May 17, 2012
The American sculptor John Chamberlain (1927-2011) said he didn’t find his media, he chose it.
CHOICE – is very much a part of the artist’s process.
The John Chamberlain retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum (February 24-May 13, 2012) closed last week. See Museum curator Susan Davidson’s review of the show at the exhibition video.
I am so glad I got to see the show.
The image above (Untitled 1961) is paper, cardboard, printed paper, crayon, paint and metal on painted fiberboard, 12 1/4 x 13 x 5 inches. Courtesy the Allan Stone Collection.
Chamberlain said fit and choice were the guiding principles in his career. The exhibition showed he was really a collage artist.
Chamberlain always used the word “chosen” over “found” to describe both his materials and art-making process.
His sculpture was 3D collage with deep folds that he created by squeezing or compressing metal and then “fitting” the various elements into complex compositions.
His materials were found in the ordinary sense but were chosen (collected, stored in the studio) waiting for the artist to choose, manipulate, paint, scrape and assemble.
His work is about juxtaposition, recontextualization, recalcitrance, fit, and chance.
The image above, titled Dolores James (1962) is painted and chromium-plated steel, 72 1/2 x 101 1/2 x 46 1/4 inches. Courtesy The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
A MASTER OF SCALE AND PROPORTION
One of the key features of the exhibition is the variety in size and mastery of scale and proportion. Chamberlain was always examining and exploring scale.
Chamberlain’s sculptures range from the size of a fist (his hand) to the span of a generous hug (he was a robust man and it would have been a big hug), to the scale of a young (and eventually not so young) tree.
Chamberlain said if you get the scale right, the size doesn’t matter.
The COLOR TABOO
Chamberlain was a brilliant colorist and defied the color taboo.
When his career began in the 1950s, no sculpture had color because the Abstract/Expressionists dominated the art world and had a manifesto – color is the business of painting, not sculpture.
But Chamberlain said his color was part of the things he chose because the color was manufactured. That set him apart immediately from everyone else working in sculpture.
Chamberlain is considered one of the great colorists in mid-20th century American art – his work is painting in 3 dimensions.
The image above, titled Nutcracker, is painted and chromium-plated steel, 45 1/2 x 43 1/2 x 32 inches. Courtesy the Allan Stone Collection.
Chamberlain chose common materials and that tied him to Pop Art. He worked with standardized, manufactured materials and that tied him to Minimalism. His method of assembly (juxtaposition and layering to get the right fit) tied him to collage and Neo-Dada.
TAKE A BREAK
In the 1960s he took a 7-year break from metal and automotive parts and played with paper bags.
The image below, titled Penthouse #50 (1969) is watercolor and resin on paper, 5 x 6 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches. the Dia Art Foundation.
He called the process “articulate wadding,” He crushed paper and dripped resin into the paper creases to increase their weight and solidity.
He played with urethane foam (squeezing and folding and tying).
The image above, Untitled 1966 is one of many works in foam. The exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum included a large scooped and shaped foam seating area that people sat down on. Chamberlain called these “nests.”
During the 1960s he played with steel boxes (some started as tin spice containers), and had them enlarged to the size of a cigarette pack, then opened and crushed them into new forms.
He melted Plexiglas boxes and had them vacuum-mineral coated.
In the mid-1970s Chamberlain returned to automobile steel and he dripped, poured, scraped and spray painted his colors.
The exhibition included freestanding sculpture, floor sculpture, wall sculpture, and smaller 3D works in display cases. Some pieces are welded or bolted, but many are not.
The image above is titled Lord Suckfist (1989). It’s painted, chromium-plated and stainless steel, 83 3/4 x 57 x 56 inches. Photo courtesy The Pace Gallery.
EVERYTHING COMES APART
I talked with a gallery guide at the Museum, and asked about some of the large works that were freestanding and if they were welded. He said typically the works are not bolted or welded, just fitted together and are assembled and disassembled with each exhibition with intricate plans for how they are assembled.
Chamberlain said it was all about how they fit together.
I followed a group with a private tour guide and listened to him describe how the Museum created new walls to bring the works closer to the viewer.
The tour guide made me notice how Chamberlain inserted shiny chrome metal into many of the free-form sculptures. He talked about the way the metal folds looked like folded cloth.
The image above, titled Kiss 12 (1979) is painted steel, 30×31 x 27 inches, Galerie Karsten Greve, St. Moritz/Paris/Cologne.
HOW TO LOOK AT SCULPTURE
We walked around the sculptures to see them from every angle, see how the metal is compressed and manipulated, and how the colors moved. He talked about how there is a sense of the “baroque” in Chamberlain’s work especially in terms of the look of folded and draped material.
When Chamberlain chose car metal for his media, he was playing in the transgressive field of collage. Read more…
You can see works by John Chamberlain in a permanent collection at the Dia Art Foundation in Beacon, NY. See the Guggenheim Museum website for images and more information. Purchase the exhibition catalog John Chamberlain Choices for brilliant essays and images.
Here’s a project for all of you who want to explore collage as sculpture: Take a paper bag, blow into it, compress it, open it or pop it, pierce it, fold it around something else or attach something to it. Add paint. Experiment.
Please share your comments if you’ve seen the show. Thank you.
October 19, 2011
I love the Southwest United States and any excuse for a visit is fine.
The image nearby shows the bright blue skies of Albuquerque, NM. It’s rare to see clouds and there is not much rain. Image: the Internet.
My trip to Albuquerque, NM was for art and business and to attend the Board of Directors meeting of the Society of Layerists in Multi-Media (SLMM).
I arrived on Sunday. On Monday, we had a marathon business session to discuss an upcoming conference in Taos, NM in 2012 with speakers, a panel presentation, workshops and a reception for an exhibition at the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, NM. It will be the 30th anniversary of the founding of SLMM.
The Millicent Rogers Museum includes historic Native American Arts, Hispanic Arts, the Maria and Julian Martinez Pottery Collection, Contemporary Arts, and Jewelry from Northern NM.
Read about the premise of SLMM and a recent book about SLMM titled Visual Journeys: Art of the 21st Century, co-edited by Mary Carroll Nelson and Nina Mihm.
The image nearby shows Native American jewelry from the Millicent Rogers Museum collection. Image: the Internet.
I planned a day-trip to visit Santa Fe galleries.
FAVORITE GALLERIES IN SANTA FE
Site Santa Fe was closed for installation, The next exhibition is titled Agitated Histories (October 22, 2011 – January 15, 2012).
CAN YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND?
It’s a good thing I’m pretty flexible, because the plans changed.
Instead of visiting galleries, I joined my art colleagues and visited Santa Fe artist’s studios. I couldn’t say no to that kind of opportunity.
First stop was a visit to Paula Roland’s studio. She is currently showing encaustic on paper at William Segal Gallery, 540 South Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe through October 25th. It’s an impressive gallery and her work is gorgeous.
I took the image nearby of Paula Roland in her studio. She is demonstrating her encaustic printmaking process.
Paula has instructional DVDs for beginner to advanced artists on the basics of encaustic and printing with wax.
We left Paula’s studio and went to lunch at El Charro, a popular restaurant in town.
At lunch I sat next to Sandra Duran Wilson, a member of SLMM, and the author of 2 books: Image Transfer Workshop: Mixed Media Techniques for Successful Transfers (with Darlene Olivia McElroy), and Surface Treatment Workshop: Explore 45 Mixed Media Techniques (with Darlene Olivia McElroy).
Sandra Duran Wilson calls herself an abstract collage artist. She says her mixed media paintings include printmaking, transfers and acrylic, and some have Plexiglas panels embedded into wood panels to add depth.
The image nearby is titled Evolutionary Dance. It’s 30×30 inches, acrylic and mixed media. Image: the Internet. See her works online.
COLLAGE GOODIES ON THE OLD PECOS TRAIL
After we left Sandra Duran Wilson’s studio, we drove to Laura Stanziola’s place on the Old Pecos Trail. Laura collects and sells an incredible assortment of vintage papers, books, old postcards, doll heads, game boards and ephemera right out of her home. She is called the Queen of Ephemera. Read more about Laura at Darlene Olivia McElroy’s blog. Darlene is co-author with Sandra Duran Wilson of the books mentioned above.
I did buy stuff from Laura Stanziola. It was irresistible and it will all find a way into my collages (or other people’s collages).
The image nearby is my photo of wispy clouds seen outside Laura’s home. I was standing on the hillside and I think I almost stepped into a snake hole. It’s a good thing I remembered to look where I’m walking when I’m in New Mexico.
We ate dinner in Santa Fe, and drove back to Albuquerque.
The following day, Wednesday, I visited a fabulous exhibition titled Hispanic Traditional Arts of New Mexico at The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History (September 18, 2011-January 8, 2012).
The exhibition included masterworks in religious image making in wood, sculpture, tinwork, filigree, colcha embroidery, weaving, and straw applique, all from the permanent collection of the Albuquerque Museum dating from the Colonial era to the present by Hispanic artists in New Mexico,
In addition to historic objects, the exhibition includes contemporary works by many artists who work in the same traditional art genre.
The image nearby is by Monica Sosaya-Halford, Reredo, 1982, acrylic and gesso on pine, Gift of Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. Image: the Internet.
I will be back in New Mexico next year for the SLMM conference in Taos and a return visit to Santa Fe. I can hardly wait.
February 28, 2011
WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?
I worked on a new collage the other night and didn’t finish it until almost 2 am – I was determined to put all the pieces together and not leave it for the next day. Reason: take a break and it all changes. Your thoughts are transient. So it’s important to finish everything in one session or accept the fact that the work (the ideas) will change.
Does this happen to you?
My “Line” is making collage. The collage (seen above) is titled “Drawing the Line.” It’s 14×11 inches, with various papers, acrylic paint, mounted on smooth Bristol paper (2011). When the last piece was glued down, I stood the collage up against a tall object and looked to see if it needed new pieces (HINT: it’s good to see your work vertical after you’ve worked on it flat and horizontal).
I liked what I saw (lucky me) and was amazed at how much the collage looked like a drawing. That was not my plan. How did that happen? (See below)
PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY
I’ve been thinking a lot about two recent exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in NYC. The first show was titled On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century (November 21, 2010-February 7, 2011), and the second show is titled Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914 (Feb. 13 – June 6, 2011).
I wrote about the two exhibitions – Drawing is Collage/Collage is Drawing – commenting that Picasso’s collages looked more dimensional in the second exhibition.
Images online and images in the very excellent exhibition catalog (Picassos Guitars 1912-1914) never do justice to the works. It’s worth a trip to NYC before the show closes June 6th to see this exhibition in person at the Museum of Modern Art.
Picasso’s papery guitars were revolutionary in concept in 1912 and the collages were experimental departures from the traditional picture plane. Picasso was blazing a trail.
Holland Cotter reviewed the exhibition on February 10, 2011 in The NY Times (Picasso Guitars: Art & Design: When Picasso Changed His Tune). He wrote: Today, nearly a century on, it’s hard to grasp how disturbing such work was to some at the time…It was perceived as a slap in the face to beauty, idealism and decorum, proof of European culture on the slide…People got angry.
I was amazed to see Picasso used straight pins. The papers are pierced and puckered. You can see shadows at the edges of the papers that are pinned. The image above (Musical Score and Guitar, 1913) is cut, pasted and pinned colored paper, sheet music, and paper and charcoal on colored papers, 15 3/4 x 18 7/8 inches.
The image above, an installation view with 2 people looking at Picasso’s Bar Table with Guitar (1913), cut and pinned wallpaper and colored paper and chalk on colored paper 24 3/8 x 15 3/8 inches shows how the papers are puckered.
Why did Picasso use pins? Pins allowed him to position and reposition works in progress.
Memories stick (like pins), and influence you, and you may not even be aware of it until you step back and see how you are influenced.
Lines are everywhere. I see TV commercials with lines in motion. Today’s skyline was filled with lines. I didn’t plan in advance, but my mostly black and white collage is on a green background (a page from a magazine I painted with a mix of green acrylic paint).
The green is the color of early spring grass and buds, and a harbinger of warm weather to come. It seemed a perfect fit as we transition from winter to spring.
If you want, see more drawings with collage – 16 works titled Strata – at my website.
I hope you will add comments. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas.
January 22, 2011
I live in the suburbs just outside Metro New York. This winter it’s snowed every week. Up to 3 feet has accumulated in places. People are starting to complain.
Snow does slow down the rhythm of your day. Especially in the burbs. You need a car to get around and you have to count on the road crews to plow and salt if you need to get anywhere. There’s also the issue of your walkways, driveways and steps. Who’s doing the snow shoveling? Somebody has to shovel. If you have to commute to work and want to avoid the drive, you have to work at home. If you have to get to your job, you have to deal with delays. I work at home. I do it because I can, but I miss my studio and the routines I’ve established.
Last Thursday, a cub reporter for a local paper in a nearby town stopped me on the street. He had a professional camera in his hands. He asked if I would let him interview me – and I said yes. WHY NOT? I wondered what he wanted to ask.
He asked: Do you like snow? SNOW?
I was so surprised by the question. Everywhere I looked the snow was piled high.
I said: I love snow. It’s beautiful most of the time. And, hey, it’s winter. It’s supposed to snow in the winter (I can be very philosophical about the seasons). I remember lots of snow as a girl (see my comments below).
We were due for more snow. I could smell it in the air, and we got a lot of snow the next day.
He asked: “Is it a problem for you? How do you cope with snow?”
I replied: It really isn’t a question of coping. It’s not really a problem for me. The roads get plowed so the inconvenience doesn’t last that long, and I can work at home. I don’t have the kind of job that requires me to be at a specific place. I make sure I have everything I need to do my work – the media and tools I need. I told him I am a collage artist and work with papers, glue and paint.
(The collage nearby was produced at the kitchen table at home last weekend.)
When I talked to the reporter, I wondered if he expected the answers I gave, and if anyone else he interviewed said they had a problem with snow. Would anyone admit they had a problem with snow?
I feel lucky I can work at home. But it does slow me down. There are distractions. There’s a different rhythm to the work that gets done. The light and the workspace are different.
Probably, everyone who isn’t a nurse, doctor, policeman or firefighter can work at home. Who else is so essential they have to be at work and can’t work at home?
The reporter took my picture. I gave him my business card and asked him to check out my website. I never got a copy of the newspaper and don’t know if my picture or the interview was in the paper.
I rushed to my car to drive to the market to get milk and juice. My favorite milk (the one with 0% fat that tastes like whole milk) had disappeared from the shelves. The teenager at the checkout said the store was mobbed an hour earlier. He looked like he had been through an ordeal.
(The collage nearby was created during a day it snowed. The pieces remind me of blankets.)
With all the snow, and the time spent in the house, I’m catching up on a lot of email, organizing image files, and spending quality time planning a new step-by-step collage workshop. I will post results on my next blog – it’s more how-to tips on Conjur Woman portrait collage inspired by Romare Bearden that is a follow up on an earlier blog titled Romare Bearden Conjur Woman and Collage.
Last night we got 4 more inches of snow. It was very cold and icy, but the roads were plowed and clear by mid-afternoon. I took the picture (above) outside my front door at about 3:20 EST. We expect more snow next week.
Do you complain about the snow? Is it a hardship? Do you have to carpool? How do you get your work done if you can’t get to work? Or – is the snow something you enjoy? Does it bring back happy memories? Does it inspire you? Do you want to sit back, make yourself a soothing cup of tea and write about it?
I have a memory of snow, and of being stranded with my family in a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains when I was a small girl. We got snowed in. We were visiting a very rustic couple (he hunted and fished and they lived an almost totally self-sufficient existence.
I don’t remember how we got outside the snow-blocked front door, but I do remember wearing snow shoes and walking on the high snow in the bright sunlight. It was magical.
The image nearby was created at the kitchen table and reminds me of a snowfield.
Thank you for your comments below.
January 15, 2011
I teach a portrait collage workshop titled Conjur Woman, inspired by the artist Romare Bearden.
What is a conjur woman? She is a real woman who practices magical arts. Conjure women supposedly can heal or destroy. For Romare Bearden, Conjur Woman was about ritual, magic and memories.
Bearden spelled conjure without and “e.” She was a woman who knew herbs and prepared love potions and gave counsel on family matters. Bearden spoke about how he remembered being frightened of her as a boy when he visited family in Charlotte, NC where he was born.
Many art historians consider Romare Bearden (African-American 1911-1988) one of the most important collage artists of the 20th century. He is best known for the collages he made beginning in the 1960s, continuing with collage as his primary media until his death in 1988.
Conjur Woman (1975), seen above, is collage with magazine papers, Photostat reproductions and Color-Aid (silkscreen) papers, image size: 46×36 inches.
Look at the image nearby of Bearden’s Conjur Woman (1971), composed almost entirely with black and white papers (collage on paperboard, image size: 22×16 inches).
Notice the bold green collage papers that frame her face and is her nose. Do you see the birds? Do you think this Conjur Woman is a healer or a destroyer?
I love this image and will make my own portrait collage, with this work as inspiration.
I have to interpret the women I’ve known, including very powerful women in my own family. I remember tea leaf readings, ESP, and clairvoyance.
All the people who attend my Conjur Woman workshops have been women of a certain age (around age 40 and up). They are urban, and suburban. Some are women of color. They are a mix of retirees, working professionals, a few artists and art teachers. One exception was a young and successful entrepreneur from India named Anil. All the women in the workshop loved the fact that a man had joined our group! He started a collage with paint and newspaper, but his real Conjur Woman collage was in another media. Anil created a video dance sequence of a nude model cavorting across a figure drawing classroom for his iPad.
I think Bearden would have loved the image and the technology.
In The Art of Romare Bearden, Ruth Fine wrote: Bearden’s themes were universal. He combined images of everyday African American life, his personal memories, classical literature, myth, music, religion and human ritual. I recommend this book for your collection. It’s filled with full-color images and several important essays on the life and work of the artist. It is the museum catalog for The Art of Romare Bearden, his solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
The image nearby is another Conjur Woman by Bearden, completed in 1964. It’s only 9×7 inches, and was created with snippets from newspapers and magazines such as Ebony and the Saturday Evening Post.
Bearden enlarged his small collages into Photostat black and white reproductions, which he called PROJECTIONS. The Photostat was a photographic process popular from the 1950s through the 1980s (now replaced with photocopies and digital technology).
The Photostats allowed Bearden to turn light skin into dark skin, and to reproduce clippings from Ebony, Life and Look magazines.
Bearden’s Projections were a sensation because they made his tiny collages into huge, graphically powerful black and white “prints.”
Some critics say Bearden’s work is influenced by Cubism.
Compare Bearden’s figures in his collage Prevalence of Ritual: Baptism (below) with Pablo Picasso’s Cubist painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (below). You may see the influence of Picasso on Bearden.
Les Demoiselles D’Avignon shocked and offended everyone for the way it was painted and its subject matter (women in a brothel). Picasso called the painting “my first exorcism painting.”
Do you see the influence of African art on Picasso?
The masklike faces in Picasso’s Demoiselles were obviously influenced by African masks and sculpture.
Romare Bearden was an avid student of art history, and understood that Picasso’s imagery was appropriated from African sculpture and masks.
Bearden filtered Cubism right back to its African roots
Bearden’s art bridged the gap between Western art and African art. He filtered Cubism right back.
TRY BEARDEN’S COLLAGE TECHNIQUE
You can make your own collage portrait of a Conjur Woman. She can be someone you know, a self-portrait, a figure in history, a song-siren, or a movie goddess. She can be fearful or enchanting or inspiring.
Look at Romare Bearden’s collages. Observe how his people are represented.
Look at how he fractured features, placed hands, distorted and juxtaposed the pieces that he put into the image. He did that deliberately. He didn’t want to use another person’s image or face. He wanted to make the image his own.
Observe the media Bearden used.
What are the main pieces? Are they photographs? Magazine cutouts? Drawings? Solid color or patterned papers? Fabric? Painted or silkscreened papers?
What is the image about? Can you make the image personal? Contemporary?
Think about how much color Bearden used and how much is black and white.
Notice if there are animals, birds and snakes in the background.
What would you add to your collage to make it personal?
Visit the Bearden Foundation for information about current exhibitions, new publications and lectures.
See and hear Bearden talk about his life and work at WORLD News.
I hope you are inspired by the art of Romare Bearden and make a Conjur Woman portrait collage.
Thank you for reading this post. Thank you for your comments below.