Monday, February 9, 2015

What are Artists' Books?

What is an artist's book and how can it be defined? This and many other questions are posed to students participating in the Corcoran School of Art and Design’s Art and the Book graduate program. The Master’s in Art and the Book focuses on the history and theory behind the rich tradition of book making. Students in this program actively engage in book making during their course of study. By end of the program, students are tasked with creating one collaborative artist’s book as a class, using a single overarching theme.

 Earlier this January, a group of these students exhibited their final book project from the fall semester. Entitled An Exquisite Future, the book revolves around ideas like the advancement of technology, the eminent collapse of the bee population, and the emotions that result from thinking about the unknown. The students composed the book by each completing a unique page. However, students collaborated by basing their page on the previous student’s page each presenting a year in the future. Each student only viewed the previous student’s entry. So, when the book was completed, a full and complete picture of the future emerged.

Sarah Matthews, Untitled, 2014.  
           
An Exquisite Future is one example of an artist’s book, however; it is not the only kind that exists. In fact, there are many forms and variations of artists’ books. This diversity in artists’ books makes it difficult to define the exact nature of these art pieces. According to Frank Furnace, an avant-garde performance art and fine arts nonprofit, “An artist’s book is an object whose primary medium is the idea, as opposed to an object that is valuable by virtue of the materials from which it is made.[1] This is a clarifying definition because it showcases how artists’ books are works of art that are realized in the form of a book, rather than a traditional medium. Therefore, each book varies in materials, images, and ideas. Ultimately, each artist's book is an expression of an idea conceived by the artist.

Artists' books from the Corcoran Art & Design collection will be on display as a part of Paper Window beginning February 11th in the MPA 2nd floor cases.



[1] Lauf, C. (1998). Artist/Author: Contemporary Artists' Books. American Federation of Arts.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Susan Roth’s works are currently on exhibition at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery in an exhibition called Form, Frame, Fold

Susan Roth grows inspired by the naturalism that surrounds her. Whether it is the motion of the waves or the whirl of the wind, she is fascinated by the evidence of nature’s presence and the trail it leaves behind.  In this way, movement becomes key in her oeuvre and can be perceived in different ways.  Being moved from a particular story or event leads Susan Roth to create pieces in which there is much movement. Moving memories are reincarnated through her pieces which embody travel, journey, and transportation via the mediums, textures, colors, or perceptions.  The optimism she develops from these elements she was also able to find in the touching story of Alice Herz-Sommer.  

A piece called Alice’s Piano within the exhibition, and prominently displayed in the show, is the result of an emotional catalyst.  To give a background to the story of Alice Herz-Sommer, Susan Roth tells us,
 “The life of Alice Herz-Sommer talks to the matter of what art is to the working artist.  It is the story of joy:  both making art and being alive.  Turning to Chopin's Etudes, the 27 solo pieces, Herz-Sommer found belief through practice, faith through optimism for the purpose of life.  This attitude to do, to honor, to emulate allowed her great freedom from the anxieties of influence. All this is to say, I trust my methods, [as] painting is artisanal, and allows any inspiration to come from this freedom to search.”

Alice Herz-Sommer was born on November 26, 1903 in Prague, to a German speaking, Jewish family where she was one of five children. 

To avoid the repercussions of what came with the war, her family fled Prague for Palestine.  It was Alice’s decision to stay behind to take care of her ailing mother.  In 1942, her mother was sent to Terezin, a Nazi operated camp.  After deeming that experience as “the lowest point of my life” Mrs. Herz-Sommer decided to begin work on Chopin’s Etudes.

In 1943, Mrs. Herz-Sommer, her husband, and her son were also transported to Terezin, where many of the inmates were among Czechoslovakia’s most renowned musicians and artists.  It was then that Mrs. Herz-Sommer joined the propagandist band, catering to prisoners and Nazi guards, as well as the Red Cross which visited three times a year.  The music seemed to boost the little morale of the camp and gave people joy.

The beauty of this story comes from the music: It was the concerts and music that kept her morale afloat while in Terezin, and it was Chopin’s Etudes that carried her through the rest of her long life.  Though Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s hands were beginning to fail her (she lost use of two of her fingers) she adapted, and it was her musical inclinations that gave her life and enriched her spirits.  Joy and the activities that evoke optimism in the lives of people can also help guide one to realize their purpose of life. Susan Roth says: Alice's Piano is dedicated to this spirit.  The title acknowledges the feelings I have for the picture.  I do hope that the viewer can see my sense of what James Joyce says, always, "the same anew".

Friday, November 14, 2014

Allusions in Susan Roth’s Work




The forms and folds of artist Susan Roth’s work present a dialogue on the use of cultural allusions in artwork. Specifically, Roth’s evocative titles often reference other works of art, media, and history. This is not completely unheard of; yet, Roth creates and assigns these titles after the work is completed. Therefore, Roth is not resigned to incorporating specific cultural allusions into her work; rather they occur naturally and derive from her process.

 
Susan Roth, Time Lord, 2013.
This is especially evident in her piece entitled Time Lord that refers to the ongoing BBC series “Doctor Who”. “Doctor Who” is a British science fiction program that chronicles the adventures of the Doctor, a time lord and humanoid alien. He explores the universe using his abilities while facing adversaries and helping friends. Over the course of its thirty-four seasons, “Doctor Who” has gathered a unique set of devoted fans. In fact, Roth is a fan, who began viewing the series during its original broadcast. It is evident from her steel painting Time Lord that Roth holds a special affinity to the show like most fans.  Like all of her pieces, Roth titled this work after its completion. Thus, the show was not the point of reference or focus during the work’s creation. Yet, Roth resonated with the shared themes of the show and the artwork. In an interview between gallery director Lenore Miller and Roth, the artist reflects on the piece and shares: “The shifting association [of the series] I feel is somehow invoked and similar to the shifts and rifts, the slips and slides, of my canvases, and now the steel as well”.[i] Ultimately, Roth’s feelings toward Time Lord and her process show how allusions become embedded in her artwork so effortlessly.






Susan Roth, Argosy (Conrad), 2013.
Similarly, in Roth’s work Argosy, she alludes to the author Joseph Conrad and his literature. Conrad was a British writer, best known for his novels Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, which drew on his experience as a mariner in the 1870s. His works of literature often addressed profound themes of nature and existence, offering a revolutionary perspective during his time. Conrad and his works have been alluded to numerously in film. His stories and characters are recognizable in films such as Apocalypse Now and The Duelists. However, in both of these examples, Conrad’s works are cleverly adapted to different settings and conflicts in order to depict the timelessness of his ideas and themes. Yet, it is clear that these projects that these projects purposely used Conrad’s work to serve as inspiration. Comparatively, Argosy is unique in its allusion and medium because it occurs naturally. The allusion to Conrad is visible by the distinctive “C” shape that is embedded into Roth’s steel painting. Ultimately, this piece culturally adds to the previous allusions of Conrad’s work.


Susan Roth, North Country Girl, 2013.
 
Allusions can be powerful in artwork because they can elicit different responses and connotations from viewers. This occurs easily in Roth’s piece North Country Girl. For example, this piece could be an allusion to Bob Dylan’s song “Girl from the North Country”. Dylan wrote this song during a trip to England in 1962 in tribute to a past girlfriend. Since its debut, Dylan’s song has been covered by notable singers like Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, and Neil Young. Depending on the age and background of the viewer, North Country Girl could be associated with a specific cover or the original song. Whereas, for other viewers, this may not be the allusion that is accessible. In fact, a film entitled North Country was released in 2005 that focused on a historic class action suit between a group of female miners and a mine in northern Minnesota. Although this event is seemingly obscure, it could impact how a knowledgeable viewer interprets the title of Roth’s piece and therefore, her work. Thus, the power of allusions not only impacts the subject of an art piece, but also how that piece is responded to by a body of viewers.
 
 
 
Susan Roth, North Country Girl, 2013.

Susan Roth’s works will be on display as a part of Susan Roth: Form, Frame, Fold until January 30th, 2015 at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery.



[i] Roth, Susan. Interview by Lenore Miller. N.d. Print. (Exhibition Catalogue).
 






Friday, October 3, 2014

Inside the Studio: Barbara Hepworth and St. Ives



Gustave Courbet, The Artist's Studio, 1854
Within the decorated walls of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, there is a work entitled The Artist’s Studio by the realist painter Gustave Courbet. In this painting, Courbet paints himself in the middle of the canvas as he is surrounded by characters of the natural world and subjects of the academy. Yet, despite these distractions around him, Courbet continues to focus on a painting in front of him and forgoes depicting the romanticized images around him. The Artist’s Studio is a compelling painting because of its poignant message about an artist’s responsibility in the world as a mediator of reality. However, it also grandly depicts Courbet within his own studio, allowing every viewer to feel present inside of it. This choice of setting is significant because an artist’s studio is a private sanctum that is often left unshared. It is evident though that these studios are imperative for creation and artistry.
 

Pablo Picasso’s atelier – Cannes, France
Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “An artist’s studio should be a small space because small rooms discipline the mind and large ones distract it”.[1] This intriguing statement by Da Vinci is sensible, yet isn’t true for most acclaimed artists. For example, Pablo Picasso’s studio spaciously resided in his home on the French Riveria. Artist Georgia O’Keeffe worked inside and outside of her ranch styled studio, which encompassed over five-thousand square feet. Comparatively, Jackson Pollock composed his works in a small barn that was initially built to store fishing equipment, the place lacked both heating and artificial light. Clearly, studios range in diversity and complexity, but it is arguable that these places are works of arts in their own right. In order to explore this concept of a studio as a work of art it is important to analyze the properties and components of a specific studio.




                       Georgia O’Keefe’s studio – Abiquiu, New Mexico    Jackson Pollock’s studio – East Hampton, New York


Artist Barbara Hepworth’s studio in her home in St. Ives was turned into a museum after the artist’s death. Hepworth and her family departed London in 1939 upon the outbreak of the World War II and settled in the small community of St. Ives in Cornwall. The war encouraged Hepworth to contemplate her place as an artist with new interest because the emotional link between art and society was now imperative. Although reluctant to depart London, Hepworth ultimately appreciated being decentralized. She felt that St. Ives was a much more responsible and encouraging community, stating, “St. Ives is a small place; but the artists and writers here do, I know, think of you and your work each day.”[2] In this aspect, Hepworth’s art becomes informed by the time and place of her environment.
 
Hepworth was influenced by the war and social engagement around her, which led to a new energy in her artwork. Intriguing, this new energy is present within the physical boundaries of Hepworth’s practice. When Hepworth acquired the Trewyn studio and her St. Ives home, the artist expressed, “ It will be a joy to carve in such a perfect place, both serene and secluded ­– the courtyard and garden are protected by tall trees and roof tops so that I can work out of doors most of the year.”[3] In fact, Hepworth’s Trewyn studio provided workshop spaces for stone carving, plasterwork, and outdoor sculpture. These spaces were maintained separately, yet were never in isolation of one another. The stone carving studio and yard acted as the heart of the studio. Whereas, she alternated between spaces for her bronze and plaster work. Additionally, Hepworth acquired the Palais de Danse, a dance studio, across the street from her Trewyn studio in 1960.  She used this space to craft large-scale works. In fact, on a visit to St. Ives in 2011, gallery director Lenore Miller toured this intimate space and viewed several of Hepworth's private works ( a photograph of this special visit is featured on the left). However, as Hepworth stated, she tried to work outside as much as possible in order to be influenced by the natural coastal echoes and images. Therefore, Hepworth’s practice was unlimited, allowing for freedom in her sculptural pieces.




Two Forms (Divided Circle) 1969 in the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden



Hepworth later shared with a friend that she felt as if she’d discovered an easy flow for the first time in her life after working in the Trewyn studio. She continued to work in this environment over a course of twenty-five years, evolving her preexisting practices and artistic flow. Yet, the studio became Hepworth’s final piece of art, which encapsulated the artist’s spirit and process. Upon Hepworth’s death in 1975, her studio was converted into an active museum, which showcases her studio workshops and outdoor sculpture. In a way, the museum acts as a living vestige or self-portrait of Hepworth. Marble dust from her creations continues to permeate the studio space as her tools and chisels lie still next to unfinished works. The garden and yard celebrate the artist’s life as it presents a biography of her work and career. The influence of St. Ives and the environment are evident from these exhibitions and truly show how an artist’s studio and place can inform their work.
 

Barbara Hepworth’s works and sculptural pieces will be on display at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery as a part of Icons of British Sculpture until October 10th.



[1] http://www.art-quotes.com/getquotes.php?catid=292
[2] Curtis, Penelope, and Alan Wilkinson. Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective. Liverpool: Tate Gallery
     Publications, 1994. Print.
[3] Ibid.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Transcendence of Arthur Hall Smith’s Artwork



“At the beginning it seems like chaos, but in the end, you sense the order. “[1]

 Within this statement, Arthur Hall Smith reveals the dynamic nature of his style and work, which encompasses a combination of abstract and figurative elements. The body of Smith’s work indicates the many artistic transitions that occurred during his career. As he shifted between various mediums and techniques.

Smith worked simultaneously on abstract and figurative works throughout his career but one image we have on view now shows how his abstract paintings come directly from the figure and nature. In this work, watch how Smith didactically abstracts the human form through a series of simple abstract gestures. This piece demonstrates how his abstraction comes from a figurative source. Yet, as viewers, it is the reconciliation of these elements, which creates a dynamic piece that resonates with us.

Untitled, n.d., ink on paper, 10”x 17-1/2” (Sight).


Smith states, “[My] goal in drawings is to achieve an equivalence between the rhythm of the line and the poetry of the subject."[2]

 

Figure study group, n.d., ink on paper, 18”x 23”, Private Collection

 
Thus, it is evident that Smith’s style is an actuation of these goals. This work specifically shows the qualities that he hoped to embody in his figure drawings. It is a delicate array of line, rhythm, and poetry. This work ultimately shows how Smith composed his abstract work.


A Gathering, 2007, mixed media on paper, 32-1/1” x24-3/8”, Private Collection

 

Arthur Hall Smith’s works will be on display at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery until April 4th.



[1] Arthur Hall Smith. By The George Washington University. Persistent Productions: Documentary, Film,
     and Design. 2008. Web. 2 Apr. 2014.
[2] http://www.usbr.gov/museumproperty/art/biosmith.html


 

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Metamorphosis of Butteflies in Art


A butterfly is a symbolic creature within the context of art and nature. It is admired for its beauty, fluidity, and evolution. A butterfly’s metamorphosis serves as a powerful metaphor for how equally transcendent human life can be. An old proverb continues to ruminate in our society, which expresses, “Just when the caterpillar thought its life was over, it became a butterfly.”  This very resonating idea simply and thoughtfully addresses the balance between darkness and hope in human life. It is within these themes that artists like Dosso Dossi, Damien Hirst, and Holly Trostle Brigham explore and create artwork.

Butterflies symbolically appear in early works by Italian painter Dosso Dossi during the Renaissance. Specifically, in his piece Jupiter Painting Butterflies, Mercury and Virtue, Dossi portrays the god Jupiter in the act of painting butterflies. The godliness of Jupiter empowers his painted creations to life and the butterflies are visibly beginning to emerge from his canvas. These butterflies intermingle with the colors of the rainbow in the background setting. The newly created souls that rest in the butterflies are meant to enter the world of men. The figures of Mercury and Virtue are tensely interacting in the scene as well. Mercury tries aimlessly to silence Virtue before Jupiter is disturbed during his act of creation. Dossi employs a didactic use of allusion to illustrate the complexity of these butterflies. Ultimately, Dossi’s butterflies show the delicacy of life: it can easily be created and taken away.


 Dosso Dossi, Jupiter Painting Butterflies, Mercury and Virtue, 1524  
 
        Damien Hirst, I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds, 2006


In 2006, an art piece emerged by artist Damien Hirst that elicited controversy and commentary on the same human principles explored in Dossi’s work. Rather than bringing butterflies to life like Jupiter, Hirst used the death of butterflies to speak to ideas on regeneration and revival. The piece titled I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds consisted of thousands of dead butterfly wings, resting in red household gloss paint. Hirst stated when reflecting on his work, “I’ve got an obsession with death … But I think it’s like a celebration of life rather than something morbid.”[1] Hirst intended to reference the spiritual nature of butterflies that was used by Greeks to depict Psyche (soul) and Christian symbolism to signify resurrection in his work.[2] These elements are palpable throughout the piece as the viewer is confronted by the complex nature of the wings’ natural beauty. This beauty is a product of regeneration and metamorphosis that ultimately dissipates all over again. Thus, life and death emerge from the piece sublimely.


Holly Trostle Brigham, Freeing the Frieda in Me, 2003 (detail)
 

Butterflies are thus a vehicle in which to visually understand the balance between indefinable ideas. Yet, for artist and knowledgeable lepidopterist Holly Trostle Brigham, butterflies hold a personal symbolism. Butterflies appear over and over again in her Seven Sisters I paintings including Frida Kahlo, Judith Leyster, and Maria Sibylla Merian. Brigham chooses butterfly species that help to convey the narrative surrounding her female protagonists. For Brigham each butterfly symbolizes a specific idea and theme. Brigham’s most personal image and self-portrait “Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me” depicts herself as a winged pilot evoking imagery of butterfly wings and Amelia Earhart. Brigham gives herself the wings of a butterfly signifying her final assimilation of the motif. The painting stands as a metaphor for Brigham’s aspirations for physical, spiritual and intellectual fulfillment in life.[3]




Holly Trostle Brigham, Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me, 2002
 

It is no surprise that artists have gravitated toward the image of butterflies in their work. These creatures hold such beauty and grace, while also representing profound ideas. Additionally, simple adages like “Just when the caterpillar thought its life was over, it became a butterfly” continue to ruminate throughout society. Butterflies hold powerful meaning for viewers. Their imagery has the ability to explain the inevitable: change. Whether that change is in the form of life, death, or metamorphosis it can be understood through the simple sight of a butterfly.

Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me as well as the Seven Sisters series is currently on display at the Luther W. Brady Gallery as a part of the Holly Trostle Brigham: Dis/Guise exhibit, which will be shown until February 28th.



[1] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 21
[2] "I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds, 2006." Damien Hirst. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.
     <http://www.damienhirst.com/i-am-become-death-shatterer-o>.
[3] Brodsky, Judith, and Ferris Olin. Holly Trostle Brigham: Dis/Guise. Print. (Exhibition catalogue)

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Monday, February 9, 2015

What are Artists' Books?

What is an artist's book and how can it be defined? This and many other questions are posed to students participating in the Corcoran School of Art and Design’s Art and the Book graduate program. The Master’s in Art and the Book focuses on the history and theory behind the rich tradition of book making. Students in this program actively engage in book making during their course of study. By end of the program, students are tasked with creating one collaborative artist’s book as a class, using a single overarching theme.

 Earlier this January, a group of these students exhibited their final book project from the fall semester. Entitled An Exquisite Future, the book revolves around ideas like the advancement of technology, the eminent collapse of the bee population, and the emotions that result from thinking about the unknown. The students composed the book by each completing a unique page. However, students collaborated by basing their page on the previous student’s page each presenting a year in the future. Each student only viewed the previous student’s entry. So, when the book was completed, a full and complete picture of the future emerged.

Sarah Matthews, Untitled, 2014.  
           
An Exquisite Future is one example of an artist’s book, however; it is not the only kind that exists. In fact, there are many forms and variations of artists’ books. This diversity in artists’ books makes it difficult to define the exact nature of these art pieces. According to Frank Furnace, an avant-garde performance art and fine arts nonprofit, “An artist’s book is an object whose primary medium is the idea, as opposed to an object that is valuable by virtue of the materials from which it is made.[1] This is a clarifying definition because it showcases how artists’ books are works of art that are realized in the form of a book, rather than a traditional medium. Therefore, each book varies in materials, images, and ideas. Ultimately, each artist's book is an expression of an idea conceived by the artist.

Artists' books from the Corcoran Art & Design collection will be on display as a part of Paper Window beginning February 11th in the MPA 2nd floor cases.



[1] Lauf, C. (1998). Artist/Author: Contemporary Artists' Books. American Federation of Arts.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Susan Roth’s works are currently on exhibition at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery in an exhibition called Form, Frame, Fold

Susan Roth grows inspired by the naturalism that surrounds her. Whether it is the motion of the waves or the whirl of the wind, she is fascinated by the evidence of nature’s presence and the trail it leaves behind.  In this way, movement becomes key in her oeuvre and can be perceived in different ways.  Being moved from a particular story or event leads Susan Roth to create pieces in which there is much movement. Moving memories are reincarnated through her pieces which embody travel, journey, and transportation via the mediums, textures, colors, or perceptions.  The optimism she develops from these elements she was also able to find in the touching story of Alice Herz-Sommer.  

A piece called Alice’s Piano within the exhibition, and prominently displayed in the show, is the result of an emotional catalyst.  To give a background to the story of Alice Herz-Sommer, Susan Roth tells us,
 “The life of Alice Herz-Sommer talks to the matter of what art is to the working artist.  It is the story of joy:  both making art and being alive.  Turning to Chopin's Etudes, the 27 solo pieces, Herz-Sommer found belief through practice, faith through optimism for the purpose of life.  This attitude to do, to honor, to emulate allowed her great freedom from the anxieties of influence. All this is to say, I trust my methods, [as] painting is artisanal, and allows any inspiration to come from this freedom to search.”

Alice Herz-Sommer was born on November 26, 1903 in Prague, to a German speaking, Jewish family where she was one of five children. 

To avoid the repercussions of what came with the war, her family fled Prague for Palestine.  It was Alice’s decision to stay behind to take care of her ailing mother.  In 1942, her mother was sent to Terezin, a Nazi operated camp.  After deeming that experience as “the lowest point of my life” Mrs. Herz-Sommer decided to begin work on Chopin’s Etudes.

In 1943, Mrs. Herz-Sommer, her husband, and her son were also transported to Terezin, where many of the inmates were among Czechoslovakia’s most renowned musicians and artists.  It was then that Mrs. Herz-Sommer joined the propagandist band, catering to prisoners and Nazi guards, as well as the Red Cross which visited three times a year.  The music seemed to boost the little morale of the camp and gave people joy.

The beauty of this story comes from the music: It was the concerts and music that kept her morale afloat while in Terezin, and it was Chopin’s Etudes that carried her through the rest of her long life.  Though Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s hands were beginning to fail her (she lost use of two of her fingers) she adapted, and it was her musical inclinations that gave her life and enriched her spirits.  Joy and the activities that evoke optimism in the lives of people can also help guide one to realize their purpose of life. Susan Roth says: Alice's Piano is dedicated to this spirit.  The title acknowledges the feelings I have for the picture.  I do hope that the viewer can see my sense of what James Joyce says, always, "the same anew".

Friday, November 14, 2014

Allusions in Susan Roth’s Work




The forms and folds of artist Susan Roth’s work present a dialogue on the use of cultural allusions in artwork. Specifically, Roth’s evocative titles often reference other works of art, media, and history. This is not completely unheard of; yet, Roth creates and assigns these titles after the work is completed. Therefore, Roth is not resigned to incorporating specific cultural allusions into her work; rather they occur naturally and derive from her process.

 
Susan Roth, Time Lord, 2013.
This is especially evident in her piece entitled Time Lord that refers to the ongoing BBC series “Doctor Who”. “Doctor Who” is a British science fiction program that chronicles the adventures of the Doctor, a time lord and humanoid alien. He explores the universe using his abilities while facing adversaries and helping friends. Over the course of its thirty-four seasons, “Doctor Who” has gathered a unique set of devoted fans. In fact, Roth is a fan, who began viewing the series during its original broadcast. It is evident from her steel painting Time Lord that Roth holds a special affinity to the show like most fans.  Like all of her pieces, Roth titled this work after its completion. Thus, the show was not the point of reference or focus during the work’s creation. Yet, Roth resonated with the shared themes of the show and the artwork. In an interview between gallery director Lenore Miller and Roth, the artist reflects on the piece and shares: “The shifting association [of the series] I feel is somehow invoked and similar to the shifts and rifts, the slips and slides, of my canvases, and now the steel as well”.[i] Ultimately, Roth’s feelings toward Time Lord and her process show how allusions become embedded in her artwork so effortlessly.






Susan Roth, Argosy (Conrad), 2013.
Similarly, in Roth’s work Argosy, she alludes to the author Joseph Conrad and his literature. Conrad was a British writer, best known for his novels Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, which drew on his experience as a mariner in the 1870s. His works of literature often addressed profound themes of nature and existence, offering a revolutionary perspective during his time. Conrad and his works have been alluded to numerously in film. His stories and characters are recognizable in films such as Apocalypse Now and The Duelists. However, in both of these examples, Conrad’s works are cleverly adapted to different settings and conflicts in order to depict the timelessness of his ideas and themes. Yet, it is clear that these projects that these projects purposely used Conrad’s work to serve as inspiration. Comparatively, Argosy is unique in its allusion and medium because it occurs naturally. The allusion to Conrad is visible by the distinctive “C” shape that is embedded into Roth’s steel painting. Ultimately, this piece culturally adds to the previous allusions of Conrad’s work.


Susan Roth, North Country Girl, 2013.
 
Allusions can be powerful in artwork because they can elicit different responses and connotations from viewers. This occurs easily in Roth’s piece North Country Girl. For example, this piece could be an allusion to Bob Dylan’s song “Girl from the North Country”. Dylan wrote this song during a trip to England in 1962 in tribute to a past girlfriend. Since its debut, Dylan’s song has been covered by notable singers like Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, and Neil Young. Depending on the age and background of the viewer, North Country Girl could be associated with a specific cover or the original song. Whereas, for other viewers, this may not be the allusion that is accessible. In fact, a film entitled North Country was released in 2005 that focused on a historic class action suit between a group of female miners and a mine in northern Minnesota. Although this event is seemingly obscure, it could impact how a knowledgeable viewer interprets the title of Roth’s piece and therefore, her work. Thus, the power of allusions not only impacts the subject of an art piece, but also how that piece is responded to by a body of viewers.
 
 
 
Susan Roth, North Country Girl, 2013.

Susan Roth’s works will be on display as a part of Susan Roth: Form, Frame, Fold until January 30th, 2015 at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery.



[i] Roth, Susan. Interview by Lenore Miller. N.d. Print. (Exhibition Catalogue).
 






Friday, October 3, 2014

Inside the Studio: Barbara Hepworth and St. Ives



Gustave Courbet, The Artist's Studio, 1854
Within the decorated walls of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, there is a work entitled The Artist’s Studio by the realist painter Gustave Courbet. In this painting, Courbet paints himself in the middle of the canvas as he is surrounded by characters of the natural world and subjects of the academy. Yet, despite these distractions around him, Courbet continues to focus on a painting in front of him and forgoes depicting the romanticized images around him. The Artist’s Studio is a compelling painting because of its poignant message about an artist’s responsibility in the world as a mediator of reality. However, it also grandly depicts Courbet within his own studio, allowing every viewer to feel present inside of it. This choice of setting is significant because an artist’s studio is a private sanctum that is often left unshared. It is evident though that these studios are imperative for creation and artistry.
 

Pablo Picasso’s atelier – Cannes, France
Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “An artist’s studio should be a small space because small rooms discipline the mind and large ones distract it”.[1] This intriguing statement by Da Vinci is sensible, yet isn’t true for most acclaimed artists. For example, Pablo Picasso’s studio spaciously resided in his home on the French Riveria. Artist Georgia O’Keeffe worked inside and outside of her ranch styled studio, which encompassed over five-thousand square feet. Comparatively, Jackson Pollock composed his works in a small barn that was initially built to store fishing equipment, the place lacked both heating and artificial light. Clearly, studios range in diversity and complexity, but it is arguable that these places are works of arts in their own right. In order to explore this concept of a studio as a work of art it is important to analyze the properties and components of a specific studio.




                       Georgia O’Keefe’s studio – Abiquiu, New Mexico    Jackson Pollock’s studio – East Hampton, New York


Artist Barbara Hepworth’s studio in her home in St. Ives was turned into a museum after the artist’s death. Hepworth and her family departed London in 1939 upon the outbreak of the World War II and settled in the small community of St. Ives in Cornwall. The war encouraged Hepworth to contemplate her place as an artist with new interest because the emotional link between art and society was now imperative. Although reluctant to depart London, Hepworth ultimately appreciated being decentralized. She felt that St. Ives was a much more responsible and encouraging community, stating, “St. Ives is a small place; but the artists and writers here do, I know, think of you and your work each day.”[2] In this aspect, Hepworth’s art becomes informed by the time and place of her environment.
 
Hepworth was influenced by the war and social engagement around her, which led to a new energy in her artwork. Intriguing, this new energy is present within the physical boundaries of Hepworth’s practice. When Hepworth acquired the Trewyn studio and her St. Ives home, the artist expressed, “ It will be a joy to carve in such a perfect place, both serene and secluded ­– the courtyard and garden are protected by tall trees and roof tops so that I can work out of doors most of the year.”[3] In fact, Hepworth’s Trewyn studio provided workshop spaces for stone carving, plasterwork, and outdoor sculpture. These spaces were maintained separately, yet were never in isolation of one another. The stone carving studio and yard acted as the heart of the studio. Whereas, she alternated between spaces for her bronze and plaster work. Additionally, Hepworth acquired the Palais de Danse, a dance studio, across the street from her Trewyn studio in 1960.  She used this space to craft large-scale works. In fact, on a visit to St. Ives in 2011, gallery director Lenore Miller toured this intimate space and viewed several of Hepworth's private works ( a photograph of this special visit is featured on the left). However, as Hepworth stated, she tried to work outside as much as possible in order to be influenced by the natural coastal echoes and images. Therefore, Hepworth’s practice was unlimited, allowing for freedom in her sculptural pieces.




Two Forms (Divided Circle) 1969 in the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden



Hepworth later shared with a friend that she felt as if she’d discovered an easy flow for the first time in her life after working in the Trewyn studio. She continued to work in this environment over a course of twenty-five years, evolving her preexisting practices and artistic flow. Yet, the studio became Hepworth’s final piece of art, which encapsulated the artist’s spirit and process. Upon Hepworth’s death in 1975, her studio was converted into an active museum, which showcases her studio workshops and outdoor sculpture. In a way, the museum acts as a living vestige or self-portrait of Hepworth. Marble dust from her creations continues to permeate the studio space as her tools and chisels lie still next to unfinished works. The garden and yard celebrate the artist’s life as it presents a biography of her work and career. The influence of St. Ives and the environment are evident from these exhibitions and truly show how an artist’s studio and place can inform their work.
 

Barbara Hepworth’s works and sculptural pieces will be on display at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery as a part of Icons of British Sculpture until October 10th.



[1] http://www.art-quotes.com/getquotes.php?catid=292
[2] Curtis, Penelope, and Alan Wilkinson. Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective. Liverpool: Tate Gallery
     Publications, 1994. Print.
[3] Ibid.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Transcendence of Arthur Hall Smith’s Artwork



“At the beginning it seems like chaos, but in the end, you sense the order. “[1]

 Within this statement, Arthur Hall Smith reveals the dynamic nature of his style and work, which encompasses a combination of abstract and figurative elements. The body of Smith’s work indicates the many artistic transitions that occurred during his career. As he shifted between various mediums and techniques.

Smith worked simultaneously on abstract and figurative works throughout his career but one image we have on view now shows how his abstract paintings come directly from the figure and nature. In this work, watch how Smith didactically abstracts the human form through a series of simple abstract gestures. This piece demonstrates how his abstraction comes from a figurative source. Yet, as viewers, it is the reconciliation of these elements, which creates a dynamic piece that resonates with us.

Untitled, n.d., ink on paper, 10”x 17-1/2” (Sight).


Smith states, “[My] goal in drawings is to achieve an equivalence between the rhythm of the line and the poetry of the subject."[2]

 

Figure study group, n.d., ink on paper, 18”x 23”, Private Collection

 
Thus, it is evident that Smith’s style is an actuation of these goals. This work specifically shows the qualities that he hoped to embody in his figure drawings. It is a delicate array of line, rhythm, and poetry. This work ultimately shows how Smith composed his abstract work.


A Gathering, 2007, mixed media on paper, 32-1/1” x24-3/8”, Private Collection

 

Arthur Hall Smith’s works will be on display at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery until April 4th.



[1] Arthur Hall Smith. By The George Washington University. Persistent Productions: Documentary, Film,
     and Design. 2008. Web. 2 Apr. 2014.
[2] http://www.usbr.gov/museumproperty/art/biosmith.html


 

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Metamorphosis of Butteflies in Art


A butterfly is a symbolic creature within the context of art and nature. It is admired for its beauty, fluidity, and evolution. A butterfly’s metamorphosis serves as a powerful metaphor for how equally transcendent human life can be. An old proverb continues to ruminate in our society, which expresses, “Just when the caterpillar thought its life was over, it became a butterfly.”  This very resonating idea simply and thoughtfully addresses the balance between darkness and hope in human life. It is within these themes that artists like Dosso Dossi, Damien Hirst, and Holly Trostle Brigham explore and create artwork.

Butterflies symbolically appear in early works by Italian painter Dosso Dossi during the Renaissance. Specifically, in his piece Jupiter Painting Butterflies, Mercury and Virtue, Dossi portrays the god Jupiter in the act of painting butterflies. The godliness of Jupiter empowers his painted creations to life and the butterflies are visibly beginning to emerge from his canvas. These butterflies intermingle with the colors of the rainbow in the background setting. The newly created souls that rest in the butterflies are meant to enter the world of men. The figures of Mercury and Virtue are tensely interacting in the scene as well. Mercury tries aimlessly to silence Virtue before Jupiter is disturbed during his act of creation. Dossi employs a didactic use of allusion to illustrate the complexity of these butterflies. Ultimately, Dossi’s butterflies show the delicacy of life: it can easily be created and taken away.


 Dosso Dossi, Jupiter Painting Butterflies, Mercury and Virtue, 1524  
 
        Damien Hirst, I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds, 2006


In 2006, an art piece emerged by artist Damien Hirst that elicited controversy and commentary on the same human principles explored in Dossi’s work. Rather than bringing butterflies to life like Jupiter, Hirst used the death of butterflies to speak to ideas on regeneration and revival. The piece titled I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds consisted of thousands of dead butterfly wings, resting in red household gloss paint. Hirst stated when reflecting on his work, “I’ve got an obsession with death … But I think it’s like a celebration of life rather than something morbid.”[1] Hirst intended to reference the spiritual nature of butterflies that was used by Greeks to depict Psyche (soul) and Christian symbolism to signify resurrection in his work.[2] These elements are palpable throughout the piece as the viewer is confronted by the complex nature of the wings’ natural beauty. This beauty is a product of regeneration and metamorphosis that ultimately dissipates all over again. Thus, life and death emerge from the piece sublimely.


Holly Trostle Brigham, Freeing the Frieda in Me, 2003 (detail)
 

Butterflies are thus a vehicle in which to visually understand the balance between indefinable ideas. Yet, for artist and knowledgeable lepidopterist Holly Trostle Brigham, butterflies hold a personal symbolism. Butterflies appear over and over again in her Seven Sisters I paintings including Frida Kahlo, Judith Leyster, and Maria Sibylla Merian. Brigham chooses butterfly species that help to convey the narrative surrounding her female protagonists. For Brigham each butterfly symbolizes a specific idea and theme. Brigham’s most personal image and self-portrait “Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me” depicts herself as a winged pilot evoking imagery of butterfly wings and Amelia Earhart. Brigham gives herself the wings of a butterfly signifying her final assimilation of the motif. The painting stands as a metaphor for Brigham’s aspirations for physical, spiritual and intellectual fulfillment in life.[3]




Holly Trostle Brigham, Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me, 2002
 

It is no surprise that artists have gravitated toward the image of butterflies in their work. These creatures hold such beauty and grace, while also representing profound ideas. Additionally, simple adages like “Just when the caterpillar thought its life was over, it became a butterfly” continue to ruminate throughout society. Butterflies hold powerful meaning for viewers. Their imagery has the ability to explain the inevitable: change. Whether that change is in the form of life, death, or metamorphosis it can be understood through the simple sight of a butterfly.

Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me as well as the Seven Sisters series is currently on display at the Luther W. Brady Gallery as a part of the Holly Trostle Brigham: Dis/Guise exhibit, which will be shown until February 28th.



[1] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 21
[2] "I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds, 2006." Damien Hirst. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.
     <http://www.damienhirst.com/i-am-become-death-shatterer-o>.
[3] Brodsky, Judith, and Ferris Olin. Holly Trostle Brigham: Dis/Guise. Print. (Exhibition catalogue)

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Washington, District of Columbia, United States
"Found In Collection" or simply "FIC" is the way many museums classify the more mysterious items in their possession that have little or no documentation. Here at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery of the George Washington University, we do keep extensive records of our collection, but some of the items we come across in academic buildings or our own storage can leave us wondering. This blog is an effort to showcase some of the more curious examples and their stories, and to provide a glimpse of the great variety of art pieces within the collection. To learn more about the Brady Gallery's history, recent exhibitions, or the George Washington University, take a look at the links below.

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