Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Beauty of Craft

 Paul West at Her Studio
I visited Paula West's Pottery studio last week to write a pre-Artstock profile for the blog San Juan Update.  In it I wrote, "I asked her what inspires her. She talked about the beauty of everyday objects and the inspiration she gets from folk arts, quilts, her garden, and tribal crafts." Paula also asked me if I knew about The Unknown Craftsman. I didn't, but I've been reading up on it since. The Unknown Craftsman refers to an aesthetic philosophy based on the work of Soetsu Yanagi. Yanagi wrote The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty and was the founder of the Japanese Folkart Movement in the 1920s. The "Unknown Craftsman" is the folk artist who created functional objects that were never signed. Yanagi rescued pots made by unknown potters of the Edo and Meiji periods. The earlier anonymous works were vanishing  in the wake of new industrially produced goods.

It has been suggested that the Japanese Folkart Movement may have been influenced by the British Arts and Crafts Movement started by artist and writer William Morris. Whether or not that is the case they were parallel movements that recognized what was being lost as their respective cultures plunged into industrialized modernity. Both movements sought to retain and protect traditions of handmade crafts. Just as they were seeing their culture's craft traditions disappear they sought to elevate and promote them. They valued truthful use of materials, exalted the process of craftsmanship and revered the beauty of craft.

 Ceramic Cup, Paula West

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Think Globally Create Locally

Coming up the first weekend in October is San Juan Island's own arts festival, Artstock. This comes along at the very time that my friend Ian asked me if I'd be interested in contributing to his blog, the popular San Juan Update. I volunteered to post about the local art scene and happily Ian agreed to let me give it a shot. My posts here on Blackfish Art will be different but often complimentary to my posts on the Update.

 Dave Moorhouse Loans His Vacant Storefront to Artstock
Downtown Friday Harbor, Washington

This year is the Island's 4th annual Artstock festival but the tradition of turning to art when the days get shorter, darker and wetter has been Pacific Northwest tradition for eons. Here is Northwest author Tom Robbins on the subject, "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." I would only amend Robbins to say it was unequaled among any races anywhere. 

 Eagle and Raven Rattles, Erich Glendale, Carved wood
Arctic Raven Gallery, Friday Harbor, Washington

Beautifully representing the contemporary renaissance in Pacific Northwest native art is Friday Harbor's Arctic Raven Gallery. Like other participating galleries in town the Arctic Raven will be open late and serving hors devours the weekend of the Artstock.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Matisse: The Old Master's Paper Cut Outs

 Henri Matisse "Painting With Scissors"

Late in his life one of the great masters of 20th century painting, Henri Matisse, turned to collage for his final burst of expression and the crowning glory of his career. Having suffered a grave illness he found that he could cut out paper even while laying in bed. For the remainder of his life he relied on the method of cutting shapes out of paper. With the help of his assistant, Lydia Delectorskaya, he would pin them to the white walls of his room where he would study, and rearrange, modifying the shapes until the design was just right, a process that sometimes went on for months. When the design met his satisfaction the pieces would be glued to paper, board or canvas.

Inside the Chapel du Rosaire

Matisee used this technique for what he considered his great masterpiece and the apex of his career, the design of the Chapelle du Rosaire, a project inspired by a young woman who nursed him through his illness and then became a Dominican nun. Matisse designed the entire chapel including the furniture and vestments. His method of cutting out paper was used to design the chapel's stained glass windows.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Wider World of Collage

Through a comment on this blog I've discovered another great collage web site, Kohlage. You can upload your own collage to this site as well as check out the many resources including a wealth of Photoshop tutorials. One tutorial even shows how to create "torn paper" effects.

The possibilities are vast.  This cool stop-motion video collage is from the Kohlage blog.

LoFi Bohème - Was Soll Aus Uns Werden

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thrinley DiMarco's Collage Workshop

Design Exercise: We were told to start with black or white paper and cut out shapes in 3 different colors. Then we were told to arrange them on the paper until it "felt right" and then glue the pieces onto the paper. I was surprised how challenging it was. My first try I got to the "feels right" place but when I started gluing I lost track of my composition and had to keep adding more pieces to try to "fix it". I get into places like this when I'm painting, very frustrating. I tried again keeping it simpler with happier results. We had a critique and talked about the strength of our compositions. We looked at other collage artist's work especially Kurt Schwitters

Green Tara in the Shrine Room of 

Lunch: We broke for lunch and went up to the small Buddhist center's kitchen. When we walked through the woods I noticed the pattern of bright wet leaves that the rain had been pasting to the earth. After eating Therese and I took a quiet moment in the shrine room, a turquoise room full of Tibetan deities.

 Therese Scott Finn Creates a Collage

Story Exercise: Back in Thrinley's studio with a huge pile of National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines we got our second assignment. This time, keeping design in mind, we were told to cut out pictures and words and use them to tell a story. With a pile of magazines and a pair of scissors I'm happy as a pig in mud. We left our projects in process to return to them next Sunday.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"My Scissors Took Over"

Today I'm gathering materials for Thrinley's collage workshop on Sunday. As I researched collage on the Internet I paid attention to the materials and the process that collage artists  were using. An article about Hannah Hoch by Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times describes an incident that indicates the critical importance of a good pair of scissors to the art of collage.

"A visitor once described her studio in Heiligensee. In the middle was a big table, nearly invisible beneath cartons of old newspapers, mounds of clippings from magazines and brochures, pots of glue and a pair of scissors. When the visitor reached for the scissors, Hoch reacted more or less the way Heifetz might have if a stranger had suddenly picked up his Stradivarius, which is to say not well, and the scissors were swiftly put back on the table."  

Micheal Kimmelman, New York Times

Self Portrait, Hanna Hoch, Mixed media collage

One of my favorite contemporary collage artists, C. Albert, collected images from magazines into a notebook before she discovered collage making. A notebook remains part of her process. She  says, "I keep a notebook with quick starts of collages using non-permanent double-stick tape. (I highly recommend this type of visual journaling.)" A poet as well as a visual artist, Albert's accompanying poem to her collage, In the Wind of a Sneeze, describes the collage coming together.

in the wind of a sneeze
i wanted to build a house
the way ants do
hauling tiny crumbs
four times their own size
its brick walls would stack neatly

i wanted people inside
but didn't plan on a naked man
and a girl floating
as if to escape

my scissors took over
irregular rectangles fell
bricks sailed
into dizzying alignments
and windows flew away
on the wings of black birds.

copyright C. Albert   First published in Mannequin Envy

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Three Collage Artists

Da Dandy, Hannah Hoch, Collage, Photomontage, 1919

Hannah Hoch was the lone woman associated with the Berlin Dada artists who after World War I called for an art "which has been visibly shattered by the explosions of last week, which is forever trying to collect its limbs after yesterday's crash" (Dada Manifesto, Berlin 1918). These artists created social commentary by dissecting images from mass media and recombining them in photomontage.

Hoch addressed racial and gender issues with humor, in the image Da Dandy (above), she fills out a man's profile with images taken from popular women's magazines. Hoch's Dadaists colleagues gave lip service to gender equality but few lived up to it. One who did was the artist Kurt Schwitters.

Mz 26, 41 okola, Kurt Schwitters, Collage-paper on board, 1926

Kurt Schwitters, like Hoch, had a formal aesthetic that was sometimes at odds with the more political focus of some of the Dada artists of their time. Also at odds with the Dada movement was Schwitters romantic belief in transcendent nature. He incorporated bits of refuse that he found on the streets into his collages as a way of creating a fledgling new world out of the ruins of Post World War I Germany. Schwitters fled Germany during the rise of the Nazis and lived in London until his death in 1948. The artist Anne Ryan became, late in her career, a convert to the medium of collage after seeing a New York exhibition of Schwitters work following his death.

Collage #538, Anne Ryan, Collage - paper and fabric on paperboard, 1953

Of Schwitters work Ryan said, "What he could do in such a small space... How he transformed bits of paper and scraps of cloth!". She was 58 years old then and lived only six more years but produced over 400 collages before she died. In her earliest collages, like Schwitters, she incorporated pieces of printed mater and found materials but her later work reflected a softer more formal and intimate aesthetic. Ryan's work is showing through September 6th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Prismatic Eye: Collages by Anne Ryan, 1948-54.