Saturday, 19 July 2014

Environments that Help Artists

Every artist instinctively seeks an environment that helps them create their art.
It is not always so easy to find either the place, nor the time and serenity to create, however.  Every artist knows those stumbling blocks.  Sometimes they are easily surmounted, other times it is not so easy.

Sometimes, luck intervenes too.  In my case, Lady Luck definitely came calling this summer. 
For a multitude of reasons, it has become difficult to have the time to spend in my studio, so I have been fortunate enough to be able to slip away for a while to different art residencies that I have been awarded hither and yon.  This year, I had a magical two weeks in spring in Portugal.  I was then able to have time at another residency, La Porte Peinte, in Burgundy, France, a country I adore anyway.
It is of course always a bit of a gamble going to art residencies.  It may be a wonderful place, with good studio facilities, but the area may not sing or the people who run the residency may not be terribly compatible… there are so many variables.  Until you get to the place, it is difficult to judge accurately whether you will be able to be truly creative there.  Even recommendations from other artists are not always an accurate gauge for one’s own needs.
La Porte Peinte, in Noyers sur Serein, in north-east Burgundy, near Auxerre, proves to be the most wonderful place in which to create art.  I have just spent the first half of a month’s residency there, and it was the most supportive, comfortable and welcoming place I could have dreamt of.  For a start, the medieval village is a delight. You enter from the south over the Serein river.

At the entrance to Noyers sur Serein, photo J. Cook
And these are views from my eyrie perch window in my room.
Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, Noyers, photo J. Cook
Up the street from La Porte Peinte, photo J. Cook
L'Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), Noyers, photo J. Cook
Michelle Anderson Binczak, the Executive Director of La Porte Peinte, is not only the most gracious of people, but her very international approach and wide knowledge of people and places make her able to help in so many ways.  She also knows a lot of local people and that means that an artist has suddenly all sorts of insights and introductions into other ways of life in the area.  That is beyond price.  Her husband, Oreste, runs their elegant and diverse Gallery and does a million other things to make life at La Porte Peinte so pleasant and constructive.  And yes, La Porte Peinte is situated in rue de la Porte Peinte - how about that for destiny!
The more I spend time at art residencies both in the United States and Europe, the more I realise that the atmosphere created by the people in charge is critical to an artist’s ability to create, explore new horizons and grow as an artist.  There is a subtle difference between being left to one’s own devices, to work in peace, and being left to be independent but at the same time, being offered the opportunity to involve oneself in the local cultural world, to meet other artists of all descriptions and disciplines and to be psychologically supported as an artist.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Power of a Line

I saw a really interesting small exhibition that came from the Josef and AnniAlbers Foundation in Bethany, Connecticut.  It was at the Fundación Juan March in Palma de Mallorca and will be at the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca from now until October 5, 2014.  Josef Albers: Process and Printmaking (1916-1976) was a small exhibition, divided into three sections.
His first woodblock prints, in black and white, are a far cry from the vivid colours and abstractions of his later work in the United States.  Albers was first inspired by the coal mining landscapes of his native Northern Rhine-Westphalia region in Germany; he turned to print-making not only for its economy of production but also for the creative liberty that the medium allowed him.  He was deeply engaged, not only in the manual involvement of how art is made in the printing process, but also in the exploration of how far he could push the possibilities of the medium.  Endlessly inventive and questing, he clearly kept saying to himself, “What if… I did this… or that?”  Questions that every artist should be constantly asking him or herself.
One particular series was especially interesting to me, for it showed just how powerful each line can be in a drawing or print, and if one changes the emphasis of just one line, the whole composition and content of the work changes.  As Albers said, “Everything has form and every form has meaning”, and his simple series that ended as Multiplex A-D done in 1947-8, demonstrated that perfectly. Alas, his preparatory drawings which are in the exhibition don’t seem to be available on the Web. But even there, the progression of ideas and different emphasis each time on a principal line versus a secondary line underlined how Albers understood so well how art can be changed a great deal, even just by a thin or thicker line.
The preparatory drawings and studies for the Multiplex series ranged from pencil drawings on paper, then on tracing paper, sometimes using a red pencil for emphasis, sometimes a blue pencil.  Finally, having worked out the range of possibilities for that play of lines, Albers moved to studies on paper for each version of the series, then gouache over proof of a woodblock print.
Meticulous and yet questing, the preparation for such seemingly simple prints is instructive.  Josef Albers had planned out exactly what he wanted to say, the emphasis each time on his view of each line’s importance.  In other words, the more he prepared and thought about each work, the more pared down and powerful it became… a lesson for us all!
These are the woodbock prints that are the results of the Multiplex series’ preparation.  Each line is eloquent and functions as a vital part of the composition, in a “major” or “minor key”.

Multiplex A, 1947, Josef Albers,
Woodblock on paper, 16 1/2 x 12 1/2"

Multiplex B, 1948, Josef Albers,
Woodblock on paper, 16 1/2 x 12 1/2"

Mlutiplex C, 1948,
Josef Albers,
Woodblock on paper, 16 1/2 x 12 1/2"

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Le Géant bourguignon qui habite le village d' Argentenay

Vous entrez dans une fôret  lumineuse, spacieuse, où les verts sont intenses, infinément variés. Le sentier serpente, invite à se délaisser, à explorer.
Et soudain on voit une boule de mousse, ornée d’une fleur vivement rouge, suspendue d’une branche.  Puis, en voilà une autre…  Ainsi, les yeux vers les cîmes des arbres, on aperçoit, d’un coup, le Géant Vert qui vous contemple de son hauteur impressionnante
Le Géant Vert, Argentenay, photo de Michelle Anderson Binczak
Son créateur, le sculpteur Alain Bresson, l’a créé de deux érables vivants qui ont une forme entremêlée se prêtant à devenir “une personne”.
Alain Bresson,
photo de Michelle Anderson Binczak
Alain Bresson n’est point étranger à ces formes de “land art” dans la nature, car il en a créé maintes versions dans sa longue carrière artistique.  Il est reconnu pour ses oeuvres qu’il expose avec beaucoup de succ ès à Paris, en Allemagne, en Afrique, un peu partout…
Mais c’est d’abord chez lui, dans sa communauté même, qu’il a voulu créer un Géant dans la fôret.  Pourtant, sa sculpture fut mal vue par l’hiérarchie  élue; Alain fut obligé à détruire son oeuvre!
Heureusement pourtant, la jolie petite communauté d’Argentenay, (en Bourgogne). voisine de celle d’Alain, a été très receptive à l’idée qu’Alain a proposée de transformer deux érables vivantes en Géant Vert.
L’inauguration a eu lieu le samedi 5 juillet, avec la présence de notables tels que M. Raymond Le Deun, Préfet de l’Yonne, M. François Patriat, Président du Conseil Régional de Bourgogne, M. André Villiers, Président du Conseil Général de l’Yonne, M. Jean-Jacques Gleizal, ancien Président du FNAC Bourgogne, et, bien sûr, Mme. Catherine Tronel, Maire d’Argentenay. Alain Bresson a brièvement expliqué que l’énorme personnage du Géant Vert est parsemé de graines dans la mousse lumineuse. Elles vont pousser bientôt pour ensuite acceueillr les oiseaux, les papillons, les fourmis…  Le Géant va ainsi évoluer, changer, se répandre en beauté. Sa splendeur verte intense va fluctuer au fur et à mesure que le temps se sèche ou que la pluie tombe, tout comme chaque   être vivant.  Pardessous de leurs revêtements de mousse, les deux arbres vont poursuivre leur croissance lente, au rhythme de la forêt qui les entoure.
Grâce à Alain Bresson, nous avons tous, en coeur d’une si belle forêt de Bourgogne, un Géant Vert qui nous aide à célébrer la nature,  qui est, en fait, notre meilleure amie.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Land Art, Burgundy Style

That’s life for you, isn’t it!  All of a sudden, there is so much of fascination to blog about and share with the world, and at the same time, there is the quandary of what to do… blog or draw?  And there are only those twenty-four hours in the day, alas.
Nonetheless, I will burn the midnight oil a little to celebrate a wonderful event that I was privileged enough to share this weekend.  In a green and harmonious forest, deep in Burgundy, France, there is now a magically glowing Green Giant, a living forest sculpture created by Alain Bresson, a noted French artist.
Alain Bresson at the Forest Inauguration (image courtesy of Michelle Anderson Binczak)
Alain has been creating imaginative sculptures that celebrate the world around us for a long time, with work exhibited in notable venues in Paris, as well as Africa and other parts of Europe.  His land art is increasingly welcomed in exhibitions that draw attention to our environment, and in the case of the inauguration I attended, his imaginative empathy and understanding of the forest was clear.

Le Geant Vert 2, Alain Bresson, living sculpture
(image courtesy of Michelle Anderson Binczak)
The Green Giant came about almost by chance – as Alain laconically and self-deprecatingly recounted at the inauguration, deep in the lush forest surroundings, he was walking in the local community forest.  He suddenly saw the two strangely configured maples growing together and realized their possibilities.
He had already had troubles with his own village. The authorities there made him destroy a previous Green Giant sculpture, but happily, in the case of the adjacent community of Argentenay, near Tonnerre,  the Mayoress, Catherine Tronel, was more than receptive to having him create a living sculpture in the “forêt communale”.
So Alain covered the trees with yet more moss, which glowed luminously after all the rain we have had, and added delicious touches of scarlet to make the Giant gloriously jaunty.  Moss globes, also with flamenco-style flowers tucked in to add allure, were hung from other trees to add depth to the scene.  At the inauguration, as Alain explained, we could not yet see the total scene as he had planted different seeds in the moss and in the Giant’s foreground.  They will germinate and change the effect, and make the Giant an evolving sculpture that will continue living for years to come.  Much more fun than a sculpture that is created and then, that’s it, once it is placed in its official position…
As you parked by burnished pale gold grain fields and then walked into this cool forest, where birdsong is the only sound you normally hear, it was like entering a magical green world. 
Burgundy fields, Argentenay,
(image courtesy of Michelle Anderson Binczak)
Then suddenly this hugely tall green presence arrests and surprises, then delights.  There is power and whimsy, and ultimately, a deep respect for our oh-so-important forests.
Alain Bresson has travelled a long and successful route since he first went walking in the local countryside as a small boy on a school outing.  While all the rest of his class brought back bunches of poppies and daisies to the teacher, he brought back branches, sticks and nettles.  The teacher was horrified and reduced the eight-year –old to tears with his reproaches.  Now, I suspect, were that teacher to see The Green Giant, he would be of a different mind about Alain’s selections and skill.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Colour versus Black and White

When you are surrounded by brilliant, sunlit hues and above the sky is blindingly blue, it is easy to be captivated by colour and want to translate it into your art.  We all resonate to colour, and it is and always has been the dominant approach to painting.  Nonetheless there are those, artists and art lovers, who also resonate to black and white and shades of monochrome in between.
I read of a perfect summation of this difference in an El Pais article about the resurrection of the Leica camera, once considered the ne plus ultra of 35 mm. cameras for most of the 20th century.  Every great photographer, from Capra to Henri Cartien-Bresson used a Leica because it was quiet, highly portable and had remarkable lenses that allowed fantastic photographs to be taken. Cartier-Bresson believed too that all edits to the image should be made when the photo was being taken, not afterwards in the darkroom.
Near Strasbourg, 1945, Henri Cartier-Bresson
Until the digital camera came along, Leicas were much esteemed. When the then nearly bankrupt company was bought out in 2005 by Andreas Kaufmann, heir to an Austrian paper company fortune, a fascinating development occurred.
Andreas Kaufmann gambled on differentiating Leicas from all other digital cameras: the M Monochrom Leica only takes black and white images. When this Leica was launched in May 2012, the model was priced at a cool 6,800 euros.  It has become a runaway success in the photographic world, selling like hot cakes through Leica Boutiques around the globe. 
As Andreas Kaufman was quoted as saying, “For me, colour is more emotion, while black and white represents structure.”
The remark resonated with me.  True, I was brought up with a grandfather and mother both photographing in black and white in East Africa.  In fact, they were so successful that they kept the farm going on photographic sales during the dreadful Great Depression years when the farm was in its infancy and barely sustained them as a family.  I have always considered black and white photographs of the 1930-50 era in Europe as marvellous works of art, as well as the amazing photographs that Edward Weston and Ansel Adams took in the earlier 20th century. 
Kelp, Point Lobos, 1930, Edward Weston
Onion Halved, 1930, Edward Weston

Pine Cone and Eucalyptus Leaves, San Francisco, 1932, Ansel Adams
Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Marzanar, CA, 1944 (Image courtesy of  MOMA)
By the Seine, Robert Doisneau
I also love black and white drawings for their immediacy and unadorned truth of execution. Look at this one for direct simplicity and power of composition.
Self Portrait, 1924, charcoal, Kathe Kollwitz
Even black and white paintings have an impact that indeed speaks of structure and logical thought.  
Atlantic, 1956, Ellsworth Kelly (Image courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York)
Uneasy Centre, 1963, Bridget Riley
It is as if you can get your teeth into a black and white work of art, while one in colour is a fraction fuzzy, tugging at emotion and heart strings…  Portraits, landscapes, even still life or abstracts: they all evoke passion, sympathy, joy, sorrow, lyricism… Black and white images seem more cerebral, more challenging often.
I find it logical that I am more and more fascinated by metalpoint drawing – it is all back to black and white… Plus ça change, plus ça reste la même!