Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More pictures of Marfa

Tom also made a lot of photographs in Marfa, with his new digital SLR.  Here are some of them.

 This is Building 98, where the show of photographs about the Adobe Alliance is for the next three weeks.

 Building 98 has an interesting history.  It was the Bachelor Officer's Quarters for an army unit in the thirties and forties.  During WWII, some German prisoners of war were kept here, and they painted some murals about West Texas on the walls inside.

It's interesting to imagine how surprising the landscape of West Texas must have been to the average guy from, say, Bavaria.

 Below is a picture of Mona Garcia, the gallerist, and a board member of the International Woman's Foundation:

Here is the Arcon Inn, the bed and breakfast where we stayed, also owned by Mona Garcia:

It's conveniently located near the center of town, right behind the courthouse.  Speaking of which:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Trip to Marfa

Tom and I just returned from a trip to Marfa, TX. Our main purpose was to install an exhibition of my photographs about the Adobe Alliance and Simone Swan at Building 98, near the Chinati Foundation.  Building 98 is a gallery run by Mona Garcia.

Here are some pictures of the pictures:

This last one shows the group at the Adobe Alliance workshop in the spring of 2010.

It was Chinati Weekend in Marfa, and there was a lot to see and do.  We made the rounds of the galleries.  I was really impressed by the work of Claire Oswalt at Galleri Urbane.  She does wonderfully detailed graphite drawings, some of them quite small.  The tree picture is maybe 5x7 inches, and the head portion of the portrait is maybe an inch and a half!

The other thing to look at in Marfa, besides all the art, is just the wonderful light that bathes and beautifies everything in the town and on the streets, and also the wonderful spaces outside of town.  I found a footpath through a scrubby desert pasture, with a sign saying that people were allowed to walk there, so I did.

We also went to a football game, where the Marfa Shorthorns demolished the visiting team.  The band played "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and "Deep in the Heart of Texas."  Some of the football players did double duty, playing for their school on the field, and playing in the band at half time.  People who live in small towns have to be multi-talented and play many roles, in order for everything to get done that needs to get done.  No One-Dimensional Men or women in Marfa!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chihuly in Nashville

Tom and I went to see the Dale Chihuly shows both at Cheekwood and at the Frist in Nashville.  We thought that the big, organic form glass pieces looked better outside in the landscape than in captivity inside the old post office.  Still, wherever you see them, they are amazing.  Tom called them "eye candy," and he meant that in a good way.

We weren't allowed to photograph inside the Frist Center, so all the photographs here are from the Cheekwood show.  First you go in the Botanic Hall, and you see the "Macchia."  Like most of Chihuly's work, the Macchiae seem to be abstractions of some sort of organic form, maybe a sea creature of some kind.  I have always loved the tropical plants in the atrium in the Botanic Hall, which themselves have amazing forms, so these glass plants or sea creatures seemed right at home there.

Later Tom pointed out that these "cups" couldn't be outside or they would accumulate water, and maybe even breed mosquitoes.  True.

Next you go behind the Botanic Hall and you see a tall "Saffron Tower," which probably looks better lit up at night.  (Cheekwood is open on Thursdays and Fridays at night, when all the glass is lit up.  I'm planning to go back and see it at night sometime.)  Next to the tower are the "Cattails," which look perfect in their garden setting.  Whoever sited them paid close attention to color harmonies.

I love the way the orange complements the purple foliage below.

After the cattails, you walk down an allee, and you see in the distance some blue pointy things that turn out to be more pieces in Chihuly's "Fiori" series.  I think "fiori" means flowers in Italian.  Chihuly studied glass-blowing in Venice, where glass-blowing reached a peak in the early Renaissance.

Up close, the blue and green spikes look like this:

Again, the color coordination is very good:

It's fortunate that Cheekwood has a Japanese garden, because Chihuly has some pieces that have a Japanese theme.  "Niijima Floats" is based on fishing floats used in Japan.

Sadly, you are not allowed to walk around in the Japanese gardens and get up close to the "floats."  You can look at them from a Japanese-style pavilion, though.

There are also "Bamboo Reeds" among the real bamboo, which I particularly liked, being aficianado of bamboo and a prolific grower of bamboo myself.  Bamboo forms are among the most subtle and beautiful of the plant world.

Then you progress to the three large koi ponds at Cheekwood.  Well, at least, when I was a little girl there were huge koi in these pools.  I seem to remember that we had to release one of our own overgrown goldfish into one of these ponds once.  Anyway, this summer they are home to an installation called "Walla Wallas," named after the onions from Chihuly's home state of Washington.  But these are onions that float.

Above the waterfall in the upper right, you can see a boat filled with heron-like figures of many colors.

One thing that's great about this show is how kid-friendly it is.  There were a lot of little kids in strollers and on foot running around Cheekwood ooh-ing and ah-ing at the brightly colored objects. Too bad you can't touch!  One little kid even pronounced the biggest piece on the front lawn to be "breath-taking."

Here it is, the piece de resistance, called "The Sun":

To me this piece resembled something you might see at a very ambitious birthday party, where the parents have hired a balloon artist to blow up a lot of balloons and twist them into funny shapes.  But it's glass!  And it's very big.  Chihuly wrote, of the inspiration for this piece:

"If you take a thousand blown pieces of a color, put them together, and then shoot light through them, that's going to be something to look at.  It's mysterious, defying gravity or seemingly out of place--like something you have never seen before."

I like Chihuly's idea that it's ok to make something that's just pure spectacle, pure intense color and light. Color and light are what visual experience is made of.  Why not push that to the limit?  Of course, in this piece, the elements of line and form are also "something to look at."  When I look at visual art, I want it to be "something to look at."  A lot of visual art of the last two or three decades has been more "something to think about," rather than something that's there for pure visual pleasure.  It's refreshing to be handed some pure visual pleasure, almost like a flavor.  "The Sun" looks delicious, like some kind of Dairy Queen extravaganza.  Or again, like a sea creature or tropical plant.  The huge boxwoods in front of Cheekwood (themselves something to look at) were a good foil for this big yellow flower.

Inside the big house, there were more marvels, but we weren't allowed to photograph.  Chihuly made some chandeliers for Cheekwood, and there's one in the spiral stairwell, and three in the glassed-in porch.  I hope they're there to stay.  The Swan Ball will never be the same again (not that I've ever been to it).   There was also a small exhibit of Chihuly's drawings.  Chihuly himself doesn't blow glass any more, due to a shoulder injury.  He works with "gaffers," strong guys who blow and tilt-a-whirl the glass into the shapes that he's drawn.  He works collaboratively with a large team of helpers.  You can see a very interesting film about the process in the courtyard gallery at the Frist Learning Center, next to the big house. (Don't ask me why so many things in Nashville are called The Frist Something or Other.  The same is true at Princeton.)

One thing I liked about the drawings, which were really paintings on paper, was that Chihuly used iridescent watercolor paints.  Go for the gusto!  Don't worry about being tacky!  Just do it!  Now I want to make a bunch of iridescent watercolor paintings. Again, Chihuly's design sense is kind of child-like and playful, uninhibited, in an admirable way.  As Picasso said, "Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up."  Answer:  use a lot of bright colors and sparkly things.  And then make it really big.

On to the grotto and the shell fountain, over beside the big house, near that spectacular wisteria arbor.  Here we find the blue marlins and yellow herons:

You can see Tom looking down over this scene in this picture:

Since Cheekwood is built on the top of a hill, the gardens around the house are terraced, in a lovely way.  Below this grotto is a reflection pool, and Chihuly placed an installation there called "Mille Fiori," or a thousand flowers.  Chihuly's mother was an avid gardener, and she remains an influence on him.

The way the forms reflect themselves in the water adds to the pleasure of looking at and photographing these pieces.  The many new forms created by the reflections and the sky and the clouds remind me of Monet's water lily paintings.  I really wanted to come back and spend a day at Cheekwood drawing some of the installations.

Walking back to the parking lot, you pass another little pond that DOES have a waterlily in it!

In the background you see the "Blue Polyvitro Crystals."

Finally, there's a piece that is pink, a color not seen in the other pieces.  This glass also has some iridescent colors in it:

It reminded me of Victorian glass Christmas tree ornaments, only really big.

This show is really worth seeing.  Take a child and a picnic, a camera and some Prismacolor pencils and paper, and enjoy the eye candy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Andrea Dezso: Houston, We Have an Imagination

The Rice Gallery on the Rice University campus always has interesting installations.  Artists are invited to create installations specifically for the space.  These installations often have a light-hearted, even humorous feel to them, like Wayne White's Big Lectric Fan, which I wrote about in this blog last fall.

Andrea Dezso's wonderful installation, "Sometimes In My Dreams I Fly," is not as laugh-out-loud funny as White's big puppet head of George Jones, with its mouth opening and closing as he snores, but it is still delightful.  Dezso's sensibility is that of the rare adult who has preserved a child-like faith in the importance of imaginary worlds.  Her installation takes the space program as its starting point--appropriate for Houston on the fortieth (!) anniversary of Apollo XIII.  But Dezso grew up in Communist Romania.  The space program that fired her imagination was the Soviet space program.  She collected stamps with images of astronauts and space travel and followed the news of their flights.

In a video on a screen in the foyer, Dezso explains that she thinks the ill-fated Apollo XIII flight ("Houston, we have a problem") was actually interesting mostly because it didn't get to the moon.  She says that even if we don't actually get to go to the moon or into space in our real physical bodies, we can go in our imaginations.

When I was a child, I had a book called You Will Go To the Moon.  It was written in 1959.

It's amazing that in 1959, people really believed that children born in the fifties would someday vacation on the moon, sort of like people in the fifties drove to the Grand Canyon.  Like Apollo XIII, though, I have not gone to the moon and never will.

Dezso's installation is based on her previous series of tunnel books.  A tunnel book is a three-dimensional book that you look into as if looking into a tunnel.  Pages are partially cut away in front to reveal other scenes behind them.

These books are small, perhaps 6"x 8" and about six inches deep.  For the Rice Gallery installation, she imagined tunnel books big enough to walk into!  And then she built them in the gallery space.  You can't actually walk into them:  you look into them through the big glass windows in front of the gallery.

The effect is mysterious and tantalizing:  you can see deep into this "scene," but you can't exactly crawl in there and explore it.  Careful lighting makes the back of the "tunnel book" brighter than the foreground, creating the "repousse" effect of 19th century romantic landscape painting.  Silhouettes of strange creatures are seen prancing and flying against the background colors.

The invented creatures are probably the most interesting part of the show.  Part insect, part animated plants, part astronaut, they fly and swim and crawl, reminding me of Arthur Rackham's silhouette illustrations:

Like Rackham's fairies, Dezso's space plants, insects, and people seem not entirely benign, although they are not exactly monsters.  Carrot Man, for example, has a kind of manic grin.  The average child would not be entirely pleased to meet him.

(Dezso has cut out huge life-size versions of some of her creatures and attached them to the exterior doors of the gallery.  Carrot Man is one of them.)

But who wouldn't want to be a Female Astronaut with a Leaf-Powered Propeller?  As a child, I, like most children, sometimes did dream I could fly, and the cartoon images of the Jetsons flying around with jetpacks on their backs made it seem that maybe I would Go To The Moon, or at least fly around Nashville with my jetpack on.  Apparently Romanian children were having the same dreams and fantasies, as we all cowered under our mutually assured mushroom clouds.  For the space program was the flip side of MAD:  technology's benign side, like Our Friend the Atom.  We all loved Tang and Space Food Sticks, the only discernible benefits of the space program.

And so there are both utopian and dystopian elements in these scenes:  the leaf-powered propeller hints at a time when plants might provide people with some new kind of alternative "green" transport; but at the same time the landscapes are replete with machines and power lines.  However, the machines look more like carnival rides than like gritty industrial rust-belt relics.

The power lines just look like power lines.  That in itself is a little jarring:  in this fantastic world where people have propellers on their heads, they also have these banal power lines or drilling rigs.  It looks like Texas.

Dezso has impressive paper-cutting skills. I'm impressed because I think she must have done most of the cutting with an Exacto knife, and I am trying to get better at using one of those tools.  Paper cutting is hot right now in the world of contemporary art:  there's a show at the Museum of Arts and Design called Slash: Paper Under the Knife. 
Dezso has a tunnel book in that show, and another long-time cutter of paper is also in the show:  Kara Walker, whom I immediately thought of when I first looked at Dezso's show.  Walker's cut paper figures are, of course, much more disturbing, even nightmarish:

Dezso seems to draw on this work, and perhaps that of Arthur Rackham, to evoke a not-quite-benign, but nonetheless tantalizing dream world, in which one might experience flying, if not to the moon, then at least with a leaf propeller on your head.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sally Heller, "Ab-Scrap"

Ab-Scrap is an interesting installation at Lawndale, by New Orleans artist Sally Heller.


The title seems to refer to the fact that the installation is a kind of abstract three-dimensional "painting" made with scraps of fabric and jewelry, beads, mirrors, string, and wire.  

You can walk around in the installation, as if it's a kind of landscape.  It even has trees.



The colors, beads, and trees reminded me of New Orleans after Mardi Gras, when you see beads hanging in live oak trees.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Charles Brindley, part II

Yesterday I wrote about Charles Brindley, an artist who lives in Kentucky near the Tennessee border. He grew up in Nashville, and so Tennessee can claim him too.  I am especially interested in his large-scale drawings of deciduous trees in winter.  But Brindley also makes large oil paintings of our local rural landscape.

Brindley traces his interest in landscape back to his childhood in Nashville.  He was the youngest of several children, and his grandmother and great-grandmother lived with the family.  So sometimes his mother would take the elderly ladies out for a drive in the country.  He was too little to stay home by himself, so he went also, and spent long hours gazing out the windows of the car at the landscape.  This was in the early 1960s.

I think a lot of Americans experience the landscape at first this way, and mainly this way.  I've wondered why there aren't more paintings and photographs of the road, with the landscape falling away on either side.  I guess it's because it's hard to draw and drive.  I remember long drives in the country in the early 1960s also, when my family would drive to Wilson County to visit my grandparents at their farm.  My earliest attempts at landscape painting probably resemble the view through the back seat window.

Of course, Brindley gets out of the car now and draws on site.  His graphite studies are used to make large oil paintings in the studio.  Some are panoramic in format, such as "Flat Agricultural Landscape":

When you drive to Adairville from Nashville, you drive through an area known as the Hidden Corn Belt.  This is a four-county area north of Nashville where a great deal of field corn is grown, in huge fields.  Brindley's landscapes often reflect a fascination with the graphic qualities of the lines of the furrows, some just beginning to sprout corn.  When you get up close to this painting, you can see that the earth is rendered in an almost Pointillist style, with tiny touches of color juxtaposed.  The color is not simply naturalistic: it seems saturated, and oddly, more saturated in the background than in the foreground, which is the opposite of classical atmospheric perspective technique.  This gives the impression of bright sunlight falling on the yellow field at the far right, whereas the foreground appears somewhat overcast.

The lines of the furrows on the middle field create regular linear perspective, but in a way that actually suggests a mound rather than a flat landscape.  Is it flat, or hilly? This ambiguity gives the space a sort of vertiginous quality, as if you are flying over it and changing your angle of view as you fly.  In some ways it reminds me of Thomas Hart Benton's undulating landscapes:

Benton has been called a Regionalist painter.  American Regionalist painters in the 1920s through the 1950s rejected abstraction and modernism in favor of a more representational style of painting, and their subject matter became the rural landscape and small towns of the United States.  You could say that Brindley's work could be categorized this way.  His landscape painting, though, is much more representational than Benton's.


An example might be this painting of the trunk of an old beech tree.  In this painting, there are no large passages of hyper-saturated color; the overall effect is more naturalistic.   But when you get up close you can see again that Pointillist effect of juxtaposed intense color.  This painting reminds me more of the work of American 19th century landscape painters of the Hudson River School, like Cole and Durand, than it does of any 20th century painting. I saw a show once of small oil studies by Asher Durand, and Brindley's study of this beech tree seems to have much in common with Durand's meticulous studies.

But of course, as a 20th and 21st century painter, Brindley has a different attitude toward the application of paint.  His paintings don't have the "licked" surface that the almost photographically real Hudson River School paintings of the 19th century had. Brindley draws your attention also to the flat surface of the canvas and the fact of the material presence of paint on it, like a good modernist would.  He has obviously thought a lot about how tiny spots of colors work when juxtaposed, which was the obsession of 19th century French painters, Seurat being the most famous practitioner of that technique.  But Monet also thought deeply about the effect of small touches of color that the eye mixes, instead of the painter mixing the colors on the palette.

This juxtaposition of tiny touches of color hits a high-water mark Brindley's "The Green Man":

 The subject matter here is a rock formation, another favorite landscape feature for Brindley.  But the real subject is the broad spectrum of lichen colors on the rocks.  It takes a minute to find the Green Man:  a green figure reaches toward the center of the painting from the right hand side, as if he is jumping to catch a ball.  The Green Man is described by thousands of tiny spots of color, mimicking the tiny spots of lichen on a rock.  The rocks themselves seem to be abstract paintings made of many touches of color:  nature as Abstract Expressionist?  And the forms of the rocks, cropped and devoid of any other context, compose together an almost abstract, sculptural form.

There's a tension in Brindley's work between his representational impulse--the desire to record every branch and twig on a tree for example--and this drive toward abstraction.  But they are not really contradictory:  the Romantic landscape painter has been a driving force in modernism, and toward abstraction, from the beginning of Romanticism in the early 19th century.