September 28, 2015

Four New Hooked Wool Drawings

2015 #12, hand dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 19 x 16 in. 

My ideas for textiles begin as pencil doodles––or, to be more serious, thumbnail sketches––on sheets of typing paper. When I'm ready to make new textile work, I look through the sketches for ideas that look promising; I then add color with watercolor or gouache. The colors I choose for the sketch aren't  necessarily what I'll end up with: for my hooked wool drawings, I usually use some of the huge pile of many colors of dyed wool left over from previous projects. For #12, finding a large piece of yellow wool helped determine its colors. With this piece I wanted to reverse the usual order of visual weight: instead of getting lighter as the forms go back in space, I made them heavier by using wool; the lightest, highest form is paint.

2015 #12 detail

Here's a detail of the differing textures, from paint, to a line of hooked wool, and then to a hooked shape.

2015 #13, hand dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 17 1/2 x 15

The idea for #13 began with two overlapping ovals, which I then connected at the top with a curved line. When I look at it now, I don't see the ovals at first because the colored areas, of green paint and blue wool, grab my attention. 

2015 #14, hand dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 13 3/4 x 17 1/4 in.

For this piece, I thought about how I could vary a line of circles: change sizes, colors, positions, textures. The result is a kind of a "follow the bouncing ball".

2015 #15, hand dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 15 x 12 in. 

Finally, more circles: a curve at top, then two circles of lighter reds, with a solidly hooked light red at their center; a painted shape at top, circles floating on a light ground. If I see a theme that connects these four works, it's repeating rhythms.

September 24, 2015

Anne Truitt: Sumptuous Color

Rice-Paper Drawing [17], 1965, ink on Japanese rice paper, 12 1/4 x 9 in. 

It is a great visual pleasure to see a show in which color is so saturated and rich that it transcends paint's mere physicality. The works on paper in Anne Truitt in Japan at Matthew Marks gallery were all made when Truitt, mostly known as a sculptor, lived in Tokyo from 1964-67. Although she destroyed the sculpture she made while in Japan, these beautiful drawings remain, and she said of her time there:
If I had not gone to Japan, I would not know anything. I would not know what is what.

Rice-Paper Drawing [3], 1965, ink on Japanese rice paper, 12 1/4 x 9 in. 

In the first room of the gallery were five intensely colored small works on rice paper. The color was as though soaked into the textured paper, making an effect of subtle variation within each hue.

Rice-Paper Drawing [13], 1965, ink on Japanese rice paper, 12 1/4 x 9 in. 

The colors, the boundaries between shapes, the textures, invited you to come close and linger with the drawing.

Rice-Paper Drawing [15], 1965, ink on Japanese rice paper, 12 1/4 x 9 in. 

As with Ad Reinhardt's black paintings, the more you look at these small drawings, the more there is to see: differentiations in hues become visible.

Truitt '66 [20], 1966, acrylic and graphite on paper, 11 x 6 in.

Although my favorite works were the drawings with overall saturated color––the four drawings above and three at the end of this post––there were also works exploring color shapes. In [20] above, there is a careful balancing of a hue's weight: the light blue band at bottom adds air to the composition. This drawing reminds me of Truitt's columnar sculpture, with its bands of color.

Truitt '66 [11], 1966, acrylic on paper, 27 1/4 x 3 1/8 in.

Truitt pushed the idea of shape into new dimensions: a very long, narrow rectangle is animated and  made more present by orange and blue-gray color shapes descending it; our eye has no trouble navigating the extreme length of this small drawing.

Truitt '66 [11] detail

At an intersection, the orange paint is handled differently on the top and bottom, a detail that creates solidity in a two dimensional work.

Truitt '66 [7], 1966, acrylic on paper, 1 x 27 1/2 in. 

I was so intrigued by these long narrow shapes and how Truitt was able to create a viable composition across them. We almost feel the dark blue dipping below the edge of the paper and swooping back up again.

Truitt '67 [6], 1967, acrylic on paper, 27 1/2 x 41 in. 

There is a just-rightness about the way the pink and green shapes abut and balance each other on a white sheet of paper.

Installation view at Matthew Marks gallery, of drawings pictured below.

Truitt '67 [6] was in the same room as three very saturated works. The image above gives a sense of the size of the drawings.

Truitt '67 [21], 1967, acrylic on paper, 27 1/2 x 41 in.

Truitt '67 [33], 1967, acrylic on paper, 27 1/2 x 41 in.

Truitt '67 [20], 1967, acrylic on paper, 27 1/2 x 41 in.

These three drawings are deep and luscious explorations of color. Their intensity gave me a sense of being enveloped and transported by color. As with the drawings on rice paper, the subtlety of the color/shape variations demanded attentive viewing; although not large, there was a feeling of boundless space. In 1965 Truitt wrote in her private papers:
What is important to me is not geometrical shape per se, or color per se, but to make a relationship between shape and color which feels to me like my experience. To make what feels to me like reality. 
 (Thanks to Plug Projects Blog for the quote.)

September 22, 2015

Eight New Small Drawings

sd 41, distemper and egg tempera on paper, ca. 7 x 7 in.

I was in a simple gestural mood while working on this group of small drawings. While toning paper for my drawings based on Islamic design––you can see the most recent here––I use some of the paint to make the small drawings. I tone the paper with distemper, which is pigment mixed with a glue size; I use gelatin. I turn from the solid-toned larger pieces of paper to these small sheets, approaching them freely and intuitively. Then, after looking and thinking, on another day I add a bit of egg tempera; for me this small deliberate addition completes the drawing process. In the work above, I added the red circle to emphasize the subtle ochre one and the blue splash on the left.

sd 42, distemper and egg tempera on paper, ca. 7 x 7 in.

In sd 42 there's just a small curved purple mark––an echo––on top of the transparent yellow.

sd 43, distemper and egg tempera on paper, ca. 7 x 7 in.

 A transparent blue mark at left repeats a part of the big blue swerve.

sd 44, distemper and egg tempera on paper, ca. 7 x 7 in.

Sometimes, looking at these, I can't quite remember what I added later in egg tempera. Here I think it was two of the three yellow marks at top, and the small blue mark at the lower left.

sd 45, distemper and egg tempera on paper, ca. 7 x 7 in.

I do remember adding the yellow band at the left, which I hoped would add a bit of tension to the paler bands of color.

sd 46, distemper and egg tempera on paper, ca. 7 x 7 in.

I was playing with gold pigment in sd 46; I had used it as a layer in one of the toned papers, but here it stands alone: at the bottom is a distemper stroke, made at the same time as the purples; at the top is a stroke of egg tempera. The pigment I use is Colibri Gold from Kremer Pigments.

sd 47, distemper and egg tempera on paper, ca. 7 x 7 in.

In another drawing with blue and yellow stripes, quite different in mood from the all-over, transparent one above, I added only a small mark of yellow tempera.

sd 48, distemper and egg tempera on paper, ca. 7 x 7 in.

This drawing seems different from the others in this group; I'm not sure why, but maybe it's the saturated blue marks in a white field. One of the marks (if I remember correctly) had an inadvertent splotch of reddish on it––the second from the top––so I added more small reddish marks to balance it. There's a proscenium arch feel to this, as though the blue shapes are actors on a stage. One reason I enjoy doing these drawings is that they're fluid and unplanned, similar to my potato prints, but different from all the other mediums I work with. 


September 21, 2015

Jefferson Market: The Gift of a City Garden

All sorts of gardens, large and small, are wonderful things to see, but a garden in the midst of the city, surrounded by tall buildings and heavy traffic, is especially magical.

Walking up Sixth Avenue from the West 4th Street subway station in the Village, you can soon see the Victorian Gothic spires of the elaborate Jefferson Market branch of the NY Public Library. The building was originally built as a courthouse in 1877; not in use since 1945, it was threatened with demolition, but a group of active citizens were successful in seeing that it was converted into a library, which opened in 1967. It was one of the first "adaptive reuse" projects in the US. The beautiful garden adjoining the library to the south also has a wonderful story.

A prison, The Women's House of Detention, was built on the site of the garden in 1931, replacing another earlier prison. When it was torn down in 1971, the land was transferred to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, and became the Jefferson Market Garden. Here, plants in profusion spill out of the metal fences.

The contrasts of fence and leaves is a perfect metaphor for the life to be found within the boundaries of a small city garden.

Although the garden was closed when I was there, I was able to see a great deal through the fence. I noted how beautifully the garden is designed (it is maintained by volunteers!) with varied colors and textures throughout.

The cool greens of a spiky grass are alongside soft, fuzzy leaves.

Deep reds of small leaves form a base for an explosion of grandeur.

In this late summer/early fall season, there are flowers blooming: tiny violet composite flowers....

....and a singular flaming red.

A special treat were Passion flowers blooming outside the fence along Sixth Avenue. This exotic, complex flower was just opening, and a bee was deep inside. The blessings of nature, however confined, brighten city life; imagine what Manhattan would be without small gardens such as this, and without the grand Central Park.

September 19, 2015

At the Met: The Charm of Ancient Animals

A few years ago I stumbled upon the Greek and Roman Study Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On a mezzanine floor above the Greek and Roman galleries, are cases and cases full of objects, too small or broken or not significant enough to be included in the main galleries, but wonderful to see. Every once in a while I take a wander through the long gallery to see what my eye will alight upon. This week the images of animals engaged my attention: so many were fanciful, while being attentive to the animal's characteristics. In his essay, "Why Look at Animals?", John Berger notes that before the 19th century,  "animals constituted the first circle of what surrounded man.....they were at the center of his world". While looking at all the animals pictured, I felt that there was a true relationship in those ancient times. And what a delightful creature pictured above!

The objects show affection and humor and respect.
I'm sorry not to have exact information on the pieces, but there are 3500 objects in these cases and their details have to be found on wall monitors; there are no labels. There are 116 pages full of objects on the Met's website, 30 objects per page.

There were many birds depicted: on the flasks above, and sculpted as various vessels. This bird bulbous....

....and this long and narrow, painted with geometric designs (or is it a bird?).

To me these look like a pair of small owls, with simply rendered form.

And here a duck, whose graceful head tops a large rounded body, probably enlarged so as to contain more liquid.

Then there were domestic animals, like these perky bulls.

These small sculptures were in the Hellenistic case, a later period, evident because of their increased naturalism.

There were also non-domesticated species, such as this marvelous elongated and spotted rabbit.

Then these marvelous little creatures: are they hedgehogs?

Finally, the fiercest of wild animals: a lion and behind him a bird of prey. The lion in this incarnation doesn't look too frightening, though both falcon(?) and lion are strong presences. We are lucky to have all these objects on display rather than hidden away in storage.

September 12, 2015

Four New Drawings

#53, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in.

I learn a great deal about color, their balances and weights, while I'm working on this series of drawings. I have a color study for each drawing that I do, but they're on white sheets of paper, and their colors never stay the same once the design is transferred to the toned paper. The color of the paper demands a response, of color's main qualities––its hue, value, and intensity––and also of its weight: how transparent or opaque will it be? Because egg tempera in translucent, each color layer will be affected by the color underneath. In the drawing above, I painted the entire diamond shape with the purply color first, then layered the ocher on top of it. But the purple went through several transitions of hue, cooler and warmer, and the ocher was incredibly difficult to balance: first it was too light, then too dark, then too golden (I tried a layer of gold pigment since it's in the color of the toned paper, but it looked awful), then I don't remember what. But finally I got to a color that seems to work with the more transparent purple and with the color of the paper. 

#54, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in.

With #54 I fiddled a lot with the value of the blue shapes, making them lighter and darker. Then there was the decision of how opaque to make them: well, because I fiddled with the value, the layers of paint were making the shapes more opaque, so I added a few more layers to make the opacity more of a settled decision. In this photo, the blues don't all look the same, but it's just the way the light is hitting the paint, which has a low gloss, differently.

#55, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in.

In this drawing the quality of color insisted that I change my original idea. My thought was to have a blue rectangle on the left partially overpainted by the yellow at the right, to yield a green vertical rectangle in the center. Well, I did that, but the blue was so heavy a color that it looked terrible with the rest of the drawing; its weight was completely wrong. I overpainted it with a light layer of yellow, making it a blue-green, and then it worked.

#56, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in.

My color conundrum in this drawing was one of relationships: the yellow shapes at center, when painted the same color, refused to look like the same color. The cooler dark green set up a stronger contrast with the yellow than that with the orange, so the top yellow shape looked brighter. I painted the lower shape with a couple of more translucent layers of yellow and hoped that way to balance the effect....with what is a very odd image altogether, but one found within the basic shapes of the template, based on Islamic design.