Field of Vision

When one of my favorite artists came to town to exhibit her work, I made sure I was at the opening to hear her gallery talk. I have been following Maggie Siner‘s work for years but have never actually seen her artwork in person. Her paintings have a rare immediacy – they capture impressions without necessarily being impressionistic. By that I mean that Maggie Siner paints a plate of melon rinds, or a dress carelessly thrown over a chair the way your eye would capture a scene if you just glimpsed it for a fleeting moment before looking away.

Melon Slices, 2021, 10x18ins, oil on linen
Turquoise Dress & Letter, 2021, 12x17ins, oil on linen

Maggie is an American artist who divides her time between Venice and Loudon County, VA. Her resume is beyond impressive – she has been on the faculty of L’Institut d’Universités Américaines and Lacoste School of Art in France, a visiting professor at Xiamen University in China, Artist in Residence at the Savannah College of Art and Design and Dean of Faculty at the Washington Studio School. The woman has painting chops. But hearing her speak about painting is equally inspiring.

Turquoise Vase, 2016, 24x28ins, oil on linen

In her gallery talk, Maggie made it abundantly clear that narrative is not of the essence. We may want to impose our meaning and narrative on the painting above, for example, but what the artist gets excited about are colors and shapes and drapery – especially drapery, which she describes as “telling the story of the universe, because drapery is all about gravity, and gravity is the story of the universe.”

Central Pillows, 2017, 24x30ins, oil on linen

It’s when you get up close to Siner’s work that you see the real magic she creates with paint. Look at a detail of the painting above:

This bowl of mandarins just blew me away.

Mandarins on Plate, 2020, 14x16ins, oil on linen
Detail of mandarins

Siner spoke about the struggles and challenges she still faces with every painting. “Starting a new painting is like jumping into a mud puddle and figuring out how to get out again.” She paints exclusively from life with a limited palette of six colors of the spectrum. She makes it a point to stand far back from her subjects so that she purposely loses the sharp edges and unimportant detail. Siner applies intellectual consideration to every aspect of painting. “Boundaries create tension,” said Siner, referring to the placement of a composition within a rectangle. “Things hit against the limits and the edges.” Her enthusiasm for her work and her subjects was contagious. She got positively giddy when talking about radishes. “Radishes are events – all that green and red, and the tails!!!”

Radishes on Gray, 2020, 14x18ins, oil on linen

Siner’s exhibition will be on view at Susan Calloway in Georgetown, Washington DC until January 18th.

I highly recommend a visit! What do you think of Siner’s paintings?

Blue Dress & Letter, 2020, 20x21ins, oil on linen

“Go big or go home!”

Ai Weiwei, Iron Tree, 2013.

According to one influential art critic, “Go big or go home” was the underlying theme at this year’s FIAC – the French International Fair of Contemporary Art, celebrating its 40th year in Paris. Anxious to re-establish its relevancy, FIAC seems to be making a comeback on the global art map. Judging by the oversized artworks on display, I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s FIAC showstoppers could be seen from space.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree (above) is a good example of FIAC’s supersized sculptures. Weiwei is by far one of my favorite contemporary artists. He likes to think big – very very big.

Artist Weiwei holding handfuls of the millions of porcelain sunflower seeds that make up his installation 'Sunflower Seeds' at the Tate Modern
Artist Weiwei holding handfuls of the millions of porcelain sunflower seeds that make up his installation ‘Sunflower Seeds’ at the Tate Modern

However, while talking to a talented fellow ceramicist today, I was dismayed by his blanket statement about there being no point in his trying to get into galleries because “they just want big”. I take issue with that. Artists these days have to be wary of falling into the trap of thinking that ‘bigger is always better’.

One successful artist who has followed his passion for the other end of the size spectrum is Thomas Doyle who, in his own words, sculpts in “1:43 scale and smaller” (see image below):

Publications such as Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal laud Doyle’s illustrious international career based on his tiny worlds. I was naturally very excited to have him select one of my 4″ high figurines (see below) for the upcoming Small Worlds exhibition opening December 7th at the Target Gallery in the Torpedo Factory, Alexandria.

Goose that Laid the Golden Egg

Likewise, my tiny 5″ x 5″ portrait entitled Le Parisien (below) just won second place in the small format section of the Mortimore Prize for Realism in Australia.

Parisien I medium

Thinking on a gargantuan scale often means that the artists cannot possibly produce the works by themselves. They need to hire a team of assistants to create their masterpieces. I personally would miss making things with my own hands – after all, that’s what drew me to art in the first place.

So for those of us artists who often enjoy creating on a small scale, and for those art appreciators who like to experience artwork of an intimate size, let it be known that we are not going home!

My figurine 'Wet Dreams', recently sold through Susan Calloway Fine Art, Washington DC
My figurine ‘Wet Dreams’, recently sold through Susan Calloway Fine Art, Washington DC

Irit Ovadia Rosenberg suspends tiny clay fragments overlaid with multiple glazes and her signature prints. Currently at Tova Ossman Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Irit Ovadia Rosenberg suspends tiny clay fragments overlaid with multiple glazes and her signature prints. Currently at Tova Ossman Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel.

What is it about portraits…?

The Birth of Inez Imake  Painting by Ginny Stanford

In spite of the fact that I can’t pronounce it, I eagerly look forward to the biennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition with bated breath. The National Portrait Gallery hosts this phenomenal show every two years.  Many moons ago, portraiture was once confined by strict rules and rigid parameters. No more. This year’s 48 finalists, chosen from thousands of entries, covered the gamut of traditional oil paintings, photographs, video (first prize winner Bo Gehring), animation, rice sculpture, thread portraits and one portrait had no face at all, just an oval canvas revealing the few inches of skin between the artist’s breasts.

Body 10/17/11 by Gwen Hardie
Body 10/17/11 by Gwen Hardie

I just love portraits, and that is probably why I haven’t yet burned out on preparing for my upcoming solo portraiture show at Crossroads Gallery this July (details forthcoming but mark your calanders July 13, 2013!) The Outwin Boocher competiton catalogue begins with the sentence: ‘A portrait has the power to stop us in our tracks.’ I couldn’t agree more. I get swallowed into a good portrait, sensing the sitter, feeling the connection between artist and sitter and enjoying the unexpected introduction to a stranger who, by becoming the subject of a portrait no longer feels like a stranger.

Portrait Gallery (4)

I have to borrow from artist Bly Pope’s words because I could not have come up with a more beautiful way of expressing the power of a portrait: ‘ The human face is a lyrical and mysterious landscape.’ I strongly suggest that you take yourselves to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC – the show is on till 2014, so no excuses!

I’m also very excited about my new collaboration with the Susan Calloway Fine Art Gallery in Georgetown who will be exhibiting some of my works, including this small Parisian cafe scene, which, since we’re on the subject of portratis, could be viewed as a double portrait.

Les Parisiens IV