Friday, January 12, 2018

Artist Robert Rauschenberg

Retroactive II (1964)
I've seen Robert Rauschenberg's work before—I know I have. I think of silkscreened photos of astronauts and JFK, overlain by rectangular blocks of solid paint, artistic-political statements evoking the adventurousness and turmoil of the 1960s. But when I scroll through Google images, no single painting jumps out, as in, "Aha, yes, I have seen that one before!" And indeed, there's way (way) more variety in his imagery than I had ever imagined. Maybe I just know his name, and lump him in with those post-expressionist/pop artists like Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, Roy Liechtenstein, and leave it at that? Who knows.

At Gemini G.E.L.,
Los Angeles,1969
In any event, today I was schooled in the genius of Robert Rauschenberg (1925– 2008)—the first American artist to win the Gold Lion at the Venice Biennale, in 1964—through a fabulous show called "Erasing the Rules" at SFMOMA, which brings together 170 of his works from early in his career in the early 1950s until the end of his life. A pivotal figure in the history of American art, he pushed back at the abstract expressionists and helped give rise to pop art.

One thing that marked his career was a negotiation between the "retinal"—the visual pleasures of tone, color, and subtle detail, which the abstract expressionists spurned—and the conceptual. Another is his exuberant experimentation with the material bases of art, whether paint or pencil, metal or silkscreen; fabric in the form of printers' rags, bedsheets, socks and t-shirts, or beautiful blocks of silk; or the stuff of the cultural world, such as newspapers and magazine photos, which he collaged into multi-layered works of both personal and social commentary.

Untitled (Hotel Bilbao),
ca. 1952
The fact that so much of his work is collage means that you have to see it in person. Sure, that's true of any work of art. But collage holds surprises. He started with simple assemblages from travels in Europe with fellow artist (and, for a time, lover) Cy Twombly. And he continued to experiment, becoming ever more exuberant, irreverent, and radiant.

Monogram, 1959
And then there's the stuffed Angora goat that he encircled with a car tire, which stands on top of reinterpreted Life magazine photographs. 

Rauschenberg studied with Josef Albers at Black Mountain College, where he met composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham and other early innovators, with whom he continued to collaborate and share ideas. Jasper Johns, another lover, was also a close influence.

I won't outline his entire life, but let's just say, I was very moved and inspired by the various turns he took in his approach to his art, by his wild inventiveness, by his productivity and the diversity of his pieces. This man did not stand still, but constantly challenged the very identity of "art" and his own relationship to it.

Here are a few photos I took today. There are probably better images online, but... these are handy. And mine. With some of them, I even took note of their titles and a few details... (As always, click on the images to see them large on black.)

One of the Red paintings, 1953–54 (detail)
Untitled, 1958
Handkerchief, safety pins, chain necklaces,
paint, and pants

Gift for Apollo, 1959
Oil, fragments of pants, necktie, wood, fabric, newspaper, printed
paper, and printed reproductions on wood with metal bucket,
chain, doorknob, L-brackets, metal washer, nail, cement, and
rubber wheels with metal spokes.
This would be an example of what he called "combines"
Autobiography, 1968
16.5 feet high x 4 feet wide
Rosalie/Red Cheek/Temporary Letter/Stock (Cardboard), 1971
One of the earliest works of the Cardboard series, this piece embodies
Rauschenberg's transition from NYC to Captiva Island, Forida. The
use of cardboard, which he described as "a materials of waste and
softness," marked both a radical departure from the glass, metal,
and electronics of his preceding, technological works and a
continuation of his long-held interest in impermanence, variability,
and the subversive potential of mundane materials.

On the far wall are dirty printers' rags that RR placed
between two pieces of printing paper and passed through a
press. Below is a close-up. I loved the way the end of the
rag is outlined in the pressed paper (below).

Mirage (Jammer), 1975
Part of a series of what he called "jammers," employing
silk he brought from India, thread, sometimes some
wood, or even metal teapots
Hiccups, 1978
Solvent transfer and fabric with metal zippers on
handmade paper
"Here snippets of ribbon and fabric intermingle with transfer
images from popular magazines featuring maps, animals,
landscapes, and athletes. The string of colors and pictures
that reels out across the wall is playful and endlessly variable,
as the ninety-seven panels can be unzipped and recombined in any
order each time they are installed. Expansive, improvisational,
and calling for time to view and absorb, Hiccups can be seen as
an extension of Rauschenberg's early interest in
I loved these images, so I'm going to bore you with a few
semi–close-ups. I'd like to go back and spend more
time with this piece.

Alas, I did not record the names of the pieces shown
here and in the next photo.
Except for Untitled (Spread), 1963 (detail below)

Drawing for Dante's 700th Birthday, 1965
Watercolor and gouache on board with silkscreen ink
"This later tribute to Dante [following a set of illustrations of
the Inferno] boils with images of civil unrest, racist posters,
Holocaust victims, and war-ravaged landscapes.... Life
published them under the title 'A Modern Inferno,' calling
out the two astronaut figures that 'stand apart from the earth
like detached witnesses, observing the accelerating force
of dehumanizing machines and the bestiality that threatens
to destroy man.'"
I found this piece incredibly moving, considering that now,
a little over fifty years later, so little seems to have changed...

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Architect John C. Portman

On Friday, John C. Portman died, at the age of 93. I had not heard of him until today, when I learned of his deathand life—on NPR. But I know his work, somewhat. I've stood in the inner atrium of his Hyatt Regency hotel in San Francisco marveling. That—the atrium—is an architectural feature he is especially known for: also at Los Angeles's Westin Bonaventure, Atlanta's Peachtree Center, Detroit's Renaissance Center, the Marriott Marquis in New York, variously in Asia, and so many other places.

Last year, a book, Portman's America & Other Speculations, was published, full of photos of his work. 

He's criticized for creating concrete islands, cut off from the flow of humanity. His buildings make me think of Blade Runner. But design-wise, they sure are beautiful. Here are a few images I found by googling. To be able to think that big!

Hyatt Regency, San Francisco
AmericasMart Building 3, Atlanta
Marriott Marquis, Atlanta
Bonaventure, Los Angeles
Shandong Hotel, Jinan, China

Marriott Marquis, Atlanta
The Renaissance Center, Detroit
Marriott Marquis, Times Square, NYC
More modest architecture: Entelechy I, a home designed
for his family, in Sea Island, Georgia (1964)

And as a side note, it turns out we shared a birthday: he was born exactly thirty years before me. There's serendipity for ya. Plus, he was married for seventy-three years. That is a long marriage. RIP, Mr. Portman.

Monday, January 1, 2018

An Afternoon on the Coast

We took a short drive down the coast today to look for a geocache—here, just north of Garrapata State Park (I'm looking south toward the Pt. Sur Light Station):

and then migrated back up the coast to one of our favorite places for a walk, Monastery Beach to Carmel River State Beach. I took a few photos. It was a super low tide. The sky was alive. It was a grand day for a stroll along the shore. (As always, click on the images to view them large on black.)

New Year's Resolutions

I am more or less going to try to hopefully "resolve" (enough waffling there?) to do these three things this year:

(1) Start the day with a list of things to do—as in, "intentions"
(2) Finish the day with a gratitude and a little story, per this TED talk (each should relate to the day just past, but can be somewhat general)
(3) Do something creative every day—this can range from baking cookies to finishing an artist book (but need not involve actually making an entire artist book in one day: if it takes three days to finish a book, that's three days of creativity)

I'd like to add (4) Exercise and (5) Meditate in there, and maybe once I get 1–3 happening smoothly, I will. But for now, 1–3 is enough.

Because my natural inclination is just to follow in Calvin's footsteps:

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Few Art Techniques I'd Like to Try (If Only I Were an Artist)

We spent some of today looking at art, both in the New Mexico State Capitol—which, an information desk volunteer proudly told us, has some $6 million worth of original art in the halls surrounding the Senate and House of Representatives chambers—and up the hill in Tesuque Village, at a gallery and sculpture garden called Shidoni. I was taken by so much of the original art, and wished once again that I had artistic talent. And thought, once again, about maybe trying?

I took photos of two pieces that I would love to try to recreate—pieces that look somewhat possible to make, if not exactly the same way (why would I want to do that?)—or at least use as inspiration.

One was a "silent wind chime" made of silk:

The other was a photo collage:

There was also an encaustic collage that I loved (but that wouldn't photograph because of glare). It reminded me that I've always liked the look of encaustic, and I've always wondered how difficult it is to do. That has spurred me on to investigating the technique online—for future reference. Here are a few links to technical instruction:

Encaustic Basics Part I: FAQs
Encaustic Basics Part II: Preparing Substrates, Fusing, Adding Color
Encaustic Basics Part III: Adding Collage and Embedding Objects
All Things Encaustic: A Blog for Artists Painting with Beeswax—A Beginner's Guide
Photo Encaustic Part I: The Basics and Beauty of Beeswax and Photography
Photo Encaustic: Part II

Here are a few encaustic pieces I've plucked off Google images, that I like. (There are plenty, believe me, that I don't like.)

Sarah E. Rehmer
BG Mills
Giselle Gautreau
Jill Skupin Burkholder
Jill Skupin Burkholder
Jeff League
Joyce Gehl
Andrea Bird
Nancy Crawford
Raven Voss