Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Alison Saar: It's a Family Affair

If family influences one, Alison Saar (1956-) couldn't help but become an artist. Her mother, Betye Saar, is a well-known artist and her father, Richard Saar, is an artist and conservationist. In the Saar family, Alison and her two sisters were regularly exposed to visual arts and art as cultural expression.

By the time Alison was in high school, she was assisting her father in his restoration work. The experience gave her a strong sense of how art is created in other cultures. On track to become an artist, she studied African and Caribbean art in college and art school. All of these interests would inform her own art.

Initially, Alison collaborated with her mother. In time, she diverged from her mother's style of small collages to developing her own monumentally-sized sculptures.

Quite a few of her sculptures are commissioned public art. For example, here is her Harriet Tubman Memorial for New York: (click on images to enlarge)

The massive bronze monument depicts Tubman striding forward, pulling away from tree roots that represent slavery. Her skirt holds the images of many faces and object of the ones she led to freedom.

Here are a few other installations:

Title: "Coup"

Titles: "Spring" and "Summer"

Titles: "Fall" and "Winter"

Yes, Alison Saar not only carried on her family's name in art, she also built a highly awarded style and recognition in her own right.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Beaded Art of the Huichols

Words such as "complex" and "colorful" come to mind when I see Huichol beaded art. It is folk art of the highest quality.

If you haven't heard of the Huichol, a brief history is in order. These indigenous people of Mexico, maintained their tribal culture in spite of the attempted incursions of the Spaniards and Christianity.

All of their art forms represent their religious relationship with nature. Beaded art is part of their cultural expression. (Below are images of beaded animals, masks, prayer bowl and even a VW. Click to enlarge.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Who's a Polymath?

When I saw the Da Vinci exhibit, I was stunned by the breadth and depth of his varied areas of interest. I knew he was an artist, inventor and scientist, but I didn't know he was a "polymath," that is, until recently.The term was used by someone to describe a multi-talented individual and I wondered if it was interchangeable with "genius."

Upon further checking, I found out that the terms are different. It seems that a genius is a specialist; whereas a polymath is a generalist, but not "a jack of all trades and master of none."

Actually, like Da Vinci, a polymath has several areas of profound knowledge. And, no, it doesn't have anything to do with math. The word comes from the Greek (poly="many" and mathanein="to learn").

Examples of people considered to be geniuses are*:
Marie Curie (1857-1934), Scientist;
Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Physicist;
Itzhak Perlman (1945-), Musician.

Those considered to be polymaths, in addition to Da Vinci (1452-1519), are*:
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Scientist, Inventor, Architect, Stateman, Writer;
Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), Architect, Poet, Linguist, Cryptographer, Author;
Mary Somerville (1780-1872), Astronomer, Mathematician, Science Writer.
*(partial lists)

There's no clear definition of how many areas someone needs to be knowledgeable to be called a polymath. While some think that a deep interest in many subjects is enough, others think it applies only to the highest achievers.

What do you think? Should the title of "polymath" be given to people while they're alive or should it be granted in retrospect when the whole of one's life is considered? Either way, can you think of someone who is/was a polymath?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Zúñiga and the Timeless Earth Mothers

When Francisco Zúñiga (1912-1998) was a boy in his native Costa Rica, he helped his wood-carver father with the religious statues. It was the doorway which led to his formal art education. He studied oil painting, stone sculpturing and mural painting. He won prizes and commissions early in his career.

At age 23, Zúñiga moved to Mexico for the opportunity to be a sculptural assistant and later a professor at La Esmeralda school. In Mexico, he became enchanted by the pre-Hispanic art he encountered at the Museum of Archeology, Mexico City. This led Zúñiga to an understanding of the native people's history and their stoic acceptance of life - especially the women.

"I begin with an emotion, an attitude, a movement caught by chance, a woman wrapped in thought - sitting, walking, or perhaps leading a child. Among the folk who surround me I find a variety of movements -slow, elegant, rhythmic - close to an animalistic vitality or an antique grace."

Zúñiga depicted the native women like the paleolithic Venus of Willendorf. They are abundant in size and stoic in nature with their bodies firmly anchored in the Earth. They are the ancient goddesses shown in the contemplation of life, community, and motherhood.

The images in this blog are a sampling of Zúñiga's paintings, lithographs, marbles, bronzes and sketches of the eternal woman - the work that made him famous.