Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas (Windows) in New York City

Ever since watching "Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's," I've wanted to see the celebrated B-G Christmas windows firsthand. Shopping at Bergdorf Goodman is totally out of my realm, but looking is something I can afford. This year I had to bring some art south for an upcoming show in New York (info at the bottom of this post), so a rendezvous with my dear friend Binnie was in order - just in time to see all the bright lights and magic of Manhattan at this special season of Selling.

Inspired by the Arts
The window theme this year is "Inspired" and each window is dedicated to a particular art that inspires. More than 100 artists and display artisans contributed to the windows.

Here is the Bergdorf Goodman statement about the windows:

We decided to base each window on a major art form, drawing equally from the fine arts, performing arts and applied arts. For our main windows, we settled on literature, architecture, theater, painting, music, dance, sculpture and film. Each window would be designed independently from the others. Each would be made from its own set of materials. But the entire set of windows would constitute a sort of eight-lesson course in art appreciation.

Windows Curated by Moi
Although all the windows were fabulous, I thought the first two were outstanding, so those are the two I am featuring.

This is the official photograph of the Literature window, photographed by Ricky Zehavi,
from the Bergdorf Goodman blog. Please click to enlarge.

This wonderful red window, dedicated to Literature, was made entirely from "fabric, soft sculpture, and needlepoint." I was blown away by all the detail. Here are a few of my iPhone pix. Please click on them to can see them enlarged because they are so rich.

My second most favorite was Architecture, done up mainly in blues. This window was composed from paper and old blueprints.

The official photograph by Ricky Zehavi from the B-G blog.

Here are some of my detail shots.

Looking Through Another Window
Seeing these wonderful compositions was really a treat. Then as we wandered around, we passed by a building, looked in, and were surprised to see a work by El Anatsui hanging on a wall above a lobby reception desk. Of course we marched right in and prepared to shoot a photo, but we were told that no photos were allowed. "Why is this work hanging here?" we asked, and the guards said that it belonged to Mr. Bloomberg. At that we noticed that the building was apparently the Bloomberg Tower. Who knew? So we shot the Anatsui from outside, needing no permission and not being chased away. We did walk the length - inside - of the very large installation of works by Ursula von Rydingsvard without any prohibition.

A lovely work by El Anatsui behind heavy glass doors

To All a Good Night and Ho, Ho, Ho!
And so, after a brief glimpse of The Tree, the giant nutcracker soldiers, the flags, the unending throng of celebrants, and amid the raucous blare of "holiday music," we took our selfie and departed for Grand Central.

(Onward to the New York show - Opening January 23rd: A Few Conversations About Color, curated by Joanne Mattera,  at dm contemporary)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Revisiting Rothko

Last night I was rereading some of my posts on my Art in the Studio blog  and came across the very long, 6-part post I wrote about Mark Rothko based on the biography by James Breslin (Mark Rothko: A Biography.) Sometimes I cringe at the writing in my early posts, but I was quite satisfied with the job I did on this topic, thanks to the vast quantities of information that James Breslin unearthed and published. I'm quoting myself below on the subject of Rothko's lack of sales and extremely low prices despite his exhibiting work in some of the very best venues. The contrast between now and then is illuminating and may provide a lesson in persistence.

"Red, Brown, Black and Orange" by Mark Rothko, also known as No. 21

Rothko in the news recently
A couple of weeks ago we learned that his Harvard murals that have been resurrected and will be exhibited bathed in light that attempts to restore the original coloration that was lost due to exposure and Rothko's painting methods. (Here's the story on those from a Sunday's NY Times story.)

And here's the quote from today's NYT about the most recent auction sale of a work:
"Mr. Rotter was talking about the success of Rothko’s abstract canvases. Two of them were the stars of the Mellon sale on Monday, and on Tuesday, the most expensive painting of the evening was the artist’s “No. 21 (Red, Brown, Black and Orange) (image above).” Executed in 1951, it sold to a telephone bidder for $45 million. Its provenance was pristine, having come from the collection of the Houston oil billionaire Pierre Schlumberger and his wife, São, though the canvas failed to reach its high estimate of $50 million." (NY Times link here.)

 Mark Rothko 1960

Now here's a long quote from my Rothko #4 post that is the ultimate contrast with the position of his work these days:

Sales and Galleries
Perhaps it was not only his natural anxiety that gave Rothko that look in the photo but also the fact that his wife Mell was eight months pregnant at the time and about to quit the job that supported the Rothko family. Rothko was 47 and had received a statement from Betty Parsons for the year ended 1950 showing that he had sold six pictures, earning him $3,279.69 for the year. (And this was the most he made from painting during one year until 1955!)

Just before the baby (named Kathy Lynn but called Kate after Rothko's mother) was born, Rothko was offered a three-year contract for an assistant professorship at Brooklyn College. The salary from this job was about $5,000 a year and it was enough to support the three of them and a separate studio(!). Rothko appreciated the income but failed to get along with the faculty at Brooklyn College and his contract was not renewed. So in 1954, about to be unemployed and desperately searching for somewhere to move after their apartment building had been condemned, Rothko left Betty Parsons Gallery because his work was not selling and joined Pollock, Still and Newman at the Sidney Janis Gallery across the hall from Parsons. Although Breslin points out that economic times were bad during the late '40s/early '50s, Rothko and the others knew that Betty Parsons was not actively pursuing sales and creating demand for their work to the extent that should have been possible and that Sidney Janis proved he could accomplish.

Rothko, untitled 1949

Incredible Shows But No Sales
The fact that Rothko was not selling work is pretty incredible when you read the list of exhibitions that he participated in during the late '40s/early '50s: annual solo shows at Betty Parsons, two Whitney annuals, inclusion in "Seventeen Modern American Painters" organized by Motherwell at the Frank Perls Gallery in Beverly Hills, the Los Angeles County Museum's 1951 Annual, an annual at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, two group shows at the Sidney Janis Gallery, group exhibits at Yale, Harvard, Wesleyan, and the Universities of Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska. And he showed internationally in Tokyo, Berlin, Amsterdam and Sao Paulo. He was also included in two exhibits at MoMA during 1951 and then given his own gallery with eight paintings at MoMA as part of "Fifteen Americans" in spring 1952.

Rothko, No. 10, from the National Gallery of Art

And here's more about sales, prices and building a career, also from my #4 post.

He Couldn't Even Give Away His Paintings!
A review of Rothko's prices shows that they were continuing to increase as his reputation grew. In the 1951 show at Parsons, his prices ranged between $500 and $3,000, with most in the middle of that range. But in 1951 Rothko sold only one painting, his Number 10, 1950 (see image above). Alfred Barr, Director of MoMA, wanted to acquire this painting but knew his board would not approve the purchase, so he got Philip Johnson to buy it and donate it to the museum. (Feelings against Rothko were so strong that one board member resigned in protest even of the donation!) The price at Betty Parsons Gallery for the painting was $1500, but Johnson was given a 25 percent discount, reducing the price to $1200. Rothko's share was only $830, but this changed within a few years.

Rothko, White Center, 1950

Making a Living From Art - Finally
In 1957 Rothko wrote to Motherwell that he had been able to live by his work for the past 18 months for the first time in his 53 years of life. By 1959 Rothko's income jumped from $20,000 to $60,000 a year as art started to become an investment. Fortune magazine wrote about "The Great International Art Market" in 1955-56 and suggested that for the wealthy, "ownership of art offers a unique combination of financial attractions...a hedge against inflation, a route to legitimate income-tax reduction, a way to lighten the burden of inheritance taxes." Art was now a commodity.

If you would like to read all the Rothko posts, you can start here with the first one and then search the blog for the other five parts. I think his is an incredible story and perhaps an inspiration for all artists struggling to sell their work.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Never-Ending Series: Syncopated

Some quickly, some slowly - that's the story of life and of art.

Back in the spring I began a new series that was similar to my Running Stitch series except that the pieces of materials I was cutting up and combining on panels were bigger and required fewer tacks to hold in place. And, rather than emphasizing the horizontal, this new series emphasized the diagonal.

Iphone photo of "Triple Play," 24" x 24", mixed media on panel

Now here it is nearly the end of October and I am just finishing up this series that I have decided to call "Syncopated." So far there are 13 pieces in a range of sizes. Most were begun in the spring, but I was unable to complete them due to other commitments. Now just one is left to complete so that I can move on. The series is not finished but this group is - at least for the time being.

Meaning, Intention, Motivation
I haven't written a statement about this work yet, and despite the opinion of some people, writing a statement is the hard work that really helps me understand what I am doing. In the meantime, I can share some of the more obvious reasons for making this work - at least obvious to me.

Iphone photos of two untitled works, each 36" x 36"

How I Work
Besides my being ready for a change, working diagonally actually gives me a much more expansively playful feeling. The way I work is to have lots of materials around - paintings that I prepare on heavy stock, album covers, books, advertising materials, cardboard, and anything else that seems to have potential for use. I work intuitively by placing pieces of these materials on the panels and observing how color, shape, texture, value and placement affect the whole panel as well as other proposed pieces.  Looking is the most important part of the process.

Iphone photo of "Legs," 18" x 12", mixed media on panel

Why "Syncopated?"
"In music, syncopation includes a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected in that they deviate from the strict succession of regularly spaced strong and weak but also powerful beats in a meter(pulse). These include a stress on a normally unstressed beat or a rest where one would normally be stressed. "If a part of the measure that is usually unstressed is accented, the rhythm is considered to be syncopated." - from Princeton University online.

Rhythm plays an important role in my choices by allowing me to play with a regular beat and change that up by putting in surprising accents. The strange thing is that while I am aware of the list of qualities that influence my choices, there are often subconscious influences that I do not see until after the painting is provisionally completed and hung on the wall. There is the illusion of transparency, for example, (as pointed out on Facebook by Shawn Hill in "Triple Play" or the illusion of swirling deep space at the center of "Legs."

Iphone photo of untitled work, 24" x 24", mixed media on panel

Lines, Lines, Those Lines
Why, you may wonder, do I have all those black lines in these works? Some people have said that the lines make the elements stand out from each other and look like stained glass, others that the lines seem unnecessary. Well, it turns out that the lines have both an aesthetic and functional purpose. The lines offer their own addition to the rhythm, grid or arrangement of the elements and function as spaces between elements that allow for movement and fluctuations caused by humidity. The lines are filled in with black encaustic.

Cutting lines in an already completed work

Cutting to the Chase
The need to allow for expansion and contraction of the elements means that the pieces I use can't be too large. I discovered this after the fact when too-large elements in some works began bulging. I had to cut spaces into them and move some tacks. The piece above is the final work that needs this cutting alteration and once it's repaired, professional photos can be take, and, at long last, I can move on.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Color and Geometry at Conrad Wilde Gallery in Tucson, AZ

Kicking off the fall season in their beautiful new space,  Conrad Wilde Gallery in Tucson is showing their first group exhibition of the season in the main gallery, called "Relative Geometries." This show runs through October 25th and features  the work of Annell Livingston, Robert Moya, Joanne Mattera and me, Nancy Natale.

"On Broadway," 2013, 14" x 14", mixed media with encaustic on panel
One of my works in "Rlative Geometries"

Along with this group exhibition, Joanne Mattera will also have a solo show in the project space called "Chromatic Reasoning."

Joanne Mattera, "Chromatic Geometry 21," 2014, 12" x 12", encaustic on panel

Miles Conrad has selected nine works from my small Running Stitch series. They are each 14" x 14" x 1.5", composed of various found and manipulated materials such as books, album covers, paintings, treated metal, advertising and other paper ephemera. I cut these materials into strips, lay out a horizontal arrangement and attach them to panels with lots of tacks. Many of the elements have had encaustic painted over them before they are cut up, and once everything is fully tacked in place, I apply another coat of encaustic in the valleys between elements.

The selection in the studio

Oh, that dreaded finishing, including painting of edges and wiring

Here are the press release images for "Chromatic Reasoning" and "Relative Geometries." You can see the real thing here and find links that actually work.

Here are a few more of my pieces in the show.

"Lotsa Pulp'," 2013,  14" x 14", mixed media with encaustic on panel

"World Around Us," 2013,  14" x 14", mixed media with encaustic on panel

"Guest Star," 2014,  14" x 14", mixed media with encaustic on panel

I hope you will visit Conrad Wilde Gallery if you are in the Tucson area to check out the space and these two very colorful shows. Joanne Mattera is attending the opening and I'm looking forward to seeing her photos of the installation and the reception.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Road Trip: Larchmont, New York, Saturday, September 13th

P a r t  T w o  of the arting weekend    (Link to Part One)

On Saturday Binnie and I drove to the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, New Jersey to pick up work from Swept Away: Translucence, Transparence, Transcendence in Contemporary Encaustic. We had a very nice lunch in Clinton and then drove slowly back into New York through the rain and traffic. It felt like we had been gone for hours -- and we were. In fact, it was nearly dark by the time we reached Larchmont and the rain began falling more steadily.

Kenise Barnes Fine Art (KBFA)
Larchmont, New York
Opening Reception for Two Shows: Saturday, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

This was the first time I had visited Kenise Barnes' lovely contemporary art gallery, and Binnie and I were very pleased to be receive a friendly welcome and unofficial tour prior to the reception's beginning.  This is a pristine white space, thoughtfully and beautifully organized to display the exceptional art featured at KBFA. The upstairs space has two galleries with a small viewing room at the rear and the world's best storage layout and viewing area in the basement. Even the bathroom has a terrific selection of artwork complementing the dark blue wall and streamlined fixtures.

All the images below are from the KBFA gallery website, and I wish that all galleries would use this website as a model of easily navigated sections with wonderful, large photos and full captions. This website gets an A++. (I am linking to it twice for good measure.)

David Konigsberg was showing "Nigh Season" in Gallery I, and his large, colorful narrative paintings featured conceptual landscapes that seemed to be remembered rather than observed. His website statement says: " His work occupies a nether world of image and memory in his very personal narratives, which are not meant to be deciphered but experienced as emotional possibilities."

David Konigsberg, Fields Near Germantown, 2014, oil on canvas, 45 x 60 inches

David Konigsberg, Fields, Distant Barn, 2013, oil on canvas, 44 x 46 inches

Julie Gross
In Gallery II, Julie Gross and Margaret Neill were showing new work in "Undulate." This show spoke more to my aesthetic because of the color and geometry.  I had admired Julie Gross's work only online, but in person it was so intensely colored and vibrant that I had a new appreciation for it. She refers to these curving forms as "vessels for color" and that was readily apparent.

Julie Gross, Vertical Sine Horizon #4, 2014, oil on linen, 64 x 32 inches

Julie Gross, Vertical Sine Horizon #5, oil on linen, 64 x 32 inches

These large columnar paintings were dynamic and luminous with restrained curves that played with the relationship between figure and ground. There was noting restrained about the thrilling color combinations. The colors were pleasingly sophisticated and unexpected, especially in the gouache paintings on paper that were studies for the larger works. Those dense, matte gouache surfaces were even more chromatically rich and seemed to vibrate as the colors played off one another.  We were gushing over them!

Julie Gross, Vertical Sine Horizon #10, 2014, gouache on paper, 22.5 x 13.5 inches

Julie Gross, Vertical Sine Horizon #20, 2014, gouache on paper, 22.5 x 13.5 inches

Margaret Neill
I was not familiar with Margaret Neill's work previously but became an instant fan. The curves in her paintings are sensuous and created with a full movement of arm and body. It was clear that those curves were felt emotionally and intuitively as she applied layers of meditative paint. Thin veils of paint with striated brushmarks in some areas gave glimpses of forms beneath and added a great sense of depth.

Margaret Neill, Conduit, 2014, oil on linen, 48 x 48 inches

Margaret Neill, Snap, 2014, oil on paper mounted on panel, 24 x 24 inches

Margaret Neil also showed airy drawings on paper that recorded repeated trajectories of looping pathways and pressures, like graphs of emotional journeys or dramatically obsessive responses to music or memories. Her statement says: "My work emerges from an engagement with my materials and is concerned with neither narrative nor image. The medium becomes the vehicle of my expression of transient but ever present tensions and their resolution..."

Margaret Neill, Rondel Series I, 2014, colored pencil and acrylic on paper, 36 x 50 inches (unframed) 51 x 37 inches (framed)

Margaret Neill, Prospect, graphite on paper, 44 x 44 inches

A Perfect Ending To a Perfect Day
Binnie and I met up with our friend, artist Ruth Hiller, and interviewed her informally* about her residency at the Golden Foundation Residency Program in upstate New York. We had a fine time chatting downstairs in the KBFA viewing room surrounded by paintings and other works of art. Eventually we adjourned for a good Chinese dinner just down the street from the gallery and then, full circle, made our way back to Connecticut through the rain and traffic.

*Here is the link  to an actual interview with Ruth about her Golden experience conducted by Milisa Galazzi in ProWax Journal, a quarterly online publication for professional artists working in the medium of encaustic. While you're there, read some of the other great articles and features!

Coming up next:  P a r t  T h r e e  -  no, I'm still not done with the world's longest weekend.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Road Trip: New Jersey and New York, Sept 12-14, 2014

P A R T  O N E: Hunterdon Art Museum and American Folk Art Museum

Ostensibly, the purpose of this trip was to pick up work from the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, New Jersey. The Hunterdon exhibition ran from May 18th until September 7th and was a beautiful second incarnation of the original Swept Away: Translucence, Transparence, Transcendence in Contemporary Encaustic. The exhibition was originally curated by Michael Giaquinto of the Cape Cod Museum of Art and it was exhibited there from May 18th until June 23rd, 2013. Very big thanks go to both museums for their  thoughtful installations and gracious hosting of our work!

Catalog cover for the Hunterdon's exhibition - Cover image is a detail of an encaustic painting by Lynda Ray

Driving, Always Driving
My good friend Binnie Birstein chauffered me all over Connecticut, New Jersey and New York this weekend, and I owe her a big debt of gratitude for her fortitude and excellent driving skills. It's true that we had a great time chatting away by the hour, eating some great food, and doing lots of arting wherever we went. I don't know how many miles we put on Binnie's car, but there were a lot.

First Stop: American Folk Art Museum
2 Lincoln Square, Columbus Ave. at 66th St., NYC
Willem van Genk "Mind Traffic" and Ralph Fasanella "Lest We Forget"
When I read Roberta Smith's review of this show in the Times, I knew it was going to the top of the Must See list. This is the first time I have been to this museum since they have revamped themselves in reduced circumstances. (If you recall, this is the museum that sold their unique building to MoMA who plans to tear it down.) The location across from Lincoln Center is great and it's right next to the Mormon Temple in case you want to pop in.

These shows were beautifully installed and I was happy to learn a few things from the installation. We visited on Friday night and unfortunately (for us) the museum was having a musical performance right in the middle of Fasanella's work, so we didn't get to see all his paintings.

And, by the way, they did not allow photography of the work so I have had to resort to the internet, thus being unable to provide titles, sizes, etc. for the most part. Those caveats aside, I loved these shows in a big way!

Ralph Fasanella, "American Tragedy," size and year unknown (to me)

Ralph Fasanella (1914 - 1997) was a self-taught painter from working-class New York with a strong social conscience. He depicted scenes (imagined and actual) of importance in American history, especially to the American worker. His works are usually large and highly detailed. The ones most interesting to me had emblems or signs at the top, usually in dark red, that hovered above the scene below. The American Folk Art Museum has a large collection of Fasanella's work and an archive of related materials.

Willem van Genk (1927 - 2005) was a Dutch painter, also self taught, but more of the visionary and outsider ilk than Fasanella. Van Genk suffered from mental problems but was able to live on his own and create a large body of unique visionary work in paintings and sculpture.

Van Genk's works are covered with obsessive marks and writing, many containing buildings, cars, airplanes and machines composed of intricately cross-hatched lines. He often uses collage of both paper and thin wooden pieces and many works have circles or hexagonal areas like large thought balloons added to scenes that contain other information.

Willem van Genk, Untitled (World Airport), 1965, 44 3/4" x 46 3/4"

Although Van Genk worked from books, magazines, travel brochures and maps, he also traveled later in life, so some of his scenes come from direct observation.

Van Genk liked to build trolleys and machinery from cardboard with pieces of plastic, screening and advertising glued on. The museum has a large collection of these displayed together although they can't be viewed in the round. Due to discoloration of the glue over time, these works have an antique, weathered look that adds to their character and interest.

Additional info and more photos: Roberta Smith's rave review, Wall Street International review

Coming up in Part Two - lots more from the road.