“Sometimes I don’t know exactly what I want [with a painting]. I check it out, recheck it for days or weeks. Sometimes there is more to do on it. Sometimes I am afraid of ruining what I have. Sometimes I am lazy, I don’t finish it or I don’t push it far enough.” Joan Mitchell (Feb 12, 1925 – Oct 30, 1992)
Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you’d think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise.
Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you’d think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise.
We are, perhaps, uniquely among the earth’s creatures, the worrying animal. We worry away our lives, fearing the future, discontent with the present, unable to take in the idea of dying, unable to sit still.
We are not made up, as we had always supposed, of successively enriched packets of our own parts. We are shared, rented, occupied. At the interior of our cells, driving them, providing the oxidative energy that sends us out for the improvement of each shining day, are the mitochondria, and in a strict sense they are not ours.
Our behavior toward each other is the strangest, most unpredictable, and most unaccountable of all the phenomena with which we are obliged to live. In all of nature, there is nothing so threatening to humanity as humanity itself.
A multitude of bees can tell the time of day, calculate the geometry of the sun’s position, argue about the best location for the next swarm. Bees do a lot of close observing of other bees; maybe they know what follows stinging and do it anyway.
We are at our human finest, dancing with our minds, when there are more choices than two. Sometimes there are ten, even twenty different ways to go, all but one bound to be wrong, and the richness of selection in such situations can lift us onto totally new ground. This process is called exploration and is based on human fallibility. If we had only a single center in our brains, capable of responding only when a correct decision was to be made, instead of the jumble of different, credulous, easily conned clusters of neurons that provide for being flung off into blind alleys, up trees, down dead ends, out into blue sky, along wrong turnings, around bends, we could only stay the way we are today, stuck fast. Lewis Thomas thanks to The Marginalian for this quotation
We can take some gratification at having come a certain distance in just a few thousand years of our existence as language users, but it should be a deeper satisfaction, even an exhilaration, to recognize that we have such a distance still to go.
I don’t want to be reincarnated, that’s for sure. When you’ve had rewarding experiences in your life – a loving family, friends – you don’t need additional reassurances that you’re going to do something with a new cast of characters. I’d just as soon pass.
awarded the Pulitzer Prize and served as poet laureate of the United States.
We’re only here for a short while. And I think it’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention. In some ways, this is getting far afield. I mean, we are — as far as we know — the only part of the universe that’s self-conscious. We could even be the universe’s form of consciousness. We might have come along so that the universe could look at itself. I don’t know that, but we’re made of the same stuff that stars are made of, or that floats around in space. But we’re combined in such a way that we can describe what it’s like to be alive, to be witnesses. Most of our experience is that of being a witness. We see and hear and smell other things. I think being alive is responding.
[When] you’re right in the work, you lose your sense of time, you’re completely enraptured, you’re completely caught up in what you’re doing, and you’re sort of swayed by the possibilities you see in this work. If that becomes too powerful, then you get up, because the excitement is too great. You can’t continue to work or continue to see the end of the work because you’re jumping ahead of yourself all the time. The idea is to be so… so saturated with it that there’s no future or past, it’s just an extended present in which you’re, uh, making meaning. And dismantling meaning, and remaking it. Without undue regard for the words you’re using. It’s meaning carried to a high order. It’s not just essential communication, daily communication; it’s a total communication. When you’re working on something and you’re working well, you have the feeling that there’s no other way of saying what you’re saying.
WHEN THE VACATION IS OVER FOR GOOD
It will be strange Knowing at last it couldn’t go on forever, The certain voice telling us over and over That nothing would change,
And remembering too, Because by then it will all be done with, the way Things were, and how we had wasted time as though There was nothing to do,
When, in a flash The weather turned, and the lofty air became Unbearably heavy, the wind strikingly dumb And our cities like ash,
And knowing also, What we never suspected, that it was something like summer At its most august except that the nights were warmer And the clouds seemed to glow,
And even then, Because we will not have changed much, wondering what Will become of things, and who will be left to do it All over again,
And somehow trying, But still unable, to know just what it was That went so completely wrong, or why it is We are dying.
Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen “Ghost of Tom Joad”
“Tom Joad, the hero of John Steinbeck’s classic 1939 American novel The Grapes Of Wrath, has had a pretty good life as an apparition, thanks to Bruce Springsteen and some of his friends.
Inspired by the book and John Ford’s 1940 film adaptation, as well as by Woody Guthrie’s The Ballad Of Tom Joad, Springsteen wrote The Ghost Of Tom Joad, a modern-day appropriation of the same Great Depression-era concerns, during the early 90s.” thanks to Louder Sound
“The first version of City Square was created in 1948, as Giacometti returned to the bustle of Paris after the liberation and encountered the post-war turmoil. City Square I is his first multi-figure sculpture since his return to Paris in September 1945 after his exile in Switzerland.” courtesy of Artsper Magazine
“When it is working, you completely go into another place, you’re tapping into things that are totally universal, completely beyond your ego and your own self. That’s what it’s all about.” Keith Haring (1958-1990)
Women’s liberation is the liberation of the feminine in the man and the masculine in the woman.
Love the moment and the energy of that moment will spread beyond all boundaries.
A painting is a symbol for the universe. Inside it, each piece relates to the other. Each piece is only answerable to the rest of that little world. So, probably in the total universe, there is that kind of total harmony, but we get only little tastes of it.
I am not brave enough to not pay my income tax and risk going to jail. But I can say rather freely what I want to say with my art.
Corita Kent (1918–1986) was an artist, educator, and advocate for social justice. At age 18 she entered the religious order Immaculate Heart of Mary, eventually teaching and then heading the art department at Immaculate Heart College. During the course of her career, her artwork evolved from using figurative and religious imagery to incorporating advertising images and slogans, popular song lyrics, biblical verses, and literature. Throughout the ‘60s, her work became increasingly political, urging viewers to consider poverty, racism, and social injustice. In 1968, she left the order and moved to Boston. After 1970, her work evolved into a sparser, introspective style, influenced by living in a new environment, a secular life, and her battles with cancer. She remained active in social causes until her death in 1986. At the time of her death, she had created almost 800 serigraph editions, thousands of watercolors, and innumerable public and private commissions.
“Corita and Sister Magdalen Mary, her mentor, go on a trip to Europe and Egypt.” 1959
“Corita sees Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, produces her first Pop print that summer.” 1962
Corita is on the cover of the Christmas issue of Newsweek Magazine. The IHMs (Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) encounter increasing resistance from the Archdiocese to the changes they are making.
Exhausted from problems with the Church, Corita takes a sabbatical in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. At the end of it, she decides to seek dispensation from her vows and leaves the IHM Order. Corita gets her own apartment and lives on her own for the first time in Boston. The religious order IHM reforms as an ecumenical lay community, the Immaculate Heart Community. 1970
After being diagnosed with cancer in 1974, Corita receives a commission from Physicians for Social Responsibility. Corita calls the “we can create life without war” billboards the most religious thing she’s done.
Corita was asked to design a postage stamp in 1983. After several years in limbo, the design is issued. The unveiling takes place on the Love Boat. Furious, Corita refuses to attend saying that was not the kind of love she meant. She had wanted the stamp to be unveiled at the United Nations. In response she makes the work love is hard work. 1985
In 1986, cancer is found again, this time in Corita’s liver and dies from cancer September 18, 1986. She leaves her unsold works and copyrights to the Immaculate Heart Community.
In 1987, The Immaculate Heart Community forms the Corita Art Center to honor Corita’s legacy. Since 1997, The Corita Art Center has facilitated hundreds of exhibitions of Corita’s work, overseen her images rights, sold her prints, and developed educational programs based on her methods and work.
let him easter in us #2 1963
the heart of the rose and we are one 1963
i thirst 1964
Transcribed Text: Every soul is like a tiny drop with out which the whole world would thirst. Ugo Betti
enriched bread 1965
ENRICHED BREAD WONDER Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say this hope lies in a nation; others in a man. I believe rather that it is awakened, received, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works everyday negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever threatened truth that each and every man, on the foundation of his own sufferings and joys, builds for all. Camus
Help build strong bodies 12 ways Standard large loaf no preservatives added
my people 1965
EXTRA Los Angeles Times EIGHT MEN SLAIN: GUARD MOVES IN
the body of Christ is no more comfortable now than it was when it hung from the cross.Those who live in the well organized, well ordered, nourished, clean, calm and comfortable middle class part of Christ’s body can easily forget that the body of Christ, as it now exists, is mostly disorganized, devoid of order, concerned with the material needs, hungry, dirty, not motivated by reason, fermenting in agonizing uncertainty and certainly most uncomfortable.
Youth is a time of rebellion. Rather than squelch the rebellion, we might better enlist the rebels to join that greatest rebel of his time—Christ himself.
feelin’ groovy 1967
DO NOT ENTER WRONG WAY The tailspin
Going into a tailspain (sic) in those days meant curtains. No matter how hard you pulled back on the stick the nose of the plane wouldn’t come up.Spinning round, headed for a target of earth, the whine of death in the wing struts, instinct made you try to pull out of it that way by force, and for years aviators spiraled down and crashed. Who could have dreamed that the solution to this dreaded aeronautical problem was so simple? Every student flier learns this nowadays: you move the joystick in the direction of the spin and like a miracle the plane stops turning and you are in control again to pull the nose up out of the dive. In panic we want to push the stick away from the spin, wrestle the plane out of it, but the trick is, as in everything, to go with the turning willingly, rather than fight, give in, go with it, and that way come out of your tailspin whole.
x give a damn 1968
If you give a damn about the people in our ghettos, wear this button.You can get one from the New York Urban Coalition. But, you have to show us that you really give a damn.One way is by giving jobs. They can be part-time jobs, full-time jobs, career jobs, or jobs for beginners. You can work out the details by calling 212-582-4600. If you can’t give jobs, give money. Half a million kids in New York’s ghettos are going to need something to do this summer besides kill time.You can provide playstreets, bus trips and a little recreation for them by sending your check to the New York Urban Coalition.The Coalition also needs your support for long term programs in the areas of economic development, housing, employment, and education. If you want a button, send your contribution with a self addressed, stamped envelope to :New York Urban Coalition, Box 5100,Grand Central Station, New York, N. Y. 10017love is the every only Godwho spoke this earth so glad and bigeven a thing all small and sad man, may his mighty briefness dig for love beginning means return…e.e.Give a damn.the real circus with acrobats, jugglers and bareback riders=also an empty field transformed, and in the tent artists & freaks, children & pilgrims and animals are gathered in communion =us
the stamp of thoreau 1969
I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house until by the sun falling in at my west window or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway. I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hand would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. As I drew a still fresher soil about the rows and my home, I disturbed the ashes of unchronicled nations who in primeval years lived under these heavens, and their small implements of war and hunting were brought to the light of this modern day. They lay mingled with other natural stones, some of which bore the marks of having been burned by Indian fire, and some by the sun, and also bits of pottery and glass brought hither by the recent cultivations of the soil. When my hoe tinkled against the stones, that music echoed to the woods and the sky was an accompaniment to my labor which yielded an instant and immeasurable crop. It was no longer beans that I hoed, nor that I hoed beans and I remembered with as much pity as pride if I remembered at all my acquaintances who had gone to the city to attend the oratorios. Thoreau LET THE SUN SHINE IN
The four core tenets of love: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge
The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering. What are the necessary steps in learning any art? The process of learning an art can be divided conveniently into two parts: one, the mastery of the theory; the other, the mastery of the practice. If I want to learn the art of medicine, I must first know the facts about the human body, and about various diseases. When I have all this theoretical knowledge, I am by no means competent in the art of medicine. I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice, until eventually the results of my theoretical knowledge and the results of my practice are blended into one — my intuition, the essence of the mastery of any art. But, aside from learning the theory and practice, there is a third factor necessary to becoming a master in any art — the mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art. This holds true for music, for medicine, for carpentry — and for love. And, maybe, here lies the answer to the question of why people in our culture try so rarely to learn this art, in spite of their obvious failures: in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power — almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.
– Erich Fromm (March 23, 1900 – March 18, 1980)
Erich Seligmann Fromm was a German social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, humanistic philosopher, and democratic socialist. He was a German Jew who fled the Nazi regime and settled in the US. He was one of the founders of The William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology in New York City and was associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. (Wikipedia)
Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris, a musical innovator of the first order, died on Tuesday, Jan 29, 2013 at the age of sixty-five. While little appreciated by audiences beyond avant-garde-music cognoscenti, his influence upon contemporary improvisers of all disciplines is profound. Morris was born in Long Beach, California, on February 10, 1947; he began his career in the Golden State but spent most of the last four decades in New York. For those lucky enough to see him perform, he was a memorable figure: an imposing man, with an expert baton and a cutting gaze, standing before an ensemble at rapt attention.
Morris developed (and trademarked) a system he called “Conduction,” which he described as “a vocabulary of ideographic signs and gestures activated to modify or construct a real-time musical arrangement or composition.” The academic wording disguises an idea that is both simple and radical. What Morris spent the last thirty years of his life perfecting was a technique to let an orchestra work together with one mind: courting the unknown, making something out of nothing, taking the basic challenge posed by African-American music in the twentieth century to its farthest logical extension.
Butch Morris eventually abandoned his [cornet]and dedicated himself to conduction full-time. He became a virtuoso of nonverbal expression, gaining the ability to convey minute adjustments of articulation or dynamics with a twist of the wrist or an arched eyebrow. He performed around the world, leading European orchestras and Brazilian drum choirs, groups of Japanese traditional instruments and Lower East Side poets, discovering he had invented a language universal in its implications, carrying the potential to unite musicians of any genre or culture in a musical experience unique to its participants. Morris’s concepts were deeply rooted in the traditions of African-American experimentalism but far transcended jazz. (In fact, Morris often preferred musicians from other traditions; jazz musicians tended to bristle at obeying too many instructions.) Over his lifetime, Morris led over five thousand musicians into his sound world. For all of them, it was surely memorable; for many, it was transformative.
Luckily, Morris’s work has been well documented, including in the documentary film “Black February” and the epic ten-CD box set “Testament,” which beautifully illustrates the sonic diversity and global sweep of Morris’s art. But recording technology and improvised music have always had a difficult marriage; how can you truly capture the magic of creating something wholly new in the moment? I will listen to Butch’s recordings to be reminded of his genius, and I will see the influence of his ideas on countless artists. However, I will sorely miss experiencing his art live, watching him masterfully corral the creativity of a herd of musicians into a unified mass of unreplicable sound. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/postscript-butch-morris-1947-2013
Butch Morris at the NYC Winter Jazzfest in 2011. He defined and trademarked “conduction.” Photo: Chad Batka for The New York Times
Mr. Morris referred to his method as “conduction,” short for “conducted improvisation.” He defined the word as “an improvised duet for ensemble and conductor.”
He would often begin a performance by setting a tempo with his baton and having his musicians develop a theme spontaneously and then seize on the musical ideas he wanted to work with, directing the ensemble with a vocabulary of gestures and signals. An outstretched upward palm, up or down to indicate volume, meant sustain; a U shape formed with thumb and forefinger meant repeat; a finger to the forehead meant to remember a melodic phrase or a rhythm that he would summon again later.
He introduced this concept in 1985 and at first met resistance from musicians who were not willing to learn the vocabulary and respond to the signals; he was often in a position of asking artists to reorient themselves to his imagination and make something new out of familiar materials. But he demanded to be taken seriously, and he was. After 10 years he had made enough recordings to release “Testament,” a well-received 10-disc set of his work. After 20, he had become an internationally admired creative force, presenting conductions at concert halls worldwide and maintaining regular workshops and performances at the East Village spaces Nublu, Lucky Cheng’s and the Stone.
Mr. Morris, who also played cornet, began his career as a jazz musician in Los Angeles. After settling in New York in the early 1980s, he took his place among both the downtown improvising musicians of the Kitchen and the Knitting Factory and the purveyors of multidisciplinary, mixed-media art flourishing in the city.
He said he didn’t care whether people thought his music was jazz or not, although he himself saw it as derived from jazz but not beholden to it. “As long as I’m a black man playing a cornet,” he reasoned, “I’ll be a jazz musician in other people’s eyes. That’s good enough for me. There’s nothing wrong with being called a jazz musician.”
Conduction, with all its logistical complications and no institutional system to support it, was never a steady source of income. Mr. Morris also taught and sought commissions; he wrote music for dancers, including Min Tanaka, Diane McIntyre and Yoshiko Chuma; he worked as musical director for the short-lived ABC crime series “A Man Called Hawk”; he wrote original music for Ntozake Shange’s play “Spell #7” and for the Wooster Group and the Folger Shakespeare Theater in Washington. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/arts/music/butch-morris-dies-at-65-creator-of-conduction.html
“It seems to me that no one picture can ever be a final summation of a personality. There are so many facets in every human being that it is impossible to present them all in one photograph.” Arnold Newman (March 3, 1918 – June 6, 2006)
Portrait of Ansel Adams Photograph by Arnold Newman Negative date: 1976
Arnold Newman photographing Ansel Adams at the Adams home in Carmel, CA
“I’ll be in Detroit two more weeks. I would like to tell you every thing that happened to me since the last time we saw each other, but most of them are sad and you mustn’t know sad things now. After all I shouldn’t complain because I have been happy in many ways though. Diego is good to me, and you can’t imagine how happy he has been working on the frescoes here. I have been painting a little too and that helped. I thought of you a lot and never forget your wonderful hands and the color of your eyes. I will see you soon. I am sure that in New York I will be much happier. If you still in the hospital when I come back I will bring you flowers.” – Frida Kahlo, in her letter to Georgia O’Keeffe, 1 March 1933
I do not wish to be an artist, I only wish that art enables me to be. – Noah Purifoy, 1963 photo: Harry Drinkwater
Born in Snow Hill, Alabama in 1917, Noah Purifoy lived and worked most of his life in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree, California, where he died in 2004. He received an undergraduate degree from Alabama State Teachers College in 1943 and a graduate degree from Atlanta University in 1948. In 1956, just shy of his 40th birthday, Purifoy earned a BFA degree from Chouinard, now CalArts.
His earliest body of sculpture, constructed out of charred debris from the 1965 Watts rebellion, was the basis for 66 Signs of Neon, the landmark 1966 group exhibition on the Watts riots that traveled throughout the country. As a founding director of the Watts Towers Art Center, Purifoy knew the community intimately. His 66 Signs of Neon, in line with the postwar period’s fascination with the street and its objects, constituted a Duchampian approach to the fire-molded alleys of Watts. This strategy profoundly impacted artists such as David Hammons, John Outterbridge and Senga Nengudi. For the 20 years that followed the rebellion, Purifoy dedicated himself to the found object, and to using art as a tool for social change.
In the late 1980s, after 11 years of public policy work for the California Arts Council, where Purifoy initiated programs such as Artists in Social Institutions, which brought art into the state prison system, Purifoy moved his practice out to the Mojave desert. He lived for the last 15 years of his life creating ten acres full of large-scale sculpture on the desert floor. Constructed entirely from junked materials, this otherworldly environment is one of California’s great art historical wonders. http://www.noahpurifoy.com/about-noah
Limited funds inspired Purifoy to roam the region seeking discarded materials to create his sculptures. Many people were happy to find a home for their discarded junk — old chairs, bikes, tires, shopping carts, and much, much more. Purifoy’s museum presents this “junk” as art, incorporated into the many pieces that fulfilled his inventive vision. https://www.desertusa.com/desert-people/noah-purifoy-desert-art-museum.html
Noah Purifoy Outdoor Art Museum in Joshua Tree, California:
Just off of Rt 62 near the city of Joshua Tree, California, is the home of Noah Purifoy and his Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture.
Art as an escape from the world, that’s wrong. But escape is what most people want. Art should be a confrontation with a ‘me’ that is always in need of improving.
Junk art, assemblage art… it’s as close to human existence because it’s all the castoffs we are utilizing here. I won’t say that assemblage art is much like life itself, but it’s closer to existence than any other art form. Because it’s your shit that we’re remodeling… and you got rid of it.
When you do art, you see beyond the object. That effort of seeing beyond the object is also present in human relations. You see beyond the individual into what he/she thinks and feels… The relation is peculiar, meaning I don’t thoroughly understand my relationship with the human being. But I do thoroughly understand the function of a radiator in a car.
Why do people go to the artist and want to know why he did something? They can’t understand the work. Sometimes they get an answer, sometimes they don’t… they want something they don’t otherwise get from the work.
I hope my work provides inspiration for a person to do today what they couldn’t do yesterday, no matter what it is.
Noah Purifoy co-founded the Watts Towers Arts Center in 1961, turning Simon Rodia’s monumental Watts Towers into a site for arts education and community engagement. As Kellie Jones tells us in her history of Black art in Los Angeles, “South of Pico,” “Its mission would be to address ‘problem’ youth by using arts as a tool of cultural uplift, which at once demonstrated art’s value and the good works that the Watts Towers could perform.”
Convinced that Black creative culture could be harnessed for social uplift, Purifoy used the center as a forward base from which to spread his ideas via theater, painting classes and other forms of community engagement. He hoped that art making would be an avenue for the development of self, healing and even connection among disparate elements of society.
It took the historic frisson of the 1965 Watts Rebellion, though, to crystallize his ideas into an aesthetic. In the uprising’s aftermath, Purifoy and John Outterbridge began to collect the signs of its wreckage, hoping to turn them into sculpture that could express the interior life of the Watts ghetto. The results of their exploration became the seminal assemblage art show “66 Signs of Neon.” Hinting at the lively artistic and political imagination that undergirded the uprising, “Neon” asked viewers to think of “junk” as a sign of art’s transformative potential and the power of the creative act to reshape the context in which it took place.
What I found stunned me: a home surrounded by the accumulated results of Purifoy’s explorations into assemblage’s possibilities. There were massive structures like “Shelter,” a sunken building constructed from wood he salvaged from a friend’s destroyed house, the interior of which was lined with tattered rags. A walkway had been dug into the earth, inviting me to navigate the structure. It suggests something like a haven for the lost and discarded. The museum is filled with such structures — homes, classrooms, offices, an ersatz White House, all built from detritus Purifoy found and repurposed in the desert.
I am still not sure how a man can spend 15 years of his life surrounded by nothing but the artifacts of his mind’s own production. I’m entranced by how, out in the desert, Purifoy found a new life and meaning for that which is discarded. For me, what impresses more than the art objects themselves is that Purifoy concocted a space in which their violability demonstrates assemblage’s values. Walking its lonely expanse, you are witness to a perpetual rejection of exclusion.
“Toilet Bowl Sculpture, 1996” at the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree. (Philip Cheung / For The LA Times)
“Everything and the Kitchen Sink, 1996” at the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum. (Philip Cheung / For The LA Times)
“Carousel, 1996” at the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum. (Philip Cheung / For The LA Times)
Keith Sonnier was part of a group of artists who challenged preconceived notions of sculpture in the late 1960s by experimenting with industrial and ephemeral materials.. In Sonnier’s case, materials ranged from latex and satin, to found objects, transmitters and video. In 1968, the artist began creating wall sculptures using incandescent light and sheer fabric. Frustrated by the standardized forms of incandescent light, he started experimenting with neon. Using copper tubing as a template, Sonnier began sketching lines, arches and curves ultimately realized in glass tubing enclosed neon. The linear quality of neon allowed Sonnier to draw in space with light and color while colored light interacted with the surrounding architecture. https://www.keithsonnier.net/biography.html
“I think everyone at some point comes up against a wall. Curiously, though, if you continue working, you might readdress that idea from another direction. If you didn’t try something, you’d never have anything; if you didn’t make an attempt to make the work, it wouldn’t exist. There have been times when I could not work, and I would just go and sit down in the studio and wait to see what might happen. You can’t always just go and take an exotic trip and come back and make something.”
“Sculpture, for me, provides that environmental discipline where you actually move in and around it”.
“This is New York. You gotta work from upstairs to downstairs! You gotta work both ends of the street to have a career. Because it’s not just fabricating an artwork. Your works have to go out into the world; they have to go to market. This art on the hoof has to be moved; it’s got to go to the slaughterhouse at some point.”
“A lot of artists are good cooks as I’m too, but coming from a culture that was very concerned with food, I was very interested in that from the start. If you’re interested in food, you’re interested in lots of different aspects of culture. And it’s like being interested in the music from a certain area, or writing, or whatever–food is part of that, too.”
November 23 2019 – January 11 2020 Kasmin, 509 West 27th Street, NYC
Keith Sonnier: Light Works 1968 – 2017 28 September – 19 December 2018 Galeria Fumagalli, Milan, Italy
Dis-Play II with Videos. 2018 DIA/Dan Flavin Art Institute Bridgehampton, NY
Keith Sonnier Selected Works Nov 25 – Dec 22, 2016 Galerie Forsblom Helsinki, Finland
“I began to see art not primarily as an individual expression of talent, but as a responsibility, to reflect the spirit and style of the Negro people. It became an awesome responsibility to me.
John Biggers was an African-American muralist who came to prominence after the Harlem Renaissance and toward the end of World War II. Biggers created works critical of racial and economic injustice. He also served as the founding chairman of the art department at Houston’s Texas State University for Negroes (now Texas Southern University), a historically black college.
John Biggers was born in 1924 in Gastonia, North Carolina, the youngest of seven children. Biggers biographer Alvia Wardlaw notes that several aspects of this early life are echoed in his later works of art; most importantly the central role of multigenerational family, and the strength and dignity of black women. His father and uncle had each built a “shotgun” house (so named, it was rumored, because the simple layout would allow you to fire a shotgun through the front door and have it come out the back without hitting a wall) on opposite sides of the street.
His father Paul was a Baptist preacher, farmer, shoemaker, schoolteacher, and principal of a three-room school. His mother Cora was a housekeeper for white families. When Cora’s husband died in 1937, she took a job in an orphanage for Black children. She sent John and his brother Joe to Lincoln Academy, an American Missionary Association school for African-American children in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.
After graduating from Lincoln, Biggers attended Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), a historically black college. To pay for his tuition, he took a job in the boiler room, where copies of the New York Times book review were kept. The boiler room made an ideal studio; he used the book reviews as both a literary resource and an opportunity to practice his skills in copying the engravings which illustrated the reviews. He had planned to be a plumber.
Several drawings were included in his application to Hampton Institute, where he began his first classes in art. . His life took a dramatic change of course when he took an art class with a Jewish refugee who in 1939 had fled from Nazi persecution in Austria before World War II. Victor Lowenfeld introduced his students to works by African Americans and helped them understand the religious and social context of African art, of which the Hampton Museum had a significant collection.
Lowenfeld was the former head of the African art museum in Vienna. Other inspirations included a visit from professor Alain Locke of Howard University. Author of “The Legacy of Ancestral Arts” article in The New Negro book which he edited, Alain Locke bought two of Biggers’ drawings and gave him a copy of the book. Biggers’ most important role model probably was Charles White, who had been awarded a grant to paint a mural at Hampton Institute.
Lowenfeld inspired Biggers to explore his own experiences and racial prejudice, and to embrace his African heritage. During this time Biggers became friends with artists Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White, who influenced his art style. He received a grant from UNESCO in 1957 that gave him the opportunity to travel throughout West Africa and study art and culture in different countries. This experience caused a significant shift in Biggers’s style and technique. His work began to explore the connections between African and African American cultures. Biggers was one of the first African American artists to spend a significant amount of time in Africa.
“I remember the first time I was sick. I had gone to play with a boy, Luis Léon, and on the patio he threw a wooden log at my foot, and this was the pretext they used at home when my leg began to grow thin. I remember they said that it was a white tumor or paralysis. I missed a lot of school [Frida spent nine months in bed, and at seven she wore (polio) booties]. I do not remember a lot, but I continued jumping, only not with the right leg anymore. I developed a horrible complex, and I hide my leg. I wore thick wool socks onto the knee, with bandages underneath. This happened when I was seven years old, and my papa and my mama begun to spoil me a lot and to love me more. The foot leaned to the side, and I limped a little. This was during the period when I had my imaginary friend.” (9 September 1950) Chapter ‘My life’, p. 6 – Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Together, they established a photography studio in 1930 in Berlin. Both studied privately with Walter Peterhans, a photography instructor at the Bauhaus, whose promulgation of a highly rationalized style of advertising photography–one that signified “machine made” in its emphasis on sleek form and graphic design–was proposed as a solution to the question of art’s role in industrial society.
Auerbach and Stern closed their studio in 1933. The rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany forced the two Jewish, queer, avant-garde artists to flee their homeland. Accompanied by their respective future husbands, they landed in different countries and never again worked together so closely.
In their representation of the “modern woman,” a new social type emerging out of the political upheaval of the Weimar Republic, the duo employed visual strategies subversive to traditional conceptions of woman. Often using mannequins, wigs, and other symbols of femininity, Stern and Auerbach worked to question the artifice and masquerade of feminine identity.
(information has been sourced from several internet sites)
Pit with Veil (Ellen Auerbach, 1906-2004), by Grete Stern. Studio ringl and pit, 1931. Institution: Juan Mandelbaum
When Hitler rose to power in 1933, Ellen’s brother, Walter, who was active in leftist political circles, warned the women of the dangers ahead. Aware of the increasing political repression, they decided to leave Germany. Palestine was the only place Ellen could go to, thanks to a loan from Grete that allowed her to enter as a “capitalist.” At the end of 1933, Ellen emigrated to Palestine and Grete left for London. Shortly after her arrival, Ellen made Tel Aviv, a 16mm black and white film about the growing city, for the WIZO organization. But these commissions to promote a Jewish Palestine were thematically and personally far from her interests. Walter Auerbach, a set designer, also went to Palestine and in 1934 they opened Ishon (“apple of my eye”) in Tel Aviv, a studio specializing in children’s photography. At the same time Ellen started photographing everyday life in Palestine. This took her out of the studio and into the streets and villages. She was greatly affected by the difficulties in coexistence between Arab and Jews.
In 1936, with the outbreak of the Abyssinian war, the studio’s commissions declined. Walter and Ellen, who had not adapted well to life in Palestine, left for London to visit Grete. Once again Grete and Ellen collaborated in a few commissions. This would be their last work together. In London they also met Bertolt Brecht, whom they both photographed. Ellen made a short film of Brecht reciting his poetry so that future generations would see how he read his poems. The only problem was that the film was silent.
By this time their styles had changed, with Grete continuing the formal style learned with Peterhans and Ellen becoming much freer and less preoccupied with technical perfection. Grete emigrated to Argentina that year. Ellen tried to continue with the London studio but was unable to obtain a work and residency permit.
In 1937 Ellen married Walter Auerbach in order to emigrate to the United States. Ellen continued to work as a children’s photographer in order to make a living. In 1940 Ellen and Walter Auerbach moved to New York, where they were introduced to the bohemian avant-garde, among them Willem de Kooning, whom Auerbach photographed, and Fairfield Porter, a painter who would become a close friend. Ellen and Walter were separated in 1945, but remained friends. She kept his name.
By the late 1940s. photography was no longer a professional endeavor but rather a way to search for deeper meanings in life and in people, a lifelong quest of hers. She wanted to show the essence of things, whether of a tree or of a child. She called her way of finding this essence the “Third Eye,” which would capture that which lies beneath the surface of things.
At the age of sixty Auerbach embarked on a new career: until 1984 she worked as an educational therapist with children with learning disabilities at the Educational Institute for Learning and Research in New York. She photographed only occasionally. Even though she had no training as a psychologist or therapist, Tate Schmidt, the institute’s director (whom Ellen had met briefly in Palestine), gave her training and opportunities. She used her keen insight and intuition to work with the children to find ways to cope with their problems and had a very high success rate despite the lack of formal training. She crafted a space where children were able to explore themselves and find out about themselves in ways that they never had before. Years later many of the children would come to visit her and remained friends.
Ellen Auerbach died in New York on July 30, 2004, at the age of ninety-eight.
Ringl with glasses (Grete Stern), by Ellen Auerbach, Studio ringl+pit, 1929 Courtesy of Juan Mandelbaum
Grete Stern, who started her career in the European avant-garde of the late 1920s, produced her major body of work in Argentina, where her modern style placed her among the founders of Argentina’s modern photography. The modernist sensibility Stern developed in bohemian Berlin and at the legendary Bauhaus School shook up the staid approach to photography in Argentina. In 1943 Stern presented her first solo exhibition of portraits in Buenos Aires. Her work showed an unconventional approach to photography: advertisement collages and studies with crystals, objects, and still-lifes. Between 1935 and 1981 she worked as a teacher, photographer, and graphic designer, adding an important series of photomontages, reproductions of artwork, and portraits. Stern is remembered for the avant-garde spirit that characterized her work.
Stern took private lessons with Walter Peterhans, a photographer well known for his meticulously produced still lives. In 1928 Peterhans also accepted Ellen (Rosenberg) Auerbach as a student. Stern and Auerbach began a profound friendship that lasted throughout their lifetime. “He taught us to see photographically. For him the camera was not just a mechanism to take a photograph. It was a new way of seeing,” she said in an interview in 1992. In 1930 Walter Peterhans was named Master of Photography at the renowned Bauhaus School for art and design in Dessau. Using the proceeds from an inheritance Stern bought his equipment and with Auerbach started a photography studio for advertising, fashion and portrait photography. They thought that calling it “Rosenberg [Ellen’s birth name] and Stern” sounded too much “like a Jewish clothes manufacturer” so they called it ringl+pit, after their childhood nicknames (Ringl for Grete, Pit for Ellen). They decided to sign all their work together.
In the early 1930s modern advertising was at its beginning and left ample room for creative exploration. ringl+pit’s advertising work represented a departure from current styles, by combining objects, mannequins and cut-up figures in a whimsical fashion. Stern and Auerbach were also influenced by the intense creative environment prevalent in Berlin at the time. Their work explored a new way of portraying women, in line with the image of the New Woman that was emerging at the time. There was a subtle irony in their work about what was accepted and expected of women that was a marked departure from the dominant image of women. Grete’s background in graphic design also came in handy. “What I liked very much was the combination of photography with a well done typography, with well done letters. That was my specialty,” said Stern.
In 1933 the Bauhaus closed its doors, hounded by the Nazis. Although not an activist, Grete was sympathetic to leftist movements and her friends there warned her of the upcoming dangers posed by the new regime. With antisemitism becoming more and more aggressive, in early 1934 Stern left the ringl+pit studio and with her brother Walter emigrated to London. She was able to take with her all of her photographic equipment and furniture. These were productive years for Stern: she opened a photographic and advertisement studio and continued her work on portraits, photographing her friends from the community of German exiles, including Bertolt Brecht, Helene Weigel, Karl Korsch, and Paula Heimann. The French magazine Cahiers d’Art included an article on the ringl+pit studio. Ellen Auerbach had also had to leave Germany and after a brief stay in Palestine joined Stern in London. Their last work together was photographs for a maternity hospital brochure.
Separated from her husband, by the mid-1940s Stern was a well-established photographer and graphic designer in Buenos Aires. Throughout her career her photographic subjects were quite varied and included portraits, advertising, nature, cityscapes, and indigenous people in the North of Argentina.
In 1948 Stern was offered the unusual assignment of providing photos for a column on the interpretation of dreams in the popular weekly women’s magazine Idilio. The column, entitled “Psychoanalysis Will Help You,” was a response to dreams sent in by readers, mostly working-class women. The result was a series of about one hundred and fifty photomontages produced between 1948 and 1951 that show Stern’s avant-garde spirit. In these photomontages she portrays women’s oppression and submission in Argentine society with sarcastic and surreal images. The photomontage was an ideal way for Stern to express her ideas about the dominant values.
In 1964 she obtained a grant from the Fondo Nacional de las Artes and traveled through the northeast of Argentina, producing more than eight hundred photos portraying the lives, craftwork, and daily activities of the aboriginals of the region. It constitutes the most important photo archive on this subject in Argentina. She was interested in showing the poor living conditions of the aboriginal populations and also highlighting their craft-making skills. Back in Buenos Aires she prepared an exhibition of this work at the Municipal Modern Art Museum of Buenos Aires. She hoped that her photographs would help foster change in the living conditions of the Indians from the Northeast, but this did not happen in her lifetime.
Her teaching activities continued until 1985. Argentine photographer Sara Facio has commented on Stern’s influence in Argentina: “Grete has influenced new generations [of photographers] in two ways. On one hand, with the importance she gives to form. Her photography is not improvised but well thought out. And second by her attitude to life. She is a woman who has been devoted to her vocation, during good times and bad, and young people admire that”.
In 1972 Stern traveled to the United States, England, France, Greece, and Israel and for the first time since leaving in 1933 she visited Germany. In 1975 the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin organized the first photographic exhibition after the war, which included Stern’s work.
She continued her studio work doing portraits and landscapes until 1980, when she stopped due to failing eyesight. “Photography has given me great happiness. I learned a lot and was able to say things I wanted to say and show,” said Stern in 1992. Grete Stern died in Buenos Aires on December 24, 1999 at the age of ninety-five.
Grete Stern, who started her career in the European avant-garde of the late 1920s, produced her major body of work in Argentina, where her modern and different style placed her among the founders of Argentina’s modern photography. https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/stern-grete
As artistic collaborators and romantic partners, Ellen Auerbach and Grete Stern were anything but traditional. The two met in 1929 while apprenticing with Berlin-based photographer Walter Peterhans. A year later they were running their own studio under the name ringl + pit, a nod to their nicknames (ringl for Stern and pit for Auerbach). The duo embodied the iconic “New Woman,” independent and confident, at a time when more women in Germany were able to establish professional careers.
Together Auerbach and Stern made advertisements and portraits. Their staged, witty photographs often subverted the commodification of women in mainstream media. In PétroleHahn, for example, their model is an outdated mannequin dressed in a frilly nightgown once owned by Auerbach’s mother. Disrupting this quaint scene is a human hand holding a bottle of hair oil—an uncanny detail that underscores the artifice of the image.
In 1931, Auerbach created a remarkable book as a birthday gift for Stern. Die Ringlpitis is filled with drawings, photographs, mixed media collages, handwritten poems, and ironic proclamations. Through an eclectic mix of imaginative and documentary imagery annotated with insider commentary, Auerbach illustrated the pair’s daily life and their collaborative and queer relationship.
Some of the anecdotes in Die Ringlpitis are light-hearted. Auerbach recounts Stern sleeping in a bed made with wildly patterned sheets, much to her mother’s dismay. Others address the more challenging familial and societal pressures each woman faced. The set of the one-act play Grete on the Marriage Market is a lively dinner party Stern’s mother throws to introduce her daughter to a respectable suitor. Yet Grete is so bored, she falls asleep as the young man—flowers in hand—attempts to talk to her. Stern, like Auerbach, resisted expectations to settle down. The two lived and worked in a shared studio space filled with friends and boyfriends. They embraced openness and play, refuting conventional definitions of gender and sexuality and forging new ways of living and making art. The book is both an intimate object and a humorous declaration of their alternative way of life.
On another page, we see the pair dressed in matching striped tank tops. “We all know the 2 Superstars,” a paper tab notes. When pulled back, it reveals Stern in drag as the Strongman, and Auerbach wearing dainty wings as the ambiguously gendered Flying Something.
Through their collaboration, Auerbach and Stern refuted the ideal of the individual author, which was widely celebrated even in progressive schools at the time. Years later, they reflected that it didn’t matter who was in front of or behind the camera. “The picture was made completely together,” Auerbach explained. “Together, yes, exactly,” Stern agreed. – Andrea Nelson, Associate Curator, Department of Photographs, National Gallery of Art https://www.nga.gov/blog/queer-artists-ellen-auerbach-grete-stern-ringl-pit.html
…always experimenting with non-traditional materials such as volcanic ash, food, seaweed, sediments and homemade pigments…
“I have read a lot about the life of painters, I enjoy it. The only place where I always feel affinity with people is in the Museo del Prado. When looking at the paintings, I feel there are things we do share. I go there very often, whenever I can. It is my favourite museum. It’s the great painting museum.”
“I’m still a country boy, I was born in 1957, but in my village Felanitx in Mallorca, life there was probably quite similar to life there in 857 AD. I lived around animals and the sea – there was little technology, no television. I still continue to feel very connected with that way of life, and in Mali I enjoy being around the donkeys on the street. This kind of life – away from cities and people – suits me. But life is very tough and complex in Mali now – it’s not the simple paradise it once was.”
“I think the reason I travel so much now is that under Franco, it was difficult to leave – you only got a passport if you did military service. I grew up with that frustration, of feeling trapped. Although I love Mallorca, it was that feeling of entrapment that pushed me away. Now the island has been destroyed by the tourist industry, all those great big hotels. It’s hard to see that day after day in the beautiful place where you grew up.”
.United Nations Human Rights Room Geneva, Switzerland
“I think I came alive when I started photography.”
“To be a photographer, one must photograph. No amount of book learning, no checklist of seminars attended, can substitute for the simple act of making pictures.”
“I photograph continuously, often without a good idea or strong feelings. During this time the photos are nearly all poor but I believe they develop my seeing and help later on in other photos.”
“I guess I’ve shot about 40,000 negatives and of these I have about 800 pictures I like.”
“A picture is like a prayer.”
“I do believe strongly in photography and hope by following it intuitively that when the photographs are looked at they will touch the spirit in people.”
“I like the simple things. I don’t know why. I’m that way. I came from a simple place.”
“I can tell you for me it goes on forever. There are some things you can’t ever find out. You can’t find out in one life either.”
Exhibition poster for Harry Callahan, 1978 Venice Biennale
Harry Callahan was an American photographer born in Detroit. Self-taught, he began taking pictures in 1938 as a hobby and, inspired by the work of Ansel Adams, began to produce professional-quality photographs in the 1940s. His mature work is said to mingle the precision of Americans like Adams with the experimentalism of Europeans like Lázló Moholy-Nagy. His black-and-white city streetscapes and rural landscapes combine the commonplace with the starkly abstract, exploring contrasts of sunlight and shadow, tone and texture, static buildings and hurried passersby, while his many lovingly distinctive portraits of his wife and daughter are extremely personal and intimate. He sometimes used multiple exposures, and experimented with color slide film in the 1940s, again making color images from 1977 on. An influential figure in modern photography, he taught at Chicago’s Institute of Design (1946-61) and the Rhode Island School of Design (1961-77). courtesy of Weston Gallery
Unremarkable as a young man, Callahan discovered photography at the age of 26 and in less than a decade found ways of working, chose photographic subjects, and launched experiments that would continue for the next sixty years.
Callahan never completed college or studied photography in the classroom. In 1938, he was working at the Chrysler Company in Detroit, Michigan, joined the Chrysler Photo Club, and learned camera basics from a friend. He soon became dissatisfied with hobby photography and the sentimental pictorialism that club members favored. Wanting something more, he found it late in 1941 when the photographer Ansel Adams lectured at the club and—as Callahan later told it—“set me free.”
Adams told the club to view photography in its own terms—not as would-be painting—and within its own limitations. A photograph should be “a clean, sharp, highly detailed description of the external world within a carefully delineated, continuous tonal range,” he stated. Photographing simple things, such as nature at our feet, is just as valid as creating spectacular images, Adams added. He taught Callahan how to make prints and, above all, inspired him to become a photographic artist.
In 1946, Callahan began teaching photography at Chicago’s Institute of Design (ID), which was then directed by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the Hungarian Modernist photographer and painter. Moholy, who encouraged formal experimentation, became Callahan’s second great mentor. Basically, Callahan merged Adams’ purism with Moholy’s experimentalism to create a new, radically inventive kind of photography. He would choose a subject, such as nature or city street life, photograph it in a variety of ways, and then experiment with extreme contrast, double exposure, all-white and all-black prints, and much else. His images are cool, often tough, and he never presses a personal agenda upon the viewer. Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work
Barbara in Florence, Italy
For thirty years Callahan has photographed his wife and child, the streets of the cities in which he has lived, and details of the pastoral landscapes into which he has periodically escaped — materials so close at hand, so universally and obviously accessible, that one might have supposed that a dedicated photographer could exhaust their potential in a fraction of that time. Yet Callahan has repeatedly made these simple experiences new again by virtue of the precision of his feeling. from “Looking at Photographs” by John Szarkowski
Harry Callahan, Self portrait, 1944
‘DOUBLE EXPOSURE (WOODS WITH INSET OF ELEANOR)’, 1953
“The price for living the life I have — for any serious, devoted person, is that at times one must live alone, or feel alone. I think loneliness is associated in many people’s minds when they think about success.” Helen Frankenthaler (Dec 12, 1928 – Dec 27, 2011)
“I think that painting is a kind of alchemy. The paint is transformed into image, and paint and image transform themselves into a third and new thing.”
“I’ve always wondered, like, what is so masculine about abstraction? How did men get the ownership over this?”
“There was a time in the early 1990s in England where you basically felt like people at a party would turn away if you said you were a painter. People would constantly say ‘Oh, why are you a painter?’, and you had to defend it all the time. There was this idea that if you were a painter it was because you had an unquestioning belief in painting’s power, rather than that it just happened to be a medium that you wanted to employ and that you felt you could still use to say something.”
Cecily Brown – Sunset Motel, 2015, photo by Genevieve Hanson
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