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Archive for November, 2014

WangechiMutu2
The show is titled “A Fantastic Journey.” That’s inviting! The invitation goes on to inform us that the work “explores the relationships between issues of gender, race, war, globalization, colonialism and the black female body.” These are important topics but when I see a claim that someone is exploring them all at the same time, I get suspicious because it’s just too big a claim. If an artist promises to explore any two of those topics– gender & race, gender & war, race & globalization, war & colonialism, war & black female body—I will rush to see the work in the hope of gaining new insight. Let’s go over that list again and let’s slow down to imagine the implications:
gender & race
gender & war
race & globalization
war & colonialism
war & black female body
Just focusing on one of these for a minute will exhaust you, while you’re sitting at your desk.
The claim that an exhibit encompasses all of these is preposterous. Let’s not get bowled over by buzz words.
When we see art, we must try to keep our heads and to respond honestly to what we experience. When I saw the work by Wangechi Mutu at the Block Museum last week I was not reminded of any of these grave news items. The images, composed of collages mounted on Mylar, are all huge, six to eight feet high. They looked slimy. I was reminded of decay, microbes, digestion, wormy things, swarms of insects, childish fascination with excretion and general intestinal events. All this, with an overcast of trashy, wit-less pornography.

WangechiMutu1
Why does this kind of thing make it to a highly respected gallery? Perhaps it’s seen as part of the aesthetic of decay that’s in vogue in what is perceived to be a hopeless, apocalyptic time. By all means, let’s look at the complexity of microbes, the beauty of worms and intestinal flora and fauna and let’s make art honoring them. But then let’s say so. Let’s not pretend we’re “exploring” things like the relationship between gender and race and all the rest.
Compare these images to images of urban decay.

Urban-DecayConsider some photographs of urban decay and observe your reaction, without pretense or deference to fashionable buzz words.
https://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt=AwrBT7p1nGJUWEgA2b2l87UF;_ylc=X1MDOTU4MTA0NjkEX3IDMgRmcgMEZ3ByaWQDVk5IdkR1LldTSnFfY2VLTVcwLnBqQQRuX3JzbHQDMARuX3N1Z2cDMTAEb3JpZ2luA3NlYXJjaC55YWhvby5jb20EcG9zAzAEcHFzdHIDBHBxc3RybAMEcXN0cmwDMTUEcXVlcnkDcGhvdG9zIG9mIGRlY2F5BHRfc3RtcAMxNDE1NzQ4NzM3?p=photos+of+decay&fr=sfp&fr2=sb-top-search&iscqry=
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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SpilledMilk
Classicism gives way to Romanticism: right there at the dairy section of Trader Joe’s, a gallon jug of milk falls off the peaceful, orderly shelf without any apparent provocation.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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MatisseOpenWindow

Amélie Parayre married Henri Matisse in January 1898. Part of her family came from Corsica. Since Henri’s career wasn’t going too well in freezing Paris, they spent their honeymoon in sunny Corsica. For Matisse it was work as usual. He produced fifty-five paintings in those five months. What’s important is not the prodigious output, but that he GOT COLOR: “Soon there came to me, like a revelation, the love of materials for their own sake. I felt growing within me a passion for color.”
Well, you might say, he was twenty-eight, what took him so long? We take it for granted that not only painting but our daily lives are filled with color and we assume that it was ever thus. The sky’s been blue, the grass green and flowers in flowery colors since the dinosaurs. That’s true, but cloth for clothing and furnishings was dreary and drab until very recently, januaryducDuBerryspecifically the second half of the 19th century, when analine dyes were invented. Prior to that only king and gods could afford color. Everyone else slogged around in browns and grays.
We can see this reflected in the illuminations of the 14th and 15th century and in Renaissance paintings, which depict only the rich and divine and therefore give us color to enjoy. But there was also a tradition of painting that honored the browns and considered them noble, RobertHubertdignified, stately, eternal. The Ecole des Beaux Arts, the Salon and their powerful judges looked down on color. In drawing classes, for example, color was expressly forbidden. So was working from nature. Students worked strictly from plaster casts and en grisaille (in shades of gray).
Matisse grew up in the north of France, in Bohain, a drab, cold, confining town where the main industry was weaving textiles and growing beets. After he dabbled with the little paint set his mother had given him, he knew that he wanted to become a painter. At twenty he went to Paris, where he abandoned his law studies and struggled for fifteen years before anyone bought a painting from him. His Corsica “revelation” about color was reinforced by an older artist living in the south, Paul Signac, who worked in a style called Divisionism, later known as Pointilism. Lucky for us, Matisse stuck with it.
In 1905 he worked for a few month in Collioure in the foothills of the Pyrenees. That fall he submitted to the Salon d’Automne exhibit two paintings made in that southern light. They were hung in the then infamous Salle VII, where visitors gestured obscenely and doubled over in derisive laughter. The critic Louis Vauxcelles noticed a couple of conventional, academic sculpture in the room and made the now famous wisecrack: “a Donatello among the wild beasts.” Fauves, French for wild beasts, became the nickname for a group of artists, including Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck. Matisse liked the name: “Frankly, it was admirable. The name of Fauve could hardly have been better suited to our frame of mind.” They were artists who felt that art made of shades of brown and gray was passé. They didn’t know where their experiments would lead, but they knew it was time for a revolution that would replace the worn out pictorial language of the 19th century.

MatisseWomanHat
One of those two Matisse paintings sold. Woman with a Hat was priced at 500 francs and an offer came in for 300. Henri and Amélie Matisse were flat broke. They had three children, who needed  winter coats. Amélie wouldn’t accept the 300. They waited. The prospective buyer agreed to pay the full 500. He was Leo Stein, brother of Gertrude Stein from San Francisco.
The Steins thought the new pictorial language might just be the next big thing and might be worth investing in. By investing in it, they made it happen.
Stay tuned.

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954. The Open Window, Collioure, 1905.  Woman with a Hat, 1905.

Paul Signac, 1863-1935Robert Hubert, 1733-1808 Les très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1412-1416


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ArleneOct14
When you’re working on a painting you may get to a stage where discouragement sets in. Happens often, actually. You make a sour face as you look at the work; you wave at the latest section you worked on and you say, blecccchhhh; you’re ready to go over the whole thing with purging, purifying white because you see no hope in the mess you made. Let me stay your hand. The mess you made is full of new life and new ideas!
Above is an example.
ArleneOct14Crop1Right. It doesn’t work. Not as is, not as a whole. But there are passages in there that can spur you on to new insights and new directions in your work. Crop! Place strips of paper over your work and isolate passages. It’s all your work, you did all this, you just didn’t see it. By cropping you see what you actually did.
I particularly like the next passage. The yellow/ochre had been scraped away partially to reveal blue ArleneOct14Crop2underpainting, resulting in a rich texture and forceful markmaking, neither of which were appreciated before the passage was isolated. I look at this and imagine it as a big canvas.—————————————-————-
(Arlene Tarpey, acrylic and pastel on paper,~20×16.)
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PalaciosStripes
If you had to describe it later to a friend and you were pressed for time, you’d say “stripes.”
Stripes, yes, but so engaging on the eye. There’s a sense here that we’re looking at a section of a long, long ribbon of stripes. We feel privileged to see at least some part of it. The section we get to see triggers curiosity about what came before at the left and what comes next at the right. The desire to see more is only natural, since what we have in front of us is so much fun to look at. Look at how adventurous the edges are, for example, the horizontal brush strokes at the upper left edge of the white stripe and the sliver of turquoise between the white and red just below the middle.
This painting seems very colorful to me, but that’s an illusion. Most of the surface is  white-ish and a brownish black. There are two thin ocher stripes. And then there’s that wide red stripe. But that consists of three shades of red and the effect created is one of depth, absorbing the viewer and letting the eye sink deep into a recession of space.
PalaciosStripesHorizontalMuch of the energy of the painting derives from the fact that the stripes are vertical. To test this, look what happens when the painting is rotated 90°. It becomes flat and tired.
(Painting by MariaPalacios, 20’x30,” water-soluble oil.)
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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