Friday, August 11, 2017

A CASE FOR A STILL LIFE PAINTER

I say “Still life painting,” and you say?
“Dead ducks.”  “Bunch of flowers.”  “A table with magnifying glass, open book, candle.” 

You would be right! Artists have always painted “still lifes” (and yes, that’s the correct plural) because:  *arranged objects don’t move unlike human models, 
*there is no charge for objects and live models usually want something, 
*nobody cares what the weather is doing - critical consideration for landscape painters, 
*it’s an effective teaching exercise (Does the bowl I just painted look like the bowl in front of me and why not?), 
*and the artist has complete control of everything!  

Over the centuries, art theorists invested still life objects with psychological, political and religious meaning. Three of anything automatically gets an “aha! Holy Trinity.” That dead duck? Obviously, Jesus. Flowers point to an entire encyclopedia of human feelings so watch out! You may be painting a rose when you really might be feeling “tulip.”  I, myself, have been guilty of such parsing to which I now say “Balderdash!” A rose can be just a rose and three objects may be merely the painter’s penchant for trios.

JENNY BRILLHART in her studio
This week, during my trip to Maine, I discovered a still life artist whose paintings I liked so much that I bought two.  Jenny Brillhart lives and works in Stonington, Deer Isle, Maine. Stonington is at the very tip of Deer Isle and Deer Isle is about as isolated at anybody can get in the Continental U.S.A. I don’t know why she - or anybody else - would want to live there. It’s hard to reach by car even in summer - winter must be next to impossible. There is no shopping anywhere - and I mean NONE - for anything! Sure, it’s beautiful in that rocky- fir tree- morning fog kind of way but can’t you have that AND a Starbuck’s?

Anyway, Jenny paints still lifes in oil on something called Ypo which is a kind of plastic that looks like onionskin sheets but is stronger.  Sometimes, she paints on board or canvas. During a studio visit, I saw a suite of new work painted on fragments of cedar shingles.  I didn’t understand the significance of the shingles but at least there was no dead poultry! That would have been freakily weird.

I would call Jenny a graphic artist and sure enough, she works in that trade as a side profession. And she’s a minimalist - totally unlike those baroque dutch artists whose masterpieces overflow with metal, paper, wax, blood and flowers. Jenny constructs her stage sets from odd bits of paper and mechanical instruments that happen to lie around her studio.  The objects are posed like sad old maids, leaning against the wall waiting to be invited to dance. Only they don’t get asked.  Her color palette is somber: hues of grays, taupe, slate - the colors of fog - with only an occasional tiny slice of yellow or blue.

An environment of isolation, shrouded in misty colors of sea and fog: I sense the beginning of the intellectual critique. Title: “Place and Its Impact on Still Lifes.”




Oil on Ypo (artist: Jenny Brillhart) approx. 18" x 24"

Oil on Ypo (Jenny Brillhart) (approx 18" x 24")

Oil on wood, approx. 3'X5' (Jenny Brillhart)

Friday, August 4, 2017

THE SUMMERTIME BLUES

It’s summer and I don’t want to.

Enough with the gardening! I’ve weeded this same patch before. The first few times, I thought “Well! See how much better you look without those nasty weeds!” Now I think “Grow up. Fend for yourself. Snow will kill all of you soon so who gets the last laugh?”

BEAR FACES wallpaper - delicious!
Cooking too.  Cold weather inspires stews, soups, Italian dinners.  August inspires another trip to Subway.

I still clean house. It’s my generational curse. I’ve never had a housekeeper  or “help.”  It’s that deep mid/southwestern streak that says “never pay anybody for work you can do yourself.”  (The same philosophy keeps me from psychiatry, attorneys, any and all consultants. My husband has the same disease. For him it translates into yard work and snow removal.  He’s 78. Maybe it’s time to revisit. I’m younger but just as pissed off.)

hand-painted t-towels from...somewhere. I love the graphics!
It’s been awhile since I filed a new blogpost - I meant to be more methodical, more reliable, more serious (or is it sonorous?). I have copious notes on a new book teaching buddhist acceptance.  It says, in a nutshell, when bad times hit, don’t try to solve problems, or make them disappear.  Give up control. Begin with hopelessness. Be kind to yourself.

What? Give up control? Are you out of your mind?! Don’t try to solve problems? Are these people on drugs? Who are they anyway? O.K., I get the “be kind to yourself” thing.  I get expensive haircuts. As for the rest of it, what this country needs is a little MORE problem solving and taking a little MORE control.

Most of all, I don’t want to write about art. So I’m going to Maine for a few days.  Maybe there’s inspiration in all that crashing surf, rocky shores, lobster dinners. (Everybody’s supposed to LOVE lobster. Confession: I really don’t.  I mean…it’s o.k. but really? All the work and mess? Most lobster eaters just want an excuse to wallow in melted butter. Go buy corn on the cob…it’s cheaper and you get all that fiber.)

Before I leave, here are a few photographs I’ve saved from somewhere over the past year.  A new wall paper favorite - Bear Faces! Don’t you love it?


See you later. 


 (Painted houses in West Africa. And Painted flags..I think from Denmark? I was struck bu the repetition of graphic motif - repeated from half way around the world! Isn't that awe-inspiring?)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

GET YOUR KICKS ON ROUTE 66

Australian artist - not my problem
I bash my home state of Oklahoma consistently and here’s one reason:

According to the 2017 Spending Per Pupil Charts, Oklahoma spends an average $7672 for each student in public school - 4th from the bottom among the 50 U.S. states. Meanwhile, it LEADS - yes, #1 in the Nation - for cuts per pupil  in the 2017 budget.

Spending Per Pupil in New York State: average $22,552 per pupil.
Average Teacher Salaries (Okla.) = $44,343.
Average Teach Salaries (NY State) = $66,760.

Does money equal student success? I’m not sure but if a classroom has more supplies, more text books - if a school takes kids on more field trips, offers things like Science Club, art and music besides sports, then….yes, it matters.

Our property taxes are outrageously high in New York. But we are reaping the reward in this country of a poorly educated public - people who actually thought the Constitution of the U.S. was “false news” put out by anti-government leftists. 

The earth is not flat nor was it created 3000 years ago in seven days. Religion is a personal decision; don’t force me or my kids to believe your way or embarrass school children whose ethnic/cultural backgrounds don’t correspond to the main stream.

Spend money on kids! Our country can’t afford the alternative!
``````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````

A few miles off famous Route 66 in the tiny town of Foyil, Oklahoma, is the house that Ed Galloway built.  You can’t miss Ed’s place; you’ll see the 90 ft. tall painted totem pole in the side yard.

Ed was born in Missouri and served in the military in the early 1900s. He was stationed in the Philippine Islands and learned carving and saw oriental art for the first time. He decided, after returning to civilian life, that he would carve violins - one per tree specimen.  He got up to 300.  And he taught art.

Charles Page (now THERE’S a story! a man who became a zillionaire in Tulsa, bought up hundreds of acres outside the city and built Sand Springs - where I was born - as a “planned community” especially to benefit widows and orphans.  Look him up on Wikipedia.) hired Ed to come and teach art at his orphanage. So Ed moved to Oklahoma in 1937 and launched his life’s work - a total Disneyesque montage made of wire and concrete and bright paint.

“All my life I did the best I knew.  
I built these things by the side of the road to be a friend to you.”

Ed died in1962.  The place fell into disrepair. Vandals stole all the violins. In 1990, the Roger County Historic Society and the Kansas Grass Roots Art Association took over to stabilize and restore what was left and now, when you drive down Rt. 66, right after passing the Big Blue Whale in Catoosa (concrete, built by Hugh Davis for his wife), you’ll come to Foyil. Stop and visit the Ed Galloway Totem Pole Park.





Ed's "Fiddle House"

Monday, July 3, 2017

TWO SHORT STORIES

Maud's House
Dog Painting:Winter


IT’S A HARD KNOCK LIFE

Go see the movie “Maudie” when you get a chance.  It’s a biopic about Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis and stars Ethan Hawks and Sally Hawkins. 

Maud (Dowley) Lewis is the Canadian version of Grandma Moses. Born in 1903, she was physically deformed, a result of childhood illness, and lived with her parents near Digby, Novia Scotia, until they both died in the early 1930s. With no other prospects, she answered an ad for a housekeeper, moved to Marshall and married the cruel, miserly fish peddler, Everett Lewis, whose 10 ft. X 12 ft. house she was meant to keep.  

The house had no electricity nor running water and she was no housekeeper.  She could, however, paint and began painting flowers and animals - greeting cards and tiny pictures - that her husband sold door-to-door along with his fish. She also painted every available surface in and on the house itself. (The house in its entirety sits inside the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax.) 

Time passes….recognition comes….she still sells her little paintings for not a lot of money…The Nixon White House even buys one! (She requested payment in advance; did she know something?) Maud died in 1970. Her widowed husband continued to sell her paintings, forging her name when “absolutely necessary.”  (Life in Nova Scotia was probably hard for a fish peddler. Should we condemn him?)

One of Maud’s little paintings sold at auction in 2016 for $20,000. I’m betting her prices will go up after the movie comes out. In fact, there’s renewed interest among museums, collectors and investors in “older female artists” according to a piece recently on Hyperallergic.  Explanation: younger artists are not making the cut and established artists’ prices are insanely high with the world chasing after those that show up at auction. By default, women are coming into their own.

`````````````````````````````````````````

IT’S ALIVE!


I admit I can’t escape my craft-based roots.  I want public art to “do something.”  I want beautifully designed streetscape furniture, clever signage, public art that lifts the spirits through sound, shape, texture and/or color.  I want socially conscious design!

Not too much to ask, do you think?

So here’s the latest idea that I just stumbled across:  is it public art or is it living sculpture? Or both?  It’s call “CityTree,” a 13 ft. wall of living moss, created and built by Green City Solutions, a Berlin based design firm.

Because of the specific moss culture, it “eats” particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxide and ozone, offsetting 240 tons of CO2 equivalent per year. Or to measure differently, it does the work of 275 urban planted trees.

So far, about 20 of these CityTrees are installed - Oslo, Paris, Hong Kong, Brussels and Glasgow - at a cost of about $25,000 each. 

Yes, they require some tender care - primarily water - but so do planted trees. And they have some shortcomings. They don’t supply shade. They don’t offset through scale some urban masses. And they may not survive extreme temperatures - hot or cold. But for areas where planting trees is not an option - and for the sheer softness moss covered anything can infuse! - this looks pretty cool. 
```````````````````````````````````````

HAVE A SAFE JULY 4TH EVERYBODY! I’m going on picnic #3 - #4 tomorrow. That diet we started 10 days ago? On “hold” for awhile.  






Friday, June 16, 2017

ART FASHION AT THE MET


Rei Kawakubo’s art fills part of the second floor of the Metropolitan Art Museum this summer.  The show is titled “Art of the In-Between.” The Japanese designer works with what is loosely categorized “textiles” to create stitched, wrapped, and layered cocoons and coverings, human scale, best interpreted on human sized models. The work includes designs from 1983 to the present.

cover art "The Handmaid's Tale"
This exhibit is a collaboration between Kawakubo and the staff at the Met; the result is breathtaking. Manikins cluster in windowed, pure white pods that look like sleeper cylinders scattered around the room. Viewers may wander in, around and behind. The lighting is perfect.  


The manikins themselves  extend the story. Human sized, they have only a hint of facial features and are as white as the shells where they stand. Any measure of “ugly” or “beautiful” is erased in favor of a more relevant descriptor, wabi-sabi, the Buddhist aesthetic principle that rejects the idea of perfection. 

early Amish

The hair on these beings break the Third Dimension and sends us into Neverland! The hair is coned, braided, fluffed, and dyed into exaggerated versions of both real and alien styles; the styles “match” the story begun as “clothing.” 

In the guide that accompanies the exhibit, short quotes from the artist reside alongside rather lengthy academic explanations of Kawaskubo’s clothing-non-clothing. Sprinkled with words like “Zen koans or riddles,” mu (emptiness) and ma (space), we viewers are supposed to grasp the idea of in-between-ness, clothes-that-aren’t, wearables that mostly ignore human shapes and needs. We get it already! No need to work so hard on the explanations! 

A Quaker dress from 1700s

All wearable art stands on shoulders of a very long lineage of seamstresses-tailors-designers and clearly, Kawakubo borrows liberally. Tracing possible inspirations sends you spiraling down a rabbit hole. I know because I’m barely coming out myself and I’ve hardly scratched the research surface. 

Because this is such a rich visual story, I’ve assembled photographs of clothing that might have inspired the Comme des Garcons (like some boys) collection. I’ll try to twin them with Kawakubo’s work and you can judge for yourself.

toulouse-latrec poster (1800's)




 























Past/Present/Future (3 stages of separation: birth, marriage, death)



Tokyo Street girl
cosplay - Tokyo
Leather jacket at the Met






















Saturday, June 10, 2017

16 HOURS IN THE BIG APPLE




The High Line Gardens



Why would anybody fly to New York City for just one day?  In the category of crazy things to do on Friday, is this as frivolous as flying to Paris for lunch? Or buying a Burberry raincoat lined with mink? Or wearing diamonds on the soles of your shoes? (O.K., nobody would do that last one but Paul Simon’s lyrics are nothing short of brilliant so don’t quibble with The Simon!)

I flew to New York City Friday to attend a lecture given by one of the world’s greatest landscape designers, Piet Audolf, have lunch with assorted people I’ve never seen nor ever will again in a  converted factory building (very chic! Sushi and wine spritzers) and walk the High Line.

the High Line, well-designed benches
The event was planned by the Garden Conservency, an organization formed to show and protect significant gardens. The Conservancy plants the seeds of delight into wanna-be-gardeners  through visits to private gardens nationally and leads an educational and preservation effort in nearly every State.  This lunch/lecture was a fundraiser for the organization and as a momento, all attendees left with a copy of the magnificently illustrated book compiled by Mr. Oudolf (the chief High Line garden designer) and Rick Darke (2nd in command), GARDENS OF THE HIGH LINE.

I was in New York City ten years ago to walk through the Cristo “Gates,” a temporary art installation in Central Park. For those of you who think I somehow live on the outskirts of the City, Rochester is approximately 300 miles away. When I worked in the art biz, I got Downstate often.  But now, it simply isn’t on my way to anything. 

But here are some Friday observations.

One view from The High Line
  1. New Yorkers have no choice: they spend a lot of time and money planning local travel.  I spent 4 hours of my total 12 in NY just getting from one place to another - at a cost of slightly over $100.(Not including airfares.)  Brookings Institute says that Americans spent 175 billion hours traveling to work and play last year - mostly in private cars. Something’s wrong with this picture. As a country, we are ignoring the question of transit. It’s biting us in the backside, wallet and health. 
  2. Well-planned green spaces attract people and investment always follows people.  The High Line in NYC is absolute proof.  Built on an abandoned railroad bed, a walker on this ribbon of linear park now looks across the once derelict railyards to mushrooms of highrises. We counted at least six sky cranes. The High Line Gardens are nearly too successful! Crowds of people use this strip of planted sidewalk (with ample, well-designed benches) every day. It’s become a huge tourist attraction but locals use it as an elevated pleasant sidewalk system. Forget sports stadiums Cities: build a garden! 
  3. Thomas Friedman wrote a column for the New York Times lauding the technological advancement of China. He writes that China is out-stripping the U.S.(maybe the entire Western Industrial world) in know-how, will soon lead the world in technology and its manufacture and one of his observations: every person in China has a smart phone attached to his/her hand.  So? Has he been to New York City lately? The place is crazy-crowded and every person carried (and most, stared at) a smart phone. It looks like an invasion of zombies.  Weird…
  4. If cultural institutions measure success by numbers of visitors, The Metropolitan Museum must be #1 in the U.S.  The place was so packed that one could hardly move through the lobby. Those wide entry steps were covered with bodies. I was there to see a particular show upstairs (I’ll write about next week) and could hardly wiggled through the crowd to get close enough to see some of the exhibit. The Met is a jewel of a place. Go just to see those huge flower arrangments that grace the entry lobby.  Admission is  “what you can afford.” There’s a chart of “suggestions’ but if you spent all your money on taxi fare to get there,not to worry. You’ll still get in.  I wonder how this strategy is working?  Given numbers of attendees, is the “gate” more or less than if rigid admissions were charged?

I’m home again nursing the blisters on the bottoms of both feet, complaining about my sore knee and back and asking “was the day in NY worth the expense and effort?”  My answer: “yes, but maybe not for the reasons I expected before setting out.”




Sunday, May 28, 2017

A RICH LIFE WITH LESS STUFF

One of the series of Color Band etchings by SOL LEWITT
A friend of mine is moving. She lived in a spacious apartment for several years but now she’ll be sharing a townhome with a partner who lived in his own -  but not-quite-so-spacious  - apartment.  “Two hearts may beat as one” as the song goes but two adults sharing a house bring mountains of stuff!

I was struck by how much prioritizing will be necessary when I visited mid-move and looked around at rooms full of HER domestic collections (his will arrive in a few days) and caught sight of a bookcase IN THE KITCHEN filled with cookbooks! They own a computer so why spare the energy, space and responsibility of owning cook books? Am I missing something?

Next will be the duplicates - wine bottle openers, brooms, coffee makers -  never mind the things that come with “history” or “sentimental attachments.”  Sharing life with a partner is hard; division of closets and shelves is HUGE.

Offset lithograph by CARMEN HERRERA
I believe in “less” (the Japanese concept is called ma - open space) but I always called it “clutter free.” Today nearly sixty books (I counted) are available through Amazon with titles like “The Joy of Less,” “The Everyday Minimalist,” “The Minimalist Mom: A Rich Life with Less Stuff” and one written by singer-songwriter Ani deFranco, “More Joy, Less Shame.” Add to the reading list blogs galore. Miss Minimalist is a list maker: “100 Things Don’t Own” (more than one credit card, T.V., desk chair, video or board games, not more than 35 kitchen items.) 

Formal minimalism is the cult of extreme simplicity. Its architectural roots grow from traditional Japanese design where light, form and obsessive attention to detail were cherished goals. Landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted was a minimalist. He envisioned grand, sweeping landscapes absent the fussiness of carefully manicured boxwood edges and cleverly clipped topiaries. And so were musicians John Cage and Phillip Glass.

In art, minimalism draws a straight line back to the Bauhaus and works by painter Piet Mondrian; it became a recognizable “ism” during the 1960s and 1970s. Minimalist painters aim to strip away all reference to metaphor and expressionism. To be achieved: equality of parts, shape repetition, and neutral surfaces (flat - no texture please).  Quite often a simple geometric shape (cube, square) are starting points for endless exploration. 

To the uninitiated, minimalist art seems “easy,” cold, mechanical. With a little more time, the work reveals itself as cerebral, based on mathematical suppositions and physiological responses. Go visit the pop up gallery on 1328 University Avenue throughout the month of June.  Art representative Deborah Ronnen shares her expertise and print collection in an exhibit called MINIMAL MOSTLY.  

The space, borrowed from a studio photographer, is perfectly lighted, appropriately nude of extraneous fluff and open to the public afternoons Thursday through Saturday.  If you are very lucky, Deborah herself may be in the gallery.  Few people in our area are as tuned in to this art form as Deborah; she’s been handling work from these artists - these print houses - for decades and visitors may take advantage of her encyclopedia of experience and knowledge just by asking a few questions. 

Meanwhile, to my moving friends:  “Do not own anything that you do not believe to be useful or beautiful.” William Morris  And prepare for the compromises - he loves that picture that was his mother’s and she won’t part with that ugly plate, a gift from a grandchild. 

(But you might want to give her most of the closet and he deserves more book shelves.)
screenprint by AGNES MARTIN
(These prints are representative of pieces on view at MINIMAL MOSTLY through June, 2017.)