Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mikhail Zakin Retrospective: Journey in Clay

The late ceramicist Mikhail Zakin is having a retrospective at her name sake gallery.  She co-founded the non-profit organization "The Art School at Old Church" in Demarest, NJ in 1974 in an abandoned Baptist Church, where the Zakin Gallery is located.  According to NJ Arts, "Zakin has taught at the Mendocino Art Center, Brooklyn Museum School, Greenwich House, and Sarah Lawrence College.  She has led seminars in China, Japan, Italy, Korea, England, Mexico, Scotland, Morocco and the Netherlands, and her work is in major collections internationally".

These works are minimal and organic and they express her interest in different textures, functional/non-functional forms, and natural color.  Apparently in the ceramics community she is known for her experimentations with salt glazing and carbonized clay.  But what I love about her sculpture aside from technique is the stripped down simple forms that do not represent nature but have a feeling of being nature.  The Executive Director at Old Church, Maria Danziger, describes her work as, "although very traditional in execution and technique, Zakin's work is radical in its scope and breadth.  Many of the works are so complete in their formal and conceptual qualities they seem to have been created effortlessly.  [...] Her work brings forth the prehistoric, the modern, and future times to come, sometimes all in one sculpture."  She goes on to say that her works are "bold and fully articulate, yet tempered with subtlety and nuance."

What I like about Mikhail's ceramics that they aren't trying to impress the viewer or awe the audience... there is a lack of self-consciousness.  These sculptures are what they are and you can tell that she was fully engaged in the process of creating them, and loved every minute of it.  I don't know much about the history of ceramics but they seem to belong not to the Modern nor Prehistoric eras... they instead seem to come from a time and place that has always existed and will continue to always exist.  I remember reading about Henry Moore one time and thought it was interesting how the author described his work as not really belonging to any particular group of artists or trend... he was kind of on his own, doing what he does... that was that.  I feel the same way about Mikhail's work.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Union Church: Matisse's Last Work and Nine Chagall's

On Mother's Day I took my wife and two sons to the Union Church of Pocantico Hills in Westchester.  Matisse's supposed last work is in this modest church: a stained glass window above the chancel commissioned by the Rockefeller Family.  The Matisse "Rose Window" was created in memory of Abby Aldrich and dedicated to her on Mother's Day in 1956, two years after a maquette was found in Matisse's studio at the time of his death... he had finished the piece just two days prior to dying.

But this isn't the only stained glass window in the church that was created by a modern master... Marc Chagall in 1964 created a large window inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan in the rear of the church and two years later finished another eight side windows depicting prophets.

While Matisse's "Rose Window" reflects the paper cut-outs he had worked on during the last phase of his career and was replicated in stained glass by a master craftsman, Marc Chagall's windows have the touch of the artist's hand.  According to the Union Church brochure...
Like Matisse, Chagall uses colored glass, but it is glass which has been etched with acid to create gradations of color within each piece.  Once the pieces are assembled, Chagall paints on it as if pinging on a canvas.  Using a black glass paint called grisaille, he creates the details in the figures and mitigates the light.  Chagall adjusts and manipulates the grisaille with brushes, brush handles, metal instruments, and even his fingers.  Lastly, he brushes on a yellow silver stain to give the windows their final sparks of color.

*** Note: all images were found on-line

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Elizabeth Peyton and Critiquing Art

Before her show at Gavin Brown closed I decided to check it out.  Her work has always been somewhat of a mystery to me.  I never understood why her paintings are so sought-after in the art world... she paints photographs of celebrities... so what!

Until this show I have only seen her works in person once or twice and I have never seen more than two at a time.  Viewing her paintings and drawings at Gavin Brown, I have a slightly better understanding of why her work gains so much attention.  For one thing, her art is authentic… there is nothing gimmicky about it, and to me, authenticity is certainly what matters most in the evaluation or assessment of art.  Her fresh, light, delicate brushwork of translucent strokes, and pastel colors makes her work unique and charming.  Those qualities alone make her exhibitions worth going to.  But does that explain why she is one of the most successful painters working today?  But then again I think it is rare in the art world for artists to gain recognition based solely on their art.

Getting slightly off topic, let me use this opportunity to explain my criticism of artwork on this blog; I've been a bit more harsh on Elizabeth Peyton than I normally am regarding the art I post and if any of you are wondering why I'll explain.  Generally I assess artwork according to three types of artists: the outsider artist, the emerging artist, and the established/blue chip artist.

Outsider artists are tricky to critique because of this one essential question: Is the na├»ve/primitive style deliberate or because of lack of technical skill?  In other words, do they know what they are doing, or are they just doing what they do? A follow up question to that would be: does it matter if their style of art is deliberate or not?

I tend to critique the work of emerging artists with a smile, encouragement, and a feeling of camaraderie.  These are the types of people that I feature most on this blog, and they are the ones that I'm most likely to become friends with and read my posts.

On the other hand, when I review the art of established artist I can't help but to do so with an extra critical eye.  I suppose I react this way because they are an easy target being at the top of their profession and because there is a grain of jealousy on my part; What makes their art so special that they are able to gain recognition and I'm still working multiple jobs with my art in piles in my garage?  I know that that perspective is immature and negative, but I think a lot of artists feel like that sometimes.  Anyway, I try to keep it all in perspective... after all, if an artist is making work with the expectation of gaining recognition and achieving monetary success they are  in the wrong line of work.

Lastly, this is a good description of Elizabeth Peyton's art that I found on Wikipedia...
"Her paintings are characterized by elongated, slender figures with androgynous features.  Sexually ambiguous, feminine qualities are regularly emphasised.  Her work at times resembles fashion illustration.  [...]  
In her paintings, Peyton hardly ever depicts these often young artists and musicians standing, and she never visually associates them with an activity like making art or music; instead, they are portrayed sleeping, reclining, or sitting."

These last two paintings were my favorite in the show.  I don't care who is portrayed in the paintings... they're beautiful and mysterious...

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Eric Laxman: Studio Visit

I visited Eric's studio in Nyack in February.  I went with a group of students from the school I teach at.  His workspace is situated directly across the street from his house along a winding hilly road.  The exterior of his studio is covered with rusty old objects like gears, tools, and wheels.  Part of his studio was open to the elements and only had a roof overhead shielding his collection of stuff.  There he had shelves and shelves of random small objects, large heavy objects, works in progress, and some large machinery.  The inside of his studio, where he does most of his work, had a similar look of "controlled chaos" (a trait common to most artist's studios).

Eric showed my students and I finished works of his that ranged from his days as a student to pieces that he had only recently completed.  There were other pieces that he shared with us that he was in the process of repairing or completing for other people, and commissioned projects.  All in all, there was artwork and tools in every nook and cranny of his workspace.

Not every sculpture of his that I had seen resonated with me, but there were several that I loved.  One quality that makes Eric such a unique artist is that he makes both refined, polished, planned pieces, and crude, scrap metal pieces that are spontaneously created.  I preferred the crude to the polished.  I enjoyed his little rusty wall pieces, that looked like sculptural collages.  I found of interest his freestanding works that combined steel with rock and wood.  I was inspired by his works that reflected forms from nature.  And I loved his three tortured and timeworn looking figurative sculptures.  

Eric also spoke to my students about art and how it relates to life.  He had only wisdom to offer them.  What follows is what he said put into my own words...

Trying to be original is of no use because everything has already been done.  However, when you accept yourself and create art authentically without desire to please others, your work naturally becomes original and something in it becomes new. 
When you are creating art do not focus on the end result because then you will only enjoy 10% of the process.  You have to find a way to enjoy every step of the way, even when that encompasses the sweeping of your studio floor and the cleaning of your work table.  Be present in every moment and then you will live a happy life. 
Don't allow a work of art that you are creating become precious to you.  When that happens you are less likely to take risks, and risk-taking is what art is all about.

*** Note: some pictures in this blog are from