Monday, November 9, 2020

Meryl McMaster

Harbinger of Sudden Departures  2015
chromogenic print, 24" x 36" by Meryl McMaster

Meryl McMaster's is telling a story that has no ending, perhaps no plot.  She creates evocative costumes and props, many involving birds, and then has photos taken of herself wearing them in the cold and simple palette of a Canadian winter.  They resemble drawings, or maybe movies, or maybe dreams.  
Her father is from Red Pheasant First Nation (Plains Cree) and a member of the Siksika First Nation (Blackfoot) and her mother is Euro-Canadian (British and Dutch heritage).  While she explores the cultures that form her with her art, it is not a stretch to see the larger struggle of Canada's history in her work.   
Aphoristic Currents 2013
chromagenic print 36 x 50" by Meryl McMaster

Both her parents are artists, and her childhood home was a very creative space to grow up in.  "I was an only child and was often on my own.  I think my current imaginative state reaches back to those moments when I was exploring the world through role playing and creating scenarios."  Her parents had put together a dress-up trunk of old clothes for her, and although she was shy and avoided performing in school theatre, she was attracted to set and costume designs.  Even today she feels vulnerable when she performs for the camera.  
Murmur I 2013
inkjet print 90 x 60" by Meryl McMaster

"I think the need to understand who you are and where you've come from is normal.  My parents were always telling stories about their families. When I was very young the feeling I got was that the two cultures were inclusive, but when I reached school age the harder questions about my two cultures became evident."
Avian Wanderer II 2015
Giclee print 20 x 30" by Meryl McMaster

Her performed photographs show us characters who embody attitudes - she calls them temperaments.

Time's Gravity 2015
pigment print on watercolour paper 30 x 45"

About Time's Gravity:  "I came across the tradition of "winter counts'.  Winter counts are drawings, usually made on a hide, that represent a significant thing that occurred in the past year, whether a successful hunt or some sort of battle.  They are very beautiful, simple drawings with a lot of meaning.  I wanted to do my own winter counts, so I made all these journals.  Each journal represents a year that I had been alive.  So I have all these journals representing the story of my life and thoughts, and I'm holding them.  I'm trying to hold onto these memories and I push them together to hold onto them.  Time's Gravity, the title, references how I think about life.  It goes so fast, but it feels like such a weight and it's too much to even think about."

Phantom Science 2015
ink jet print 18 x 62"

She paints her face, sometimes red, sometimes white, sometimes dotted.  

She gazes away from the camera. 

dream catcher 2015
ink jet print  32 x 66"

"I use winter a lot.  It feels like a magical time.  Everything is frozen; it feels like it's being held in that moment.  It's like sleeping.  There is also the solitude.  When I go on winter walks, I feel like I do a lot more reflection than on my summer wlaks.  Winter is also a hostile time.  It brings an urgency to the images.  I push myself.  I have been in quite a lot of pain in my fingers, toes, and extremities from being out in the cold too long.  But I keep going back to winter.  There's something about that time of year." 

under the infinite sky 2015
ink jet print 30 x 45 "

There are always gaps and biases in our relatioinship to the past, and it was through my art that I could explore and expose them.  It was a way of creating a conversation with myself as well as with other people.  First of all, it comes from a very personal place.  Most of us have a mixed background, so we're all asking similar self-directed questions.  I've learned that my two different heritages are not always going to completely align, and in order to move forward I have to celebrate those differences."  

"In my teens I was learning about Canada's difficult past, a past that could have involved my own ancestors.  So if I wanted to be proud of my mothers' family and connected to my European roots, I realized I might be abandoning my Indigenous side.  It was as if I was involved in some kind of betrayal.  I struggled with how to acknowledge and be present in both sides of myself."  

Sources for these images and text:  

Picturing the Red Line, An Interview with Meryl McmMaster by Robert Enright in Border Crossings magazine in 2018 and Confluence, the exhibition catalogue for Meryl McMaster's solo exhibition curated by Heather Anderson in 2016.  All italics are quotes by the artist, Meryl McMaster.

Although it is interesting to find out about the artist's personal background, it is possible to respond to her images without knowing the back-story.     

As Immense As The Sky is a more recent exhibition, (catalogue available) 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Nancy Paul: Time/Lines

Summer (Sleeping Medusa) by Nancy Paul,  Oil, acrylic, conte, 29 x 43" 1980-2020 
Despite overwhelming evidence of crises
from climate change to social injustice to pandemic
Longing by Nancy Paul,  acrylic and graphite on paper, mounted onto birch panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2020
many governments around the world seem unable/unwilling to act
even as democracy is under threat and truth-telling stifled.
Setting by Nancy Paul, acrylic and graphic on paper, mounted on birch panel, 14 x18", 2020
 Individuals feel powerless to effect change.
The Dreamer by Nancy Paul, acrylic and graphite mounted on birch panel, 2020
As Shakespear's Lear knows,
the naked body is an enduring symbol of human vulnerability and helplessness.
Sitting Back by Nancy Paul, acrylic and graphite on paper, 12 x 16 inches, 2020
It can also, however, represent beauty, grace, and love;
an aesthetic of salvation.
Slowing Down by Nancy Paul, graphic on paper mounted on birch panel, 10 x 12 inches, 2020
The nude for me is at once surrogate seeker of truth and object of scrutiny.
In my work the female figure is both self and other;
she represents communication and compassion.
Green World (Arden Spring) by Nancy Paul  acrylic, graphic, ink on canvas, 28 x 32" 2019


"Time/Lines" is about our search for understanding.


Nereids Endangered by Nancy Paul, Acrylic, graphite, Japanese Paper on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, 2018
In 'Time' large figures lie wrapped in uncertainty while a tiny pair of Nereids explore distant lands and seas; inconspicious, they exemplify the humility needed to connect.
Life Lines/Sky Lines (I, II, III) by Nancy Paul,
acrylic and graphic on paper mounted on birch panel, triptych, each part 12 x 16 x 1.5 inches  2020
"Lines" celebrates gesture drawings done from life,quick sketches done before longer poses, they have the vitality, purpose, and direction to inspire us now.
Fall by Nancy Paul, Oil on Canvas, 1980, 24" x 36"
All images and text in this post are by Nancy Paul
from her exhibition at Art Noise Gallery,
Kingston Ontario Canada 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Lenore Tawney: Mirror of the Universe

In Utero 1985  mixed media  25 x 11.5 x 11.5 inches (chair only) Lenore Tawney
"...to seek a barer life, closer to reality, without all the things that clutter and fill our lives.  I left friends whose preconceptions of me held me to their image of me....The truest thing in my life is my work.  I want my life to be true.  Almost gave up my life for my work, seeking a life of the spirit."
 Lenore Tawney, 1967 journal entry
Installation of Lenore Tawney's weaving at John Michael Kohler Art Centre, Sheboygan Wisconsin.  On wall from left to right:  Dove 1974  linens  118 x 108 inches,  Waters Above the Firmament 1976 (small 36 x 36 " version),  In Fields of Light 1975 (orange) linens, 108 c 100.5 inches, Little Spring 1962 linen 48 x 23.5",  Tau, 1974  linen 80 x 108 inches, Hanging in foreground left to right are: The Megalithic Doorway, 1963 linen 204 x 28 inches, The Path, 1962 linen and gold, 90.5 x 24.5 inches, The Bride 1962 linen and feathers 138 x 15 inches, and in front of Tau is Untitled (Bird) 1963 linen, feathers
and wood 65 x 30 inches.
"When I was doing the woven forms, I was dancing with joy all the time.  They were so spontaneous, I didn't know what they were - they just kept going higher and higher.  I thought, No one will ever show these, they're too tall for a gallery.....so I'll keep going"      Lenore Tawney
Cloud Labyrinth 1983, canvas and linen 16 x 24 x 18 feet
An entire gallery at the John Michael Kohler is devoted to the monumental Cloud Labyrinth,  made when the artist was 76 years old.

"I sometimes think of my work as a breath"  LT

Thread can be woven into shields and cruciforms, it can also be, improbably and delicately, unwoven.  A cloud is a visible amassing of solid, liquid and gas, water at its most diffuse. The threads dance and vibrate, shifting the light, tickling the eye. The eye  follows the thread up like vapour invisibly evaporating into a cloud and then comes down, a string of droplets, back to earth.
 (wall text at JMK art centre)
cloud labyrinth 1983  detail
"It is impossible to describe the range of expression in this work.
 But it can be said that trembling and sensitive images are brought before our eyes even as we look, and also that deep, and sometimes dark and unrealizezd feelings, are stirred in us. 
There is penetration.
There is an urgency that sweeps us up, 
an originality and success that holds us in wonder.
This work is wholly done"         
Agnes Martin 
assemblages and collages made by lenore tawney, displayed at the John Michael Kohler art centre
"You have to forget time entirely, and live in eternal time"  Lenore Tawney

She was 50 when she moved to New York but looked young and passed for 30.
She let time be erased from her life story for a while.
Bach 1967  collage 12.5 x 11/5"
She operated without assistants until the very end of her life at age 100.
shelves with objects from Lenore Tawney's New York studio/home
'The weaving just grows and keeps coming.  It's all inside of me.
It was really thrilling.
I used to sing and dance all by myself there at night. 
Then I'd get up very early and work all day"
 Lenore Tawney
egg shells in a basket
Lenore Tawney's studio is now part of the unique permanent collection of artsts studio/homes that have been transformed into art environments at the John Michael Kohler Art Centre.  Until this year the studio's contents were in the care of the Lenore G Tawney foundation in New York.  Kathleen Nugent Mangan, one of Lenore Tawney's close friends is the director. 
objects from Lenore Tawney's studio
"My work is my pleasure.  It's my life, it's what I live for."       Lenore Tawney
cloud labyrinth detail
Lenore Tawney transcended any distinction between art and craft.
Her work is an important part of the visual language of 20th century art.
Lenore Tawney's studio detail

Lenore Tawney's believed that there is no division between art and life, and she created a quiet environment for art making, meditation, yoga, and focusing on the inner, deeply personal world.  Tawney is among the most impactful artists of the last half of the 20th century.  She dedicated herself to a devotional interdisplinary practice inufused with ideas of Buddhism, Zen philosophy, Jungian psychology, wanderlust and nature.  She believed that art making has the potential to usher in a lightness akin to a spiritual awakening.   (from the wall text at the Kohler Art Centre in Wisconsin)

'so new and personal that it does not have a name or classification'   (new york times  1963)

Monday, August 26, 2019

April Martin: Harbour Front Centre of Craft and Design Vitrines, Toronto

To Lips velvet, brass, porcelain, mirror 2019 by April Martin
April Martin's reflections on the creation of her work in the exhibition Magical Material Thinking June 8 - mid October 2019 make up the text in this post.  Photos:  Brian Medina.  

The six vitrines push out of the wall into the hallway and transform it from a place of making (studios) to made (galleries). I thought about them as their own worlds, next to one another but with completely different atmospheres. All of them feel hot to me, but different kinds of hot. I like imagining opening a kiln in the middle of a firing and seeing the glaze move in ways you do not get to witness.
Romance Portal brass, wax  2019 by April Martin
My work is about energy. Embedded unseen, perhaps alive.  My titles come from the people I love in my life and there are many.  I will never not have enough information to sort through or manifest into shapes and these are the ones I made at the end of May, 2019.  

In regard to Romance Portal, somewhere in my thinking I became obsessed with the idea of a giant wax chandelier.  I also thought about the lost wax process of sculpture and how it veils the fact that the metallic positives we see actually grew out of a suspended moment in wax.  I encouraged my first ceramics class to make the tiniest fixings for a Barbie banquet because working small with clay teaches you how your hands react to the wet/dry phenomenon that is ceramics. 

I made the tiny beeswax candles on my stove.  
Ideal Solution pewter, cobalt carbonate fired to quartz inversion, earthenware 2019 by April Martin

My main concern with using pewter (especially salvaged) was that there was a potential for lead content but through research I learned that antimony is now present in pewter as a replacement for lead.  Antimony was used in kohl, as a way to darken the eye. 

I was looking for a solution to keep the ceramic standing up and pewter became 
my ideal solution, a low fired heavy metal to balance the face I saw in the clay.  Knowing that embedded in its metallic shine is a chemical that has been used to blacken eyes for beauty, it felt fitting for me to insert cobalt experiments here, as that black area was achieved unintentionally.

I think it’s such a privilege to be able to show work, and it’s always so much work to get to the actual showing part, that when you’re in the thick of the install, editing is absolutely key.  It’s so hard to keep that part of yourself sharp.  
Brightening Visibly copper, wool, carbon fiber 2018 by April Martin
This vitrine looks the most like the inside of a kiln.  It’s lined with thin copper and the constructed plant floats inside, its leaves are copper on one side, wool on the other.   It unfolds and peels open towards the bottom and the copper becomes more exposed.  Brighter.  

The most recent example of my dad exclaiming his personal idiom (the title for this piece) was when a thrift store near our family cottage was discovered.  “April just found out there is a Salvation Army in the closest town?! ... Brightening Visibly!” 

“Brightening Visibly!” is a poetic reaction to how smiles take over the shape of one’s face.  Is a smile bright?  It’s definitely a form of communication, often the simplest way to answer a question, and also a more animal response, it beats your brain and tongue to the words that may actually not fit with this visible sheen. 
Rising Libra fired and unfired cobalt carbonate, clay 2019 by April Martin
I am a Libra rising. 
Rising Libra sounds hotter though. This is a simple structure but the work it’s doing is the most palpable. It’s balancing and it’s fragile and if it fell and broke there would be pink and blue dust everywhere and it would be annoying to clean up but that’s kind of the worst of it.
Snek Out neon, earthenware, unfired cobalt carbonate 2019 by April Martin
Opiomancy. Telling the future by snake trails
Lara who lives in LA but is Dutch helped me with the title.  We were talking about Snakes, Snacks, Sneks and Slung. I like that snek isn’t really an English word, it’s some form of sneaking and snucking and again it feels like a movement that comes from inside.   
To Lips velvet, brass, porcelain, mirror 2019 by April Martin (detail)
It was spring and I had tulips in my house.
My niece whispered “little bit of romance” to me across my parents dining room table on my birthday. 

More about this exhibition on Judy's Journal.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Yayoi Kusama

self portrait  1950
oil on canvas  34 x 34 cm
Yayoi Kusama
It was extraordinary for a woman from a small town in Japanese hinterland to achieve the degree of artistic attention that Yayoi Kusama had at such a young age.  She described her early, compulsive art making as a refuge from the frought familial relationships she had.  She also said that her art was a retreat from her own psychological symptoms.  For Kusama, productivity is crucial to her mental health.  This post is about her early work made when she was 23 - 30 years old.
Island No. 7 1953
watercolour and pastel on paper  30.5 x 26.5 cm
Yayoi Kusama


"I am pursuing art in order to correct the disability which began in my childhood."  Y.K..
Dots on the Sun  1953
watercolour and pastel on paper 25 x 26 cm
Yayoi Kusama
She was born March 22, 1929, the youngest of 4 children.  Her family raised seeds in nurseries, and then on December 7, 1941, when she was 12 years old, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and her country was at war.  She had to go work in a parachute and military uniform factory.

She experimented early with materials and technique and set out to teach herself western style oil painting.
no. 8 H.A.P. 1956
oastel, gouache, acrylic on paper  58.4 x 45.7 cm
Yayoi Kusama
In March 1952, she turned 23, and had her first solo exhibition in her home village of Matsumoto.  It consisted of 250 pieces, and then she mounted a second one 7 months later, also in Matsumuoto.  She was noticed and offered an exhibition in Tokyo.   She had three more exhibitions over the next 13 months in Tokyo.
Her face, like Warhol's, is inseparable from her work.
No. White A.Z. 1958-59  (detail)
oil on canvas  210 x 414 cm
Yayoi Kusama
"For art like mine, art that does battle at the border of life and death, questioning what we are and what it means to live and die, Japan is too small, too servile, too feudalistic, too scornful of women.  My art needs a more unlimited freedom and a wider world.  "  Yayoi Kasuma
No. B White 1959  detail
oil on canvas  226 c 298 cm
Yayoi Kusama
In 1959 she moved to the USA to escape  the masculine and deeply conservative Japan of the 1950's.  Then in 1973, she went back home.
Infinity Nets (white) 1959  detail
oil on canvas  131 x 117.5 cm
Yayoi Kusama
While in New York City,  (October of 1959) she organized her own solo show at the 10th st co-operative gallery.  It was of her white monochrome canvases, the infinity net paintings.
No. T.W.3 1961  detail
oil on canvas  174 x 125 cm
Yayoi Kusama
Before websites.  Before blogs
She did it herself.
She was an avid self-publicists.  A writer of manifestos.
Accumulation No. 1  1962 
sewn and stuffed fabric, paint, fringe on chair frame, 121 x 121 x 121 cm
Yayoi Kusama
In the early 60's, she covered sofas and chairs with stuffed phallic protuberances.
This re-invention of her art, was unexpected and gained her publicity.
Accumulation  1963 
sewn and stuffed fabric, wood chair frame, paint  90 x 97.8 x 88.9 cm
  Yayoi Kusama
In the 1970's she began to write her autobiography.  She says her work is linked to the hallucinatory episodes from her childhood.  For many critics, her mental health is one of the most fascinating aspects of her career.
self obliteration no. 2   1967
watercolour, pen, pastel, photocollage on paper  40 x 50 cm 
Yayoi Kusama
In 1993, she represented Japan at the Venice Biennale.
Yayoi Kusama continued to show new work alongside much younger artists in the biennial and triennial circuit international art scene.  She lives in Tokyo today, and has a team of dedicated assistants.   She continues to exhibit to even wider acclaim each year.  Her new installations are based on the Infinity Mirrors that she began making in 1966.

Text in this post is derived from the introduction to the Tate Modern's catalogue for Kusama's 2012 exhibition written by Frances Morris.  The images are also from that book.  

August 2020 edit:   David Zwirner represents Yayoi Kusama and this link to her work and life is most informative - Her manifestos, a survey of all her work, and much more are available here.  

Above: Pumpkin 2015, Yayoi Kusama, stainless steel and red urethene paint  68 x 77 x 66 inches 

 Yayoi Kusama writes about Covid 19:
"Though it glistens just out of reach, I continue to pray for hope to shine through.  Its glimmer lighting our way.  This long awaited great cosmic glow.
Now that we find ourselves on the dark side of the world, the gods will be there to strengthen the hope we have spread throughout the universe.  For those left behiind, each person's story and that of their loved ones, it is time to seek a hymn of love for our souls.
In thie midst of this historic menace, a brief burst of light points to the future.  Let us joyfully sing this song of a splendid future.  Let's go.
Embraced in deep love and the efforts of people all over the world, now is the time to overcome, to bring peace.  We have gathered for love and I hope to fulfil that desire.  The time has come to fight and overcome our unhappiness.

To Covid 19 that stands in our way, I say Disappear from this Earth.  We shall fight.  We shall fight this terrible monster.  Now is the time for peope all over the world to stand up.  My deep gratitude goes to all those who are already fighting."  Yayoi Kusama  April 2020