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.