Category Archives: creativity

Letterforms prominent in “Fractured Yet Rising” exhibit at ARC Gallery

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“Fractured Yet Rising” is a juried multi-media exhibition of works on the subject of violence against women.  In addition to works submitted by artists, the artist-members of ARC, a women’s co-op gallery, worked with residents of a domestic violence shelter on collaborative pieces, giving voice to their experiences.

Dates:  March 5-29, 2014.  Details here.

Calligraphy Inspires London Exhibit of Islamic Art

REVIEW

JAMEEL PRIZE EXHIBIT, VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM, LONDON (through April 21, 2014)

The Victorian & Albert Museum is focused on design and decorative arts.  According to the V&A website, the Jameel Prize “ is an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition. Its aim is to explore the relationship between Islamic traditions of art, craft and design and contemporary work as part of a wider debate about Islamic culture and its role today.”

In addition to viewing the exhibit, I attended a panel  discussion at King’s College, London, about the exhibit.  The panelists I quote here were:

  • Tim Stanley (Curator, Victoria and Albert Museum)
  • Reedah El-Saie (Director, MICA Gallery)

According to Tim Stanley, the history of the V&A is bound up with Islamic design from the beginning.  In the 1830’s, Britain realized it had industry, but no design education.  Owen Jones, the author of the classic Grammer Of Ornament, was a Welsh architect who travelled to the Middle East in the 1830’s.  He published a work about Moorish ornament on the Alhambra, which led to his involvement with the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Government School of Design and the creation of the V&A Museum.

The Jameel Prize, an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition, began in 2006.  Curators, gallerists and art historians from around the world recommend artists for participation.

Reedah El-Saie, Director of Mica Gallery, said  the strongest unifying theme in the exhibit is calligraphy, which brings the past into the present.  She pointed out, “Calligraphy is the strongest tradition of Islamic art.”  As a gallery director, she says that calligraphy sales in auction houses are huge—“booming.”  She said that her gallery can’t keep up with the demand.  Forty percent of the collectors of Arabic calligraphy served by Mica Gallery are from the non-Islamic world.

The V&A website has wonderful videos about each artist, but I will mention two here:

NASSER EL SALEM:  He presents the world “Kul” (all) in hand-written, contemporary calligraphy: black ink on white paper, very stylized, both modern and traditional.  Next to it, a devotional phrase is created by the peaks on a heart monitor.  As Ms. El-Saie pointed out, “The heartbeat shows Islamic art is alive—the past is so relevant to the present—it is a living organism.  You can’t separate Islamic calligraphy from the Divine message in which it’s rooted.”

PASCAL ZOGHBY is a font-designer.  Arabic fonts are very new—they were only created in the 18th century.  Zoghby created a huge concrete carpet, similar to tatami mats from Japan (his birth-place) and also traditional Islamic carpets.  Each panel of “carpet” contains Arabic letters in fonts by his design.  Each section has one letter that is inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  The “fringe” on the “carpet” is made from strings of steel ball-bearings.  He incorporates the play of hard materials against expectations of softness, and puts letters where we would not expect to see them.  One could say that the letters  underfoot are our foundation.

In addition to the Jameel Prize, I observed Islamic ornamental design as an influence in the current fashion collection of designer Roberto Cavalli, in the shop windows of Knightsbridge.

(also see this review on The Culture Trip )

Peacock fan in S. Asian collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Peacock fan in S. Asian collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Judith Joseph Solo Exhibit in New York

The Jewish Art Salon and the Kraft Center present:  Get Lucky:  Amulets and Ketubah Art by Judith Joseph.

amulet_water


 Art Exhibit curated by organized by the Jewish Art Salon.

Contact: Yona Verwer jewishartsalon@gmail.com  917-447-8567

Location: The Columbia / Barnard Kraft Center, 606 West 115th Street, New York, NY 10025

Date: Thursday April 18, 2013

6 – 7 PM Opening Reception, Free & Open to the Public

7 – 8 PM Panel Discussion Still, Small Voice in a Noisy World: Jewish Heritage and Contemporary Art. Panelists: Judith Joseph, Alison Kruvant and Isaac Peterson, moderated by Buzz Slutzky.

Exhibit Hours: April 18 – May 20, Sunday – Thursday 9-8, Friday 9-1.

The art of Judith Joseph springs from illuminated manuscripts:  decorated, hand-written texts.  She loves miniature medieval illustrations with their quirky, often bizarre imagery that ranges from holy inspiration to bawdy violence.  Her love of letters encompasses both their calligraphic form and the story they tell.

She started making ketubahs (hand-written, decorated Jewish marriage contracts) at the age of 17, beginning a journey with this art form that has lasted decades and produced some 500 commissioned, original works.  She has grown up with the ketubah, and it has grown with her.

Judith’s paintings often contain Hebrew lettering.  Her series of hamsa (amulet) paintings began when she painted one for each of her three adult sons, when they moved far from home. She used unstretched canvas, so the paintings could be easily rolled and transported from place to place. She used thehamsa symbol: a hand blocking the evil eye, an ancient image found in Mediterranean countries.  The hamsa is often worn during childbirth. 

Judith believes in the power of images as a way to focus our intent and will, and the power of words to guide us. Each hamsa image is encircled with a ribbon containing Hebrew inscriptions of the names of archangels (Michael, Raphael, Yuriel, Uzziel, Ezriel, etc.) The letters create a dynamic, dancing border, stand-ins for human beings, as we are expected to create a “fence around the Torah.” (Pirke Avot, 1.1)

More project info:

Jewish Art Salon (with web images): http://www.jewishartsalon.com/2013/03/get-lucky-amulets-and-ketubah-art-by.html

Directions: #1 Train to 116 St, Buses M4, M5, M104 to 116 St. M60 Bus from 125 St Metro-North.

606 West 115th Street, just west off Broadway.

The Jewish Art Salon is a global community of artists and art professionals. It organizes exhibitions, panel discussions and programming with leading international artists and scholars, in order to create an appreciation for innovative Jewish art in the contemporary art world.

http://jewishartsalon.com

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Yona VerwerPresident, Jewish ART Salon
http://jewishartsalon.com

Seasoned Painters Step Outside Their Comfort Zone

… and try painting with egg tempera, instead of their usual media (oil, acrylic).  It was a joy to share my favorite medium with my critique group (Ellen Holtzblatt, Monica Sageman, Gabriella Boros, Colleen Cox and Jackie Eddy.)  We enjoyed the hospitality of Cindy Jevon’s PerficalSense Studio and Art Salon.

Egg tempera can be purchased in tubes, but the traditional (and most rewarding) way to use it is by mixing pure pigments (the color ingredient in all paints) with the yolk of an egg on a glass palette.  A little water is added to thin the paint, and the result is a brilliantly vivid, water-soluble paint that allows for transparent glazes and layers, opaque paint when desired and incredibly fine lines for detail.

Here are some examples of how I have used egg tempera:

… more can be seen on my website.

Re-Drawing the Map of the Art World

In her NY Times review of Saul Steinberg:  A Biography, by Deirdre Bair, Deborah Solomon reminds us that Steinberg was most famous for his “View of the World From 9th Avenue”, a Manhattan-centric remapping of the world.

Steinberg was a prolific cartoonist for The New Yorker.  In addition, his drawings and sculptures were shown in high-brow galleries and museums, and prized by art collectors.

Solomon, who authored a forthcoming biography of Norman Rockwell, has good reason to be well-versed on the topic of “fine art” vs. “illustration”.  About Steinberg, she comments:  “In his heyday, art critics butted heads over whether his drawings should be considered cartooning, illustration or museum-worthy art.  By now such attempts at classification seem beside the point.  Most of us do not believe that an invisible velvet rope separates museum art from magazine art, or that a painting hanging at the Museum of Modern Art is automatically superior in aesthetic terms to a children’s book illustration.  The truth is that any genre can produce works of enduring power” (italics mine.)

Solomon cites an anecdote from the biography that mirrors this pedestal-busting view of art:  “(Steinberg) once described Picasso, after visiting him at his villa outside Cannes, as ‘an old Jewish man in the Florida sun– all torso and shorts.’”

What do you think?  Is there an important distinction between illustration and fine art?  Does it matter?

Artists: What Do You Think About The Art World Today?

critiquing art work by a group member

In a review of the Frieze Art Show in New York, Holland Cotter of the New York Times describes Frieze show artists as “worker bees in an art-industrial hive.  Directed by dealers and collectors who dress like stylish accountants, they turn out predictable product for high-profile, high-volume fairs like Frieze.”  He distinguishes between the art he saw at Frieze and art one would find in “studios, or going to offbeat spaces…   where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”

I asked the members of my monthly artists’ critique group what they thought about the hive metaphor for the art world.

Q:  What factors are contributing to the “art-industrial hive”, as described by Cotter?

E:   Art has become an industry that starts in art school now, manufacturing art.  Before, artists were told, “Express yourself” to the extent that the teachers didn’t actually teach anything.  People tended to grab onto their “gimmick” in order to show they had an artistic identity.

Now, there’s a move away from hands-on connection with art; it’s  all about where’s the next big thing.

J:  I think it’s very natural to have shifts in technology over time.  Whoever’s got the resources decides what people see.

G:  Art schools now think in terms of involving the engineering school [in creative projects, just so they can get grants] for funding.

C:  But, painting is looked at as quaint and not serious.

Q:  What do you think about what Holland Cotter’s description of the Frieze show?

E:  Art fairs are like a big box store for art.

C:   I get the impression art is marketed, packaged [and designed to] pull in investors.  I have heard some people who are running galleries now have financial backgrounds, not art backgrounds; it’s all part of this set up to sell the art work as another type of commodity.  Small dealers have been driven out of business.  Galleries in Connecticut [for example,] became an art destination where people would go when they got out of New York in the summer.  The dealers all knew the artists, they were friends; they had a real dialogue and relationship.  These galleries have been closing.  People with a genuine passion for art have been driven out.

Years and years of stripping art out of the schools has the result that people aren’t educated about art.  Their art choices are based on decorative or financial considerations.  People aren’t culturally sophisticated.  There used to be a respect for the humanities, no longer.

Architects and designers have become involved in designing interior spaces, to the extent of what people put up on their walls.  I have been stunned to learn people have a lot of money, yet they have blank walls, and they have to hire somebody to decide what goes on the walls.  Their choices are driven by status or decoration.  They’re either afraid to make choices of art or they have no opinion, no taste.  It’s cowardly, but also ignorant–  out of not having education, not having exposure to art and experience with it.  For people who don’t have lots of money, museums are often too expensive.

An alternative to the bee-hive: E and I attended an opening reception June 15 for “Facemask”, a juried group show, curated by Sergio Gomez, at the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago, which fits Cotter’s description as one of those “ offbeat spaces…   where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”  (One of our critique group members, Gabriella Boros, has a work in the show.)

The work was fresh, provocative and varied, and the energy and dialogue among the artists/attendees was palpable.   E and I left feeling inspired and energized, eager to get our hands dirty in our studios.

Artists:  what do you think of the art-industrial hive?  How do you want to reach the public with your art?

Free Yourself: It’s Passover!

May this Passover bring freedom and redemption to all who are enslaved.  May we find ways to free ourselves from the constricts of mind and attitude that bind us.  May we be open to new ways of solving the problems that face our world.

Sunrise Ketubah

Sunrise Ketubah

I just finished this ketubah.  It makes me yearn for little spring buds and new green leaves.

Who’s In Charge Here?

"Interior With Cubist Chair," by Susan Chertkow

There has been much debate lately in the advanced painting class I teach at the Art Center, Highland Park, over whether or not an artist should explain “what she meant” when she created a work of art.  Stephanie looked at Susan’s series of paintings and asked her, “What were you thinking about?  What does this mean to you?”  Susan replied, “It doesn’t matter what it means to me, what matters is what it means to you, to the viewer.”  Stephanie made the case that it is interesting to know what the artist’s intention or story is.

I weighed in to say that, as the creator of a work, I don’t feel that my version of what it “means” is any more significant than anyone else’s.  In fact, once I finish a painting, what it means for me usually changes.  I’ve been painting long enough to have people show me works they bought from me decades ago, and not only do I not remember what I was thinking when I made it, occasionally I don’t exactly remember the piece!  (This is a rather disorienting feeling, since I remember selling it to them, and I can easily recognize my style, as familiar as looking at the shape of my own fingers.)

Serena Kovalosky, in her blog “365 Days Of Everything I Love About Being An Artist,” addressed the idea of interpreting art by saying:  “I’m not particularly attached to my translation of a piece and I find it fascinating to learn how my work affects others.  I’ll offer my version, discuss my influences as I was creating it, and I’ll gladly share the technicals.  But what people will remember most is how my work made them feel.”

I go a little further than Serena.  Not only do I enjoy hearing what other people bring to my work, I have found that sharing my version seems to quash their creative response.  Once they hear my “version,” they no longer feel theirs is valid.  I always hope that the engaged viewer actually has a creative experience when reacting to art, whether it’s visual, music or literary.

The great literary critic William Gass explores the notion of the “self” in art in his new book, Life Sentences.  As discussed by reviewer Adam Kirsch in the New York Times, Gass says:  “‘What works of art testify to is the presence in this world of consciousness, consciousness of many extraordinary kinds,’ he writes…  But this is ‘not that of the artists themselves, for theirs are often much the same as any other person’s…  It is not the writer’s awareness I am speaking of but the awareness he or she makes.  For that is what fine writing does:  it creates a unique verbal consciousness.’”

This is a fascinating idea:  that art creates a unique consciousness in the viewer’s experience of it.  This goes beyond what I tell my students, that the art should always “speak for itself.”  What do you think:  do you prefer to know the artist’s story behind his/her work, or would you rather experience it without explanation?

Sailing Ketubah

Sailing Anniversary Ketubah

I just finished this ketubah for an anniversary celebration.  (See my preliminary sketch here.  The original sketch included their Briard dogs, but we decided to leave them out. )  It was commissioned by a couple who spend much of their time sailing on Lake Michigan.

Working on it brought me back to my sailing days.  I learned to sail at Camp Ramah in Canada, and worked there as a sailing instructor.  I went on to teach sailing lessons at the Hoofers Sailing  Club at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I tried to capture the power of the wind in the sails, the rhythm and rocking of the waves and the freshness and energy of being out on the lake on a sail-boat.  (See more of my ketubahs here.)