Your body is a temple – and a canvas

Emma Hack I
Emma Hack, Wallpaper series

I have been known to paint on wood, canvas, ceramics, paper, furniture and clothing, and even tried painting on kids’ birthday cakes with colored frosting. Some artists use skin as a canvas. But unlike decorative body painting and tattoos, artist Emma Hack has taken this living medium to an entirely new level. It might require you to look twice at the work below to discern the human body in her gorgeous works; Emma is the master of camouflage.

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Emma Hack from her Wallpaper series
Emma Hack
Emma Hack from her Wallpaper series

Hack’s work is part installation and part body mural. An Artnet News interview reports that Hack, an Australian artist, spends between 8 to 15 hours to complete one of her works, which sounds like speed painting to me. Her wallpaper series, above, is based on patterns created by the late designer Florence Broadhurst.

Unfortunately, outstanding art is often not enough on its own to propel an artist into international stardom. In Hack’s case, she made it to the big leagues when her work appeared in a music video that went viral. The video is pretty awesome and worth a few minutes of your time.

Alexa Meade‘s work is very different from Emma Hack’s yet they have both developed a totally original way of incorporating the human body in their oeuvre. Meade paints an expressionistic portrait directly on her subject’s face, clothes, hair creating a strange new dimension – it’s not clear exactly what we are looking at until her subject starts to move!

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Alexa IIt may be confusing to get your head around Meade’s process so I will leave it up to the artist to explain in the short TED talk youtube below.

Meade made it into the Washington Post when she unleashed one of her walking portraits on the metro. I think this is great. I’m all for a painter who makes people sit up and take notice.

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If you are as impressed with these artists as I am, here are links to more of their work :

Emma Hack

Emma Hack II

Alexa Meade

Alexa-Meade-spectacle-installation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Korean art: North and South

The Katzen Art Center at the American University Museum in Washington DC is hosting simultaneous exhibitions that pit the two Koreas in the artistic arena.

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The two exhibition posters pretty much lay the groundwork for what visitors should expect – and by that I mean don’t expect the unexpected. The second floor, dedicated to South Korean contemporary art, features ten artists whose work would be right at home in any white cube New York gallery. Take a look at the two oversized, stunning portraits by Kang Hyung-Koo. Obviously American iconography is alive and well in South Korea.

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Hepburn, oil on canvas 102″ x 72″

The artist succeeded in producing a super glossy, almost metallic sheen in the eyes while painting the rest of the portrait in heavily textured, sandy monochrome. The same process was used in Lincoln, below.

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Another artist, Jin-Ju Lee, produced sensitive works that managed to be contemporary whilst imparting a more traditional flavor through its narrative and use of material.

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Jin-Ju Lee, ManDle, Korean color on fabric
Jin-ju Lee conversation of all those whose lips are sealed
Jin-Ju Lee, Conversation of all those whose lips are sealed

I was also drawn to a hand wrought wooden sculpture (below) by Yun Suk-Nam that spoke volumes more than the glossy fiberglass wall mounted piece by Byun Dae-Yong reproduced on the exhibition’s brochure front page.

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Yun Suk-Nam, Persimmon

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A walk up the stairs to the museum’s third floor showcasing North Korean artists transported the visitor to a totally different reality. The exhibition’s curator, Professor B.G. Muhn of Georgetown University, states in the catalog that one of his goals in mounting this exhibition was to examine “..if there was evidence of free, individual expression in North Korean art.” Well, no surprise there – the answer is “no”. The “fantastical and exaggerated works (sic) expressing theatrical and melodramatic emotions” were a direct take-off from the social realism paintings fostered by Stalin and Mao Zdong during their repressive, authoritarian regimes.

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The paintings were rife with propaganda, glorifying the working class (most of whom are dying of starvation as you read this) and the military might of this ‘great’ nation.

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Detail, image from poster North Korean exhibition

Even though the artists displayed an amazing virtuosity of the ink on paper technique and uncanny attention to detail, the works left me saddened.

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Kim Chol, Tiger Dashing in Winter, 73″ x 78″

 

 

It’s summer. Time to play!

Ahhh…summertime. Long, lazy days. Sunshine. Warm wind caressing my skin. I’m finding it hard to buckle down and complete the large painting waiting on my easel. I procrastinate, finding excuses not to enter the studio and feeling guilty about it. That’s when I remember that Art is supposed to be fun – I have been way too goal oriented of late and have forgotten how to play! And what better way to loosen up than trying my hand at collage?

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These small scale narrative collages were initially kickstarted by a newspaper image of a woman holding an interesting gestural pose. I simplified the pose into four shapes that I cut out of discarded disposable palettes from previous paintings.

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The discarded paper palettes are like beautiful abstract paintings that often reveal blends of color that I would never be able to purposefully recreate:

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The last phase was to place my figures into narrative interior and exterior landscapes using classical collage techniques mounted on canvas. (I have been using Scotch Photo Mount spray and am very pleased with the results.)

pallette collage II

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I had fun and inadvertently got the creative juices flowing once again. Looking forward to a productive summer!

(Please contact me directly regarding purchase inquiries for these new works and others appearing in past blog posts.)

 

 

Montsalvat – Melbourne’s hidden gem

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Montsalvat artist colony in Melbourne, Australia.

I had all but forgotten about Montsalvat until I was invited there on my recent trip to Melbourne. Australian artist Rick Amor’s description of Montsalvat as ‘a fantasy of beards, berets, sturdy women, big stews and free love’ is in line with my own recollection of  Montsalvat as a back-to-the-land, hippy enclave miles outside Melbourne’s city center.

Today, tourists and locals are beating a well-worn path to this quaint artist colony founded by artist Justus Jörgensen in 1934.

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Original buildings made from locally sourced materials in the ‘pise de terre’ tradition

Monsalvat is Australia’s oldest artists’ community, ‘set amid unique grounds and buildings, a place where art is made, taught, exhibited, performed and celebrated’ (Montsalvat website). It still houses working artists but caters to the public equally well as a wedding venue, a lovely spot for a family picnic or a day’s outing to soak up the unique grounds.

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Ceramicist Tim Clarkson at work in his studio
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Picnicking on the grounds at Montsalvat

Montsalvat founder, Justus Jörgensen, was born in Melbourne in 1893 of Norwegian ancestry. He originally qualified as an architect, but after spending several years in Europe visiting the great museums with his wife, he took up painting as a profession. He developed a keen interest in Impressionism and eventually went on to exhibit at the Paris salons.

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When he returned to Australia in 1928 he set up a school of painting. However his views on art differed radically from those of his peers. Jörgensen became increasingly hostile to the commercial aspects of painting and mistrusted the input of both critics and public. His desire to experiment with all aspects of creative pursuit led him to establish Montsalvat, and his legacy lives on to this day providing inspiration to artists as well as art appreciators.

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The Secret Life of Cups

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Ceramic cups with gold luster detailing by Lilianne Milgrom

I have long held on to the fanciful notion that inanimate objects spring to life the moment our backs are turned. This may be due to the lingering effects of having been a voracious reader of Enid Blyton’s delightfully whimsical children’s books, particularly the Faraway Tree series.

In any case, I recently made a pair of ceramic mugs with facial features and have produced a 30-second animated video playing out my fantasies of a kiss-and-make-up scenario between these two ceramic characters…Click on the image below to watch it on youtube. Enjoy!

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If you ever wondered…

These days  it’s not enough for art  to just sit around looking pretty. To be noticed in a world exploding with new  digital stimuli vying for our attention ever minute, art has to grab you by the short and curlies in order to gain a precious nano second’s attention. An exhibition that delivers just that and more, is the Wonder exhibit at the Smithsonian’s newly renovated Renwick Gallery in Washington DC.

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Tara Donovan’s monumental towers created from styrene index cards

The exhibition perfectly conveys the textbook definition of its title, Wonder: a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. Each of the jaw-dropping, logic-defying, inspirational installations has one wondering a) how on earth the artists thought up and actually produced these creations and b) what on earth will artists think up next?

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Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus, recreates a stunning rainbow out of woven thread, wood, hooks and steel

My favorite installation was Patrick Dougherty’s Shindig, an installation made entirely out of willow saplings. The large gallery space was tansformed into a wondrous world of fantasy where for a fleeting instance, one could forget one’s human origins and imagine an alternate existence nestled in a natural world of inexpressible beauty.

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I am awed and diminished by the scale and intricacy of Dougherty’s masterful creation
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Wonder is the perfect art experience for all ages

Another dazzling spectacle was the room decorated by artist Jennifer Angus. But like all the works in this exhibition, the intricate design patterns on the walls are not what they seem at first glance….

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On closer inspection the wallpaper is made of thousands of bugs!!!!

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What all the works in this exhibition have in common is the immersive, experiential  and multi sensory adventure that they offer museum visitors. This is the new wave, the new frontier in art and the museum goes a step further by embracing our ubiquitous image sharing culture…

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The Renwick is experiencing an unanticipated flood of visitors. And no wonder (pun intended) – the lady at the information desk told us that this is the happiest museum exhibition she can ever recall!

Visit Wonder at the Renwick through July, 2016.

The undefeated master

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Pablo Picasso, Woman with Hat, 1961

It seems appropriate to kick off my blog for 2016 with MOMA’s astounding exhibition covering sixty years of sculpture produced by art history’s unparalleled master – Pablo Picasso. MOMA’s show features 140 magnificent examples of the master’s genius, and I don’t use the word lightly. Picasso was preternaturally prolific. His creative output defies all logic.The exhibited works include Picasso’s very first clay sculpture, a 5 inch tall seated woman, through to his last, the maquette (model) for the 50-foot sculpture that stands as one of Chicago’s most famous landmarks.

First clay sculpture
Seated Woman, 1902
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Sculpture for Richard J. Daley Center, 1964

It would be perfectly understandable to expect that out of 140 sculptures on display, there might be some duds. Nope, sorry to disappoint. Not a one. Every single piece – be it delicately or crudely modeled, humorous or deadly serious, classical or cubist – channels an artist who was a true original, a fearless warrior, who put his unique mark on everything he touched. In Picasso’s hands, a bull is no longer the bull we think we know, a goose or an owl or a woman, for that matter, take on a distinctly picasso-esque persona.

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Picasso’s ‘Bull’, a flat sculpture constructed of discarded wood, plywood cutouts, screws and nails
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Note the bull’s framed face into which Picasso carved an enigmatic smile
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A goose with legs made of forks
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Head of a woman

There are several painted dolls fashioned out of buttons, string, odds and ends that Picasso made for his children. Picasso loved children and he himself possessed a spontaneous, childlike wonder that I believe is one of the reasons his work will always remain fresh and relevant.

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As playful as Picasso was, he could also be politically subversive and proved himself courageous in the face of fascism. An entire gallery was dedicated to the sculptures he created during the years he lived in Nazi-occupied Paris. Designated a ‘degenerate artist’ by the Nazis, Picasso was not only excluded from exhibiting his work, he was also prohibited from creating any sculptures out of bronze. He defied this order and surreptitiously created a number of  bronze sculptures that portray this repressive period.

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‘Death’s head’ in the foreground and ‘Man with a Lamb’ behind it. The lamb struggles to escape the clutches of its captor.

Picasso sculpted with clay, plaster, metal, bronze, found objects and wooden scraps. He was known to learn the rudiments of diverse sculpting techniques from his peers and once he got the hang of it, he would turn everything he learned on its head, creating new hybrid forms of expression.

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‘Head of a Woman’, painted sheet metal and wire, 1962

There are many famous sculptures in this exhibition but one small, discrete sculpture was particularly meaningful to me in that it helped me glimpse the inner workings of the artist’s mind. Picasso is best known for pioneering  Cubism, the revolutionary visual style that deconstructs an object and visually reassembles it in a manner that attempts to portray different dimensions and angles simultaneously. I always wondered how this came about. What was Picasso’s very first impetus? There, in the exhibition’s first gallery, encased in glass and propped up on a pedestal, I think I may have found my answer.

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Apple, 1909

This small plaster sculpture of an apple, faceted to a point where, were it not for its title ‘Apple’,  one could easily have mistaken it for the rocky ledges and outcroppings typical of the craggy landscape surrounding the small Spanish town where Picasso sculpted this apple. I like to imagine Picasso hiking the rocky cliffs, observing the shadows cast by the sharp, jagged edges and overlaying these same principles onto the smooth, round fruit warming on the window ledge back in his studio…

As an artist, I also took heart from the fact that even Picasso – yes, Picasso – experienced rejection. The third gallery of the sprawling MOMA exhibition was dedicated to sculptural models made by Picasso for a commissioned monument for his deceased friend, the poet Apollinaire. Despite having gone back to the drawing board at least a dozen times, Picasso could never quite please the monument committee and all his ideas were ultimately rejected. I have to admit I did experience a fleeting moment of Schadenfreude…

How many artists out there still consider Picasso an inspiration? Fashion designers Viktor & Rolf have just unveiled their spring collection inspired by Picasso’s sculptures. I’d love to hear from artists and non-artists! The MOMA exhibition continues through February 7, 2016.