Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead is a holiday widely practiced in Mexico. Families come together to honor dead loved ones and encourage their sprits to visit with various gifts. Evidence of ceremonial rituals meant to attract the spirits of the dead and honor them can be traced back to Pre-Colombian times. Aztecs dedicated a month long festival starting around August to the goddess Micteozcihuatl, the precursor to today’s Catrina. Over time beliefs of the indigenous peoples combined with Catholic beliefs, producing a three day celebration that starts on October 31st and lasts until November 2nd. Each day holds specific significance. On the first night, called Dia de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) children make altars for the angelitos (spirits of young children or babies) encouraging them to visit. The next day called All Saints Day honors adult spirits and on the last day, All Sous Day, families gather in cemeteries to decorate the graves of relatives and friends who have passed. The traditions of this festival spread through out the region and now similar holidays for the dead are practiced in Spain, Brazil, and some areas of Europe, Asia, Africa and America.

There are specific icons that make up the visual lexicon of Dia de los Muertos. The most readily recognized being sugar skulls (calaveras de azúca) placed onto graves as oferenda (offerings). These decorations made of sugar and can be bought, but are often homemade. The sugar is shaped into a skull and brightly decorated with patterns in multi-colored icing, shiny foil, sequins and glitter. These are not morbid items, but are cheerful reminders to the dead of the love their living relatives still have for them. Marigolds are the flowers of the dead and are thought to attract spirits. The flowers and sugar skulls populate art inspired by Dia de los Muertos themes. Faimlies also paint their faces in a likeness of the sugar skulls and wear marigolds in their hair.

Altars made for the dead can become large and complex, filled with sugar skull, paper decorations, food and drink favored by the deceased, candles, flowers, toys and pictures. These altars are made to attract the spirits during the days of the holiday when they can visit. Special bread is baked called pan de muertos (bread of the dead) and also placed on graves. These elaborate alters are quite beautiful and reenforce the celebratory themes of the holiday. Below I have attached some pictures of altars and other items from Dia de los Muertos. Later this week, my work place will participate with Dia de los Muertos by having private and public altars for the community to visit. I am very proud to be able to contribute to this long tradition as well as excited to be a part of it. I will try to take some good pictures of the altars to share later this week or early next week.

Thanks for reading guys, and whether you chose to celebrate Halloween or Dia de los Muertos or both, I wish you all the best.

 

Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei is photographed inside his studio in Beijing on June 16, 2014

Ai Weiwei is building portraits of imprisoned human rights activists onsite at Alcatraz out of legos. The portraits total 176 and feature political exiles like South African leader Nelson Mandela, Tibetan pop singer Lolo and even American whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The work is part of an exhibition titled “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz”  that opened on September 27th and will run through April 26th. The instillation is organized by For-Site, a San Francisco producer of public art. The portraits will be located in the prison hospital, A Block cells, dining hall and the former laundry building.

Weiwei’s project will bring awareness to limitations on freedom of expression across the glob. I know it is hard for Americans to really understand how censorship abroad works (not to say our government never casts shade on topics) because our freedom to express seems unbound when compared to the degree of persecution human rights activists, artists, musicians, and political rebels face in say Russia or the Middle East among others. Weiwei has himself fought to resist efforts by the Chinese government to stop his artistic efforts.

And now the answer to the question on everyone’s mind. How many Legos did Weiwei use to build his portraits? The artist estimates the final count will total around 1.2 million pieces.
Heres a link with a video about the project and an interview with Weiwei:

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/sep/24/ai-weiwei-alcatraz-lego-extraordinary

 

 

 

(At Least) 150 Words: Shamsia Hassani

So before the word count lets have a quote shall we?

“I am from Afghanistan , the country which is famous by War-Bomb – …lets change the topic of news about Afghanistan . lets bring PEACE with art , lets make it famous by ART not by WAR.”— Shamsia Hassani

Ok the count starts below*:

Shamsia Hassani is a graffiti artist working in Kabul. She is afghan, but grew up in Iran where freedoms were limited because of her nationality. Shamisa was not allowed to study art until 2006 when her family moved to Kabul. As a girl Shamisa practiced art on her own, but gravitated towards graffiti after attending a work shop by a UK artist. Today she teaches at Faculty of Fine Arts, Kabul University and is a founder of Berang Arts Organization,.

Shamsia has four main reasons for making street art:

  • Create positive and empowering imagery to “cover up bad memories” left after years of war.
  • Introduce art to a community of people who have no other means accessible.
  • Use meaningful images to express her messages because “the picture is more expressive than words.
  • Create awareness of the plight of afghan women.

Standard subjects include women in Burqas, fish, and symbols representing ambient atmosphere. Her street art generats positivity in communities damaged by war. Of course she cannot freely express herself in this country because of censorship and the dangerous associated with voicing opposition. As a result one of her most well known projects is a collection of her preliminary sketches drawn over prints of pictures taken from different parts of Kabul she calls “Dream of Graffiti.”

Shamsia’s continued effort’s to exchange her street arts experiences with her students and present more artists to the community. She was selected as one of Top10 for the 2nd Afghan Contemporary Art Prize in 2009, and since then has been part of solo and group exhibitions inside and outside of Afghanistan (e.g. Germany, Australia, India, Vietnam).  

Links:

http://www.streetartbio.com/#!shamsia-hassani-interview/c19pn

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shamsia-Hassani/252100761577381

http://artradarjournal.com/tag/shamsia-hassani/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/24/graffiti-street-art-kabul

*I didn’t really do a word count. I might be over 150.

Maud Lewis

Maud Lewis, Three Black Cats, 1960

Folk art has an undeserved reputation of being plain, uninspired, dull, or the worst of these “crafty.”  “Folk” is confused with “unskilled” which is not accurate. Folk means the art was produced for utilitarian purposes by an uneducated, in fine arts, creator. It also encompasses art by an indigenous culture. Because the artist did not receive a form art education, the images may lack traditional (Western) rules of proportion and perspective, but that does not make these works any less valuable, significant, skilled, or enjoyable.

Take for instance the art from Maud Lewis. I just can not get enough her her vivid color pallet and simple but emotive style. Born Maud Dowley in South Ohio, Nova Scotia on March 7, 1903, this artist began painting small Christmas cards to for her husband to sell in an effort to overcome their poverty. Together they lived in a small one room house with sleeping loft, without benefit of electricity or plumbing. Her husband Everett made a living selling fish from door to door, and her Christmas cards became popular with his customers who eagerly bought them as gifts. Eventually Maud began to paint on small canvas, none of her paintings are larger than 5 ft x 1 ft.6 inches, and expanded her subjects to include birds, insects, flowers, landscapes, oxen, and other animals. All of her paintings are bright and feature  a unique, flat stylization of her own invention. She never mixed colors; her technique was to first draw an outline and then apply pure paint straight from the tube. She also painted birds, flowers and butterflies on various parts of the tiny house in which they lived, and many articles within the house.

Maud Lewis’s house

As a child, Maud suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis resulting in physical deformities of her hands and face. Despite discomfort and sometimes pain, Maud painted through it, and eventually her work gained a localized following, and between 1945-1950 people began to come to her home seeking her paintings. She sold them for a modest two or three dollar, and only in the last three or four years of her life did they begin to sell for seven to ten dollars. She achieved national attention as a result of an article in the “Star Weekly” in 1964 and in 1965 she was featured on CBC-TV’s Telescope. Unfortunately, her arthritis prevented her from completing many of the orders she was inundated with. In recent years, her paintings have sold at auction for ever increasing prices. Two of her paintings have sold for more than $16,000, and her highest seller was “A Family Outing” going for $22,200.00. The painting was sold at a Bonham’s auction in Toronto Nov 30, 2009.

In the last year of her life, Maud Lewis stayed in one corner of her house, painting as often as she could while traveling back and forth to the hospital. She died in Digby, Nova Scotia on July 30, 1970. A large collection of Maud’s work can be found in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which has restored her original house and installed it in the gallery as part of a permanent Maud Lewis exhibit. Most of the Maud Lewis paintings on display are on loan to the AGNS. A steel memorial sculpture based on her house has been erected at the original site of her house in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. An imitation Maud Lewis house has been built a private museum in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.

There are several books about this incredible artist, a particularly good one is The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis, and three National Film Board of Canada documentaries: Maud Lewis – A World Without Shadows(1997), The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis (1998) and I Can Make Art … Like Maud Lewis (2005), a short film in which a group of sixth graders are inspired by Lewis’ work to create their own folk art. In 2009, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in conjunction with Greg Thompson Productions presented a play on Maud Lewis at the AGNS. A Happy Heart: The Maud Lewis Story was written and produced by Greg Thompson, the same writer and producer who brought Marilyn: Forever Blonde to the AGNS in 2008. Thompson wrote the one woman play on Maud while in Nova Scotia in 2008 after being inspired by this incredible woman.

SO now do you think “folk” means “bad” art? Its just like assuming a BA means you’ll make great art! Theres a great quote from Picasso that I can not recall off the top of my head, but in it he claims that after his formal art education he realized that in order to make great art advances he would need to “spend the rest of my life learning how to paint like a child.” There is some wisdom in that thought.

Art Term: Perspective

perspective

The term perspective used in the graphic arts is an approximation of distance/depth/space on a flat surface (2D) of an image as it is seen by the eye (3D). The two most characteristic features of perspective are that objects are drawn smaller as their distance from the observer increases and foreshortened (the size of an object’s dimensions along the line of sight are relatively shorter than dimensions across the line of sight). All of the angles within the image will converge together as an imaginary point in the distance replicating the effect of the vanishing point of a horizon line.

Another way to think about linear perspective is to imagine looking out a window. Within the painting, linear perspective mimics light passing from the scene through the “window” (the painting), to the viewer’s eye. Except the image is created on the flat surface of the canvas or paper, and there is no receding background, just the illusion of depth. The adjustment of size between objects and the trick of angling edges of objects toward the “horizon” creates an illusion, ergo perspective, of depth and distance.

Before the practice of perspective, early paintings and drawings sized objects and characters hierarchically according to their spiritual or thematic importance, not their distance from the viewer, and they did not use foreshortening. This is called “vertical perspective” in which the most important figures are shown as the highest and largest in the composition. They are devoid of space and indicate relative positioning of compositional elements with overlapping and flattened figures. This common in paintings from the Parthenon Marbles and in palace paintings of Ancient Egypt’s royal families. Members of the royal family and gods would be the largest among the figures and distance can only be suggested by placing the “nearer” figures below the larger figures. Byzantine paintings also follow the design of vertical perspective.

While linear perspective was known to the early Romans and Greeks, the means of employing this art device were lost to the Italians. It was only in the early 15th century, right at the start of the Italian Renaissance, that linear perspective became the standard. The architect Filippo Brunelleschi is credited with the “discovery” of the mathematical laws of linear perspective. Brunelleschi observed that when you have a fixed, single point of view, parallel lines seem to converge at together at an imaginary point in the distanceHe then applied this idea of a single vanishing point to a canvas, and discovered a method for calculating -and drawing – depth. He was able to demonstrate its basic principles, including the concept of the vanishing point, with two panels and a mirror. The first panel was a painting depicting the Florentine Baptistery as viewed frontally from the western portal of the Palazzo Vecchio cathedral (at the time it was unfinished), and second shows the Palazzo Vecchio as seen obliquely from its northwest corner. 

 

fig. 1

Brunelleschi drilled a hole drilled through the centric vanishing point of the Baptistery panel allowing the viewer to peer through from behind. Brunelleschi intended that the viewer stand in front of the real Baptistry with a mirror in between the scene and the panel. As the mirror was moved into and out of view, the observer saw the striking similarity between the actual view of the Baptistery, and the reflected view of the painted Baptistery image. Moving the mirror proved perspective through virtual overlay; through the lack of change between the image and reality. On his panel, Brunelleschi used silver leaf in the sky to portray its luminosity and drifting clouds. Brunelleschi wanted his new perspective “realism” to be tested not by comparing the painted image to the actual Baptistery but to its reflection in a mirror according to the Euclidean laws of geometric optics. This feat vividly showed artists how they might paint their images, not merely as flat two-dimensional shapes, but more like three-dimensional structures just as mirrors reflect them. Daly, both panels of Brunelleschi’s have since been lost.

Here is a link to a youtube video that demonstrates Brunelleschi’s experiment:

 

The YBAs

YBA=Young British Artists. Both title and acronym refer to a loose group of visual artists who began to exhibit together in London 1988. The first use of the term “young British artists” was by Michael Corris in ArtForum (May 1992) and the acronym  “YBA” (or “yBa”) was coined by Simon Ford in  1996 in his feature “Myth Making” for the March issue of Art Monthly magazine. Since then it has manifested into a historic term because most of the YBAs were born in the mid-1960s, with an active period from the 1980s to the late 1990s, though many still make art today— just not large group exhibits. Though strictly speaking, it includes only those artists who showed at Freeze, or Sensation. However, the name is also used in a broader sense to embrace all progressive, avant-garde British artists who achieved recognition during the late 1980s and 90s. A new termPost-YBAs has been coined to describe British artists emerging in the 2000s. They include Darren Almond, Mike Nelson, Tim Noble, Oliver Payne, Nick Relph, Eva Rothschild, Simon Starling, David Thorpe, Sue Webster, Carey Young, and others.

Most of the YBAs graduated from Goldsmiths in the BA Fine Art course in the late 1980s; studying under the likes of Michael Craig-Martin and Richard Wentworth who undoubtably had a huge impact on the approach to art making these young artists made after graduating. From the humble start of exhibiting in warehouses their innovative and provocative shows quickly gained popularity, attracting the attention cultural royalty like Charles Saatchi. The post-war authority of things socially acceptable, Saatchi  invested much of his money in supporting and collecting his favorites like Damien Hirst and Rich Wentworth. Saatchi even went beyond funding and collaborated with Hirst and Wentworth in organizing exhibitions. Art from the YBAs also provided the catalysis so desperately needed to rejuvenate the British art scene, and even starting artistic atmospheres where previously there had been none. 

The six exhibitions the serve to unify this loose group of art affiliates were held between March 1992 and November 1996 at the Saatchi Gallery, London. The genesis of the YBAs can be traced to a 1988 warehouse show in London,  entitled Frieze and it was curated by none other than Damien Hirst. Hirst exhibited works by himself and 15 of his fellow Goldmiths’ students, including Angela Bulloch, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas, Richard Patterson and Fiona Rae. Subsequent group exhibitions cemented the artists’ reputations for independence, savvy entrepreneurial skills and the ability to manipulate the media. The warehouse show Modern Medicine (1990) in particular demonstrated the artists skill at transforming different media and was also curated by Hirst, but in this instance he partnered with journalist Carl Freedman (b 1965) Later Freedman curated Minky Manky (1995; London, S. London A.G.). But the consolidation of the artists’ status was cemented in 1995 with a large-scale group exhibition Brilliant! held at the Walker Art Center a respected art museumin Minneapolis, USA.

Rachel Whiteread, cast of an apartment complex, 1992

Works by Young British Artists include all forms of painting, a wide range of sculpture and assemblage, contemporary video and installation art, a variety of photography, and conceptual art.  Thus famous works of Britart have included: maggots and dead animals (Hirst); concrete casts of whole houses (Rachel Whiteread); a bed surrounded by highly personal detritus including condoms (Tracey Emin); found objects crushed by a steamroller (Cornelia Parker); elephant dung (Chris Ofili); and frozen blood (Marc Quinn) and many more varied materials. Numerous YBA works have also employed a number of controversial references some of which are such as Jenny Saville’s paintings of grossly obese nude female forms and the Chapman brothers’ savagely mutilated shop-window dummies. They force us to consider these topics with shock tactics and they were quite successful. Other artists made conceptual video art like Mark Wallinger’s Turner Prize exhibit, a 2-hour film of a person wandering around an art gallery in a bear suit; or Gillian Wearing’s video of actors dressed in police uniforms who stood still for an hour in total silence; or Martin Creed’s installation of a white room with a single light bulb blinking off and on. Despite the varied showcase of subject matter, styles, and medium, there remains a common “anything-goes attitude” to materials and the creative process. Their works also share clear influence from Marcel Duchamp in the prominence given to conceptual art, found objects and unconventional, even humorous interpretations of everyday life.

Damien Hirst, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” a tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde, 1991

I also think they all model after Joseph Beuys in their experiments with positioning the artist within society, asking what is the artists’s purpose or message? Gavin considers how his art is influenced by time passing showing his work through the lens the future as if we are looking back at his work, and in some cases as though he were already deceased. Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (tiger shark, glass and steel, 1991; London, Saatchi Gal.) also underscores the prospect of imminent death. Sarah Lucas’ Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab (photograph, fried eggs, kebab and table, 1992; London, Saatchi Gal.) asks us to consider issues of sexuality with food items foreign to the gallery environment. The signature pieces of Gavin Turk, like Cave (ceramic, 1991; London, Saatchi Gal.), explore the relationship of the artist to his work and his public. Other aYBAs include Chris Ofili, Marc Quinn, Rachel Whiteread (featured in Freeze the first of Saatchi’s group exhibitions), Dinos and Jake Chapman and Ron Mueck.

Tracey Emin, “My Bed” 1999

Tracey Emin, “Tent”

Even  though the group enjoyed much success, YBAs were heavily criticized for their lack of craftsmanship and other artistic traits, by numerous art critics the composer Simon Rattle, and the playwright Tom Stoppard. But by and large the British public have enthusiastically embraced the YBAs for their contributions to the visual arts establishment. One reason for this, is that there works have rescued in almost every aspect Britain’s  contemporary art, significantly raising museum attendance figures in the process. They also contributed to the success of a whole new generation of contemporary galleries, including Jay Jopling’s White Cube, Victoria Miro, Karsten Schubert, Sadie Coles, Maureen Paley’s Interim Art, and Antony Wilkinson Gallery -as as increasing the circulation of contemporary British art magazines.

Another one of the best aspects of this group, in my opinion is the evident contributions of female artists. Gillian Wearing, Tracey Emin (nominated in 1999 Turner Prize for My Bed). Fiona Rae,  (1963 Untitled, Emergency Room) and Jenny Saville and more have all benefited from the publicity of associating with the group finding much success and a generally equal amount of respect and fame as their male peers as well as receiving respect from their male contemporaries.

Here is a listing of the artists that exhibited with the first two shows (the shows that bonded the group) and a list of additional artists who exhibited with the group at later dates.

Frieze Exhibitors:

Brilliant! Exhibitors:

Other YBAs

Marc Quin, “Kate Moss”

Damien Hirst, “Dot Painting”

 

Gavin Turk

 

Sarah Lucas, Spamaggedon (2004)

Gavin Turk, “Gavin Turk Takes the Biscuit” 2006