Monday, March 29, 2010

New England Wax at the DeCordova Museum

Unfortunately, no, this heading does not mean that NEW is showing at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park. We had one of our meetings there last Saturday for a change of scene and so that we could take a look at their Biennial Exhibition*. We had a lovely catered lunch, a tiny bit of group business and then a wonderful time playing a getting-to-know-you game devised by our Chair, Kim Bernard.

Happy diners at the DeCordova lunch - Table 1

More happy diners - Table 2

Another happy group - Table 3

And still more - Table 4

A view of the whole room. You can see that we were actually seated in a gallery (the Dewey Family Gallery) and were surrounded with art.

After lunch and the brief business session, we moved our chairs to the back of the room and arranged them in a circle. We were about to play a game based on the concept of speed dating.

In this version of speed dating, we paired off in sets of two within the big circle of chairs. 

Kim explaining the game to us.

Each pair had three minutes to discuss a question that Kim asked the entire group. Some of the questions were (to the best of my recollection):

What is something you do or are that can't be seen from looking at you?
What is your greatest strength?
What is your greatest weakness?
What is the one thing you hope to accomplish in life?
What do you do for fun?
Where is the one place you would like to travel to?
If you could come back in another life, what would you be?

(If you were at the meeting and can remember any more of the questions, I wish you would post them in a comment because there were some really great ones.)

We weren't supposed to talk between partners. We abided by the rules initially, but as we grew more comfortable we kept chatting. Eventually, Kim had to resort to saying, "if you can hear me, clap once," in between sessions to get our attention. Hey, if it works for first graders...

You could either move around the room to find a partner or just stay seated and let a partner find you. Most of us did a combination. The goal was to meet and talk to everyone in the room. There were 34 of us there, I think, and we nearly succeeded in completing the whole mission before the meeting's end.

What a great time we had talking with each other and getting to break the ice with new people a little bit without the pressure of having to invent something to talk about. Even with people we thought we knew fairly well, we learned new information. Some of the questions resulted in surprisingly self-revelatory answers that were fuel for future contemplation.

I really enjoyed this meeting and didn't come away from it feeling like I had suffered through a grueling session  of minutia and group business. This really allowed us to focus on each other without stress and complications. Well done, Kim!

Coming up in my next post: sculpture from the DeCordova sculpture park.

*I was disappointed in the work included in the Biennial which I found too trendy, scattered and working very hard to seem like it had something to say without making art that looked like art. (Can I just say that nothing in art is unintentional no matter how hard you try to make it look that way.) I gave it a thumbs down - for what my opinion's worth.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Back from the Breather

Sometimes I just have to take a break from making art. It starts to feel too much like working for The Man (or The Woman, except not This Woman). There are many theories about making art and the connection to the spiritual, as in what makes art special or what makes art be art? I don't go in for a lot of that high concept stuff, but I do think that if I make art without the right emotional (or, call it spiritual if you have to) connection to the work, it will suck.

Thus, I'm just back from a breather in the interest of not making art that sucks. (Can you tell that I've been watching a lot of Anthony Bourdain?)

Reworked encaustic painting - still not renamed and still needing to be rephotographed to get it square.

Painting detail - this is not supposed to be square and it succeeds at that.

I like this painting. The colors and rhythm feel right and it looks very good in person.

I'll be back with more in a few days.

In the meantime, as Buster says, I hope you are well.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Something New

I've been in heavy day job work mode completing payroll tax forms for businesses. It does pay the bills but you really couldn't say that it feeds the soul. So here's some soul food that I've been working on - something different but related to two other recent paintings

This is Lateral Movement, encaustic and mixed media on panel, 24"x24". This is not usually the way I make a painting with a lot of expressive marks and then that hard-edged diagonal, but I thought I would experiment a little. (By the way, this image is way too screaming orange. It doesn't really look like that.)

Lateral Movement detail

It's meant to go with these two others:

All Relative, encaustic and mixed media on panel, 24" x 24"

Italian Afternoon, encaustic and mixed media on penal, 24" x 24"

I have been tinkering with the last two and renamed the second one. (In person it doesn't really suggest spaghetti sauce.)

So here is the threesome, although this image really strips the color out of them, especially the third one.

About now, I am really tired of this palette and want to move on to something entirely different. I've been kind of stuck in this orange mode for a while.

Time Out for a Whine
Although I have many ideas for paintings, I am feeling like it's not really worth making them because they will just be taking up space in my studio. This is a discouraging place to be in and I had better whup myself into shape and get my mind right. The lack of sales and shows is affecting my motivation to continue. Somehow I missed getting my name on the trust fund from the wealthy relative and have to resort to filling out tax forms and doing bookkeeping to keep the studio going. I am lucky to have those skills, but there is nothing like being able to sell paintings.

What set this decline in motion was getting rejected from the Lake Oswego show in Oregon. Remember these paintings?

In Transition, encaustic and mixed media,

Lying Beneath, encaustic and mixed media,

Prologue, diptych, encaustic and mixed media, 16"x32"

Yadda, yadda, curator's vision, crapshoot, etc.
It saved me a fortune in shipping costs and is just as well but I would rather that it had been my choice. And of course that was not a show where I would have sold anything. (God, I sound like my mother. Shoot me now.)

So this is where I am - kind of doldrumish - rattling around in my big, clean studio - starting things and not finishing - ready to just stay home and start cleaning up the yard. Spring fever?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Thread/Text/Time - an exhibition by Milisa Galazzi

Milisa (called Misa) Galazzi, a member of New England Wax, is exhibiting her work at Springfield College in Springfield, MA.. I was pleased to attend the opening reception and to hear Misa give a gallery talk. The show includes encaustic but is much more about the use of thread and other fibers in the traditionally female pursuits of making clothing, stitching embroidery and sewing lace. The "thread" of the exhibition title also refers to invisible threads tying together human communication and relationships that connect women to their families, friends and to each other over the long course of time.

Misa giving a gallery talk. Foreground: "The Bitter End" (rope piece), left wall: "She Called Me Every Sunday", right wall: "Hand Sewn Doodle Lace."

"Hatching", encaustic and oilstick on panel

Misa's Statement about the work
“In my paintings, I explored the fine line between traditional craft -- mending, fixing, sewing -- and fine art, while simultaneously making a conceptual commentary about human relationships. In these pieces, bits of old lace, thread, or rope are pressed into a bed of warm encaustic wax and delicately pulled out leaving a powerful impression symbolic of the detritus of generations of women's domestic chores long ignored as valuable work. To emphasize the texture of the missing lace, oil stick is rubbed into the ‘valleys’ and more encaustic wax is gingerly brushed onto the ‘hills’ creating a build-up of wax-like snow falling on tree limbs in winter. Delicate lines are then drawn into the wax and filled with oil stick for emphasis. These lines act as a visual metaphor which harkens back to the silk threads used to create the original lace as well as conceptually speak to the power of human interconnections.”

The show provides evidence of Misa's strong connection to family in her use of sewing patterns inherited from her aunt, embroidery hoops with embroidered and waxed text messages that recap childhood conversations with her grandmother about handwork and women's duties, a long wall full of early 20th century postcards from her grandmother's collection that document written communication and connections between children and their relatives. The postcards and embroidery hoops reminded Misa of the ongoing texting communication between herself and her teen-aged son.

"Texting Through Time". Misa has sewn antique postcards together with old bone buttons and left threads dangling where the cards are joined.

"Texting Through Time" closeup

An embroidery hoop from "She Called Me Every Sunday" with the question her grandmother asked her each week when they spoke on the phone. The question is "translated" into text-speak. The text is embroidered on an antique handkerchief and then waxed.

Larger view of the embroidery hoop piece

An encaustic dipytych titled "Nonna and Nonno" (Grandmother and Grandfather).

"Visual Poems" A wall of framed button cards and buttons with a nostalgic look. Misa finds the buttons at yard sales or antique stores and many of them are sent to her by her collectors of this work.

Closeup of an individual work in "Visual Poems" - shirt buttons on a card showing the well-dressed man of the time.

In a smaller gallery, Misa installed an airy forest of dress patterns, hung from the ceiling on fishing line, that moved in the air currents as viewers walked through them. The idea was to take viewers through the layers of patterns used in creating the encaustic painting below.

"Layers of Time", encaustic and dress patterns.

The dress pattern installation, "Layers of Time."

"Protecting," bound dress patterns with roll of crochet thread at the entry to the larger gallery.

This was a unified and well-considered exhibition that poetically brought together many aspects of work traditionally performed by women, including that of holding families and society together. Misa's gallery talk explained her work in clear language that touched on her inspiration for the work and methods of carrying it out. The exhibition continues until April 2nd.

March 1 - April 2, 2010
Blizard Gallery, Blake Hall
Springfield, MA

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hedda Sterne - Part Two

This is a continuation of my post about Hedda Sterne, an artist born in 1910, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in August. (Note: Click on any image to enlarge it.)

Hedda, ca. 1963-65, Photographer: Theodore Brauner. (Image from "Uninterrupted Flux: Hedda Sterne," a catalog of a retrospective of Sterne's work, published in 2006 by the Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, edited by Karen Hewitt, exhibition curated by Sarah L. Eckhardt. The images and quotes in this post are from this catalog.)

Hedda's second husband was Saul Steinberg, the artist probably best known today for his New Yorker magazine covers. Below is a page spread published August 27, 1951 (titled "Self Portrait With Wife") from Life magazine with Steinberg's work on the left and Hedda's on the right. (Note that the famous Irascibles photo was published in Life earlier that same year in January 1951.)

In the Uninterrupted Flux catalog, the exhibition curator, Sarah Eckhardt, divides Hedda's work into 11 categories in order to bring some order to the "consistent inconsistency" that Hedda practiced. Two of Hedda's continuing interests were machines and motion, and she visualized machines as having human characteristics that made them become "anthropographs." She thought that machines were designed as self portraits of their creators and displayed "their needs and insatiable desire for consumption."

Two notable results of Hedda's interest in machines and motion were, first, an exhibition at Betty Parsons' gallery in 1954 where tondo (round) paintings were mounted on central axes and viewers were invited to rotate the canvases as they wished. Secondly, also in 1954, Hedda was included in "Seven Painters and a Machine," where the seven were commissioned by Fortune magazine to produce their responses to a machine called the "Continuous Miner." Hedda's painting was chosen a year later for the cover of World At Work: 25 Years of Art for Fortune. In the early 1960s, Fortune arranged for Hedda to tour several John Deere factories, which provided the impetus for a series of paintings that portrayed tractors. The CEO of John Deere purchased the entire series for the company.

Tractor Seat, 1961, mixed media on heavy paper, 20 x 25 inches framed. Owned by John Deere, Moline, IL

In the 1980s Hedda painted large, architectural paintings such as the two in the page spread below from about 1982. She referred to these works as "Patterns of Thought" and "Architecture of the Mind."

Both untitled. The one on the left is 44 1/2 x 64 inches; the right one is 51 x 78 inches. They are oil and pastel on canvas.

Art as Diary/Diary as Art
It seems to me that the most appropriate way to view Hedda's work is in the context of her long life. "Maybe I am saying something which is a truism," she said, "but I feel that my work all along was like a diary." Her interests were wide ranging, she read continuously and quoted or paraphrased from her reading or conversations with "poets, novelists, philosophers and theologians." In 1976 she made her art a literal diary by      placing sections of unstretched canvas on the floor of her living space. She drew a grid on the canvas and then filled in one square each day with either a quote, her activities or her thoughts and the date. She alternated between all caps and cursive script so that the grid had a checkerboard look.

Diary, June-October 1976. Acrylic and ink markers on unstretched canvas, 103 x 54 inches.

Closeup of Diary, showing variance in handwritiing that made a checkerboard effect.

Last Drawings
In later years, Hedda suffered declines in her health that included macular degeneration. She had to stop painting in 1998 but was able to continue drawing aided by a magnifying glass and motivated by her unswerving determination and devotion to creating art. She drew hundreds of small-scale drawings in pencil, pastel and sometimes thinned Wite-Out. The drawings are untitled but dated with the date of completion.

Left: June 25, 1999, pencil and pastel on paper, 12 1/4 x 9 1/8 inches. Right: August 24, 2000, pencil and pastel on paper, 12 1/4 x 9 1/8 inches.

Untitled, May 30, 2004, pencil and pastel on paper, 12 1/4 x 9 1/8 inches.

"Sometimes I react to immediate visible reality and sometimes I am prompted by ideas, but at all times I have been moved, to paraphrase Seamus Heaney, by the music of the way things are. (One can find secret significance at the depth of the ordinary.) I believe that simplicity is an invention of man. Nature is never simple. And, the habit of careful study of the visual immediate opens our eyes to the presence of mystery in the seemingly obvious. In art the retinal, intellectual, and spiritual necessarily collaborate, alternating in importance. Art is essentially revelatory. The desire for clarity drives us....

"And through all this pervades my feeling that I am only one small speck (hardly an atom) in the uninterrupted flux of the world around me."     Based on a conversation with Sarah Eckhardt, May 30, 2004.

Hedda Sterne, ca. 1977. Photographer probably Lillian Bristol.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Virtual Connection Made Real

One recent night/morning about 1:30 a.m. or so, I was writing a blog post when I received an email telling me that a comment had just been posted to my blog. It was from a woman named Veronique Lindenberg. She had idly googled 'Hedda Sterne' and turned up my blog post from April 2009 headed "Who Was That Woman?," a post I had written about Hedda Sterne. Veronique told me that Hedda Sterne was very much alive at the age of  99 1/2 years and was strong, still struggling with life and eating with appetite.

Hedda Sterne in the 1950s as photographed by Margaret Bourke-White. (Image from "Uninterrupted Flux: Hedda Sterne," a catalog of a retrospective of Sterne's work, published in 2006 by the Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, edited by Karen Hewitt, exhibition curated by Sarah L. Eckhardt. Most of the images in this post are from this catalog.)

I recognized the name Lindenberg as being Hedda's birth name and surmised that Veronique was a relative. In fact, Veronique is Hedda's niece who lives in Paris and was visiting Hedda in New York.

In the midst of my six-part post about Mark Rothko, I had become intrigued with Hedda Sterne, an artist who was working in New York at the same time that the Abstract Expressionists were flourishing in the '40's and '50s. Hedda did not identify her work as belonging to that movement but was tagged with it because of her inclusion in a famous photo that had been published in Life magazine in 1951. That photo, taken by Nina Leen, showed 14 male artists and Hedda Sterne. They (along with several other artists - male and female - from the club at Studio 35) had written a letter to the director of the Metropolitan Museum protesting the conservatism of the museum's jurors for group shows, and the letter made the front page of the New York Times.

L to R: Theodoros Stamos, Jimmy Ernst, Barnett Newman, James Brooks, Mark Rothko, Richard Pousette-Dart, William Baziotes, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Rotert Motherwell, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlied, Ad Reinhardt, Hedda Sterne. The protesting artists were termed "The Irascibles."

Veronique and I emailed back and forth a few times, and when she found that I was visiting New York, suggested that we meet to chat and visit some galleries together. She also wanted to see the exhibition of Betty Parsons' work at Spanierman Gallery since Betty Parsons had been Hedda's longtime art dealer and personal friend.

Unfortunately, the snowstorm that New York experienced last weekend curtailed our plans, but Binnie and I did meet Veronique in Chelsea at the El Anatsui show and had lunch together.

Here are Binnie Birstein (left) and Veronique (right) across from me at lunch.

Veronique is the daughter of Hedda's brother Edouard, who was a conductor in Paris. (Edouard and his mother emigrated from Romania to Paris in the late 1940s while Hedda moved to New York in 1941.)

Hedda and her brother "Edi" about 1915. Veronique told me she was always surprised by how old the faces of these children looked.

Not only did Veronique meet and talk to us about Hedda, but she graciously presented me with a copy of the now out of print catalog of Hedda's 2006 retrospective. The title of the catalog refers to Hedda's view of her work and of life itself. She feels that she is "only one small speck (hardly an atom) in the uninterrupted flux of the world around me." (quoted in the U.F. catalog, p. 2)

The cover of the catalog shows Hedda's "Machine 5" of 1950.

Hedda's Story
Veronique told us that she had met Hedda for the first time at about age 16 after the death of her father. She visited New York and stayed with Hedda, but her aunt had little time for her teenaged niece since her life was devoted to making art. Veronique described a somewhat stern aesthete who viewed making art as her life's work and let few things interfere with that mission. Over time the relationship between Hedda and Veronique has developed strong bonds. They are now each other's only living relative. As Hedda nears the century mark of her life in August, Veronique treasures her three or four visits a year to New York. She says that although Hedda is no longer able to make art, she remains a philosopher of life and retains her wisdom and humor. She speaks four or five languages and converses with Veronique in both French and English.

Hedda in the 1930s in Paris before she emigrated to the U.S.

What motivated Veronique to contact me was my understanding of how annoyed Hedda must have been that she was known to posterity mainly because of her inclusion in the "Irascibles" photo. Hedda was very much her own woman. She had a long career of making and showing art that defied categorization because of her insistence that she be free to pursue whatever interested her in a style she thought appropriate.

A story that Veronique told me demonstrated that Hedda became aware of independent thinking early on. At age three, Hedda was in a group of relatives mourning the death of Hedda's uncle. She was crying, as were the rest of those gathered. Hedda suddenly had a thought that she did not feel sad and so she stopped crying. She recognized this as a personal choice and evidence that she could think unique thoughts and determine her behavior regardless of those what those around her thought or did.

Hedda was involved in the Romanian art scene from an early age and studied the work of avant-garde European artists as well as classical plaster casts and old master paintings. After high school, she initially enrolled at the University of Bucharest where she intended to study philosophy and art history, but instead decided to pursue her artistic training independently. Her first solo trip to Paris in 1930 allowed her to work in the Academie de la Grand Chaumiere and the atelier of Fernand Leger. She became intrigued by (but not fully committed to) surrealism and traveled between Paris and Bucharest with study trips to Greece, Egypt and Spain.

An early untitled Surrealist-influenced collage by Hedda , about 1941.

Hedda's first public exhibit in 1938 showed work that was influenced by surrealism and dadaism. However, Hedda differed in her approach to creating work; she believed not in the surrealists' automatism, but instead saw herself as an instrument of the ideas being expressed and the translator of abstract ideas into visual language. This allowed her a much more active role in the creation of art that depended less on chance than on her freeing herself from superfluous influences so that she could become a "more perceptive and better performing instrument." (U.F. catalog, p. 5)

Hedda's Work
Here are a few examples of Hedda's work showing the range of the styles and subject matter that she chose.

"Monument", ca. 1949-51, oil on canvas, 52 x 30 inches.

Monotype, Untitled 1949, 18 x 13 inches, Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, University of llinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2002-3-3, Gift of the artist.

"Totem Pole I [N.Y., N.Y. #17]", 1949, Oil on canvas, 38 x 16 inches.

"Annalee Newman", 1952, Oil on canvas, 78 x 34 inches, collection of Priscilla Morgan. (Annalee was Barnett Newman's wife. The Newmans were friends of Hedda and then-husband Saul Steinberg.)

"Tractor Seat", 1961, mixed media on heavy paper, 20 x 25 inches (framed), John Deere, Moline, IL.

To be continued... (see Part II here