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“Knittivists” Repairing The World

There is a wonderful project called “Tikkun Tree”, which is organizing fiber artists to contribute knitted, crocheted, embroidered and sewn leaves and doves to a fiber olive tree.  The tree will be a symbol of peace and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is inspired by  “the courageous and remarkable efforts of Jewish and Palestinian citizens and activists in Israel and Diaspora who have been working toward peaceful coexistence” and also by “the many recent knittivist community needlework projects, including the pink tank, knitnotwar 1,0o0 Project , Knit a River, and the Red Sweater Project“.

I can embroider and sew, I think it will be fun to foliate!  If you want to participate, send your leaves to:

The TikkunTree Project
P.O. Box 2088
Philadelphia, PA 19103

I love to paint olive trees.  Here are some works which include olive trees from my portfolio:

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Get Up, Get Out, Go See Some Art

Kerry looking out at Lake Michigan from the Milwaukee Art Museum

Kerry looking out at Lake Michigan from the Milwaukee Art Museum

I like to organize and conduct art tours.  It’s a good way to make sure I get out and see what’s around in the art world.  I offer the tours as a class to my painting students, artists and friends.  I spend time going over gallery and museum schedules and calendars, and map out itineraries of exciting work in Chicago and environs.  Ssometimes we visit artists’ studios and invite them to be our guest for lunch.  This offers a great opportunity for discussion of practical and creative issues.  We get to to see where and how artists work; ask what problems arise and how they solve them; and get an inside view to their creative process where it happens.

Desk Chair by Charles Rohlfs, 1898

Desk Chair by Charles Rohlfs, 1898

Recently, I took five artists (including Talia, an insanely talented sophomore at the Art Institute of Chicago) and an art fan to the Milwaukee Art Museum. We watched the sailboats on Lake Michigan from the wonderful outdoor cafe at the museum..  We viewed American Modernisms, two shows featuring the paintings of The Eight (a group of early 20th century American artists, including Robert Henri and John Sloan) and a fantastic exhibit of the eccentric, idiosyncratic wood furniture of Charles Rohlfs.

Portrait of Talia, by Ruti Modlin (her mother), acrylic on canvas

Portrait of Talia, by Ruti Modlin (her mother), acrylic on canvas

Afterwards, we traveled south to Kenosha and visited the Niemi Gallery.

Bruce Niemi with one of his sculptures; Ruti (artist in group)

Bruce Niemi with one of his sculptures; Ruti (artist in group)

Artists (and art fans) tour Niemi Sculpture Gallery

Artists tour Niemi Sculpture Gallery

Bruce is a successful sculptor with works in many public and private collections.  He lives just over the state line within spitting distance of I-94,which is convenient for clients to visit from the Chicago and Milwaukee areas.  He represents a varied group of artists, most of whom have works installed in the beautiful outdoor grounds of the sculpture garden.  Suzi (Bruce’s business partner and wife) mows the garden paths, being careful not to knock over any of the sculptures or take out the teeming beds of wildflowers surrounding them.  While we were there, a blue heron took off from the pond at the edge of the property.

Suzi handles the business end of running a gallery, while Bruce produces his own work and selects their stable of artists.  He finds that representing other artists doesn’t compete with sales of his own work, and that all the artists benefit from increased exposure and traffic at the property.  He participates in SOFA annually.  A graduate of NIU, he was chosen to create a memorial for the five students who were slain at the NIU campus in 2008 in a campus shooting that also wounded 18 others.  As an alumnus, he is donating a substantial part of his time to the memorial.

Bruce varies his work to suit the demands of his clientele and also his weathered body, which feels the effects of his work.  He has to pace himself to prevent the onset of numbness resulting from prolonged use of the grinder, which he uses to refine the edges of his welds.  He finds that there is a preference these days for stainless steel over steel that rusts, due to the misuse of Cor-Ten steel by artists in the sixties who didn’t weld their sculptures properly, resulting in monumental failures that have given rusted steel a bad name.


floor of Bruce Niemi's welding studio

In addition to the sturdy works outdoors, the Niemis feature more fragile works in a small indoor gallery.  Vivian Visser, whose delicate constructions containing natural materials are shown at the indoor gallery, connected us with Bruce and accompanied us on the art tour.    Her work was seen at the Niemi Gallery by curator and botanical artist Derek Norman, who invited her to exhibit in a group show of botanical art at The Art Center, Highland Park.

Vivian Visser discusses her work (center) at Niemi Gallery

Vivian Visser discusses her work (center) at Niemi Gallery

I always come back from these trips with inspiration, ideas and insights into how artists make it work.

Playing The Building

David Byrne

David Byrne, formerly of  Talking Heads, is transforming performing spaces into musical instruments by hooking up pipe organs to “metal beams, cast iron pillars and plumping pipes, via a sprawling mass of cables.  Read about it in BBC News and NY Times (links below):



Another group of artists called Mass Ensemble, which has morphed into Critical Mass, takes a collaborative approach to working with instrumentation on a monumental scale to make an indoor or outdoor performance space literally “sing”.  William Close, the artistic director and founder of Mass Ensemble, created the “Earth Harp”, which “is played using rosin covered cotton gloves.  The performers run their fingertips along the strings to create a longitudinal vibration that literally pushes the music through the molecules of the string.  This action is similar to running your fingers around the end of a crystal glass and creates beautiful, cello-like tones”.  See:  http://www.massensemble.com/

Bill Close was artist-in-residence at my kids’ school (Northbrook Junior High, in the Chicago suburbs) back in 1998, through the Illinois Arts Council Arts-In-Education program.  He brought them into his creative process by having them build instruments.  He showed them how his group strung their performance space with immense lengths of piano wire, which was plucked in a choreographed manner, producing harp-like compositions while incorporating dance.  The string music was accompanied by drumming on sculptural assemblages and other instruments .  At one of their performances, I had the opportunity to tape paper to the walls of their loft and paint along with the performance.  The vibrations and visual rhythm of their work generated my imagery, which ended up being calligraphic.

This type of work seems to jive with environmental, interactive installations that bring art to people in an engaging way that demonstrates how all the world can be our instrument, our canvas, our manuscript.

Mass Ensemble performer, by Lex Jenkins

Mass Ensemble performer, by Lex Jenkins

“Another eyeful of attractive stuff”


Barbara Hashimoto with her Junk Mail Project.  See http://www.barbarahashimoto.com/

Barbara Hashimoto, an installation and performance artist who focuses on environmental issues, gave me a heads-up about this interesting article by Blake Gopnik in the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/30/AR2009073004406.html?referrer=facebook.)  Gopnik reviews an installation exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art of urban ephemera and points out that “they’re part of a trend that rejects the whole idea that art should be about providing yet another eyeful of attractive stuff. (Aren’t museums already stocked with as much of that as we could ever need?)”

Hmmm… I am moved by art that, as Gopnik says, “comes closer to activism — that gets people thinking about what needs to change, and maybe makes a start toward changing it. In these times of multiple meltdowns — in the economy, health care, climate, world politics — anything that speaks of change, of any kind, is bound to resonate.”  I am personally doing more artistic collaboration and created my first installation work this year that dealt with healing relationships (see http://www.judithjosephstudio.com/installation.html)

But, on the other hand, I love craft in art.  I love to see the expressive hand of the artist in created images and objects.  I think it is rather spartan to dismiss the contents of art museums as Gopnik does, as “fancy gewgaws that sell”.  I hear what he is saying about excessive consumerism and materialism in our culture in general, and in the art world in specific.  This is why I’m increasingly drawn to environmental and installation art that becomes social activism.

But, do we want art to be an either/or proposition?  Just because something is materially beautiful doesn’t mean it’s morally, spiritually or esthetically bankrupt.  There is great hope expressed in the gesture of a beautifully painted stroke, which carries within it all the discipline, tears,  yearning and timelessness of a skilled artist’s life.

"Art", by Shozo Sato

"Art", by Shozo Sato