Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Anne Truitt @ Matthew Marks

One of the things I love about art is the surprise. The surprise in both the creation and in finding what I like about other people's art. Sometimes, as in the case of Anne Truitt's recent show, Threshold: Works from the 1970s at Matthew Marks Gallery (September 13 to October 26), the surprise is in finding that I love something I wouldn't expect to even like if didn't stand in front of it and experience it for myself.

Truitt's Arundel Series and particularly the one below (Arundel XXVII or XXX, I'm not sure) could very well be the most minimalist painting I've ever seen and it is also one of the most powerful. I love it, but if you described it to me, I wouldn't get it, I would expect to be totally unimpressed, and I would think you lost your senses if you told me you liked it. The contrast between the expectation and the experience is a huge surprise and, perhaps, one of the reasons I love it so much. From the image below it is difficult to see anything, it consists of a small vertical white line (maybe it is more like a smudge) painted on an unprimed canvas with a straight graphite line drawn on top of it.
 Arundel XXVII or XXX
acrylic and graphite on canvas
Below is a closeup for a better view of the paint and graphite. There isn't much to it in terms of material or labor, but the emotional impact for me is totally out of proportion with the physical material. That fact makes me stop and think about why it is so powerful, which also adds to my love for it. I find the restraint it takes to do so little remarkable. It is completely counter-intuitive, but this work shows that a painter can sometimes say more without paint than with. Also, by painting so little, she forces the viewer to look closely, and think. It leaves space for thought, and interpretation, and questions. There is just enough on the canvas to attach to, to see, yet an enormous space to think about and wonder. It shows a tremendous amount of respect for, and trust in, the viewer. And finally, the contrast between the free-form vertical white smudge and the precise vertical graphite line says something emotionally that is beyond words.
 Arundel XXVII (or XXX) (closeup)
There were also a series of fully acrylic paintings in the show that I also loved, my favorite of which was Februare, which consists of a few horizontal lines, two white and one greenish, all perfectly horizontal but painted roughly, with imprecise edges. It is austere, full of emptiness (an oxymoron?) and subtlety while also providing a fixed point that draws the viewers attention. It seem well titled, an emotional translation of February to the visual.
acrylic on canvas
In this closeup you can see the roughness of the horizontal lines and the subtlety of the white acrylic on a white canvas.
 Februare (closeup)
I also love Echo and how the boarder color is so close to the interior one that the viewer is forced to look closely to see what the form is.
acrylic on canvas
In this closeup it is easier to see the two colors. I especially like how the inside color moves subtly out at the center. I find it beautiful, simple, and thoughtful.
 Echo (closeup)
Though the above paintings aren't made with wood and seem out of place in a wood art blog, I'm covering the show because of her painted wood sculptures. I think the series raises the question of where to draw the line between sculpture and painting. For me, these are really three-dimensional paintings, the structure is merely a very complicated canvas, but no more complicated than canvases I've seen made by Frank Stella or Sean Scully, and no less painterly either.

Two of her wood pieces were horizontal, Grant and Remembered Sea.
acrylic on wood
 Remembered Sea
acrylic on wood
The rest were vertical. All, regardless of orientation, are so austere, rigid, and perfect. I find it amazing that after forty years the pieces seem to be as perfect as the day they were made, no gaps or visible seams anywhere. Everything is completely smooth. I don't know what her method of construction was but she knew what she was doing, it is no small feat to make these pieces out of wood and have them remain perfect for so many years. Additionally, her painted surfaces and lines are completely smooth and clean.  
acrylic on wood
Some of these pieces play with contrasts, as with Jaunt, where the top and bottom are small but dramatically different than the middle;
 Jaunt (closeup)
and Second Requiem,
 Second Requiem
acrylic on wood
where one side is dramatically different than the other three.

Second Requiem (second view)
While others are very subtle, forcing the viewer to look closely to discover the designs, as with Landfall,
acrylic on wood
which I love for the two subtle changes at the bottom, as well as the very slight vertical band;
Landfall (closeup)
and Morning Child, where the bottom is, similarly, a slightly different blue.
 Morning Child
acrylic on wood
Here changes are so slight sometimes, they make me suspect that she changes colors from one side to the next, leaving the viewer in complete mystery because of the impossibility of determining whether there is a change due to the differences in lighting.

I found the most important aspect of the show was the emotional impact it had on me. I feel that the show as a whole, and each of the pieces as well, made me feel very sad and lonely, and I really appreciate that -- not that I enjoy the feeling but I love art that makes me feel anything strongly. The affect made me wonder what impact it had on other people so I asked a couple of gallery assistants how the show made them feel. One said "happy," he thought the work was joyful (which I don't really get), the other said "calm" (which I do get). Regardless of what her intent or inspiration was, the show is powerful and if the viewer takes the time to look, think, and feel, it should add to their understanding of what great art is.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Leaves Are Art -- Emiko Sawaragi Gilbert @ VT Supreme Court

Conveniently timed with the foliage season, Emiko Sawaragi Gilbert's show Found in the Forest, LEAVES was scheduled in the Vermont Supreme Court, September 4 to October 31, here in Montpelier. Walking in the forest around her Plainfield, Vermont home, Emiko has collected leaves over many years. It is interesting to think, of all the billions of leaves that she would pass by, how a select few would catch her eye and be worthy of preservation. And of the hundreds that she collected, how a select few came to be deemed worthy of imaging, being blown up on 3' by 5' or 8' paper, and being presented to the world.

Her large scale images of leaves are just stunning. I love their simplicity. Unaltered, pure nature, as they were found. They are so much like Chuck Close's photorealistic portraits, you could give these leaves names. Michael, Mark, Philip, all with nothing to hide, all becoming more beautiful as each of their idiosyncrasies and imperfections are revealed to the world. One of the great gifts of this show is to help us understand how much beauty we are surrounded by every day. How everything is beautiful if you would just stop and really look at every detail of everything. To think that here are just a handful of leaves of the trillions and trillions that are everywhere, of the many more trillions of everything else that is everywhere, all the time, with more surrounding us all the time. If we were to really appreciate each thing, how could we do anything other than be in a constant state of bliss! So thank you, Emiko, for the reminder, in a world with so many sad and distressing stories, of why we should be so happy.
Maple (worm-eaten)
5' x 3'
Maple (worm-eaten)

Big Tooth Aspen; Milkweed; Oak
8' x 3' (each)
5' x 3'
5' x 3'
Poplar (green); Poplar (worm-eaten black); Witch-Hazel
8' x 3' (each)
5' x 3'
5' x 3'

Monday, September 23, 2013

Barn Art -- A New Series

I recently started a series of painting/sculptures for the outside of the converted barn I live in. I've never seen anyone else making anything like these so I figure they must be original. I'm not sure why I started or even what I'm doing. I have no plans or ideas, I'm just trying to follow the inspiration wherever it takes me with out any judgement. I think they are fun, I like how they alter the look and impact of my building. They change it from a drab structure to something that is different and unexpected. I like that. I can't tell whether they are good or bad, or whether anyone else likes them, and I really don't care. For me, it is just enough that they are what they are.

Below is the first one that I made in early August. It was made with all the cut-out circles I had left over from Box of Courage I made for the Exposed show in Stowe, VT back in June. I haven't titled any of these pieces yet and I'm not sure of the measurements either, I think not knowing these things is part of the fun. The front door this one hangs over is about 44" wide though, so this piece must be around 55" inches wide.
exterior latex paint and 5/8" underlayment plywood
39" x 58" x 3"
August 2013
This one is more of a pure painting but it is done on the old hay bale door I pulled off the barn about nine years ago. I rediscovered it recently as I was cleaning up my stacks of stored lumber. When I found it I was entranced by the peeling alligator pattern of the old lead paint so I took off whatever wanted to be removed and used the door as a found canvas. The stripes are painted along the strips of tongue and groove boards used to make it so the colors just emphasize the pattern that already exist. I did measure this one and was surprise how large it is.
exterior latex paint and stains on old hay bale barn door
48" x 45"
August 2013
This piece was made with some scrap pieces of 3/4" underlayment plywood that I repurposed after 8 years of service as snow/ice protection for a couple of A/C compressors. When I finished it, I really didn't know what to think but it has grown on me, a lot. It has inspired me to make a similar style piece for indoor walls.
exterior latex paint and stains on 3/4" underlayment plywood
55 x 54" x 2"
September 2013
These last three pieces were made with a repurposed sculpture I made last year for Art Hop. The old piece inspired this year's Box of Courage but I didn't feel it was nearly as good and I no longer had the desire to display it so I cut it up into geometric shards with no idea how they would be reassembled, only the assumption that something good would come of it. I was really surprised and very pleased with the results. In fact, I didn't have any idea how figurative this first piece was until a couple of days after I assembled it. To me, it looks like, if there were such a thing, one of Caesar's armored hippopotamus soldiers practicing yoga. Very funny. 
exterior latex paint and stains on 5/8" underlayment plywood
63" x 45" x 2"
September 2013
I hadn't realized the figurative nature of this one until I had finished either. To me, it seems something like a Picasso portrait.
exterior latex paint and stains on 5/8" underlayment plywood
61" x 37" x 2"
September 2013
And this last one seems more purely abstract but has a figurative element as well. I think that tension of being right on the edge of a figure makes it more interesting.
exterior latex paint and stains on 5/8" underlayment plywood
45" x 31" x 2"
September 2013
Here is a view of the overall structure. The small window on the right side is where the original hay door was located.

At this point I either need to buy another barn or start selling these things because, unfortunately, I've run out of exterior wall space and I still have some pieces I'd like to finish. Marketing something like this can be problematic though. By nature, it isn't something that would hang on a gallery wall and aside from telling friends about it on Facebook, how do you get the word out? Maybe I should start a blog!!!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Of Land and Local Exhibit Organized by Burlington City Arts

I have two pieces in a show titled Of Land and Local that has been organized and curated by DJ Hellerman of Burlington City Arts. The exhibit is spread over seven venues around Vermont. My pieces, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and Thrice in a Lifetime, will be on exhibit at the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in W. Rutland September 14 through October 27. The opening reception is on the 14th from 4:00 to 5:30.
 The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
shellac on wood
36" x 49" x 1.5"
Thrice In A Lifetime
shellac on wood
36" x 36"

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Another Juried Show Award

For this year's Art Hop in Burlington, VT, I submitted my piece Celebration for the outdoor juried show. It had been on display at the Vermont Arts Council in Montpelier for a couple of years but that exhibit had run its course so I was happy to find another location, which turned out to be in front of Lake Champlain Chocolates on Pine Street.
northern white cedar and metal hardware
47" x 152" x 152"
The exhibit was juried by Pavel Zoubok, of his eponymous Chelsea gallery, so I was doubly pleased to be awarded second place and receive my second Art Hop juried show award. I try not to put to much value in juried shows, but I can't say that the recognition isn't nice and I'm certainly not going to complain about the cash prize either.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Trip to Bishopville

While in South Carolina in June, I took a four hour detour to Bishopville in order to see Pearl Fryar's remarkable topiary. I had first learned of his work through a documentary film (A Man Named Pearl) I came across a couple of years ago. I don't think I ever heard the word "topiary" before seeing the film and one of the interesting aspects of Pearl's work is that he had been making his plant sculptures for years before he learned the word either. In summary, Pearl started his art installation in 1980, at the age of 40, without any background in horticulture or art, just an intuitive sense and an obsessive desire to create something sensational.

Pearl would work his day job, (I think at a local Coca Cola bottling plant) and then come home and continue working late into the night -- midnight, 2 am, whatever it took to realize his vision.

After about ten years of work, his two acre plot started to get local notoriety. He had hoped to win the Bishopville Garden of the Month award but, because he lived outside the city limits, was not eligible; however, (if my memory is right) a local state senator, after seeing his work, told the garden club that if he didn't win the award, they should just stop giving it out, so he finally won.

Pearl worked with plants that had been discarded by the local nursery, finding trees and bushes for free and, because he didn't know not to, doing things that no knowledgeable horticulturalist would try; thus, his work is inventive and unique.
While visiting, I was fortunate to meet Pearl and found him to be extraordinarily generous with his time. He spent an hour with me, talking, showing me his work, and giving me tips on how to create my own tree/bush sculptures.

These days, he gets about 10,000 visitors a year wondering around his property (thankfully, a public restroom was installed by Coca Cola -- I think they were the sponsor), and Pearl spends most of the day time talking to visitors, then, continues to work through the night maintaining and improving the installation. There is no charge to visit, however, if one wants to make a donation, there is a box at the front where you can leave something. This isn't, has never been, and likely never will be, a profit-making endeavor. Pearls mission, and the destination of all proceeds he collects, is to support scholarships to a local community college so that underprivileged youth can get a opportunity to a higher education -- so if you can give a donation, anything you can provide is appreciated, but all are welcome to visit, regardless of ability to pay.
These days, Pearl has some sponsors that help him maintain his property, including, John Deer, Waffle House, Coca-Cola, and McDonalds (I think). He also has an intern that gives him about 20 hours/week. Still, at the age of 74, Pearl doesn't seem to have slowed down much. He is in fantastic shape and is in constant motion, keeping everything just right.
Originally from Clinton, North Carolina, Pearl said that although he always had creative leanings in school, with an intense interest in art and drawing, his artistic education was actively discouraged and he ended up getting degrees in Chemistry and Math. After school, he first worked for a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Upstate New York and was later transferred to a plant in Bishopville.

Pearl's sculptures seem to fall into two categories, the more rigid, tight, geometric kind, often made along the themes of triangles and pyramids, like below:

And the more free-form, experimental work that are completely original designs, seeming to have been made for the simple pleasure of creating unusual shapes, like these:

The one below is my absolute favorite, and is a combination of the two styles, free-form but still made with tight, beautiful bubbles.
Below are a few images to give you a better idea of the lay-out and surrounding property. This one is a side view of the exit from Pearl's drive.
Pearl's property is consists of two side by side (approximately) one acre lots. The image below is the "gateway" to the lot to the left of his house lot.

Below is a straight on view of the exit.
And this is looking out from the exit, toward the neighbor's lots.
Behind the "gateway" of Pearl's side lot he has verbalized the inspiration for all his art, "Love, Peace, and Goodwill."

After Pearl installed these topiary numbers, his address was changed to 145, but since it was too difficult to change, he has left it as is.   
Below is a work in progress. You can see that Pearl trains the vegetation to grow on PVC piping that he has painted black. To anchor the PVC, Pearl first uses pieces of rebar as steaks that the PVC fits over. He then attaches the vegetation to the PVC with little plastic ties.
So that birds will feel welcome, Pearl has also installed a custom bird house.
And, as mentioned earlier, there is a public restroom on the grounds, built with a donation from Coca-Cola(?).
And here is one final image of Pearl, with one of his fountain sculptures, in front of my favorite topiary. I highly recommend a visit to his topiary, certainly if it is within a four hour drive. There are so many tourist attractions wherever one travels and so few truly authentic sights that are open to the public. Pearl is so unbelievably welcoming and so generous with his property. It is truly heart-warming how much love he instills in his work and how dedicated he is in using this vision to do some good in the world. I hope his example inspires many more Pearls in the world.