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Posts Tagged ‘artist’

Photo: Shanna Lewis for KRCC
Muralist Valrie Eisemann is among the first four artists to work on the new levee wall in Pueblo, Colorado. She’s creating a mandala, KRCC reports.

Last month, I pondered the challenges presented over time by public art in the form of statues of historical figures. In the past, art that could last through the ages — Michelangelo’s “David,” for example, and the stone lions on the Greek island of Delos — was highly valued. Even painted frescoes were made to last, with pigments worked into plaster.

Nowadays, murals on buildings are proliferating, and I’m thinking that transitory art like that is a good idea. It’s OK for them to be painted over, worn out, or recreated with a new vision.

Today’s story is about a group of artists in Colorado doing just that.

Shanna Lewis reports for KRCC, “Bright colors have blossomed once again on the concrete face of Pueblo’s Arkansas River levee. Paintings are going up in an effort to reclaim a lost public art space and the title of the world’s largest outdoor mural.

“Muralist Valrie Eisemann of LaVeta is among the first of four artists to work on the new levee wall. Using paint donated by a local recycling company, as well as some that she bought herself, she’s creating a colorful mandala. …

“Muralists have to rope up for safety to work on the steeply sloped concrete. But that isn’t slowing any of them down.

“Each artist will bring their own unique vision and ideas to the project. Celeste Velazquez of Pueblo said her imagery is of a native woman that references the Azteca community, as well as Toltec and Olmec cultures.

“ ‘She’s going to have like four arms, almost like a shaman and there’s going to be the spirit Quetzalcoatl in the back of her in her native tent,’ Velazquez said.

“Puebloan Thomas Garbiso’s piece is a mountain view along I-70. … Aurora artist Kalyn Connolly’s design is of a deer with Colorado flora and fauna on its antlers, including columbines, crows and white butterflies.

“All the artists are excited to be among the first brush paint on the levee since construction to repair it started six years ago. … According to [artist and levee mural coordinator Cynthia Ramu], since the 1970s, hundreds of people helped create the murals that once lined the levee.

“ ‘Eventually, it became like a storybook for a lot of people,’ Ramu said. … Some of [the story] is literally underfoot because the concrete with the old murals was torn off during the repair project and then ground up and used to create a walking trail for the top of the levee. …

“She said, ‘I feel so excited at the possibility. It’s kind of like moving forward. It’s just endless possibility.’

Pueblo Arts Alliance director Karen Fogelsong agreed. … ‘One of my favorite things is to see beautiful art go on yucky cement,’ Fogelsong said. ‘So let’s put beauty on top of it. On viaducts on levees, on the sides of buildings, wherever we can make it beautiful.’

“Fogelsong thinks if Pueblo can regain the world record, it’ll draw tourists to the area to see it. The current record is held by a mural in South Korea that’s more than 254,000 square feet — so a lot of art is needed again to beat that.

“It could happen though. More applications for new murals are rolling in and creative energy is flowing along this part of the Arkansas River.”

More here.

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Maria Popova at the blog Brain Pickings is an endless source of inspiration. Whether she is posting about art, nature, philosophy, or children’s books, she’s a treasure. 

Today I want to dip into her report on an out-of-print book featuring an artistic rendering of the wonders of the Great Barrier reef. Considering how fast the optimal conditions for the reef are being lost to global warming and the ocean’s higher carbon levels, it might be a good idea to think about how it looked in 1893.

Popova begins, “While the German marine biologist Ernst Haeckel was salving his fathomless personal tragedy with the transcendent beauty of jellyfish, having enraptured Darwin with his drawings, his English colleague William Saville-Kent (July 10, 1845–October 11, 1908) was transcending his own darkness on the other side of the globe with the vibrant, irrepressible aliveness of the Great Barrier Reef and its astonishing creatures. 

“By the end of his adolescence, William had survived the unsurvivable. The youngest of ten children, he lost his mother when he was seven.”

Suzanne’s Mom pauses here to let you read what else was “unsurvivable,” including murder most foul.

“William was shaken by the inordinate share of loss, violence, and public shame he had accrued in so young a life. Taking refuge in the impartial world of science, he came to study under the great biologist and comparative anatomist T.H. Huxley, who had coined the term agnosticism and who had so boldly defended Darwin’s evolutionary ideas against the reactionary tide of opposition a decade earlier.

“Upon completing his studies, Saville-Kent received an appointment in the Natural History department of the British Museum as curator of coral. He grew enchanted with these beguiling, poorly understood creatures; he also grew bored with the museum position — he longed to do research, to contribute to the evolving understanding of these living marvels. …

“As Saville-Kent approached forty, his old mentor T.H. Huxley — by then the most prominent British life-scientist after Darwin’s death a year earlier — recommended him as inspector of fisheries in Tasmania. Saville-Kent left England and the dark specter of his youth for the bright open seas of the South Pacific, where he grew newly enchanted with the lush underwater wonderland of strange-shaped corals and echinoderms, frilly anemones and tentacled mollusks, fishes in colors that belong in a Kandinsky painting, creatures he had marveled at only as dead and disjointed museum specimens or segregated aquarium captives, creatures he had never imagined. 

“Determined to bring public awareness and awe to this otherworldly ecosystem — an ecosystem that in the century since his time has grown so gravely endangered by human activity that it might not survive another century — he authored the first popular science book on that irreplaceable underwater world. In 1893, several years before the German oceanographer published the gorgeously illustrated first encyclopedia of deep-sea cephalopods, Saville-Kent published The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: Its Products and Potentialities — a pioneering encyclopedia of one of Earth’s most luscious and delicate ecosystems, illustrated with a number of Saville-Kent’s black-and-white photographs and several stunning color lithographs by two artists, a Mr. Couchman and a Mr. Riddle, based on Saville-Kent’s original watercolors.” More at Brain Pickings, here.

One thing I love about Brain Pickings is the way Maria Popova’s own brain makes such interesting connections. At the end of almost every post she links to other posts on topics that may seem unrelated on the surface but play off each other in an interesting way. Her approach is a bit like suggesting an unusual cheese to go with your wine.

Illustration from William Saville-Kent’s book Fishes from The Great Barrier Reef of Australia, 1893. (Maria Popova at Brain Pickings makes it available as a print and as a face mask!)

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Art: Diana Beltrán Herrera
The artist makes birds and other wildlife from paper and in recent years has started to use her art to support nonprofits fighting for the environment.

Although it is not new for artists to celebrate nature — a compulsion dating at least to prehistoric cave paintings — there’s a new sense of urgency in the era of global warming.

In a 2018 article in the New York Times, for example, 12 artists described how the crisis is influencing their work.

Here artist Xavier Cortada explains to the Times why he made a work showing residential street numbers underwater. “In response to South Florida’s vulnerability to rising sea levels, the village of Pinecrest, Florida will encourage its 6,000 households to install an ‘Underwater HOA [Homeowner Association]’ yard sign (similar to the 18- by 24-inch ‘Home for Sale’ yard signs used by realtors) on their front lawns during the first week of December. I numbered each yard sign from 0 to 17 feet (the municipality’s land elevation range) to show how many feet of melted glacial water must rise before a particular property is underwater.” Oy.

860_climate_change_and_artArt: Xavier Cortada
This painted sign is a marker that someone can plant in their yard showing that the property would be underwater with a sea-level rise of five feet.

Meanwhile, the fascinating website This Is Colossal has for some years been following the amazing paper creations of Diana Beltrán Herrera as she expands from birds she knows to environments she has never seen to helping nonprofits battle climate change.

Grace Ebert writes, “In 2012, Bristol-based artist Diana Beltrán Herrera [began] sculpting impeccably layered paper birds and other wildlife as a way to record her surroundings. Her lifelike pieces continuously have captured nature’s finely detailed and minuscule elements, like the fibrous texture of feathers and the veins running through leaves.

“Today, the artist has expanded the practice to include exotic species and environments she’s never seen up close, developing her paper techniques to express the more nuanced details of the shapes and textures she studies in biology books. Now focusing on the structural elements of fungi, fruit, and florals, Beltrán Herrera shares with Colossal:

‘Paper as a medium for documentation allows me to register and create notions and ideas of subjects that I have not experienced in real life but that I can experience when a sculpture is completed. I like this approach because it is not harmful, and through my work, I can show and tell my viewers about the things I have been learning, of the importance of nature just by researching and making it myself.’

“Much of her work centers on conservation efforts and environmental justice. For example, a recent commission by Greenpeace UK bolstered the organization’s Plastic Free Rivers campaign. ‘I am constantly looking for more subjects that are relevant to the times we are living in, so that through my work I can communicate important information that can educate or just make things more visible.’ …

“Her hope is to merge graphic and digital design with her paper pieces, potentially adding in animation, as well. Ultimately, her goal is to dive into larger projects. ‘I don’t see my work as something I want to know how to make and stay safe, but as a challenge, that will always allow me to wonder how to execute and create things that were never made with paper,’ she says.” More.

Other Colossal articles on the artist’s work can be found here. Follow her on Instagram, @dianabeltranherrera.

A musical composition created from climate-change data is another example of using an art to raise consciousness about the current state of the natural world.  From the website Science News for Students.

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Art: Liu Xiaodong
“Thank you 2020.4.9” (2020), watercolor on paper, at New York City’s Lisson Gallery.

People from around the world often perceive New Yorkers as brash, rude. But if you have spent any time in the city, you know there’s another side, a side that is helpful and kind, that will drop everything to give a stranger detailed directions to the Empire State Building or a place to buy the freshest lychee nuts.

During the height of the pandemic, artist Liu Xiaodong seems to have seen the generosity, humanity, and vulnerability of New Yorkers and to have captured it in his watercolors.

John Yau writes at Hyperallergic, “Charles Baudelaire said in his 1863 essay that the ‘painter of modern life’ is the ‘passionate observer’ who can be ‘away from home and yet […] feel at home anywhere.’

“Among contemporary artists, the Chinese observational painter Liu Xiaodong is the closest embodiment of Baudelaire’s ideal that I know. For years, he has been, in the words of Baudelaire, an ‘independent, intense, and impartial spirit’ who observes the ‘ebb and flow’ of the world around him. This has led him to set up a temporary studio near an orphanage in Greenland and one among Uyghur jade miners in China’s harsh northwest. …

“In 1978, when Liu was 15, his family sent him to live with his uncle, who had studied Western painting at the Jilin Academy of Fine Arts and had gone on to become the art editor of a magazine. His uncle taught him watercolor, and showed him the books he had about English watercolors, European oil painting, and the Peredvizhniki, a group of late 19th-century Russian realists who believed that Russia and its people possessed an inner beauty.

“The date of 1978 is significant: it is two years after the death of Mao Zedong, the end of the Cultural Revolution, and the Tangshan earthquake, which devastated the region where he and his family lived. Born in 1963, Liu belongs to a generation that has both witnessed and been directly affected by the convulsive social, political, and economic changes that China has undergone during Mao’s lifetime, and since his death. …

“His instinct to respond to what is directly in front of him with whatever medium he has on hand endows his views with an unrivaled propinquity. He is, to cite Baudelaire, at the very center of the world he is depicting, and unseen by it. …

“[A recent exhibition provided] a visual and written record of a specific area of Manhattan, determined by what he can walk to.

Liu made his watercolors during an extreme period in New York’s history, starting with the empty streets during the first months of the COVID-19 quarantine, and including the Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations in response to the video-recorded murder of George Floyd.

“Even in this acute moment in our history, he is able to slow down his looking to find and celebrate the beauty of human determination, as well as recognize feelings of wariness and displacement. …

“The watercolor ‘Kitchen Paper cannot be flushed down the Toilet, right, 2020’ [is] a wonderful tonal view of a roll of paper towels resting on a toilet tank, a quick yet careful placing of pale yellows, blues, off whites, and grays. …

“[But] the range of subjects and views underscores a person who is remarkably open to the world, from a blooming tree, to children’s toys left at a park, to an evening view of the top of the Empire State Building, seen between two buildings, to a homeless man’s legs sticking out of a doorway. … You never get the feeling that he is looking for something; there is no hierarchy to what he chooses. …

“As Manhattan transitioned from the largely empty streets of the quarantine to demonstrations and large groups of police, Liu kept looking, kept going out, and kept making watercolors and taking photographs, to work on later.  His attention to detail, to the color and light, is masterful and precise. … The merging of mark and color, and his sensitivity to light and dark, feel effortless, though we know they are not. This is Liu’s genius; there are no signs of hesitation in his work.

“In Liu’s watercolors and painted-over photographs, the viewer encounters scenes in which hand, eye, and intelligence work in astonishing tandem. … We are the lucky beneficiaries of a vision at once candid and sophisticated, open and sincere, witty and compassionate — an unlikely combination in this dark, nerve-fraying, and isolating period in history.”

To see an array of Liu Xiaodong’s New York paintings, go to Hyperallergic, here. And fall in love with that city all over again.

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Photo: Marta Grossi at My Modern Met

I love recent stories in which the discomfort of quarantine has spurred the isolated to adapt in interesting ways. Today’s article features an artist who found herself looking at her sink much more than usual.

Darcy Schild writes at Insider, “Marta Grossi is an artist and creative director who was quarantined in Milan, Italy, when she found an innovative way to make handwashing a magical experience. Grossi was running low on her traditional painting paper, so she started applying watercolors directly to the sink in her bathroom. …

“Grossi recalled the day she first picked up her watercolor brush at the bathroom sink …  after returning home from the grocery store, the one place (aside from pharmacies or to seek medical care) where citygoers in Milan were allowed to go at the beginning of lockdown orders. …

” ‘Everything felt apocalyptic in the city. I was hearing helicopters 24/7,’ said Grossi. ‘The alarm was extreme. I was a bit upset coming back from my errand, and I just wanted to wash everything off,’ she said.

“As she was washing her hands, she noticed her small watercolor tray sitting on the sink ledge, which she had used earlier in the day.

‘Suddenly, I don’t know what happened, but I started to paint,’ she said. ‘I started with branches and then filled in colors of a cherry blossoms. In that moment, I lost all track of time, and all my thoughts about what was going on washed away.’ …

“Grossi’s on-a-whim painting made her smile each time she returned to the sink to wash her hands, she said, so the concept stuck.

” ‘I started leaving the designs in the sink overnight and not washing [my hands] in that sink until the next day,’ Grossi said.

“The sink also became a canvas of sorts for Grossi. [She] began to run low on her supply of traditional drawing and painting paper, which she said she was saving to use for client projects and for pieces that were donated to a hospital. That’s when the apartment’s bathroom sink came into play.

” ‘It was about being able to use my hands to create something that was familiar, but also new to me,’ Grossi said of the sink watercolor method. …

“Grossi said it’s important to start with a dry surface or else the watercolor paints get hard to control, but that the challenge of a unique canvas made her artwork even more enjoyable.

” ‘It became my way to be present,’ she said. ‘These are the instruments I knew how to use to stay in the moment and to not let things that are out of my control affect me.’

“After admiring her designs for a day, Grossi turns on the faucet and rinses out the sink, then starts fresh with a new creation. Grossi said the act of filming her designs wash away has been soothing for her, as well as her growing fanbase.

” ‘The comments I got, even from strangers, were about what my next design would be, or telling me how the art was helping them,’ said Grossi. ‘This started as a necessity in a very bad moment and came therapeutic, not only for me, but for many others.’

Grossi says her sink designs are an example of temporary art, which, to her, reflects the importance of cherishing life in the moment. … By washing the designs away, it marks a new day, Grossi said, and ‘mirrors what’s going on in the real world — that there are beautiful moments even in the scary and unknown.’

“At the very least, the unexpected designs have been one way to make constant handwashing more enjoyable, Grossi said. ‘I translated this into something beautiful. If I wash my hands, I see flowers, I see the sea, I see animals. This changed my perspective on what was becoming so routine.’ …

“Grossi said she hopes to someday create an exhibit full of painted sinks inspired by her quarantine ritual because, in her opinion, sinks and the monotony of handwashing will ‘always be a symbol of what we all went through collectively’ during the pandemic.”

You really have to see these watercolors. Click here. And there’s more at the site My Modern Met, here.

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This yew watercolor is one of many lovely illustrations by 19th century poet Rebecca Hey for an encyclopedia of trees. The rare book is reviewed by Maria Popova at Brainpickings. More images from Sylvan Musings, or, The Spirit of the Woods, here.

If you are not already following the blog or Twitter feed of Maria Popova at Brainpickings, you’re missing some very thoughtful commentary on the arts and sciences.

One of the many things I appreciate about her is the way she ties in related topics. For example, at the end of her post about 19th century poet/artist Rebecca Hey’s illustrations for an encyclopedia of trees, she suggests complementing the book with “Art Young’s imaginative Rorschach silhouettes of trees from the 1920s, Walt Whitman on the wisdom of trees, modern-day poetic naturalist Robert Macfarlane on what trees teach us about healthy relationships, and the inspiring illustrated story of Wangari Maathai’s tree-planting as resistance and empowerment, which made her the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, then revisit the stunning celestial art of the self-taught 17th-century German astronomer and artist Maria Clara Eimmart.” (Wow, talk about someone with a “catholic” taste!)

In her review, Popova quotes William Blake: ” ‘The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. … As a man is, so he sees.’…

“Perched partway in time between Blake’s time and ours, and partway in sensibility between the poetic and the scientific, Sylvan Musings, or, The Spirit of the Woods (public library | public domain) is, as far as I am aware, the world’s first encyclopedia of wild trees.

“Having resolved to face the new year like a tree, I came upon this forgotten treasure through the joyous gateway of serendipitous discovery — a bygone pleasure of atomic literature rarely accessible in our search-governed digital culture, always corralling us toward what we already know we are looking for.

“In the midst of a research project involving Mary Shelley, I acquired a rare surviving copy of the pioneering 1849 encyclopedia to which Shelley spent five years contributing short biographies of eminent scientists; one advertisement in the front matter of this fragile pocket-sized time travel device caught my eye. …

“Of the very few female authors published in the nineteenth century, many appeared under male pseudonyms or ungendered initials. (This tradition would carry well into the twentieth century, leading the young Rachel Carson to publish her revolutionary marine masterpiece under the byline ‘R.L. Carson.’) …

“ ‘Mrs. William Hey’ is Rebecca Hey — a poet, painter, and amateur naturalist. (Lest we forget, all women of scientific bent had to be ‘amateurs’ by virtue of being excluded from both formal higher education and the scientific societies of the time. …

“Each chapter opens with one of Hey’s handsomely hand-colored engravings of the tree’s leaves at the tip of a branch and closes with one of her original poems celebrating the species. Nestled between is the natural history of the tree, punctuated by thoughtfully chosen quotations from literary classics, both poetry and prose. …

“I have endeavored to restore and digitize a number of them, making them available as prints, with proceeds benefiting the Arbor Day Foundation, whose noble reforestation work and sylvan stewardship are more and more needed as we watch fires consume the ancient forests that have long been the lungs of this irreplaceable planet.”

Don’t you love the way the character of this writer shines through in her review? She does request donations at her site, and I think I have borrowed enough from her today to spur me to go there now and do my duty.

Do check out the wonderful array of tree watercolors at Brainpickings, here.

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Photos: Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Suida-Manning Collection
Luisia Roldán’s “Education of the Virgin” (1689–1706). Detail, preconservation. Mary is the child reading at her mother’s knee.

I like thinking about the career of this 17th century sculptor and her subject in the terracotta above, whether she chose the topic or it was commissioned. We see Mary’s parents encouraging her reading, and I know that to rise to her official position in the court of the last Habsburg king, Luisa Roldán had support from her parents, too.

Lydia Pyne writes at Hyperallergic, “In 1692, the sculptor Luisa Roldán was invited to take up the post of Escultora de Cámara in the court of Spain’s last Habsburg king, Charles II. A well-established artist long before her court appointment, Roldán’s sculptures were commissioned by Spanish aristocrats and royalty and her works were widely circulated — they were sent to Mexico and England during her lifetime. She was Spain’s first recorded female artist, learning the craft from her father, the sculptor Pedro Roldán.

Luisa Roldán is easily the most famous sculptor you’ve never heard of.

“Roldán’s work is characterized by small-scale terracotta sculptures like ‘Education of the Virgin’ (1689-1706). … Historically, her small, painted polychrome terracotta sculptures would have been used for private devotion in homes or private chapels. …

“ ‘Education of the Virgin’ portrays an encounter between the young Virgin Mary and her parents, Saints Anne and Joachim. Anne holds a book as Mary reads, Mary’s finger carefully keeping her place on the page. In the bottom right corner, a small, cherubic angel presents a woven basket filled with swaddling cloth. The scene emphasizes Anne’s role in actively managing Mary’s education, both spiritual and secular. …

“The sculpture underscores the importance of children’s religious training, for both boys and girls, and originally served as a didactic template for children’s spiritual and secular education — education that would have been facilitated through the household’s matriarch.

“By the 17th century, terracotta had long been an interim medium for sculptors — something used to work out a rough plan or idea, but not for a final piece. This changed with Roldán. …

“Many Roldán sculptures also allowed for audience participation through detached figures that could be moved and arranged by audiences, thus offering a blueprint for the hugely popular Neapolitan crèches and, centuries later, Fontanini Nativity sets. …

“Terracotta is an extremely fragile medium and ‘Education of the Virgin’ is among only 20 or so of Roldán’s sculptures to survive. The Blanton’s conservation efforts have highlighted the complexity of these artworks as well as the intricate multimedia material makeup of the sculpture as it existed in the 1600s. …

“Luisa Roldán’s career emphasizes her familial network and connections. Her father taught her and her sisters to sculpt; her husband, Luis Antonio de los Arcos, was a carver in Pedro’s workshop; and her brother-in-law Tomás de los Arcos painted many of her sculptures. Luis Antonio would eventually manage Roldán’s workshop, rather than taking commissions for his own work. Within the social confines of 17th-century Spain, Roldán managed to carve out a successful, respected place as an artist.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

The sculpture following its conservation at the Blanton Museum of Art.

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Photo: Christie’s
Alireza Hosseini, a refugee from Afghanistan, says of his 2019 painting “Embrace God”: “I was a man who did not know a god. I went to a sage and he told me to imagine two chairs: one for me, the other for God.” (Story at the
Guardian,)

It can be discouraging being a refugee if your new countrymen see you more as a concept than an individual. That is why a program in France, though struggling itself, has been determined to do something that opens minds.

PBS NewsHour‘s “Arts Canvas” recently posted a report by Jeffrey Brown on letting refugees tell their stories through their art.

“JEFFREY BROWN: Portraits of migration, the troubles faced along the way, the trauma of making a new home.

“ABDUL SABOOR: I’m from Afghanistan, but, sometimes, I say from nowhere.

“BROWN: Photographer Abdul Saboor experienced it himself. In Afghanistan, he says, he worked in transportation for the U.S. Army, but fled when the Taliban began threatening him and his family. During a harrowing two-year journey, part of it spent in an abandoned train station in Serbia, he began taking pictures with a donated camera.

“SABOOR: When I show to the people, I say, that’s not normal, how we lived there.

“BROWN: His photographs became a bridge to overcome language and other barriers and raise awareness about the plight of refugees, which he continues to do in Paris. … Saboor is one of some 200 refugee artists from more than 40 countries now getting support from the Agency of Artists in Exile.

“On our visit to its makeshift building off the Seine River, an Ethiopian man belted out a traditional song with accompaniment from this phone. Across the hall, a Yemeni woman used her vast trail of official asylum-seeking papers, accumulated over two years of navigating France’s legal process, to create an art installation. … And a Kurdish actor who fled Turkey practiced a monologue about his first days in Paris. …

“Judith Depaule is director of the studio, which opened in 2017 with funding from the French Ministry of Culture.

“JUDITH DEPAULE: In the beginning, you are, like, in the state of shock. … because nobody wants you there. It’s difficult. You have to do a lot of papers. … It’s like a panic. …

“BROWN: President Emmanuel Macron has sought to criminalize illegal border crossings, while tightening restrictions on asylum, even as far-right parties in the country call for more.

“But France also has a long tradition of being a sanctuary for artists, including Pablo Picasso and James Baldwin. The idea here was to give artists a place to connect with one another, to work on and exhibit their crafts, and to help with all the practical challenges of living as a refugee.

“ARAM TASTEKIN (through translator): First of all, they helped us find a place to live. Secondly, they helped us get a work visa, find a lawyer. Some people needed psychologists, things like that.

“BROWN: Kurdish actor and drama teacher Aram Tastekin fled Turkey in late 2017. So, why did you leave Turkey?

“TASTEKIN (through translator): Because it’s complicated living there. I’m a conscientious objector. I am anti-military. I’m an artist who tries to make art and theater in the Kurdish language, to protect the Kurdish language. But when we make Kurdish art or theater, they always say it is terrorist propaganda. And that really hurts. How can a language be terrorist propaganda?

“BROWN: In 2018, graffiti artist and painter Ahlam Jarban fled her native Yemen amid its years-long civil war. She says she faced added persecution for her family’s Somali and Ethiopian roots and for her wanting to be an artist as a woman. She left everyone and everything behind, and says she still doesn’t know if it was the right decision.

“AHLAM JARBAN: Because, all of us, we are we are without our families. So we feel lonely. We feel — there is a lot of problem. But when we are together, when we speak, when we share this story, it makes us a little less stressed, make us little — keep fighting. So it is good to have this place. …

“BROWN: To further make its case and showcase its artists, the agency recently presented its third annual month-long festival titled Visions of Exile. …

“JARBAN: When they see our artwork, they don’t see it as a refugee. This see it as artist, and artist make this thing. We do all this journey to be something. We have hope, and we are human before we come.” More here.

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Photo: Laure Joliet
Important shows are proliferating for 98-year-old artist Luchita Hurtado. “Luchita Hurtado. Dark Years” — was on view at New York’s Hauser & Wirth gallery earlier this year, and more exhibits are scheduled around the world.

In my after-kids career, I had jobs in which my colleagues were nearly always decades younger than me. I didn’t want to tell anyone my age. If the workplace celebrated birthdays, I didn’t want anyone to know when mine was. On Facebook, my date of birth is still visible only to me (and Facebook, alas).

So I loved what this artist who’s getting big shows at 98 had to say about revealing her age.

‘The older I get, the more I want to tell you how old I am,’ the 98-year-old artist Luchita Hurtado says, gesturing toward the paintings in her Los Angeles studio. ‘I’m showing off. Sometimes I feel that I’m really overdoing it.’

Maybe if I get to 98 with all my marbles, I will feel the same.

Anna Furman writes at the New York Times, “On a cloudless afternoon in October, I meet the artist Luchita Hurtado, 98, in her Santa Monica home studio — a sand-colored three-story building a 20-minute walk from the Pacific Ocean. Inside, her riotously colorful paintings — in which genderless figures transform into trees — animate the walls of her compact 145-square-foot studio, interspersed with dried leaves and a framed rare butterfly. …

“She recounts searching for Olmec colossal heads from a two-seater plane above San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán; camping at the Lascaux Cave in southern France before the site closed permanently to the public in 1963; posing for Man Ray, and forging friendships with Frida Kahlo, Isamu Noguchi and Leonora Carrington. …

“Hurtado has recently experienced a rise to fame that has been thrilling to witness — albeit maddening in its lateness. … In her expansive oil paintings, ink-based drawings, fabric collages and patterned garments, Hurtado explores what she sees as the interconnectedness of all beings. Her paintings from the ’70s [represent] women as sacred beings, powerful subjects of their own lives. …

“Born in the seaside town of Maiquetía, Venezuela, in 1920, Hurtado migrated to New York at age 8. At the then-all-girls high school Washington Irving, she studied fine art and developed a keen interest in anti-fascist political movements. [At one point], she supported herself by creating imaginative installations for Lord & Taylor and fashion illustrations for Vogue — at night, she created totemic figure drawings with watercolor and crayon. …

“ ‘Luchita has always had this very fluid identity, which makes her art so 21st century,’ says the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, who is organizing her retrospective in London. ‘We have to contextualize her clearly with the historic avant-garde, because she is a contemporary of Frida Kahlo, she knew Diego Rivera and was married to Wolfgang Paalen, a key figure of surrealism — and she is a key figure of spiritual surrealism, with a connection to pre-Columbian art, but we cannot lock her in that.’…

“Hurtado possesses the grace of someone who has not spent her life promoting her art, but quietly and diligently producing it — at her kitchen table, in backyards and closets and, at one point, in a stand-alone studio in the Santa Monica Canyon. …

‘I never stopped drawing, looking, living,’ she tells me. ‘It’s all the same thing, all solving your own life. …

” ‘I remember my childhood more and more,’ Hurtado tells me, tucking a tortoiseshell comb into her hair, which she had cut short herself the day before. She shares memories from Venezuela — hiding under fan-shaped leaves, watching crabs scuttle across the beach, devouring mangoes in a cool stream.

“Lately, when she wakes, she sees a vision of a pink ceiling floating above her. I imagine the series of paintings she created in 1975 in which bright-white squares are framed by mesmerizing planes of blue, goldenrod and fiery red — intended to draw moths to an illusory light, they give off a sense of ascension and expansion.

‘I’ve concluded that I’m going somewhere,’ she tells me. ‘It’s not death; it’s a border that we cross. I don’t think I’ll be able to come back and tell you, but if I can, I’ll find a way. If you suddenly see a pink ceiling, that’s me.’

Read her reasons for promoting different husbands’ work, never her own, at the New York Times, here.

 

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Photo: Saul Gonzalez/PRI
Kalman Aron began sketching when he was 3 years old and had his first show at 7. Still working at 93, he said if he didn’t paint and draw every day, life would be too boring.

Links to some of the stories that I aim to blog about get squirreled away weeks in advance, and now I’m wishing I used this one in February before a certain artist died. Kalman Aron was 93 and was making art every day.

I heard about Aron from Saul Gonzalez at Public Radio International’s The World.

“When you step inside artist Kalman Aron’s modest apartment in Beverly Hills, a lifetime of creation surrounds you. The walls are covered in paintings and finished canvases are stacked on the floors, a dozen deep. The paintings range from portraits to landscapes to abstract works. They’re just a fraction of the roughly 2,000 pieces Aron says he’s created over the decades.

“Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1924, Aron started sketching when he was 3. At age 13, he won a competition to paint a portrait of the country’s prime minister. But then came the start of World War II; Germany invaded Latvia in 1941. … He was imprisoned in seven concentration and labor camps over the course of four years, not knowing if he’d be alive the next day.

“But Aron was able to survive when German soldiers discovered his skills as an artist. Camp guards and officers asked Aron to make small portraits of family members in exchange for scraps of bread. …

“After the war ended, Aron lived in a displaced persons camp in Austria and received a scholarship to attend Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts.

“In 1949, with only $4 in his pocket, Aron immigrated to the United States with his first wife, settling in Los Angeles. After a stint painting pottery in a factory, Aron started getting work by painting portraits for the city’s wealthy, like the family of Susan Beilby Magee. …

“Magee says you can trace how Aron came to grips with the trauma of his wartime experiences by studying how his work changed over the decades in Los Angeles.

“ ‘At the beginning of his time in LA in the ’50s, [the paintings] are all gray,’ Magee says. “There is no sunlight or people, there is nothing. That was his interior landscape when he arrived. Thirty years later he paints the Hollywood Hills and they are beautiful, full of color.’ …

“Aron says his art has saved him more than once — first, during the Holocaust, and now that he’s 93, it’s kept him from something many people his age struggle with.

“ ‘Dying of boredom,’ Aron says. ‘I’m still talking. I’m still working. They die of boredom.’ ”

The story I heard at PRI is here. And this obit appeared in the Washington Post.

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Sandcastle Artist

Photo: Calvin Seibert
Artist Calvin Seibert lives frugally in order to make his ephemeral art. He favors New York beaches for his sandcastles.

Here’s something a bit warmer to think about as winter’s cold brings out our heavy coats, boots, gloves, hats, and scarves: sandcastles at the beach.

Alexxa Gotthardt writes at Artsy, “It’s early September on New York’s Rockaway Beach, and the strong winds — aftershocks of Hurricane Harvey — keep most beachgoers away. But not sandcastle artist Calvin Seibert.

“He’s sitting on the shore, midway through sculpting the latest of the many whimsical castles he’s made over the course of the summer. This one — whose angled edges and shadowy nooks resemble a Brutalist temple by way of M.C. Escher — rises from a plot close to the crashing waves. …

“The artist, now 59 years old, has been making sandcastles most of his life. Over the last five years, he’s made the ephemeral structures the focus of his overall art practice, which has also included sculptures forged from cardboard salvaged from the street. ‘I’ve always made things outdoors from the materials I find around me, so this is sort of a long continuation of that,’ Seibert tells me …

“Seibert grew up in Vail, Colorado, in the 1960s, when the resort town was growing fast and mired in construction projects. ‘Everywhere you looked, there were construction and sand piles to play in, and scrap and garbage mounds to pull stuff from,’ he remembers. From these leavings, he built treehouses, fantasy worlds, and models of buildings that he’d glimpsed, like the TWA Flight Center at New York’s JFK Airport. …

“Like most other aspects of Seibert’s life, his process is economical. ‘I do this partly because the main materials I use, sand and water, are free — and there’s a lot of them,’ he explains, smiling. ‘I also live very frugally. No eating out. No movies. No air conditioning. No dog. No car. That’s how I can afford to do this.’ …

“This past winter, Seibert [exhibited] his sandcastles at Ramiken Crucible on New York’s Lower East Side. For several months, he made them on the gallery floor with construction-grade sand trucked in from a local lumberyard. The show marked a rare occasion that Seibert’s castles were for sale (one went to an unnamed private collector).

“Seibert has made money from his sand creations in other ways, too. … Hermès also tapped Seibert’s skills for one of the luxury brand’s photo shoots. The trip to took him first to Paris, where he gathered supplies. ‘On Facebook, I said, “I knocked that off my bucket list … I’m in Paris, shopping for buckets!” ‘ he laughs.”

More great pictures at Artsy, here.

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Photo: Thierry Bal
Artist Richard Woods’s cartoon-like fake bungalows, installed for Folkestone Triennial, are a commentary on the surge in second homes along the coast.

An English artist who favors cartoon-like architectural constructions has created six bungalows for a Folkestone Triennial installation called Holiday Home.

Kathryn Bromwich interviewed him for the Guardian. “Born in Chester in 1966, Richard Woods graduated from the Slade School of Art in 1990. … [For the triennial] Woods has created six colourful bungalows, situated in unexpected locations around the town.”

According to the interview, the artist is trying to reflect general concerns about who gets housing. People who can afford a second home? Immigrants from Calais across the Channel?

” ‘I was in Folkestone 18 months ago and got given this strange leaflet saying, “Have you thought about turning your property into cash?” – basically, “give up your house so someone can buy it as a second home”. The idea grew out of that: to make six identical bungalows and install some in very desirable locations, some not, but keeping it very open-ended. There’s been equal [numbers of] people coming up to me and discussing the second home issue, and immigration. …

” ‘There’s one house in the harbour, floating around – somebody heard through gossip in the town that it was going to be floated to Calais and back again. Some people are genuinely interested in whether “boat people” will move into the houses. But then lots of people in the town completely get the project.’ ”

The interviewer asks, “What can Folkestone tell us about wider trends across the country?

” ‘It’s a compressed version of the UK: all those issues that are prevalent everywhere are kind of heightened. On a clear day we can see Calais … Folkestone has very broad, different economic groups and because of its proximity to London people are moving here wanting a second home. People have asked if the homes are going to be available for local residents or just people from London.’ ”

The exhibit runs until November 5. More at the Guardian, here.

I’m sitting in my second home as I write this. There is no question that second homes in resort areas make housing extremely difficult for year-round residents. That’s one reason I support efforts to build affordable housing with subsidies, but I’m afraid it’s just a drop in the bucket.

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Image: Ida Schmulowitz
Artist Ida Schmulowitz says, “I have painted landscapes outside from a pedestrian bridge overlooking a highway since 1983. I feel a very strong bond to this particular place.”

My friend and former boss Meredith Fife Day, an artist, put up an intriguing Facebook post not long ago. It was about the work of a Rhode Island artist who has been painting the view from the bridge at India Point over and over since 1983. No two paintings alike.

Meredith wrote, “Ida Schmulowitz of Providence has painted on site on a pedestrian bridge over the highway near her home and studio for more than 30 years. No camera. No sizing canvases to fit her easel. No hesitation to return again and again until the painting is finished. The paintings are on canvas and average 6-by-8 feet. …

“I had the good fortune of meeting the artist and writing about her work for Art New England 10 years ago. Here is an excerpt from that review:

“ ‘Applying paint in thin layers Schmulowitz often took a morning painting back out at sunset months after it was begun. A pale sky gone peachy-orange carries its history and alludes to color’s role in the passage of time. As highway shadows lengthened at the end of the day, their geometry became more explicit and their hue more saturated. Footprints left in the foreground from walking on the canvas to reach the upper edges mimic brushmarks. The confidence that comes with knowing a site, and developing over the years a vocabulary that expresses its essence, unleashes great intuitive force. That force explodes in these works.’ “

At her website, Schmulowitz explains, “I feel a very strong bond to this particular place (India Point). I’ve felt compelled to record it year after year in all seasons and times of the day. I struggle with trying to combine the structural essence of the place with my internal vision. Changes in the landscape itself, or shifting my vantage point just slightly, are the catalysts for creating a new series.”

I love the strong colors and shapes of the paintings on the website — and the way the shadows lengthen in views of the same scene. Choose from tabs “Bridge View,” “Park View,” “Highway,” “School View,” “Stop Sign,” and “Studio View.”

Photo: Sandor Bodo
The artist says that on the way home after work, “I lay the wet canvas flat and drag it back flat through the streets to my studio. This contributes somewhat to an imperfect surface, that I like to work with, and feel it is part of the process.” 

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Thursday I went over to the Hapgood Wright Town Forest to check out the latest iteration of the Umbrella Community Arts Center’s Art Ramble.

The center’s website says, “In honor of Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday, this exhibit encourages artists to create work that slows the viewer’s experience of the natural world.”

I enjoyed finding the art tucked away here and there in the woods, and I also enjoyed the beauties of the forest: a Great Blue Heron standing patiently in the middle of a pond where I could hear a bullfrog croaking, a beautiful fallen log with wavy lines, Indian Pipe fungi hidden among dry leaves.

The first of the art pieces that I chose to photograph was Mary Baum’s “Point of Entry,” a construction of mirrors covering a rock. Baum says that, in general, “her work deals with themes of belief and mysticism; the connection between the natural and spiritual worlds; and the relationship between magic and miracle.”

The second work I photographed was called “Forest for the Tree” and features small jars holding bits of tree arranged around a trunk.

Self-taught conceptual artist Heather Kapplow says the work “plays with the movement of consciousness or attention between the big picture and the more granular one (with its emphasis resting on the consciousness or attention of one particular tree). It exists as a liminal object, one that touches two worlds and acts as the passageway between. It allows the viewer to consider that there is more to our existence than what meets the eye.” (If you take children, you may want to find a way to translate artistspeak here and elsewhere around the woods.)

My favorite work was an array of “knotholes” by clay sculptor Liz Fletcher, who creates environmental art because she is “concerned about human impacts on the land.”

The title of her contribution is “Lovers of Life,” and features portraits of people who walked gently on the land, such as Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and Black Elk, a Oglala Lakota (Sioux), who lived from 1863 to 1950.

Fletcher says, ” ‘Lovers of Life’ is an outdoor portrait gallery. Embedded within knotholes are images of people from various eras and cultures who devoted their creative energies to studying and protecting the natural world, and encouraging people to live in harmony with it. Knotholes on trees show where branches once grew out from the trunk. Knotholes are fine frames for these naturalists and spiritual leaders whose ideas have branched out across the world.”

I wrote about last year’s Art Ramble here.

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Art: Horace Pippin
Sunday Morning Breakfast, 1943

Recently I read an interesting piece on a little-known African American artist, Horace Pippin. Art critic Michelle Aldredge wrote about him on her delightfully named blog, Gwarlingo. (“Gwarlingo,” she explains, is Welsh for the moment before the clock strikes.)

Aldredge had been visiting the Barnes collection in Philadelphia when she was startled by a small, powerful painting.

She reports, “Last summer I was strolling through the galleries of the new Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, surrounded by the exquisite paintings of Matisse, Modigliani, Cézanne, when a small painting of Abraham Lincoln and his father building a log cabin caught my eye. …

“That day in Philadelphia I opened my notebook and wrote the following: ‘HORACE PIPPIN!’ And just so I wouldn’t forget, I underlined Pippin’s name three times. And then I starred it for good measure.

“A descendant of slaves, Horace Pippin’s biography is a compelling one. Here is an excerpt from his Wikipedia entry:

He was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Goshen, New York. There he attended segregated schools until he was 15, when he went to work to support his ailing mother. As a boy, Horace responded to an art supply company’s advertising contest and won his first set of crayons and a box of watercolors. As a youngster, Pippin made drawings of racehorses and jockeys from Goshen’s celebrated racetrack. Prior to 1917, Pippin variously toiled in a coal yard, in an iron foundry, as a hotel porter and as a used-clothing peddler.

“Pippin enlisted in the army in 1917 and fought in the famous, all-black 369th Infantry regiment in France during World War I. Less than a month before the war ended, he was shot in the right shoulder.

“ ‘When I was a boy I loved to make pictures,’ he once wrote, but war ‘brought out all the art in me. … I can never forget suffering and I will never forget sunsets. So I came home with all of it in my mind and I paint from it today.’ …

“One website on Pennsylvania history describes the evolution of Pippin’s brief career:

After the war, the handicapped Pippin devised a way of supporting his right hand with his left. Using a hot poker to burn in the outlines of his figures and objects onto wood (a technique called pyrography) and then filling them in, he was able to resume painting by the mid-1920s. …

“Words like ‘toiled’ appear frequently in Pippin’s biographies and give some hint at the reverential tone that has been used to describe the artist over the decades. His personal story is so riveting that Melissa Sweet and Jen Bryant have just written a new children’s book about the artist called A Splash of Red. …

“By the time of Pippin’s death in 1946 at the age of 58, he had completed 140-odd paintings, drawings and wood panels. In his obituary in the New York Times they called him the ‘most important Negro painter’ to have appeared in America. …

“Pippin’s paintings are in the tradition of other New-Deal artists like Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, whose murals and canvases depicted ordinary rural life. …

“During his life, Pippin was best known for his landscapes, domestic scenes, and religious paintings. Today, it is his historical scenes showing John Brown and Abraham Lincoln that receive the most attention. (Artist Jacob Lawrence said this his own series on John Brown was inspired by Pippin.) …

“Art critics struggle with Pippin because he does not fit neatly into a category or school. But Pippin didn’t need to buy into some pre-defined idea about what art should or shouldn’t be — he didn’t need to hitch himself to a specific art movement in order to get his work into the public eye. He earned critical acclaim the hard way: by creating outstanding art.

“ ‘Pictures just come to my mind,’ Pippin famously said, ‘and I tell my heart to go ahead.’ ”

More at Gwarlingo, where Aldredge has posted an impressive array of Pippin’s works.

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