Monday, July 30, 2018

Have You Had Your Fiber Today?

Sheila Hicks (born 1934, US), The Principal Wife Goes On, ca. 1970. Linen, silk, wool, and synthetic fibers, 11' 4" x 4' 10" (342.9 x 147.3 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Sheila Hicks. (PMA-8626)

As you all know, I’m not a fan of the words “decorative arts,” “artisan,” “crafts,” or “craftsperson.” I think we’re way beyond that now. If any artist exemplifies how far from “craft” certain art forms have come since the early 1900s, it is Sheila Hicks. She has transformed fiber arts into installation art. Her early pieces were BIG, but her latest installations are huge and gorgeous.

Hicks was at the forefront of the transformation of textile arts from “craft” to fine art already in the late 1950s. The evolving Feminist Art Movement of the early 1970s focused attention on art forms traditionally considered "women's work," a major example being fiber arts. This revolution in the perception of textiles was pioneered by many women who had studied under Bauhaus textile artists, particularly Anni Albers (1899–1994), who taught at Yale University after leaving Germany. The movement reinvigorated traditional types of fiber art such as wall hangings, quilts, and tapestries, but also encouraged artists to explore new genres of fiber arts that transcended two-dimensional forms.

Hicks was born in Nebraska and received both a BFA and MFA from Yale University. She studied under both Anni Albers and Josef Albers (1888–1976), initially to become a painter. That all changed when she received a Fulbright scholarship to study painting in Chile (1957 to 1958), and Anni Albers suggested that she study the indigenous textiles for the vibrant use of color. That was all it took to hook her on fiber arts. She subsequently studied the medium in Mexico and South Africa, opening workshops in both places. Her name is now forever linked to the fiber medium, and her work has grown in both concept and size. Her room-sized installations are mind-blowing! 

Sheila Hicks, Blue Letter, 1959. Hand-woven wool, 17 ¾" x 17" (45.1 x 43.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2018 Sheila Hicks. (MOMA-S0148)

While still at Yale, Hicks's habitually carried around a portable hand loom on which she experimented with various techniques and combinations of techniques when inspired in her daily travels. She has called these study works of the last fifty years "minimes." Minimes invariably explore a variety of stylistic anomalies that are unique to Hicks' body of work. Blue Letter is a double-sided minime weaving in which she incorporated hieroglyphics into the texture by varying the width of the warp. It is an early example of how Hicks brought the textile arts medium to the threshold of crossing into sculpture. 

Sheila Hicks, Wow Bush/Turmoil in Full Bloom, 1977. Installation, cotton, variable dimensions. Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Sheila Hicks. (PMA-7032)

Hicks’ fiber works span the media of painting, architecture, sculpture, and textile. Color is the focus of practically all of her works, reflecting the impetus for her turning to fiber arts in the first place while thinking she wanted to be a painter. Her sensitivity to color helps augment the sculptural quality of her pieces, particularly in works like Wow Bush, which dominate the gallery not only by size but in the brilliance of the color.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art 1E Grade 3: 6.31; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 3: 6.1, 6.3; Explorations in Art 1E Grade 4: 5.27; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 4: 5.4; Explorations in Art 1E Grade 5: 2.10; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 5: 2.5

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Put on Your SPF 100 Sunblock

Alex Katz (born 1927, US), Vincent with Radio, 1974. Oil on canvas, 72" x 96" (182.9 x 243.8 cm). Image © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York. (PMA-8136kzvg)

Alex Katz’s birthday is today, the 24th of July. Happy Birthday to this extraordinary artist! I’ve come to be a great admirer of his work, and find it unfortunate that he is sometimes categorized as “Pop Art” simply because he documents everyday American life. Pop Art, ugh. His work soooo transcends that designation. And New Realism doesn’t quite make it either, because he is not imitating the look of photographs. I’m (personally) adding new categories to art historical subject designations for Katz’s work: “Awesome” and “Brilliant.”

I’m just getting back from vacation. Believe me, I would never let the sun hit me like in this painting. 100-something SPF is the ticket! This is Vincent Katz (born 1960), son of the artist. He is a poet who has published numerous books, including Cabal of Zealots (1988), Understanding Objects (2000), and Fantastic Caryatids (2017).

Katz was born in Brooklyn, the child of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. He studied art and commercial design at the Cooper Union School in New York between 1946 and 1949, the Skowhegan School of Painting in Maine, and under Josef Albers (1888–1976) at Yale University. He chose figurative work very early in his career and has remained faithful to it throughout his life.

Katz’s portraits tend to depict people whom he knows: his wife and son, artists, poets, and art critics in his circle of friends. During the 1950s, during the height of Abstract Expressionism, Katz’s portraits were painterly. Eventually, however, his style evolved into what he paints to this day: hard-edged forms; careful drawing; brilliant color applied in broad, flat fields; and radical reduction of forms. The sitters are usually depicted bust-length, often in extreme close up. The large, simplified portraits are reminiscent of billboards or advertising, possibly the influence of Katz’s study of commercial art.

Katz’s simplification of form and contrast of positive and negative space render his work in a class all its own. It is sophisticated in the Renaissance-like compositional skill of the artist. At the same time, it is approachable and endearing because we know—in the artist’s careful definition of individual people—of the artist’s personal connections to all his subjects. Summer Tales shows the artist at the height of his power to draw the viewer into a composition using the simplest of means. 

Alex Katz (born 1927, US), Summer Tales, 2007. Oil on canvas, 9' x 24' (274.3 × 731.5 cm). Image © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York. (PMA-7902kzvg)

Once you’re convinced you’ve seen all that Katz has to offer, you are confronted by his cityscapes! They follow the same general formula of simplification and suggestion. I find them totally exciting because they are images of New York, where Katz lives and works. These views are so evocative, and yet, share the same emotional attachment to the artist as do his paintings of his family and friends.

Alex Katz (born 1927, US), Bond Street 2, 1998. Oil on canvas, 10' 6" x 10' 6" (320.7 x 320.7 cm). Image © 2018 Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2018 Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York. (AK-408kzvg)

A colleague with whom I am (temporarily) sharing an office has reminded me that these cityscapes are reminiscent of the shin-hanga (new print) movement in early 1900s Japan. It was an extension of ukiyo-e, but it dealt with modern urban imagery, often with brilliant night scenes.

Tsuchiya Kōitsu (1870–1949, Japan), Rain in Ginza, from the series “Tokyo Views,” 1933. Color woodcut on paper, 15 ½" x 10 7/8" (39.5 x 27.5 cm). ©Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, Heald Fund for Asian Art and Asian Art Various Donors Fund. (WAM-531)

Monday, July 16, 2018

An Important Art Colony School

Frederick McDarrah (1926–2007, US), Hans Hofmann, Provincetown 7/4, 1959, 1959. Gelatin silver print on paper, 8" x 8" (20.3 x 20.3 cm). Image © 2018 Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-1487)

Fred McDarrah was a groundbreaking photographer who documented the rise of American modernism. He also captured many cultural and art movements of the 1960s such as the Beat Movement, Abstract Expressionism, the Civil Rights Movement, Gay Rights Movement, Pop Art, and the anti-Vietnam War protests. Born in Brooklyn, he practiced photography while a paratrooper in World War II (1939–1945). In 1955, he became a staff photographer for The Village Voice newspaper when it began. His photographs essentially became a voice for an American subculture that revolutionized American thinking in many ways, not just about abstract art.

I will soon be on my way to Provincetown for vacation. Some of my favorite things to do with my husband in Provincetown are looking at the art in all the galleries and finding out where certain artists had studios during P-town’s heyday as an art colony and breeding ground of Abstract Expressionism. In 2009, I saw an exhibition of the drawings of Hans Hofmann’s (1880–1966) students at the Provincetown Art Association Museum. It was brilliant. Hans Hofmann had a major impact on the direction of abstraction in American art, particularly the Abstract Expressionists. I’m going to try to find his studio in P-town when I’m there!

In 1915, Hofmann opened an art school in Munich, where he achieved a reputation as a great teacher; a reputation that led to his invitation to teach in the US in 1930. He taught in the US from 1932 on, first in California, then at the Art Students League in New York, and finally his own School of Fine Art (1933). He established a summer school in the venerable art colony of Provincetown in 1934.

In Provincetown, he initially leased a barn (Miller Hill) and then taught in Days Lumberyard, studio space for artists starting in the early 1900s. In 1945, he bought property at 76 Commercial Street, now a private home on the main drag in P-town. Among the students who came to his Provincetown school were many of the Abstract Expressionists. It is thought that everyone who made important contributions to American modernism took at least one lesson with Hofmann while he was in P-town.

Hofmann’s greatest concern as a teacher was a solid pictorial structure. This was based in part on the architectonic principles of Cubism and partly on the color abstract of Orphism, the painting style of Robert Delaunay (1885–1941). These two styles impacted Hofmann the most when he was in Paris in the 1910s. He developed a personal theory of “push and pull” in abstract painting, where solid elements seem to float above painterly shapes. He used color to help imply space in cools and warms that recede and project on the picture plane. His school in Provincetown, like the one in New York, emphasized painting almost exclusively.

If you can’t picture the idea of “push and pull” based in color usage, then here’s a prime example. If this wasn’t influenced by New York, I don’t know what is. 

Hans Hofmann (1880–1966, Germany/US), Towering Spaciousness, 1956. Oil on canvas, 84 ¼" x 50" (214 x 127 cm). Brooklyn Museum. © 2018 Estate of Hans Hofmann/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (BMA-5291hmars)
In 1958, Hofmann closed both of his schools and turned them into studios. This was due to the fact that he wanted to concentrate on his own painting, as well as competition from the avant-garde art school that had evolved at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Black Mountain College, run by Josef Albers (1888–1976) and Anni Albers (1899–1994)both former faculty of the Bauhaus in Germany—emphasized the Bauhaus curriculum that taught the integration of fine arts with industrial design and other disciplines.

Here are just a few of Hofmann’s students of whom you might have heard:

Richard Anuszkiewicz (born 1930, US), Dusk, 1970. Acrylic on canvas, 72" x 48" (182.9 x 121.9 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2018 Richard Anuszkiewicz/Licensed by VAGA, New York. (AK-115azvg)

Nell Blaine (1922–1996, US), Outdoor Festival, 1954. Oil on canvas, 41" x 62 3/16" (104 x 158 cm). Davis Art Images. Photo courtesy of the late Artist. © 2018 Artist or artist’s estate. (8S-16935)

Lee Krasner (1908–1984, US), Untitled, 1949. Oil on composition board, 48" x 37" (121.9 x 93.9 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2018 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-P2861krars)

Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011, US), Radius, 1992–1993. Nine-color woodcut from six blocks on hand-made paper dyed with six colors, sheet: 28" x 28" (71.3 x 71.3 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (PMA-8308fkars)

Larry Rivers (1923–2002, US), Drummer, 1960. Oil on canvas. Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence. © 2018 Estate of Larry Rivers/Licensed by VAGA, New York. (SMA-64rivg)

Correlations to Davis programs:  A Community Connection: 7.4; Discovering Art History 4E: 17.1; Discovering Art History Digital: 17.1

Monday, July 9, 2018

Wear a Protective Mask!

Merete Larsen (born 1953, Denmark), Translucent Vessel, 2000. Sycamore, 7 ¾" x 7 ¾" (19.7 x 19.7 cm). Image © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Merete Larsen/Artists Rights Sociary (ARS), New York. (PMA-8715larars)

My dear friend Matt was an engineering professor at a local university. You wonder why I start with that line? Well, that’s because he was also an artist in wood, as I mentioned in a previous post. He showed me how artists form a bowl out of a wood burl on his lathe. And he made me wear the head shield while he was showing me, because he told me of the dangers lathe artists face if they do not wear a head shield. Long story short, I gained a massive respect for artists in wood, because when I paint I don’t even bother putting on latex gloves! So, imagine my excitement when we added this piece to our Davis Digital collection, which was worked on a lathe so precisely that the bowl is translucent! And it’s tiny (well, small)!!

One of the reasons the art of wood is so sophisticated in Scandinavian countries is because of the arboreal abundance. In Denmark, artists who adopted the aesthetic goals of the Bauhaus in Germany helped form the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen (1924) to push the modernist goal of elegant functionalism without ornament. That was the beginning of “Scandinavian Modern” in furniture that revolutionized contemporary interiors.

Merete Larsen, born in Copenhagen in 1953, states that she has had a love of wood since childhood. She studied cabinet making from 1976 to 1979 in SIlkeborg, Denmark. She went on to study furniture restoration at West Dean College (1980–1981) in Chichester, England. While in England, she first tried turning wood herself on a lathe. She did not take it up seriously, though, until 1992.

Larsen states that she begins her work with a log and a chainsaw. She cuts sections of wood and brings them to the studio. It literally takes hours and hours of turning on the lathe for the artist to achieve the translucent results seen in this piece. She bases many of pieces on the shapes of Chinese porcelain from the 1700s. Larsen prefers native woods such as sycamore, beech, and ash.

I have seen many of her bowls and vases that she paints with acrylics, applying a shellac to finish them. I think I prefer this bowl displaying the natural grain of the wood. It’s almost as if Larsen has created a porcelain out of wood!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Happy July!

Edward Penfield (1866–1925, US), Harper’s July, poster for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, July 1894. Zinc etching on paper, 18 1/8" x 12 9/16" (46 x 32 cm). © 2018 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-215)

I want to wish everyone a happy July, even though it pains me when I think that the summer is half over, here in New England anyway. However, what better way to ignore that idea than to focus on art? While many art historians date the American poster “renaissance” to 1890–1900, I am more liberal and find lots of exciting examples well into the 1930s. A narrow classification, I feel, limits it to French poster pioneer Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's (1864–1901) period of productivity, and I think American graphic artists did equally exciting things in the genre.

Edward Penfield (1866–1925) is often mentioned as one of the most important poster artists of the period and his work is distinctly American in outlook. Along with his fellow “star” of poster art, Will Bradley (1868–1962), Penfield helped establish a “look” that was influenced by Art Nouveau aesthetics, but also reflect the major changes taking place in American society, particularly a world in which increasing numbers of women were finding jobs outside the home. The poster art of these two artists sought to define the “typical American girl,” which still was not much of a liberated idea, since women could not vote at the time.

Penfield was born in Brooklyn and grew up with a single mother. He decided to become an illustrator, influenced by his uncle Henry Lewis Penfield (1825–1901), who was an engraver in New York supplying work for publishers. He enrolled in the Art Students’ League in New York and studied painting under George de Forest Brush (1854/18551941), an artist known for painting the American West and developing military camouflage. Around 1890, Penfield was offered a job as a staff illustrator of Harper’s Weekly magazine, based on works he had exhibited. Early duties included cleaning up and inking other artist’s sketches and making small illustrations from photographs. His first published work appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1891. A visit to Paris in 1892 exposed Penfield to the Art Nouveau craze. When he returned to the US he became the head of the art department at Harper’s until he retired in 1901.

Penfield’s illustrations were meant to appeal to the stylish men and women of the burgeoning middle class. There is an influence of Art Nouveau and Japanese ukiyo-e prints in the flat shapes, asymmetrical compositions, and emphasis on swirling contour lines. His contour lines are less animated, however, than those of Bradley. 

William Bradley (1868–1962 US), Poster for Thanksgiving No. of Chap Book, 1895. Zincograph on paper, 20 ¾" x 14" (52.7 x 35.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2018 artist or artist’s estate. (MOMA-P0003)

Below is a Penfield for August, just to keep you going. I love the onesie swimming suit on the dude, but not that pathetic excuse for a cigarette in his mouth. Of course, the man is allowed to flaunt sexuality in the bathing suit, while the woman is depicted prim and proper. Maybe the whole scenario is why Penfield depicted her looking a little frustrated, especially since it was frowned upon at the time for women to smoke? Probably not. 

Edward Penfield (1866–1925, US), Harper’s August, poster for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, August, 1896. Zinc etching on paper, 18 9/16" x 13 7/16" (47.2 x 34.2 cm). © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. (MOMA-D0573)

Correlations to Davis programs: A Personal Journey: 4.3; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 3.7; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 3: 3.7; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.27; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 6: 5.6; Communicating through Graphic Design: 3, 6