Archive for November, 2009

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Drawing, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, Sculpture, Textiles with tags , , , , on November 30, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. Dark Day Picks highlights current exhibitions, new installations, books, and art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.

Asian Art Museum, SF—Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam & Burma. The first major exhibition in the West to explore the rich but little known arts of Siam and Burma from the 19th century. Many of the than 140 works, including sculptures, textiles, paintings, and ceramics come from the Doris Duke Collection (recently donated to the Museum) and have never been on display before. The only venue for this show.  Through January 10, 2010.

Modernism, 685 Market Street, SF—Catherine Courtenaye: Fieldhand and Other Works. “Courtenaye’s inscriptions gently mock the idea that every move of the artist’s hand registers some truth of personality or mood. The whole point of calligraphic penmanship was to suppress vagaries of temperament.”—Kenneth Baker.  Through December 23.

Cain Schulte, 714 Guerrero St. SF—Justin Quinn: Keep Out This Frost. “Justin Quinn continues his transcription of Herman Melville’s epic Moby Dick into the letter E. This letter has become a surrogate for all letters in the alphabet, presenting a universal yet unreadable language.  This simplified system allows Quinn to explore the distance between reading and seeing.” Through December 23.

Venetian Red Notebook: Othon Friesz’s Chromatic Fervor

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , , , on November 28, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Othon Friesz, Paysage (Le Bec de l’Aigle, La Ciotat), 1907
oil on canvas, 25 3/8 x 32″ (courtesy SF MOMA)

It would be easy to overlook Othon Friesz’s Paysage (Le Bec de l’Aigle, La Ciotat) in the upstairs gallery of works on permanent display at SF MOMA. Tucked just inside the entryway on the right, this gem of chromatic fervor is not directly in sight. With the far wall beckoning, one is tempted to make a bee-line across the room, ignoring the wall on which The Eagle’s Beak hangs.

That would be a shame,  because the painting is just about as good an example of Fauvism—that fleeting but influential movement—as exists in the museum’s collection.

If his mother had had her way, Othon Friesz (1879-1949) would have become a musician. But, Friesz, born into a prominent shipbuilding family in Le Havre, convinced her that art was his true calling. Friesz studied at the École des Beaux-Arts (Le Havre) under neo-classicist Charles-Marie Lhuillier. There he met Georges Braque and Raoul Dufy, who would become lifelong friends, as well as fellow Fauves.

Othon Friesz, Bec de l’Aigle, La Ciotat, 1906-7
oil on canvas, 65.5 x 81 cms.

In 1898, Friesz moved to Paris to study at the Beaux-Arts under Academic painter Leon Bonnat.

Despite the academic styles of of teachers, Othon Friesz’s work this period shows the hallmarks of Impressionism—painting directly from nature, interest in the effects of light

In the first years of the new century, however, Friesz sought to break away from Impressionism. In Paris he met Henri Matisse and came under the spell of the emotional force of colors and the power of the flattened picture plane that defined the Fauvist painters. In 1905, he exhibited with the other Fauves at the seminal Salon d’Automne and again in 1906 at the Salon des Indépendants.

Like Matisse, Derain and the other Fauves, Friesz’s style owes much to Cézanne’s innovations in composition, color and brush technique. Freisz pushed color and line into the realm of the decorative, to great effect. Though the compositional lines of this painting swirl with harmonious movement, curiously Le Bec feels like an unrushed effort. It’s less like a plein air work and more deliberately thought out, more embellished as a result of the thinking.

As critic Clive Bell observed in 1921: “… Friesz has a reaction as delicate and enthusiastic as that of an English poet. Only, unlike most English painters, he would never dream of jotting it down and leaving it at that. Such hit-or-miss frivolity is not in his way. He is no amateur. He takes his impressions home and elaborates them; he brings his intellect to bear on them; and, as the exhibition at the Independent Gallery shows, without robbing them of their bloom, makes them something solid and satisfying. .” (Burlington Magazine, June 1921, p.281)

Othon Friesz, La Ciotat, 1907
oil on canvas, 65 x 80 cm (private collection).

In Le Bec, Friesz has succeeded in revealing the essential character of Le Bec, a most unusual natural form. Equally important through his distinctive color palette—warm yellows and reds—he has expertly evoked the afternoon light of the Mediterranean.

By 1908, a revived interest in Paul Cézanne’s vision of the order and structure of nature had led many of them to reject the turbulent emotionalism of Fauvism in favor of the logic of Cubism. (Braque to substantial success.) And yet, the Fauves released generations of subsequent painters from the restraints of “local” color.

Le Bec stands as our own local testament to this brief, luminescent moment in the history of art.

Wider Connections

Scott Hewicker & Cliff Hengst pair SF MOMA Collection with some of their favorite songs, including this Friesz.
Masters of Color exhibition catalog
More Friesz

Stripped Bare: Amish Quilts at the de Young

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Liz Hager, Quilts, Textiles with tags , , , , , on November 25, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Maker Unknown, Pine Trees motif, crib quilt, ca. 1930, Ohio.

As we have observed on these pages before (A Different Canvas), the line that separates art and craft can be narrow indeed, the distinction fueled by a contemporary fine art world intent on preserving its top-dog status.  Nowhere would the distinction seem to be more blurry than at the de Young’s current show Amish Abstractions: Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown.

Maker Unknown, Nine Patch Variation (Tartan) motif, quilt, ca. 1930, Pennsylvania.

While the curators are at pains to point out that there is no documented evidence that modern painters—Joseph Albers, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, or Victor Vasarely, for example—had any connection to the Amish quilting tradition, the visual similarities are inescapable.

Kenneth Noland, Interlock Color, acrylic (?) on canvas, 1973.

Josef Albers, Homage to a Square, acrylic on canvas, 1965.

Frank Stella, Marrakech, oil on canvas, 1964 (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Maker Unknown, Roman Stripe variation motif, crib quilt, c.1915, Kansas.

Certainly, basic geometric shapes are fundamental to all human-made ornamentation, whether the ornamentation ends up as a decorative or fine art piece. The Amish quiltmakers, however, weren’t interested in making art. All aspects of Amish life are dictated by a list of written or oral rules, known as Ordnung, which outline the basics of the Amish faith and conduct. Ordnung vary from community to community (which explains why one Amish might ride in a car, but another eschews electricity), but the basic tenets encourage humility and simplicity, and with those,  avoidance of all but the basic forms of ornamentation in dress and accoutrement. Art for art’s sake is associated in the Amish world with pride, vanity, fashion, luxury, and wealth, all cardinal sins.

As a placard at the introduction to the show poignantly proclaims: “The women who made these quilts…lived in a world that was already stripped bare of self-involvement, pride, and even the need to create self-conscious works of art.”

Thus, what makes an Amish quilt “Amish” is precisely what differentiates this body of work from its high-art relatives on display downstairs at the de Young.

Rebecca Zouk, Bars, quilt, ca. 1910, Pennsylvania.

The Amish quilting tradition as outsiders know it, didn’t get underway until the late 1870s—in fact the overwhelming majority of quilts were made between the 1880s and 1960s. To start, quilters constructed their coverings from one solid color, often black, brown, or blue.  The earliest multi-color designs were basic square and rectangles, which slowly evolved into more colorful and bold patterns.

The boldly-colored shapes and their intricate patterning are a visual delight. But look closely at Rebecca Zouk’s Bars quilt from 1915 and you will see the most extraordinarily intricate designs precisely stitched by hand into the background fabric. The sheer joy of discovering this delicate expression of reverence and love (for the recipient as well as the work itself) throughout many of the quilts of the show is alone worth the price of admission.

Maker Unknown, Crazy Quilt motif, ca. 1930, Pennsylvania.

Amish Abstraction is not all dour seriousness. Witness the use of this crazy quilt  from 1930—the cacophony of the traditional motif is restrained, Amish-style, within 12 orderly squares. The Amish knew how to have their fun.

Wider Connections

Faith & Stephen Brown’s site—CollectionAmish Quilts & Modern Art

The Amish Quilt

Josef Albers—The Interaction of Color

Dark Day Picks—New York Roundup

Posted in Contemporary Art, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography with tags , , on November 23, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. Today Dark Day Picks departs from its usual coverage of San Francisco to highlight noteworthy events in New York.

Onassis Cultural Center—The Origins of El Greco. Holland Cotter reviewed this show as: the “most enwrapping and enrapturing art in town, framed by alert scholarship, a lambent environment (the installation design is by Daniel Kershaw), and a score of Byzantine music, arranged and performed by the Greek ensemble En Chordais, that will soak into your system and stay there.” See also VR The Making of an Iconoclast.  Though February 27, 2010.

International Center for Photography—Dress Codes: The Third ICP Triennial of Photography and Video. A global survey of some of the most exciting photographers interpreting the theme of fashion. Through January 17, 2010.

American Museum of Natural History—Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World. Making stops at Xi’an, Turfan, Samarkand and Baghdad, this multi-faceted show includes dioramas, interactive exhibits, artifacts, performances by Yo-Yo Ma and a variety of films bring the legacy of the ancient Silk Road alive. Through August 15, 2010.

Muriel Rose and the Little Gallery

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Fiber Arts, Fine & Decorative Arts, Quilts, Textiles with tags , , , , , on November 21, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Christmas advertisement for The Little Gallery
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

Muriel Rose (1897-1986), though largely unknown today, played an extremely important pioneering role in the flowering of the 20th-century crafts movement in Great Britain, first with her influential gallery in London and later as a Founder Trustee of the Crafts Study Centre in Surrey.

Muriel Rose, c. 1950s
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

Muriel Rose (with Margaret Turnbull) opened The Little Gallery on Ellis Street, off Sloane Street, in Chelsea, in 1928, and was its director until the gallery closed in 1939. Rose created an environment where craft was shown as the equal to fine art. A strong and forceful personality, she was rigorous in her standards, and only showed work of the highest level of craftsmanship. She was just as adamant that the work was displayed with care and artfulness. She created vignettes, grouping work in simulated domestic settings. Rose championed the work of established and well-known craftsmen and women as well as anonymous craftspeople from around the world. She exhibited hand-printed and handwoven textiles, glass, pottery, embroidery, lace, hand-made papers and more. The Little Gallery also sold more familiar high-end tableware from Wedgewood as well as English and European art pottery.

The Little Gallery at 5 Ellis Street
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

Rose exhibited the work of potters Bernard Leach and Norah Braden and Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie among others, as well as the important textile artists of the day, including the innovative designers of hand-blockprinted textiles, Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, and Ethel Mairet, a pioneer in the English handweaving movement. Rose also featured the textile work of Enid Marx, with whom she shared a passion for international folk art and a commitment to preserve the quickly-vanishing ethnic arts of the world. Rose traveled extensively studying and collecting pieces, and in The Little Gallery displayed work from Italy, Eastern Europe, Japan, India and Mexico. She also sought out the textile work of miners’ wives from Durham and Wales, exhibiting and selling their high-quality handmade quilts, which were very popular and provided a much-needed financial boon to those impoverished communities.

Bernard Leach: Life & Work by Emmanuel Cooper

Norah Bradon, vase, 1930s
Stoneware with ash glaze

Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, vase with embossed leaves
Stoneware, green ash glaze, c. 1920s-1930s

Barron & Larcher, Peach, design for fabric

Ethel Mairet working at a tapestry loom(undated)

Enid Marx, Rope, textile design (undated)

The Little Gallery was not just a place for craftspeople to exhibit and sell their works, Rose created a community. The gallery was a place where artists could mingle and socialize with each other and with their clients, and often collectors would simply drop by for tea. Rose knew it was important to educate her customers so they would understand the skill required to create the works on exhibit. For example, if there was an exhibition of weaving, looms were brought in to the gallery so the artists could demonstrate their techniques. This interaction between artist and customer encouraged sales, but Rose was also concerned that these traditions, techniques and skills be valued, preserved and passed on.

Welsh quilter, c. 1930s-1940s
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

During the war, Rose was hired by the British Council to organize a touring show, The Exhibition of British Crafts. The exhibit opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1942 and toured the United States until 1945. She also organized another show, Exhibition of Rural Handcrafts from Great Britain which toured England and New Zealand in 1946. Rose served as Crafts and Industrial Design Officer of the British Council until 1957. In the 1960s, Rose helped found the Crafts Study Centre. Rose donated her archives and her collection of antique and contemporary crafts to the Centre, and they remain an important part of their collection.

To learn more about Muriel Rose and The Little Gallery, Venetian Red recommends Muriel Rose, A Modern Crafts Legacy, edited by Jean Vacher, published by the Crafts Study Centre in 2006.

To read further about Barron & Larcher, Enid Marx and other British textile designers see previous VR post The British Abstractionists.

A Different Canvas: Charles Burchfield’s Landscapes for Interiors

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Painting, Textiles, Wallpaper with tags on November 18, 2009 by Christine Cariati

This is the fourth installment in a series of posts in which Venetian Red explores aspects of artist-designed textiles and wallpaper.  For all posts in the series, click here.

by Christine Cariati

Charles Burchfield, Morning Glories, c.1925
Design for fabric
Burchfield Penney Art Center

When Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) was a young man in Ohio he painted experimental watercolors of nature and insects in an expressionistic and exuberant style where color had deep emotional resonance and even sounds were depicted through an invented calligraphic shorthand. In 1930, the newly-opened Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted Burchfield’s work in their inaugural solo exhibition.

Charles E. Burchfield, The Insect Chorus, 1917
Opaque & transparent watercolor w/ink, graphite & crayon
Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York

In the 1930s and 1940s Burchfield shifted gears and began to paint the masterful, quiet yet dramatic portraits of industrial small town and city life for which he became very well known. These paintings were mostly watercolors but had the solidity and palette more commonly found in oil painting.

Charles Burchfield, Freight Cars Under a Bridge, 1933
Watercolor, Detroit Institute of Arts

Then, in 1943, when Burchfield was fifty years old, he returned to the landscape and created a stunning body of work. These large-scale, semi-abstracted landscapes vibrate with energy that lovingly reflects on and explores the landscape of upstate New York—the change of seasons, weather, clouds and flora—in a deeply inspired and spiritual way that has strong psychological and emotional resonance.

Charles Burchfield, Glory of Spring (Radiant Spring), 1950
Watercolor on paper
Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York
photo courtesy Gary Mamay

VR recently discovered that in 1921, after studying at the Cleveland School of Art, the young Burchfield relocated to Buffalo, New York (where he lived the rest of his life) to work as a wallpaper designer at M.H. Birge & Sons. He also designed coordinating fabrics for interiors. These designs are harbingers of Burchfield’s later work, celebrating nature and the seasons in a decorative yet very painterly and beautiful way. It’s an interesting variation on the theme of established artists venturing into textile design and yet another example of the fruitfulness of embracing both decorative and fine art.

Charles Burchfield, Bleeding Hearts, 1929
Design for wallpaper

Charles Burchfield, Robins and Crocuses, 1929
Design for wallpaper

Charles Burchfield, September, c. 1925

A retrospective of Burchfield’s work, Heatwaves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield, is at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles through January 3, 2010.

Venetian Red: Notes From the Field

Posted in Design, Liz Hager, Travel, Words & Symbols with tags , , , on November 18, 2009 by Liz Hager

In Notes From the Field, we highlight innovative, witty, and thought-provoking design elements recorded by our readers from around the world.

Signpost, 11/2/09, Perú. (Photo courtesy of Juanita Garciagedoy.)

Juanita writes:

The llama-crossing sign is on the road that goes through Reserva Salinas Aguada Blanca, a few hours from Arequipa, Perú.  The reserve is home to many species of plants, birds, and critters, including wild vicuñas and domesticated alpacas and llamas.  Tourists are only permitted to go there with a guided tour, and on our bus there were several Peruvians, and several Europeans including Mira, a Finnish adventurer and instructor of surfing and physical education.

I took a multiple shots of this signpost, but prefer this one for the sense of surrealism I derive from it.

Venetian Red adds: We like this sign for its multiplicity of information. While locals are cautioned about the road hazard, visitors are additionally alerted to the more poetic cultural message embedded in the sign’s image. You’re not in Kansas, Toto!

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