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)