Today is an off the cuff blog post. Hurricane Matthew unraveled me more that I'd like to admit. As many artists know, obession is the name of the game in an artist's life, and although my home wasn't affected thankfully, I still have two 75 foot trees, and a number of smaller trees down in my yard. The tree workers were diligently cleaning up so I am not complaining, or am I. In order to get the power on they placed large (ginormous) platforms in the yard to stabilize the big trucks to cut the trees in order to get our power back up. From the studio window I see this mess daily. My recent trip to Atlanta reminded me of just how much is going on in the art world. Also, this is application season, and I am trying to make some etchings without access to a press.
Realizing the reality was to focus on the studio work in front of me, my decision was to concentrate. Although it seems I am really focused on art and the artists issues of the Savannah community, which I am, I can also spend hours watching Steve Harvey clips, and African dance and wedding clips, among other Youtube distractions, and reading numerous lengthy texts about art history. I used to read about African American politics, slavery, and other 18th century historical figures, but I've stopped that, somewhat. I obsessively watch American and foreign films too, and lately started writing lengthy reviews about them on Amazon. Currently, I am reading 33 Artists in 33 Acts, by Sarah Thornton which is a good read, so far.
Did I say I was obsessive, well let me share a couple more. I collect water and have 5, 65 gallon tubs in my yard, and two rain collectors. The tubs which we got from the car wash are unofficial (to be discarded, eventually), the rain catchers are official. In a storm, I will set up buckets on the patio, then stand over the rain barrells with a tilted umbrella to try to catch more rain. I had gutters installed that water runs directly to the rain catchers. Now I must empty the rain into the barrels to make more room for new water during a storm. So there are no mosquitos, I have goldfish in the tubs which are now really pets. My adult children think that is just what moms do, since I do it so often.
My father was obsessive, which I inherited, and any time something broke, my dad would put on his jewelers glasses and repair it. My younger sister commented that if he was a superhero he'd be named, The Piddler, since we always know when he has been in a room by his numerous miniscule adjustments. I inherited the knack for jigsawing tiny shards of broken pots together.
Another obsession, collecting broken stuff, fixing it, and locating somewhere to put it in the house. After the storm I came across a 300 pound concrete planter thrown out by the hospital. With some concrete, the patience of Job, and the artistry of puzzling, I plan to make it look new. We are currently working on other pieces of furniture as well.
I blame this next obsession on being from an academic background. This is the number one obsession, learning about other artists, emergent, established, historical, and artists from any continent. I am amazed when other artists don't do this. Yet secretly I do this with artists from other venues like musicians, actors, poets, filmmakers. I learn all about about their process, their theory, and their list of accomplishments. I could open a library with all the gallery cataloges, magazines, and books I've collected. I commit names to memory, study as many pieces I can find. Admittedly I am an art groupie. Truth is, all of this distracts from time spent on work in my own studio.
Being a painter is a full time job. It requires focus so that each idea can grow into the next, and so that mistakes can be corrected. In the studio, I build and prime canvases, mix paint, take images of the work, draw, plan and promote. The obsessions can feed my work, however I am often in the habit of allowing the obsessions to take precedence. I said all this to say that focus in the studio is imperative, out of the studio I am a basket case.
In the next weeks I will be cleaning my my online presence. In the work I am producing currently, it makes sense to place it in a platform that allows for more comprehensive reading. I look forward to getting the etchings done, steering away from nagging little pieces that take me a lot of time but get little attention, and concentrating on larger scale paintings.
For all who struggle with the same obsession I have talked about please read Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, it gives licence to what I just called crazy.
Thank you all for reading if you want to share comments just email me .
On Wednesday we learned of the evacuations due to hurricane Matthew. Faced with loosing studio work time, proposals in midstream, meetings delayed, and a new blog to upload, I decided to attempt work from my sister’s home in Marietta. I added the Atlanta Print Center to my list of travel destinations, and a visit to the Sandler Hudson Gallery. Finally, I planned to visit the studio of the artist Lillian Blades, an artist who I met years ago during my early years of teaching. Later I developed an admiration for her work while we shared showing at Sandler Hudson. I contacted her, she informed me of her exhibition at the September Gray Gallery where she was also giving a talk moderated by curator, artist, philanthropist, and art connoisseur, Joe Barry Carroll. With my plan set, I now share my visit with you.
In this post, Artist to Artist, I make a correlation between Blades work and connections to assemblage. Specifically, in the Constructive works post World War II, Dada and Surrealism , made by artists Kurt Schwitters, Vladimir Tatlin, and Piet Mondrian. The Dada period introduced freedom from content, thought to lead to war, the short lived Dada period, followed by Surrealism, enabled artists to concentrate purely on formalist concerns. African American artists like Romeare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Lois Malou Jones working just after, used assemblage to create with limited reference to the European tradition. As European artists like Pablo Picasso and Jean Arp borrowed visual clues from African imagery, so too did African American artists return to the concept of visual freedoms in art making. The work of Lillian Blades follows in context.
Working in the format of painting, Blades creates assemblages on wood panels. Within the plane she combines fractions of shapes and variations of color to symbolically reference connections to family, time, tradition, and space. She makes psychological connections to each element, the use of PVC pipes for her father, a plumber, buttons refer to her adoptive mother, a seamstress. Other symbolic references include picture frames, shells, angels, paint brushes, picture frames, fragments of wood, molded glass, and mirrors. Although each element has personal connections, they also register with the viewer and the evidence of labored embellishment helps to make these associations while deconstructing her past.
An encounter with the work requires the viewer to visually order linear, rectilinear, and curved forms that fluctuate forward and back, up and down. Often using a white background, parts of the work recede into the gallery wall, in this we are reminded of Mondrian’s use of the white as a spatial device. Objects intertwine under layers arranged with elements systematically adhering them with a mosaic adhesive that replicates the look of water Blades has mastered making movement within the stagnate format. Blades also does this by creating color evolution similar to the way landscapes move from ground to sky, as in the image “Sand and Sky”. Colors are also arranged to move from dark to light, Blades is visually organizing intensely chromatic alongside tinted and achromatic hues to visually dictate the movement of the image.
In Blades' work the use of light is multiplied in meaning and in execution. In the image titled “Otito”, Blades makes reference to the Yoruba word, meaning reflection. For as the viewer looks at the work, they are reflected in the work, thus the viewer becomes part of the piece. Traditionally mirrors were used to reflect and frighten evil spirits, in this work reflection of the viewer welcomes and makes the viewer part of the work. Blades uses rectilinear slivers of mirrors to reflect light and create a shimmering effects. The mirrors also create movement, as the pieces reflect the movement of the audience, the work inevitably moves itself. Mirrors also create a shimmering of light, just as tiny glimmers of light are reflected in water. Just steps away at the King Memorial, one can gaze into a shimmering pool of water, this reflects upon youthful memory of sand and sea. We travel through the works as one walking the beach gathering memories as we go.
Blades created a cacophony of images reminding the viewer not only of the sights imbued in the pieces, but sounds. Viewers are reminded of the vibrations of Soca music, with its underlying currents of cowbells, steel drums, whistles, idiophone and calypso replicate the feeling of Junkanoo and Odundu. There is no mistaking the relationship to the celebration of carnival. When asked about the future, Blades discussed moving toward suspending the pieces and referenced beaded curtains. A desire to combine movement created by densely multiplied patterns, linear and rectilinear interspersion of shape.
Blades is clearly influenced by the African imagery found in Yoruba sculpture. The necessity to create reminiscent to artisans of ancient Africa. However, this work is much like a process found in many artists of color, such as Bette and Allison Saar, Leonardo Drew and Nick Cave who are working to resolve issues of locating and connecting, present to past, place and time.
For more information about the exhibition at September Gray Gallery visit:
For addition information on Lilian Blades work:
Additional information about Lillian Blades exhibit see a great article:
For information on Joe Barry Carroll see:
This became a primary aspect of my work, the limitations of the vessel, and how forcing contents in causes the container to protrude beyond its capacity. In my work, the vessel manifests itself in innumerable ways.
Just prior to heading off to church today, I glanced in the mirror. I usually look at the forward facing view, then turn sideways and consider just how much of a protrusion there is. Countless times growing up I saw my mother do this. She would judge to see if her muscle, skin, tissue, and fat communicated favorably. This became a primary aspect of my work, the limitations of the vessel, and how forcing contents in causes the container to protrude beyond its capacity. In my work, the vessel manifests itself in innumerable ways.
The idea evolved in the work because of pressure experienced working situations. In exploring how to manifest this in a painting, I decided upon the balloon. Balloons are used for joyous occasions they are often colorful and when let go they symbolically represent freedom. In 1956 an arts film from France won the Oscar for a children’s film, The Red Balloon. One of my teachers shared it with my class when I was a child; it was my first introduction to film as art. In the film, the balloon escapes the grasp of a small boy. The balloon did not desire to be a possession; the boy chases it through the neighborhood. The balloon comes to life and experiences a life of its own. Humans breathe into the balloon giving it shape and substance, however, too much and it bursts. If twisted, squeezed, or wrung, without sufficient leeway, bursting also happens. A balloon will also pop if it is pierced, or pressured.
The balloons reference the figure, sitting, reclining, standing, and the figure occupies the totality of the space. Each idea begins with a sketch, I begin with a scribble. The unlimited curvilinear quality of the scribble drawings is available to me as a source of freedom in the work. I begin with a loose contour then harden the edges to form the body of the shape. These shapes are feminine; their roundness pushes past flesh, and there is no predetermined outcome for any form.
Finally, the forms in both my paintings and in many of my drawings have navels; the navel the point where independence once began. It is often our first scar and is scar tissue that has healed after it is severed, emancipated life. In visually referencing artists like Fernando Botero, Kenny Scharf, and Philip Guston my goal is to reference playful imagery in reflecting on a much more complex idea.