Tag Archives: Hank Willis Thomas

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 2)

I visit as often as I can, and have blogged about Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art several times.  As the museum continues to showcase visiting world renowned exhibits, and reorganize the permanent collection, there is always something new to see and more to say about this special place in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I get to visit this time with a dear childhood friend who has never been to the museum.  I try to give her space and not interrupt our outing with my own perspective and excitement about this place. What a treat it is to hear the amazement of a first time visitor who has seen countless museums elsewhere but can’t help to be impressed and delighted by this one.  It makes me proud all over again and deeply grateful to Alice Walton for providing this resource for her community, home state, and beyond.

We arrive during mid day summer heat and decide to start with the inside tour, postponing a visit through the expanded trail system and “Chihuly in the Forest” until the next morning. The collection is a world class wonder, and I am drawn to my favorites again and again: Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Robert Henri, Max Ferguson, Fairfield Porter, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Alexander Calder, Donald Judd, Wayne Thiebaud, Alice Neel, Kara Walker…the list goes on and on.

One aspect of the museum experience I’ve been considering lately, is that of community outreach and education.  In other words, what good does it do to have all this great work here? So often, visitors wander through and don’t feel connected or informed by artwork. Crystal Bridges has established a strong education program for the community, reaching out to all types of visitors through targeted events and programming. Instead of wandering aimlessly, visitors really learn about the work, whether it be through the extremely friendly and informed attendants, through school visits, through guided tours, through accessible displays and explanations, or through the many interactive tablets mounted throughout the museum. What does this mean? To me, it means the museum can reveal to visitors the perspective of another person. What a powerful gift! And don’t we desperately need ways to see perspectives different from our own?

After walking through the main galleries, we enter the “Chihuly in the Gallery” exhibit. As usual, learning about the artist, his background, and his various influences made me appreciate the work more than I did before this visit. Perhaps because I am a 2D artist, one of the highlights are the sketches by the artist. While the glass blowing process sometimes alters from the original plan, usually the pieces were produced exactly as described in the sketches, which is impressive.

We then check into a nearby hotel and explore the town square. The food scene in Bentonville is bustling and picking a place for dinner is difficult because of the multiple options. After rave reviews from a friend (thank you, Terri!) we decide on the Italian restaurant, Tavola Trattoria, which is excellent and affordable. Before retiring after a big day, there is more art to see…the always provocative exhibit at 21c Hotel. I’m starting to think a famous artist is following me. OK, if not the man, his art. For those who have read this blog before, you’ll know I am ecstatic to find the work of, you got it, Hank Willis Thomas!

“Raise Up” by Hank Willis Thomas

His work is part of a group exhibit, “Seeing Now” of which Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator, states, “This multi-media selection of works by over two dozen artists explores what and how we see today, revealing the visible and hidden forces shaping both what the contemporary world looks like, and how we consume and interpret that information—how visual and psychological perception are evolving in the 21st-century.” 

While I want to believe tolerance, integration and acceptance is a growing part of this booming area, I know there is more progress to make to battle racism. Perhaps the work of this brilliant artist can open the minds of people who are still stuck in hate and fear. Willis Thomas is able to take simple-seeming images and allow viewers to understand another person’s perspective, to sense the consequences of our actions, to see how our beliefs can be problematic, and to grasp that ambivalence is actually negligence.

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For example, the two photos above are part of an interactive photography display. Using a phone, viewers can choose to snap pics with the flash on, which exposes details in the image, allowing us to look closely at what is really happening in the photos. Or, visitors can walk on by vaguely aware of the activities and pain occurring in the historic photographs. Brilliant. The artist, in such a simple way, evokes a powerful conclusion: racism will continue in this country if all “races” do not work together as the artist and viewer work together to see and acknowledge what is happening. If white people continue to look away, we will not heal or progress as a society….at least that’s my take-away from another thought-provoking display by Hank Willis Thomas.

Boris Nzebo paintings at The Pressroom in Bentonville

Boris Nzebo painting in the Manchester Art Gallery

Wiped out from long walks and art overload (is that even possible?), we get to sleep early and are ready the next day to hit the trails. First, we visit The Pressroom for breakfast. In addition to the excellent food, I am delighted to spot these three paintings by Nigerian artist, Boris Nzebo. The graphic lines are quite recognizable and I was surprised to see the work in the small Arkansas town – I wrote last summer about admiring his work in a museum exhibit in Manchester, England! It is so strange how, once one pays close attention and develops a a list of  art elements to admire, the world becomes small and repeat finds happen often. Seeing a piece of art by artists we deeply admire feels like seeing an old friend or famous figure. I never tire from the excitement of exploring for this reason.

One could spend hours on the trails around Crystal Bridges but we have to head home soon so we don’t venture far. We enjoy a walk through the exhibit “Chihuly in the Forest,” peek at the Frank Lloyd Wright house, and head for the car. It is helpful to move around before the three hour drive back to Little Rock. Admittedly, the hours fly by as we chat endlessly about art, the ability to incite change through art, and how we can each apply to our own jobs and projects what we learned during our quick adventure. As I drive toward home, my mind is a whirl of ideas and thoughts for upcoming days in the studio. And I think of Chihuly who stated, “I don’t think much about the past. I think more about the future. I prefer to be thinking about what I want to be doing tomorrow.” I completely understand.

Up next, Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 3) which will focus on the current “Nasty Woman” exhibit at UA Little Rock. Thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

 

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Seeking (and Finding) Provocative Art in Central Florida

Last summer, I filled three posts with observations about art here in central Florida, as well as thoughts on returning to a place from my past. While my visit this time still evokes bittersweet nostalgia as I stroll the tree lined streets around Winter Park and Rollins College, my need to write about memory and the past was fulfilled during last year’s visit. Today, I’ll stick with the art. Once again, the art rich area does not disappoint.

“Then They Came For Me” by Patrick Martinez

Like last year, I’m noticing artist statements about political turmoil and displacement. I’ll start with my Sunday afternoon visit to Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College. In his solo exhibit, “American Memorial” Los Angeles artist, Patrick Martinez uses several mediums and strategies to communicate ideas of unrest and fear.

As he states in the exhibit brochure, Martinez uses neon due to its common use in Los Angeles and across America.  It often has a base appeal, an urgent neediness, and a desperate element. In contrast, the words he chooses are associated with deep fear and a dark time in history. The words, “then they came for me” are attributed to Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller who spoke out against Germans during the rise of Nazi power.

In his series, “25 and still alive”, the artist creates birthday cake sculptures with portraits painted on the surface of the cakes. What strikes me about these pieces, in addition to the richly painted portraits and inviting faux confections, are the titles. We initially sense a celebratory message which is quickly replaced with the idea that for some people, reaching the youthful age of 25 is a feat. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In another section of the museum, I am delighted to see what feels like an old friend, a collection of Paul Signac drawings and paintings on loan from my own beloved Arkansas Arts Center. Seeing the pieces far from home made me proud of the renowned AAC collection and grateful to the Dyke family for their generosity.

Next up, via the affordable, convenient and comfortable SunRail train system, I visit the Loch Haven Park area, home of the Orlando Science Center, Orlando Fire Museum, Orlando Reperatory Theatre, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Museum of Art, and Mennello Museum of American Art. Lakeside views and trails abound and aside from the heat, walking around this area is a treat.

This tree was here during the signing of the U.S. Constitution!

Approaching the Mennello Museum, I am drawn to the surroundings. Formerly a private residence, the intimate building is ensconsed by trails, gardens, a lakeside view, old trees (such as the one here on the right) and sculptures by American sculptor and installation artist, Alice Aycock.

My timing is off for this museum visit as I arrive just after a Bo Bartlett exhibit and just before a William Eggleston exhibit. I am able to see a Bartlett painting that, I’m told, is being purchased by the museum. And I get to peek at the Eggleston photographs propped against the baseboards ready to be hung. The Bartlett painting reminds me of one of his at Crystal Bridges Museum of Amercian Art due to the seemingly simple composition, the lonley yet brazen position of the figure, the brushwork, and the enormous canvas size.

“Untitled (Veronica)” 2015, oil on canvas

After a short walk from the Mennello Museum, I arrive in the cool comfort of the Orlando Museum of Art. I’m lucky to visit again this summer during the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art, which showcases 10 progressive Florida artists. Though the three dimensional structures, photography and video installations are engaging and provocative, my favorite works are the paintings of Chase Westfall. I’m sure I’m drawn to these because of my own penchant for paint on a two dimensional surface but it is his extreme combination, and therefore, contrast between abstraction and figurative representation that I absolutely adore.  It is jarring and slightly disturbing to see the sharply painted geometric patterns imbedded in a tense push and pull with various body parts.  I typically don’t find geometric and heavily patterned paintings very engaging but Westfall’s use of rigid line against loosely painted forms sets up an energetic contrast that is confusing in a good way.

Other favorites at the museum include two pieces by Robert Rauschenberg, a chandelier sculpture by Petah Coyne, and a painting by Lavar Munroe.  Munroe uses found objects and discard in his cut canvases, making the pieces a hybrid between painting and sculpture.

Ravenous after miles of walking, I find a superb Cuban restaurant near the SunRail Station before heading back to the Alfond Inn for more art exploration. I incorrectly thought I was thorough last summer when searching the hotel hallways for art. But this time I find corridors and conference rooms I was unable to access during my last visit. As I’ve stated many times, the work of Hank Willis Thomas is a powerful influence on my own work. After hearing him speak at the Arkansas Arts Center two years ago, I basically idolize his ideas and techniques. And seeing the work in person is so exciting. I also stumble upon these three Terry Winters paintings in a dimly lit conference room.  I hope those meeting in this room when the lights are on appreciate this trio of printmaking masterpieces!

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As I write about art highlights during this central Florida visit, my daughter is in her final day of tennis camp at Rollins College.  I’ve passed my time with long walks, with a couple of movies, and of course, finding as much art as I can each day. But these idle hands are meant for making. I itch to return to my studio invigorated and inspired by the work of so many thought-provoking artists and the collections that thankfully share the work with the public.  Great art makes us think and I have plenty to consider during our travels home. Thank you for reading!

Returning to Winter Park, Florida Among Memories and Art: Part 1

DSC_0114In researching summer tennis programs for my daughter, I found myself repeatedly clicking on the Nike Tennis Camp at my alma mater, Rollins College. Perhaps I was just looking for an excuse to return to blissful Winter Park, Florida, but I legitimately kept finding fabulous reviews about the camp and its director, Rita Gladstone. With Southwest Airline points tucked away, the only major cost would be accommodations. We would walk everywhere and need very little transportation. I thought, visiting the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and the Orlando Arts Museum could be important parts of my work as an artist, right? Come to think of it, staying at the Alfond Inn with its’ esteemed contemporary art collection would be a wise choice, right? Yes and Yes! This 3-part series will highlight my response to returning to the area, and of course, the numerous high quality art exhibits.

DSC_0089Regarding the development of my paintings, everywhere I go, I consider what I see and how it relates to the art I make. I am guilty of having too many bodies of work going in my studio and cohesion has been, at times, elusive. But there is one theme that returns again and again: the idea of time passing and of memory. So as I explore areas such as Winter Park, I do study the work of other artists at every opportunity but I am also constantly coDSC_0049nsidering how what I see will make its’ way into my work. While my daughter was on the tennis court each day, I walked the campus and felt an acute longing, stronger than nostalgia but milder than anxiety. I wondered, Where did it all go? That experience does not exist anymore, it is only in our memories. What is this place that does not include me anymore? It is someone else’s now. As I walked through the shaded pathways of the campus, I feel awe mingled with despair. What am I mourning…my youth?

DSC_0069Is it my irrelevance in a place that makes me feel such longing? Upon returning, how can one see clouds building over Lake Virginia, see endless archways, see weeping willows spilling toward earth, smell the musty mixture of watery reeds and moss, feel the breeze that carries smell and memory, sense the rain when an uncharacteristic coolness brushes the skin and not think time has ceased to exist? How can this feel like my place, and concurrently feel like a mystery, like a place I am forcing myself upon?

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Nothing is True by Hector Arce-Espasas and Josue Pellot

Eventually I had to snap out of my nostalgic wanderings. The Cornell Fine Arts Museum was just the place to redirect my attention to the present. The current exhibit, “Displacement,” required another mode of thinking…of getting out of my own perspective and developing a clearer understanding of someone else’s perspective. Isn’t it cool how art can open our eyes to something beyond ourselves?

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Church Banners by Andrea Bowers

The artists included in the exhibit are from all over the world and use a variety of mediums to make clear statements about the condition of human displacement. The exhibit is not a plea, or an aggressively persuasive presentation. The power in the artwork comes from a calm and earnest approach. Language is often combined with visuals to help clearly communicate. This is not political, it is observation and presentation of a human condition. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” “Finders. Keepers.” “Nothing is true.” In Thousands are Sailing 1, the artist uses a garish pink where green should be seen in the photograph. While beautiful, the pink is also bizarre and striking which encourages viewers to stay and look more closely. It is as if the artist is saying, “don’t ignore these displaced people, stay and look closely and consider them.”

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Thousands are Sailing 1 by Richard Mosse

The Cornell Fine Arts Museum is also home to a permanent collection divided into three categories: American Art, European Art and The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art. Only a fraction of the collection can be on display at any given time and guests at the nearby Alfond Inn get to reside with some of the outstanding contemporary art collection

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The Hermit XI by Jaume Plensa on display at the Alfond Inn

during their stay. I was delighted to see two pieces by Hank Willis Thomas – one at the Alfond Inn and one at CFAM. Since hearing him speak during the “30 Americans” exhiit at the Arkansas Arts Center, I have been mesmerized by his visionary approach in using commonplace images from mainstream American media to show just how misinformed we are by persuasive, persistent and egregious advertising images. During his career, Thomas has methodically tackled gender issues and race issues with what seems like simple technique, but really reveals the brillian finesse of a great mind of our time. If I ever meet him, it will certainly be one of those embarrassing freak out moments where I invade his personal space with a gregarious hug. At any rate, this jewel of a museum on the east side of campus overlooking Lake Virginia should not be missed by visitors to the area.

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Walk Like A Man by Hank Willis Thomas

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Behind Every Great Man… by Hank Willis Thomas

Between kayaking on the lakes, visiting the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and studying the collection at the Alfond Inn, my heart was full as well as my sketchpad. Walking around the beautiful Rollins College campus and the surrounding areas during the quiet summer was a gift. It prompted memories to resurface and new discoveries to be made. And it gave more than I bargained for in terms of the inescapable painting theme of memory and the passage of time. On my last day, I entered the cool air of Knowles Chapel, and wondered if I read this poem during my years as a student and had since then forgotten, or if this was my first time to see words that only now in my life could hold such poignant weight.DSC_0087

As usual, thank you for reading. Next up: Blown Away at the Orlando Museum of Art

 

 

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