Wednesday, December 31, 2014

After Aparthid – The Art of Marlene Dumas

“I want to paint what you cannot see
Marlene Dumas

For South African figurative artist Marlene Dumas the ghosts of her childhood Linger in her paintings with their restricted palette and portraits devoid of personality. About which she has written “I use second-hand images and first-hand emotions.” 

Dumas grew up as part of the privileged class in apartheid South Africa where racism had been institutionalized and censorship was used to stabilize the regime. It was not until the early 1970’s, whilst at art school in Cape Town that the first cracks in this façade began to appear.

Attending a screening of Alain Resnais enigmatic love story Last Year in Marienbad left her perplexed, wondering why painting wasn’t as experimental. As she has said “I was totally perplexed. But I felt it was important to see how the film broke down the narrative structures, while there was still somehow a love story in it. So you could have the politics and the love story and a reflection on the medium.”

At the age of 23, a scholarship in the Netherlands showed her that painting was addressing these issues. Dumas also discovered modern and contemporary art, saw for the first time European classical art in the flesh rather than as reproductions along with un-censored news photographs and X-rated magazines. She also started to build her archive of newspaper and magazine photos which along with her own Polaroid’s are the source material for her paintings.

Painting from photographs liberates Dumas from being beholden to the subject; she can alter the composition to suit the painting’s needs. “People just want to explain everything in relation to that image,” she lamented to the New York Times’ Claire Messud, “all the better paintings should be something else.”  “It’s not really a young girl,” she explained, “It’s more an allegory.”

A point Dumas underscores with her titles which often shock and/or exhilarate and are imbued with a dark humor. As the curator of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Helen Molesworth explains “I don’t think people always get the humor, because she’s working out of that dark Northern tradition of bawdy gallows humor. Every punchline is, ‘And then you die!’ ” 

The retrospective exhibition Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden is currently on show at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum until the 4th of January. In February 2015 it will open at London’s Tate Modern followed by showing at Basel’s Fondation Beyeler from the end of May to mid September.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Prolific & Controversial – The Art of Nobuyoshi Araki

“Photography is lying, and I am a liar by nature.
Nobuyoshi Araki

The Spanish, 20th Century master, Pablo Picasso said “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.” The controversial and prolific Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki is an embodiment of this sentiment through his perpetual focus on everyday life. As he has said “Photography is a secondary thing, because actual objects are true and photography is a lie and a merely a copy of reality.”

This reality seems to suggest that life is the meaning of life with sexuality being its underlying motive which shocks western audiences but has the ring of truth for the Japanese. As the Tate’s curator of photography, Simon Baker, told the Guardian newspaper "It's about the double standard associated with Japanese culture.  It's an incredibly polite, formal society on the surface, [but it] has this hidden underside of sexuality. Araki very effectively works on this relationship."

With over 450 books to his credit, one of his early publications Sentimental Journey is a photo essay of his 1971 honeymoon with his wife, Yoko, about which Araki has said “As to my honeymoon, I started taking photographs right away, beginning with our train ride, and then having sex. That is what everyone does on a honeymoon, so it is nothing special.”

This matter of fact approach along with an ability to relate to his models, often intimately, has allowed Araki to create a body of work that underscores his credo "life is itself photography."

A camera is Araki’s constant companion although he allows others to take the shot and from time to time he is a part of the picture. But claims the credit for himself, which rationalizes saying “the camera has the authorship, not the photographer. And I own the camera!

Hong Kong’s Aishonanzuka Gallery is currently exhibiting a selection of Araki’s photographs. Theater of Love is on show until the 17th of January, although the gallery is closed from the 25th of December to the 6th of January.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Treading on Tails in the Middle East – The Art of Shurooq Amin

 “Will you walk a little faster?" said a whiting to a snail,
There's a porpoise close behind us, and he's treading on my tail.”
Lewis Carroll

The Syrian-Kuwait artist and poet Shurooq Amin has, through her art, become the porpoise of the Middle East challenging the Islamists on their home turf. For as she has said “I address issues that move me or anger me with a sense of injustice in some way: love in the Muslim world, child marriages, gender issues, homosexuality, subjective censorship, political stagnation, etc. I feel that it is a huge responsibility for me to tackle these issues and open a dialogue in society with the hope of instigating social change.

She came to international attention in 2012 when her show “It’s a Man’s World” was closed by the Kuwaiti authorities three hours after opening to the public. It’s a Man’s World was a follow up exhibition to her 2010 exhibition Society Girls; a pair of exhibitions which explored gender disparities within Arab society.

 Citing the pornographic and anti-Islamic nature of the work as reasons for closing It’s a Man’s World, the authorities made Amin a cause célèbre for freedom of expression advocates. As Amin told Sampsonia Way In the past, I've had Islamists come to my show in anger and huff-and-puff a little, but this is the first time they've blown my house down, so to speak.

Social media around the world sprang to her defense including a trending hashtag on Twitter, messages of support on Facebook and thousands of supportive emails. Amin’s local, real world contemporaries had a mixed reaction to the incident with many condemned her. About this reaction Amin told the World Policy Blog “Their logic was that I opened Pandora's Box for them! They wanted to “let sleeping dogs lie,” as opposed to broadening minds and enlightening generations and making a difference in society.”

Since then Amin has had two solo exhibitions in Dubai. Popcornographic in 2013 which dealt with issues that are considered taboo in the Middle East whilst We'll Build This City on Art and Love explores issues related to “re-building cities, minds, and beliefs that have been destroyed / deconstructed due to corruption and dogmatic, hypocritical ideologies.”

For as Amin says “In the Middle East, there are unspoken rules that order us to lie and hide our true identity, because our society doesn't condone individuality—it condones conformity.
We'll Build This City on Art and Love is currently on show at Ayyam’s London gallery until the 10th of January.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Street Wise - The Art of Vivian Maier

“I’m a sort of spy”
Vivian Maier

Most people when they realize a camera is pointed in their direction put on their photo face, strike the pose they believe represents their persona. It is the kiss of death for the Street photographer. The fleeting moment the photographer saw that prompted the shot has been subverted by the subject.

The American, quasi-French street photographer Vivian Maier had the perfect cover in the best John le Carré tradition. Who would suspect the non-descript woman with a couple of kids in tow was a strett photographer? Was that a camera hanging around her neck? Such was Maier’s mode of operation.

A nanny for most of her adult life, Maier would take her charges on long walks, often in the seedier parts of town. They were well aware these walks were not really for their benefit but to take photographs. As one of her “children”, Sarah Ludington, nee Matthews, recalls "I liked the walks. By the end, I would be in pain. We were walking probably 10 miles which when you're little is a long way, but often she would take us to the beach at the end." Her brother John adds “I always got the feeling that what she wanted to do was take photos and hauling the kids around was just a chore."

A loner, Maier has been described by those who crossed per path as uncompromising yet playful, curious yet intensely private, and aloof to the point of callousness, even cruelty.  To which could be added confident as the over 100,000 undeveloped negatives discovered upon her death attest. She felt no need to check the results of her days exploits. Or, perhaps, she just didn’t care, being a part of the unforgiving moment was enough for her.

But the quality of the work Maier bequeathed to the future would suggest otherwise. Her photographs are good, very good indeed and she was aware that they couldn’t really be changed after the fact. Like all great artists a sixth sense told her if she had captured her vision. 

A retrospective exhbition of her work Vivian Maier - Street Photographer is currently on show at Amsterdam's Foam Photography Museum until the 1st of February.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Bridge to Today – The Art of Francisco Goya

“The object of my work is to report the actuality of events. “
Francisco Goya 

The Spanish artist Francisco Goya holds the distinction of being considered the last “old master” in the romantic tradition and the first modern master who had a profound influence on the likes of Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon. Whilst being a celebrated 18th Century court painter commissioned to immortalize the rich and famous of his day, Goya also had a major interest in the here and now that far exceeded his interest in the world to come.

The epitome of the country boy who made good in the city his portraits often included social comments not only about the vanity of his subjects but also the position they held in the society over which they ruled. But such was the skill of his craft these potentially subversive tendencies were overlooked. As King Ferdinand VII of Spain is reported to have told Goya after the war with France “You deserve to be garroted, but you are a great artist so we forgive you."

In his late 40’s Goya became deaf and his work became much darker. He continued as a court painter but also produced experimental etchings of witches, ghosts and fantastic creatures. The onset of the French invasion of Spain when Goya was in his 60’s saw him cement himself into the modernist canon with its depictions of the atrocities he witnessed.

His lantern that illuminates the Third of May became the bare bulb of Picasso’s Guernica which shone a light onto the human suffering, without the grand heroics, that war entails and that all who follow would emulate.

His final suite of paintings, mostly on the walls of a farm house he bought outside Madrid, known as the “Black Paintings,” are macabre depictions of the human condition. In one of the best known the father devours his young; perhaps the ultimate description from a man who had seen too much and forgotten too little.

A current exhibition of his works Goya: Order and Disorder is on show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston until the 19th of January.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Pictures of Pictures – The Art of Anne Collier

I've always liked how popular music can walk a fine line between sentimentality and profundity, in ways that visual art rarely finds an equivalent for.”
Anne Collier

Photographs are essentially documentation; here is an object and this is what it looks like. The context in which it is placed infuses the portrayed image with additional meaning that in most cases for the images surrounding our daily lives includes a sales pitch. A sunset to sell a holiday, an artistic nude to sell a camera or the glamorous lifestyle associated with the latest consumer goods be it a condo or a pair of jeans.

American photographer Anne Collier utilizing the clarity of hindsight de-contextualizes mass media and popular culture images from of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Employing a dead-pan aesthetic of a white and /or black background she photographs photos. ”Like the white cube gallery space, these visual devices serve to distance individual objects from their original circumstances or context, creating a space that is somehow both specific and ambiguous,” she has said.

The New York Times, Karen Rosenberg wrote in 2012 "Anne Collier’s photographs of vintage books, album covers, posters and other ephemera, taken in an antiseptic white studio, look studiously detached at first. But after some time they reveal themselves as sensitive and involved responses to an earlier generation’s visual culture."

Presented in a still life format with often a ‘lived in’ feel, Collier’s meticulously arranged compositions reveal her interest in the history of photography as an art medium along with an intellectual inquiry into its meanings.

As she told Nottingham Contemporary’s Alex Farquharson “I’m interested in depicting different manifestations of photographic imagery: how photography is employed in relation to everyday objects such as magazines, record sleeves, posters, etc., and how these mass-circulated things can absorb – and illuminate - our own narratives.”

A retrospective of Anne Collier’s work is on show at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art until the 8th of March.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Painted Ladies – the Art of Janet Werner

“ it is the artifice of the pose and the act of looking that interests me”

Janet Werner

Canadian artist Janet Werner predominately paints the feminine; utilizing the genre of portraiture she presents a cast of characters that are all fictional. Using fashion magazines, popular culture, naive paintings and photography as source material, Werner’s women appear to be in a state of transition. “Something is happening. Or something is appearing to them or they look like they’re seeing something,” she has said.

Werner’s paintings are constructed images, a head from here, a dress from there; these mixtures from her sources are to a degree selfies. “I believe the work has a lot to do with my subjectivity because it’s the one that I understand the most and it’s also the one that I see reflected in culture the most. Images of women are everywhere,” she says.  

From magazines to billboards the desire these images project informs her painting. Although presented as portraits they are not intended to convey an individual’s likeness.  Writing about her work, Werner said, “The paintings reframe the problematics of desire, using the mechanisms of melodrama, recontextualization, scale change, and shifts of color to pose questions about these images and to test the limits of their intended meanings.”

As James Patten, the director and chief curator of Western Univerity's McIntosh Gallerywhich hosted Werner's touring exhibition Another Perfect Day during October, says, That’s where art is really successful. It’s not a polemic telling you what is right or wrong but getting you to consider the issues and to think about your own life in relationship to them.”

Werner’s next exhibition Drop, Drop Slow Tears will be on show at Montréal’s Parisian Laundry Gallery from the 15th of January to the 14th of February next year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Man in the Moon - Robert Rauschenberg’s Stoned Moon Series

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
Neil Armstrong

These words uttered by the first man to walk on the moon in 1969 commemorate a unique moment in human history. As one of the seven artists invited by NASA to document the Apollo 11 mission, Robert Rauschenberg’s impressions of the event combine the wonder and trepidation experienced by the 450 million people worldwide who watched the event unfold.

Rauschenberg had a reputation for the innovative use of materials and methods from his earlier “Combine” works, a pivotal series that paved the way from Abstract Expressionism to the later movements of Pop and Conceptual art. About the Combine works he claimed he “wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn't a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing."

The resultant Stoned Moon Series of 34 lithographs along with 19 drawings and collages that came from the Apollo 11 commission are a mash up of images from NASA's archives with photographs from various media outlets and his own work. For Rauschenberg the potential collaboration between man and technology offered by the space program was a glimmer of hope in the turbulent 1960’s. “The whole project seemed one of the only things at that time that was not concerned with war and destruction,” he has said.

Twenty years later he set up the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation to perpetrate his philosophy that art can change the world. Apart from ensuring access to his work and providing residencies for emerging and established artists the Foundation creates philanthropic initiatives that connect art, culture and creativity with important issues such as education and climate change.

Rauschenberg’s Stoned Moon Series is currently on show at the Cantor Arts Center until the 16th of March next year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

From Toy Box to Gallery Wall – Art Spiegelman’s Comics

“the 500-pound mouse that’s been chasing me ever since”
Art Spiegelman

In 1992 Art Spiegelman was awarded a Pulitzer Prize under the Special Awards and Citations – Letters category for his comic strip Maus. An Anthropomorphic rendering of his families experiences of the Holocaust with the Jews represented as mice and the Nazis as cats. As the first comic book to be given such a distinction the name Graphic Novel was coined to celebrate the elevated status.

It’s an appellation Spiegelman is not all that crazy about. “I’m called the father of the modern graphic novel. If that’s true, I want a blood test,” he has said. “’Graphic novel’ sounds more respectable, but I prefer ‘comics’ because it credits the medium. [‘Comics’] is a dumb word, but that’s what they are.”

Spiegelman grew up on a diet of Mad Magazine comics, a genre that still enthuses him today. “ I would say, The Simpsons, The Daily Show, Colbert are among the healthiest aspects of American culture right now. And they have to do with carrying the genuine legacies of the earliest Mads forward,” he told the Tablet magazine’s David Samuels.

In the mid 1960’s whilst studying at Harpur College he freelanced for Topps Chewing Gum company designing trading cards. In the 1970’s Spiegelman moved to the American west coast and joined the counter cultural underground comix movement making a range of NSFW strips. At the end of the decade he began teaching at New York’s School of Visual Arts, a gig that lasted nine years. In association with his wife, Françoise Mouly, he also produced the publication Raw which provided an outlet for new and foreign cartoonists.

Spiegelman also created the Garbage Pail Kids series, a parody of the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. About which says “A lot of people are imprinted with them, and it made a difference. I thought of it very consciously as taking my Mad lessons and passing them along dutifully to the next generation.

After the success of Maus, Spiegelman joined The New Yorker and for a decade provided the weekly magazine with memorable and often controversial covers. But the shadow of Manus continued to loom large.

Turning super heroes in brightly colored tights and Sunday chuckles into a masterpiece of 20th Century art is an achievement Spiegelman can’t avoid. As he says, “What am I going to do? Say I wish I didn’t make Maus? That’s just not true. And on the other hand, do I want to have it dogging my steps everywhere? I’m going to say I’m lucky that it does, because it allows me to enter one folly after another and still make royalties from something else.”

Currently a retrospective exhibition of Spiegelman’s work is on show at the Art Gallery of Ontario until the 15th of March. Art Spiegelman's CO-MIX: A Retrospective was created by Paris Galerie Martel, had a showing at New York’s Jewish Museum before coming to Toronto.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Look at Me, What I Like, What I Do – The Art of Jeanette Hayes

Narcissism it would seem is an occupational hazard for artists, from Edvard Munch to Egon Schiele from Van Gogh to Matisse, all have indulged. For as Australian artist Rick Amor said “The artist paints self portraits because the model is always there – and free.”  

Rebadged in the 21st Century as “selfies” they have become one of social media’s staples. And New York artist Jeanette Hayes has adopted this phenomenon as her own. As she quipped in an interview with The Paper’s Carlos Santolalla, “Warhol and Picasso would have been excellent with social media. I bet Rembrandt would have loved taking selfies. He painted tons of self portraits. But these artists didn't have it, and I do, so I'll take enough selfies for all of us.”

She got her first i-phone when she was 17 and reportedly checks it every 15 minutes. “My first Smartphone was the i-phone, the very first i-phone that came out. I’d just started college and I loved it. I was one of those people that waited for it and got it the day it came out. I was one of those girls, “she says.

Hayes now has accounts with Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook which she updates several times a day.  "I don't keep a traditional sketchbook. I think of the internet as my sketchbook," she has said. A boon for her thousands of followers as she builds her brand; they can watch her creative process on a day to day basis.

Now, four years out of art school, where she stayed awake during art history lectures, Hayes career has started to flourish. Her paintings are combination of copied historical masterpieces and up to the minute renderings of images from the internet. “I think of these works as master study, with commentary," she says.

Although she is expanding her repertoire with multimedia applications and video works like her latest solo exhibition at the 55 Gansevoort Street Gallery. This American Life is a 30 minute looped, selfie-filled video chronicle of what she considers the year's best moments captured on Instagram, Vine, and her own i-phone. And if the trailer for this short film is anything to go by the fast lane is the destination.

This American Life is on show at 55 Gansevoort Street until the 5th of January and like the internet viewable 24/7.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Similar but Different – The Art of Wifredo Lam

Where European artists of the 1930’s were fascinated by African culture for the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam it was a lived experience. With a Chinese father and a mother of mixed African and Spanish descent, Lam grew up in rural Cuba where the influence of his God Mother, Matonica Wilson, a locally renowned sorceress and healer was constant reminder of the culture that surrounded him. In his 40’s, Lam reconnected with the roots of his childhood culture by visiting Haiti to observe voodoo ceremonies which mitigated by his love of African poetry were to influence his mature works.

After three years in Havana studying law and drawing the plants at the botanical gardens, at the age of 21, Lam traveled to Spain. For the next 14 years he studied the art of the Europeans and painted the Spanish landscape. His Cuban slave heritage caused him to emphasize with the Spanish laborers and prompted him to side with the Republicans during the Spanish civil war.

After the cessation of hostilities Lam moved to Paris. It was there that he met Pablo Picasso; it was a meeting of like minds. About which Lam said “Everybody felt this influence, for Picasso was the master of our age. Even Picasso was influenced by Picasso! But when I first painted bulls in Spain, I had not seen his bulls. And I had done my own paintings in a synthetic style, in an attempt to simplify forms, before discovering his. Our plastic interpretations simply coincided. I already knew the Spanish temperament, for I had lived it, suffered it, in the country itself. Rather than an influence, we might call it apervasion of the spirit. There was no question of imitation, but Picasso may easily have been in my spirit, for nothing in him was alien or strange to me. On the other hand, I derived all my confidence in what I was doing from his approval.”

Three years later after a short sojourn with the surrealists in Marseilles and Martinique Lam returned to Cuba. The exploitation of his home country affected him deeply. Of which he said “I Decided that my painting would never be the equivalent of that pseudo-Cuban music for nightclubs. I refused to paint cha-cha-cha. I wanted with all my heart to paint the drama of my country, but by thoroughly expressing the Negro spirit, the beauty of the plastic art of the blacks. In this way I could act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth hallucinating figures with the power to surprise, to disturb the dreams of the exploiters.”

A decade later Lam returned to Europe, first to France and then to Italy where he remained to the end of his days in 1982. Throughout this time he kept a keen interest in the events of his homeland submitting works for exhibition there in solidarity with his peoples aspirations.

Whilst the parallels between his work and that of the European modernists are undeniable they come from a different place. Whereas the Europeans have imposed a learned African aesthetic upon their European sensibilities, Lam incorporates a learned European aesthetic within his African heritage. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

From Scathing Satire to Placid Painting – The Art of David Levine

“The greatest caricaturist of the last half of the Twentieth Century

In today’s media driven world where both sides of an argument must be given oxygen the relevant validity of the spin is often best explained through the visual exaggeration of their proponents; a caricature of the spokesperson. Be it Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live or David Levine’s cartoon of President Lyndon Johnson and his Vietnam scar they define their subject with greater clarity than any argument could express.

For over 40 years David Levine’s caricatures graced the pages of major American publications from the New York Review of Books to The New York Times, from Time magazine to the Rolling Stone, from Esquire magazine to Playboy. Be they politician or judge, playwright or pope, artist or scientist all his subjects had their pretensions pricked by his devastating visual wit. And all were presented without a caption. As he told Vanity Fair’s David Margolick, “If I can’t do it the way Charlie Chaplin did it, words are not going to help.”

Born in Brooklyn into a left leaning politically active family he considered himself a Communist; “a beautiful idea” that the Soviet regime ruined. Convinced that power corrupts his scorn for those in authority was nonpartisan. An attitude that caused art critic Hilton Kramer to write in the New York Times about Levine’s 1968 exhibition of caricatures “They are wickedly intelligent and shamelessly unfair.”

Whilst the commissioned caricatures paid the bills, Levine’s first love was painting, depicting his beloved Coney Island and the portraits of ordinary people. About which, art critic Maureen Mullarkey has written “None of Levine’s hard-edged burlesques prepare you for the sensuous satisfactions of his paintwork: the matte charm of his oil handling and the virtuoso refinement of his watercolors. Caustic humor gives way to unexpected gentleness in the paintings.”

The World He Saw, a mini retrospective of 38 paintings and 12 caricatures by Levine is on view until the 17th of January at New York’s Forum Gallery.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Music of Painting – The Art of Paul Klee

Paul Klee was a talented violinist with, it is said, a fondness for the music of Bach and Mozart. He was also a natural draftsman as his school books and early exhibitions of etchings attest. During his formative years he vacillated between these two art forms but, fortunately for those of us with a passion for the visual arts, music came second. Although he kept food on the table through his musical gigs until his paintings started to sell in his thirties.

Considered one of the greatest colorists of the 20th Century where his theories about music and color combine in improvisations which he likened to the melody of the work, it was not always the case. He struggled with color until he was 35 and visited Tunisia. About which he wrote “Color has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it, I know that it has hold of me forever. That is the significance of this blessed moment. Color and I are one. I am a painter.

Blessed with an ironic sense of humor, often noticeable in his titles, Klee was man of his times and as such has been associated with Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism and Abstraction. His work, whilst influenced, stands independently apart.

It is reported that Klee practiced the violin before painting and once in the studio would work on several canvases simultaneously. And like a composer he notated his drawings and paintings with a number and date cataloging their sequence in time.

As the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about Klee’s workin 1921, "Even if you hadn’t told me he plays the violin, I would have guessed that on many occasions his drawings were transcriptions of music." A thought picked up by the Guardian Newspaper's art critic Adrian Searle in 2013, "One day he might be arranging a composition of fish and flowers and clocks, the next little colored rectangles that come and go with a wonderful musicality, and never quite settle down."

The first Russian retrospective exhibition of his work Paul Klee: Not a day without a line is on show at Moscow’s Pushkin Sate Museum of Fine Arts until the 1st of March. Whilst in Bern, Switzerland the Zentrum Paul Klee is showing the exhibition Paul Klee: Special class – not for sale until the 1st of February.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

“Why must art be static?” - Alexander Calder’s Kinetic Sculptures

“Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions.”
Alexander Calder

In 1922 off the coast of Guatemala whilst sailing between New York and San Francisco Alexander Calder experienced a simultaneous sun rise and moon set. About the experience he has saidI saw the beginning of a fiery red sunrise on one side and the moon looking like a silver coin on the other. Of the whole trip this impressed me most of all; it left me with a lasting sensation of the solar system.” 

It was a pivotal moment in the 24 year olds life, perhaps his personal Road to Damascus, for he finally abandoned his career as a mechanical engineer to follow in the footsteps of his parents. His mother was a professional portrait painter and his father was a sculptor like his father before him.

The following year Calder began classes at New York’s Art Student League. He supported himself as an illustrator for the National Police Gazette during this time. One of his assignments for the Gazette was to produce illustrations of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

In 1926 Calder traveled to Paris and enrolled at Académie de la Grande Chaumière. He also started his ongoing sculptural performance work Cirque Calder; articulated wire and found object sculptures of circus performers whom Calder would manipulate to perform for friends, associates and eventually the general public. He adapted these skills into larger wire sculpture works; a drawing in space, which he exhibited with some success on both sides of the Atlantic.

A 1930 visit to Piet Mondrian's studio had a lasting impression. About this visit Calder said “This one visit gave me a shock that started things. Though I had heard the word "modern" before, I did not consciously know or feel the term "abstract. So now, at thirty-two, I wanted to paint and work in the abstract. And for two weeks or so, I painted very modest abstractions. At the end of this, I reverted to plastic work which was still abstract.” 

A year later he exhibits his first “Mobile”, a name suggested by Marcel Duchamp upon his visit to Calder’s studio to see these mechanized abstract sculptures. Over the ensuing years Calder’s kinetic sculptures have become the signature works for which he is best known.

A selection of these works along with his “stabiles”, Calder’s often monumental simple forms executed in sheet metal, can currently be seen at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum. Organized by the Los Angeles Community Museum of Art, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic is on show at the Peabody until the 4th of January.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Serenity of Hope – The Art of Jean Paul Lemieux

 “The Physical world around me interests me only because it allows me to picture my inner self.”

Greek myth has it that when Pandora opened her box all the troubles that beset the world flew out except for hope; the optimistic state of mind based on the expectation of positive outcomeIt is said to be the underlying attribute of the somber and austere paintings of Canadian artist Jean Paul Lemieux’s almost minimalist rendered landscapes with their often solitary figures that endears them to their audience. And even when he painted groups of people they seem to be apart lost in their own reverie.

Credited with the revitalization of Canadian landscape painting, the softly spoken, gentle artist creates the quiet beauty of being human. In 1967 he said of his work “I have on theories. In my landscapes and my characters I try to express the solitude we all have to live with, and each painting, the inner world of my memories.”

Describing his working methods, his daughter, Anne Sophie, wrote “He liked to work alone, steeped in a silence that allowed him to hear his inner voice and to construct with brush and paint his inner world. This silence passed into his painting.” 

Working during the latter half of the 20th Century when abstraction had engulfed expressionism Lemieux expression was one sympathetic to the relationship of an often harsh environment with the people who inhabit it. Like the European expeditions into a new world where the hope of a successful journey was the prerequisite of survival.

Lemieux’s works are one of the highlights of the Eyes on Quebec exhibition at Ontario’s McMichael Canadian Art Collection which is on show until the 1st of February.