Elements of Art and Principles of Design
  2. How to critique artwork including our own
  3. Compositional tips
  4. How to resuscitate a “failed” painting

Each morning was open to exploring and the afternoons dedicated to teaching. One morning I tried out cross country skiing in Town Park (thank you Telluride Nordic Association!), one morning I hiked up Wiebe trail (thank you for the directions, Kris!) and one morning I walked around town visiting shops and galleries.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting the galleries. Would I find a focus on the beautiful surrounding landscape such as the aspen tress? Would the galleries feature winter sport themes? Would most of the art be contemporary or traditional? Representational or abstract? Even with the three free mornings (there is so much to see and do in this little town!), I only had time to visit two: Telluride Gallery of Fine Art and Slate Gray Gallery.
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As the oldest gallery in town, the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, represents a range of artists from locally known to internationally recognized….and when I say “internationally recognized,” take, for example, Maya Lin, recipient of the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom and designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. I’m still disappointed that I missed her lecture last year at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in my home state of Arkansas. The gallery also represents Malcolm Liepke, whose luscious figures I’ve studied since grad school. One of my favorite artists on their roster is Krista Harris (who teaches at the Ah Haa School!). Though her style is uniquely her own, the large abstract paintings are reminiscent of Cy Twombly’s mark making and Joan Mitchell’s energetic brush work. These are paintings one can explore and enjoy for a long time, discovering nuances and details with each visit.

Quilt & Poppy Diptych by Nina Tichava

At the Slate Gray Gallery, I had the pleasure of visiting with the manager Bekah Kolbe, who I previously and serendipitously met on a Facebook group page. It is strange how social media can enrich in-person meetings by providing a little context and familiarity. Bekah kindly gave me a tour of the space while we talked about art, artists, process and politics. I was immediately drawn to the work of Nina Tichava possibly due to her use of my favorite art element that students hear me talk about constantly: Contrast. For example, in “Quilt and Poppy Diptych,” she employs contrasting lines (thin versus thick, measured versus organic), contrasting colors (orange against blue, black against white), contrasting shapes (organic versus geometric), contrasting sizes (tiny and delicate versus large and bold) and contrasting marks (soft and loose versus hard and rigid). What’s the result? Tension, energy, focus and movement that grabs the viewers attention and makes me want to lookIMG_4315 at the work for a long time. These two galleries were well worth the visit with a mixture of mediums and styles of fine art. To get a more complete picture of the Telluride art scene, next time I will be sure to visit more galleries and will check out the Telluride Arts HQ as well as the American Academy of Bookbinding.

Before signing off, I need to make note of a few food favorites (confession – this is one of those posts where the food might take up as much space as the art). I wish I could have visited Ghost Town for every single meal. I don’t know what makes it spectacular, but they have the best avocado toast I’ve ever had. Maybe it is the bread? Or the seasoning sprinkled over the avocados? Or the zesty hint of lime? It was almost impossible to IMG_4256decide what to order when looking over the menu and I’ve heard every breakfast and lunch item is equally as delicious. The tea and coffee made it a mandatory must stop each day even though the Mountainside Inn keeps their coffee caraft hot and full all day long.

IMG_4266And I must mention Tacos del Gnar. As I waited for the place to open, another customer joined me at the table out front. A couple walked by and asked if the tacos are good, and the man sternly answered “Well, yes, of course they are!” The woman asked what makes them so special, and he stampered, “I can’t explain, just… everything!” Which sums up my description. I don’t know what makes their tacos supreme – but they are.

As mentioned earlier, I ate at Esperanza’s one night with a student and I’m not sure which was better – the welcoming crowd or the food. I found myself wishing I could take the coleslaw home like my companion did. The same student kindly ushered me one evening after class up, up and away to Allreds. Accessible only by gondola, I expected a rustic ski joint but I was wrong. This is fine dining with the most spectacular views. The reservation list is full for months and we were lucky to squeeze inIMG_4246 at the bar (hello Trenton and JoJo!) which is a bit more affordable than the dining room. I would have disturbed too many diners by taking photos of the surrounding San Juan mountains so instead I give you this: a mountain of strawberry rhubarb cobbler.

As a finale, several of the students were available for dinner at Siam on my last night in town. While classmates Nancy and Laurie were certainly missed, I am so grateful for the extra time spent with many of the students. Being treated to dinner was almost more than I could bare as a grand gesture of kindness that perfectly mirrored IMG_4357every special interaction in Telluride. Finally, I must thank Kris Kwasniewski at the Ah Haa School for accepting my teaching proposal and inviting me to the school as a visiting artist. Kris and the Ah Haa staff were organized and accommodating, making the job and visit a smooth and rewarding experience. Thank you to Kris, Kathleen, Jess and Tara!

Until next time…thanks for reading.
Laura

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Big Art in a Small Town, Giving Thanks

I’m trying to be an optimist but can’t help thinking this is a year full of lasts for our family.  As our oldest daughter applies for far flung colleges, I’m learning to let go while trying to savor each moment. So on this day of thanks, I’m almost painfully grateful to be seated next to her, even as she ferociously snaps away on her phone.  Time together used to be filled with excursions organized by yours truly. Now I give options like “would you like to sleep in or visit the Dalí Musuem? Would you like to walk to a botanical garden or lounge by pool?” This is how my husband and I find ourselves sans daughters on art outings while on family vacation in St. Petersburg, Florida.

While the small town of St. Petersburg, which neighbors Tampa, is quaint and filled with historic homes on tree lined, brick paved streets, the art scene here is quite cosmopolitan. We have the good fortune to visit the Dalí Musuem, the Museum of Fine Art, and the Raymond James headquarters, which houses 3000 works of art, all collected from living artists and mostly focusing on western and wildlife art. Today’s post focuses on the Dalí Museum which is the largest collection of Salvador Dalí work in the world.

imageWhen I visited the museum in 1991 as a Rollins College student, the collection was housed in a scrappy low nondescript building a few inches from busy commercial 3rd Street.  My, how things have changed. I’d heard about the new building and the architecture which honors Dalí with its asymmetrical lines, bulbous forms and odd protrusions. Emulating the nonsensical structures within his paintings, with unexpected vanishing points, is the central staircase which winds around into oblivion.

 

The collection is magnificent, following Dalí’s life and the evolution of his paintings. The one of his sister (above left), was repainted by the artist after estrangement with his family. He added the upside-down rendering which marks a turning point in his painting style as he moved toward inverted forms and altered perspectives. While famous for surreal scenes consisting of references to warped time, hyper-sensualized female figures, and vacuous land expanses, the pieces that startle me the most are those where Dalí masterfully tricks the human eye. Viewers think they see one image, but step back thirty feet and an entirely different painting composition emerges. There were also several pieces that changed drastically when viewed through a camera or iphone, such as the one below of his brother. image

Dalí’s understanding of illusion, and ability to impact viewer perception is much more powerful than I realized. It is the work of a genius, which is most evident in his large scale paintings toward the end of our tour. Due to the crowds, I am unable to step back and get unobstructed photos, but below are several detail shots of the huge paintings.

The details and various stylistic elements within each of the large paintings is astounding. How the artist composed such enormous paintings with so many dissonant features – and pulled it all together in a cohesive presentation – is awesome. These are paintings one could view for years and make new discoveries with each viewing. For example, the negative spaces and shapes become representational forms, such as animals, sculptures, and human faces. There are hidden images within hidden images, like floating heads that initially appear to be cloud like shapes. Once the heads are discovered, if the viewer continues to study the shapes, we find little faces within the eye sockets. These discoveries are eerie and jolting and joyful. Then we discover those tiny faces Dalí painted within the eye sockets are replicated elsewhere in the painting. His trickery and symbolism is a gigantic puzzle for viewers to ponder endlessly.

imageAfter visiting the main collection, we move on to a special exhibition: Dalí and Schiaparelli.  The two artists, one a painter and the other a fabric and fashion designer, collaborated for many years and presented sculptures, clothing and objects they designed together in hopes of encouraging viewers to see regular objects in a new way. As explained in a display: “Schiaparelli and Dalí desired to surprise and provoke their audiences to help them see things in a new way. A key technique for them was to alter familiar objects. By inverting, penetrating or turning things inside out, they give us new ways to understand those objects. They subverted the domestic chest of drawers into a visual pun – a “chest” of drawers.”

The exhibition provides those of us who lack fashion knowledge with a clear lesson in the connection that fashion, fabric and objects have to art and culture. We see two artists examining specific ideas by collaborating and blowing open the various possible materials that can be used to express those ideas. This, once again, reminds me that artists rarely or never work alone, as solitary as the work can seem. Influences abound and collaboration can elevate and expound concepts that would otherwise remain narrowly trapped in the individual artist perspective.

As always, thank you for reading!

Dali Atomicus, 1948 by Philippe Halsman

Dalí Atomicus, 1948 by Philippe Halsman (This photograph is part of the Museum of Fine Art collection in St. Petersburg, FL)

Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabulous Philly

With all the fabulous food, history, art, gardens and entertainment in Philadelphia, it is hard to pick favorites. But this post is a quickie, so chose I must. First, a little context…

My daughter and I zipped up (thank you Southwest Airlines!) to Philadelphia for a recent weekend to visit colleges. In addition to the college tours, we made sure to make time for a walk through the historic district, important stops such as Franklin Fountain (for ice cream – yes, it is worth the long line), and a handful of museums. As first time visitors, we accepted beforehand the trip would be a mere glimpse of Philadelphia and throughout the weekend we both mentioned hoping this trip is the first of many.

We visited the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Mütter Museum, the Penn Museum, and the one I have admired from afar for years, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA) which will be the focus of today’s post.

Kehinde Wiley

This institution is both academy and museum. The galleries host outstanding visiting exhibits, student exhibits, and work from the permanent collection. Due to a history of training some of our countries’ most established artists, they permanent collection consists of work from past and current students and faculty who are now world renowned such as Cecilia Beaux,  Alex Kanevsky, Vincent Desiderio and Thomas Eakins. There are various learning opportunities for students and professionals such as a Masters in Fine Art program, certificate programs, and post graduate professional offerings. They host provocative, educational lectures for students and guests – I only read about them from home but am determined to attend someday.

There are currently numerous excellent exhibits throughout the galleries. The one that most exceeded my expectations was “Chuck Close Photographs: Stretching the Boundaries of Photography.” I’ve grown up studying Chuck Close and wondered if his photography would meet the standards set by his long career of large penetrating portraits. If anything, he has topped himself.

Kara Walker, 2008 (left photo)
Kara/maquette, 2010 (right photo)

The photography is insightful, beautiful, and disarming. I wrongly assumed that the photography is a recent focus for Close, but these photos span from 1964 to present and have been an important part of his painting process. So they were there all along and only recently displayed as a collection. My favorite, due to my fascination with her silhouette artwork, is the duo his presents of the artist Kara Walker. The photo of Walker is straightforward and intimate. Seeing her profile presented in the same format as her own artwork is powerful. Close has created an homage to the woman and to her artwork.

“Leaves, Letters, Lavender” by Martha Jackson Jarvis

Hidden on the landing between two levels of the historic building is an exhibit titled, “A Collaborative Language: Selections from the Experimental Printmaking Institute.” I’m grateful to the man at the front desk who mentioned the cavernous little gallery space – I might have walked right past without his tip. As a mixed media artist experimenting with rudimentary printmaking techniques in my own paintings, this exhibit sparked my growing interest in the technique. The Experimental Printmaking Institute (EPI) draws established contemporary artists to its renowned residency program, which is where this exhibit was created.

The other exhibit that blew me away is “Beyond Boundaries: Feminine Forms.” There are many female artist exhibits currently on display across the country, but this one, well, these are long established idols.  Jenny Holzer, Miriam Schapiro, Nancy Spero, Faith Ringhold all in one room – oh my! The exhibition showcases work collected by Linda Lee Alter and donated to PAFA in 2011. Her collection efforts were meant to make “corrections to historical biases that overlooked work by women” and this exhibition “aims to identify the various ways these artists subvert stereotypes of gender by embracing experiences devalued by patriarchal societies.”

Miriam Schapiro

Jenny Holzer

Nancy Spero

Faith Ringgold

This perspective reminds me of the mission statement of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC. Some female artists do not want to be labeled as such. They prefer no gender identification in their title, “artist.” But I think an important consideration when considering these female based exhibits is the idea of women’s experiences in the world are different from those of a man. Therefore, the art they make can be inherently different and has often been overlooked throughout art history as unworthy.

I can’t conclude without a mention of one of the best dining experiences of my life. My daughter and I simply started at each other in disbelief over the service, the food, and the atmosphere at Morimoto. I find myself pulling for UPenn so I can – quite selfishly – return for more at this exquisite Japanese restaurant. As always, thank you for reading!

Laura 

 

 

Inspiration in Washington, DC: A Captivating Art Tour

A five-day visit to our nation’s capital, with the unusual circumstance of time on my hands, means visiting exhibits and museums at a leisurely pace. What a treat to read each description, sit in front of work and dwell to my heart’s content, and circle back around to displays I want to reconsider. My first stop is the National Portrait Gallery. After a joyful reunion with my Rollins College Writing Center co-worker and friend, we periodically pause feverish talk of politics and focus our attention on the galleries.

Some highlights include one of my favorites by Cecilia Beaux. Look at that hand, so unfussy, so gestural, so perfect. And the controversial Richard Prince with his snarky sense of humor. I am intrigued by Mark Bradford’s “Amendment #8” because of my own use of text in layers of paint. The artist renders the words illegible and the only way we recognize the meaning is through the title of the work. The loss of meaning in language is something I have had on my mind lately, in listening to language used by politicians.

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“John” by Vincent Valdez

“American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, Nor the Iraqis nor the Afghanis)” by Emily Prince

Later, I return to see The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now. One should not be rushed through this exhibit. The photographs are intimate and breathtaking. The tiny hand drawn portraits of fallen soldiers are too numerous to take in carefully, and it feels shameful not to look at each and every face, despite or because of the extreme volume of portraits. Vincent Valdez creates a haunting homage to his friend, who survived war but not his return home, in a multimedia display including photographs, film and painting.

NOTE: in reviewing this blog post, something is nagging at me about my woefully inadequate description of The Face of Battle exhibit. It deserves more than I provide in this brief summary of art museums visits. To read an insightful article about the artists and people they portray, please click HERE.

Next is a trip to the Hirshhorn Museum of Contemporary Art. The elevated annular building is a sight to behold. After circling around and underneath, admiring the surrounding sculpture gardens and the refreshing fountain in the center, I make my way inside to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit. Initially, I think I can waltz through, briskly taking in the large scale lego mats that present images of faces from around the world. But something makes me stop and read about each and every person. They are each considered political dissidents and live in places without freedom of speech. Many have disappeared, many are in jail indefinitely, many are dead or presumed dead, and few are free. In addition to wanting to learn about each person’s life and heroic actions, one might wonder, why legos? A conflict, or almost embarrassing tension, exists when learning about tragedy by viewing portraits made from a commonly known toy. It seems playful but is not. I try to imagine the installation as a large mat of photos instead of legos and how another medium would impact viewer perception. It is as if the legos keep the images from being “just another” news story and prompt viewers to think about the personal lives of the portrayed people. It is surprising how the common world wide use of legos somehow makes us feel more connected to each individual than, perhaps, photography would. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To watch a short video of the artist speaking about the ideas presented in the installation, the methods, and the materials used, please click HERE.

Moving right along, after a good night’s sleep, is the recently renovated National Gallery of Art East Building which holds a world renowned 500 piece collection of modern and contemporary art. For first time visitors, a tip: Be sure to pick up a map and guide at the Ground Level Information desk. The design of the building can lead to disorientation and it is easy to accidentally miss certain areas such as the multiple towers. It is also easy to feel so enamored with the building, you might forget which levels, towers and corridors you have already visited, and which you have missed.

I am startled by the number of pieces in the collection that were part of my art history studies at UA Little Rock. Below is a slideshow of pieces that we discussed during my graduate program and that continue to influence my ideas about art. It is a joy to see the work in person, especially in order to closely inspect the brushwork and color used by George Condo, Wayne Thiebaud, and Cecily Brown. Seeing, up close, the line work and materials used by William Kentridge and by Sigmar Polke is so much clearer than the prints I’ve studied.

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Finally, perhaps my favorite of all: the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This is my first visit and I wonder why I haven’t prioritized it before. The collection is much larger than I realized and, again, there is no rushing through….particularly in viewing the special exhibit, “Revival.”

My former professor and friend recently expressed ambivalent feelings about the NMWA. When I asked her to explain, she said she does not want to be known as a “female artist” and would prefer to be known as an “artist.” Her questioning the benefit of this museum made me consider whether celebrating women in a separate space does perpetuate the label, “female artist.” However, like many groups of people who band together in order to create a more powerful voice, one that often goes ignored individually, I believe the NMWA exists because it is needed. As stated in the museum’s brochure and along the entry foyer wall: “Gender bias is less overt today, but contemporary women artists still face obstacles and disparities. Art by women is persistently underrepresented in museum collections and exhibitions worldwide.” I recall work at the Tate Modern that addresses this exact issue and am grateful to the museum for providing additional recognition for women in the arts.

Another unexpected thought occurs to me while visiting the museum…collectively, how is art made by women different than art made by men? Or is it? I am intrigued by this observation and notice repeated themes, some overt, some quite subtle. Much of the art is directly about being female. Many pieces are about the female body and multiple catagories within the subject of the body (how we are perceived, how we are objectified, how we cover ourselves, how we judge each other by appearance, how we are strong, how we compare to elements in nature, how we decorate ourselves. etc.).

I’ll sign off with a few favorites below. Often, I gravitate toward paintings and drawings but this time it is the sculpture that stops me in my tracks and makes me stay awhile. As always, thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

 

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 3)

“Passage” by Dominique Simmons

In Part 2 of this series, I noticed a recurring theme while describing the various venues and exhibits we visited in Bentonville, Arkansas. It occurred to me again and again that art enables us to better understand the perspective of others. That theme continues as I make my way to the Fine Arts Building at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Regardless of your political persuasion, a visit to the exhibit, “Nasty Woman” certainly fulfills the purpose of experiencing various perspectives. It is often said that artists reflect the cultural pulse of society. Of course, no single person, or small group can speak for all. But the Nasty Woman exhibit, like it’s counterparts popping up around the globe, reveals the ways in which many female artists are responding to a political and social environment that feels oppressive for some.

This exhibit showcases multiple themes, materials, and concepts to present the overarching theme of gender inequality. Some of the artwork communicates protest, some celebrates women, some asks for recognition of unrecognized women. Some addresses the roles women hold in communities and families, some of the work addresses reproductive rights or our cultural focus on women’s body parts. Some of the pieces are nurturing, some are aggressive

“Mammary Ducts” by Mia Hall

As women strive to progress, and demand rights such as equal pay, there seems to be a backslide that has developed in the last two or three years. For example, what do we make of the recent shift in public response to breastfeeding? Why has it become “gross” and “inappropriate”? Women’s nipples don’t differ greatly from men’s, so why is the exposure of women’s nipples not acceptable? We even have a biological purpose for them, yet, in a strange reversal, breastfeeding has become an occupational hazard for many nursing mothers. Regardless of how you view breastfeeding, the issue of judging and legislating women’s bodies remains, and it is one that Mia Hall addresses in her installation, “Mammary Ducts.” Our culture places in inordinate amount of critique, shame and observation on women’s body parts. They are just nipples, see?

One of my favorite pieces is by the Curator of this exhibit, Margo Duvall. The small size, circular shape and material (grainy wood) makes each portrait precious, like little artifacts to be revered. They are clean and direct, and seem to ask for overdue recognition. They are beautifully crafted like the women they present and the disks simply ask to be seen.

Regarding my own entry in this exhibit, there is something nagging at me that, I believe, is worth discussing. While reading the exhibit statement at the gallery entry, I wonder, Did I live up to this ideal with my pieces? Dr. Emily Gerhold writes, “While ‘Nasty Woman’ is not meant to promote a specific ideological position, it is, by both necessity and design, a product of the historical and social movement in which we live. Its artists extend themselves beyond the banality of a headline or sound bite to engage, on a deeply personal level, the urgent, powerful experience of being a woman.” 

Actually, I leaned right into the banality of a soundbite. Yup, my work is crass, it is nasty. And I am not proud. But it is a reflection of what I am seeing in our culture today, starting with our highest office. Why are women’s bodies being talked about the way they are? And should we not be outraged? Would it be more proper to whisper our responses to the vitriol, or better yet, silently swallow our responses as if we think the words mean nothing? Or worse, justify it? As if lewd words, and catcalls, and discrimination, and sexual harassment, and being grabbed is all ok and we need to just suck it up and get over it. I admit, I made no effort to make my message pretty, or feminine, or demur. These nine pieces are part of a larger group that simply reflects what I am seeing and hearing about women’s roles, women’s bodies, women’s looks and women’s healthcare policy being discussed ad nauseam in our society and in our governing bodies. The work is meant to draw our attention to language, the meaning and consequences of using words, the deconstruction of words and how language shapes our reality.

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While direct language was not neccesarily prominent in the exhibit, I did find much of the work to be narrative. The slideshow above exemplifies how the exhibit provides insight into women’s lives and gives viewers ways of piecing together a story, a relationship, an action or an emotion.

Nasty Woman showcases the work of 36 female artists from across the nation and this post will get way too long if I respond here to all the thought-provoking work. The 36 artists included in the exhibition are: Zina Al-Shukri, Heather Beckwith, Darcie Beeman-Black, Megan Berner, Cynthia Buob, Beverly Buys, Susan Chambers, Melissa Cowper-Smith, Norwood Creech, Nancy Dunaway, Margo Duvall, Melissa Gill, Mia Hall, Louise Halsey, Diane Harper, Tammy Harrington, Heidi Hogden, Robyn Horn Erin House, Jeanie Hursley, Catherine Kim, Kimberly Kwee, Joli Livaudais, Angie Macri, Hannah May, Rosemary Meza-DesPlas, Catherine Siri Nugent Laura Raborn, Emily Rogers, Dina Ropele Santos, Dominique Simmons, Kasten Searles, Katherine Strause, Brittany Wilder, Kat Wilson, and Miranda Young-Rice.

If you are in the central Arkansas area please consider a visit to this important exhibit. Summer gallery hours: 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday. Gallery admission is free. There is a reception on Friday, Aug. 18th from 5:00-7:00 pm with a Curator Talk at 6:00 pm. See you there!
As always, thank you for reading. Next up: Art exploration in our nation’s capital city!
Laura