Posts Tagged ‘installation art’

Nygren and Nurmi

August 3, 2009

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Judy Nygren, Flower, Acrylic on canvas

All images on this post are copyright of Judy Nygren and Terry Nurmi and posted with their permission.

It was hot last night and boding not well for a good turn out at the Fort Gallery but I was determined to go there.  The advertising for the current show looked interesting and I was keen to get out of the house. With this heat, I’ve been laying low.

Everyone was quite surprised, then, to see the excellent turn-out of people braving the heat and humidity to see Judy Nygren’s and Terri Nurmi’s show.

I had an interesting chat with Judy. I liked the images, especially where her objects seem to disintegrate into the background, confounding edges, providing ambiguities to explore. Where does the object start and where does it finish?

I asked her whether or not there was a unifying idea behind the images – there were a few paintings depicting different images of the same teapot; and several pictures of fluid looking flowers. In the second exhibition room,  one painting stood out from the others as more anecdotal and perhaps imbued with more meaning.  It is a picture of a swan flying and a woman astride the bird’s back.  The woman’s foot is thrust forward and pointed, clad in a ballerina’s toe shoe.

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When I remarked upon the shoe, Nygren informed me that she was a dancer and hence the connection within her iconography. I suggested references to Leda and the Swan, but she had not consciously thought of that. I mentioned that it looked like the woman was flying away to freedom and looking back whence she came.

Nygren thought that this was an apt interpretation of the images, but confessed that she still hadn’t worked out what the two faces were about.

“Perhaps your old self at the back and the new self going forward? I suggested.  She didn’t know. Couldn’t say. Maybe.

Nygren spoke of  her year of personal changes, the failure of a close relationship and a year of falling apart and assuaging the catastrophic feelings with the healing act of painting.  I pointed out the apparent disintegration happening in the imagery.  She nodded, but confessed that it must have come subconsciously, since she hadn’t set out to express that. To the contrary. The act painting had lifted her out of her concerns; taken her to another more peaceful state of being.

I also noted an unravelling that occurs in many of the images. Same response. But she nodded her head in agreement – her life had felt like it was unravelling.

Nygren’s works are full of strong colour. There are several that contrast an almost khaki colour background with strong cadmium red objects.  She is working in acrylic and her facility with the medium is obvious. She can paint fine line and defined areas cleanly and clearly and conversely, she can bring subtle blendings of colour into play.

One of her themes is flowers which, for leading edge paintings is always considered something of a slippery slope, edging into the too-facile.  As one university professor reportedly said, “If you are going to do flowers, it damn well better be very different.”

On this subject, I found Nygren’s flowers visually quite interesting and engaging for their liveliness. They are formed from a build up of black line-drawings with coloured infill.  They are  rhythmic. They virtually fly through the picture plane with the meanderings of their fluid forms and shapes. Rhythm, in all of her paintings, is one of her strengths, and motion.

Some of them reminded me of a painting I saw in an exhibition that gathered works from the era moving out of realism and into abstraction. It was one of the first images that confounded borders of things, the inside and out of them. It was a bottle and it had been describe only by what wasn’t there – the air around it and the air inside of it.

It might have been Mondrian in his search for more a spiritual description of things or Georges Braque in his analytical search, beginning to develop his ideas of Cubism. I’ve forgotten the name of the artist, it was such a long time ago.

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Some of Nygren’s images are easy to read; others need your full attention. There are four or more images of a vessel, presumably a teapot, mostly in red, but one is described with a coloration of turquoise or cerulean blue. In one of these, the viewer is disoriented. What is the object they are viewing?

“A hookah?” my companion of the evening ask. Judy Nygren is just behind her and answers, “Someone said it looked like a vagina. She’s a midwife, so she’s seen a lot of them. No! I never thought that when I was painting it; though I can see the resemblance now. It’s the teapot. You are looking at the spout.”

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It all kicked in as she said it. It was simple. But we are not used to looking at things from a different point of view. On consideration, this was one of my favourites from this show. Everyone’s contribution to how they saw the picture made it richer for me.  After all, the painter is only one half of the art equation. If no one views it, Confusion says, does it really exist? But the viewer is not obliged to see in it what the painter put in it. More often this is the case. Each person brings their own experience to the dialogue of art.

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Nygren’s works are happy and uplifting, colourful and engaging. Before the end of the opening, several works had been purchased and that is an excellent thing to have happen.

Terri Nurmi is a very different artist. She too has had some challenging life events that have led her to create her imagery. Her artist’s statement is so beautiful that I will reprint it here.

I woke up & went to the bags that held her things … just to smell them. The wonderful aroma of her was dissipating. I wondered how many more smells I would have before she was gone.

“about face” is an exhibition that refers to change. To the shift of identity that happens to all that experience the loss of a friend or family member. This shift requires change. The two are interwoven.

The phrase “about face” is most ambiguous. For me, the work entitled, “Blueprint II” refers to my own shift of identy through the loss of my twin sister. At first, working towards this exhibit, I attempted to paint images from her things. But soon realized that previous bodies of photographic work, inadvertently referring to our relationship, were also beckoning for closure.

As I was speaking to her, Terry described her images as blueprints and the series is entitled Blueprints II of which thirteen are shown. They commemorate her twin sister in a series of images entitled with nostalgic names – Dried Roses and Boostier;  Green Negligé; Lingerie Bag;  Humming Bird and Wire Sculpture;  Pearl Button;  Klimpt;  Bleeding Heart;  Flying; Forget me not;  Houseboat;  I Hope You Dance; Wedding Ring Quilt; and Baby Stuff.

The images are imbued with deep emotion but are more conceptual in composition than Nygren’s. Where Nygren’s subconscious had flirted with the themes of disintegration, she has not intentionally set out to do so. On the contrary, Nurmi’s works quite consciously set out to explore her feelings directly. The images are composed of tokens, relics, remembrances of things she has shared intimately with her sister.

Nurmi Terry Misfortunes

Where Nygren has let loose her images and they fly exuberently, Nurmi’s seem to be  consciously gathering in, codifying, cataloguing and nostalgically preserving them in a clarity that will continue to evoke for her the loss of a loved sister. They are a still and very beautiful archive. A deeply felt testament.

These are printed works under glass. At the exhibition, I was unable to get excellent pictures of them. In particular, Blueprint I, an ambitious and meticulous work  subtitled Misfortunes, a five foot square assemblage of wood, plexiglass and 99 folded fortunes, was always being inspected by one of the visitors to the exhibition. In any case, even if no one was in front of it, the glare from the gallery lights would have made it impossible to properly photograph.  It is adventurous, not only in scale but in idea.

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Terry Nurmi Blueprint I Misfortunes, detail

Each of the folded fortunes recalls a childhood game we played where a sheet of square paper was folded into further squares creating a three dimensional form that could be manipulated with thumb and forefinger. Along with a chant about one’s future, the fortune teller would variably open and close these cones and when the chant stopped, that would be one’s true fortune. The fortunes had been filled in on the facets of paper with girl-child wish lists – happiness, names of desirable boyfriends, friendship, good luck,  and some disasters too – a scolding,  school detention. With our childhood innocence, there was nothing too ill lurking beneath the paper corners. Not like death, cancer, accident and other griefs of great harm and destruction.

In Blueprints II there are fourteen works shown. Most are about eight inches square and all a somewhat gloomy blue colour of the cyanotype.  Yet, there is a bittersweet beauty, a lost beauty, for Nurmi.  Shared femininity is at the core of it and intimacy of twin sisters – lingerie, maquillage, love tokens from evenings out, and  articles of cherished clothing.

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Terry Nurmi, Blueprint II Green Neglige

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Terry Nurmi Blueprint II Bleeding Heart

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Terry Nurmi, Blueprint II Humming bird and wire structure

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Terry Nurmi, Blueprint II Flying

One last note on Nurmi’s imagery:

In each one of Nurmi’s images exhibited, the composition is unique to the piece. The subject matter is different in each piece. There is little repetition here. This speaks of a very fertile mind, visually. It is to be honoured and celebrated. This is an amazing body of work.

My photos lack the characteristic blue colour of the cyanotype; I’ve adjusted them as best as I could from memory. Some have glare on them from the glass, as well, but they are sufficient, I hope, to nudge you down to the Fort Gallery to see them.  It’s a very engaging exhibition.

By the way, I looked for their web presence and the Fort Gallery is the only place for either of them. Here’s the web address.


Lucy Adams

June 20, 2009

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Reflections on Lucy Adams’ work at the Fort Gallery

I was over at the Fort Gallery on Tuesday. Once again, your intrepid art sleuth did not check times and found herself in front of a closed gallery. I did, however drop in at the Birth of B.C. Art Gallery and there is an interesting watercolour show on there.  It’s all representational, and some of it is hyper-realism, if you like that kind of art. There are lots of flowers, landscapes, seascapes and a few animal paintings.

I had lunch with the woman who manages Gallery Direct – blog that I show my art work on, especially my watercolours.

Being hard headed, I returned to the Fort Gallery afterwards. I don’t know if I thought I would find a stray artist in there who would let me into the Lucy Adams show or not, but there wasn’t. There are long banners showing this month. They appear to be done on canvas and hung from rods. I’d say they were about 8 feet long.

It’s a very appropriate show for summer. Each banner has a specific garden flower painted on it, cascading down the length of the canvas. It’s a bright and happy exhibition, a little unusual in the display and therefore more interactive than paintings hung flat on the wall.

Framing is always a major issue for artists. To frame or not to frame. The problem being, most artist as struggling to pay for materials. Framing for an exhibition can easily be over $2000 unless the artist is in some way creative in the framing department. Hanging these as she has, she has found a more economical means to display, and it’s very effective, even startling, which is a good thing when you want people to engage with your art work.

I took photos through the window and with all the reflections on the glass, I got these photos which I found very interesting as photos. The reflections obscure the actual paintings too much for you to tell. But I loved the photos and how they cut up the colours and allowed the flowers to peek through sometimes and then not.

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I’m hoping to get in touch with Lucy to see if she has some photos of her work to add to this blog. Until then, you’ll have to do with my reflections.

Pig Heaven – Diana Durrand and Jo-Ann Sheen

May 26, 2009

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Where are the Pigs, Where are they? Diana Durrand Acrylic on Canvas detail

I was unable to attend the opening, so I marked the first day back from New Mexico on my calendar as a day to go to the Fort Gallery to see the Durrand and Sheen show. I was tempted by the happy pig faces by Durrand, grinning out at me from the invitational poster and the accompanying moody etching by Jo-Ann Sheen.  It took me longer to get there – I was not prepared for the various duties that awaited my return that ended up making me wait a day or two – but I got there on Friday afternoon after a hour-long wait at the Albion Ferry to Fort Langley. Thank goodness, the day was bright, warm and sunny.

Diana Durrand has worked on a theme of pigs triggered by her interest in the Hearts on Noses charity (based in Maple Ridge, B.C.) that rescues and rehabilitates  abandoned, unwanted,  orphaned, injured, abused or neglected mini-pigs.

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Where are the Pigs, Where are they? Diana Durrand Acrylic on Canvas

From a distance, the nine happy pig faces looking out from the centre block of the largish square painting are the same ones I had seen on the invitation. They appeared to be surrounded by wallpaper of some sort, but on closer inspection, the wallpaper effect is made up of many, many pig bodies – the signature, side-on view – in Chagall-like detachment from any reference to the ground. They are upside down, down-side up, and many positions in between, floating on the canvas at all angles, really.  The brush strokes are direct; the layers of colour are subtle and rich.  Durrand is a painter’s painter. Yes, the imagery is quietly funny; the compositions are inventive; but for a painter, it’s the application of paint to canvas – the mark-making, the freshness that makes these paintings luscious, and dare I say, with this porky subject matter, tasty!

Pigs are considered one of the most intelligent of animal species – very close in brain matter to humans. Durrand mentions the contrast between the pigs she has met at the Hearts on Noses pig refuge, happy, able to roam, free within the confines of the property; and she compares them to factory-style pig farming where these intelligent animals never see the outdoors, cooped up in miniscule spaces while they fatten up for market.

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The second large painting of note, Listening, illustrates three pigs with black background and stripes like zebra stripes contouring their shapes. The pigs seem to be enclosed behind bars, like in a cage or in a transport truck going to slaughter. The pigs listen intently to what is going on about them, ears perked and eyes alert.

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Matisse Revisited, Diana Durrand, Acrylic on Canvas 12 x 16

The third large painting is another with a central rectangular canvas with a van Gogh-like picture of sunflowers.This is framed by a number of ochre canvas panels to complete a larger rectangle, then the total is framed by a simple  wooden frame. At first sight, it’s a copy of van Gogh’s work, but on careful consideration, the pig shape emerges, hidden amongst the pots and sunflowers. It’s a visual joke.

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Klee Revisited, Diana Durrand, Acrylic on Canvas 12 x 16

Which came first, the van Gogh or the Kandinsky, the Matisse, the Klee  or the Mondrian, is a moot point. Durrand uses the same pig form, a profile of the body shape, in each of several paintings where the apparent image from a distance, is a copy of one of these master’s paintings, but the pig emerges, is always underlying it.

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Joe The Butcher retired and took up gardening; Diana Durrand,  Mixed Media 10 x 16 inches

The third theme on our porcine subject is entitled Joe the Butcher retired and took up gardening. These images are mixed media, partly pastel, partly collage. The recurring pig-shaped profile now is the subject for infill with various flowers in colour harmony. The collage pieces are cut much like a diagram of a butcher’s diagram and in doing so, the patterned pig seems to be slightly more voluminous than  a simply flat shape.

I came away from these images with a smile. I liked the whimsical ideas, the historical references  and I admired the meticulous craftmanship.

On the opposite wall, there were five long panels of wood “cradles” which is a popular new support for painting. Topping each of the fifty two inch panels, separated by an inch or so,  are five smaller panels, the same width but eleven inches by sixteen. On each small panel, there is a charcoal drawing of a head. On the five long panels, there is a drawing mid-panel of hands expressing a particular mood.

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Jo-Ann Sheen,  five wooden panels with charcoal drawings.

These works are filled with stillness, like five  nuns standing in a medieval austerity, although the faces are expressive and lively. Sheen is exploring the perceptions of identity, mirroring the soul of her subjects through their hand gestures and facial expressions.  Body language is not explored – the bodies that the heads and hands belong to are not there.

The remainder of Sheen’s works are complex psychological portraits (heads only) created through a layered process of etching, monotype printing and chine colle, a process of gluing very fine paper onto the etched paper whilst running the etching through the press.  This method produces beautiful surface qualities.

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Etching with chine collé by Jo-ann Sheen

The show ended on Saturday. A new one will be up on Wednesday, with the opening event for Betty Laughy happening on Friday the 27th of May. See you there!

BTW I looked up both Sheen and Durrand on the ‘Net to see what kind of web presence was available and to explore a larger body of their works. I only found one for Durrand, and I think you may enjoy it very much. This it it:

Note: Hearts on Noses is a Mini-pig Sanctuary, a non-profit organization in Maple Ridge, B.C.  that rescues, rehabilitates and cares for unwanted, injured, orphaned, abused, neglected and abandoned mini-pigs. Web address?

The Hardware show

March 8, 2009


An exciting show opened at The Fort Gallery  in Fort Langley, B.C. this evening. I’ve been waiting for this one since it touches one of my favourite subjects – hardware.

The Fort Gallery is run as an artist’s collective and this one is rather exciting. Every show I’ve seen there is good and some are simply outstanding. Each member of the collective gets to have a solo show once a year. A few times a year, there are group shows and tonight’s was one of those.

Each artist was asked to buy $40 dollars or less in a a hardware store and then create something to go on the walls for this show. There are mostly painters in this group, so it took each one of them out of his or her comfort zone not only in subject matter, but in tools and materials as well.

Beside each creation was a little slot where the hardware bill, proof of purchase, was tucked.

The images that follow will show you just how creative this group is. There is a wide variety of material choice and an equally broad result in stylistic form, as the photos that follow will attest:

In the bas relief picture up above, called “Joe the Butcher often had dreams of owning his own hardware store“, Diane Durand uses nuts of varying size and depth  set into plaster to create a pig.  This image has a strong textural quality established by the nuts  and the roughly trowelled plaster-like substance in which they are set. It’s not clear what the object represents above the pig, but it doesn’t matter; it’s what brings the composition into balance. I get a good laugh out of the piglet’s tail.


A fish out of water – JudyNygren

Still in a representational vein, Judy Nygren created this clever fish out of washers, screws, assorted fence screws, framing nails, colour paint swatches, pine board, fishing wire and wire. There is good craft in the assemblage of this bas-relief sculpture, a good use of colour and an imaginative way of metamorphosing hardware bits for scales and eyes. It’s not a humorous piece, per se, but I found myself laughing at the colour chips for scales and the completely successful use of materials to give an eerily tactile result.


Bag of light -Suzanne Northcott

Moving away from the strictly representational, Suzanne Northcott has assembled a lamp-like object with a welding wire, a bulb and paper bags cut into strips. It’s reminiscent of her nest series she did a few years ago both in paint and in large drawings.

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Nest – Doris Hutton Auxier

Continuing along  more abstractly, Doris Hutton Auxier has created nest from strips of automatic nail gun nails. She sets up an unnerving contrast of the the hard pointed steel to represent the normally soft downy interior of a nest. One has to wonder how long those four large “eggs” will last with those spikes for a bed.

Claire Moore created an Untitled flying figure of a woman that jutted out of the wall. It’s made of delicate soldering wire and was impossible to photograph well. A second one by Moore was entitled “It’s hard to find comfort when you are a prickly person” (you can just barely see the first delicate figure on the right-hand side of the photo below.


It’s hard to find comfort when you are a prickly person – Claire Moore

This mobile sculpture is about eight feet tall, suspended from the ceiling and strung into position with wires like a puppet. It’s made from Zap straps, foam insulation and hemp string. Several guests at the opening remarked that this was the best in show, but I had such a hard time deciding: there were so many excellent pieces.


Breach – Maggie Woycenko

Decidedly more abstract and reminiscent of the ‘Sixties is Maggie Woycenko‘s Breach made from linoleum tiles, screwhole plugs, shower curtain rings, paint and shoe polish.  I love this one. The surface has been rubbed with shoe polish to give it a rich surface texture. The composition is simple yet the screw-hole plugs bring interest to it, and at the centre, each central corner of the four tiles is raised up about two inches to expose a silver-coloured object that keeps the tiles up and open.


Home Sweet Home – Kate Bradford

You may remember Kate Bradford from an earlier post. She did small exquisite metal sculptures. Home Sweet Home is much more complicated by comparison. Here she uses Plaster of Paris, copper pipe, roofing screws, cedar shims, two mouse traps, electrical wire, steel brackets, twine, spray paint and bronze paint.

In a similar vein, Maggie Woycenko’s What is True vies with Bradford’s sculpture for the highest number of materials used. It’s made with photo album, plumb bob, saw blade, metal strapping, metal plates, chain, nails, locks, wire, paint and shoe polish. The lighting, I might add, brings extra shadows to the imagery which I find delightful.


What is true – Maggie Woycenko

Woycenko’s What is true is constructed around a photo album with additions of a plumb bob, saw blade, metal strapping, metal plates, chain, nails, locks, wire, paint and shoe polish. The shadows created by the gallery lighting echo the shape of the object emphasizing its three-dimensionality.


Remnants of the Post  Handyman Era- Scott Gordon

Using plaster, plywood, wooden dowel and hardware, Scott Gordon assembled this bas relief sculpture. The title is mysterious. Is this what was left over from constructing a fence?

The composition is meditatively balanced; the dowels set high in the frame leave room for shadows to become part of the imagery play; and the dark to light ratio is good.


Displaced – Betty Spackman

It took twelve paint rags, five cans of paint, fifty clothes pegs and thread to fabricate this wall hanging and a lot of creative imagination.  In a theme and variation tour de force, Spackman uses two principle images – the clothes peg and a house – massing them in patterns or alone, operating the images as stencils on one hand and as a print stamp on the other. She switches the shapes from positives to negatives. The colours, variations on a khaki green ochre, the unbleached cotton white  and sepia, blend easily into the overall effect, not overtaking the details of the forms.


Good Idea  – Susan Falk

On a plywood cut-out shape of torso and head painted black, three energy efficient light bulbs glow like the curly  stuffing of exposed brain. Electrical wire and electrical caps provide the connection to the fixtures. It lights up with a brilliant idea.  The concept of this piece is great although I would have liked to see  a bit more attention made to  finishing.


Alice in Wonderland I, II and III – Terry Nurmi

These three intimate and thoughtful works  convey Nurmi’s  personal sense of colour, a subtle understanding of spatial relationships between objects with meditative results. These are pieces that can be comfortably lived with for a long time.

A few pieces were difficult to photograph to their advantage because they were in poor lighting situations for photography on an opening night. There was This and That, a Alexander Calder-like mobile in the front bay window of the gallery  by Judy Jones made of  green and red rope, copper wire, a light switch, reflector rods, nuts and bolts.  A lamp labeled, Life’s inside was made of doweling, lamp components and fishing wire. In Dennis Venema’s In my mind’s eye, a tripod holds a ABS plastic construct that looks like an old-fashioned camera complete with a black-out cloth, enhance with wax paper, rubber bands, and aluminim sheeting.

With twinkle lights and copper wire, Cathy Miller created a spiraling tube chandelier, calling it Copper wire gone haywire.

Lastly, Joanne Sheen made a large sketch book with pages of brown Kraft wrapping paper.  This too was difficult to photograph, especially since there were numerous images throughout.  Several had rubbings of metal objects – screws, washers and other hardware gizmos. Some incorporated sandpaper in collage with a charcoal or graphite  image. Each page  varied strongly from the preceding, evidencing an active imagination and a strong design sense.


Book – Joanne Sheen

A show like this is an inspiration to all artists. It’s a call to step outside our comfortable range and to really create – not just repeat past successes. It’s a reminder how fertile our imaginations really are. When corporations are seeking out new ideas, or even how to get their employees to think in a forward-minded way, they need to consult artists. Artists know how to make leaps in thought, to think sideways, not only to think outside of the box, but to leap out of that constraining box altogether. It is from this creative soup that new ideas come – some as brilliant and culture-quaking as Thomas Edison’s light bulb.

So if you are in the area, Fort Langley, B.C.,  and you like to be dazzled by excellent imagery, the Hardware Show runs at the Fort Gallery at 9048 Glover Street until the end of March, 2009.  It’s even worth an excursion from Vancouver to get out to see it!

Art and the fashion of Art

February 6, 2009


Last night Bristol Life Drawing left me a reply to a comment I made some time ago, which restarted a discussion that continued on. I really recommend the Bristol Life Drawing blog, especially as I really like figure drawing. I like the bloggist’s commentary. So have a look if you like.

Specifically, this post was the trigger for discussion and I’m repeating my reply here, because I find the subject interesting, and you might too – and you might otherwise not find it if your are unfamiliar with Bristol Drawing. If you want to get the discussion from the very beginning, look up this post and the ensuing comments.

Modernist still-life? I’ve rescued a few of them from the Salvation Army and other thrift stores lately, along with some other out of fashion originals.

I visit an elderly gentleman, friend of my mothers, in his late nineties who collected art in the period of 1930 to 1970 and collected some good brand names, so as to speak, of the modernist genre – nationally, if not internationally, icons that are largely unrecognized now by other than a few cognoscenti, those in the know.
Some of these paintings really no longer appeal to the current taste. They look childlike and brutally inept. Those modernists, though, opened the door for following generations to allow exploration and creativity, to encourage insolite and eccentric vision. It was a good thing. It engendered a whole lot of positive creativity.

Do you remember all those “chocolate box” and “Pompier” works of art that we were taught to abhor in Art School?

For those who may be following along who are not familiar with these Schools of Art, they were most popular in the 19th Century. The first, in general, had sweet subjects of little girls in pinafores, garden scenes with cottages, mothers with their babies or little children, little boys catching toads or newts. You get the picture – sweet, redolent of happy homes, wild English gardens, play at the seashore – nothing controversial and nothing deeply philosophical nor symbolic.

The second, from the same period of art fashion, was a hugely bombastic, emotively dramatic, often glorifying soldiers and war, and was steeped in allegorical imagery. It was favoured by the French Academy of Art. It was sneeringly called  “L’art Pompier” or translated, “Fireman’s Art”. Wikipedia has a good explanation of L’Art pompier, if you want to know more.

I was interested to see, relatively recently, that some renewed interest in these Schools of Art had once again become a lucrative trade on the auction market.  I mention these two schools of art because, without a strong grounding in anatomy, neither one of them would have been remotely interesting.

As a curious aside, I wonder how a comic book artist or caricaturist would handle a take-off on Bougereau’s “The remorse of Orestes” (which is the illustration for the Wikipedia reference I made up above). I can’t imagine it working at all! And yet, just look at that painting! If I had one tenth of the ability to draw those luscious nudes with so much movement, tension and emotion, I could die and go to heaven.

After all these years of painting and drawing, I still only get the best that I can do, but it’s rarely what I see or what I want to do.

So why did I mention all this?

What’s fashionable in art comes and goes. There’s always an “Academy” of thought that imposes its self-made criteria on the peons without influence telling them how they should think, do and produce. Art is influenced by our times and progress, whether that’s the right word for it or not, is characterized by rebellion against what has become normalized through time.

Even the Impressionists have fallen into a slump, if you are an upcoming student of the arts. Yes, they may be making millions at auction, but if you produce them in your art school these days, you are mocked to Perdition.

Installation art is in. I mention it because I remember going through some European countries – mostly France, Germany and England – in my first sabbatical year, going through museum after museum and steeping myself in Northern European Art History. I was awed, quite simply.

I based myself in Rheims where I attended Art School. It was still operating on the classical method of teaching drawing and painting, with Classical plaster statuary, figure drawing and perspective classes that have since been tossed out the window in Art Education, even in Rheims.

I struggled to get a good figure drawing. Despite my degree that allowed me to teach children what art was, I couldn’t draw. It was a year before I could do a decent figure and then, only sporadically.

When I saw Dominque Ingres’ beautiful nudes, they were to die for! – his ability to draw a hand as if it were alive! his beautiful transitions, his ability to express the roundness of his models, the softness of the skin, the absolute draughtsman-like ability to get proportion right. Well, that’s why we consider him a master of his art, n’est pas?

Quite rightly, for me, I fell in love with figure drawings (and paintings) and have wanted to succeed with them ever since; and because I never have, to the best of intentions, I have to keep on going back to it to get the next one right. As a result, I’ve got a basement full of three-quarters-good pastel drawings that will never be seen! I am spared the thought that my mother (unlike Whistler’s) will burn them all when I die, because she has predeceased me; but I shall nevertheless regret some fool executor trashing the bunch of them because they are out of fashion or because they are deemed by that person to be untoward, unChristian or somehow lewd.

I’m out of step with my times. I should be out there creating spare pile-of-rock installations in warehouse sized rooms; or decorating the landscape with a trail of a thousand white umbrellas.

One thing I am mightily thankful though, is that in my era, creativity has become accessible to the masses; and the revolt against the Academic strictures (both then and now) of What is Art have been successful in giving each of us permission to take the avenue that we desire to pursue in expressing ourselves, whether it be through traditional landscape, still life or portrait, or through more experimental modes of expressionism, impressionism, conceptualism, minimalism or any of the other ism you can think of.

The door is wide open. Hooray!

And if the figure is a hard-sell these days, I perceive that all art is a hard-sell. The dollars or Euros or pounds are not the purpose of it. Creativity is. So sell or no sell, I’m very happy to be painting and creating as best I can, because it enriches me and sometimes enriches others when they see it, and because it’s such a positive and satisfying activity to be involved in.

Nature versus Art

August 2, 2008

Whenever I can catch Recreating Eden, a television program series celebrating great gardens, landscaping architecture and gardening, I do. This morning whilst looking for a bit of news which I have neglected for the last few days, it being so often all the same – a few stabbings, a bit of war bombings, the latest exposure of corporate fraud or greed and some in-your-face commiseration with the family of some tragic car accident victim – I found that Recreating Eden was on at this early hour.

I got caught up in the world of Charles Jenks and his creations – marriages of science, art and gardens. The gardens are very formal, very obviously constructed and grandiose in size and style. It’s a curious mix, incorporating representations of major recent scientific discoveries into a man-manipulated nature and a wild bit of planned garden plantings.

Jenks described four categories or levels of natural environments: wild untouched nature;hunter/gatherer man-altered nature (fields, husbanded forests, etc); gardens; and planned landscaped environments with the marriage of art, science and landscape.

I found his work fascinating, awe-inspiring and emotionally meaningful, not to mention the cerebral underpinnings that have triggered his design concepts.

Thinking of this and recent conversations on the validity or appropriateness or worth of art-altered nature, i had to dig a little deeper into my thought processes. Does one’s approval of “environmental” art, landscape art or architecture depend on how much one likes it?

Jenks’ work is certainly disruptive of the natural environment; but I like it. Mind you, I would have been mightily upset if he had needed to destroy a forest to create his built environment. I presume, though, that he was starting with an environment that had already been altered centuries before by man’s hand.

Is it only when we have something that is shocking in the environmental scape that it becomes objectionable? If you’ve been following this tennis match blogging between Art is Eternal (in defense of some thoughts and artworks of an experimental bent) and, (in defense of Nature as it is), then perhaps you have some comments to add.

I have no answers, I realize.
Forestrat referred to an artwork installation that included brightly coloured plastic forms of rats hanging from the trees in a natural environment. I’m sure I would find that shocking but it would make me wonder what the artist was trying to say and I might look further into it. I would also hope that the display was temporary, as many art installations are. I think it would distress me if it were left permanently.

And yet, the Inushuk stone piles of the Innuit – they seem almost mystical to see in the rocky, snowy environment in which they were created. Having them there permanently does not offend me aesthetically and it’s doing no damage to it’s natural surroundings.

On the other hand, when I see one of these Inushuk plunk in the middle of a city, I shake my head. They jar with the cityscape. I also object to the ones made in Inushuk workshops on municipal beach edges surrounded by bikini clad bathers. They are equally jarring when constructed by Ferry Terminals. They don’t fit. It would be more contextually apt to construct a sandcastle! If these misplaced Inushuk topple back into their stony components on the ground, I’d be happy.

So is our appreciation of things based on our liking of things? Or is there more to it than “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like”.

Can we apply some criteria to our judgment, or if you like, our appreciation, of new forms of art work?

Who gets to judge whether or not an installation can stay in a natural environment or not? Does it depend on who owns it? For example, if one owns large fields and chooses to create a maze or a crop circle, is there any regulation that would prevent a person from doing that? But if it was in the middle of a state or national park, obviously someone in the park administration would have to evaluate and pronounce on one’s right to proceed with a similar alteration of the landscape.

Is it alright if it doesn’t permanently damage the landscape? If it’s a pick up and go kind of work (like filling a rock pool with a vibrant and clashing red colour or like Christo’s wrapped environments that get unwrapped at the end of the day with nothing damaged in the end)? Many of the installations are temporary with the only lasting record being photographs once an installation has been set up.

As I keep thinking about this idea, I keep coming up with more questions than answers.

Is anyone listening out there? Do you have some wonderful examples of installations in nature that you think should be left there permanently? Or ones that you think are there to stay that you’d like to tear down in the middle of the night when no one is looking?