Monday, September 23, 2013

Calligraphy / Typeface as abstraction

Iran, Page of calligraphy, 1700s, ink and gold leaf on paper, 30.5 x 19.7 cm (12 x 7 3/4")
© Brooklyn Museum  (BMA-2464)

Abstraction is defined as the reduction of form to simple (geometric, or organic) or decorative (a word I hate) shapes. I’ve blogged briefly about calligraphy in the past, but I rarely get a chance to look at it for its purely decorative potential.  This piece reminds me of carpet pages from medieval and Renaissance manuscripts from western Europe: extremely decorative!  If anything shows the beautiful aesthetic potential of the element of art LINE, Arabic calligraphy does.

The above example shows how calligraphy can merge with floral patterns to form something akin to a logo. It reminds me of those complicated historiated initials from medieval European manuscripts. This is a capital A, beginning a sentence with “Aspiciens a longe” “I look from afar.” The rest of the text begins below the initial.

Flanders, Antiphonary cutting, 1115-1125   © Cleveland Museum of Art  (CM-484)

The importance of writing, which is emphasized throughout the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an, led to the importance of calligraphy as an art form. Cursive script dates back to the first centuries of the Muslim era. Unlike European languages, Arabic is written from right to left. In this case, from lower right to upper left.  Cursive scripts were used for secular writings rather than transcriptions of the Qur’an. This page of beautiful calligraphy shows how writing – line – can be a work of art in itself. However, expressions from the Qur’an are expressed in gorgeous calligraphy.

Here’s another gorgeous example of the expressive use of contrasting lines in calligraphy.

Iran, Page of calligraphy, 1800s, ink on cardboard, 11.4 x 18.6 cm (4 1/2 x 7 5/16”)
© Brooklyn Museum (BMA-2465)

Edward Fella (born 1938 US)  He’s History, 1997, lithograph, 43.2 x 28 cm (17 x 11”)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York © 2013 Edward Fella (MOMA-P1206)

This is an interesting comparison using more recent western type in a similar sort of decorative configuration.

 Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art 5 5.25, Explorations in Art 5 5.26,
Explorations in Art 6 5.27, Explorations in Art 6 5.28,   A Global Pursuit 3.4 studio, A Personal Journey 4.2, Exploring Visual Design 1

Studio activity:   Making a decorative pattern of your name. Using a wide-tip maker in black, make a decorative symbol of your first/and/or last name. Practice using a pencil to make sure if geometric or organic line is preferable. After making a bold statement with your name, embellish it with colored pencils or markers making sure to interwine shapes with the bold black lines of your name.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Commemorating Qi Baishi (died Sept 16 1957)

Qi Baishi (1863–1957, China), Wisteria, ink and watercolor on paper,
mounted as hanging scroll. Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA-2956)

Chinese painting, drawing and graphic arts of the 20th and 21st centuries is an amazing combination of traditional and bold contemporary statements. Today I honor Qi Baishi who died on this date. He was an amazing talent who blended traditional Chinese painting technique and format with contemporary aesthetic. The unfortunate tendency of Chinese galleries to favor realism over contemporary experiment means that the West is richer for it! We get to see cutting edge Chinese modernism! While Qi Baishi is not exactly “cutting-edge,” he does represent a strain in Chinese art that endures into the 21st century. His work is extraordinarily beautiful.

Chinese painting first flourished during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE). It was primarily landscape and genre subjects. Indeed, landscape dominated Chinese painting, and subsequently Japanese and Korean painting since that period. However, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), close-ups of nature also became popular subject matter for painters. This was especially true in the format of the hanging scroll.

Since the Communist Chinese revolution of the 1940s, social realism has been the prefered painting style by Chinese government. However, a myriad of styles that hark back to traditional Chinese painting persist until the present day. Qi Baishi is perhaps the most famous of artists in the 1900s painting in traditional subject matter and style.

Qi studied calligraphy, literature and painting from the artists of the Shanghai school. He only started to seriously pursue painting when he was in his mid-20s. He did not receive widespread recognition until he was in his 60s. Qi not only assiduously studied the painting lessons in old Chinese texts, but also western art. He combined these influences in a style that recalled the individualist painters of the Qing dynasty, while infusing his subjects with modern compositional sensibilities. Like the individualist painters, Qi expressed his subjective feelings about the subject without affecting a faithfulness to nature.

The wisteria was a favorite subject of Chinese and Japanese artists because it is a vine flower. In Chinese it is called “purple vine.” It symbolizes playfullness and spontaneity, because the vine seemingly grows where it wants to. The spontaneity of vine flowers was a good accompaniment to the Zen Buddhist idea of spontaneous enlightenment. Qi has perfectly captured that playfullness in this beautiful hanging scroll.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art2: 1.2; Explorations in Art2: 1.3; Explorations in Art5: 4.19, A Global Pursuit: 4.5; A Personal Journey: 5.5; Exploring Visual Design: 5,10; The Visual Experience: 13.4; Discovering Art History: 4.3

Studio activity: Create a hanging scroll of flowers. Using complementary colors (those opposite each other on the color wheel), do an asymmetrically balanced composition of your favorite flowers. Take a tall, narrow sheet of drawing paper, and use markers or watercolor. Choose favorite flowers and make sketches of how they look. Try to create the scroll image without doing a pencil drawing so that it is spontaneous. Remember to contrast positive and negative space, yet achieve an approximate balance of shapes.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Spirituality in African Art

Johannes Mashego Segogela (born 1936 South Africa), Welcome in Our
World, 1993, wood, paint, wire, synthetic fiber, installation:
44.5 x 96.5 x 167.6 cm (17 ½” x 38” x 66”) Brooklyn Museum.
© 2013 Johannes Mashego Segogela   (BMA-3495)
It is my fervent hope for peace in the Middle East. In that interest, I’m introducing you to an artist who expressed the same hopes of his fellow South Africans for their country during the end of Apartheid. Apartheid was the separation of native Africans of South Africa by the Dutch and British colonists, starting in 1948. Segogela’s piece celebrates the hope native Africans had about democratic changes to South Africa that began in 1990 and anticipated the democratic elections in 1994, in which Nelson Mandela was elected president.

Segogela is a self-taught artist born in Sekhukhuneland in western Transvaal, home of the Marota (Pedi) culture. He was trained as a woodworker. His membership in the anti-Apartheid group ANC (African National Congress) and his conversion to fundamentalist Christianity in the Church of the Five Missions have inspired his work. The aim of his subject matter is to rid the world of violence and hate.

Segogela’s spirituality is obvious in this piece in which clergy waving Bibles exhort South Africans to get rid of their guns in the device in the background. Stylistically the piece recalls African figure sculpture from the entire continent throughout the centuries, although the figures are less abstracted. Segogela wants to express his feelings about religion, politics and the evolving South African culture post-Apartheid. As a work of art, it has a stronger thematic emphasis than stylistic.

In a wider context, Segogela’s work points out an aspect of African sculpture that has been present since the most ancient of African periods, Ancient Egypt: the sculpture is invested with spiritual intent and power. In the following works from ancient Egypt and Nigeria, we see the spiritual function these sculptures served.

In the case of the ancient Egyptian offering bearers, the figures represent a presence (through a physical object) of the connection of servants to their deceased masters in the afterlife, providing eternal service from the tomb. The Ibeji figures from Nigeria represent monuments to one of two deceased twins who will represent that twin in the physical world forever.
Egypt, Offering Bearers, 2040–1926 BCE, from the Tomb of Djehutynakht,
Deir el-Bersha, painted wood, Width: 66.36 cm (26 1/8")
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFAB-713)
Nigeria, Three pairs of Ibeji figures, 1940s, wood,
average height between 27 and 28 cm (10 5/8 and 11”)
© Cleveland Museum of Art  (CM-411)
Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art: 1 2.9-10 studio, Explorations in Art 3: 1.3-4 studio, Explorations in Art 4: 1.1-2 studio, Art a Global Pursuit: 1.5, The Visual Experience: 14.3, Discovering Art History: 4.8