Thursday, October 15, 2015

Unfolding Matter: An Exhibition at Hubbard Street Lofts

Landscape is both a physical space and an aesthetic construction. It is the land that surrounds us and upon which we live, and it is the organization of that exterior space within a genre of the visual arts. Any artist whose practice connects with land, earth, or terrain, is dealing from the beginning with that twin focus, looking both outwards to the world and then back into the interior world. The land outside, and the land within. In this group show at a recently opened space at Chicago’s Hubbard Street Lofts, three artists showed work inspired by the land beneath our feet, the inner reflection of the outer world, and the land seen from afar.
Marzena Ziejka, A small landscape without vegetables, found dropcloth, monofilament, acrylic polymer
Marzena Ziejka‘s work includes pieces that she made by scooping up soil and glueing it to large panels. They have an interesting tactility reminiscent of her large works in fibre, her customary medium, though I think they lack the visual charge and sensuousness of those pieces. Much more successful were very small works like A Small Landscape without Vegetables, for which she took a found piece of drop cloth and made rough, improvised marks with acrylic polymer and monofilament. They contain references to traditional elements of landscape painting—a horizon line, radiating furrows of a ploughed field, a cloud, a sun—but in the barest, most minimal way. Nevertheless the rough texture of the cloth and the spontaneous smears of colour attract the eye more than the larger soil pieces.

Tanya Gill, Pangaea (The World is Flat), found landsat images
Tanya Gill uses images taken by the Landsat satellite, which was launched in the early 1970s and took the first comprehensive pictures of the earth’s surface from space. A plain mounting of these photos would be compelling enough, filled as they are with amazing variations of shape, forms, and colours, but Gill took her appropriation in another direction by folding the photos into three-dimensional shapes and displaying them as semi-sculptural assemblages. In Pangaea (The World is Flat), she appears to have squashed a bunch of these gem-like creations before dispersing them on the wall. Pangaea is, I believe, the name geographers use for the primordial landmass which united all earth’s continents. Gill thus uses some of the most modern images of the earth to hearken back to the origins of the planet, implying perhaps that any artistic transformation is actually a recreation of ancient materials.
Gundjan Chawla, Echo, turmeric on paper
This leads us to Gunjan Chawla’s work, which is inspired by the ancient philosophies of her home country, India. Chawla uses turmeric and earth mixed with water to make rows of dabbed marks, on either paper or duralar, patiently covering the surface dot by dot, allowing the pigment to fall off the paper or adhere at random. The technique is reminiscent of such Asian art forms as Tibetan sand painting, Malaysian Kolam, or Indian Rangoli painting, with their emphasis on impermanence, the fleeting, the temporary. Chawla’s paintings, if they can be called that, are clearly preoccupied with process, with a meditative rhythm of the hand and submission to the material, and as such they are very self-contained and distant, as if they are looking so far towards the interior of the soul that they no longer require a spectator. Yet the varied colours of the pigment and spice, from burnt umber through to bright saffron, produce visual vibrations that are in the end compellingly beautiful, too.

Unfolding Matter was on display at Hubbard Street Lofts between October 2nd and October 14th, 2015.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

News from the Blogging Workshops

The Barefoot Norwegian, by Connie Geissel

As I have discussed in previous blog posts on the subject, for the last few years I have taught classes in setting up a blog, and in creating and crafting content for existing blogs. One of the participants in a workshop I ran earlier this year just emailed me to say that she's pressing on full steam ahead with her blog. It's called The Barefoot Norwegian (a great, great title), and here is the link to the blog:

Friday, October 2, 2015

Six of the Best, Part 35

Part 35 of an interview series in which I pose the same six questions to different artists. Today's interviewee is Aine Scannell, an artist and printmaker who lives in Scotland. 

Shaman's Secret, trace monotype and pastel, 20" x 28"
Philip Hartigan: What medium do you chiefly use, and why?

Aine Scannell: Printmaking is the means or process I go through to create my art. I started out in ‘painting’ because I had the rather na├»ve idea that, that was what ‘artists’ did. I didn’t have any awareness of printmaking as a specialist discipline in my earlier years. In the beautiful city of Barcelona, Spain, I completed a Masters in European Fine Art (that’s what it was officially called) but on the course we were identified as being either on the painting or the print pathway. 

It was over that time period that I began to realize that I loved the possibilities inherent within printmaking. I was just so excited by it and I could see that it was for me. Unfortunately, being as it was a small course (about 50 people in total), there was no flexibility in terms of re-positioning oneself within the studio/ print workshop context. Looking back now it’s a shame that they didn’t pick up on this, given that my portfolio application was 90% works on paper, as in monotype. I was never that sure as to whether these pieces were prints or drawings.

Anyway, over the next 5 years or so I studied techniques through various community colleges and at London University. Eventually I felt as though I had arrived at a point where I needed to study printmaking at a more ‘professional’ level and so I did another masters degree at Wimbledon School of Art in London.

I have often said that I think printmaking is the most liberating of media where fine art is concerned. I mean you are using paper, and I love working on paper. I always have and of course once you study in this area you realize that there’s such a variety of papers, from say a Tosa Washi 28gsm right through to, for example, a Somerset White Velvet 650 gsm paper. 

Using a range of intaglio mark making strategies on various metals as well as linoleum, wood and plastic, the possibilities are so immense. The tactility is a feast to the senses. Being able to push the ink into the grooves of the ‘plate’ using the immense pressure of an etching press—well, it’s all such an adventure and a joy.

Philip HartiganWhat are you currently working on?

Aine ScannellI just finished making an edition of teeny weeny artist’s books (3 of them) and it was kind of nice working that size (much to my surprise). The reason I say that is I‘m not always that keen on making miniature prints, which I have done at times in order to be able to make submissions to events such as the British Miniprint international or for example the Lahti Miniprint exhibition (Finland) I suppose though, now I think about it, with a little book at least one has the ‘space’ of the opened out pages. I think the accordion book format works best with this. I wouldn’t do this unless it could be in this format. A conventional book format, where you view the pages one by one, just wouldn’t work for me. The size of this, by the way, is 5 x 4 x 1 cm. Isn’t that amazingly small? 

Making these came about through being invited by artist/curator Marina Moreno. It’s for an installation/exhibition project that she’s presenting at Serra Dei Giardini for the 56th Venice Bienniale. In fact this Giardini place is located adjacent to the main ‘pavilions’. However it’s not part of the official Venice Biennial. For some reason or other I have always liked making international connections, going right back to when I had about 32 pen-pals in Boston, Massachusetts, in my early teens. As you can imagine my family really did wonder what on earth I was up to. 

The other thing I’ve been working on recently is something I just got started on last week at Glasgow Print Studio. It’s a series of intaglio prints using thin birch plates as my substrate. I’m so pleased to have found these lovely wooden plates which are so thin that I can easily bevel them and put them through the etching press. I think it’s going to be a series of mythological beings from where I live now, in Scotland.
Sea Doll, intaglio on birch wood
Philip HartiganWhat creative surprises are happening in the current work?

Aine ScannellWell, that’s not so easy to answer as I am always doing experiments and trying things out. Like one of my current obsessions is finding a medium with which I can use watercolour paint as a ‘printmaking ink, to find a way to be able to use it on a brayer and even potentially to ink up intaglio plates. I have done some research (and YES I do know about AKUA inks) but this is something that I particularly want to resolve. The thing is that I just love watercolour, and I use it a fair amount in my printmaking.

Philip HartiganWhat other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

Aine ScannellThat’s not easy to answer because I have a disability, which means that as well as having chronic pain (full time, although I do sleep at night, thank goodness) I have limited mobility. Unfortunately this renders me house-bound to quite an extent. So I suppose my extra curricular activities, as such, might be reading literature, mainly novels. My most recent enjoyable books were “The Kiterunner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. I had originally read them about 5 years ago but enjoyed re-reading them so much again as they are of such excellent quality. I have to be thankful that I live in the internet age or otherwise I would feel so isolated. It provides me with a lot of wonderful art as well as much information and inspiration. I also love listening to the radio, BBC Radio 4 and the World Service. Plays are such fun, too.
Einu Sinni Var, miniature artist's book , ed./3,  0.4" x 2" x 1.5"
Philip HartiganWhat's the first ever piece of art you remember making?

Aine ScannellI always remember my mother buying paint by number sets for my younger brother, Barry, and me. Eventually we decided to do them and I remember that I got bored with doing mine and just painted my own ‘made-up’ image over the delineated image, whereas my brother ‘coloured–in’ his little canvas. His was hung on a hook above our bathroom door. Mine was disregarded. She never understood anything much about me, although bless my mother: she really did her best by me.

The other thing I remember was in primary school at the convent how we used what were called ‘jotters’ for practicing our ink nib-pen ink writing. Horizontally across their pages they had two dark red lines, inside of which, were two faint lines, for the lower case script. I must have been about 3 or 4 at the time. We used to make drawings of girls with “sticky-out –dresses” (like wedding dresses) and quite often they would have a veil.  Next to a house would be a stick with a circle on top (representing a tree), and usually there would be a little garden with flowers, and if we had time (before the nuns told us off) we’d put in flowers and sunshine and birds. I used to really love doing those. They would be drawn with pencils and then ‘coloured-in’ with crayons.

Philip HartiganFinally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

Aine ScannellOh god, what can I say except I’m sorry but that’s all I can do. It’s just in me. It always has been. I live and breathe it. I don’t know what else I can be, really. It’s all I want. It’s not easy,.yet at the same time it’s great.

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.

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