Contemporary artist Ai Weiwei is having another moment right now – or maybe he’s emblematic of our time. If you’ve been following The Art Caravan for awhile, you know that I think he’s a fantastic artist. In an October 2014 post , I wrote This is one of the best exhibitions I have ever seen. Seven years later, I don’t disagree. Here’s a brief summary (with images and video) from For-Site Foundation, about Large, the installations I (fortunately) experienced at Alcatraz.
Pace Prints has a Weiwei exhibition running until May 29, 2021. In conjunction with the show, they are releasing a silkscreen print edition of Year of the Ox, which references his 2018 Zodiac and 2010 Zodiac Heads series.
Year of the Ox, 2021, Ai Weiwei, artsy.net image
Year of the Ox, 2021, Ai Weiwei, paceprints.com
Beginning May 15, and running to August 1, Skirball Cultural Center presents Ai Weiwei: Trace. Part of their programming includes this conversation with Skirball curator Yael Lipschutz. It’s worth a listen to hear Weiwei’s political perspectives. I found the discussion of his artistic process fascinating. It’s a thought provoking interview.
Artnet news announced the November 2021 publication of an Ai Weiwei memoir 1000 Days of Joys and Sorrows. In this very brief video, Weiwei explains the genesis of this book. He ends with these bold words: What is the cost for freedom? If art cannot engage with life it has no future. No surprise that his father was a poet; Selected Poems by Ai Qing will be published in English and released the same day as 1000 Days of Joys and Sorrows.
…..that is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Helen Frankenthaler
The artist Helen Frankenthaler spoke from experience. She was one of the first artists to explore the stained painting technique – a process wherein she poured thinned paint onto raw (unprimed) canvas. Mountains and Sea (1952), considered a breakthrough painting, shows the transparency and delicacy possible with this technique. Here is a very brief interpretation of the painting from the National Gallery of Art. (Curiously enough, there is a Canadian connection to this work.)
Mountains and Sea, Helen Frankenthaler, 1952 National Gallery of Art image
I recall being impressed by large canvases of her work in Modern Masters: Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler at the Seattle Art Museum. The Museum called them …three visionary painters who developed distinctive painterly styles. SAM also recognized …their hard-won accomplishments in what was a male-defined domain.
Pace Prints reminded me of Frankenthaler’s printmaking work in a recent exhibition. In Her Mind’s Eye was a show of woodcut prints she completed from 2001 to 2009 with master printmaker Yasu Shibata. She was really demanding for each project he said, in a recent interview for In Her Mind’s Eye. She knew exactly what she wanted.
He points out the connection between her early stained paintings and the process she used in the Pace printshop with the plywood: It’s really abstract just like Helen made in (the) early ’60s or ’50s – that she did the same thing on unprimed canvas – that she poured the oil paint that makes (it) bleed and the edges of the shapes are really soft.
Snow Pines, Helen Frankenthaler, 2004, Pace Prints image
Weeping Crabapple, Helen Frankenthaler, 2009, Pace Prints image
In the 10 minute video Helen Frankenthaler: OK to print she says I don’t confuse – or try not to – working on prints with working on painting. They are totally different mediums. She likens her creative process in a printmaking studio to cooking a meal from an unfamiliar icebox: You mix your own magic – whatever you’re given to work with…..because you are confronted with things that are forcing you to make something wonderful.
When collaborating and working at different print shops like Pace, Tyler Graphics, ULAE, Frankenthaler knew that she had a reputation as a demanding artist. The word is that I am so fussy….so particular…..such a perfectionist. She explains her attitude to the work: In order to have something to really move and work and be beautiful it takes a lot of time and effort and being explicit and being demanding and being controlling and also knowing when to allow…and such.
I am struck by how these ideas, specific to Helen Frankenthaler’s art making practice, are applicable to our current local, national and global challenges. If we want a more peaceful, inclusive society we need to break some of the old rules, routines and ways of being. It will take time, hard work, and dedication. We may not be popular or welcomed, as we demand and adapt to the changes necessary to create a world that moves and works and is beautiful.
Perhaps we take her analogy about the icebox to heart? We are experiencing problems and situations that require creativity to make something wonderful.
It’s not only how our lives may feel at the moment, but it’s how the artist Pat Steir describes her work. Some of her musings about making art are surprisingly relevant to our pandemic times. The chance in a painting is like a companion, she says.
As I said in my last posting, there are about a billion ways you can spend time in front of a screen right now. (I find myself experiencing a kind of ‘screen fatigue.’) This short video from Pace Prints is worth five minutes of your time. In it, Ms Steir discusses some of her motivation and the processes for making her art. I’m really only interested in the performance of painting and colour. The photography is effective, and a lot of intriguing ideas are packed into a few minutes. She cites John Cage and Agnes Martin as influences. It’s fascinating, and inspiring, to see her combine printmaking and painting in large scale works.
Pat Steir, NYTimes image
Good news and bad news: There’s a significant exhibition of her paintings, Color Wheel, at the Hirshhorn, a Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. It opened October 24, 2019 and is slated to run until January 18, 2021. It’s wonderful that the work is being featured, but it’s unfortunate that so few people will be able to see it as all the Smithsonian Museums closed on March 14 for public health safety. In the meantime, feel free to browse the Smithsonian Institution’s extensive on-line resources.