Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Nettle" - Initial Phases

Nettle (in progress) Acrylic on Birch Plywood 17" x 15" x 4" 2013

This low relief sculpture is based on my previous drawings of thistles in a vacant lot near my home. Once I had cut the leaf shapes from 1/8" birch plywood, I tried different arrangements without joining the pieces. I found that I wanted to include the rectangular panel as a contrast to the intricate organic shapes of the leaves and also to suggest the presence of civilization. I aim to portray a certain ambiguity between the forms - the leaves seem to infiltrate the rectangle, yet the rectangle imposes its own format on the plant structure at the same time. 

Although it can be argued that the mathematical proportions of a rectangle can be found in organic, natural forms, known as the "Golden Mean", the rectangle itself functions as a human construct. This ties in with my theme of the integration of humanity with the natural environment, or the fusion of "culture" and "nature." 

I have decided to title this piece "Nettle" as a reference to the stinging spines of the thistle and also as a reference to the idea of an annoyance. As a weed, thistles are tenacious and troublesome for farmers and gardeners. Native to Eurasia, thistles were introduced (accidentally) to North America by European settlers and they have infiltrated diverse environments since then.

Nettle - Photoshop Sketch 17" x 15" x 4"  2013
I originally thought of using drips and pours over the forms, but I have begun with solid, painted tones followed by wet-in-wet paint applied with cotton swabs to create the soft dots. I will pour a thin, matte glaze over them later and proceed from there. I like the way the patterning suggests some kind of reptilian or amphibian life form combined with the obvious leaf shapes and the rectangular shape of the panel underneath, a form of "hybrid". If the patterning doesn't work, I can repaint the forms with the colors I used above. They are all saved in sealed plastic containers for such an occasion.

Here is the project before I painted it. I considered leaving it as is in the photo, but it seemed unfinished and did not communicate my theme very well. Some panels seem to work in raw wood; others seem to need painting!

Nettle in progress - birch plywood forms 17" x 15" x 4" 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sakahàn Exhibition and National Youth Orchestra; Ottawa,Canada

The National Gallery of Canada with Greenlandic by Inuk Silis Høegh
Under the iceberg 'wrapping,' the glass plates in this part of the gallery are being replaced.
The structure looks like a crystal prism when it is not wrapped. 
We were only in Ottawa for two full days, but we saw a great deal at the National Gallery. The Sakahàn show was spectacular, featuring contemporary international indigenous art, 150 works by over 80 artists from 16 countries. There was a tremendous variety of media and approaches, combining cultural traditions with contemporary art strategies. I bought the 286 page catalog and I will have to take time to read the 14 essays included within it. 

Water Song by Christi Belcourt, National Gallery of Art
Water Song by Christi Belcourt resonated for me. Based on Ms. Belcourt's knowledge of traditional medicinal plants and the traditional aboriginal use of beadwork, the canvas consists of tiny dots of acrylic paint on a black background. I like the way the artist has shown some of the roots in the soil.

cantchant 2009 Vernon Ah Kee, Kuku Yalandji, Waanji Yidindji
Cantchant  brought the world of surfing to the screen and the gallery, not as fun in the sun, but as a clash of cultures. The video made me want to find an unspoiled beach somewhere and plunge into the water. Just as you are enjoying the water with the surfers, a surfboard wrapped in barbed wire appears in the waves. I won't spoil the ending in case you have a chance to see it! Large drawings of members of the surfers' families grace the undersides of the boards, while on the other surface, they are painted in traditional patterns of red, orange, yellow and black.

Brett Graham & Rachel Rakena, Aniwaniwa, 2007

Aniwaniwa was captivating as an installation. The work references the flooding of a Maori town in New Zealand when a dam was built. The five round video screens suspended from the ceiling show us the Maori going about daily tasks under water in a fluid, poetic film with five viewpoints as a Maori singer accompanies the visuals. Lying on your back on a black mattress in a dark room enables you to become engrossed in the installation. I read the screens' frames as rubber tires for a huge truck, but apparently, they are embossed with traditional Maori symbols. This was our favourite part of the exhibit!

We also found Barnett Newman's Voice of Fire, which was purchased by the National Gallery in 1989 for $1.8 million. People are still talking about the controversy here! The painting was commissioned for Expo 67 in Montreal, for the US pavilion organized by art critic and historian Alan Soloman. The exhibition  American Painting Now featured 22 the work of 22 artists. Although the painting is huge, I must admit it was something of a let down for me. I have seen other Barnett Newman paintings that show incredible subtlety in blue-black, pink-black, green-black, etc. This painting is very bright and very flat. It would have dominated the geodesic dome where it hung.

Voice of Fire, by Barnett Newman 1967
acrylic on canvas, 540cm x 240 cm (213 in x 94 in)

Louise Bourgeois' Maman  welcomes visitors to the NGC.

Majestic by Michel de Broin, made of damaged lampposts
in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, 2011.

I remember this sculpture on the cover of Canadian Art magazine's special sculpture issue of December 2011. Michel de Broin selected damaged streetlights for his Majestic, named after a funeral home in new Orleans where he was born. The sculpture repurposed broken pieces into something new, giving hope to the New orleans as people rebuilt the city following Hurricane Katrina. It would be great to see this piece at night with its lamps fully lit! I am standing by one of the posts.
100 Foot Line by Roxy Paine, 2010.
This is not a tree or is it?

Ever skyward!

I am standing at the base of this sculpture!
As we sat down in the cafeteria of the National Gallery of Canada, I immediately recognized Roxy Paine's  One Hundred Foot Line sculpture. I had written about some of Paine's work, including this one, in an essay about nature, culture and technology during my second semester at AIB. Paine takes the forms of trees and represents them using industrial materials in a hybridization of the natural and the industrial. It was great to stand underneath the sculpture and realize its true dimensions. In addition, we viewed works by the Group of Seven, the Impressionists and early 20th century modernists. 


Canada's National Youth Orchestra

Our primary reason for visiting Ottawa was actually to see our daughter play with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada in the National Arts Center. ( She is in the photo in the bottom right-hand corner playing the viola!) What an amazing concert! The program featured Mahler's Symphony 9, D major as well as Leonore Overture #3 Opus 72b by Beethoven and Isomorphia by James O'Callaghan. They are playing in Vancouver this weekend.

There were also some tourist activities we took in, such as the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill. The ceremony is accompanied by the Ceremonial Band of student musicians. We are aquainted with one of the trombonists and my musical daughters know a few other current members of the band.

The Changing of the Guard at Parliament Hill

The Ceremonial Band marches to the parade ground.

Locks on the Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal passes through downtown and features locks between waterways at different sea levels.
Parliament from the National Gallery. 

We toured Parliament during a morning of pouring rain. It was interesting to see the inside as we are used to seeing only small bits of it on television as politicians are being interviewed. Canadian government is based on the British system.
Parliament from Wellington St.

The proper neo-romanesque atmosphere for serious government-
inside Parliament in the foyer of the House of Commons.

The House of Commons that we see during "Question Period" on television.

Stained glass windows of the provincial and territorial official flowers in the Commons.
I can relate to the 'wildflowers' in the window panes.

In the foyer to the Senate, royalty are ever-present, if only in their portraits.

The Senate chamber.

Under the Peace Tower.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The flame burns in the middle of a fountain, seen from the Peace Tower.
Light show on Parliament Hill!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Thistle Studies

Drawing 19 Thistle Leaves  22" x 16" graphite and charcoal pencil on paper 2013
Creeping Thistle is a plant I have had a long association with, beginning in my adolescence when I unwittingly stepped on some young shoots while barefoot. The prickles stung the soles of my feet un mercifully! I have come to appreciate this alien plant for its hardiness. Thistles are native to Eurasia and apparently hitched a ride with early settlers to North America. The thistle has huge rhizome and root systems that it relies on for reproducing itself. Cut the roots and it makes as many new individuals as the pieces you have sliced up! Thistle is the bane of many a gardener and many a farmer. Thistles grow in soil that has been disturbed by human activity, so we have no one to blame but our antecedent brethren for the prickly masses of pointy leaves. As a subject for my art, I find the arabesque leaves with their thorny prickles a potent metaphor for the natural world; beauty and disquiet presented in one package.

Drawing 19 Thistle Leaves is the first fairly large finished drawing I have done for a long time. While I was working on Drawings 17 and 18, I realized that the spiny leaves were what I was interested in and that I should do a larger study of them. The cutting dried out as I worked, curling leaves into fantastic shapes with prickles pointing in all directions.

 I have been experimenting on a small scale with some of the leaf forms from my drawing. Tomorrow I will finish cutting out the largest panel. I will represent thorns at the points of the leaves with the ends of bamboo barbecue skewers! Placing the forms at different angles casts interesting shadows. I am planning to use paint at some point on these shapes. The forms will attach to a 6" x 6" x 1" gallery panel that will remain hidden beneath them. The panel will serve as a way to attach the cut outs together and hang them on the wall. A rectangular 10" x 8" x 1½" panel only distracted from the piece.

This seems like a prototype. As soon as I had placed the pieces, I began seeing it as a larger work. Perhaps I will be able to construct it out of components that will fit in my suitcase and then be assembled on site.

Preliminary Thistle Leaves Panel Prototype in progress, 12" x 10" x 4" birch plywood


Drawing 17 - Thistle Spines 10" x 8" graphite on paper 2013

Drawing 18 - Chicory, Tansy & Thistle 10" x 8" graphite on paper 2013 
Chicory grows beside the road where the earth has been dug up and then packed down. The light blue flowers are lovely, but the chicory leaves are almost as spiny as the thistle's.