Wednesday, November 29, 2023

James Turrell: Of Light & Space


As artists are quick to point out, the presence of light is very important. That's never more so than for an artist who is described as a "sculptor of light." The artist is James Turrell (1943-), who was born in Los Angeles and received his education there. 



Turrell classes included astronomy and perceptual psychology, which explains his interest in light and space. Working with a high-intensity projectors as light source some 55 years ago, he produced the first of his Projection Pieces. It was from that experiment onward when he participated with engineers, physiologists, and artists to study the "Ganzfeld Effect," or perceptual deprivation.

 By 1967, Turrell had his first exhibit at the Pasadena Art Museum. It was an essay in a magazine about the exhibit that would put Turrell in the forefront of the Light & Space movement.

 Not only has Turrell have 22 permanent installments in prestigious galleries across the United States, but he also continues his development of the Roden Crater Project, which is a 400,000 year old cinder-cone volcano in Arizona's  Painted Desert region. He's been able to build his
"naked-eye observatory" from a Guggenheim Fellowship Award and more recently from a MacArthur Fellowship Grant.



(This man of high accomplishment in the art of light and space movement is certainly a pioneer. I have to admit that every photo of him with white hair and beard puts me in mind of the actor, Monty Woolley (1888-1963). Anybody else?)

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

William Degouve de Nuncques: Autumn Scenes






The change of time and the darkness coming so early has me thinking that I should put on my pjs and hunker down under a warm blanket, but it's only 5 PM! I searched for an artist who might have known what autumn feels like. Found! He was William Degouve de Nuncques, (1867-1935) who was a Belgian artist.

 Degouve de Nuncques was an artist who found his own way. He did go to art school for awhile, but preferred to be self-taught. He was influenced with the artists with whom he shared a studio.Those were Dutch artist, Jan Toorop (whose painting of the Crucifixion is the most stylized I've ever seen) and Belgian artist, Henry de Groux.

 For most of his life, he was regarded as a painter of post-impressionist,atmospheric landscapes. That is why he seemed so appropriate for this time of year. 

While his subjects and style changed in the 1900s, partially due to his loss of use of one hand, this blog will be on his works during the time before.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Sandra Mollon: Art Quilts Extraordinaire

 As the weather cools, my mind returns to the grandmother quilt that covered my bed. I recall how worn out pants, dresses and other garments were examined by the elder ladies for places where the fabric was still "good." These pieces of fabric would reappear as warm quilts for winter. While that form of quilting still continues, the usage has changed into an art form more likely to be found as wall art. 

There is an expansive use of fabrics today that inspire the art quilters into exhibits in galleries, museums, and even international challenges these days.Among the most talented of these art quilters is Sandra Mollon.


 Mollon has been quilting for over 30 years. She began as a traditional quilter. Over the years, she extended into art quilting.  Her inspiration for subjects is far and wide. 


 They include scenic, flora, animals and even traditional applique'. She has received many award,s including a quilt that was acquired by the National Quilt Museum.

Mollon not only creates videos and books, but also teaches her techniques nationally and internationally - going as far as Tuscany, Italy!  Beyond all the awards and accolades, as she says, "... the most important aspect of what I do is the lives I touch, and those that touch me."

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Caspar David Friedrich: Romantic Era Influencer

 As we enter the transition from Autumn to Winter, it feels like a moody time of year. There's fog, cold days, rainy days and the first hints of snow. All this brought to mind the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) and his works that seem to express this time.





Friedrich was the most highly regarded German painter of his generation. His main source of inspiration was nature. (No wonder I like him) He particularly drawn to night skies, morning mist, barren trees and ancient ruins. His timing and choice of subjects was perfect.


It was a time when people were questioning the material world and reaching towards natural surroundings. In some respects, he predated Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and his search in nature at Walden Pond. 

 At the peak of Friedrich's popularity, his works were prized by royalty, especially in Russia. There were many of his paintings featured in Saint Petersburg where he also gained a patronage.

Alas, time meant his subject and style were regarded as dated

and he lost his audience. However, he left a legacy with his form of landscape painting which influenced certain Russian and American painters, including the famous Hudson River School.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Alejandro Santiago: 2500 + 1 Gone!

Alejandro Santiago (1964-2013) was a highly-trained and well-known Mexican artist. He was born and raised in Teococuilco in the state of Oaxaca. You might be thinking, "Why does that matter?"

It's because Santiago returned to his hometown after spending several years in Europe studying art, only to find that half of the population - some 2,500 people - had left. He had come home to a shell of a town. Most of the working age population had emigrated. Those who remained were either old or children who had been left with grandparents. Some of these emigrants would die in the desert, but against their poverty it was a chance they were willing to take.

In a dream, Santiago saw a way to repopulate those 2,500 souls plus his own to the town. With a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and 35 workers, he created 2501 clay sculptures. No two figures are alike.

Santiago personally shaped each one in a crude way to represent the native people and the hardships of their lives, both in Mexico and in the United States.


Once the 2500+1 figures had been displayed at various galleries, Santiago placed them in Teococuilco to celebrate the "migrants' return." Or as one curator described these sculptures, " if to summon the absent ones."  

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Alain Mailland: Sculptor, Artist, Artisan of Wood

Recently, we were having a discussion about what is the difference between artists and artisans. Looking up the two definitions, it read that artists create art such as: painting,sculpting,music or writing; whereas artisans "workers who practice a trade or handicraft." These definitions seem, at best, not fitting for so many. For example, where does creativity start and commercialism end?



If pushed, I'd say someone like Alain Mailland is both artist and artisan. Not only does he sculpt wood into the most unique forms, but he also sells his sculptures.




Mailland was born on the Ivory Coast and moved with his family to France as a child. In his early 20s, he studied at the National Art School and worked as a construction carpenter and mason. It was at age 28 that he took his first course in wood turning. 

 He made his living making interior wood works until he made the decision to move into the world of wood sculpting. After that, he devoted himself to mastering the lathe and making special tools to achieve his sculptures.

Using mainly roots from trees in the French countryside where he lives, he identifies the different colors that a tree produces from the heartwood to the roots or sapwood. In that way, he plans for the creation of natural color contrasts as he sculpts. 

"There is a correspondence between all the species living on earth. You can find animal or mineral shapes in roots and vegetable forms, and in stone or bones. We humans are linked with all things growing on the earth. This is what I feel when I make my sculptures."

 Mailland is one of Europe's foremost wood sculptors, specializing in turning and sculpting exquisite organic shapes. He also teaches his techniques. You could way worse than taking a class from this master artist/artisan.




Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Henry Ossawa Tanner: Artist in Spite of the Odds

 Recently, an artist's retrospect broke all opening night attendance records at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. That artist was Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937).

Tanner was the child of African Methodist Church Bishop Benjamin Tanner and the former slave Sarah Tanner, came North via the Underground Railroad.
 By age 13, Tanner was completely smitten with the idea of becoming an artist. His father could not discourage him of the idea. His talent was such that at age 19, he was accepted to Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. (Right: Tanner's bust of his father.)


Tanner was well regarded by his teachers for his skills. However, this slight somewhat frail black man suffered immeasurably from other students as the only African-American. In his words:

I was extremely timid and to be made to feel that I was not wanted, ... caused me sometimes weeks of pain. Every time any one of these disagreeable incidents came into my mind, my heart sank, and I was anew tortured by the thought of what I had endured, almost as much as the incident itself.

In spite of all the cruelty directed at Tanner, he completed his studies and gained a reputation as

an exceptional painter, photographer and sculptor. It should have been enough, but this was after the Civil War and the Supreme Court's "separate but equal" ruling.



Tanner was frustrated at being described as a "Negro painter." Even when sympathetic patrons arranged an exhibit for him, he could not sell his art. Tanner decided to go abroad to further his training.


Being a man of courage and fortitude, Tanner raised the money to go to Paris. There, he studied the Masters and flourished as an artist. Europeans did not confuse his talent with his race. Tanner was able to create and thrive in that environment. Today, Tanner is celebrated as the first black artist to gain recognition on both continents.

Here are some of his paintings: (click image to enlarge)


Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Hayashi Kodenji: At the Peak of Japanese Cloisonne Enamel

 Last week's blog was a lead-in to this week. As I previously mentioned, the Impressionists were inspired by the art in painting, woodblocks, and paper that was being imported from Japan. There was another form of Japanese art that was captivating them. It was the beautiful and excellent cloisonne enamel vases made by Hayashi Kodenji (1831-1915)




Cloisonne is French for "closed." It's an ancient process where metal strips or wire (usually gold or silver) outline a design. The ancient Egyptians used the process and then put precious or semiprecious stones in the enclosed area. However, for the purposes of objects practically used, powdered enamel filled the open areas and then the whole object was fired in a kiln. 



Kodenji was a master of the technique.In his Nagoya studio, he was also a brilliant marketer. The story goes that he literally walked his vases to the port of Yokohama to place them carefully on the ships heading to Paris. He made sure they were featured at the 1868 & 1878 Paris and 1873 Vienna Expositions. 

The Europeans were quite taken with the beauty and quality of the workmanship. Kodenji, along with a few other Japanese cloisonne enamel masters were held in very high regard.

 (When you look at some of the floral designs do you see where Monet's Giverny gardens might have been conceived?)


In the way of passing the knowledge to the next generation, Kodenii's son, Hayashi Kodenji II, (1859-1922) would continue to operate the Nagoya studio. It's reported that the father and son worked together for 40 years and that makes it difficult to differentiate. I'd like to think it was collaborative. In any case, Nagoya Studios won at many exhibitions.

 The high demand meant many cloisonne enamel artisan studios thrived in Japan in what was to be the Golden Age of Japanese cloisonne enamel. The last studio is now gone. The archives, tools and enamel materials are preserved in the Museum of Kyoto.