Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Joan Mitchell

They said she was a pain in the ass.

They said she drank too much.

She had husbands and lovers.

She painted with her fingers.
She painted with her fingers.
She painted. For forty years.
Through thick and thin.
Thick and thin.
She painted.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nathalie Djurberg: Plastic Degradation

This is the work of Swedish born, Nathalie Djurberg, a very hot artist on the international scene right now. She most recently exhibited as part this year's Venice Biennale. Mistress Djurberg creates plasticine people, animals and monsters and films them doing unspeakable things to each other and themselves. It is grotesque, degrading and alarmingly liberating. This is the grown up version of the secret lives of Barbie. You know; torture, hatred, mayhem. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Frank Auerbach

It's amazing the numbers of painters there are in the world. I was just recently introduced to this artist by a friend of mine, Anna, who is taking what sounds like a very scintillating painting class at the local art college.

Frank Auerbach is a German born painter who was sent to England during the early years of WWII to escape the threat of extermination. His parents stayed behind and were killed in a Nazi concentration camp because they were Jewish.

After the war Frank stayed in England.

These portraits are of his lover Stella, his wife Julia and a professional model named Juliet.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dildo Girls

A most recent discovery of mine: Lynda Benglis. An abstract expressionist who created and still creates poured objects very sensual and mysterious.

Makes me think of Louise Bourgeouis.

And Jackson Pollock.

What caught my attention though was this...

In 1974, Ms. Benglis, tired of the sexy girl syndrome and the over abundance of men men men running the world of art, created and placed a series of advertisements in Artforum magazine.
This one was the piece de resistance and very controversial. People said her art mustn't be too good if she had to resort to behaving like this!

It reminded me of some work I did way back in art school when we were assigned to draw folds.

Any other girls out there making art with dildos?

Let me know. We could have a dildo show!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Finally: Cy Twombley

When writing about art, actually when writing about anything, one must first have something to say. Having something to say is the point. Listen to me. I have something to say.

Perhaps it's not just having something to say. Perhaps it's also how one says it.

And how about when we paint. Must we have something to say then too?

But what can I say when I'm writing about art and the art is so complete and so thrilling in it's completeness, that I, the writer, cannot possibly say anything?

How about this: Where have you been all my life, Cy Twombley?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Art As Spiritual Practice

Art As Spiritual Practice

"I believe that each one of us has a riddle to solve, the riddle of what it means to be human."  Frederick Franck

I've been thinking about Frederrick Franck lately, a truly amazing character, a doctor, (if I recall correctly) an artist, a writer and a Zen practitioner.   I own a second hand copy of his book:  "The Zen of Seeing:  Seeing/Drawing as meditation."  I like that it  has a dedication to it's former owner inside the front cover.  It says: "Shantaya, sweetheart, whatever profession you take up, always continue with your art.  Take another perspective with this book.  Love Dad /94"  So I have 2 stories for the price of one!  But I digress. This is a gorgeous little book, hand printed by Franck and filled with his tender, delicate sketches.

Franck who died at the age of 96 in 2006 taught courses (and the book I have is like sitting in on his class) on seeing/drawing as a spiritual act.  He says when you draw you must actually see deeply, that the drawing experience is an opportunity to experience the miracle of what is around us.  The drawing is in itself a meditation.

Even if drawing isn't your thing, when you read Franck, you will search the drawers for a pencil.  You may tenderly trace the lines of your toes or a lady bug or a weed in the garden, whatever catches your attention.  You see, he says, it isn't about the skill or talent that we believe an artist needs to come here with, it's about the ability to truly see, to slow down and see.  And we each have our own quirky way of seeing things.  This accounts for the uniqueness of what we create.  This is the gift we bring to the world on many levels.

I love the distinction Franck makes between "looking" and "seeing".  He says:  "Looking and seeing both begin with sense perception, but there the similarity ends.  When I "look" at the world and label its phenomena, I make immediate choices, instant appraisals.  I like or I dislike.  I accept or I reject......  The purpose of looking is to survive, to cope, to manipulate, to discern what enhances or diminishes the "me".   When I see I am suddenly all eyes.  I forget the ME, and am liberated from it and dive into the reality of what confronts me....  It is in order to see, ... more deeply that I draw....  I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen..... I discover that among the ten thousand things there is no ordinary thing."  Got you sharpening your pencil yet?

"The  Zen of Seeing" is filled with wonderful stories of Franck's travels and quotes and Dharma, always Dharma.  He was a wise and talented man.  At the end of her interview with him for the Tricycle piece, writer, Tracy Cochran asks him (and this is the same year he died)  What is really important in the end?  Franck's reply:  "Awakening the heart, without a doubt."    

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kara Walker and the Romance of Violence

We had a teacher, actually I think he was the director, back in art school who always told us to "pull every thread". He meant that in reading and researching the way to richness was to follow every lead, to thoroughly investigate whatever came our way. It's good advice and since I've started writing for Goody and her sister blog, Art in Victoria, it's advice I ardently follow.

The most recent thread I've come across is Kara Walker. I took a look at her work a few weeks ago after reading about her in an article. I had to resort to online perusal of her art since I live in the sticks, relative to New York or Vancouver or even Victoria, for god'sakes. And probably because it wasn't live art- looking I couldn't really get behind what I was seeing. So I put her name on a post- it note and stuck her to the wall above my computer and then moved on to someone else. However, I saw her name again, this time in the context of controversial and offensive art and I decided I better really pull that thread this time.

Kara Walker is a contemporary African American artist working on "telling the story of racism". She uses black cut paper silhouettes and projections to create room sized narratives revolving around slavery, murder, rape, stereotypes and caricatures. In doing so she also manages to evoke the romance of the southern USA, pre-Civil War. Think Scarlett O'Hara with her Mammy and her dresses and her beaux. Think William Faulkner and his mournful tales of a lost generation of genteel ladies and gentlemen. But don't forget about the chains and the killing and the young girls up for sale.

Kara Walker plays a very interesting game with this work. The black silhouette is in itself an innocent folk inspired art form. How often have you seen little oval portraits of children in silhouette? Or the Chinese paper cuts, or the colourful Ukranian paper art? Very charming. And it's true in this case too. At first glance Kara Walker's work is all theatre and childrens' stories. It's beautiful and feminine, it's a delight. Until you see the ugliness. The heads on stakes. And then it gets kind of uncomfortable. It doesn't seem like a pretty, magical fairy tale anymore.

But is it real? Is it anymore real than any other version of the American slave trade? Was the violence really so lavish? So easily overlooked? I mean Mitchell and Faulkner don't seem to dwell too overwhelmingly on the violence of white on black. How could whites have lived in such close proximity to such savage cruelty. What did the despair, surely palpable do to them in their white finery? They must have been not much more than actors. Playing their roles. And the violence, itself, was all encompassing. The white boys and men died in droves defending the southern states. Certainly no one denied the existence of slaves and of owning slaves. Certainly no one can deny how necessary is violence to keep the strong bowed down in slavery. To keep the strong afraid. Dependent.

That is what is real. Fear and violence and dependence. That is what the Southerners did to the Africans, and that is what the North did to the South, and that is what the US wanted to do to Iraq. I could go on. It is a human drama. Power and powerlessness, for all kinds of reasons, but mostly economic.

In the Confederate South, there was also theatre and Kara Walker has taken a place among the great story tellers of the last century, taking for her own version the grandeur, the depravity, the truly complex society of black and white who lived and died for freedom.