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The Impressive Doris Salcedo

doris salcedo

Doris Salcedo is from Bogotá, Colombia, and was born in 1958. Her life dramatically influences her work in Colombia, and the lives of victims of trauma in Colombia.

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She utilizes commonplace items in her installation work, such as furniture, grass, concrete, clothing, and flowers.

Some themes she has aimed to express are memory loss, pain, trauma, loss, and emptiness. Being an artist has been her lifelong dream.

Artist Dream

“I always wanted to be an artist. I cannot name a date when that came to me; it has always been there. Living in Colombia, in a country at war, means that war does not give you the possibility of distance. War engulfs reality completely. In some cases, people can be killed or wounded at war, but in most cases war just distorts your life. It throws a shadow over your entire life.”

This video should give you a closer look to get you familiarized with Doris and her beliefs.

Doris Salcedo is featured in our article, “What is Installation Art?”

She continues, “War creates a totality and you are embedded in it. It’s like being engulfed in a reality. Political events are part of everyday life here, so art and politics came to me as a natural thing, something that has been very much present in my life from the start.”

Doris Salcedo attended Bogotá University, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1980. She majored in painting and theater.

In the early 1980s, Doris moved to New York and began sculpting, while earning her Master’s.

This is where she became influenced by other artists who were using political and challenging themes in their works.

This inspired her to draw from her home country and the heartache it had experienced with war.

She draws on her own experiences but also speaks for victims of senseless crimes and terrible issues that plague Colombia. She has interviewed victims to gain insight into their trauma to create many of her most famous pieces.

Some of her most notable installation pieces are the following:

Plegaria Muda

plegaria muda

A rough translation to ‘silent prayer,’ this piece is a series of sculptures that make up the shape of a coffin, from two handmade tables.

There is grass growing in between the tabletops. This piece symbolizes and pays tribute to the victims of gang violence, particularly the enormous gravesites where victims of gang violence are buried in Colombia.


Flor de Piel

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Created in 2013 and acquired by the Harvard Art Museum in 2014, this piece was part of her solo exhibition Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning.

The tapestry measures 340 cm x 500 cm and is made up of thousands of hand-sewn rose petals. This piece was to pay homage to a nurse that was tortured to death during the Colombian war.


Shibboleth

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Located in Tate Modern in London, her installation here was a massive crack in the flooring. She is the first artist ever to change the physical building of Tate Modern.

This piece was to symbolize the wedge between victims and the social forces that divided and armed people against one another.

It also represents a significant divide between the rich and the poor. Particularly in Colombia, there is a clear divide and brokenness between cultures, and that was meant to be evoked by this piece.


Atrabiliarios

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Made from plywood, thread, sheepskin, animal fibers, and shoes. There are six different styles of this installation piece.

In the ‘shoes’ piece, the shoes were all worn previously by victims who had been declared missing.

Families of missing women donated the items. This piece represents being “permanently suspended between the present and the past” and bringing awareness to the memory of those who are missing, or their whereabouts are unknown.

Atrabiliarios is meant to be a portrait of disappearance and survivors mentally being distraught with no closure.


Istanbul

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This installation piece is constructed from 1,550 wooden chairs piled between two buildings. The central theme behind this creation was a topography of war.

About Istanbul, she says, “Seeing these 1,550 wooden chairs piled high between two buildings in central Istanbul, I’m reminded of mass graves. Of anonymous victims. I think of both chaos and absence, two effects of wartime violence. What I’m trying to get out of these pieces is that element that is common in all of us. And in a situation of war, we all experience it in much the same way, either as victim or perpetrator. So I’m not narrating a particular story. I’m just addressing experiences.”


Unland

doris salcedo the orphan's tunic

Created from 1995-1998, Unland is comprised of three sculptures. It’s meant to represent testimonies given by children who witnessed their parents murder in the Colombian Civil War.

Doris traveled across the country to collect statements from participants and how this shaped their lives. The three sculptures are called Unland: the orphan’s tunic, Unland: irreversible witness, and Unland: audible in the mouth.

Two wooden tables are fused into one, and combined by the legs being removed on each end. There are thousands of holes in the top of the table, which has human hair and silk threads sewn in. The wood has deep cuts across it, to signal the damage done in the war.


Accolades and Importance

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Her list of accolades is impressive, to say the least. She’s been awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship, The Ordway Prize, from the Penny McCall Foundation, Velázquez Visual Arts Prize, Hiroshima Art Prize, Inaugural Nasher Prize for Sculpture, Nasher Sculpture Center, Rolf Schock Prizes in Visual Arts and The Nomura Art Award.

Doris Salcedo creates installation pieces that provoke thought and tackles tough, taboo subjects from objects with little significance.

She has played an important role in her Colombian culture, being a voice for victims of trauma and political injustices. Art has always been her passion for many reasons, and she has turned that into a lifelong career and been a guiding force in her niche.

“The way that an artwork brings materials together is incredibly powerful. Sculpture is its materiality. I work with materials that are already charged with significance, with meaning they have required in the practice of everyday life…then, I work to the point where it becomes something else, where metamorphosis is reached.”

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doris_Salcedo

https://art21.org/artist/doris-salcedo/

https://art21.org/read/doris-salcedo-variations-on-brutality/

https://whitecube.com/artists/artist/doris_salcedo

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/doris-salcedo-2695

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/salcedo-unland-audible-in-the-mouth-t07523

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Amrita Sher Gil – The James Dean Effect

Amrita Sher Gil is one of the most impressive and the most gifted Indian artists of the pre-colonial era.

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India’s Revolutionary Artist

She is considered as a revolutionary woman artist and pioneer of modern art in India, and often referred to along with Frida Kahlo for aesthetically blending traditional and Western art forms.

She was born on January, 30, 1913 in Budapest, Hungary. Her mother Marie Antoniette Gottesmann was a Hungarian-Jewish opera singer, and her father Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia was a Sikh aristocrat and a Persian and Sanskrit scholar.

She developed an interest towards painting at her early childhood, by the time she was five. In 1921, Amrita’s family shifted from Hungary to the beautiful hill station of Shimla, due to financial problems.

amrita sher-gil

The young Amrita started to learn painting at the age of eight, trained under Major Whitmarsh and Beven Paterman.

A few years later, she joined a famous art school in Florence, Santa Annunziata, where she was exposed to the works of Italian artists, which furthered her interest in painting.

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Months later, Amrita and her mother returned to India.

Realizing Potential in Paris

In 1926, Amrita’s nephew Ervin Baktay, an Indologist aware of her amazing potential, played a crucial role in pushing her to pursue an artistic career.

At the age of 16, she went to Paris with her mother and started training under Pierre Vaillend and Lucien Simon at Grande Chaumiere, and received a formal education at the École des Beaux-Arts.

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She spent five years in Paris. It was a period of experimentation, and a period of exploring her own hybrid identity. Sher-Gil was fully aware of her exotic beauty, sometimes wearing western clothing, and sometimes wearing a sari.

During the initial stages of her career, her works were profoundly influenced by Western art, reflected academic style in which she was trained. It was the Western European idiom with its naturalism and textured application of paint.

In the early 1930s, many of her pieces included paintings of her Parisian life, still life studies, nude studies, portraits of her friends and fellow students, and the significant corpus of the self portraits, for which she is often considered as narcissistic by many.

The self portraits captured the artists in her many moods-pensive, joyous and obscure, while revealing a narcissistic line in her personality.

amrita sher gil

Pitiless Eye, Melancholic Soul

In 1932, she created The Young Girls: the two women- Amrita’s sister Indira sits on the left clothed in chic European style and a French friend Denise Proutaux partially undressed figure in the foreground.

The two women, one assured the other awkward with her face buried beneath streaming hair have been as personifying two different side of the artist herself.

Sher-Gil was the youngest and the only Asian artist to be elected as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. The painting was gained wide recognition and was awarded a Gold Medal at the Parisian Grand Salon in 1933.

One of Sher-Gil’s professor predicted that her works would make more sense in the East, judging by the rich colors that she usually used in her painting.

Sher-Gil created self-portraits that represented her grappling with her own identity. These paintings often reflected troubled and introvert woman caught between her Indian and Hungarian existence.

amrita sher gil self portrait

Gaugin’s Disciple

She was profoundly influenced by the simplified and symbolically charged paintings of Paul Gauguin. It became explicit in Self Portrait as Tahitian (1934), where Sher-Gil appear in a three-quarter profile naked to the waist, and looking beyond the frame of the picture.

Her body is depicted in Gauguin’s technique of the female nude with a distant, obscure expression of her face. She self-consciously plays on her status as the exotic other in Paris.

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In 1934, Sher-Gil returned to India in order to find a mode of delineation appropriate to her Indian subjects.

Decoding Indian Traditions

A few years later, 1937, in order to decode the traditions of Indian art she began her journey to the south India, a journey that shaped all her future work.

Sher-Gil was deeply moved by the plight of unprivileged people and common villagers; she explored the sadness felt by people, especially women, giving voice and validity to their experience.

It would reflect in her work South Indian Trilogy (Bride’s Toilet, Brahmacharis and South Indian Villagers Going to Market) are much different from the prevalent realist watercolor mode of Indian painting at that time.

Her artistic style and technique was indeed fairly unusual in India. Influenced by the wall painting of the Ajanta Caves, she attempted to fuse their aesthetics with the European oil painting techniques.

She had learnt to incorporate Indian traditions in her work and rediscovered her purpose in painting. Once she even wrote to a friend saying that Europe belongs to the artists such as Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse while India belongs to her.

Her artistic style was in marked contrast to that of her contemporaries in India – Nandalal Bose, Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Abanindranath Tagore, who belonged to the Bengal school, as the first modern movement of Indian art.

She considered the school retrograde and blamed it for the stagnation in Indian painting of that time.

self-portrait

In the following years, her work had a tremendous impact on Indian art. As an exceptional colorist, Sher-Gil was able to achieve special effects with colors that were bold and unbridled, in opposite to the pale hues in vogue among her contemporary colleagues. 

Some of the best examples of her work such as Village Scene, Siesta or In the Ladies’ Enclosure represented the poor state of women and other unprivileged people.

tribal women amrit sher gil paintings

Understanding

The painting Three Girls, from 1935, shows melancholic women wearing passive expressions; their solemn brown faces a contrast to the vibrant reds, ambers and greens of their clothing.

The mood is dispirited – the women are waiting for something they doubt will ever come along. Sher-Gil lived between worlds, between West and East, in searching for a sense of belonging.

So, she understood the emptiness and loneliness of those women, since their moods were a certain reflection of her own.

In 1941, Sher Gil moved to Lahore, an undivided part of India, where the art was appreciated at that time. In this phase of her life, she produced some of her most known painting such as Tahitian, Bride, Hill Scene and The Red Brick House.

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Living Free, Dying Young

Amrita Sher-Gil was a free spirit who led a somewhat careless life; she was bisexual and had numerous relationships.

Regarding her sexuality, her biographer Yashodhara Dalmia in Amrita-Sher-Gil: A Life (2006) wrote it was (partly) a result of her broad view of woman as a strong individual, liberated from the social conventions.

She formed an intimate friendship with the painter Marie Louise Chassany who was a fellow student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Some art critics believed her painting Two Women reflected their yearning for one another.

Sher-Gil saw marriage as a way to gain independence from her parents. In 1938, she married Dr. Victor Egan, her Hungarian first cousin, revealing afterward that she was pregnant; Dr Egan arranged for an abortion and performed it.

She was a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and central figure in Indian politics before and after independence. She never painted Nehru, as she stated he was ‘’too good looking to be painted’’.

In 1941, days before her first solo exhibition in Lahore, she became ill. A few months later, she died at the age of 28.

The real cause of her death was never ascertained. The cause was believed to be complications from a second abortion performed by her husband.  Her mother accused Dr Victor Egan, for her demise.

Her unfinished works reveal a move toward abstraction and incorporate richer colors that the colors seen in her previous paintings.

The artwork of Amrita Sher-Gil has been declared as National Art Treasures by the Government of India.

In 1978, India Post released a stamp of her ‘Hill Women’’. The Indian cultural center in Budapest has been named after her. The 100th anniversary of Amrita Sher-Gil’s birth was declared as the international year of Sher-Gil by UNESCO, in 2013.

The complexities of her life made her both, an outsider and insider, as did her ambivalent sexuality and identity-pushed her to constantly reinvent her artistic style and visual language.

She sought to adjust and reconcile her enthusiastic response to traditional art-historical resources with her modern sensibility.

Recommended Viewing on Amrita Sher-Gil:

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Still Lifes of Suzanne Valadon – Where No “Decent” Woman Would Tread

Much has been said on the nudes of Suzanne Valadon, and rightly so. Truly, they are wonderfully composed and naturally iconoclastic in nature.

Women. Real women portrayed in natural scenarios by other women was unheard of in the late 1800s and into the 1900s. Generally women did not tackle nudes at all; the powers that be fearing the practice would corrupt delicate souls.

Valadon, exempt from propriety due in part to humble birth and in other part her choice of tawdry career as an art model, was able to express herself in ways other women could or would not at the time. She was admitted into salons (where no “decent” woman would tread) and even found herself the first woman painter of Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (SNBA), in 1894.

Here she is pictured with her son, Maurice, in 1889.

All this is quite spectacular on its own, but I would like to leave the icon smashing and feminist critique behind for a short while. I’d even like to leave the entirety of her personal life behind. Today we will look at Valadon as a genderless painter of fruit and flowers. We will examine her still lifes and perhaps see the merit the SNBA saw when they chose to add her to the pantheon of art gods.

Bouquet de Roses dans un Obus, oil on card, 1913

One of my favourites, Suzanne places roses inside an obus (cannon shell). To the roses she gives definition with her characteristic heavy lines. To the obus, however, she uses soft short strokes.

This renders an object of war nothing more than a harmless vase. The placement of the object on a kitchen sill next to feminine lilac drapes annihilates the last bit of danger to the point that the obus loses its meaning entirely.

Even knowing what cannon shells of the period look like, a viewer would be hard pressed to identify it as such. Bordering on symbolist, she keeps the colours orthodox and avoids contrivance.

It is a balanced work that evokes a timely “Frenchness”, and a little titter at the tender emasculation of a phallic object (whoops, some feminist critique slipped in).


Untitled, oil on card, 1930

Speaking of timely Frenchness, what could be more delightfully 1930s French than a blue vase stuffed with roses? Never a servant of style, Valadon takes a more post impressionist (but not quite) look at these flowers.

Her beautiful built up highlights and shadows are made somehow more realistic by the presence of clear brushwork. The flowers are lit up from within.

Her choice of perspective is ever so slightly naïve, causing the vase to float, lending extra emphasis to it as a focal point. Objects in the background are arranged firmly in reality though, grounding the whole thing on what I’m sure was a wonderfully printed tablecloth.

Valadon painted many roses, tulips, orchids and the like, but her greatest still lifes often involved the honesty of circumstance her nudes had in spades as well.

A common basket of even commoner duck eggs waits quietly for the cook, nestled in straw. The stonework is alive with colour, both in light and shadow.

Valadon does not half paint even the most simple of highlights. The way the light falls over the eggs and onto the wall brings to mind an open door; perhaps the cook has come for these blue cast beauties at last.


Basket of Duck Eggs, oil on card, 1931

Nature Morte au Lièvre, Faisan et Pomme, oil on card, 1930

Pieces like, Still life with Hare, Pheasant and Apple, convince us of Suzanne’s sense of humour. An old hare dangles almost peacefully from hind legs drained and awaiting a competent cook to relieve it of its skin in one swift pull.

The young pheasant seems to be dreaming grand, worried dreams despite its questionable life status. Apples sit pertly on a plate, as if to rub in how alive they are; not knowing they all share the same fate.

A quick laugh is had at the idea of a “nature morte” of dead animals. It’s so on the nose if it weren’t for the sombre, reverent overtones this piece would risk vulgarity. As it stands though, in characteristic Valadon style, she goes just far enough.

We feel the ambivalence of the old hare, the tragedy of the young pheasant and the haughtiness of the apples. It mirrors truth, not to mention the sanctifying warmth pervading the scene is downright Fauvist.

Given her close ties with Ganguin, this is unsurprising. Suzanne’s emotional colour vocabulary is extremely developed across her still lifes and painted portraits.

So far the emphasis has been on her later, more developed works, but what of earlier material?


Nature morte au compotier de fruits, oil on card, 1917

Again, nearly symbolist in nature, this fruit bowl is absolutely uncommon. Her slight naivete of perspective keeps a sense of stuffy refinement far away from her popular and often grossly academic subject.

Colours, simply layered, build a juicy pear and living grapes. She bothers to paint the calyx of an upside down apple though. In fact, this composition is rife with luxurious, unnecessary details.

The brocade stripes of the wall cover, blue details on the china pedestal bowl and the delicately defined wicker table stand in sharp contrast to the relatively faceless fruit.

She forces the viewer to realize detail in objects she omitted it from. Like so many excellent paintings, it is what is left unpainted that is remarkable.

Remarkable works, Valadon has many. In her time she was a immensely popular and respected artist, though time can cruelly erase that which does not fit the appropriate narrative.

Suzanne, when she is mentioned at all, is mostly talked about in terms of being a revolutionary woman (she was) or being a woman in the den of great men (Ganguin, Cezanne, Latrec…).

Her life is often cast, if cast at all, in the red glow of bawdiness thanks to the childish puritanism of our modern world. This I think, though titillating, is unfair.

Her work shows a greatness of spirit and a delicacy of soul. She mastered the concepts of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’; played with humour and nuance.

Everything about her art suggests an actualized, inspired, aspiring mind. If anything, Valadon achieved in life what most artists only achieve in death.

The respect and admiration of her peers. It would be wonderful if she were appreciated in death the way she was lauded in life.

Let us quietly appreciate a grouping of more typical Valadon still lifes and see what Gauguin saw in a talented, young art model so many years ago.


Bouquet des Fleurs 1937

White Fruit Bowl undated

Roses dans une Verre 1937

Her confident lines are instantly recognizable as is her slightly off perspective. Even working with universal subjects, she manages to make every vignette intensely personal.

Her still lifes are as intimate, in my opinion, as her nudes and deserve as much notoriety in popular art critique beyond the French Riviera. Though, it must be said again, her nudes are extremely worthy of examination.


The Future Unveiled, 1912

So please, no more of this “Mistress and Muse of Montmartre” crap that appears in so much analysis of her. When it comes to Valadon there is plenty to talk about inside the frame.

Speculating on the woman more than the work does no one any favours and has constantly robbed the present of the honest presence of a brilliant artist. Suzanne Valadon; a Crown Jewel of Montmartre.

This is her rightful place and there she will live in my heart and mind forever.

Photo of Valadon, Photographer and date unknown


 

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Niki de Saint Phalle – Ready To Kill

In 1960 I was a very angry young woman. Angry at men and their power. I felt that they had robbed me of my own free space in which I could develop myself.
 
I wanted to conquer their world, to earn my own money. Angry with my parents who I felt had raised me for the marriage market. I wanted to show them that I was somebody, that I existed and that my voice and my scream of protest as a woman was important.
 
I was ready to kill.

Niki Saint Phalle’s unique brand of feminist art expressed both jouissance and angst in equal measure, and explored the complex and confounding ways in which biology and culture co-construct the female experience.

She was born on October, 29, 1930 to an aristocratic Catholic family as a second of five children; her father André was a wealthy French banker, and her mother Jacqueline Harper was an American, but raised in French.

Soon after her birth, facing with aftershocks of the Black Tuesday, the French wing of the Great Depression, the Saint Phalle’s lost their fortune; her father was forced to close his finance company and they moved to the United States.

From an early age, Niki pushed the boundaries in her personal and artistic life. She attended the prestigious Brearley School in New York, which she found to be a formative experience for her, and a place where she became a feminist.

However, she was expelled for painting the fig leaves covering the genitals of statues on the school’s campus red.

Coming of Age

When she was 18, Saint Phalle eloped with Harry Mathews, a person that she knew through her father.

Both of them were artistically inclined, oversensitive, overtly rebellious romantics, and they bounded together as such. While Mathews studied music at Harvard University, Saint Phalle began exploring painting, and gave birth to their daughter Laura in 1951, when she was 20 years old.

In 1952, the couple moved to Paris, where Mathews continued to study music, learning to become a conductor, while Niki studied theater to become an actress, and she was also modelling for Elle and Vogue.

The following year, Saint Phalle was diagnosed with a nervous breakdown, and hospitalized in a psychiatric facility.

At this point of her life, she had gone through a violent nervous breakdown, caused by the facts she had married young and somehow accepted the conservative values and the lifestyle of her family that she wanted to reject so badly.

Niki was first treated with a barbarous treatment, a series of electric shocks, but luckily, she ended up in the hands of a humane psychiatrist who restored her to mental health.

She was encouraged to paint as a form of therapy; somewhere in between the shocks and analysis, she began doing her first collages, and soon after that her first paintings.

They were so original and compelling, that her husband, following her energetic example, gave up all thoughts of a musician career and began writing for the first time since 1949.

The couple moved to Majorca off the coast of Spain, where their son Philip was born in 1955. During this time, Niki developed her imaginative, self-though style of painting, experimenting with a variety of materials and forms.

During the visit to Barcelona, she was stuck by the work of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi and his park Güell, which was instrumental in Niki’s early conceptualization of the elaborate sculpture garden she would fulfill much later in her career.

Saint Phalle’s art was also influenced by other various artists such as Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Jackson Pollock.

At the end of the 1950s, Niki and her husband moved back to Paris; in 1960, she divorced Mathews, giving him the custody of their children. She met artist Jean Tinguely, with whom she would collaborate artistically; within a year, they had began a romantic relationship, and eventually married in 1971.

Niki Saint Phalle’s first solo exhibition in 1961, punctuated a dynamic period of her early career and she met a number of influential artists living in Paris at that time, whose use of found objects was to have a strong influence on her work.

On show were several of her Shooting Paintings. They were made by fixing polythene bags of paint to a board, and covering them with a thick plaster surface. Viewers were invited to shoot a rifle at the surface, popping the bags and causing the paint to run down the textured white surface.

The process of creating the artwork became a live performative event done in the public eye, and with the public’s participation, challenging traditional perceptions of the artist as a hermetic figure. Shooting Paintings involve the viewer directly and physically in the creation of the work, and leave the resulting image to chance.

In this period, Saint Phalle’s artistic work had become a bold act of defiance, reclamation of space for herself, and for women. She started to articulate these ideas and combining them with other social and political issues‒ amidst an atmosphere of radical ideas, from civil rights, anti-war and anti-violence protests to campaigns for women’s rights and sexual liberation across the West.

Famous Works

The Crucifixion piece, from 1963, an abstracted female figure, is made from found objects and fixed on the flat surface of the wall. It partly resembles to the method of sculptural assemblage, a combination of collage and sculpture that brings in a third dimension by adding elements that project out of a planar, two-dimensional surface.

The work responds to the genre-blending of mid-century abstraction and expresses Saint Phalle’s attitude towards the female condition, which she saw as a highly ambiguous and contentious state.

The figure comprises together suggestions and formal elements of the constructed, biological-cultural stages of womanhood: youthful and sexualized, maternal and abundant, elderly and confined.

The figure has no arms, indicating a lack of female agency and disempowerment within a society that strongly delineates woman’s roles in accordance with diminishing reproductive capacity.

Her most famous and prolific series of works, the Nanas, were inspired by a friend’s pregnancy, her reflections on archetypal feminine forms, and the vexed positions that women occupy in modern, patriarchal societies.

‘Nanas’, a French slang word roughly equivalent to ‘broads’, is a title that encapsulates the theme of the everywoman as well as the casual denigration that closely accompanies the rhetorical grouping of women as a social category.

The Black Venus (1965-67), a large-scale sculpture presents a non-traditional view of the goddess figure and does not conform to the stereotypes of female beauty established by Western classical art, and does not recall sculptural goddess form of the Ancient Western world.

Instead, the figure is large-limbed, black-skinned, actively in motion, and adorned in a colorful, cartoonish bathing costume.

In 1966, she collaborated with Tinguely and Olof Ultvedt on a project for Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. The trio created a large installation Hon-A Cathedral, the largest nana figure; the installation provoked a strong reaction from the public.

It is a large-scale sculptural work which viewers could enter from the vaginal opening, and could hold up to 150 people at a time. ‘Hon’ is the Swedish word for ‘she’, implying that the sculpture is both a symbol for the every-woman and a cathedral-like space for the worship of woman and femininity.

Its structure references classical architectural theories about the entrance to cathedrals and their metaphoric and symbolic relationship to female genitalia. The feature also presents the woman’s body as a place of exchange and creation, a generative space of new life by way of its exit.

That was also the period when Niki worked on Le Paradis Fantastique, a commission for the French Pavilion at Expo Montreal, Canada in 1967.

While she was working on this project with Tinguely, St Phalle’s lungs were severely damaged by polyester resin toxic fumes. Her favorite material, polyester, was the cause of her recurring health problems.

During the early 1970s, she spent some time in the Swiss mountains recuperating from a serious lung illness. In Swiss, Niki met childhood friend, Marella Caracciolo Agnelli who was a well-connected socialite with a penchant for collecting art.

Saint Phelle told her about her vision of creating elaborating sculpture garden of Tarot symbology. With Agnelli’s help, she acquired a parcel in Tuscany, Italy. In 1978, the foundations were laid, and two years later, the construction of the first sculpture began;

The Empress, an enormous sculptural building designed in the shaped of a sphinx, became her home and studio for the next decade.

Elaborately decorated with mosaics and ceramics on the outside and Venetian glass on the inside, the work maintains the aesthetic of assemblage used in many of her earlier works.

Niki spent many years completely immersed in the creation of her dream place. After nearly 20 years of intensive work, financial and health problems, the garden was opened in 1998. It contained vibrant mosaics and colossal sculptures, based on the Tarot cards symbols.

Tarot is an ancient, venerable set of cards, with picture representations of archetypal, elementary situations upon them. They described existential, human experiences and psychic states. Saint Phalle was deeply convinced that the cards have a considerable meaning.

She saw the Tarot Garden as a site which crosses boundaries into the religious and where everyone is potentially able to have a direct experience of the archetypal content of the Tarot.

The idea came from Antonio Gaudi’s Park Guell, but the garden became much more than a simple variation on Gaudi’s concept. It was her absolute, on-going concern, and a deep, captivating theme for life.

Jean Tinguely died in Switzerland, 1991, and Saint Phalle began to make a series of kinetic sculptures, his chief sculptural medium, to honor his memory.

The Grotto

The Grotto, Hanover (2001-2003), the final instalment in a series of semi-architectural works accessible to public is the last project Saint Phalle worked on before her death.

This particular cave was originally built in the baroque style in 1676 as a place for members of the Hanover court to escape the heat.

Niki was invited to turn the space into an immersive art environment; she created a design in response to the formal qualities of the existing architecture, and maintained the original function of the Grotto.

Grotto consists of three rooms, each decorated in different style. The central room’s (‘Spirituality’) walls feature a spiral of yellow, gold and orange mosaic pieces made of glass and ceramics, along with river pebbles and seashells.

The room on the right is set against a field of dark cobalt blue, inspired by the work of Henri Matisse.

The final room is bright and full of silver shards of mirrors, creating an impression of continuous daylight inside the dark cave. The room features sculptural figures in a range of styles from across Niki’s career, acting as a form of retrospection of her oeuvre.

Death

Niki Saint Phalle died on May, 21, 2002, after six months in intensive care in La Jolla, California. Her death was caused by emphysema, a chronic obstructive lung disease.

Saint Phalle continually disrupted long-held conventions in art; her iconoclastic approach to her identity and society at large made her an early and important voice to both the development of early conceptual art and the feminist movement.

Her work often combined plastic art and performance in new ways, blending and dismantling hierarchies between sculpture, painting and performance in a way that would influence conceptual artists and their thinking toward developing new and hybrid forms rather than refining single-medium-specificity.

 

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Impressionism – Paving the Way for Modern Art

As a first distinctly modern movement in painting, Impressionism emerged in Paris in 1860s, and the end developed chiefly in France during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Gustave Courbet and the Realist movement first confronted the official Parisian art establishment in the middle of the nineteenth century. The French were ruled by oppressive regime and much of the people were in the throes of poverty.

The art of that time concentrated on idealized nudes and glorious depiction of the nature, and other works of realism. Courbet though that art closed its eyes on realities of life.

In his protest, he financed a bold act, an exhibition of his work, right opposite the Universal Exposition in Paris of 1855, which led to the emergence of future artists.

Salon de Refusés

The same year, 1855, Salon de Refusés / Salon of the Refused was formed in order to allow the exhibition of works by artists who had previously been refused entrance to the official Parisian Salon, the annual, state-sponsored exhibition juried by members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

The 1863 Salon de Refusés exhibition caused a scandal, due to the unconventional styles and themes of works such as Manet’s Le déjouner sur l’herbe (1863).

The painting depicts the picnic of two fully clothed men and two nude women, defies the tradition of the idealized female subject of Neoclassicism in the positioning of the woman on the left who gazes frankly out at the viewer.

Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet was one of the first and most important innovators who emerged in the art scene in Paris.

By the late 1860s, Manet’s art reflected a new aesthetic – which was to be a guiding force in Impressionist work- in which the importance of the traditional subject matters was downgraded and attention was shifted to the artist’s manipulation of color, tone and texture as ends in themselves.

He incorporated an innovative, looser painting style and brighter palette focusing on images of everyday life, such as scenes in cafés, boudoirs and out in the street.

His anti-academic style and modern subject matters attracted the attention of the artists on the fringes and influenced a new type of painting that would diverge from the standards of the official salon.

Societé Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteures, Graveurs etc.

In 1874, a group of artists known as the “Societé Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteures, Graveurs etc.”/ the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers etc., mounted an alternative exhibition in Paris that would bring about radical break from artistic conventions and launch one of the most popular movement in the history of art.

All the artists had very limited success financially and had few works accepted in the salon exhibitions in Parisian art scene.

Displaying their works in a vacant former artist’s studio, outside the confines of the famous Salon, the Impressionists presented canvases depicting quiet landscapes, scenes of everyday life, full of loose, expressive brushwork to represent fleeting effects of atmosphere and light.
 
In that time, these paintings represented something akin to a revolution in the art world.

 

Radical Shifts

Eschewing both the subject matters and technique of their predecessors, the Impressionists demonstrated that contemporary life required a new language to represent the radical shifts taking place in Parisian society.

The critics responded with both awe and horror; conservative critics denounced the unfinished, sketch-like quality of their paintings, while more progressive ones welcomed their innovative depictions of modern life.

The movement gained its name after the hostile French critic Louise Leroy reviewing the first major exhibition of 1874, seized on the title of Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise (1873), and accused the group of painting nothing but impressions.

The moniker was embraced by the group, but they also referred to themselves as the ‘’Independents’’, referring to the submissive principles of the Société des Artistes Indépendents’’ and the group’s efforts to detach itself from academic artistic conventions.

Age of the Impressionists

At that time, there were many ideas of what constituted modernity. Scientific thought was beginning to recognize that what the eye perceived and what the brain understood were two different things.

The Impressionists sought to capture the optical effects of light to convey the passage of time, changes in weather and shifts in atmosphere; a split second of life, a sensory effect of a scene – the impression, an ephemeral moment in time on canvas.
 
Their art did not necessarily rely on realistic depictions.

 

Monet

Probably the most celebrated of the Impressionists, Claude Monet, was renowned for his mastery of natural light, painted at different times of day in order to capture changing conditions.

He tended to paint simple impressions or subtle hints of his subjects using very soft brushstrokes and pure, unmixed colors to create a natural vibrating effect.

His ‘’wet on wet’ technique produced softer edges and blurred boundaries that merely suggested a three-dimensional plain, rather than depicting it realistically.

His Vetheuil in the Fog from 1879 is among his finest works, offering a subtle and distinct impression of a figural form. He applied his brush rather quickly to the canvas in order to capture the exact image he wanted before the sunlight shifted or faded away altogether.

This emphasis on the fleeting changes in the natural world was a central aspect of his oeuvre that captures the ephemerality of nature and preserves it within the picture plane.

Monet’s technique of painting outdoors, known as plein air painting, inherited from the landscape painters of the Barbizon School, was practiced widely among impressionists, leading to innovations in the representation of sunlight and the passage of time, which were two central motifs of Impressionism.

Degas

As a highly skilled draftsman and portraitist, Edgar Degas preferred indoor scenes of modern life such as musicians in an orchestra pit, people sitting in cafés, ballet dancers, delineating his forms with greater clarity using harder lines and thicker brush strokes.

L’Absinthe from 1876, by Degas represents a dour scene of two lonely individuals sitting in a café communicates a sense of isolation, even degradation, as they have nothing better to do in the middle of the day.

Degas heavily handled paint further communicates the emotional burden or intense boredom of his subjects. This painting, as well as his other works, alludes to the oppressive atmosphere of the city and the psychological ennui of its inhabitants.

Renoir

Other artists focused on the figure and the internal psychology of the individual.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir depicted the daily activities of individuals from his neighborhood of Montmartre and portrayed the social pastimes of Parisian life, emphasizing the emotional attributes of his subjects, using vibrant, saturated colors, light and loose brushwork to highlight the human form.

In Girl with a Hoop from 1885, Renoir developed a new style he dubbed ‘’aigre’’ (sour), in which he applied thick, elongated brushstrokes complemented by hard lines to portray the young girl in the foreground.

This painting evokes the distinctly carefree mood of much of his work; he focused on representation of leisure activities and female beauty, asserting his disregard for subjects of an overtly critical nature.

Morisot

Berthe Morisot was the first woman to exhibit with the Impressionists. She made rich compositions that highlighted the internal, personal sphere of feminine society, emphasizing the maternal bond between mother and child in her paintings.

Her work, “In a Park”, from 1874, Morisot combines the elements of figurations with representation of nature in this serene family portrait set in a bucolic garden.

In this quiet image of family life, she centered on the maternal bond between child and mother; her loose handling of pastels, a medium embraced by the Impressionists, and visible application of color and form were central characteristic of her oeuvre.

Together with Marie Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and Eva Gonzales, she was considered one of the four central female figures of the movement.

Cassatt

Mary Cassatt depicted a private sphere of the home, but also represented the woman in the public spaces of the newly modernized city.

Her work features a number of innovations, including reduction of three-dimensional space and the application of bright, even garish colors in her painting both of which heralded later developments in modern art.

In her work, “At the Opera” from 1880, she depicts the Palais Garnier of the Paris Opera, which was opened in 1875, and served as a focal point for the city’s social life.

The opera, as the painting demonstrates, was not only a site for culture and entertainment, but also for seeing and being seen. The woman’s binoculars are echoed in the man’s binoculars, across the concert hall, directed at her.

Read our in depth article, “Mary Cassatt – Famous Women Artists in History”

Caillebotte

The themes of urbanity are depicted in the work of Gustave Caillebotte, a later proponent of the movement, who focused on panoramic views of the city and the psychology of its citizens.

More realistic in style than other impressionists, Caillebotte’s images depict the artist’s reaction to the changing nature of modern society, showing a flaneur – an idler or lounger who roamed the public spaces of the city in order observe, yet remaining detached from the crowd, in his characteristic black coat and top hat, strolling through the open space of the boulevard while gazing at passersby.

“Paris Street, Rainy Day” from 1877, shows this tendency within his work, through the depiction of the typical urban scene; the panoramic view of the rain-drizzled boulevard presents the newly renovated metropolis, while the anonymous figures in the background emphasize the alienation of the individual within the city.

The painting centers on the apathetic gaze of the male figure, who epitomizes the cool detachment of the flaneur.

Also, his work, as well as the works by Pissaro, emphasized the geometrical arrangement of public space through the careful delineation of trees, buildings, and streets.

By applying crude brushstrokes and impressionistic streaks of color, they evoke the rapid tempo of modern life as a central facet of the late-nineteenth- century urban society.

Unravelling

The Impressionists proved to be a diverse group, but they came together regularly to discuss their work and exhibit. Between 1874 and 1886 the group collaborated on eight exhibitions while slowly beginning to unravel.

Many of the artists felt they had mastered the early, experimental styles that had won them attention and wanted to move on to explore other avenues. Others, anxious about the commercial failure of their works, changed course.

Although the last Impressionist exhibition was held in 1886, the movement remains one of the most popular in the history of Western art.

Considered by many to be the first avant-garde movement of the Modernism, Impressionism served as a springboard for many artistic movements of the twenty century.

Cézanne

If Manet bridged the gap between Realism and Impressionism, then Paul Cézanne was the first artist who bridged the gap between Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.

Cézanne learned much from Impressionist technique, but he evolved a more deliberate style of paint handling and a closer attention to the structure of the forms that his broad, repetitive brushstrokes depicted.

He wished to break down objects into their basic geometric constituents and depict their essential building blocks, and this experiment would prove to be highly influential for the development of Cubism and Fauvism.

Conclusion

As Philip Guston once described Abstract Expressionism as a latter-day ‘American Impressionism’; the surface quality, suggestion of light and ‘’all-over’’ treatment of form in Jackson Pollock’s work, all point to the work of Claude Monet.

Although there are many avant-garde movements that did not take stylistic inspiration from the Impressionists, the group’s rejection of an established, state-sponsored style served as a model for similarly independent exhibition groups throughout Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Wienna Secession or Die Brücke in Germany.

 

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My Top 10 Best Contemporary Photographers

Photography is about a single point of a moment. It’s like stopping time. As everything gets condensed in that forced instant. But if you keep creating these points, they form a line which reflects your life.

-Nobuyoshi Araki

Photography is a medium of contradictions. It is both ridiculously easily and almost impossibly difficult. Being able to see things is easy, as we need only open our eyes for stimuli to enter, but being able to capture a very specific and meaningful moment is the difficult part.

A good photo is comprised of many things, not only one must hit the shutter at the right moment in time, but the composition, color coordination, light and perspective play a significant role too.

A photographer is an editor of reality in trying to make sense of reality; he tries to distill the essence of his subject- a scene, feeling or persona, into a single, two-dimensional image.

The work of all photograph artists is about the nature of the photographic-the making of the images, rather than the taking of a photograph. As with much conceptual art, the process seems to be as important as the end result.

We’ve listed Top 10 Contemporary Photographers who are known for their passion, dedication and style. 

Table of Contents:

Let’s go!


Annie Leibovitz

The legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz is probably the most well-known and well-respected living American photographer.

Annie Leibovitz began her career as a photojournalist for Rolling Stone magazine in 1970, and was the first woman to be named chief photographer at Rolling Stone at her early age of 24.

In 1983, she joined the staff of Vanity Fair magazine and Vogue afterwards, where, over four decades, she has developed a large body of work- dramatic, quirky and iconic portraits of actors, musicians, athletes, writers, business and political figures, offering a collective portrait of contemporary art.

Her signature style is crisp, well lighted and perfectly tailored to these celebrity-fuelled times.

Visit Annie Leibovitz on Facebook

Leibovitz deliberately conceals her subjects behind concept and costume; celebrities become sculptures or theatrical players. Her interest is not in the unguarded moment, but the staged moment; not the inner life, but the outer life.

She has been designated a Living Legend by the U.S. Library of Congress and has received many honors including The American Society of Magazine Editors’ first Creative Excellence Award, the International Center of Photography’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Centenary Medal of the Royal Photographic Society in London.

Read our full article on Annie Leibovitz here

Up next, Lee Jeffries…


Lee Jeffries

Jeffries is a self-taught and self-founded photographer based in Manchester, England. His striking series of black-and-white portraits of homeless women and men has surprised the insular photography world.

His subjects came from London, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, New York and other urban areas whom he gets to know by living rough with them; the relationship between them enabling him to capture authenticity and intimacy in his portraits.

Jeffries takes close-up head shots on his subjects, capturing the emotional expression of those who are often invisible to a majority of the population. He uses light and shadow in a religious way, and his images have been described as ‘religious iconography’.

Visit Lee Jeffries’ official website here

Lee has also been on a mission to raise awareness of, and founds for, the homeless. He has published two acclaimed fund-raising books,

Homeless and Lost Angeles and donated thousands of pounds of his own money to help those he photographs.

He has taken the gold, silver and bronze titles in the annual Amateur Photographer magazine competition over the last three years, but despite the recent recognition his work continues to be self-funded.

Up next, Timothy Hogan…


Timothy Hogan

American photographer Timothy Hogan is award-wining photographer well-known for his lighting mastery, craftsmanship and uniquely precise still-life images.

Over twenty years he shoots for international brands and advertising agencies in the beverage, technology, beauty, fashion fragrance and design industries including Chanel, Calvin Klein, Budweiser, Target, Tommy Hilfiger, Visa among numerous other companies.

His photographs integrate his impeccable eye for design, the California lifestyle with his passion of surfing and exploration.

Visit Timothy’s official website here

Creative and inventive since childhood, Timothy’s history of taking things apart yields a unique ability to create elegant solutions to even the most complex image request.

His work can be dramatic and his images filled with a wealth of symbols and a vivid play of lighting and colors.

He keeps things creative but takes a craftsman’s approach to setting up the shoot; this, coupled with support from the best producers, retouchers and studios, allow Timothy to produce incredible results in photography in the high-pressure advertising world.

Hogan is one of two Hasselblad Ambassadors in the U.S. with work featured in Communication Arts, Graphics, Victor by Hasselblad and many other publications all over the world.

Read our feature article, Timothy Hogan – When Art and Commerce Collide

Up next, Réhahn Croqueville…


Réhahn Croqueville

A French born photographer based in Hoi An, central Vietnam, Réhahn Croqueville is particularly known for his portraits of Vietnam, India and Cuba.

His passion for photographic art started a crescendo line after his first journeying to the northern regions of the Vietnam making his way down; he published his first book ‘Vietnam, Mosaic of Contrast in January 2014.

It aims to show Vietnam in a natural and spontaneous light. By capturing images of these exceptionally contrasting cultures of Vietnam, he has witnessed the complex diversity and fragility of some ethnic groups’ cultural heritage.

Collecting their traditional costumes and artifacts, he has built up the Precious Heritage Collection, which is now the core of the Art Gallery Museum in Hoi An, central Vietnam.

Réhahn was described as the photographer ‘who captures the soul of his models’; his photos is the random and natural moment, of which he captures when spending his time with his subjects.

Réhahn collaborates with BBC, Travel Live, Conde Nast Traveler, The Times, National Geographic, among others top media, on a regular basis for the purchase of his photos.

Visit Rehahn’s official website here

He is very active on social networks and today he is one of the most featured photographers of the last five years, having amassed a serious following.

Read our article, “Réhahn Croquevielle – Making It Personal

Up next, Steve McCurry…


Steve McCurry

Documentary photographer and storyteller Steve McCurry is one of the iconic figures in contemporary photography for almost forty years, best known for his evocative color photography.

His work spans conflicts, ancient traditions and contemporary culture from six continents and countless countries capturing the essence of human struggle and joy.

McCurry has covered many areas of civil and international conflict, including, Pakistan, Beirut, Cambodia, the Philippines, the Gulf War, the former Yugoslavia, Tibet and Afghanistan.

He focuses on the human consequences of war, not only showing what war impresses on the landscape, but rather, on the human face.

Visit Steve McCurry’s website here

His work has been featured in every major magazine in the world; a high point in McCurry’s career was the rediscovery of the previously unidentified Afghan refugee girl that many have described as the most recognizable photograph in the world today.

McCurry has received some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, including Robert Capa Gold Medal, four first prize awards from the World Press Photo contest, Olivier Rebbot Award, and a Centenary Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Royal Photographic Society in London.

Read our full article, “Steve McCurry – Revealing The World’s True Colours


Jason M. Peterson

As the Chief Creative Officer for Havas North America, Jason M. Peterson’s work in advertising impacted his photography enhancing his ability to tell a story through monochromatic imagery.

From stunning cityscapes to candid street photography, Peterson aims to evoke emotion through his work. His work is moody, but crisp and clear. He works with shadows, lines and angles to draw out unique forms within composition.

His photographs, juxtaposing urban architecture with human silhouettes have a bold, graphic quality that is immediately recognizable.

Visit Jason Peterson’s Instagram here

The Chicago based photographer has been taking pictures for over 25 years, but recently started sharing his work widely; his alluring black and white photos have earned him an unparalleled 1 million followers on Instagram.

Read our feature article, Jason M. Peterson – High Contrast Hustler


Joe McNally

Joe McNally is a long-time photojournalist and internationally acclaimed American photographer.

Although the majority of his career has been spent shooting for magazines, such as National Geographic, Time or Sport Illustrated during the 90s, McNally served as Life magazine’s staff photographer, the first one in 23 years.

The photographer is known for his ability to produce technically and logistically complex assignments with expert use of light and colour, but his charming demeanour, humour and confidence make him a sought-after choice from CEO’s to celebrities to commercial and magazine clients alike.

Visit Joe McNally’s official website here

He is one of the rare photographers who have bridged the world between advertising and photojournalism. One of McNally’s most notable projects, Faces of Ground Zero, has become known as one of the most significant responses to the tragedy at the World Trade Center.

McNally’s impressive marketing, advertising and promotional work has amassed the top-rated clients including FedEx, Adidas, Bogen, American Ballet Theatre, Nixon, Sony, General Electric, Epson, New York Stock Exchange, MetLife, Beijing Cultural Commission, and so on.

Up next, Boogie (Vladimir Milivojevich)…


Boogie (Vladimir Milivojevich)

Serbian photographer Vladimir Milivojevich, well-known as Boogie, is considered as ’one of the most influential photographers of street culture in the new millennium’.

Since his first book “It’s All Good” published by PowerHouse in 2006, Boogie has been granting his audience with rare access into a world defined by poverty, violence and disarray. His pictures of heroin addicts and gang members were pretty shocking at times.

The streets of the world are his playground. Rarely romanticizing the origin of intent behind his work, Boogie’s intimate images offer a vivid portrait of metropolitan cities around the world.

From Belgrade to Brooklyn he is a dedicated documentarian of street culture; according his own world, he isn’t trying to change the world just document it honestly. He captures human fragility with sensitivity, while his straightforward compositions submerge us into the bleak reality of the time.

Visit boogie’s official website here

Boogie has also shot commercial work for various clients including Nike, Lee jeans, Puma, Element skateboards and HBO and his work was appeared in numerous publication from New York Times to even Playboy. He’s had six book published so far.

Read our feature article, Boogie – Showing the Dark Side of Street Life

Up next, Tomasz Gudzowaty…


Tomasz Gudzowaty

Tomas Gudzowaty is a Polish documentary filmmaker, portrait and art photographer based in Warsaw who began his career with nature photography, and eventually turning to social documentary and sports photography.

For the past few years, Gudzowaty has resolved to focus on sport-related issues grounded in an idea of a long- standing project in which he aims to show dynamic images of people of all ages involved in sports.

Gudzowaty has made a name for himself documenting popular sports in far corners of the world, which depict a rare blend of modernity and tradition in global cultures.

Visit Tomasz’s official website here

He is particularly interested in atypical, non-commercial sports, outside the media mainstream such as sage yogis in India, amateur drag racers in Mexico, child polo players in Mongolia, Japanese sumo wrestler.

The Sport Features’s photographs series depicts a striking humanity, as if delving deep into each individual personality.

His works have been published in mainstream publications including The Guardian, Newsweek, Time, Photo, L’Equipe; he has exhibited worldwide and published several photo books.

As a multiple winner of the profession’s premier contests, he gained international recognition; some of these awards include Pictures of the Year, NPPA Best of Photojournalism and World Press Photo award.

Read our article, “Tomasz Gudzowaty – Iron & Sinew


Nobuyoshi Araki

If Araki is known for one thing in particular, then it his highly sexual and controversial black and white photography.

Throughout a prolific career, Tokyo-born photographer Nobuyoshi Araki has delved perhaps further that any other Japanese photographer into the themes surrounding death, sex, domination and Tokyo street scenes.

His work over a 48-year span has seen him publish more than 450 photobooks tackling a variety of subjects such as prostitution, sadomasochism, love and intimacy.

The ideas of submission, control and eroticism that are found in Kinbaku-bi, the Japanese art of rope-tying, make it the most alluring of subject matters for Araki, and the practice of depicting women in these positions has been an obsession of his throughout his career.

One of Japan’s most fearless photographers the 78-old’s skill behind the camera is still very much in demand.

His personal and sometimes voyeuristic photographs have sparked much controversy, but his graphics use of imagery has been an instrumental force in breaking taboos surrounding nudity in modern Japanese culture.

Visit Nobuyoshi Araki on Artsy

Born in Tokyo in 1940, Nobuyoshi Araki has been active in publishing, photography and filmmaking since his first solo exhibition in 1965 in Japan. Some 400 books about Araki and his work have been published to date, a testament to his prolific output and energy.

Read our full article on Nobuyoshi Araki


Conclusion

Thank you for reading this article.  If you disagree or think that someone was glaringly missed, please let me know.  I love to hear peoples’ thoughts.

Of course, like all lists, this one too is subjective and simply based on what I’ve seen and what I appreciate.  I do think, however, that much like any other kind of artist, a great photograph taken by someone with the right eyes can make your average person stop and take stock of their own situation, and perhaps think of things in a different way.

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Marina Abramovic – Death Toll Rising

“Once, Picasso was asked what his painting meant. He said, ‘Do you ever know what the birds are singing? You don’t. But you listen to them anyway.’ So, sometimes with art, it is important just to look.”

Towards the late 1950’s, Abstract expressionism began losing impetus, and many artists across the world, especially in America and Europe, embraced performance art. In that context, Marina Abramovic’s work is typical of the ritualistic strain in the 1960’s performance art, and very often involves putting herself in grave danger and performing lengthy, harmful routine that result in her being burnt or cut, or enduring some privation.
 
Her work might be interpreted as having displaced art from traditional media, as she moved it straight onto her body.

Background

Marina Abramovic was born on November, 30, 1946 in Belgrade, the capital of what was than Yugoslavia to an affluent family with politically active parents. Vojin and Danica Abramovic were Yugoslav partisans during World War II, and continue their engagement in General Tito’s communist party.
 
They were awarded high positions in the public sector for their contribution during the war; her mother became head of the Museum of Art and the Revolution in Belgrade, and her father worked with state security and was in the Marshal’s elite guard.

Marina’s relations with her mother were always fought. Her mother took strict control of eighteens-years-old Marina and her younger brother Velimir; under her mother’s strict supervision, she experienced life as difficult and cold. Although her mother was traditional, difficult and sometimes violent, she supported her daughter’s interest in art, encouraging her to express herself creatively through drawing and painting and at twelve was given her own studio at home.

Marina, age 5, in Belgrade
Marina, Age 5, Belgrade

Body Art & The Rhythm Series

Marina studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, from 1965 to 1970; during this period her earlier figurative expressions became increasingly abstract. During her further studies at Krsto Hegedusic’s studio and at Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, from 1970 to 1973, she began to use her body as a tool in her art, creating performative art pieces, creating sound installations, but moving towards works that directly involved the body.
 
In this period Abramovic spent most of her time at the SKC, Studentski Kulturni Centar, a cultural center in Belgrade, where she met young conceptual artists such as Rasa Popovic, Nesa Paripovic and Rasa Teodosijevic.

In 1973, Abramovic met the artist Joseph Beuys in Edinburgh and later that year at the Cultural Center in Belgrade. His happenings made a strong impression on Marina and greatly influenced her work. The same year, she enacted the performance piece Rhythm 10 at Vila Borghese, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Rome.
 
This piece is the first of the five performances in The Rhythm Series, in which she explored the limits of her body and consciousness.

On the Rhythm 10, she used a series of 20 knives to stab at the spaces between her outstretched fingers. In the process, every time she pierced her skin, she used another knife from those carefully laid out in front of her.
 
Halfway through, she began to play a recording of the first-half of the hour long performance, using the rhythmic beat of the knives striking the floor, and her hand, to repeat the movements, cutting herself at the same time.
 
She understood that drawing on the audience’s energy drove her performance, which was marked in this piece, and this aspect became an important concept informing much of her later work.

Viewing both performance and art as reaching beyond the realm of awareness, Marina has created performances in which she sleeps or becomes drugged into unconsciousness to examine this aspect of life; she used performance to push her mental and physical limits beyond consciousness.

For instance, in Rhythm 5, 1974, she created a star shape with wood shavings covered in gasoline and lit the wood on fire. After cutting her hair and nails and than dropping them into the fire, she lay down within the burning star, a symbol of Communism in Yugoslavia, as well as a symbol of the occult.
 
During this performance, audience members realized her clothes were on fire and she had lost her consciousness due to the lack of oxygen they pulled her out, and the performance was ended.

 

Pushing the limits further, in the performance piece entitled Rhythm 0, with a description reading ‘During this period I take full responsibility’ and ‘I am the object’ Marina invited participants to use any of 72 objects on her body in any way, they desired, completely giving up control.
 
Those 72 objects included a feather, pen, saw, lipsticks, book, band-aid, rose, salt, gun, paint, bullet, scissors etc. The audience divided itself into those who tried to protect her wiping away her tears, and those who sought to harm Abramovic, holding the loaded gun to her head, and.
 
Eventually, after she stood motionless for six hours, the protective audience participants insisted the performance be stopped, seeing that others were becoming extremely violent.

This piece was an example of Abramovic’s belief that confronting exhaustion and physical pain was important in making a person absolutely present and aware of her/his self. The work is also reflected her intention to include the spectators in the process; her interest in performance art was to transform both the performer and the audience, as the participants in the show.

She said that the inspiration for such work came from both her experience of growing up under Tito’s Communist dictatorship, and of her relationship with her mother. Her work in Yugoslavia was much about rebellion, not against just the family structure but the social structure and the structure of the system there; she was trying to overcome these kinds of limits.

1975 and on

These pioneering works were created at the time when performance art was still a new emerging art form in Europe, and she had little knowledge of performance being outside Yugoslavia.

In 1975, in Amsterdam, Abramovic met the German-born artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen, known as Ulay. He was a son of a Nazi soldier, born in 1943, in a bomb shelter in Solingen, an industrial city in Westphalia, Germany.
 
By fifteen, he had been orphaned, and was fending for himself. Marina met him on November, 30
th in 1975 in Amsterdam and their chemistry was immediate. According to her words, when she back to Belgrade, she got so lovesick that she couldn’t move or talk.
 
At the time, she was married to a former fellow-student from the Belgrade Academy of Fine Arts, but it was an oddly slack union; both spouses still lived with their parents. A few months later, Marina ran away in Amsterdam, at twenty-nine, to rejoin Ulay, her soul mate.

Ulay and Abramovic made art for twelve nomadic years, from 1976 to 1988, the two were artistic collaborations and lovers. Amsterdam was their base, but their home on the road, on Europe was a black Citroën van, which figured in their symbiotic work in performance of ideal couplehood.
 
They also lived in India’s Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and with Australian Aborigines, and spending some time in Sahara, Gobi and Thar deserts.

They performed their works in gallery spaces, mostly in Europe; some of their best known works included Imponderabilia, from 1977; it included a naked couple planted like caryatids on either side of a narrow doorway at the entrance to a gallery, they backs to a frame.
 
Everyone who entered had to sidle past them, deciding which body to face.

Also, Breathing in/ Breathing out, 1977, in which they inhaled and exhaled from each other mouths until they almost suffocated. The performance named Rest Energy, from 1980, a highly intense piece that revealed the fragility of the line between death and life; it was only four minutes and ten seconds long.
 
Ulay and Abramovic faced each other, aiming an arrow a tense bow, just inches from her heart. They placed small microphones on their chests in order to make audible their increasingly rapid heartbeats in response to the growing danger.

Opposite Directions

When Marina and Ulay decided to end their relationship, they embarked on their last performance on March, 30, 1988, The Lovers; the walking along the Great Wall of China. Abramovic walked from the Shanhai Pass at the wall’s east end, Ulay walked in a opposite direction, from the wall’s western end near the Gobi Desert. After ninety days, they met and reunion marked a definitive end to their romantic relationship, as well as the twelve-year long artistic collaboration.
 
Their union was much battered and repaired, though it ultimately couldn’t survive the demands of such intense proximity or a discrepancy in ambition.

Since that point, they have had very little contact with each other, both proceeding independently with their own artistic career.

Marina returned to independent work and making it both solo as well as with artistic collaborators. In this period, she worked increasingly with video and sculpture; Transitory Objects for Human and Non-Human Use, which comprise objects meant to incite audience interaction and participation.

Blood and Bones

During the 1990s as a respectable performance artist Marina Abramovic taught at the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the Hochschule der Kunste in Berlin, as well as Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Hamburg and at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Braunschweig in Germany.

In 1997, Abramovic was invited to represent Serbia and Montenegro at the Yugoslavian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. But, she broke off the collaboration after a conflict with the Montenegrin minister of culture. However, the performance piece Balkan Baroque was shown instead at the Italian pavilion, where it caused a stir.
 
She was awarded the Golden Lion prize for Best Artist of the Biennale.

The Balkan Baroque piece was created in response to the innumerable deaths that had taken place in the former Yugoslavia. In this performance, Marina spent four days, six hours a day, sitting on top of 1,500 cow bones in a white dress, washing each of these bloody bones, surrounded by projected images of her parents and herself.

The accompanying sound included her recorded description of methods used in Balkans for killing rats and her singing of her native folksongs. The performance progression was made visceral due to the fetid smell and unbearable heat of the basement room.
 
For the artist, it was not enough to simply recount the number of people lost in modern-day wars in Balkans. She aimed to remember the lives, hopes and efforts of individuals killed by carefully touching and cleaning ‘their’ physical blood and bones.
 
The comparison between the inability to scrub all the blood and the inability to erase the shame of was is a concept that Abramovic viewed as having universal reach.

 

 

Butcher Knives Ladder

In the early 1970s, while many artists made very little effort to capture, or document, their performances on video. They felt that the true performance could never be repeated.Marina Abramovic has since argued for the importance of continuing the life of performance art works through re-performance; the only real way to document a performance art piece is to re-perform the piece itself.

In 2002, in The House with the Ocean View, Abramovic spent twelve days in the Sean Kelly Gallery without speaking, eating and writing. Contained within three so called rooms built six feet off the ground, she slept, urinated, drank water, showered and gazed at the spectators wearing a differently colored outfit each day.
 
She could walk between the rooms, but the ladders leading to the floor had rungs made of butcher knives. In this performance, Marina ritualized the activities of daily life, focusing on the self and simplicity while eliminating all aspects of dialogue and narrative.
 
She stated that she saw this piece as an act of purification- for her, but also for any viewer who entered the space. Additionally, the piece was a shift from the masochism of her earlier works to performances that focus on ideas of presence and interaction, although there is still the element of danger (present in the butcher knives ladder).

 

One of the key figures of performance art, Marina Abramovic was part of the earliest experiments in this media, and nowadays, she is one of the few pioneers of the generation still creating and working in this field.
 
She has been, and continues to be, an essential influence for performance artists and contemporary art in general, making work over the last several decades, especially for works that challenge the mind and the limits of the body.
 
Abramovic’s feminism has always been a mythical rather than a political; her confrontation with the physical and self and the primary role given to the body, a female body have helped shape the direction of Feminist art in the second half of the 20
th century, especially in the 1990’s.

 

Retrospective

In 2010 the MoMa in New York City held a wide-ranging retrospective of Abramovic’s work, The Artist is Present. From opening time to closing, eight to ten hours a day, and for seventy-seven days, she sat immobile at a bare wooden table, gazing into space. Members of the audience participated by sitting in a chair opposite Abramovic’s; her intention was emotional connection with anyone who wanted to look at her however long.
 
It was an experiment that had never been tried before; The Artist is Present is the longest durational work ever mounted in a museum.

 

In order to give new life to older performance work, both, hers and the works of others artists, Abramovic create the Marina Abramovic Institute for Preservation of Performance Art, opened in 2012, in Hudson, New York.
 
As a non-profit organization, the Institute supports teaching, preserving and founding performance art, ensuring legacy for performance art and for the ephemeral art itself.

 


 

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Helen Levitt – Streets of New York

“Since I am inarticulate, I express myself with images” – Helen Levitt

A mother of modern colour photography, Helen Levitt is perhaps one of time’s most forgotten jewels.

Roaming the streets of New York with her precious Leica, she captured an era of front stoops and chalk drawings; of children playing and elders waiting. Prolific from the 1930’s to the 1990’s, her work remains a definitive guide to the sentiment of an era.

Taking Notice

Street photography requires an appreciation for the impermanence of circumstance. The sparks for Levitt’s particular genius were the ubiquitous chalk scrawls of children. Struck by the temporary nature of these works, she sought to document them; eventually becoming fascinated by the the children themselves. Soon the very fabric of New York with its splendid characters and gritty streets became her passion. Chronicling the living nature of working class neighbourhoods, Levitt led us into a paradox of fanciful reality.

Children Are the Future Past

Life in New York in the 30’s, before air conditioning and television, was lived on the stoop. Children played intricate chalked games with enigmatic rules that have no analog today. Entire universes of imagination sprung from every sidewalk and alley as mothers washed and watched. Feet were black soled and faces smudged. Everyone was inspirational in their vivid character borne of hard labouring lives. This is the world Helen Levitt sought to immortalize.

Her early silver gelatin prints set the tone for generations of street photographers. Voyeuristic in nature, Levitt would wait until she was of no notice and choose her shots carefully. Kids were her most beloved subject. She caught the nature of their childish realities in her lens; often creating images bordering on surreal.

Children in masks watch an unseen drama as mother dozes. It is a painterly composition and emphasizes the private world of children; separate from the doldrums of adulthood.

Here we see one of the now nameless chalk games of New York. The complexity of their play is offset by the angle taken from the perspective of a watchful parent. Can we ever truly know the meaning of their symbols? No. We are too far away in age and time.

Pioneering Colour

Though more confident in black and white, Levitt received two grants from the Guggenheim Foundation in 1959 and 1960 for her breakthrough work in colour. Most of her colour work from the 60s was stolen in 1970 by a burglar, ostensibly still at large.

The use of colour takes Levitt’s work from fanciful to devastatingly real. The method of colour transfer used creates saturated tones, evoking the constantly moving wiles of New York. Even these men standing still give a sense of motion, as though seen by one quickly walking past.

Children laugh while standing with a laundry basket; each one floral in their unique beauty. Each face a solitary vignette. Every one a work of art. There is something pleasantly heartbreaking about the way Levitt frames time itself.

This writer’s favourite shot in Levitt’s grand catalog takes a purely absurd moment and sanctifies it. A small boy sits next to his sibling. His serious face made more so by the penned mustache and beard. The drawn scar on his forehead only serves to bring more attention to his strong gaze. I feel as though Helen was being committed to memory as much as her subject. It is an intimate moment between them.

A Very Private Life

Levitt eschewed interviews. She was a woman of few words, though it is easy to pretend to know her from her work. Born August 31, 1913, to Sam and May Levitt, the child of Russian, Jewish immigrants flourished in the small neighbourhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Before marrying Sam, mother May was a bookkeeper; experience that benefited her in her new life married to the proprietor of a wholesale knit goods business.

Not a fan of guided study, Helen dropped out of high school in her senior year. She began working for J. Florian Mitchell; a family acquaintance. Mitchell, as a commercial photographer, put Levitt to work in 1931 developing portrait prints. With her six dollar a week salary, Helen managed to save up for a used Voigtländer camera, which she deployed to practice by photographing her mother’s friends.

Inspired by the work of members of the Film and Photo League; particularly Evans, Ben Shahn and Cartier-Bresson, Levitt was lucky to meet Cartier-Bresson during a year he spent in New York. It was 1935 when Helen accompanied him on a photo walk of the Brooklyn waterfront.
 
This experience as well as that of frequenting galleries to train her eye in composition fueled her already aflame creative mind. In 1936 she purchased her signature Leica, also favoured by Cartier-Bresson.

Over the course of the next two years, Levitt frequented the colourful working class neighbourhoods of New York, with Spanish Harlem and the Lower East Side being favourite haunts. Her shy, wallflower personality suited her well for the task of being an unobserved observer. She had quite the breathtaking portfolio by the time she decided to take her work to Evans. She rapidly became friends with him and helped prepare his exhibition, American Photographs.

Through Evans she was introduced to who she credits as her greatest influence, Ben Shahn. His spontaneous style and honest characterization of his subjects is something Levitt carried through her work all her life. Shahn was impressed with her and sent her to meet James Agee who was both influence and admirer. Helen’s work was a perennial favourite of Agee, especially in his role as a journalist. Not technologically inclined, Levitt never made the jump to photo journalism despite the documentary nature of her work stating, “I was a lousy technician. That part bored me.”

During 1939, MoMA launched it’s photography department. One of Levitt’s most celebrated photographs, Halloween, was a crowning piece of the exhibition and in 1943 she had her first solo exhibition there.

Every artist must eat, so by 1949 she found herself a full time film editor under Luis Buñuel, editing pro American propaganda films. Art finds it’s way though and in 1948 a collaborative film between Levitt, Agee, and painter Janice Loeb (then married to brother Bill Levitt) was released. In the Street, a 14 minute documentary of Levitt’s beloved Spanish Harlem, was met with little fanfare. A little later also in 1948, they released a full length film called, The Quiet One.

Still photography, being Levitt’s first love, called her back in 1959 and she came back with a bang. For two years she received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation to explore colour photography. Unfortunately, in 1970 her apartment was burglarized; the only things being stolen were her prints and negatives. She returned entirely to black and white photography in the 90’s because colour was not always appropriate for her vision.

In her later year, Levitt continued to stay out of the spotlight, never being one for attention seeking. This and other factors kept her relatively unknown despite her importance to street photographers and artists of her association. She allowed few books of her works to be published and remained fairly unsung until a traveling retrospective by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1991. By this time she had given up developing her own prints because sciatica made standing and moving around painful.
 
She passed quietly from this world on March 29, 2009 at the age of 95.

There was little left for her to photograph anyway. With a changing fast paced culture, people spent more and more time inside. Of this she said, “I go where there’s a lot of activity. Children used to be outside. Now the streets are empty. People are indoors looking at television or something.”

A boy and girl share a private dance in now empty streets. A sombre woman disappearing against the fabric of their fancy watches unregarded. She holds a heavy Leica in which she keeps the echos of their laughter. She is Helen Levitt.

Books

  • A Way of Seeing (1965), Helen Levitt and James Agee
  • In the Street: Chalk Drawings and Messages, New York City, 1938-1948 (1987), Helen Levitt
  • Helen Levitt (1991), Maria Morris Hambourg and Sandra S. Phillips
  • Helen Levitt: Mexico City (1997), James Oles
  • Crosstown (2001), Francine Prose
  • Here and There (2004), Adam Gopnik
  • Slide Show: The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt (2005), John Szarkowski

Filmography

  • In the Street (1948): cinematographer
  • The Quiet One (1948): writer and cinematographer
  • The steps of Age (1950): producer
  • The Savage Eye (1960): cinematographer
  • The Balcony (1963): assistant director
  • An Affair of the Skin (1963): co-producer
  • In the Year of the Pig (1968): co-editor
  • The End of an Old Song (1972): editor

Written by: A. Martellacci

 

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Yayoi Kusama – Polka Dot Madness

Yayoi Kusama’s work has transcended two of the most important art movements of the second half of the 20th century: minimalism and pop art. Plagued by mental illness as a child, and thoroughly abused by a callous mother, the young artist persevered by using her hallucinations and personal obsessions as fodder for prolific artistic output in various disciplines.
 
This has informed a lifelong commitment to creativity at all costs, despite the artist’s birth into a traditional female-effacing Japanese culture, and her career’s coming of age in the male dominated New York art scene.

Her extraordinary career spans paintings, performances, room-size presentations, literary works, outdoor installations, sculpture, fashion, films, design, and intervention within existing architectural structures, which allude at once to a microscopic and macroscopic universe.

Early Life

Yayoi Kusama was born on March, 22, 1929 in Matsumoto, Japan, as the youngest of four children in a wealthy family. However, her childhood was less than idyllic or perfect. Her parents were the product of a loveless, arranged marriage.
 
Her father, emasculated by the fact that he had to take his wife’s surname as a condition of marrying into the wealthy family, spent most of his time away from home, womanizing, leaving his angry wife to physically abuse and emotionally torment her youngest child.
 
She would often send her daughter to spy on her father’s sexual exploits.

When Kusama began to see vivid hallucinations at the age of 10, her way of coping with the bizarre phenomena was to paint what she saw. She says that art became her way to express her mental disease.
 
For Kusama, art-making became a fundamental survival mechanism; it was her sole tool for making sense of a world in which she dwelt on the periphery of normative experience, and as a result, became the very thing that allowed her to assimilate successfully into society.

Disobeying her mother (who wanted her to simply be an obedient housewife) Kusama studied art in Masumoto and Kyoto. She had little formal training, studying art only briefly, 1948-49, at the Kyoto City Specialist School of Art.
 
At that time, there was a movement to reject the influences of Western culture in Japan, so Kusama was forced to only study Nihonga, which consisted of creating paintings using 1000-year-old traditional Japanese techniques and materials.

Move To United States

The conservative Japanese culture, and her abusive mother proved too much for Kusama, and 1957, she moved to the United States, settling in New York in the following year. Before she left, Kusama’s mother handed her some money and told her to never set foot in her house again.
 
In response, Kusama destroyed hundreds of her works.

In the United States, Kusama was free to explore her artistic expressions that were censored while living in Japan. With the help of artist Georgia O’ Keeffe, who Kusama had started a friendship with while still in Japan, she was able to secure exhibitions and also some sales, leading to interest in her work right from the start.
 
Also, there was a fascination with the foreign artist herself, and she struck up a deep relationship with her fellow artist Donald Judd and the middle-aged assemblage artist Joseph Cornell, who was also infatuated with Kusama, often writing her love letters and sketching her in the nude.
 
Because of her anxiety and fear of sex, both relationships, while very close, were strictly platonic. Kusama and Cornell developed such a close bond (allegedly, he shared her sexual aversion and hated sex) that when he died in 1972, she began creating collages to honor his work and cope with his passing.

In this period, Kusama worked feverishly, embracing the hedonist, free-spirit hippie culture of the 1960’s, which also included patriarchy, protesting war and capitalist society. Combining these themes with her personal anxieties, she created deeply intimate art, but also spoke to the injustices of the times.

Watercolors

The first works she exhibited in New York were her watercolors. These first works on paper showed the artist breaking free from traditional Japanese artistic practices and she was thought as a child and embracing Western artistic influences, especially in regards to abstraction.
 
The piece named The Woman, from 1953, is one of these earlier abstract works. The watercolor depicts a singular biomorphic form with subtle dots in the center floating in a seemingly black abyss. The form is reminiscent of female genitalia with red spikes surrounding it.
 
The overall effect: bizarre and aggressive.

Infinity Net

Her early work in New York included what she called “infinity net” paintings. Those considered of thousands of tiny marks obsessively repeated across large canvases without regard for the edge of the canvas, as if they continued into infinity.
 
Kusama’s Infinity Net series marks the beginning of a radical shift in her work from the singular abstract, biomorphic forms she painted during her youth to the more obsessive, repetitive works that would define her career.
 
They also showcase the way she used art to process her mental illness.

No. F. from 1959, is one of Kusama’s first works from the celebrated series. From a distance, the painting looks monochromatic and delicate, but when viewed up close, the complexities of the canvas’s surface become apparent.
 
The bluish-gray underlay is almost completely obscured by small, white semi-circles, which consume the entire canvas and only allow the gray underlay to be visible in the form of tiny dots.

no. f

The organic arched shapes all curve in the same direction, creating an undulating net that would continue on indefinitely if not for the edge of the canvas. This endless repetition caused a kind of dizzy, empty hypnotic feeling; the hypnotic feeling is furthermore translated to the viewer as they are invited to the artist’s mind.

The Nets are both minimal and expressive, bridging the two opposing movements. For Kusama personally, her Infinity Nets have become central to her practice, and continue to influence her work.

Minimalism / Pop / Avante Guarde

Her paintings from that period anticipated the emerging Minimalist movement, but her work soon transitioned to Pop and Performance art. She became a central figure in the New York avant-garde.

Accumulation No.1, from 1962, is the first in Kusama’s iconic Accumulation series, in which she transforms found furniture into sexualized objects. This piece, consist of a single abandoned armchair painted white and covered with soft, stuffed phallic protrusions, while fringe encircles the base of the sculpture.

No longer limited by the pictorial plane of the two-dimensional canvas, the stuffed sculpture continues Kusama’s repetition compulsion in three-dimensional form. The piece is both humorous and aggressive and works to confront with Kusama’s sexual phobias.

You Know You’re A Great Artist When…

Critics didn’t know what to make of this innovative art, and very soon the struggling artist went from obscurity to notoriety; her fame rivalled that of some of the most famous Pop artists, and Kusama enjoyed the attention.

In the Sex Obsessions Food Obsession Macaroni Infinity Nets & Kusama from 1962, she splayed naked on one of her famous soft sculpture furniture pieces laden with phallic accumulations and surrounded with macaroni pasta which forms her familiar pattern of repetition.

By inserting herself into the piece- on top of an object that represents a manifestation of her sexual aversion, Kusama attempts to subvert her own discomfort, in effect, to conquer it. It is a visual juxtaposition of her direct confrontation of a lifelong sexual aversion with the recognition of her nude self as an unmistakable, even if unwilling, object of sexual desire.

Although she is slim and stylish, positioned amongst a groovy psychedelic scene with strong visual impact, the rendering of her signature polka dots across her skin reminds the viewer that she is most comfortable when allowed to be seen as an intrinsic part of the artwork.
 
This brave presentation of herself in physical dialogue with her fears positions Kusama as a participant in the Feminist art movement of the time and also foreshadows her work in the late 1960’s in which she would use her body and the body of others in public performances.

 

Happenings

Starting in 1967, Kusama made fewer art objects and began experimenting with the performance art of the moment, ‘’happenings’’. Her first Anatomic Explosion (on the Wall Street) took place on October, 15th, 1968, opposite the New York Stock Exchange.
 
The performance was in opposition of the Vietnam War and was prefaced by a press release that stated that the money made with this stock is enabling the war to continue. The work featured nude performers dancing to the rhythm of bongo drums, while Kusama painted blue dots on their naked bodies.
 
For Kusama, nudity represents love and peace and was used to counter the tragedies and horrors of war. After 15 minutes the police came, putting an end to the spectacle.

Growing up in militaristic Japan during the World War II led Kusama to vehemently oppose social injustice and war. Her absurdly theatrical happenings, which were always overly political, were an expression of this opposition.

Mental Exhaustion

Her artistic output during this 15-year period was prolific and diverse, experimenting with various mediums. Sometimes, she would work up to 50 hours without rest. Eventually, the workload coupled with a lack of financial security and Cornell’s death took its toll, and in 1973 she move back to Japan to seek treatment for her mental exhaustion and declining physical health.
 
She began focusing on her surreal writing and avant-garde clothing line.

In 1977, after being diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive neurosis, Kusama checked herself in to the Seiwa Mental Hospital and has been living and working there by choice ever since.

When Kusama moved back to Japan in the 1970’s, she was all but forgotten by the Western art world. In Japan, she was mostly known for her violence-soaked writings, but that changed in 1993 when she was invited to represent Japan at the 45th Venice Biennale.

Pumpkin

The piece named Pumpkin from 1992 is one of Kusama’s first forays into outdoor sculpture. The giant yellow pumpkin sculpture is painted with rows of black dots fanning out from large to small around the gourd.
 
The pumpkin’s organic form and grand scale gives the work a cartoonish appearance, highlighting how strange the natural world appears in modern culture. Created in Japan, the work also reflects a shift in Kusama’s practice from her earlier aggressive and politically works to the more kitsch works that consume her art later in life.
 
The shift can be also attributed to the transition in Japanese culture from rigid and militaristic to a full on embrace of the ridiculous and tacky, as seen in the Hello Kitty cuteness in Kawai culture.

OCD Catharsis

Kusama’s art is fundamentally about obsession and the need, born of anxiety, to repeat certain acts in an attempt to free herself from that obsession. Since childhood, her art-making has been a private atavistic ritual, a necessary inducement to repetition that leads to catharsis.

Obliteration Room ( 2002-present) starts out as a blank canvas. Set up to resemble the interior of a domestic environment, the floor, walls, ceiling, furniture and little knick knacks are all painted sterile white.
 
Visitors to the room are handed a sheet of round stickers of various shapes and size determinate by Kusama, and invited to affix them to any surface in the room. The interactive installation was the first time Kusama moved away from creating passive environment to creating an environment in which its realization required participation from visitors.

Here’s a video showing Obliteration Room in action:


 

Hello Capitalism

In 2008, one of Kusama’s Infinity Nets, the same one once owned by Judd, set new art auction price records for a living female artist and led to collaboration with luxury fashion retailers like Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs.
 
Ironically, the woman whose art once protested capitalism and materialism, now fully embraces it.

Kusama began her Infinity Mirror Room series in the 1960’s, and so far has created twenty distinct rooms. They are culmination of her repetitive paintings, soft sculptures and installations into an immersive environment. The piece Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away from 2016, is her most recent iteration.

Each Infinity Mirror Room consists of a dark chamber-like space completely lined in mirrors. This particular room consists of small LED lights hung from the ceiling and flickering in a rhythmic pattern creating pulsing electronic polka dots.
 
The lights reflect off the mirrors in the intimate room creating the illusion of endless space; only one visitor at a time can experience the installation with the singular visitor becoming integral to the work, as his/or her body activates the environment once in the room.

Kusama’s far-reaching influence can be attributed to the fact that she has always been a step ahead of her time, with her art being at the forefront of many major artistic movements. Yet, her art-making process is so personal, and both a cure and a symptom of her mental illness; it does not fit into any of these defined movements.

Influence

More important than the impact her diverse work has on the art market is its influence on other artists and movements, which spans generations. Her work inspired Feminist artists, Pop artists like Andy Warhol, Performance artists like Yoko Ono, but also contemporary artists like Damien Hirst.

To this day, she represents herself as a lone wolf most comfortable with being known as independently avant-garde; her life is a poignant testament to the healing power of art and the study of human resilience.

Nowadays, Kusama reigns as one of the most unique and famous contemporary female artists, operating from her self-imposed home in a mental hospital.



 

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The Enigmatically Intense Lives of Frida Kahlo

Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo Calderon was born on July, 6, 1907 in what is nowadays known as Casa Azul in Coyoacan, a town on the outskirts of Mexico City. Her father, Wilhelm Kahlo, was German who had moved to Mexico at a young age where he remained for the rest of his life.
 
Her mother, a Wilhelm’s second wife, Matilde Calderon y Gonzales, born of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry, raised Frida and her five sisters in a strict and religious household.

Early Life

Frida Kahlo’s work was influenced by traumatic psychological and physical events from her childhood and early adulthood; using her personal tragedy, combined with a realistic painting style, she produced images – approximately 200 paintings, drawings and sketches, that were emotionally raw and visually disturbing.

Several events in Kahlo’s childhood affected her psyche for the rest of her life. She contracted polio at the age of six and was forced to remain in bed for nine months, walking with a limp after recovery.
 
Her father, with whom she was very close, enrolled her at the German College in Mexico City and introduced her to the writings of European philosophers and poets such as Friedrich Schiller, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Arthur Schopenhauer.

Kahlo’s mixed heritage permanently affected her approach to the life and artwork. Following the Mexican revolution and new education policy in 1922, Kahlo was one of the 35 girls admitted to the National Preparatory School, where she planned to study social sciences, medicine and botany.
 
She became friend with a dissident group of students, known as Cachuchas, who confirmed Frida’s rebellious spirit and her interest in literature and poetry.

In 1925, Kahlo was involved in an almost fatal bus accident, and she suffered multiple fractures throughout her body and a crushed pelvis. After nine months recovering in hospital, where she was immobile and bound in plaster corset, she began experimenting in small-scale autobiographical portraiture, and permanently abandoning her interest in medicine.
 
Gifted with a set of paints from her father, Kahlo spent hours studying herself and confronting existential questions raised by her trauma such as death, dissociation from identity and interiority. The duality of autobiographical content-both the interiority of the person and physical experience- evolved as the central qualities of Kahlo’s painting practice.

In 1927, in contact with her friends from the Cachuchas group, Kahlo began to familiarize herself with the artistic and Communist circles in Mexico. Having officially joined the Mexican Communist Party, in 1928, Kahlo sought out Diego Rivera in order to discuss a possible career as an artist.
 
A year later, in 1929, the two married and moved to Cuernavaca.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had a tumultuous relationship, marked by multiple affairs on both sides. She had a long affair with Muray, and a short one with Leon Trotsky, as well as extended liaisons with several women.
 
Some of these attachments were reactions to a volatile marriage and meant to punish her philandering husband.

Dual Lives

In many ways, Frida lived two lives: one as the wife of Diego Rivera and the second as eccentric, talented painter in her own right. During the majority of her career, she was seen in Rivera’s shadow and it wasn’t until late in life that she gained, as an artist, an international clientele and exhibition program.

The early double-portrait of Kahlo, Frieda and Diego Rivera, from 1931, was painted in celebration of her marriage to Rivera, accentuates Kahlo’s interest in reconciling her identity as his wife rather than as an artist of equal status.
 
Rivera holds palette and brushes, symbolic of his artistic mastery, while Kahlo’s dresses in costume typical of the Mexican woman, La Mexicana, wearing a traditional red shawl known as rabozo. The positioning of the figures echoes that of traditional marital portraiture where the wife is placed on her husband’s left to indicate her lesser moral status as woman.

Mexicanidad

By the early 1930s Kahlo’s painting evolved to include a more assertive sense of Mexican culture and identity, a facet of her artwork that stemmed from her exposure to the modernist movement in Mexico and her interest in preserving the revival of Mexicanidad, during the raise of fascism in Europe.
 
Her interest in distancing herself from her Germanic roots is evidenced in her change of name from Frieda to Frida.

The piece My Grandparents, My Parents and I, from 1936, a dream-like family tree painted on zinc, indicates the artist’s fascination with Mexican retablos. Retablos were small paintings on metal made to thank God for his protection and grace.
 
Kahlo painted this piece to accentuate both her European Jewish heritage and her Mexican background; her paternal side, German Jewish, occupies the right side of the composition symbolized by the sea, and her maternal side of Mexican descent is represented on the left by a map faintly outlining the topography of Mexico.
 
While Kahlo’s paintings are assertively autobiographical, she often used them to communicate transgressive or political message: this painting was completed shortly after Adolf Hitler passed the Nuremberg laws banning interracial marriage.

Throughout the 1930s, life in Mexico was tense for Frida: her husband Diego Rivera was unfaithful and the revolutionary climate leading up to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War made for an explosive atmosphere.
 
Frida separated from Rivera in 1935, renting a flat in Mexico City, and began a short-lived affair with the Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

The Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, from 1940, shows Frida as an androgynous figure. The critics and scholars have seen this gesture as a confrontational response to Rivera’s demand for a divorce, revealing the artist’s injured sense of female pride and her self-punishment for the marriage breakdown.
 
Also, the cropped hair presents a nuanced expression of the artist’s identity. She holds one cut braid in her left hand while the hair from her right hand lies scattered on the floor. The braids were a central element in Kahlo’s identity as the traditional La Mexicana, and in the act of cutting off her braids, she rejects her former identity.

In 1936, Frida joined the Fourth International and returned to Casa Azul, which became a meeting point for artists, international intellectuals and activists, and in that place she ensured the safety of Leon Trotsky and his wife.

The marriage was the pivot of her life and she did a lot of her best work when it was at its worst. It was on the eve of her divorce from Rivera, 1939, that she painted The Two Fridas, one of the largest and most famous paintings.
 
This double self-portrait, one of the most recognized compositions, is symbolic of the artist’s pain during her divorce from Rivera and the subsequent transitioning of her constructed identity. On the right, the artist is shown in modern European attire, wearing the costume she donned prior to her marriage to Rivera.

Throughout their marriage, given Rivera’s strong nationalism, Kahlo became increasingly interested in indigenism and began to explore traditional Mexican costume, which she wears in the portrait on the left. It is the Mexican Kahlo that holds a locket with an image of Rivera. Symbolic elements frequently posses multiple layers of meaning in Kahlo’s pictures; the recurrent theme of blood represents both metaphysical and physical suffering, gesturing to the artist’s ambivalent attitude toward accepted notion of womanhood and fertility.
 
The stormy sky in the background, and the artist’s bleeding heart – a fundamental symbol of Catholicism as well as symbolic of Aztec ritual sacrifice-accentuate Kahlo’s personal tribulation and physical pain.

 

International Acclaim

In 1938, during his visit to Mexico City, André Breton, the founder of Surrealism, was impressed by Kahlo’s painting and hosted the artist’s first exhibition in Paris in the following year, at the Galerie Renou et Cole.
 
The show was enormously successful; the Western, romanticized vision of pastoral Mexico by members of European bourgeois disgusted Kahlo, though she would exhibit with the Surrealists in Mexico City exhibition in January 1940, which was considered the first international exhibition of Surrealism in the Americas.

The frontal position and direct stare of Frida in her Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, from 1940, directly confronts and engages the viewer. The artist wears Christ’s unraveled crown of thorns as a necklace that digs into her neck, signifying her self-representation as a Christian martyr and the enduring pain from her childhood and her failed marriage.
 
A dead hummingbird, according to Mexican folkloric tradition symbolic of luck charms for falling in love, hangs in the center of her necklace. A symbol of bad luck and death, black cat, crouches behind her left shoulder, and a spider monkey, gifted from Rivera, symbolic of evil, is included to her right.

Kahlo frequently employed fauna and flora in the background of her burst length portraits to create a tight, claustrophobic space, using the symbolic element of nature to simultaneously compare and contrast the link between a female fertility with the barren and deathly imagery of the foreground.

Many Muses

In September, 1940, following Trotsky’s assassination Frida joined Carlo Rivera in San Francisco. In this period Kahlo remarried Rivera shortly after, and, returned to Mexico City where the two maintained separate flats. She continued to dote on her muse, sending him love notes wherever he was working.

Meanwhile, Frida grew progressively ill from the long-term effects of her childhood traumas. By June, 1946, she could no longer remain upright and underwent an unsuccessful bone-graft operation on her spine in New York.
 
In 1950, she was hospitalized for nine months at the English Hospital in Mexico.

She continued painting in her final years while also drank heavily and became addicted to painkillers. She still painted, but mostly still lifes, woozy, citrusy things that would be sweet if they weren’t so bizarre, with their gashed and bleeding fruits.

Weeping Coconuts, from, 1951, a still life piece is an example of Frida’s late work. In this composition, the anthropomorphism of the fruit is symbolic of Kahlo’s projection of pain into the composition as her health deteriorated at the end of her life.
 
In contrast with the tradition of the cornucopia, signifying plentiful and fruitful life, the arrangement of fruit in this composition reveals the fleshy and overripe interiors of the fruit, alluding to the dualism of death and life. A small Mexican flag, stuck into a prickly pear, bearing personal inscription ‘painted with all love of Frida Kahlo’, signalling Kahlo’ use of fruit as an emblem of personal expression.

 

Final Years

In 1953, Kahlo exhibited one last time at Lola Alvarez Bravo’s gallery in Mexico, and it was her first solo show in Mexico. She was brought to the event in an ambulance and had her four-poster bed placed at the center of the gallery.
 
She would soon lose a leg to gangrene.

In June, 1954, she had herself pushed in a wheelchair to join a protest against North American intervention in Guatemala. A few days later, she died on July, 13, 1954 at Casa Azul the Blue House, officially of pneumonia, though there has always been talk of suicide.

Although Frida’s work are often categorized as Surrealist for her bizarre imagery and her linear style and disturbing themes she was not interested in dreams or in subconscious or in automatic writing, biomorphism (all of which provided a focus of Surrealism); Kahlo’s subject matter was deeply personal rather than intellectual or humorous.

After she died, her work has grown profoundly influential for feminist studies and postcolonial debates, while she become an international cultural icon. It was only in the 1960s and afterward, with the rise of feminism, gay rights and identity politics, that her work begun to make sense.
 
And then it made explosive sense: an artist who had been bending genders, blending ethnicities, making the personal political and revolutionizing the concept of ‘’beautiful’’ generations earlier.