Ellen Gallagher

April 10, 2019

Ellen Gallagher (American, b.1965) is a painter, collagist, printmaker, film and video artist. She was born in Providence, RI. She studied writing at Oberlin College, OH, from 1982 to 1984, and attended Studio 70, in Fort Thomas, KY, in 1989. She earned a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, MA in 1992. While attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Gallagher joined (and later became the art coordinators) at the Darkroom Collective, a group of poets living and working out of Inman Square in Cambridge, MA. The experience was pivotal to her career because the performers and the audience were bi-racial.  In1993 she received a scholarship and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in ME. Her background is bi-racial. Her father was born in the United States, of West African (Cape Verde) roots. Her mother’s background was Caucasian Irish Catholic.

 

Minimalist Abstract Art

Critics say her aesthetic has been influenced by the Minimalist style of paintings by Agnes Martin.Gallagher’s works, however, look at issues of race, identity and transformation and reference blackface and minstrelsy, by scattering tiny caricatures of eyes and mouths across creamy expanses of Penmanship paper on canvas. The works are large, seeming abstract, cool and Minimal from a distance, but – up close – confront the viewer with Gallagher’s social commentary about race. It’s a brilliant confrontation.

 

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Ellen Gallagher, Afro Mountain

The image above, titled Afro Mountain (1994), is ink and collaged paper on canvas, 84 x 72 inches, collection: the Whitney Museum of American Art. Afro Mountain is considered an example of minimalist abstract art and includes penmanship paper glued to a canvas with ink drawings of lips that overtake the entire bottom half of the large canvas. Afro Mountain was included in the 2010 Whitney Biennial.

 

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Ellen Gallagher, close-up view of Afro Mountain drawings

The image (above) is a close-up view of Afro Mountain, showing Gallagher’s repetitive drawings of lips, seen in the lower half of the work.

 

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The image above shows Ellen Gallagher at work on a photo-etching on a metal plate.

There’s an excellent interview of Ellen Gallagher posted at Art21 in which the artist responds to questions about two works titled “eXelento” and “DeLuxe.” She discussed how she collected and archived materials from black photo journals dated from 1939 to 1972, including magazines like Our World, Sepia and Ebony – saying she was first attracted to the wig advertisements that had a grid-like structure – but, at the same time, said she was unable to identify with the images of the young women models. This interview was originally published on PBS.org in September 2005 and was republished on Art21.org in November 2011.

 

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Ellen Gallagher, DeLuxe

The image above is titled DeLuxe (20045) 60 parts, photogravure and collage, arranged in five rows of twelve. Overall: 84 x 175 inches. Gallagher began DeLuxe by collecting advertisements for hair straightening products, wigs, and stockings from mid-century black magazines. She cut and pasted the facial features and blocks of text into collages, then turned the collages into flat, seamless photogravures, and then altered the photogravures, coloring them in, adding Plasticine wigs and masks, and attaching adornments such as beads, rhinestones and gold leaf.

Gallagher said: “The wig ladies are fugitives, conscripts from another time and place, liberated from the ‘race’ magazines of the past…I have transformed them from the pages that once held them captive…” Gallagher has also described the array of characters as a “procession” to suggest parallels between their transformation and historical costumed pageants such as W.E.B. Dubois’s Star of Ethiopia 1913, in which hundreds of participants enacted the glories of a series of African civilizations from ancient Egypt and Sudan up to the tragedy of slavery.”

DeLuxe addresses the complex role hair plays in African and African-American culture as a means of ornament, adornment and personal expression – a signifier of cultural identify and difference, and a talisman for both strength and protection. Read more here.

 

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Ellen Gallagher, eXelento

The image above is titled eXelento (2004), Plasticine, ink and paper on canvas, 96 x 192 inches, photo courtesy of Gagosian Gallery, NY. The image was photographed from the side, and you can see the yellow Plasticine wig additions are dimensional.

 

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Ellen Gallagher, DY-NO-Mite

The image above is titled DY-NO-Mite (1995), oil, pencil and paper on canvas, 84 x 72 inches, collection: the Denver Art Museum, Colorado. I saw this work in person when it showed in New York.

 

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Ellen Gallagher, Oh! Susannah

The image above is titled Oh! Susanna, dated 1995 (one of several works by the artist with the same title), and includes pasted penmanship papers on canvas with drawing of eyes and lips in a dark strip along the top. The title relates to Stephen Foster’s minstrel song Oh! Susanna, a song that was originally a slave lament about families being ripped apart. The words were later adapted to reflect the loneliness of settlers heading west during the California Gold Rush (1848) and the race element is erased, as it becomes an American song of loss. A very specific loss became a universal loss once race was removed.

Liquid Intelligence – Watery Ecstatic

 

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Liquid Intelligence installation: Highway Gothic

The image above shows a 16 mm film still titled Highway Gothic (2017) that Ellen Gallagher co-created with Edgar Cleijne, a Dutch photographer and film artist for a current exhibition, titled Liquid Intelligence showing now at WIELS, Contemporary Art Center, Brussels (through April 28, 2019). The exhibition reflects on watery transformations of landscapes and worlds populated with micro-organisms and submarine life forms – and the mythical stories of the African diaspora. The exhibition also presents Gallagher’s paintings, drawings and collages done over the past 20 years.

A Watery BACKSTORY

In 1986, while she was an undergraduate student in Boston, MA, Gallagher enrolled in SEA Semester out of Woods Hole, Massachusetts with a group of students to study celestial navigation and oceanography on a sailboat in the Caribbean. She chose a research project about pterapods – wing-footed snails. She discovered they were practically microscopic and that meant she was on board a sailboat collecting these creatures at night and then looking at them under a microscope in daytime and trying to make drawings. Making the drawings led to her becoming an artist. The sailboat experience took place in Martinique, and, for Gallagher, represented a coalescence of two cultures – she said it felt like a first time in Africa.

 

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Ellen Gallagher, Watery Ecstatic drawing

The image above is titled Watery Ecstatic (2001), ink, oil, watercolor, pencil and cut and pasted paper on paper, 22 x 29 ½ inches. Gallagher made this image by scratching and carving into thick paper andcompares her scratching, cutting process to 19th century scrimshaw, where whalers and sailors carved intricate patterns into bones, teeth and tusks of marine animals.

All her works are thoughtful. For Gallagher, process and concept are intertwined. She is a brilliant artist – fascinating and complex. See the WEILS Contemporary Art Center installation here.

Gallagher lives and works in Rotterdam, Netherlands and New York, US . She is represented by the Gagosian Gallery in New York, US, and Hauser & Wirth in London, UK.

 

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Betye Saar

November 21, 2018

 

1st image 640 Betye Saar Lost Innocence

Betye Saar, A Loss of Innocence

The image above is an installation piece by Betye Saar (American, born 1926) titled “A Loss of Innocence” (1998). It’s a chair and dress, 50x12x12 inches. The image is included in a Hyperallergic review of her exhibition STILL TICKIN: Six Decades of Betye Saar’s Personal, Political and Mystical Art at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (Jan 30-May 1, 2016). A Loss of Innocence includes a delicate white dress with short, capped sleeves on a wood hanger suspended from a wire directly above a tiny doll-size chair sitting on a low wood pedestal. The chair is a tiny shrine. The dress cast two shadows that spread from the floor to the walls. One shadow looks eerily like a lynched body. The Scottsdale Museum says “There is a touch of alchemy to Betye Saar’s artwork: transforming the simple and mundane into powerful art.” Saar’s art tackles issues of spirituality, race, equality, family relationships and autobiography. Every work is poignant, evocative and emotional.

Betye Saar was born in Los Angeles, CA in 1926. She graduated from UCLA in 1947 with a B.A. degree in design and began her work in the visual arts as a graphic designer and costume maker — a trade that is deeply personal to her because her mother was a seamstress. She continued graduate studies, working toward a career in teaching design. She took an elective course in printmaking that allowed her to segue from design into fine arts. She began making politically themed artwork after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Watts Riots. Saar taught art in Los Angeles at UCLA and the Otis Art Institute. Saar’s works are included in the permanent collections in museums worldwide, including 3 works in the collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NY. Saar married and raised 3 daughters. Saar received two National Endowment for the Arts Awards, in 1974 and 1984. In 2008, she was recognized for her career in art and community activism and awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus.

Betye Saar lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.

 

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Betye Saar, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima

In 1967 Saar saw an assemblage by Joseph Cornell at the Pasadena (CA) Art Museum and was inspired to make art out of all the bits and pieces of her own life. She began making assemblages in 1967. She had been collecting images and objects since childhood. She came from a family of collectors. In the 1960s, Saar began collecting images of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, Little Black Sambo and other stereotyped African-American figures from advertising during the Jim Crow era.

The image above is titled The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972). It’s the first piece Saar made that was politically explicit. Saar said: “My work started to become politicized after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. But The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, which I made in 1972, was the first piece that was politically explicit.There was a community center in Berkeley, on the edge of Black Panther territory in Oakland, called the Rainbow Sign. They issued an open invitation to black artists to be in a show about black heroes, so I decided to make a black heroine.” Read about the Rainbow Sign invitational here. She added: “For many years, I had collected derogatory images: postcards, a cigar-box label, an ad for beans, Darkie toothpaste. I found a little Aunt Jemima mammy figure, a caricature of a black slave, like those later used to advertise pancakes. Saar added: “She had a broom in one hand. I gave her a rifle. In front of her, I placed a little postcard, of a mammy with a mulatto child, which is another way black women were exploited during slavery.I used the derogatory image to empower the black woman by making her a revolutionary, like she was rebelling against her past enslavement.When my work was included in the exhibition ‘WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution’, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2007, the activist and academic Angela Davis gave a talk in which she said the black women’s movement started with my work The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. That was a real thrill.”

In American popular culture the mammy figure was a depiction of servility. Saar turned her Aunt Jemima into a warrior, brandishing weapons, contending with injustice, facing the darkest chapters of American history. The Liberation of Aunt Jemima is in the permanent collection of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. It’s Saar’s  most iconic piece. Photo: Benjamin Blackwell, courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, LA, CA.  Read more about how Betye Saar transformed the Aunt Jemima image into a symbol of black power in an artsy.net review here.

 

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Betye Saar in 1970

The image above shows a young Betye Saar in 1970 in a room she used as an art studio.

 

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Exhibition installation: Keeping It Clean

The image above is an installation view of the exhibition Keeping It Clean at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles (May 28-August 20, 2017). The solo show presented a mix of new and historic works that included Saar’s ongoing series of washboard assemblage sculptures, begun in the late 1990s.

In a review in the contemporary art magazine Art and Cake (June 28, 2017), Shana Nys Dambrot wrote: The washboard is a perfect object for Saar’s creative enterprise, whose particular magic has been the fusion of aesthetic, narrative, politics, and innovation into singular objects that triumph at all their tasks in art and in society.” In Saar’s own words, the new pieces are intended as reminders “that America has not yet cleaned up her act.”

Betye Saar also said: “I wanted to do an exhibition of my washboards because they are intimate and hands-on…It’s a body of work that I am still making, and the new works are inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. People think racism happens everywhere else, but racism still exists in Los Angeles.”

 

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Betye Saar, Mother and Children in Blue

The image above is titled Mother and Children in Blue (1998), watercolor and mixed media collage on paper, 8 5/8 x 6 ½ inches, permanent collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY – purchased with funds from the Drawing Committee.

 

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Betye Saar, Locksmith

The image above is titled Locksmith (2018), Mixed Media assemblage with metal frame, antique door locks, metal keys and vintage photograph, 14 x 11 ¾  inches.

 

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Betye Saar, Uneasy Dancer

The image above is titled Uneasy Dancer – Sock it to “Em (2011). It’s a red leather boxing glove with a watch on the wrist band and a mammy figure in a red dress tucked inside on top. The time on the watch is stopped at 5 minutes after 5.  “Uneasy Dancer” is an expression Betye Saar has used to define both herself and her artistic practice. I found this image in a review for Saar’s first exhibition in Milan, Italy installed at Fondazione Prada (15 Sep 2016 – 08 Jan 2017).  Read more here.

 

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Betye Saar, Indigo Illusions

The image above is titled Indigo Illusions (1991), mixed media assemblage with neon. This work was included in an exhibition titled “Betye Saar: Something Blue” at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles (Oct 27-Dec 15, 2018). All the works were made between 1983 and 2018 and all feature the color blue. Roberts Projects is Betye Saar’s gallery in CA and the exhibition was organized to show how she uses blue as a means to explore concepts of magic, voodoo and the occult.

 

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Betye Saar in 2016

The image above is dated 2016 and shows Betye Saar in her studio with all her stuff. Photo: Ashley Walker, courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles.

The Getty Research Institute (GRI) in Los Angeles is launching an African-American Art History initiative and has acquired the archive of works by Betye Saar as a first step. The GRI will help other museums preserve and digitize their own archives, and is working with the Studio Museum in Harlem, the California African American Museum, Art + Practice in Los Angeles, and Spelman College in Atlanta on this project.

 

NEWS

The Brooklyn Museum has installed Saar’s works in an exhibition titled Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (through February 3, 2019).  Saar also has a solo show titled Keepin’ It Clean at the New York Historical Society (November 12, 2018-May 27, 2019).

In a recent interview for the Los Angeles Times, Betye Saar said: “When you’re 92, it takes a lot to get you excited. I paid my dues, and now I’m reaping the rewards…I’m very happy that anybody can go to the Getty Research Institute to discover my work, not just the art community. It’s my contribution.

 

I am writing a book about women artists who create with collage, assemblage, photo collage and/or installation art. One chapter will be devoted to the artist Betye Saar. Please contact me if you have spoken with her – and thank you.

Lenore Tawney

October 1, 2018

 

Fiber Arts Pioneer, Collage and Assemblage Artist

I am writing about women artists I admire.

My recent post Blue Again was a tribute to the artist Louise Bourgeois. The first image in the post showed a massive steel sculpture of a spider (titled Maman) photographed against a brilliant blue sky, outdoors at the Guggenheim Museum in the Basque City of Bilbao in northern Spain. The post includes additional images with drawings and soft sculptures, made with recycled cloth that Louise Bourgeois cut into pieces and sewed piece by piece to build up volume. I think of the soft sculpture as 3D collage.

This post is about the artist Lenore Tawney (American, 1907-2007)

Lenore Tawney is widely credited as the pioneering spirit whose open-warp weaving redefined and helped shape the field of fiber art during the second half of the twentieth century. This post will include images of her large woven, open loom weavings and sculpture as well as her other media: drawing in pen and ink, drawing as weaving, mixed media assemblage with wood, wire and thread, collage and postcards that she began during the 1960s and continued to create throughout her long life.

Lenore Tawney in her Studio

The image above shows Lenore Tawney in her studio, at an industrial space located in the Coenties Slip area in lower Manhattan in New York City. The photo is dated 1958. Photo credit: David Attie. Tawney made huge fiber sculpture in this space, but, in this image, it looks like Lenore Tawney is working small. She is sitting on the floor, weaving with an improvised, open weave loom.

Lenore Tawney, Cloud Series VI

After 1977, Tawney created her “Cloud Series” with hand-knotted, shimmering linen threads woven into a linen superstructure and hung from the ceiling. The image above shows Tawney standing on a scaffold with a very large work titled Cloud Series VI. The size is 16’x32’x8’ and is dated 1981. This huge open weave installation was a commission and installed at the Frank J. Lausche State Office Building in Cleveland, OH. For the viewer, the experience is air and space. Imagine walking into a room with a fiber installation cascading down from the ceiling above you. Imagine that the installation is made with thousands of individually knotted shimmering linen threads. Photo: The Lenore Tawney Foundation. Read the chronology of her career at the Lenore Tawney Foundation website.

Lenore Tawney, Little River Wall Hanging

The image above is titled Little River Wall Hanging. It’s dated 1968 and was made with linen and wool. It’s 164 inches tall by 22 ½ inches wide. Little River Wall Hanging is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 2017 it was included in the large group exhibition titled Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction (April 15-August 13, 2017) at the MoMA. The exhibition included 100 works by 50 women artists created between the end of World War II and the start of the Feminist movement. All the works – including paintings, sculpture, photographs, drawings, prints, textiles and ceramics were drawn entirely from MoMA’s collection.  I wrote a review of the exhibition. Read it here.

 

Drawings with Pen and Ink, Linen, Thread, Paper and Wire

 

Lenore Tawney, Wings on the Wind

The image above is titled Wings of the Wind. It’s pen and ink on graph paper, 17×22 inches, and dated 1964. Lenore Tawney created many, many drawings in pen and ink and other media. I learned Lenore Tawney drew inspiration not only from the ancient weavers of Peru, but was also inspired by her study of 19thcentury patterns made on a Jacquard loom.The weaver in her appreciated the jacquard loom’s ability to produce complex compound patterns, and the artist in her was fascinated by its intricate cord system. In the 1960s she began a series of India ink drawings that “hover above the graph paper with a vibrating energy.” Read more at the American Craft Council website.

 

Lenore Tawney, Waters Above the Firmament

The image above is titled Waters Above the Firmament, 1976, 156 ½ x 145 ¼ inches, collection: the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s made with linen, warp-faced/weft-ribbed plain weave with discontinuous wefts, and includes 18th/19thcentury manuscript pages cut into strips, attached and painted with acrylic paint. The top and bottom are braided, knotted and cut warp fringe. This work is a large circle set into a square – a simple design, but the upper half of the circle, where the warps are made of paper and fabric and coated in blue paint, give it incredible weight. Tawney wove the circle with slits that open at regular half-inch intervals that emphasized a third dimension.

Lenore Tawney, Drawing in Air

In the 1990s, Lenore Tawney reinterpreted her ink drawings into 3D works, using linen thread. The image above is titled Drawing in Air XVII, 1998, Linen and Plexiglas. The size for this work is  48x48x24 inches.

 

Assemblage

Lenore Tawney, untitled (Arietta)

In the 1960s Tawney began to work with paper and found objects and created assemblage. The image above is untitled (Arietta), c 1967. It’s a mixed media box construction with feathers, wood and paper, 12 ¼ x 7 x 4 inches. Photo: courtesy the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York

Lenore Tawney’s assemblages often included an amazing assortment of birds and feathers, some literal, some with a talismanic presence. Often, actual eggs appear as actual objects.

Lenore Tawney, Even Thread Had a Speech

The image above is titled Even Thread Had a Speech, dated 1966, and made with wood, paper collage and string, 9×7 ½ x 2 ¾ inches, collection: Whitney Museum of American Art, gift of the Lenore Tawney Foundation. The threads, in straight lines, weave through the open-sided box construction and appear beyond the edges.

 

Collage

 

In the mid-1960s, Tawney began to create postcard-sized collages that she mailed to friends and family. For Tawney, mailing the postcards became an essential part of the collage-making process, and the cancelled postmark functioned as an important collage element that showed a record of a journey successfully made.

book-Lenore Tawney: Signs on the Wind

The image above shows the cover of a monograph about Lenore Tawney’s small collages titled Signs on the Wind, published by Pomegranate Communications Inc., Petaluma, CA, 2002. I own the book and recommend it for the wonderful essay by the art critic Holland Cotter and over 80 full-size images of her postcard collages, dated 1961-1990. Each image is a unique collage that will inspire admiration and creativity.

Lenore Tawney, Circle in a Square postcard collage

The image above is a collage postcard that’s included in the book. The postcard is addressed to Miss Tender at the shop Tender Buttons, 236 E 77, NY 28, NY. Tender Buttons was a repeat recipient of many of Tawney’s postcards that are reproduced in the book. This postcard shows a 1966 cancellation date stamp, and is embellished with neat, evenly spaced ruled lines in pen and ink . The design is both horizontal and vertical.  The image is a circle in a square. Tawney created the circle with vertical lines in pen and ink. The circle is superimposed over the  shape of a square made by the  lines in the collage. The text collage, written in French, extends beyond the top and bottom edge. There’s a 4 cent postage stamp with the image of President Abraham Lincoln. This collage drawing echoes the art of weaving with taut, parallel straight lines. It’s amazing that Tawney trusted that the postcard collage would arrive undamaged, and it did. Tawney mailed the postcards to family and friends – and she even sent one to herself, addressed in her late mother’s maiden name. The postcard collages were made mostly with papers, including photographs, newspaper clippings, magazine ads, charts, Tantric symbols, musical scores, her own drawings, and notes and manuscript pages with foreign text. The postcards are rich and dynamic with a range of themes from childhood to female sexuality, even spirituality – and can be read as treatises or as Valentines. We are lucky people saved them.

In the book essay, Holland Cotter says, “The attraction of the postcard collages is not their inscrutability but their accessibility, their fleet wit, their conceptual ingenuity, and their stimulating metaphoric play.”

 

CONNECTING THREADS:

I wanted to create a thread to connect two artists I admire: Louise Bourgeois (American, born in France, 1911-2010), and Lenore Tawney (American, 1907-2007). One thread is drawing. Both artists had a background in drawing and sculpture. Both artists used drawing to explore subjects throughout their lives.

Louise Bourgeois studied sculpture but used drawing to tell the stories of her life. FYI: Bourgeois started drawing while still a child. She worked at her family’s tapestry restoration business in France and drew in the missing parts in the damaged antique tapestries so they could be restored.

Lenore Tawney studied sculpture and drawing and then discovered tapestry weaving. Tawney created the “open warp” weaving technique, with fluid forms of textured yarns contrasting against transparent grounds of exposed warps, like a drawing floating in space. Tawney used the transparency as a sculptural negative space. Her approach was controversial at the time. She said: “All I did was weave the design and leave the rest of the warp unwoven. Why not? “

 

If you can, purchase the book Lenore Tawney: Signs on the Wind. Get it for the Cotter essay with images of her weavings, and for the full-size images of the postcard collages. Holland Cotter wrote: “Tawney’s work was considered heretical by orthodox craft adherents, but too “crafsy by the orthodox art world. Despite this arts/craft divide, Tawney found success as an artist.

 

I am glad her colleagues and friends saved the collage postcards.

 

 

I used the phrase “Collage Artist Extraordinaire” to describe Ivan Chermayeff in my review of the exhibition ABOUT FACES (March 20-April 19, 2014) at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery at 531 West 26 Street, in NYC. Read it here.

Pavel Zoubok says: no art form expresses the character of the twentieth century and the contemporary moment with greater clarity and immediacy than the art of collage. The Gallery is the place to go if you are a fan. The exhibition calendar includes both historic and contemporary collage artists. Read more here.

I’ve been a fan of Ivan Chermayeff’s collages for years and years, but only saw reproduction in art magazines. ABOUT FACES included collage and assemblage (sculpture). Each wood assemblage included found wood and objects like toys, tools, river stones, sandpaper, and/or brushes.  Two works included a found glove that became a face portrait.

 

Ivan Chermayeff sculpture at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery

Ivan Chermayeff sculpture at Pavel Zoubok Gallery

My photo (above) shows the gallery installation with 3 wood assemblages by Ivan Chermayeff. Titles are: (left) Janus Head with Canoe Hat, (center) Portrait with Pincushion Cap, and (right) Young Person with Hairless Brush Head. I’ve included solo images (two views) for each sculpture below. All images are courtesy the Pavel Zoubok Gallery. Sculpture should be seen in person, where you can walk around and see different views. The front and back are sometimes very different in Chermayeff’s assemblage.

 

Ivan Chermayeff, Janus Head with Canoe Hat, mixed media assemblage

Ivan Chermayeff, Janus Head with Canoe Hat, mixed media assemblage

The image (above) is titled Janus Head with Canoe Hat (2000-2005), mixed-media assemblage, 23 ½ x 8 ½ x 8 ½ inches.  Click on the image and enlarge it to see more detail. Look at the nose. I think it looks like the handle on a coffee mug, big enough for you to put your hand through. Notice the hat is actually a little carved wood canoe. Notice the lips on the mouth are wood and painted red. Look at his expression. I think he looks grumpy or is sulking. Read whatever you like into his expression.

 

The image (below) is a profile view of the same sculpture, and, when you look up, you see the bottom of the canoe on his head. I think the wavy blue painted wood on the side is shaped like a child’s drawing of waves in the ocean. You don’t see the waves in the image above, but you can see the shape better in the image below.

Ivan Chermayeff, profile view of Janus Head with Canoe Hat, mixed media assemblage

Ivan Chermayeff, profile view of Janus Head with Canoe Hat, mixed media assemblage

 

What’s in a name?

 

I checked Wikipedia for information about Janus – the ancient Roman god of doors, passages, endings and times (representing war and peace). FYI: The month of January is named for Janus. Janus is usually represented with two faces. I wonder if Chermayeff named his wood sculpture Janus because the sculpture includes part of an old wood door. Read more about the god Janus here.

 

Ivan Chermayeff, Red Talker, collage

Ivan Chermayeff, Red Talker, collage

He collects garbage like crazy.

I include a collage (above) titled Red Talker, 15×11 inches (1995). Chermayeff says he collects garbage like crazy. According to the Gallery press release, his collages include the stuff of everyday life: scraps of paper, stamped envelopes, tickets, photographs and other discarded oddments that become juxtaposed compositions of color and form. Chermayeff says: “A little spot, whether a postage stamp, a graphic mark, a letter of the alphabet, a splash of color becomes a nose, an eye or a mouth. In the right place, more or less, it becomes a face…that is both recognizable and rewarding. When a face is there, it has its own reality, whether recognized or not, much like strangers passing in the street.”  Read Gallery comments here.

 

Notice the colors in Red Talker: black, white, red and a peachy-tan. The portrait is all torn and cut papers in geometric shapes: squares, rectangles, circles and triangles. He’s facing right, and wears a hat. He has a large white dot for an eye. His mouth is a torn red and white address sticker. See more gallery images here.

 

The image (below) is a front-facing view of Chermayeff’s mixed media assemblage titled Portrait with Pincushion Cap (2000-2005), 13 x 8 ½ x 3 inches. Notice the deep grain in the wood and how the artist used smooth round white river stones for eyes. The stones are different sizes.  The larger one faces vertical and the smaller one faces horizontal. The mouth is wood painted red. Ears appear on the side of the rectangular head as semi circles painted black. The pincushion cap (painted silver and blue) is another toy wood canoe sitting across the top of his head.

 

Ivan Chermayeff, Portrait with Pincushion Cap, mixed media assemblage

Ivan Chermayeff, Portrait with Pincushion Cap, mixed media assemblage

 

The image (below) is the rear view of Portrait with Pincushion Cap. Click on the image to enlarge it. Notice the rough surface texture in the wood in this view. There’s a deep recess gouged into the wood. I see a different face. The eyes are still white river stones, but they look tiny. The mouth is part of a negative space so it looks like his mouth is open. The “nose” is a rosy red blobby shape stuck into the gouged surface. The ears are gone, replaced with a solid black band of wood with rounded ends and now looks like a hat. The toy wood canoe (pincushion) sits on top.  I think he looks like a drunken Russian sailor or an old Viking. It’s another Janus with two faces.

 

Ivan Chermayeff, another view, Portrait with Pincushion Cap, mixed media assemblage

Ivan Chermayeff, another view, Portrait with Pincushion Cap, mixed media assemblage

 

Two images (below) are front and side views of the mixed media assemblage titled Young Person with Hairless Brush Head, 24 x 15 ½ x 4 ½ inches (2000-2005). Notice Chermayeff added wood dowels for this portrait’s 2 arms.  The Head is an irregular shaped rectangle. It’s an old hairless brush with 27 holes in 3 vertical rows.  There’s a painted red wood dowel planted across the top of his head and a painted red block projecting between his legs. The wood figure looks like he’s wearing cut-off pants. His feet are thin black metal rods that run down to a square metal base. What do you see? I see a portrait of a young boy. Do you think the sculpture is innocent and childlike?  I think maybe not.

 

Ivan Chermayeff, Young Person with Hairless Brush Head, mixed media assemblage

Ivan Chermayeff, Young Person with Hairless Brush Head, mixed media assemblage

 

Ivan Chermayeff, side view of Young Person with Hairless Brush Head, mixed media assemblage

Ivan Chermayeff, side view of Young Person with Hairless Brush Head, mixed media assemblage

 

Ivan Chermayeff’s fine art collages and assemblage sculptures have been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally. His next exhibition will be in the UK. He is best known as a designer and illustrator. With Tom Geismar, he founded the design firm Chermayeff & Geismar (1957), and the logos they’ve designed are recognized worldwide.

FINAL THOUGHTS: See it in Person

 

In my previous post, I wrote you have to see Chermayeff’s assemblage sculpture in person and walk around to view the work from every angle.  I hope the additional images here gave you more information. Please add your comments below. Do you like this artist’s mixed media assemblage? Do you prefer the collages? Do you think assemblage is 3D collage?

 

 

About Ivan Chermayeff

April 30, 2014

 

ABOUT FACE – Amazing Unique Collage and Assemblage Sculpture

 

Collage enthusiasts – if you want to see important contemporary and historic collage, and also want to see assemblage and mixed media installation, go to the Pavel Zoubok Gallery in Chelsea, 531 West 26 Street, NYC. . Every month the gallery showcases artists who explore and extend the boundaries of these media.  See more information about the gallery here.

Ivan Chermayeff sculpture installation

Ivan Chermayeff sculpture installation

I went to the gallery to see collages by Ivan Chermayeff. I’ve been a fan of this artist’s work for years.  The exhibition (March 20-April 19, 2014) also included his wood assemblage. My image above shows the gallery installation of 3 Chermayeff wood sculptures on white pedestals. It also shows framed collage portraits installed on the rear wall.

 

This is collage sculpture. Notice the work is assembled with pieces of found, carved and painted wood. Chermayeff juxtaposes old materials and objects like toys, tools, river stones, sandpaper, and brushes to create heads and torsos. Each sculpture (like each collage) has a unique personality. Notice the 2 figures and face are embellished with painted wood in red, white and blue for eyes, noses, lips, ears, hats and anatomical parts. Sorry you can’t walk around the sculpture to see them in person.

 

I love the tall sculpture on the left in the photo. He has a protruding wood nose that reminds me of a handle on a big coffee mug. His lips are pressed together, and almost touching his nose. You can read whatever you like into his expression. That’s what makes the sculpture so interesting.

 

DowntownMagazineNYC reviewed the exhibition that showcased works by Ivan Chermayeff (b 1931, London, UK) and photocollage by Witold Gordon (b. Warsaw, Poland, 1885-1968). In the review, Xavi Ocana wrote (March 20, 2014): Chermayeff has the ability to take the ordinary and turn it into the extraordinary, a perfect equation of the playful plus the poetic. Read the exhibition review here.

 

Ivan Chermayeff, Boy with Sam's Hand

Ivan Chermayeff, Boy with Sam’s Hand

The image above is titled BOY WITH SAM’S HAND, collage, 30×22 (1999). Notice the figure is made from an old corrugated cardboard box that is opened flat. Chermayeff kept the original cancelled stamps and brown tape on the cardboard. The red stamps are now Sam’s eyes.  One of the blue mailing labels is his nose. There’s a black line in exactly the right place for a mouth. Chermayeff added cut black paper for shoulders, and pink semi-circles for ears. Notice the painted child’s handprint. That must be Sam’s “signature.”

 

SMILE and LOOK CLOSE

 

Ivan Chermayeff, Girl

Ivan Chermayeff, Girl

The image above is titled GIRL (2000), collage, 14 x 11 inches.  It’s so simple and so very clever and witty. The shapes are dots, semi-circles and rectangles. The girl’s face is a grey paper rectangle and her eyes are round grey dots. See the gold and blue cut papers – semi-circles that are ears and a hat.

 

Notice her blue dress. It’s the same crayon blue paper as the “hat” and reveals a photo of deep cleavage showing through the V neckline in the dress. What a girl! The best part – her “mouth” is actually a photo of an eyelash. At first glance, you see a curved black line. It’s a happy-face smile. Then you notice it’s a fringe of eyelash in a closed eye. Very demure. How witty! My reaction: it’s a Mona Lisa smile. What is she hiding?

 

He collects garbage like crazy

 

In interviews, Chermayeff admits he has drawers full of old envelopes and postage stamps, and recycles gloves people drop and leave behind. His approach to collage is spontaneous. He says. “What I’m playing with is making new visual connections. That’s what my collages are all about.” Chermayeff’s people are made from letterheads and labels, pebbles and Polaroid prints and stuff from the office recycling bin. The craftsmanship is meticulous, pristine and clean. They are not garbage.

 

Ivan Chermayeff, Red Talker

Ivan Chermayeff, Red Talker

The image above is titled Red Talker, collage, 15×11 inches, 1995. Notice the colors: black, white, red and a peachy-tan. The portrait is all torn and cut papers in geometric shapes: squares, rectangles, circles and triangles. The portrait is facing right, and wears a hat. He has a large white dot for an eye.

 

Notice some papers have tiny punched holes and show the white through. One collage paper is a printed bullseye with black concentric circles on a peachy tan background. There are multiple tiny holes punched in a horizontal line marching across the bullseye to meet a larger white dot in the outer black circle. See more punched holes in the red paper rectangle touching the bullseye paper. Notice the mouth is a torn red and white business form – probably a mailing label.

 

Did You Know?

Ivan Chermayeff is world famous as a designer and cofounder (1957) of the firm Chermayeff & Geismar, that produced the iconic logos we all know: NBC, PBS, CBS, Mobile Oil, Chase Manhattan Bank, National Geographic, the Museum of Modern Art and more. He graduated from Yale University and began his career designing book covers and album covers. He is most famous for his logos, but also does collage and has exhibited in museums and galleries all over the world.

 

PBS Brand logo designed in 1983 by Chermayeff & Geismar, Inc.

PBS Brand logo designed in 1983 by Chermayeff & Geismar, Inc.

The image above is the PBS logo (Public Broadcasting System) the firm designed in 1983. Image: courtesy Pinterest

 

According to artsy.net, Chermayeff (born 1932, London, UK) is an artist who rotates through multiple media. His strength as a designer and illustrator are equally present in his collage and printmaking media. They say, the works are ingenious and complex even though they look simple. Read more here.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Ivan Chermayeff says “collages make it possible for everything to be something else.” That’s the essence of our contemporary lives.

 

I talked to Pavel Zoubok at the gallery and learned so much about the artist and the art works. It was a great opportunity to speak with an expert. Zoubok is a passionate advocate for collage and has devoted his career to promoting this genre. Here’s a quote: Zoubok says we live in a cut and paste world. Isn’t that the essence of contemporary life? That is the essence of collage. Zoubok also believes collage is manifest in the digital culture that is transforming our society. I absolutely agree.

 

Tell me what you think.

 

 

 

 

What Did You Do In 2012?

January 11, 2013

I subscribe to Alyson B Stanfield’s artbizblog.

The December 19, 2012 post at Art Biz Blog, titled Year End Review  opens with:

You probably did more in 2012 that you are giving yourself credit for.

I immediately followed Stanfield’s suggestion to take time and outline my own accomplishments for the year 2012.

It was a wonderful exercise, both supportive (I got to see that I accomplished goals I set) and encouraging (I got to put in writing my goals for 2013).

Categories in the year-end review include:

How did you promote your art and what did you do to enhance your online presence? (Marketing Triumphs)

How did you strategize and track your growth, what books did you read to help your career, what grants/honors/awards did you receive (Business Growth)

Creative Challenges (how did you improve your studio habits)

Personal Happiness

Nancy Nikkal at Art Basel Miami Beach 2012

Nancy Nikkal at Art Basel Miami Beach 2012

Getting to see contemporary art in a setting like Art Basel Miami Beach makes me happy. I was there for 5 days December 4-8, 2012.

It’s an incredible experience, because the art you see ranges from museum quality blue chip art – to independent fine art dealer’s inventory from every country – to experimental and funky art that surely expands our understanding of what contemporary art is and can be. You get to see it all at Art Basel Miami. It’s an opportunity to meet and network with artists, gallery people (who were very friendly and accessible), and collectors. I attended programs, openings and free events. It was non-stop.

In the image above, I am standing in front of what I call a dimensional collage.  The image was taken at one of the large art fairs. The image is courtesy of Mary Hunter (my artist friend who met me in Miami, FL for 5 days to see all the shows).  I will write about the fairs, the program Conversations (with artist Richard Tuttle in dialog with Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern, London), and a visit to the Rubell Family Collection in upcoming blogs.

The final category in the Year End Review at Art Biz Blog was:

What was the single best thing that happened to your art career in 2012?

I will write about that in an upcoming blog. Hint: it was a huge undertaking and it was worth it.

I recommend you do your own Year-End Review at the Art Biz blog site.

Here’s a link to a pdf with more career advice especially for artists that includes:

Fail-Proof Business Advice from 10 Years of Art Biz Coach

Top 10 Marketing Advice from 10 Years of Art Biz Coach

I include the final 5 here because they are so important. I think you will agree.

(5) Start blogging: Write regularly and consistently. My goal in 2013 is to write blogs about collage that will become content for a book. Alyson Stanfield recommends artists blog about their art to establish their credentials as an expert. That sounds good to me (no matter what the subject)  – because it helps you understand your subject in a deeper way, and the blog provides a place for dialogue with your fans, and makes you more search-engine friendly.

(4) Find ways to get your work out there. It’s critical for you to exhibit your art.

(3) Find ways to communicate about your art. Words can connect your art to more art viewers.

(2) Your contact list is your most valuable asset (keep it current and active).

(1) Get into the studio and make art!

I have a copy of Stanfield’s book I’d rather be in the studio.  It’s an excellent book that is perfectly titled for the dilemma studio artists face – because we are always juggling studio time (what we want to do and where we want to be) with the need to devote time to being out of the studio (marketing, seeing art at museums and openings, networking, writing, updating career and contact information, etc.).

New Goal: In 2013, I plan to send out my newsletter Notes from the Studio more regularly. Its focus will change and be more about what I do in the studio (maybe show works in progress), about juggling time, marketing triumphs, and improving social media skills.  I will always include links to my blog Art of Collage because my studio practice is collage and I teach collage classes and workshops. They are always related. My studio practice keeps my life centered. I teach collage because my purpose is to help people enrich their lives with art (and through making art).  I hope you will sign up to receive the news.

Thank you for reading this post. Let me know how you did in 2012.

Last weekend I visited the Studio Museum in Harlem to see the exhibition Bearden 100, a centennial tribute to the great 20th century artist Romare Bearden (1911-1988). What I saw was the 3rd and final installment of Bearden 100. It closes October 21, 2012.

I promised to write about the Bearden 100 exhibition in a previous blog about a Bearden workshop I lead on August 5, 2012 at the Newark Museum titled Conjur Woman: Portrait in Collage – inspired by the artist Romare Bearden.

The workshop was offered in conjunction with the exhibition Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections at the Newark Museum (closed August 19, 2012).

Romare Bearden, Conjur Woman, 1964

The image above is by Romare Bearden and titled Conjur Woman. It was 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 turned his tiny collage into a huge black and white print (called a Photostat). The Newark Museum had small works and large prints on display. The large black and white Conjur Woman Photostat is in the collection of the Studio Museum.

Read more about the meaning of the Conjur Woman and more about my workshops.

22 ARTISTS AT THE STUDEO MUSEUM IN HARLEM

Here’s a link to see images of the 22 works at the Museum. The link is from the Bearden Foundation.

I was drawn to several works.

One was a figure by Elia Alba titled Portrait of a Young Girl, 2012 (see the image below).

Elia Alba, Portrait of a Young Girl, 2012

It’s a 3D figure in a prayer-like pose.  She wrote: It wasn’t just Bearden’s collage, but his merging of cultural and artistic practices that left the strongest impression on me.

I really liked a collage by Noah Davis titled The Frogs (2011) seen below.

Noah Davis, The Frogs, 2011

 

It looks like collage with many magazine papers and fractured faces (it’s definitely inspired by Bearden media and technique).

I was drawn to a mixed media 3D work by Xenobia Bailey, titled Endless Love: Conjur Kit, 2012 (see below).

Xenobia Bailey, Endless Love: Conjure Kit

I love the fact that the artist named her work Conure Kit – maybe she is inspired by all the Conjur Women in Bearden’s oeuvre.

The artist wrote: I love the continuum that his (Bearden’s) collages have to African-American quilt-makers and musicians. Mr. Bearden constructs everything in his artwork as if he is patching together the idea of the New African in North America.

BEARDEN 100

Visit the website for the Bearden 100 show. See works by Bearden and see works by artists in the 3 shows at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

See #66: Bearden, In the Garden 1974 (image below). It includes red striped fabric on a figure, and abraded painted papers.

Romare Bearden, In the Garden, 1974

The Bearden image was selected by Tanekeya Word, a visual artist living in NYC.

See her mixed media work (below) titled Pretty Dope-a-licious Cameo #11, acrylic paint, gouache, watercolor, acrylic ink, gold leaf, embroidery, floss, pastels, latex  paint on watercolor paper, 2012.

Tanekeya Word, Pretty Dope-a-licious Cameo #11

Willie Cole selected the collage by Bearden, #57 Gospel Song 1969 (below) It includes multiple pieces of abraded papers, a gray background, and shows what Bearden did to his media to create unique surface texture. It also shows how he used pieces of papers to create a sense of dimension, texture, and rhythm.

Romare Bearden, Gospel Song, 1969

Willie Cole, a Newark, NJ artist, said he selected this work because it sang to him when he saw it.

See his work tiled Sole to Sole (below). Cole works with found media and creates/constructs metaphor about race in prints, sculpture and other media.

Willie Cole, Sole to Sole

Cole describes himself: Today I am a Perceptual Engineer.  I create new ways of seeing old things. and by doing so  inspire new ways of thinking.  I’ve also been described as an Ecological Mechanic, a Sacred Clown, a Transformer, the hardest working man in Shoe Business, The Original Iron Man, formerly known as the Dog Man, and once known as Vincent Van Black.

Willie Cole is one of my favorite contemporary artists.

More BEARDEN 100

The Studio Museum plans to extend the Bearden Project. They say:

The site will be frequently updated with new participating artists, sharing their story of inspiration and will include a high-resolution image of their artwork. We hope you’ll share your own artwork, stories, and comments with us by email.

Read more…

Romare Bearden was involved in founding The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Cinque Gallery (initially funded by the Ford Foundation). Bearden and 2 other artists – Norman Lewis and Ernest Crichlow – established Cinque to support younger minority artists.

Bearden helped found the Black Academy of Arts and Letters in 1970. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972.

He is recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the 20th Century. He worked in many different media, including painting and printmaking, but is best known for his richly textured collages