Sunday, February 28, 2010

Out in the World

Where to begin? My trip to New York was packed with so many things. The fact that my friend Binnie Birstein and I made it into the city at all in the midst of that strange and unending snowstorm was tale enough by itself. But that the galleries showing my Two Faves were open when so many around them were closed, was truly a miracle, fate, coincidence or a beneficence from the Goddess of Happiness.

Leonardo Drew (yes, again)
Exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., January 30 - March 6, 2010.
(Note: you can click on any of these images and they will open much larger on another page.)

Here I am, looking like the world's happiest geek-in-black, in front of a piece by Leonardo Drew.

Two of the things I discovered on this trip: (1) If you're going to blog about it, get the work's title when you take the picture. (2) Never have your own picture taken - especially in front of an artwork.

So, because of #1, I am not able to give you the title of this work but because of #2, you get an idea of the scale.

This is the way the piece looks from the side. The bottom part is strand board, I think, a type of plywood that he has worked with a tool or chisel to dig into the wood and gouge out sections. The top is both milled lumber and branches - all painted.

This is a detail of the upper right corner. It looks like studio floor sweepings with very carefully placed little thin pieces of wood - a mixture of discard, salvage and transformation.

In visiting Drew and El Anatsui, I also became more aware of the difference in the way individuals view and photograph artists' work. These two shows have been well documented by professional reviewers and bloggers. One of the foremost art bloggers is Joanne Mattera, of course, and I previously saw her photos and those taken by my friend Sue Katz. When I photographed these two artists myself, my own concentration seemed to be very different from theirs. Of course I had the benefit of already seeing and being influenced by their photos, so my eye wasn't entirely innocent.

The piece of Drew's that I liked best was not one I had seen in photos previously, so I guess that means it was not everyone's favorite.

Drew titles his works with numbers rather than names, but since I don't know the number, I'm referring to this one, my favorite, as Black Swath. I thought it looked like a brushstroke of black paint across the whole piece, and I loved the movement it added to the grid. In the same segmented way that I believe Drew constructs all his work, this piece is composed of 24" x 24" panels, and there are 5 panels across and 5 panels down, making it 10 feet x 10 feet.

Here is a detail taken more from the side showing the tightly-packed pieces of lumber that comprise the black swath.

And here is Binnie standing in front of it to give you the scale.

I guess I related more to the "smaller" works instead of the massive fill-up-the-gallery black piece that you see when you first enter. I didn't get a full picture of that piece, just a corner that I could see from the next gallery.

I found this piece a bit scary because of its size and protrusions and its location. Because the gallery was so narrow, it was impossible to get back enough from it to really view the piece, so you ended up just walking past it to get to the rest of the gallery spaces. This work should be in a much deeper space to be seen as a whole instead of just in slices.

Another of the smaller pieces that I liked was one composed of shallow boxes constructed from what looked like old window framing. It was very reminiscent of later Nevelson, as Joanne Mattera (there I am, dropping her name again) noted in her blog post that pondered whether Drew was the love child of Louise N. and Anselm Kiefer.

So here it is - a Nevelson-ish piece that is maybe six feet by six feet and only a couple of inches deep.

Here is a detail showing the surface of one of the boxes with some pencil drawing under the black-painted branch. The color is a grayed white with an aged, salvaged look.

Here's another box that looks particularly like Nevelson's work.

But no matter how much Drew might be influenced by Nevelson as a predecessor, he remains his own man - and "man" is very much what I thought of in viewing this show because of the physical work and strength required to create it. So much manly labor was invested to carry out these ideas. (Of course manly labor is not strictly the province of men - look at Ursula Von Rydingsvard for a counter example.)

Now about ideas, I know that Drew's work is about regeneration from the time-worn, discarded and decaying elements of the constructed world. His is very much an urban world with nature intruding sometimes on the human elements. I think that this show is probably less about decay since less rust is used than Drew has included in the past, but I didn't see the really urban portrayal until I looked at my photos from the show.

This is one of Drew's pieces shot from below. You can see the shadows at the bottom of the image. But how much like the densely-packed city it is!

If these pieces were on the floor, they would be a diorama of New York.

When they are shifted up to the wall, they still retain this feeling but are less obviously a portrayal.

So my first eyes-on viewing of Leonardo Drew's work provided lots of discoveries. There is nothing like coming face to face with real live art. No matter how many written descriptions, photos, podcasts or videos you may read or see, you will never know a work of art until you come in close contact with it. Moral: virtual reality is not real reality and I have to get out more.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Love in a Tiny Package

Wow, the excitement! My new teeny, tiny, little camera is so adorably cute that I am blown away by the huge, brilliant photos it takes - plus it's so quiet. All these things are something my old digital camera is not or does not do. The difference is phenomenal.

I really haven't had time to play with it, but I was in the studio today packing up my pieces to send to Tucson for the 5th Annual Encaustic Invitational at Conrad Wilde Gallery, and I shot a few photos of the work before it went out the door.

Here is the front of the card for the show - just a little plug.

Anyway, here is Tale of Shadows, encaustic and mixed media on two joined panels, 21" H x 12" W as photographed by my old camera. (By the way, all these shots will open a page for a larger image if you click on them.)

And here it is below as photographed by the new camera:

Amazing, right?

Here are a couple of other shots of this piece.

From the side showing the rubber around the edges.

At an angle showing the front and side.

Now here is the second piece, Redacted Memory, same materials and size as the first. The shot below is from the old camera:

Now here's the same shot from the new camera:

It doesn't even look like the same piece, does it? I actually think the second shot is too light. The first one has a lot more mystery - mainly because you can't quite see anything!

Here is just one more shot of Redacted Memory:

This is just the "book" at the top of the piece with rubber redacting the words from the pages underneath.

All these photos were taken in my studio with just overhead daylight fluorescents and no flash. There was light coming in through the window but it was a very dark day today and late afternoon around 4:00.

This whiz of a camera is the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS. I don't know what all the initials are but you can just call it the 780. This is actually last year's camera, I think, because the new one is the 880. This one is 12.1 mega pixels. My old camera was 5.5 megapixels and cost way more. I got a good deal on this at Best Buy in a package that included the discounted camera, a 4GB memory card, a spare battery and a carrying case - all for $239.95 plus tax. Wow! I paid nearly $900 for my last camera about 4-5 years ago.

I got this camera so I would have it for my trip to New York and could take all those stealth gallery photos. Looks like I better practice up before I start going stealth because I don't know how to use it effectively yet and these photos above were just taken with the nothing special manual setting (rather than with all the auto gadgets that recognize faces, etc.). It's so great to have a tiny new toy! Color me mighty pleased.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Encaustic by the Gallon

Whew! What a lot of work I put into the encaustic class I taught for Smith College this past week! I worked very hard getting ready for the demo and Power Point on Tuesday and then the hands-on class on Thursday, but I think it was worth it. All the students seemed to really enjoy learning about this great medium and its history as well as getting to experiment with it themselves.

It suddenly dawned on me as I was setting up that this was a huge class for teaching encaustic. Somehow when I was buying materials for 12 students, I never thought about that many people all waxing away at once. Actually there were more painters than that because some faculty joined in too.

The details: I made medium from 10 lbs of beeswax plus 2 lbs of damar resin. Then I filled 36 tins with medium and added small pieces of pigmented paint to them for the colors. Each of the four heated palettes (griddles) had six R&F Paint colors (Rose Madder, Azure Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Orange, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Green Light) plus Titanium White and Ivory Black. Each also had a deeper tin of clear medium. Each tin had a 1" brush and the medium also had a 2" brush.

Each of the 12 place settings had a 6"x6" panel and a 6" x 8" panel, with one of the two panels painted with R&F encaustic gesso. Each also had two pottery tools (one for scraping and one for incising) and three 1/2 brushes. There was also a container with 144 smaller brushes and boxes of larger brushes.

I set up two 4'x8' tables, each with three places on each side and two palettes. Heat guns were located at both ends of each table. I also had a separate station with a frying pan of medium and another heat gun. And I had a resource table with xerox copies, texture materials, pigment sticks, an iron, etc., etc. There were also the tops of the paint tins for mixing colors in. I had several uncradled boards, too, that fast workers could use if they covered both their panels.

People dug right in and started their projects. Everyone seemed to have plenty of ideas to keep them busy.

They didn't seem to need much help from me although I walked around and looked "available". I guess this was what I found to be the most difficult part of teaching - the not being needed part. What do teachers do during this part of a class? I really never thought about it before.

The three-hour class passed by pretty quickly until it was time for clean up and review of the work.

It was pretty surprising that the work varied so much from one piece to the next. These students were not artists, by the way, but mostly art history majors. This class is part of the Museum Studies program.

Apparently I missed taking photos of all the students, but I think I will be getting a copy of a short video taken by David Dempsey, teacher of the class.

And here is David Dempsey, conservator and preparator for the Smith College Museum. He developed quite an ambitious program for this course in Materials and Methods of Art, which is being taught for the first time this spring. The course syllabus is pretty amazing and takes students all the way from the manufacture of raw materials of art, through supports and tools, and then into mediums or practices such as encaustic, fresco, tempera and distemper, watercolor, oil, charcoal, relief printing, marbling and gilding. This is a course I wish I could take!

So a fun time was had by all, I learned a great deal by stepping up to this challenge and now I'm glad to get back to my own head and a quiet (and clean) studio.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Powering Up

I'm working on my Power Point presentation about encaustic for the Smith College class in Historic Methods and Materials. The 8-10 students are coming to my studio next Tuesday for a demonstration of encaustic painting and then we'll go over to Smith so I can show my PP. On Thursday they will come back and experiment with the medium themselves.

Artists painting a sculpture of Herakles, Red Figure Apulian Column Krater.
GREEK Anonymous , 4th BCE Greek Classic Ceramics
Earthenware | Italy. | New York. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

I was finally able to get this picture from a classical Greek vase dug up in Italy . The image appears on the cover of the 13th edition of Gardner's Art Through the Ages, as I saw on Amazon, but I couldn't get it from there. Neither did it turn up on the searches I made of the Metropolitan Museum which now owns the vase.  Google eventually found it at Where would we be without Google?

Here is the painter's nude assistant manning the charcoal brazier containing cylinders of molten encaustic and heated tools.

And on the other side of the statue, the bearded artist applies the paint to Herakles's lion skin cloak.

I also found an image of these tools, called cauteria in the plural (cauterium, singular), that were used to apply and smooth the wax.

I wish I knew who the figure was that is shown above the assistant. I guess it must be the god Herakles (also known as Hercules) watching his statue get painted. I didn't think that Hercules was a god, but I just read up on him and found that he was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman and so was a god. (Note: one of our dogs is named Hercules and we treat him like a god.)

Addendum: Joanne Mattera sent me some images she took of this vase at the Metropolitan Museum. These are just great for getting a sense of the size of the piece and clarity of the images.

When you look at these images, you can see that it is Daddy Zeus above the assistant on the left and then Herakles (Hercules) in the flesh looking on at the painting from the right.

You can tell it's him because of the lionskin cloak and the club.

A very big thank you to Joanne for sending me these irreplaceable images of what is believed to be the only depiction of an encaustic painter plying his trade on a statue.


On another note...

So encaustic is much on my mind, and looky here, what I got via email:

I am so happy to be included in this show and to have an image (cropped) of my work appear on the card and in the press release. I wish I could go to Tucson for the opening but it's not in the cards right now. Maybe next time. The wonder of it all is that I know just about every one of the artists included in the show thanks to the encaustic conference. And of course I know Miles Conrad from the conference, too. That is such a nice feeling to be among friends even in absentia.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Unearthing Interesting Things

I'm still organizing things in the studio. Progress is actually being made. I bought 10 or 12 new storage containers (some transparent) and have been repacking the many old books I've collected for use in my work (not as reading material but as objects to deconstruct and reuse in various ways).  I've also sorted through the materials I use for texture, and the pieces of fabric, and all the papers, the tools, the various equipment and who knows what all. The good news is that I'm getting there and I can imagine a time when I'll finish and be able to rehang some work, set up the tables and be ready to roll.

Meanwhile, in one of the innumerable pre-existing storage containers, I came across a cache of notebooks that I used when I was a student at MassArt. Of particular interest to me was one for the color class that Rob Moore taught. Here is the initial direction and first homework assignment:

1) Collect found color from magazines (enough for 4-5 weeks worth of assignments)
2) It must be continuous color 
3) Collect as many greys as possible
4) Sort by color
5) Use railroad board or chip board to mount the colors for exercises.

First Assignment:
1) Create an illusion of red:
   (A) as black
   (B) as grey
   (C) as white
in 3 separate studies, using, to define the objective, 8 other hues beyond a constant red.
2) Place all 3 studies (24 colors plus red) into a single arrangement of color and shape.
Note: choose most saturated red.
This is a perceptual problem to challenge preconceived ideas of color. Intensity of a color does not increase by lightening or darkening which only affects hue. Perception depends where the color falls in the value scale, i.e. red as opposed to yellow. You will use a red that has a constant position in the value scale but change its function relative to the colors around it. This will be affected by the size of the color shapes and saturation levels.

Wow! No wonder I didn't understand what was going on.

Hedda Sterne, Machine No. 5

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Attacking the Studio

Perhaps "attack" is the wrong word when beginning a project like this. I guess it's more like "avoid" and then begrudgingly begin.

Part of the avoidance was a back issue of Art in America that I received yesterday from Linda Cordner at the New England Wax meeting. She was kind enough to think of me when going through some old issues and seeing an article on El Anatsui.

This was a great issue of the magazine and I was very glad to page through it while eating my lunch. (Always eat as a means of avoidance is my motto.)

May 2006 issue of Art in America

There were a couple of El Anatsui pieces that I had not seen before, and I liked the way they were photographed because you could really see the texture of the aluminum bottle caps and wrappings that the pieces are made of.

This spiral piece is really fabulous looking and seems very different from his other work. It has so much dimension and the spiral seems set into the background of vertical strips. All that gold reminds me of Egyptian jewelry. It is a great piece.

So I read the article and then continued to page through. There are many other interesting articles in this issue and I am keeping it next to my chair so I can read them during future avoidance sessions.

One of the things I found in the magazine was this very amusing list by Amy Sillman. On the left are remarks that people make to artists at their openings and on the right is what they are really thinking. If you click on the image, it will open larger so you can read it more easily.

Well, by this time a couple of hours had passed and I was starting to get anxious thinking about all the work I had to do. What's happening is that I am teaching a class of Smith College students about encaustic next week at my studio. On Tuesday I will demonstrate encaustic painting and present a Power Point about the history of encaustic (with a survey of contemporary work in encaustic). Then on Thursday, the students will come back and experiment with the medium themselves. This is a class called "Historic Methods and Materials," and I believe that this is the first time the class has included encaustic in addition to oil painting, fresco, etc.

So this is what I'm contending with - a studio packed with stuff in various piles.

Messy working habits with half-completed projects strewn all over.

And barely room for me to walk around in let alone let students into.

Paint and materials for the Smith class

But worse than anything is this corner of my storage area that is (was) piled with bags of old bubble wrap, cardboard boxes and scraps of painted papers from years ago.

I'm happy to say that once I put down the magazine and got going, I tackled the bad corner first and took two shopping carts full of cardboard and old wrappings down to the trash room. I already have the cart filled and ready again with the next load. It's a relief to get at this mess and dig it out. Why did I save it all? is what I kept asking myself as I unearthed yet another bag full of bubble wrap scraps. And the answer, I guess, is because "you never know when it might come in handy." How much crap has been stored under that rubric and how good it feels to say, "I don't care."