Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A 2015 Bricolage Workshop

This year I will again be teaching a day-long workshop on Bricolage: Making Fine Art with Unconventional Materials in conjunction with the Ninth Annual Encaustic Conference, founded and directed by Joanne Mattera. My workshop on Wednesday, June 10th, is part of the post-conference schedule at Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill in Truro, Mass.

Last year's Mystery Bags containing items for students to use in the workshop

The object of this class is to encourage students to transform materials into a component of an artwork. The objects do not retain their original identity or function but become part of the whole. This is unlike assemblage where objects are brought together and retain their identities. Finished bricolage artworks have a sense of discovery about them as viewers may glimpse and identify original forms when they look more closely at the work.

Here are some images of student works from last year's class. (Please excuse my casual photography and note that images will expand if you click on them.)

A work by Pamela Winegard using pencil marks on paper, black elastics, sticks,
hair scrunchies, part of a wooden placemat, copper wire, and encaustic paint

A work by Abear al Mogren using book pages, shredded paper, copper wire, tissue paper
from a sewing pattern, ping pong balls, copper wire, thread, pigment sticks, encaustic paint
and probably more that I can't identify from the virtual image

A work by Edith Rae Brown using hair scrunchies, black elastics, sticks from
a wooden placemat, thumbtacks or other round objects, wire, pigment sticks, encaustic paint

A work by Monica Kaczyk using ping pong balls, tissue from sewing pattern,
looks like string or wire and more paper, encaustic paint

This is one of my favorite pieces and I can't find the name of the artist. She used
brown paper, sticks from a placemat, wire, black elastics, plastic soldiers and animals,
felt, metal clips, encaustic paint, and probably more. (If anyone knows the name of
this artist, please let me know!)

The reason that these pieces work so well is that the miscellaneous objects and materials that students used in their pieces were not allowed to retain their original identities but became part of the greater whole. This required the artists to have a concept for their work that would subordinate the materials and allow them to be used for new purposes, such as adding texture, dimension, or line.

There are still a couple of places left in the workshop on June 10th. See the full descriptions of workshops here and you can register by calling Castle Hill at 508-349-7511.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Charles McGill at Pavel Zoubok Gallery

When I saw Charles McGill's show, Territories. online, I knew I had to see it in person, but I couldn't get to New York until the last day of the exhibition. When I finally confronted the work at Pavel Zoubok's gallery, I found it even more fascinating than I had expected. A surprise bonus was the opportunity to meet and chat with Charles McGill, himself. He is a warm and engaging person who spoke freely about his work, his intentions for it, and his emotional, intellectual, and aesthetic attachment to his chosen material of golf bags.

Charles McGill with Blue Moon Tondo

What drew me so much to McGill's work was his use of repurposed or reconfigured golf bags. Destruction of the original objects and transformation of them into works of art makes these works bricolage, according to my definition. I really appreciated the materiality of the work from a formal, technical perspective. I was looking at them more as geometric abstractions with the intriguing additions of zippers, buckles, straps, handles and the dimensionality of layered materials.

 (Note: click photos to expand.)

Black Tondo, 2015,  reconfigured golf bags, 36 inches in diameter, 
(image from Charles McGill's website)

Black Tondo closeup, my photo from Territories exhibition

Political implications
McGill, however, comes to this work as a golfer and as an African-American. These works grew out of his political and identity-focused approach to art making that began in the late 1990s with "the Legendary Political Trailblazer Arthur Negro II, aka  Art Negro, aka Black Art." McGill wanted to emphasize the racial and economic gulf between the privileged leisure of the game of golf and the oppressed situation of the majority of African-American people. McGill personally bridged that gap as a golfer himself and integrated the de facto whites-only game. After experimenting with various forms and approaches to the subject, he began deconstructing golf bags and using them as his art material. This allowed  him to enrich his work with many connotations and implications such as leisure, race, masculinity, wealth, sports, and class.

White Tondo, 2014, reconfigured golf bags, 36 inches in diameter
(image from Charles McGill's website)

Development of the work
As time and work have gone on and McGill has continued using golf bags, his intention for the work has undergone some modification. As I understand the progression, the work has become more about formally composing works containing an interesting variety of shapes and dimension, focusing on color and also referring to art historical subjects. The personal identity components are still there but play a lesser part in many works.

As McGill says on his website: "The recent work is a testament to the belief that the material can dictate the direction of the work and how it evolves. Tondos and Totems aren’t objects I would have ever thought I would make with this golf bag as a starting point. But that is exactly what has occurred in the studio." (quote from McGill's website)

Black Tondo and White Tondo were the first two of McGill's works to be based on a circle, rather than a square or rectangle, but his varying treatment of the center of this shape as well as the draping of zippers, flaps and other parts becomes very elegant and really moves the work beyond the original source. Also note that with these two pieces McGill means "black" and "white" to refer to race as well as to color of the materials.

Self Portrait in a Tondo
McGill told me about this work representing himself in relation to his father, who died at age 51 when McGill was 30. As he grew older, McGill was understandably fearful of reaching the age at which his father had died. Marking the milestone of his 51st birthday with this large work, must have meant an easement for him of having passed that emotionally-disturbing age.

Target 51, 2015, reconfigured golf bags, 48 inches in diameter
(image from Charles McGill's website)

Aside from its personal meaning to McGill, I particularly liked this tondo for the red markers at the edge forming slightly skewed compass points that may represent McGill's passage through life.

Other Forms, Other Meanings
In addition to tondos, there were many other forms in this extensive exhibition of works, including free-standing sculptures and some pieces representing hooded, menacing figures. These, of course, allude to the KKK and its persecution of African Americans. They portray another, more frightening aspect of McGill's commentary on race and evidence a progression in tone and approach from the satirical figure of Arthur Negro.

I, 2014, reconfigured golf bags, 48 inches high

Material Effort
McGill speaks about his physical struggle to deconstruct golf bags and the fact that works in progress are sometimes marked with blood from cuts he sustains while tearing and cutting the bags apart.

"New pieces literally wrestled into shape. Stubborn objects. There is so much resistance. Each step is a physical challenge. These bags were made well and not manufactured to come apart, especially not to be pulled apart, twisted and manipulated into shapes that are counter-intuitive to their nature."

And all that physical struggle becomes part of the work as well so that the "knowing" of the material by the artist is not only discovery but also creation of the material.

A Ghostly Dimension
Exploring the material for as long as McGill has and becoming able to push it in new and unexpected directions has resulted in a rich variety of works that transcend their origin. However, it seems to me that bricolage works exist in more than one space; the original forms of the objects from which they are made remain as a kind of ghostly presence in the new art pieces. We look at the new work but still get glimpses of the source material. We seem to experience it in more than three dimensions as we see the present and receive intimations of the past.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Margaret Roleke at Odetta Gallery in Brooklyn

"Gobsmacked!" is the title of the exhibition currently showing until October 5th at the beautiful new Odetta Gallery, 229 Cook Street, Brooklyn. This show features large, rich charcoal drawings depicting visions of psychological topographies by Charlotte Schulz and bricolage works by Margaret Roleke. Both artists create work that addresses the political and cultural state of the world without being didactic or conveying a directly gobsmacked attitude at the horrors and inequities of life on planet earth.

Margaret Roleke, Fairytale Western, 2013, 38" x 38" x 5"

Margaret Roleke's work certainly fits the definition of "bricolage," and she achieves a considerable amount of dimension in some of her wall works by using plastic objects such as palm trees, buildings and animals that protrude off the panel. Most of Roleke's works in "Gobsmacked!" are painted a single unifying color that brings together such disparate plastic toys as horses, wagon wheels, soldiers, spacemen, cowboys, guns, rocket ships, houses, canoes and canons - to name just a few. 

Fairytale Western, side view

Fairytale Western, extreme closeup

Roleke wants to emphasize the difference between "girl toys" and "boy toys" by challenging the genderized assumptions we give to the toys themselves as well as by applying the "girl color" of pink to cowboys, Indians, horses and Western what-alls that are assumed to be playthings for boys.

I thought that Margaret Roleke made effective use of the materials she chose and coating the plastic toys with paint in one color subdued their plasticity with a reductive palette. In a way, however, there is something about the garish colors common to so many in toys that makes the toys uniquely other worldly and sets them apart from other plastic objects. These gaudy colors are thought to be attractive to children and to their parents. There is also the distinctive processed petroleum odor emanating from so much plastic in a confined area. You will get a whiff of this if you go near a toy department at Target or some other store and you will know the Girl Aisle by that garish plastic pink that falls somewhere between magenta and hell.

Toys on a Disney Image
Another panel work, "Tink's Army," uses plastic soldiers mounted on  fabric that portrays a Disney character - Tinker Bell in this case - looking almost like a world map at first glance. I liked the way the arrangement of military toys distorted and almost hid the figure underneath.

Margaret Roleke, "Tink's Army," 2013, 30" x 30" x 3", plastic toys on fabric

Of course the idea of sweet, voiceless little Tinker Bell having an army is an idea that jars the mind. Roleke wants to point out that the the vision of this little fairy wearing an ultra-short dress and acting coquettish (or what Disney describes as "Sassy, Fashionable and Creative,") is a sexualized vision thought to be an acceptable character for children. Are we willing to accept the flirtatious Tinker Bell and not the war-mongering one? Does war belong to boys and fashion to girls?

Black Barbie, Black Guns
The color black (an all time favorite of mine) carries its own tone or connotation - not of gender, but of meaning and associations - mourning, fashion, absence, threat, foreboding. In the center of Odetta Gallery is a spiderish hanging work by Roleke painted a dense matte black. Only when you view it closely can you distinguish its various components: guns, soldiers and Barbies - many of the Barbies separated from their heads.

Margaret Roleke, "Hanging," 2014, painted toys, 76" x 76" x 30"

Here Roleke co-mingles girl toys and boy toys, uniting them in a fashionable but mournful coat of dense black. This strange combination of headless Barbies (with plenty of unattached hairy heads), guns, and soldiers all suspended in the gallery's center makes me think about what we give children to play with and how this forms their vision of male-female relationships and human interaction. Kind of a ghastly thought that we are perpetuating the sex and guns culture now destroying the world in various ways. All we need to add to this mix is some cold, hard cash to really portray adult reality.

Chinese firecrackers
What looked to me  at a distance like strings of Chinese firecrackers turned out to be colorful plastic shotgun shell casings. Who knew that bullets came packaged so attractively? Roleke has wired empty casings together in long, bead-like strings, and they are hung on the wall at Odetta in a mass reminiscent of Mardi Gras beads or Anatsui's metallic hangings.

Margaret Roleke, Shells #2, 2014, wall sculpture, site specific,
 spent shells and wire, 89" x 58" x 17"

Close-up of plastic shell casings

That these bullet castoffs carry printed names such as "Top Gun" attests to the cultural messaging inherent in our gun-happy culture. You, too, can be Tom Cruise in an elite group of expert marksmen if you use the right brand of ammunition when you are plugging away at a target, a live animal or who knows what or whom. This is branding at its finest.

Odetta Gallery
Finding such a beautiful, Chelsea-ish storefront gallery in the midst of grungy Bushwick is a lovely surprise.  Created and operated by artist Ellen Hackl Fagan, Odetta is a new gallery that plans to show contemporary works "focusing on Color Theory, Minimalism, Glyphs, Buddha Mind, Fluxus, History, Humor, Psychedelia, Ephemera, Science, Math and Music." Be sure to visit!

The front of Odetta Gallery listing a show earlier this year

Monday, May 26, 2014

BRICOLAGE: Art With Dimensional Materials - Phyllida Barlow

I am making this short series of posts about artists who will be included in my talk at the Eighth Annual Encaustic Conference (June 6 - 8 in Provincetown, Mass.) because I want to pique some interest in the work and to show short videos that animate the work in a way that still pictures can't.

Phyllida Barlow, one view of "Dock" installation at Tate Britain, 2014

Phyllida Barlow is a sculptor whose work I became aware of after watching a video in an ArtDaily Newsletter (this one is a long video). I had never heard of her, but that was my loss. She has been teaching and making sculpture for a long while and is very well known in Britain. I admire her particularly because she has just reached age 70 and began showing her own work publicly just a few years ago. She's now in the Hauser & Worth stable and so showing worldwide in some of the world's most enormous galleries. Any artist, particularly a woman, who has been working that long and has just been "discovered" is well worth a close look.

What interested me about her was not only her work but what she had to say about it and about sculpture in general. She spoke about time as an element in sculpture and about choreographing the audience's views of sculpture because of the way the work is placed. She also mentioned the pomposity and grandiosity of older sculptural works, especially in Britain. (I am envisioning the general-on-the-horse kind of thing that viewers have to strain their necks to see from a viewpoint far below.)

The relationship of space and the work is very important to her and she spoke of her works as making "an aggressive invasion of space." She has a lot to say about materiality, surface, destruction, surprise and invention. What an interesting person she is and what a wonderful teacher she must have been for so many artists who went on to become art stars on their own.

Here is a short video I found of her speaking about the Tate Britain installation, Dock, pictured above.

And here is another video about an installation called Hoard, where she speaks about her inspiration coming from an interview with a man whose home was upturned in Hurricane Katrina. She is careful to say that although she may begin with an idea such as this, she lets the materials themselves lead her to something new in the actual work so that she is making discoveries along with the audience.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

BRICOLAGE: Art With Dimensional Materials - Nick Cave

Nick Cave is another one of the artists I will be including in my talk at the Eighth Annual Encaustic Conference in Provincetown. The conference, founded and directed by Joanne Mattera, runs Friday, June 6, through Sunday, June 8th this year. Here is the link that gives all the details.

A button-covered soundsuit with an abacus faceguard by Nick Cave

My talk on the Friday is entitled, Bricolage: Art With Dimensional Materials, and I will be presenting the work of more than 15 artists. I have chosen a range of work, most of it wall mounted, to illustrate that bricolage can bring art to a place somewhere between two and three dimensions. However, I have also added a couple of sculptors to the mix of artists because the technique of bricolage can be used with freestanding, fully-dimensional works.

For me, the important thing about bricolage as a technique or process is that found objects and materials lose their original identities and are transformed into new creations. Bricolage often involves destruction and revisioning, unlike assemblage, in which found objects retain their original identities.

Nick Cave is a unique artist who exists between worlds: he's a sculptor, a clothing designer and a dancer. A website describes him as "part Alexander McQueen and part Andy Warhol." Nick Cave's first soundsuit was created from twigs he gathered in a park. Initially he thought of it as a stationery sculpture, but when he put it on his body and moved with it, the twigs hit against each other and created sounds that reflected his motions. The suit also gave him a new identity without racial, gender or national origin characteristics

Click here for a short video from the New York Times where Nick Cave demonstrates the sounds that two soundsuits make - the first one a loud and clanky collection of spinning tops and noisemakers, the second a soft, swishy, swirl of long fibers.

Cave's soundsuits transcend other boundaries in that they may be worn for public performances and also exhibited in museums and galleries as artworks. Nick Cave's New York gallery is Jack Shainman (also home to the great Anatsui) where soundsuits list for $45,000 and up. The suits are designed by Cave using a vast collection of objects and materials gathered at thriftshops, tag sales and wholesalers.

Last year the Denver Art Museum presented Sojourn, an extensive exhibition of works by Nick Cave. Here are two videos provided by the museum. The first one is a tour of the exhibition narrated by Nick Cave. The second shows the labor-intensive installation process.

Denver Art Museum tour of Sojourn - 5:34

Installation - 2:52

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bricolage: Art With Dimensional Materials - Joan Snyder

Joan Snyder - My Life - 1996, oil, straw, velvet, silk and plastic
grapes on linen, 48" x 54"

For this year's Annual Encaustic Conference, the eighth consecutive year for this wonderful conference, held in Provincetown, Massachusetts at the Provincetown Inn, the dates are Friday, June 6, through Sunday, June 8th. Here's the blog link that gives all the details.  I will be giving a talk on Friday, June 6th, entitled, Bricolage: Art With Dimensional Materials. I am presenting the work of more than 15 artists who transform objects and materials into bricolage works - both wall mounted and free standing.

Several of the artists I am including in my talk have videos and other online presences, so I intend to feature some of them in this blog.

I am very pleased that Joan Snyder, wonderful painter, will be among those I am featuring. Here's a 10-minute video by James Kalm of Joan Snyder's 2010 show at Betty Cunningham Gallery. From this video you can really get a sense of the dimension she adds to her paintings with materials such as textiles, paper mache, flower parts, mud, straw, feathers, herbs, and many more.

Note that Joan Snyder will also be teaching a week-long master workshop at Castle Hill Center for the Arts in Truro, September 8 - 12, entitled The Anatomy of Your Painting. And finally, here is Joan Snyder's website where you can see more of her work.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Using Metaphor in Art (Especially in Bricolage)

Arthur Simms, "Globe, The Veld" (2004).
Metal, Wire, Plastic, Artist's Nails, Wood, Objects, 17" by 14"by 14".
Text by Peter Orner. Courtesy of the artist.

This morning I was reading the review of  "Come Together: Surviving Sandy" by Roberta Smith in the New York Times. This is a big exhibition of work by 300 artists who survived and were affected by Hurricane Sandy (The show is currently on through December 15 in Brooklyn. See the link for details.) Roberta Smith mentioned an outstanding work in the show, a 1995 piece, “To Explain, Expand and Exhort, to See, Foresee and Prophesy, to the Few Who Could or Would Listen”  by Arthur Simms. She said that it should have been in a museum collection by now. 
I went looking on Google to see Arthur Simms' work as I was unfamiliar with it, and I discovered that Arthur Simms is a sculptor who uses the technique of bricolage to transform found objects into art by combining them in particular ways. (You can see some of his spectacular sculpture on his website.)
Previously I have written about the difference between bricolage and assemblage: while assemblage emphasizes the identity of the individual objects, the objects in bricolage lose their individual identity and are subsumed into the whole of the work. The objects or pieces become parts of a new whole that is the artwork. But what is the meaning of such transformation? Why do artists use found or repurposed objects in their work?
My search for Arthur Sims also turned up an interview with Simms by Phong Bui of "The Brooklyn Rail. ") What I found was the usual very insightful interview by Phong Bui, but it really spoke to me about the metaphors inherent in art, some of which artists focus on and others that are simply too ordinary to even be recognized per se. I hope you will read the whole interview, but here are some highlights about metaphors in Simms' work.

Arthur Simms, "Caged Bottle" (2006).
Rope, Wood, Glue, Bicycles, Metal, Bottles, Wire,
50 by 62" by 36". Courtesy of the artist.

Rail: It’s your identification with the materials, therefore allowing the alchemical process to take place. This is a strong belief that Martin Puryear has always insisted on, even at the expense of what comes and goes in the art world.

Simms: Yeah, I love his work man. His retrospective at the MoMA in 2007 was an important experience for me. In fact my piece, “Hemp Or If I Were A Bird,” (1991) is an homage to both Martin Puryear and Constantine Brancusi, whose work he admires for the same reason we are talking about. Like them, it’s the transformation that excites me most. People have asked me, “Why do you choose certain objects?” and I have said, “well, maybe because it’s shiny, rusted, has a certain color or patina,” and so on, or maybe it references my background and a million other things. Whatever the reasons may be, once they’re chosen and find their ways into the work, they take on into another life. So, as you had just said, it’s about alchemy
Rail: "...the way you tie things together is essentially a form of wrapping, which is interesting in that it is similar to the way in which, let’s say, polite language wraps social interaction, architecture wraps space, or how people in Asia, particularly in Japan, take extreme care in wrapping objects, whether it’s groceries or gifts. Or how the dead bodies, depending on their socio-political-religious ranking, are wrapped as part of the process of mummification, which was considered a passage to the after-life, as in Ancient Egypt, for example. Do you see your work as a wrapping ritual that transcends the mundane, in this case, found and used objects, to some form of transcendence?"

Simms: Yes, I do. It’s like a skin that has energy. To me, the rope is like lines as in drawing, an activity that I do more than sculptures. I’m drawing with the rope obsessively until it becomes a sort of skin over all these various things that are on the inside, which you can barely see. Later on I started using wire as a different kind of skin..

Arthur Simms, "Buddha" (2008). 81" by 50" by 52"
Wire, Bottles, Bamboo, Wood, Metal, Ice skates, Wheels.
Courtesy of the artist.

Rail: Like a painting that has been painted over so many layers that you can see its accumulated history on the surface but you can’t see what has been buried underneath. At any rate, in citing the found materials that you use in your work, which are basically everything from milk crates, plumbing parts, old shoes, rags, bottles, and cans to various objects such as hand tools and so on, it reminds me of the bower bird, especially the male, which, to attract its mate, often builds a bower with a variety of materials such as feathers, stones, broken shells, and leaves, mixing them with discarded plastic items, coins, nails, pieces of glass, and so on. And this selection of various materials is what makes up the bower, and one is never identical to the next. This is what some ornithologists called the “transfer effect.” In other words, do you have a general idea that relies mostly on a spontaneous process in which the image is gradually formed? Or do you make drawings beforehand?

Simms: No, I never make a drawing beforehand. I always consider my drawing as something in and of itself. I don’t make sketches or little maquettes of the sculpture mostly because I enjoy the improvisational aspect by keeping the two activities of drawing and sculpture independent. But as far as your reference to the bower bird, I had looked at and admired many birds’ nests at the Museum of Natural History like I do with other natural occurrences, things that are made by different creatures and insects. It’s all open and all there for any one of us to take and use accordingly in to our works.


I will be including images of Arthur Simms' work in my talk on bricolage at the 2014 International Encaustic Conference in Provincetown in June.