Tag Archives: Firelei Báez

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 1)

IMG_1333After a surprisingly mild June, the choking heat of July is upon us here in Arkansas. Consider cooling off by visiting one of many outstanding art exhibits. My favorites so far are at the Arkansas Arts Center, at UA Little Rock, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and at 21c Hotel. I’ll start with the Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) which, I must admit, holds a dear place in my heart.

As a current mixed media workshop teacher there, I like to promote the AAC as often as possible. However, I have a lifetime of memories starting with early childhood that make me fond of the place. Do you have a place that you can return to after many years, and the smells and sounds make years rush back in one fell swoop? The AAC does that each and every time I step in the door, especially the original entrance which is now the back door and the quickest way to the museum school.

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More relevantly, I remember hearing my whole life about the drawing collection started by Townsend Wolfe, the famed and beloved Director and Curator from 1968 until his retirement in 2002. During my visit last week, I started my tour with “Drawing on History: The National Drawing Invitational Retrospective” which re-presents artwork featured in 12 Drawing Invitationals held at the AAC over a 30 year period. The exhibit showcases pieces from well known contemporary artists and the work is sure to impress the most educated art aficionados as well as visitors new to drawing. The variety of work is very relatable, provocative and advanced in concept and technique.

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Bill Vuksanovich, “Untitled”

Take, for example, the direct realism of Bill Vuksanovich, (please pardon the reflections in the glass). The boy’s stare grabs viewers and compels us to stare back, which is when we notice the details: the pressed yet wrinkled pants, the slightly awkward hands, the unsettling contrast between the boy’s expression and the word “Champion” on his baggy sweatshirt. This is a piece to be examined just as the boy is examining us.

It is a pleasure to compare and contrast the variety of drawings in this exhibit. For example, we grasp the breadth of the collection as we move from figurative realism to the mathmatical work of Stephen Talasnik and the alternative surface created by Russell Crotty (both in the slide show above).

IMG_1365Exiting the Drawing exhibition and walking toward the Young Arkansas Artists Exhibition (the 56th!), I had to stop and examine a recent acquisition, “Les Demoiselles” which reminds me of my favorite contemporary artists, Firelei Báez. Now I have another artist to study, Zoë Charlton. It just so happens she shows at ConnerSmith in Washington DC which I’ll soon visit (material for another post!). I haven’t done thorough research yet, but find myself hoping these artists know each other – it seems they would have lots to discuss.

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The aforementioned Young Artists exhibit is always a crowd pleaser. I come away enthralled and slightly jealous…the skills and ideas presented by such young artists…if only I’d had half their talent and motivation at that age!

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Savannah Bell, “Popped”

This year, I had the honor of being a juror for the show which is not a challenge I recommend for the faint of heart. There were simply too many excellent entries. It was a pleasure seeing the work in person and I look forward to seeing what becomes of these exceptional students.

From there, I visited the much anticipated 59th Annual Delta Exhibition, a regional show that features contemporary artwork from Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi and Texas. There is really too much to say about this fantastic selection of work so I will mention a few personal favorites.

I would love to meet fellow Little Rock figure painter, Baxter Knowlton, whose painting, “Woman and Dog” is exquisite. The composition and drawing skills are excellent with rich, loose brushwork reminiscent of Lucian Freud. I hope to see more work by this artist. And look at the oddly delightful details in “Being Slipshod” by Arkadelphia artist, DebiLynn Fendley! I’m a tad uncomfortable looking so closely at his moles, curly chest hair, low slung comic strip shorts and dirty, chipped fingernails. But I can’t help myself and stay with this one for awhile. I wonder why he covers his eyes…so we can’t recognize him? So he won’t see us looking? Lastly, at least for the figurative favorites, is this piece by my friend, Jason McCann. I enjoy seeing his work evolve over the years and what I like most about this piece is strong evidence and use of line. With drawn line, McCann has a superior ability to capture a person’s inner qualities with well placed marks.

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Pulling myself away from the figurative work, there were many pieces that caught my attention. Looking at these three together, I realize the element of “line” is dominant in each piece, though applied in different ways.

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Wait wait, there’s more! “Part 2” coming soon: The Nasty Woman Exhibit at UA Little Rock, hanging out at heavenly Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the powerhouse exhibits at 21c Hotel in Bentonville. Thanks for reading and please visit again!

 

Laura

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The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media

DSC_0029This is Part 1 of a series on teaching mixed media

A rewarding result of going back to school was my exposure to many great teachers. Their technical knowledge, teaching styles, communication, critiques, and guidance helped me become a better artist. One consequence I did not foresee, was these teachers would also help me become a teacher. I suppose it is deep gratitude toward these people that makes me want to share what they have shared. As a way of honoring and thanking such talented professionals, I strive to be a great teacher.

Teaching the “Happy Accidents” mixed media class at the Arkansas Arts Center provides me with an opportunity to channel my former teachers. Students see me at the front of the room lecturing through a demo, but they are actually getting a David Bailin inspired drawing lesson. Or as I circle the room with individual instruction, the students are experiencing the questioning technique of DavIMG_6106id Clemons who taught me that listening is essential in critiques and often more important than talking. I’m finding as I teach workshops, most students want to learn new techniques but most of all, they want to be heard and want to use the workshop, and their art making to help them communicate. And people want to experience moments of success and joy that art can bring. As abstract artist Pinkney Herbert (as seen at an Arrowmont workshop on the left) taught me, kindness and caring about students can go a long way in helping them learn.

How does a mixed media class meet these needs? Well, for starters, I ask the IMG_0249students to leave their fear at the door. The class is a place to try new techniques, to experiment, to focus on method and not on results. This is a chance to stop trying so dang hard to achieve and stop comparing ourselves to others. What a relief! The more students are able to take this advice, the more they accidentally create amazing pieces of art.

In this series of posts, I’ll describe the workshop and outline specific techniques in case you want to try them at home, or share them with a friend. Perhaps you can sign up for a workshop at the Arkansas Arts Center. Over the next three weeks, I’ll post five or six entries discussing:

1. stencils and stamps
2. image transfer
3. collage
4. text and language
5. drawing
6. building texture and layering

So, to get started during Day 1, using acrylic paint we quickly add a ground layer to two pieces of paper. The paper must be heavier than drawing paper in order to handle the multiple layers to come. As the paint dries, students answer a few questions that are meant to prompt them throughout the three day workshop, and offer ideas if they feel stuck. I ask questions such as, “What is your favorite place to spend time?” “If you had a completely free week, what would you do with your time?” and “Do you have any favorite words, quotes, poems, lyrics?”

IMG_0267And then the action really starts. We cover various tools and ways to apply paint to paper. A paint brush works fine, of course, but imagine the marks made when dragging the paint with a squeegee? Or using a straw to blow paint around, or dabbing paint on with a sponge, or splattering with a toothbrush?

While that layer dries, we review compositional guidelines and elements of design. Version 2Throughout the workshop, students can look at the terms on the chalkboard and learn to self direct and analyze their work.  We discuss scale, value, contrast, line, the color wheel, texture, and pattern. We discuss how to abstractly represent an idea and how to simplify subject matter. And one of my favorites – we discuss layering, and how the additive and subtractive process of layering builds an alluring surface that is rich with information and history. Though we could spend days on these lessons, the 20 minute discussion helps students learn language and methods that quickly improve the quality of their work. To really drive the key terms home, and get a deeper understanding, we watch a few short videos on artists such as Chris Wool, Joan Mitchell, and Sigmar Polke. The work of these iconic artist leads to many “Ah-ha” moments and the students rush to get back to their work stations.

STENCILS AND STAMPS

DSC_0411In the next layer, we work with stencils and stamps while considering pattern. Artist Traci Bautista has fabulous demonstrations on the website Stampington.com and we all agreed that this is not stenciling as we remember from childhood. While places like Michael’s Arts and Crafts carry beautifully designed stencils, you can make your own for free. Using parchment paper, drawing paper or cardboard, you can cut all kinds of shapes, patterns, and letters for one-of-a-kind stencils. Notice that when cutting your own stencils, you will end up with two pieces: a negative (the hole that remains in the paper where the shape used to be) and a positive (the shape you cut and removed from the paper). Both pieces can be used for stenciling. Additionally, instead of laying the stencil on your surface and painting around it, you can paint directly on the stencil, flip it over and press it into the surface where it acts as a stamp (styrofoam works really well). Once you start stenciling and stamping, and get a handle on all the possibilities, you might notice all sorts of products in your trashcan that add pattern and shapes to your paintings.

photo 1For example, pictured to the left are two store bought stencils and two from my trashcan (one piece of cardboard and one styrofoam tray that I cut a leafy pattern into with an exacto-knife). These four items were used to add the pink and white layers to the green and yellow background seen below.

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Using hand drawn stencils cut from drawing paper (which I stick on the window for possible future use), my goal in the painting below was to create a dream-like Venice inspired arrangement. First, with a large brush, I applied brown loose brushstrokes. Then I applied a muted watery green partially covering some of the brown. Next, came the stencils. Using a thin consistency of off-white paint, I painted around the stencils, repeating the architectural forms and the horse shapes that were each based on images from Piazza San Marco in Venice.

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So, what’s the point of using stencils? When creating a painting, I think often about CONTRAST. Work that has contrasting colors, subjects, shapes, or brushwork, for example, tends to engage the viewer. Stencils allow an artist to contrast hard edged shapes with loose brushwork, as seen in the above example. They also allow for recognizable imagery to contrast abstracted areas. One artist who provocatively contrasts stamped or stenciled images with loose abstracted areas is Firelei Báez.

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Detail, The Last One Who Remembers It, 2015 by Firelei Báez

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Detail, Trust Memory Over History, 2015 by Firelei Báez

Her exhibit, currently showing at the Perez Museum in Miami, explores identity of a group of people. Initially, many of the pieces appear to be organic and bright, with perhaps a focus on animal life and the natural world. However, once the viewer’s eye lands on stamped chains, fists, foot prints, and hair picks, we begin to see much more than nature, pattern, color and abstraction. We see symbols, shapes, stereotypes and history associated with a group of people. Suddenly, our minds are forced to acknowledge a darkness amongst the beauty presented by Báez. Again, CONTRAST is an important element used by the artist. And stencils and stamps are one of the tools she uses to create powerful contrasts.

Next up, a student favorite: Image Transfer. Until then, cut out some stencils and experiment!

Miami Art: For Regular Folks Like Us

DSC_0325This time of year, everywhere I turn, news about Art Basel in Miami flashes before my eyes. But what about a family visit to Miami during a time of year when Art Basel is NOT in full swing? Well, the art in Miami is omnipresent year round, even during Thanksgiving week. Between the numerous galleries, the multiple museums, the public sculpture, various estates and gardens, and murals radiating throughout the city from the mural epicenter of Wynwood, Miami is a visual feast. Art and design and color are everywhere, communicating the mood and personality of Miami and informing our perception of the place.

Driving up from laid back Duck’s Key, we first stopped at the Lowe Art Museum on the University of Miami campus, to see a portrait exhibit I’d read about when planning the trip. The museum was easy to find with parking galore due to the Thanksgiving holiday. En route to the special exhibit, I was delighted to find pieces in the permanent collection by some of my favorite artists such as the masterful Hung Liu, transformative Cindy Sherman, and provocative Sally Mann.

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Hung Liu, Customs, 1995, oil on canvas

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The temporary exhibit, “Portrait Transformed: Drawings & Oil Sketches from Jacques-Louis David to Lucian Freud” has big names in the title though lesser known artists are included as well. The visual breadth provides viewers with  a more complete understanding of the evolution of portraiture during the last two and a half centuries. As a figurative artist, I found the written introduction to the exhibit to be particularly informative and a bit surprising. While the description helps viewers understand the purpose of the collection, the writer does not talk above us with lofty art language. Instead, Curator Robert Flynn Johnson writes as though he sharing insights with a personal friend. His refreshing honesty creates enthusiasm and curiosity for the work on display. For example, he states with aplomb, “Portraiture can be numbingly boring…the endless limpid depictions of prior generations of relatives that no family member wants to inherit.”

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Jacques-Louis David, France, 1748-1825, A Turbaned Man In Distress, black chalk

Such candor makes me want to hug this unpretentious curator. He continues, “However, portraits are also capable of being the most transformative, emotionally sublime, and deeply moving images in all art….Apparently even the art market concurs with this assessment – eight of the ten most expensive works ever sold are some form of portraiture.” In a world of abstraction, avant-garde images, conceptual installations and alternative material use, it is music to my ears to hear an appreciation for the drawn human figure.

After a quick walk around the UM campus and a Cuban sandwich at Versailles in Little Havana, we headed to the beautiful waterfront estate: Vizcaya. Built by Chicago agricultural tycoon, James Deering in the early 1900s, Vizcaya is a paradise of art, architecture, European furniture and sculpture, and gardens. Even during renovations, there is plenty to see. After a home tour and leisurely strolls in the gardens, wDSC_0250e drove a few minutes up the road to the Perez Art Museum.

Like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the facility and grounds of the Perez are an architectural wonder. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, the space uses multiple platforms and containers to bring natural elements into the environment. prez_art_museum_miami_hanging_gardens_photo_world_red_eye_webThe scale of the greenery, the expansive windows and the layered views infuse in our minds elements of plants, water, and light while walls and floors recede from our awareness. Walking around the grounds and inside the building is like a dream as the lines between interior and exterior disappear. Yet amongst this dreamscape the art assertively demands our attention. DSC_0288

While the conceptual sculptural pieces were incredible (one was made out of a tanning bed!), it was the work of Firelei Báez that took my breath away. Using vibrant color and multiple layers, the artist alludes to human form by combining human shapes with other natural elements to startle, delight, and dismay the viewer. I’ve been working with stencils made from my figure drawings to combine the figure with pattern, shapes and layers exposed within the figurative form. My goal is to emphasize what came before, or a certain emptiness, or the idea of disappearing. Báez uses a similar technique in – I must admit – a superior manner.

Walking through the “Firelei Báez: Bloodlines” exhibit, my mind was swirling with body ornamentation, pattern, decoration, and how these elaborate embellishments of the human form conversely connect us with each other as well as distinguish (or even separate) groups of people within a larger community. The layers she builds to define the human form and the details within the layers creates a disconcerting feeling. Perhaps the discomfort is caused by the high volume of pattern and decoration which defines, fills, and takes over the human form.IMG_0330

My thoughts were interrupted when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a familiar sight. Like an old friend calling me over, a large work by Robert Rauschenberg awaited. Though this piece was new to me, I recognized the skillful layering of commercial imagery. He has a way with repurposing and combining images – a method that seems simple but leaves other artists lagging behind. Rauschenberg produced multiple distinct bodies of work using an enormous variety of materials throughout his career and somehow, his work remains unmatched even with similar approaches and materials. Leaving the museum, we found easy access to the A1A bridge over to Miami Beach, checked into the Palms Resort and Spa and relaxed after a full day of sight-seeing.

Though most galleries and museums were closed on Thanksgiving Day, we found plenty to see on Day 2 in Miami. Starting with brunch at the illustrious Biltmore Hotel (and some entertaining gawking at homes in Coral Gables), we fueled up for the winding fairytale walks though Fairfield Botanical Gardens.

The gardens were much larger and more elaborate than we expected but we managed to reserve enough energy for one final stop of the day: Wynwood Walls. Describing the area as a bunch of murals on the sides of old buildings is a gross understatement. The ceaseless onslaught of images, the fantastical designs, the skilled representation, the pattern, the text, the variety, the overt and subtle messages, the social component, and the color was overwhelming. I suppose what struck me as most impressive was the quality of the work – such high quality and creative effort in a provisional setting.

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As a grand finale, we found a mural perfectly tailored to fit our Thanksgiving Day visit: GRATITUDE. Though the trip was abbreviated allowing a visit to only a fraction of Miami’s artful sights, we departed the vibrant city feeling grateful, indeed.

Thank you for coming along on a short art tour of Miami. Next up, taking all this artistic inspiration into the classroom at the Arkansas Arts Center.

A peaceful and happy holiday to you all,
LauraDSC_0218