Monday, September 29, 2008

Cosmic Circus

Over the years, I've been intrigued by the inventions Stew Henderson comes up with to express his view of the cosmos. To name a few, he’s used three dimensions, two dimensions, bird song, the covers of many New Yorker magazines, water from the Danube River and clock time to arrive at images which, though disparate, are always recognizably Hendersons. He describes his “Paper Circus” series, on view now at Caldbeck Gallery in Rockland, as a group of images which happened during a transition between two intentional bodies of work, but it seems to me that these images are more truly complete than the work which preceded and which follows them. Henderson has always been comfortable with a diamond format, which is very effective here, as is a larger vertical format. But what really makes these images successful is the combination of jewel-colored collaged “beads,” red Pollock-like skeins of paint, and black-and-white forms that seem derived from eyes and eyeglasses. While he has used these elements before, here, framed in black, they are overlaid in such a way that their activities reference an indefinable something that lies beyond themselves. I venture a guess that this might involve more abstract ideas such as vision and anti-matter and the cosmic dance. The strength of the message results from Henderson's accurate use of space, color. and line.

See more Stew Henderson here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Deep Craft at Waterfall Arts

I've been working with Waterfall Arts' founder Alan Crichton, to co-curate their upcoming show, titled Resonance and Response, which will showcase the work of two Maine artists - and am doubling up by writing and posting here the statement for the show, which is to be held concurrently with Waterfall's annual symposium on the connections between art and nature, this year titled "Conflux." I love blog sentences - they go on and on. Here's the statement.

Joe Ascrizzi and Diana Cherbuliez are artisans, sculptors, and story-tellers. In terms of what we ordinarily think of as “craftsmanship,” each is a master. But there is more to craft than careful making. To speak of “deep craft” is to acknowledge the art of slowing down, engaging more people, living through process and results. It implies knowing how to look, and how to think about what comes next. A carpenter at work with his tools always envisions the steps he will take before they happen. C follows B follows A. This kind of deep thinking and making means responding to the given, whether what is given is the mythology implicit in a found object, or the resonance given off by a block of wood.

Diana lives in a house of her own making, in an island world that provides her with a constant source of raw materials. In considering an apple wood limb, she will parse out the cultural and mythological implications of the apple tree, Eve and the snake aided by a rat. Or, a particularly disorienting wallpaper pattern will trigger associations with her childhood bedroom, and she will progress from that idea to create a mirrored box that invites us into the dreamtime, the in between time when we are just falling asleep. In Diana’s work mirrors are the tools through which we build the scaffolds of our personal histories, and by which, through the magic of infinite reflection, we come to understand universal human truths.

By contrast, Joe works intuitively, listening for the frequencies that emanate from his materials. As if tuning into a universal channel, he lets the materials tell him what tools to use and what images to bring forth. The resulting imagery may be a Renaissance-like allegory, or it may be constructed on a geometric abstraction, a five-pointed star or a Golden Section. Joe’s family is from the Italian region of Calabria, where he learned the medieval and Renaissance crafts he now practices. Something in the air, perhaps, has carried forward through history. In one of his mirrored pieces, the mirror appears to be on the surface with the frame, but is not – one reaches back, and back, to find an elusive reality.

In bringing these two artists together at Waterfall Arts, in confluence with CONFLUX, the Deep Craft Symposium, we acknowledge the connections between art and nature, that one informs the other, that although we no longer live solely in the natural world, art is the reflection of our surroundings, the reminder of who we are and have the potential to become, and how we may attend to the practice of living as individuals in community.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The More Things Change

“We talk far too much. We should talk less and draw more. I personally should like to renounce speech altogether and, like organic Nature, communicate everything I have to say in sketches. That fig tree, this little snake, the cocoon on my window sill quietly awaiting its future – all these are momentous signatures.

A person able to decipher their meaning properly would soon be able to dispense with the written or the spoken word altogether. The more I think of it, there is something futile, mediocre, even (I am tempted to say) foppish about speech. By contrast, how the gravity of Nature and the silence startle you, when you stand face to face with her, undistracted, before a barren ridge or in the desolation of ancient hills.”

This quote, attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), is the starting point for today’s blog, that we might reflect on the pure and the impure aspects of the art world.

Would a return to the 18th century and the simple acts of drawing and deciphering visual information remove us from the evil influences of the 21st century’s ART MARKET and its UNEDUCATED COLLECTORS? In the Guardian, Robert Hughes has just written a scathing indictment of Damien Hirst’s auction, today and tomorrow, of his (Hirst’s) own work through Sotheby’s. You can read it here. And the French have their pantalons in a twist over the installation of Jeff Koons’ Bunnies and Lobsters at Versailles, the Sun King’s legendary palace with its Hall of Mirrors.

But was not Versailles a very grand Bunny of its day? The more things change, the more they stay the same. And when it comes to art as commodity, the 17th and 18th centuries have more in common with the 21st than we might imagine.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Viewers' Choice

Yesterday afternoon I attended a panel discussion on the Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s Biennial, where audience and panelists tossed around questions of what defines a Biennial. Is it a showcase for emerging talent? Should the selections reflect the post-modern scene and a variety of media? One panelist, whose career is well-established, felt that this Biennial, and the Portland Museum of Art Biennial, should reflect the career spectrum of Maine artists, and had entered because he felt a certain responsibility in that direction. The other two artists on the panel, though they work in traditional mediums, are new to the “fine art” scene. All around, the dialogue was refreshingly direct and free of art-speak.

CMCA Curator Britta Konau pointed out that Maine’s Biennials are unusually democratic, because they are juried rather than curated (and also carry no entrance fee), so that anyone with a Maine connection is eligible to enter. In addition to the recognition that inclusion provides, there is a Jurors’ Award which, since CMCA is not a collecting institution, takes the form of a small solo show the following year. And then the question was put, should there also be a “People’s Choice” awarded by popular vote of the viewers? A part of the mission of arts organizations these days involves engaging the public, and one imagines that the People’s Choice would be very different from the Jurors’ Award. Even so, viewers would likely make a more sophisticated choice than Komar and Melamid’s version of the most-wanted American painting: a dishwasher-size realist landscape with blue skies.

So, why not let the public have its say? Contemporary art derives part of its meaning from the viewer, and what better way to engage people in new forms of art and do a little consciousness-raising at the same time?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Batting Around Ideas

What’s been going on around here this Labor Day Weekend? Nature. There was a bat in the bedroom the other night, and yesterday, I took some time out to prune foliage away from the boulders that line the creek beds along my property, because I would rather look at rocks and water than at weeds. Just now, an eagle/osprey/turkey vulture soared overhead – not close enough to identify positively. There is a dead fox up the road. Been there for four days now. But, so as to avoid the tedium of personal journaling, let me point you in the direction of the sidebar blogs, each of which I’ve chosen for a reason.

Lies Like Truth: Love the title, and the eclectic coverage of all the arts. Scroll down to read the recent post on Chartres Bleu – not a new varietal, but a video installation at the Di Rosa Preserve in Napa, California.

The Artful Manager: Reflections on the business of art. This is useful reading for me, and since (full disclosure) I’m on the Board of Trustees at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, I like to stay in touch.

Life’s a Pitch: As the bat in the bedroom, art has become part of community. Check out "Auf Wiedersehen, New Media," the August 26 blog, and the August 28 blog on Comments. Apparently, some blogs get hundreds of comments from the on-line community.

Here’s a comment that came to me via email - “just enough familiar information injected with some reflection by you . . allows me to unearth information that I have taken in but didn’t realize was there.” Thank you, commentator: you nailed the reason why I blog.