Sunday, August 29, 2010

Morris Graves at The Lake

Happy 100th Birthday Morris Graves
August 28th 2010

Morris Graves in His Leek Garden 
by Imogen Cunningham, Silver gelatin print, 1973

I owe Morris Graves a deep debt of gratitude. Before Graves died in 2001 he set up a foundation to provide artists with a residency in his studio at the home he called "The Lake". Secluded in a forested area of Northern California, Graves home during the last 30 years of his life almost floats on the edge of a small private lake. In 2004 I was awarded a residency and spent a month living and working in Graves own studio.  These are two of the paintings that I made at The Lake.

Each day at the lake  I went for a walk to a labyrinth built by another resident artist. In the center of the labyrinth was a prayer pole. That, and a painting by Graves that was in his studio, inspired the painting Prayer Pole. The painting, Ikon was inspired by Graves sculptures, Instruments for a New Navigation.

Morris Graves Studio, Seattle Times Magazine

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Wide World of Collage

I have a pile of paintings that need to be worked on yet find myself in the midst of a late summer malaise. When my friend Thirnley offered a workshop, Ordinary Life/Extraordinary Images: Using the dynamic art form of collage to explore ideas making the unseen visible, I said "sign me up!" Maybe it is a distraction from the work at hand but I hope it will be just the fresh perspective and artist's camaraderie to bring a new spark to my work.

St. Virgin by Dick Allowatt, collage

Exploring collage on the Internet brings forth a wealth of riches. I only got as far as the A's of the alphabetically listed collage artists on the Collage Art website before I found collage artist Dick Allowatt. I love his work. I followed one of his links to Notpaper, a blog that showcases collage art and where, asked to describe himself in 10 words or less, Allowatt says, "Renaissance influence with modern day attitude". I like the textures and patina in his work suggestive of lost treasures or relics and the uncluttered spaciousness of his compositions.
Link to: Notpaper
Link to: Collage Art

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Cubisms

The technique of collage was pivotal to the evolution of cubism. To understand this it helps to start at the beginning. The term cubism was originally coined by the art critic Louis Vauxcelles in 1908 when he reviewed an exhibition of Georges Braque's paintings using terms like cubes, and Bizarreries cubiques' intended as ridicule. But the name stuck and the rest, as they say, is history, or at least art history. These early cubist paintings began to break down the picture plane into geometric shapes or "cubes".

The formal elements or composition of analytic cubism began to take precedence over its subject matter. The work became increasingly geometric, abstract and analytical so was called analytic cubism. Braque and Picasso both returned to subject matter without returning to representational naturalism by bringing divergent elements together into motifs thus synthesizing them, into the work. Hence, synthetic cubism. They began doing this by actually bringing bits of wallpaper, newsprint, oilcloth and even wood paneling into these paintings making collage a pivotal technique in the development of cubism. 

Sources: Art History Vol II, Marilyn Stokstad, 1995; Oxford Companion to Art, ed Harold Osborn, 1970; Collage, Clement Greenberg, 1958.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Paul Horiuchi - Master of Collage

Dormant Blue by Paul Horiuchi, Casin rice paper collage on canvas, 1981 
As abstract expressionism was storming New York City, modern painters in the Pacific Northwest gained a reputation as "Northwest Mystics."  The term, coined by Life Magazine, described a subdued palette, a sensitivity to the natural environment and the Asian influence on modern painting in the Pacific Northwest. Asian art and artists had a profound influence on the mid-century Northwest aesthetic. Mark Tobey, the learned elder of the Northwest painters developed "white writing" after traveling in China and Japan saying, "The Orient has been the greatest influence of my life." When Tobey became interested in Sumi Painting he was given a large sumi brush and sumi ink by his friend Paul Horiuchi. Seattle artist Paul Horiuchi learned sumi painting as a youth in Japan  winning a national prize for his work when he was just 13 years old.

courtesy Paul M. Horiochi: Washington State History Link

Following his father and brother Horiochi left Japan for the United States in 1920 where he worked for the Union Pacific Railroad in Wyoming. His fathers death and the great depression followed by deep prejudice toward the Japanese during WWII made life in America challenging for Horiuchi but then in 1944 he moved his young family to Seattle. At first he ran a business, Horiuchi's Body and Fender Shop but he never ceased painting eventually winning prizes and showing in the Seattle Art Museum.

  Color Floating in Time by Paul Horiuchi

When Horiuchi married he also converted to Catholicism, his wife's religion, and changed his name from Chikamasa to Paul taking the name Paul in honor of Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso. It was Picasso and Georges Braque, who through their cubist experiments with collage inspired Horiuchi to reflect on the Japanese art of collage going back to the 12th century when poets and calligraphers arranged torn paper into landscapes. One of Horiuchi's first great collages was inspired by seeing rain blown shredded layers of notices on a wall in Seattle's Chinatown. After a career that produced over 2,000 paintings in 1999 Paul Horiuchi died. Printed on the program for his memorial service were the words, "I have always wanted to create something serene, the peace and serenity, the quality needed to balance the sensationalism in our surroundings today. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I'm seeking beauty and truth in nature. This philosophy of mine hasn't changed for the last 50 years."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Political Art and the Politics of Appropriation

Mama Rabbit Protests Park Policy (Apologies to Beatrix Potter)

One great thing about getting involved in the local issue of fighting the National Park's policy of killing the rabbits in San Juan Island's American Camp National Historical Park is the wealth of rabbit imagery available for appropriation to our cause. Last night with the help of photoshop I took Beatrix Potter's charming illustration of a disgruntled Mama Rabbit and transformed her umbrella into a protest sign thus taking a familiar image and enlisting it to serve my cause. I credit Beatrix Potter by making an apology and hope I will not be sued. Chances are good no one in a position to sue me will ever see my appropriated use of Mama Rabbit. But what might happen if they did?

 Hope by Shepard Fairey, Offset Print, 2008 and Barack Obama by Mannie Garcia, Photograph, 2006

When Shepard Fairey's iconic image of Barack Obama began to generate national interest, including fame, prestige and money, the fact that the image was appropriated from a copyrighted photograph by  Mannie Garcia came to light. Garcia, who was on assignment for the Associated Press at the time, claimed he owns the copyright. The Associated Press claimed they own the copyright. Fairey contends that his work is protected by the fair use doctrine and does not infringe on the photo's copyright. When Fairey admitted to destroying evidence that he had used the photograph as was alleged by the AP it did not help his case and in May of 2010 the judge encouraged Fairey to settle.

The fair use doctrine allows for certain limited use of copyrighted material without permission for uses like criticism, commentary, reporting, research and education.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

In The Northwest Tradition

Tom Robbins described the Northwest artistic sensibility in his novel Another Roadside Attraction linking the Northwest Coastal tribal arts, the Northwest Mystics, as well as the generation of artists and writers including Robbins himself to the atmospheric landscape of the Pacific Northwest. The current show at the Museum of Northwest Art in LaConner, Artists, Poets, Scholars: Fishtown And The Skagit River, is a tribute to those poets and artists of Robbins generation who occupied abandoned fishing shacks of the Skagit River Delta in the 1960s. The show runs through October 3, 2010.

Fishtown by David King, photograph, 1979
On Exhibit at the Museum of Northwest Art

Tom Robbins on the Northwest Artistic  Sensibility
Quoted from his novel Another Roadside Attraction 1971

"It is a landscape in a minor key. A sketchy panorama where objects, both organic and inorganic, lack well-defined edges and tend to melt together in a silver-green blur. Great Islands of craggy rock arch abruptly up out of the flats, and at the sunrise and moonrise these outcroppings are frequently tangled in mist. Eagles nest on the island crowns and blue herons flap through the veils from slough to slough. It is a poetic setting, one which suggests inner meanings and invisible connections. The effect is distinctly Chinese. A visitor experiences the feeling that he has been pulled into a Sung dynasty painting, perhaps before the intense wisps of mineral pigment have dried upon the silk. From almost any vantage point, there are expanses of monochrome worthy of the brushes of Mi Fei or Kuo Hsi.

The Skagit Valley, in fact, inspired a school of neo-Chinese painters. In the Forties, Mark Tobey, Morris Graves and their gray-on-gray disciples turned their backs on cubist composition and European color and using the shapes and shades of this misty terrain as a springboard, began to paint the visions of the inner eye. A school of sodden, contemplative poets emerged here, too. Even the original inhabitants were an introspective breed. Unlike the plains Indians, who enjoyed mobility and open spaces and sunny skies, the Northwest coastal tribes were caught between the dark waters to the west, the heavily forested foothills and towering Cascade peaks to the east; forced by the lavish rains to spend weeks on end confined to their longhouses. Consequently, they turned inward, evolving religious and mythological patterns that are startling in their complexity and intensity, developing an artistic idiom that for aesthetic weight and psychological depth was unequaled among all primitive races. Even today, after the intrusion of neon signs and supermarkets and aircraft industries and sports cars, a hushed but heavy force hangs in the Northwest air: it defies flamboyance, deflates extroversion and muffles the most exultant cry".

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Morris Graves Centenary Invitational Art Exhibition & Seance

Morris Graves in his Leek Garden by Imogen Cunningham, Silver gelatin print, 1973

This month Morris Graves would have turned 100 years old. In his honor the Mystic Sons of Morris Graves, Seattle Lodge 93 will host the Morris Graves Centenary Invitational Art Exhibition & Seance. The exhibition will include works by members and friends of the fraternal order including homages to Graves as well as rare works created by Graves especially for the Seattle Lodge. 

The exhibition will begin tomorrow, August 5th, with a reception during Seattle's Pioneer Square First Thursdays from 5:00 to 8:00 PM at the Tashiro Kaplan artists cooperative. The exhibition will be open to the public on Saturdays through August 28th. On the 28th, Morris Graves 100th birthday, members of the Lodge will conduct a seance accompanied by Ajar West playing the Theremin.

Graves, my personal hero and role model, was a Seattle native and artist who came to international  renown in 1953 when a feature article in LIFE magazine, titled Mystic Painters of the Northwest, portrayed Graves as central to a group of Northwest artists inspired by Asian arts and philosophies and the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

And The Winner Is...

Grant Wood's American Gothic

My Grant Wood Coffee Cup

The winner of my recent non-scientific poll for favorite Great American Painting is Grant Wood's iconic painting American Gothic. The painting "epitomizes the Puritan ethic and virtues that he believed dignified the Midwestern character" so says The Art Institute of Chicago where the 1930 painting resides. One sign of the affection people hold for this image is the popularity of parodies based on the image. Here, Kermit and Miss Piggy take up the famous pitchfork (note who is holding the pitchfork in this one).

Kermit and Miss Piggy Parody Grant Wood's American Gothic