To Hell and back

Most people equate Brussels with chocolate, the Grand-Place square, grey skies and of course, the Manneken Pis statue. Time to open the aperture.

Belgium’s capital recently rewarded me yet again with a truly outstanding contemporary art experience with a visit to Maison Particulière, off one of Brussels’ main arteries, Avenue Louise.

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A bit of background is in order. This unique exhibition space is actually a private home. Nothing is for sale. Each exhibition revolves around a particular theme inspired by the work of one selected guest artist. The curators then complete the exhibition with relevant works loaned by private collectors around the world.

To enter the Maison Particulière is to enter a world where all of your senses are engaged at the very highest level of refinement. As soon as I step into the sleek space, my olfactory senses are delightfully assaulted by a musky, mysterious scent that is quite irresistible. I learn that a master perfumer is tasked with creating a unique fragrance for every exhibition. In this case the perfume is Oud Shamash by Luc Gabriel. Heavenly, with a hint of danger…

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Oud Shamash perfume on display

The fragrance sets the scene for the current exhibition From here to eternity featuring Angelo Musco as the guest artist. The theme takes as its literary inspiration Divine Comedy, Dante’s masterpiece describing his journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. As Maison Particulière is built on three levels, the curators have very cleverly dedicated one floor to each of these separate realms, beginning with Hell on the ground floor.

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Works by Angelo Musco and Rachel Kneebone

A dimly lit room off the main lobby gallery is as close to Hell as I want to get. The walls are covered in one of Angelo Musco’s photographic installations. Musco uses the human body as a tool, creating elaborate photographic panels picturing thousands of nude bodies submerged in surreal landscapes. Some of his works take years to complete and they are disturbing and beautiful at the same time.

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Detail of Angelo Musco’s photographic installation

On three pedestals, artist Rachel Kneebone’s porcelain assemblages reflect the precariousness of existence and perfectly mirror Musco’s sea of entangled human forms.

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Detail from Rachel Kneebone’s porcelain assemblages

Hell continues on into the library with Jaume Plensa’s striking marble bust ‘Carmela’ whose compressed face symbolizes compressed memories.

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Jaume Plensa’s Carmela in the library

‘Hollow Figure’ by Daniel Arsham continues the feeling of walking through a hellish nightmare.

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Hollow Figure fiberglass sculpture by Daniel Arsham

On the second floor Angelo Musco greets the visitor in Purgatory with his epic biblical work Sanctuary (below) based on the story of the Tower of Babel. The artist traveled the world to ensure that people from different cultures and nations were represented. The work took four years to complete and contains 500,000 individual figures.

From a distance the photographic images appear to represent fantastical undersea towers, perhaps Atlantis, but they are shockingly surprising when viewed up close.

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Another haunting work in Purgatory is Chiharu Shiota’s State of Being (chair and paper). The artist creates room-filling installations out of found objects. He enmesshes them in webs of wool thread in an attempt to connect the memories of strangers.

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State of Being

It was all powerful, heady stuff. I was ready to get to Paradise on the third floor. Here I discovered a video work that was the source of the faint music that had followed me on my journey through Hell and Purgatory. The music wafted around the beautifully contemplative works displayed on the third floor, such as a Bodhisattva Buddha and ancient twisted trunks of petrified trees. In Paradise’s last room I felt like I had entered God’s inner sanctum – Charles Sandison’s First Breath sent chills up my spine. It is a computer-generated hologram projection that uses software based on the sequencing of human DNA to create images of newborn faces…

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Projected hologram forming itself into the image of a newborn face

This blog post only skims the surface of this outstanding exhibition and its uber chic venue. You have to experience this exhibition for yourself to really feel its impact. Even the restroom was unforgettable!

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From here to eternity will be exhibited through April 30, 2017 at Maison Particulière, rue du Chatelain 49, Brussels, Belgium.

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View into the garden at Maison Particulière
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View into entrance gallery

Dyed-in-the-wool in Wyoming

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Pit stop during my 6-day exhibition tour of Wyoming

Our first stop during my recent ‘grand finale’ tour of Wyoming with The Bridge traveling exhibition was Laramie, WY. While checking out the town’s modest commercial center I wandered into a store called Jeny Originals. The first thing that I noticed was an entire wall covered in a rainbow of hand-dyed wool like some giant textile installation.

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Selection of hand-dyed yarns at Jeny Originals, Laramie, WY

I struck up a conversation with the store’s namesake, Jeny Stoesz, and learned about her family’s love for Wyoming’s natural beauty and how their deep connection to the state inspired a unique family business.

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Even though I took this photo from a moving car, the scenery is still spectacular!

The Stoeszes believe Wyoming is God’s country and I can see their point – the scenery is pretty awesome. The family wanted to create products that could ‘leave with visitors and at the same time remain in the state with its residents’ and thus was born Jeny Originals yarns and weavings.

Mike Stoesz was a prolific photographer of his beloved Wyoming. Jeny draws inspiration from her late husband’s photographs to hand-dye wool and acrylic skeins with gloriously nuanced shades of color and texture that remain true to the original photograph’s palette. The color combinations that make up The Wyoming Collection have even been patented and are christened with evocative names like Bent Aspen, River Flood, and Rock Creek.

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The inspirational photograph is attached to each skein of wool
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The same photograph can inspire different shade combinations and different textural experiments

Jeny is a true artist, interpreting the beauty of her late husband’s nature photographs through the medium of wool.

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Jeny Stoesz

Jeny Originals has just moved to a new, more streamlined location in Laramie. More information at jenyoriginals.com.

Wyoming was the last stop on The Bridge exhibition’s global tour. Learn more about The Bridge project and my role as both participating artist and co-curator. While you’re checking that out, I’ll just slip into those new cowboy boots…

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More than a pretty face

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‘Janie’ by Clarity Haynes

I wait with bated breath for the triennial Outwin Boochever portrait competition held at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. As a figurative artist interested in portraiture I am thrilled that this art form is celebrated by the Smithsonian Institute network of galleries.

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Ray DiCapua ‘Phyllis’ (artist’s mother). Charcoal
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Detail of ‘Phyllis’ (above)

I have written several blogs about portraiture, extolling its virtues as an art form and bemoaning its waning glory in terms of its commercial viability. Despite current trends I continue to be lured back time and again to the human face as a vehicle for illuminating our culture and time. More than in previous years,  this year’s Outwin Bouchever finalists cover just about all the social issues relevant in today’s society – old age, obesity, gender, disability, race, the immigrant experience, you name it.

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Jess T. Dugan ‘Self-Portrait (muscle shirt)

Jess T. Dugan describes her work as positioned “within a framework of queer experience and from my actively constructed sense of masculinity.” I admit that I have no clue what she is talking about, but the gender defying message in her photograph is clear.

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Rick Ashley ‘Michael # 145973’

Michael (the subject in the photograph above) is the photographer’s brother-in-law. He has Down Syndrome. The pair have been making photographs together since 1975, with Michael often directing the shoot.

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Sedrick Huckaby ‘Sedrick.Sed, Daddy’

This monumental, highly textured self-portrait is part of the Huckaby’s recent group of paintings dealing with the African American family. His self-portrait examines how he balances his roles as artist, professor, husband and father.

There is lots to see in this engrossing exhibition. Below are my two favorite picks, and surprise, surprise, they are both examples of exquisite painting.

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Paul Oxborough ‘Harvey and Teddy’

and

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Gaspar Enriquez ‘John’

42 works were selected from a total of 2,500 submissions and well worth a visit. While you’re there check out the winning entry, and place your own vote for the People’s Vote award. If you can’t make it there in person, you can find more images on the official site.

I’d like to take a stab at entering my own works next time round. At this point I think I would select a portrait from my series of people taking selfies. After all the selfie is the great portrait equalizer and the way of the future. I find that this phenomenon speaks volumes about our self-absorption and alienation. I would love to hear any feedback from readers.

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Lilianne Milgrom ‘Selfie #4’ 30″ x 36″

Your body is a temple – and a canvas

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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.)

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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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