Exhibition Honoring Black Artists

One of the best, most powerful ways to amplify black voices is through the visual arts. Whether invoking an emotional response to its audience through portraying their struggles, celebrating culture, or simply celebrating fine art, this exhibition aims to empower black voices in all ways, through all types of art. By displaying both of these types of art it is a means to balance struggle with celebration, seriousness with playfulness, or just admiration of talent. Also by displaying both sides of the coin out of respect it shows black people’s strength for what pulls them through difficult times, rather than only pitying those of color. Yet the weight for which the struggles they carry should not be ignored, and should make the privileged viewers uncomfortable. Another strong reason to have this exhibition is because of the lack of black artists displayed in galleries and museums being underrepresented. The same goes for black art critics, black art dealers, and black museum trustees. A good reason for why one would want to come to this exhibition would not only be to enjoy the extraordinary artwork but also the recorded number of attendees at the exhibition is considered for the value of an art piece and when the number is higher it supports the black artists. Also viewers can follow the artist on social media giving more value to their work, something curators also look for. 

The first artist to introduce would be a versatile pioneer of black art, Faith Ringgold. She has won countless awards including a National Endowment for the Arts Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship for painting and an NAACP Image Award. Faith Ringgold, born Faith Will Jones, was born on October 8, 1930, in Harlem, a time where she’d be greatly exposed to the Harlem Renaissance. She graduated with a B.S. in fine art and education in 1955 from The City of New York and soon after also received a M.A in art. Protesting in the 60s and 70s against art institutions that had not included people of color, her artwork’s narrative during that time period changes from angry and disheartened when it comes to living in America as a person of color to portraying black females in all their glory in later decades. Later in her career she’d published award winning children’s books during the 80s and 90s written and illustrated by her. They educate youth upon the pivotal as well as inspiring times during black history, Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad, and My Dream of Martin Luther King just to name a couple. Woman on a Bridge #1 of 5: Tar Beach, (1988, Acrylic paint, canvas, printed fabric, ink, and thread, 74 5/8 x 68 1/2 inches) would be included since the book to go along with the piece, titled Tar Beach, won the Caldecott medal which goes out to the most distinguished American picture book for children for its preceding year. Pictured within the artwork are all people of color –  a family sitting with visitors on a city building’s rooftop at night with a food table, potted plants, and a clothesline with laundry hooked. In the background there are the skyscrapers of Harlem lit at night along with the George Washington Bridge also lit. The is a little girl and a boy laying down on a blanket looking into the sky. Interestingly, the little girl in the nightgown is pictured twice because she also appears flying in the background too. 

Faith Ringgold. Woman on a Bridge #1 of 5: Tar Beach, 1988. Acrylic paint, canvas, printed fabric, ink, and thread; 74 5/8 x 68 1/2 inches. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum collection, New York, New York. Image by Guggenheim Museum.

The story behind Tar Beach spoke upon feeling free. A little girl named Cassie Louise Lightfoot living in Harlem imagines herself flying over the George Washington Bridge. She dreams of ways her beloved family members can also feel free, addressing the financial hardships her parents have dealt with while also speaking highly of them. The little girl is determined to take over the city and make a better life for her family, dreaming of what could be. This emphasizes the power of dreaming and that in Ringgold’s case – dreams do come true. 

Her style is characterized by the bright and bold two dimensional artwork style from the Harlem Renaissance and also references Cubism as well as Fauvism, specifically Picasso and Matisse. Like the staple in most of her works, she used an illustrative quilt border in Tar Beach. Ringgold is best known for her quilted artwork for which the patterns take inspiration from multiple elements. Tibetian thangka paintings are one of them. Another is how quilts resonate and honor her mother who took an interest in fashion design, sold dresses in Harlem as well as taught Faith how to sew. Quilt Making also speaks upon the craft behind women’s work within the community in both American and African culture. Quilts are also a reference for what was used to help slaves escape through the underground railroad. The combination of painting and quiltmaking combined is quite innovative. First she paints on fine woven cotton duck canvas fabric. Then she attaches colorful squares of upholstery fabric along the boards, some of which she’d also paint on. 

Who’s Bad? (1988, Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, 79 1/2 x 92 1/2 in.)  would be included because of its fun lightheartedness with Michael Jackson centered, yet speaks upon race also. The Michael Jackson figure appeals to a large audience because of his popularity. For that, this work could even be considered as pop art since he is a widely recognized figure. This adds to Ringgold’s versatility, attributing her work to many aspects of black culture, back then and during more recent times. Within the piece painted there are repeated writings of the names Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X in a vandalized style. In the background there are a bunch black men of all ages and differing personas, based on their fashion apparel, shown together dancing. With this as well as including the following piece mentioned, the viewer can see that because of her history with textiles and fashion she uses apparel to create each individual figure’s persona that reflects the times. In this case it’s the 80s. It speaks upon how no matter how one may identify themself or how society sees them as a black man Michael Jackson’s exceptional talent brings the black community together for a good time. United, this promotes black power. Her work again captures the style of art depicted during the Harlem renaissance as well as Cubist and Fauvist elements. Again the artist references her staple quilted border.

Faith Ringgold. Who’s Bad?, 1988. Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border; 79 1/2 x 92 1/2 in. Image by https://www.faithringgold.com/portfolio/whos-bad/.

Another great piece of Faith Ringgold’s to include would be Groovin’ High, 1996 because it celebrates another vibrant time in black culture. “Groovin’ High was inspired by Ringgold’s memories of Sunday afternoon dances at the Savoy and her connection to her native Harlem neighborhood. The title references jazz composer and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s 1945 bebop classic.” The founding of bebop is unique to black culture being founded by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. It typically comprises the necessary trumpet and saxophone with a rhythm section (this includes a piano, bass, and drums). The piece similar to Who’s Bad depicts roughly a dozen and a half people, again of all ages, of which are a gathering of black people dancing. Groovin’ High is culturally educational as well as fun and engaging. Again the style resonates the same as mentioned in the earlier pieces, using bold colors with two dimensional figures. Also appearing again she shows her eye for fashion trends, something that she must’ve adopted from her mother, because it shows what people wore taking place in the 40s/50s. The fact that she shows this within both Who’s Bad? As well as Groovin’ High is another captivating trademark since they’re two different eras. To add, again they both also show the power of music and its ability to bring people together. 

Faith Ringgold. Groovin’ High, 1996. Silkscreen; 32 ½ x 44 in. Image by https://www.artsy.net/artwork/faith-ringgold-groovin-high-10.

To go with the theme of bringing people together would be the cozy southern shack house artworks of Beverly Buchanan. When anyone looks at them she hopes that they “strike a chord” with whoever that may be. Many people react saying the works remind them of home. She’s been widely recognized and has received rewards including National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1980), a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award (1994), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art (2011). Her work is also displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Beverly was born October 8, 1940 in Fuquay-Varina, NC. What influenced her work was how her father was the dean of the department of agriculture at South Carolina State College as well as an agricultural agent for the state to travel so he could teach the trade, with Beverly tagging along with him. Her father’s friend was a landscape architect and she would mimic her own handmade small three dimensional versions of buildings based on the knowledge he’d share. She was pressured by her parents and being black in the 60s to be successful by pursuing medical school, since she was already a health educator in New Jersey. She instead chose to be an artist. During the late 60s she was turned away from a gallery being directly told from them that they don’t show black art. In the same interview where she expresses that she also states how she’s been told even years preceding, “what great work for a woman”. And even for a third example of discrimination that same interview shares how in 1977 once her works were in a gallery in New York gaining success up north curators and dealers down south (Atlanta, GA) finally contacted her showing interest her work after the fact of seeing it beforehand and dismissing it.

 Beverly claims her work’s style is strongly influenced by the abstract expressionist movement. She creates two dimensional and three dimensional works of a common theme, inspired by one to two, perhaps even three hundred year old shacks that are still standing from the old south in South Carolina. Her works are semi representational but her aims towards embodying the spirit of those who lived there and who built them, as she puts it. 

A good piece of Beverly Buchanan’s to include would be Dublin, Georgia, Dublin, Georgia, 1992, Oil pastel on paper, 22 x 30 inches. The piece depicts two small log shacks, taller than they are wide, each with orange roofs, the right one pictured with a staircase, with a dark blue sky, low lit grass at the bottom, thus it being nighttime this achieves the look of a candle lit window. Similar to all her other works she presents a beautiful, bold, rich jewel toned use of color theory. The windows capture a glowing candle lit light, reflective of the times when the house was lived in. This adds, as mentioned earlier, the “cozy” “at home” feel. It’s almost as if these places were never left abandoned, perhaps Beverly gives them life again, which successfully ties along with her artist statement/intent of capturing the shack’s spirit. While scribbles in art are commonly discouraged, instead she owns that type of mark making throughout her work. A similar example for reference would be Macon Georgia, Oil pastel on paper, 22 5/8 x 30 inches 2003. The mark making gives an innocent, childlike, welcoming feel, which is how one wants to feel when walking into another’s home. The mark making also relates to the weathered chaos that the still standing building has been through a couple hundred years or so. Perfect lines wouldn’t make any sense for this type of subject and theme.

Beverly Buchanan. Dublin, Georgia, 1992. Oil pastel on paper; 22 x 30 inches. Andrew Edlin Gallery Collection, New York, New York. Image by Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Beverly Buchanan. Macon, Georgia, 2003. Oil pastel on paper; 22 5/8 x 30 inches. The Johnson Gallery Collection, Spartanburg, SC. Image by The Johnson Gallery Collection.

While it is important to recognize the work of black artists who’ve paved the way, it’s equally just as important to recognize up and coming ones. Ariel Dannielle, 29, is a portrait painter with the theme of drawing the viewer into the intimate everyday life of a black woman in today’s world. From Atlanta, GA, she graduated from the University of West Georgia, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She has been mentioned in the New York Times and has been featured in the California African American Museum, featured in several galleries, and been a finalist in several competitions. Two of her pieces, Be Safe and We Adapt would be included in the exhibition. Be Safe began with the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of Alton Sterling in 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

"Be Safe"

Ariel Dannielle. Be Safe, 2016. Acrylic on Canvas; 30x40in. Image by https://www.byaridannielle.com/paintings.

For context Sterling was selling CDs outside a store and a few days prior began carrying a gun due to recent CD vendor robberies surrounding the area. Two officers responded to a call about a man who was threatened with a gun by a man selling CDs, thus Serling’s red hoodie fit the description. Yet the store owner stands by Sterling stating he was not the one who instigated or in his time of knowing him was looking to cause trouble. Back during 2009 almost the exact same incident involving Sterling selling CDs with police arrival a different store owner also vouched for him saying the same thing. Once Sterling was on the ground officers tased him. Already tased he reaches into his pocket for what the jury claimed to be his gun. After seeing this the now ex officer Salamoni fatally shot him six times in close range. The Department of Justice did not file charges for this case however the officer who shot Sterling was fired two years later before the wrongful death suit began in 2021. 

If Sterling wasn’t shot dead he could have had justice. Perhaps he didn’t address police confrontation properly by resisting and reaching but with the numerous other cases in the media since the Trayvon Martin case of police brutality directed towards people of color it’s no wonder he panicked. Police officers should be seen as trusted professionals but how can they be when they have their own track record? Having the black community fear them is only making the problem grow. 

Ariel Dannielle’s Be Safe, 2016, 30x40in, Acrylic on Canvas is an emotional depiction of the fear behind walking outside as a black man with a target on his back due to police brutality towards people of color. With a blue and red backdrop with the exact same hues of police vehicle lights Dannielle paints herself embracing her male lover. Her expression is fearful and anxious with his being discouraged and hopeless. Along with her other works it is so up close and personal that it has the viewer feeling the emotion it’s intended to portray. Not only is the Black Lives Matter movement about police brutality but it’s also about generational social economic inequality amongst races. What comes with that is besides police brutality, communities of color fear violence from those in their own neighborhood. This piece is very personal and powerful. 

On a lighter note, We Adapt (2020, Acrylic on Unstretched Canvas, 60 × 83 in) has to do with finding the joys within the COVID-19 pandemic that can be found by staying home. The artist pictures herself in her bedroom wearing a facemask in her bathrobe holding up a glass of wine. She looks very happy, comfortable and at home with her dog on the bed with the other hand throwing up the peace sign towards her Macbook. She owns her femininity by including her cheetah print pillow and salt rock lamp. And of course she included a bottle of Purell on the dresser. 

Ariel Dannielle. We Adapt, 2020. Acrylic on Unstretched Canvas; 60 × 83 in. Image by https://www.byaridannielle.com/paintings.

All these three pieces have to do with her artist statement of which challenges gender and racial stereotypes because if a white person was to gain insight into the world of a black woman this would be it. It is simply them trying to enjoy life and loving those around them. This is similar to all human nature that we can all relate to. Being human is something everyone has in common.

Sources

“ABOUT.” Website. July 28, 2021. https://www.byaridannielle.com/about.

“About Faith.” Faith Ringgold. Accessed July 28, 2021. https://www.faithringgold.com/about-faith/.

“Beverly Buchanan, Thornton Dial, and the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers.” Andrew Edlin Gallery. Accessed July 28, 2021. https://www.edlingallery.com/exhibitions/beverly-buchanan-thornton-dial-and-the-gee-s-bend-quiltmakers?view=slider#4.

Craftinamerica2007. YouTube. May 10, 2012. Accessed December 15, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=794M-mcOJY4.

“Faith Ringgold.” Mattatuck Museum. Accessed July 28, 2021. https://www.mattmuseum.org/mattatuck_carousel/faith-ringgold/.

“Faith Ringgold.” Biography.com. November 05, 2021. Accessed December 15, 2021. https://www.biography.com/artist/faith-ringgold.

Hanson, Reviewed By: Debra, and Debra Hanson. “Faith Ringgold: Paintings and Story Quilts, 1964–2017.” Panorama Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art. Accessed December 15, 2021. https://editions.lib.umn.edu/panorama/article/faith-ringgold/.

“Macon Georgia.” The Johnson Collection, LLC. Accessed December 15, 2021. https://thejohnsoncollection.org/beverly-buchanan-macon-georgia/.

Ufoutlier. YouTube. December 31, 2013. Accessed December 15, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfBZm2QHzi4.

YouTube. June 15, 2020. Accessed December 15, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ry5_Ns9jRNI.

Who am I: The Art of Self-Expression?

The idea of self-expression can be defined the expression of one’s feelings, thoughts, or ideas. Often these thoughts are expressed through one’s creative side such as dance, writing, and even in their art. Art is frequently thought of to express yourself in a way that speaks to you. Photography is an opportunity to communicate without words with infinite possibilities for expression. This can allow an artist to tell you anything and everything without having to tell you the story behind it instead the viewer can look within and try to find a better understanding of what the artist is trying to tell us without having to say anything.

Portraits have been around for over 5,000 years in a time before photography, these portraits were painted, sculpted, or drawn portrait and the only way to record the appearance and capture the likeness of someone. But even then, portraits have always been more than just a record. They have been used to show the power, importance, virtue, beauty, wealth, taste, learning or other qualities of the sitter.[1] In modern photography, self-portraits are sometimes used for self-expression. In today’s time most self-portraits are portrayed as photographs less then painting as most of us in modern time carry around a camera everywhere and can capture anything with a second’s notice. People today with their embedded cameras, have made self-portraits one of the most popular photographic genre. But the idea of self-portraits still shares the same goal no matter the medium that is used to create them. These self-portraits are meant to show the viewers, the under the skin look on who they are by expression themselves in a way in which the viewers gain insight on who the artist is. Self-portraits can come in all shapes and size that use self-expression to tell us a story that betters our understand on the story the artist is trying to portray.

            In my exhibition Who am I: The Art of Self-Expression? I wanted to focus solely on self-portrait produced by women in the medium of photography. The idea that we can capture something of so much meaning in a second is something that modern technology has really expanded on for us. Over this semester, readings focused on many different topics but one of the most eye opening one was the lecture on feminist art. I wanted to incorporate the art that are produced by women and let them tell their stories using self-expression for my exhibition  Christina Otero takes her creative self portraits to a fun, vibrant level. She uses her artistic abilities to push her photographs to the edge between paintings. Otero said that make up in Americas Next Top Model inspired her to start photography, dreaming that one day she would be able to have elaborate photo shoots like the ones featured in the show.[2] She used her photography and elaborate make up to elevate the simplistic nature of a face to a new category. A self-portrait is a portrait is one of the most relevant self-analysis exercises that an artist can do to help.

The expression captured in these photos can help convey the idea intended by the artist. Self-expression can mean many different things to every person you ask. In Otero’s case, she uses her life to create her work while drawing from everything including readings from her favorite authors, quotes that spoke to her, and even metaphors. Christina started her career as an illustrator, she was most drawn to different facial expressions and even female anatomy. She would use her own face and body as subjects for her drawings while incorporating hyperrealism to give the drawing a photographic feeling. With this technique, she shifted her career to become a photographer he specializes in artistic self portraits. In this process of exploration, Christina found that throughout her search that she was her best muse. [3] Otero created a series called Tutti Frutti, she chooses to focus on the bold vibrant colors of fresh fruit and incorporates fruit not only a prop but also as the inspiration for the make up design that she illustrates on her face for each photo. All photos in the series feature focus on the neck up, centering on her face, she incorporates different facial expressions as well as different posing and head positions to create a whimsical and striking collection of self portraits.

Christina Otero, Mandarina Tutti Frutti. Photograph. ChristinaOtero.com

One of her most popular pieces Mandaria comes from her Tutti Frutti series. [4] This self-portrait features the fruit, tangerine. The tangerine is used as a peeled prop cover up Otero’s right eye and is also featured by using orange make up on her eye and lips with a slice on her face. Her facial expression is relaxed with an open mouth. With the orange make up accenting all facial features she also used black dots as well over these spots, resembling freckles, she also paints these on her tongue so that these dots can be seen with the expression she displays. The vibrant orange of a tangerine contrasts the best against blue when we think about color theory, Otero uses blue eyes, and royal blue hair and eyebrows to really accent against the orange. The idea that she takes such a creative approach on self-expression in her photos was something that really stuck out to me. The idea of using everyday items such a food to create something new is fascinating to me.

Marolyn Minter, Orange Crush, 2009. Enamel on metal; 108 × 180 inches. Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas. Artsy.net

The idea of this relates to one of my favorite contemporary photographer Marilyn Minter. Marilyn Minter is an American Contemporary visual artist, she is best known for her sensual take on paintings, photographs, and videos where she explores the emotions around beauty and the feminine body in American culture. Minter wanted her work to make the viewer question the overly commercialization of sex and the body.[5] While Minter doesn’t focus on self-portraits, she uses expression with her models to tell us a story that feminists have been challenging for years. Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty is the first retrospective of her work that focuses the aesthetics of high-fashion editorials, often depicting female bodies adorned with jewels, dirt, saliva, and higher end accessories, mixing in the idea of sexuality and food. [6]

One of Minters most talked about photographs is Orange Crush. This piece is nine feet tall, fifteen feet wide and painted in glossy enamels on an extremely large billboard-size metal panel. This large then life display takes up the entire display area and draws the viewers in. Displayed is a faceless woman with her lips open and tongue licking the glass, the mouth is trying to lick up all the brightly colored orange cake that has been smeared across the glass. Minter really shows us her unique method of photography with this piece, I think her entire collection really embodies the idea of over sexualization that many contemporary feminist artists have been influenced by. The self-expression that she puts into her work when it comes to props and posing to speak up against the problems females face is something that I believe would help solidify the exhibition pieces even if its not a self-portrait.

Feminist art is an art movement that really sparked conversation for the equality of women. Artists used the ideas that women shouldn’t be objectified and point out the flaws in our system with their work. Art historian Linda Nochlin was known for her views on feminism and how women should be seen in the same way as men in the art world. “Feminist art history is there to make trouble, to call into question, to ruffle feathers in the patriarchal dovecotes. It should not be mistaken for just another variant of or supplement to mainstream art history. At its strongest, feminist art history is a transgressive and anti-establishment practice, meant to call many of the major precepts of the discipline into question.” [7]

Nochlin’s words paved the way for Feminist photographer Cindy Sherman. For forty years, Cindy Sherman, known as the great chameleon of our time, has created more than 500 photographs. All these photos are photos she takes of herself, but Sherman doesn’t refer to them as self-portraits. She turns herself into a character to express her idea in each photo she takes, she is said to have created almost 500 different characters for herself in the forty years of photography. She has transformed herself into high-society women, bikers and horror babes, lonely-hearts and killer clowns. Each character she creates is a new persona she reflects into her work; she has even portrayed characters in reference to icons like Madonna. [8] Marilyn Minter gives credit to Sherman for being her inspiration into photography, she is quoted saying “you cannot take a photograph without the entire history of Cindy Sherman’s oeuvre behind it.”

Cindy Sherman is a huge part of the foundation that started feminist art, without her work the idea of the male gaze wouldn’t be what it is today and something that most artist focus on when exploring feminist art. Sherman herself said that she doesn’t like to disclose the exact meaning behind her photographs as she prefers the frenzy of different interpretation people give.[9] Having one of Shermans photographs as a apart of this exhibition would help include the idea of where feminist art started. She was someone most of these newer artists followed for inspiration, someone who helped them understand that you can tell whatever you want in your photographs as she told every story she could think of from clowns to classy women. Untitled #574 would be the photograph I would include in my exhibition. Sherman depicts herself a high society woman in this photo, there is a red background with her in the foreground seated in a formal manner in a chair. She is clothed in all blue and turquoise clothing creating a vibrant contrast of colors. She wears a darker blue hat that is fitted to her head with a tiny bit of short orange hair exposed against her face. Her face is angled upward toward the light source but is very plain with make up that furthers the idea of a well-respected women. Her chest is covered in a blue fur shawl that covers her top torso, she places one hand over her chest, and her hands are adorned with royal blue gloves. These blue colors contrast beautifully against her silk turquoise dress. All these different textures and colors make for an interesting composition. Sherman has never expressed the meaning she felt for creating this image but by many sources, the consensus is she is playing the role or a put together high-society women and is posing for a portrait.[10]  

Untitled #574, 2016, dye sublimation metal print. Cindy Sherman artworks courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York. Montecristo Magaizine

Another turn of the century photographer is Francesca Woodman, best known for her haunting black and white photos. Her work was ignored by most of the art world during her life and she was referred to as tragic. Through her time, she fought with her depression, and unfortunately, she took her own life at the young age of twenty-two. Despite the rough start she had to the art world, after her death her photos became a present part of the world she longed for. Woodman’s work used conceptual and surrealism concepts to create her self-portraits. [11]

Francesca Woodman, Self-Portrait Talking to Vince 1980. Gelatin Silver Print. SCAD Museum, SCADMOA.org

A Woodman self-portrait lets us have a large insight into the mind of someone who was struggling with life. I believe she used this tortured feeling that she had to express a tortured feeling in her work. The photo that I want to have as part of my exhibition is Self-portrait talking to Vince. the overall feeling of the photo is distressed, very dark, it really tells us the story of Francesca life. Considering she isn’t here to explain her work the world looked to her family and friends for explanations. They have said that they feel like her art was telling us how much she was struggling.[12] Depicted in this specific black and white portrait is Woodman sitting with her head tiled up and mouth forced open, in her mouth there is a clear material which seems to be gagging her mouth. The overall photo is dark with little to focus on besides her mouth. It is an extremely tortured look she is giving the viewer; it shows us how she felt during that time, and how she wanted to express the struggle she was dealing with during 1977. Woodman isn’t the only artist that uses her feelings to portray an image in her work.

Much like Francesca Woodsman, photographer Jennifer Kiaba uses her life to tell us the story of her life through self-expression in her self-portraits. Kaiba’s story started at a young age, this is her explanation of herself expression.

“Self-portraiture, for me, is a tool for self-exploration. I use it to peer into my psyche, and to begin to unravel the inner workings there,” she says. “I was born into one of the most notorious cults of the ‘70s and ‘80s in the United States – the Unification Church. That experience warped my perspective on what it meant to be a woman and what my inherent value was. Since extricating myself from the group in my late teens, it has been a long road to healing and rewiring my mind in an attempt to undo the damage of the cult.”[13]

Jen Kiaba. Hold Your Peace, from series Burdens of a White Dress, 2013. Photograph. Soho Photo Gallery JenKiaba.com

Kiaba is very open about her experience and hard upbringing and talking to many people out there who are struggling. She began doing photography to bring clarity into her life so that she could heal from the trauma she suffered. The self-portrait from her collection I want to include is Hold Your Peace, from the series, Burdens of a White Dress. This series helps Kiaba use self-expression to explain the feeling she had while growing up in a cult and the experiences she had to go through. Specifically, this talks about how within the cult she was forced into marriage and this series helped her express her feeling from that forceful experience she had to endure. She described this photo as her way of exploring the issues of forced marriage. Within this photo, Jenn photographs herself in a white dress with her hands, body, and eyes all bound. She uses tight body language to express the discomfort she felt and the rope to explain the torture she had to go through. Kiaba really taught us that self-expression is the technique that she uses to understand how she truly feels about her life. [14]

            All these portraits have different meaning hidden below the surface embracing the artists self-expression. Throughout each of their lives there was always something they wanted to share, whether it be illustrated skill, depression, a flaw in society or even the way you grew up. Each of these female artists show a different side to self-expression, giving us a better idea of who they are and the message they’re trying to portray.[15] The idea of artist expression is a phenomenal experience because as the viewer we can all come up with different interpretations of the message we think the artist is telling. Self-expression is subjective without an explanation for its creator but either way it truly gives us a deeper connection to the artist and what they believe in.

Sources

“16-Year-Old Photographer’s Jaw-Dropping Self-Portraits (Photos).” HuffPost. HuffPost, June 29, 2012. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/cristina-otero-16-year-ol_n_1625715.

Bengal, Rebecca. “What We See Now When We Look at Francesca Woodman’s Photographs.” Vogue. Vogue, January 26, 2016. https://www.vogue.com/article/francesca-woodman-photographs.

Burnett, Craig. “The Complex Characters of Artist Cindy Sherman’s Non-Self Portraits.” MONTECRISTO. Accessed December 10, 2021. https://montecristomagazine.com/magazine/volume-12/cindy-sherman.

Candide McDonald | 24 October 2018. “Look at Me: The Art of Self-Expression.” Capture magazine. Accessed December 10, 2021. https://www.capturemag.com.au/advice/look-at-me-the-art-of-self-expression.

“Cindy Sherman: Moma.” The Museum of Modern Art. Accessed December 10, 2021. https://www.moma.org/artists/5392.

Knight, Christopher. “Marilyn Minter’s ‘Pretty/Dirty’ Show Allures and Repulses All at the Same Time.” chicagotribune.com, April 23, 2016. https://www.chicagotribune.com/la-et-cm-marilyn-minter-review-20160422-column.html.

Luis, Angel Jiménez de. “What Is Self-Portraiture and How to Master It: Blog.” Domestika. DOMESTIKA, November 3, 2020. https://www.domestika.org/en/blog/4352-what-is-self-portraiture-and-how-to-master-it.

“Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty,” Brooklyn Museum: Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty, accessed December 10, 2021, https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/marilyn_minter_pretty_dirty.

Samuelson, Kate. “Are Selfies Art? New Saatchi Gallery Exhibition Says Yes.” Time. Time, March 31, 2017. https://time.com/4718143/selfie-exhibition-saatchi-gallery-london/.

Sehgal, Parul. “The Ugly Beauty of Cindy Sherman’s Instagram Selfies.” The New York Times. The New York Times, October 5, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/05/magazine/instagram-cindy-sherman-ugly-beauty.html.

Stewart, Jessica. “10 Famous Photographers Whose Self-Portraits Are Much More than Just a Selfie.” My Modern Met, July 13, 2021. https://mymodernmet.com/famous-self-portrait-photographers/.

Tate. “Portrait – Art Term.” Tate. Accessed December 10, 2021, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/portrait.


[1] Tate. “Portrait – Art Term.” Tate. Accessed December 10, 2021

[2] 16-Year-Old Photographer’s Jaw-Dropping Self-Portraits (Photos).” HuffPost. HuffPost, June 29, 2012. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/cristina-otero-16-year-ol_n_1625715.

[3] Luis, Angel Jiménez de. “What Is Self-Portraiture and How to Master It: Blog.” Domestika. DOMESTIKA, November 3, 2020. https://www.domestika.org/en/blog/4352-what-is-self-portraiture-and-how-to-master-it.

[4] 16-Year-Old Photographer’s Jaw-Dropping Self-Portraits (Photos).” HuffPost. HuffPost, June 29, 2012. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/cristina-otero-16-year-ol_n_1625715.

[5] Knight, Christopher. “Marilyn Minter’s ‘Pretty/Dirty’ Show Allures and Repulses All at the Same Time.” chicagotribune.com, April 23, 2016. https://www.chicagotribune.com/la-et-cm-marilyn-minter-review-20160422-column.html.

[6] “Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty,” Brooklyn Museum: Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty, accessed December 10, 2021, https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/marilyn_minter_pretty_dirty.

[7] Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays, Linda Nochlin

[8] Parul Sehgal, “The Ugly Beauty of Cindy Sherman’s Instagram Selfies,” The New York Times (The New York Times, October 5, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/05/magazine/instagram-cindy-sherman-ugly-beauty.html.

[9] Craig Burnett, “The Complex Characters of Artist Cindy Sherman’s Non-Self Portraits,” MONTECRISTO, accessed December 10, 2021, https://montecristomagazine.com/magazine/volume-12/cindy-sherman.

[10] “Cindy Sherman: Moma,” The Museum of Modern Art, accessed December 10, 2021, https://www.moma.org/artists/5392.

[11] Stewart, Jessica. “10 Famous Photographers Whose Self-Portraits Are Much More than Just Selfie.” My Modern Met, July 13, 2021. https://mymodernmet.com/famous-self-portrait-photographers/.

[12] Bengal, Rebecca. “What We See Now When We Look at Francesca Woodman’s Photographs.” Vogue. Vogue, January 26, 2016. https://www.vogue.com/article/francesca-woodman-photographs.

[13] Candide McDonald | 24 October 2018. “Look at Me: The Art of Self-Expression.” Capture magazine. Accessed December 10, 2021. https://www.capturemag.com.au/advice/look-at-me-the-art-of-self-expression.

[14] Candide McDonald | 24 October 2018. “Look at Me: The Art of Self-Expression.” Capture magazine. Accessed December 10, 2021. https://www.capturemag.com.au/advice/look-at-me-the-art-of-self-expression.

[15] Samuelson, Kate. “Are Selfies Art? New Saatchi Gallery Exhibition Says Yes.” Time. Time, March 31, 2017. https://time.com/4718143/selfie-exhibition-saatchi-gallery-london/.

Nick Cave’s Soundsuit (2006)

Walking into the Yale Art Gallery, Nick Cave’s Soundsuit (2006) is not a piece you would expect to see. Its tall stature is intimidating and a little frightening at first glance. The sculpture is very tall and almost looks like a monster that is covered head to toe in a mixture of wood, paint, and paper that looks like fringe on the arms and legs. It stands out amongst the other artworks in the room.

Nick Cave. Soundsuit, 2006. Paint, paper, cotton, wood, fabricated fiberglass; 90 × 27 × 19 in.”. American Art Gallery at Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. Photo by @ronnie_rysz.

Once reading the description of Cave’s process for the piece, it is clear that he intended for the sculpture to be unsettling. As a gay Black man, he knew that he would be seen as a threat in society. He says, “How do I exist in a place that sees me as a threat?” In response to this feeling, Cave wanted to create a piece that could be worn as protection or as a performance piece. Also, perhaps Cave wanted viewers to have a visual representation of what being a Black man in America feels like.

Sources

Cave, Nick. Soundsuit. 2006. Paint, paper, cotton, wood, fabricated fiberglass; 90 × 27 × 19 in.” Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. https://twitter.com/ronnie_rysz/status/897276223658840064

The Importance of Documentary Photography

         Photography has been used to document important moments for as long as cameras have been around. However, it has begun to transform into a contemporary art form in recent years. With picture-focused social media sites like Instagram and Snapchat being as popular as they are, photography is constantly changing and becoming more integrated into our lives everyday. We get to see into people’s daily lives, and there has been a shift towards desiring authenticity and realness. Documentary photography captures these real everyday events that happen in people’s lives. Documentary photography is a broad term, but the National Galleries Scotland describes it as, “…art which captures a real moment, conveying a message about the world. As opposed to photojournalism, which concentrates on breaking news events, it typically focuses on an ongoing issue or story seen through a series of photographs, drawing attention to difficult or dangerous world issues which require some form of remedial or political action.” Documentary photography can be about anything, as long as it is centered around people. Through this art form, we can learn about history, social issues, and feel connected to people we may not even know in real life.

James F. Gibson. Contrabands at Headquaters of General Lafayette, 1862. Photograph; 11.5 x 15 cm. Liberty of Congress, Washington, D.C. Image by Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. 

         Documenting important events used to only happen through writing. When cameras were first invented in the early 19th century, people saw this as a new way to pass on pieces of history. The earliest record of documentary photography dates back to the Civil War as this was the first big historical event since the emergence of the camera. There are a plethora of photos of the Union and Confederate soldiers, battles, slaves and ordinary life. One photograph titled Contrabands at Headquarters of General Lafayette shows a group of escaped enslaved people holding wash basins standing in front of a line of soldiers who have their arms crossed, and they are all posed in front of an old house, assumingly owned by General Lafayette. General Lafayette was the Confederate Army general, and it is implied that the soldiers had just captured the slaves standing in front of them. Reading about what the Civil War was like can paint a vague picture in your mind, but photographs like these bring on a new perspective. With documentary photography, people could see the realities of it with their own eyes. 

        Knowing how powerful documentary photography can be, many photographers decided to use it to inspire social change. David Goldblatt was a South African photographer who documented the effects of apartheid on both Black and White people. To describe the aim behind his photography he once said, “I was very interested in the events that were taking place in the country as a citizen but, as a photographer, I’m not particularly interested, and I wasn’t then, in photographing the moment that something happens. I’m interested in the conditions that give rise to events.” One photograph titled A plot-holder with the daughter of his servant, Wheatlands, Randfontein (1962) depicts an older White man sitting next to a young Black girl. It is clear from this picture they are not close with each other. The man is clasping his hands together while the girl is standing with one hand covering her mouth. They both look visibly uncomfortable standing close to each other. This image illustrates the tension that apartheid has created between everyone. With social media, using photography to spread awareness of social issues has become the norm. In recent events, the riots and peaceful protests that took place after the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in May 2020 brought on many powerful photos. For example, protesters in Minneapolis where the killing took place set multiple public buildings on fire in retaliation. In one photo, there is a multi-story building engulfed in flames with billows of smoke coming from the top. There are also two people running away from the building. This picture and others like it went viral, and brought more awareness to the severity of George Floyd’s death and more protests and riots around the U.S. followed suit.

David Goldblatt. A plot-holder with the daughter of his servant, Wheatlands, Randfontein, 1962. Gelatin silver print; 21 × 14.1 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Image by Huis Marcielle.

         Being able to connect with people like David Goldblatt did is an important part of being a documentary photographer. Not everyone will just allow a random stranger to take their picture. Humans of New York is a photoblog turned Instagram account that focuses on ordinary people’s lives. For this project, photographer Brandon Stanton and his team interview random people off of the street and take casual photos of them. They are never planned or overly edited, and this captures the beauty of everyday people. The subjects are allowed to talk about whatever they want in these interviews, and some people even tell their life story. It gives a sense of humanity to people who you may not know. Photographer Hannah La Follette Ryan has a similar mission with her blog, although she does not usually talk to the people she photographs. Like Brandon Stanton, Ryan also uses Instagram for her documentary photography on the page @subwayhands. Each of her photos is a different pair of hands, or multiple pairs in some cases. Set in a random New York City subway, her subjects are unaware that their hands are being photographed. Journalist Helen Rosner who interviews Ryan states, “The hands that La Follette Ryan captures tell dense emotional stories; in their poses and grips, they take on the surreal semi-humanity of sculpture… They also, over months and years, tell collective stories of what we wear and carry: trends in manicured nails, watches, and rings; new models of phones and headphones. But the story told in her latest photos came on suddenly and is all-encompassing—a collective, simultaneous adjustment in how we interact with the city and with one another.” Although hands may not seem important in pictures, they are. People use them for everything, and they are a huge part of conveying body language. Through her photos, Ryan and viewers of her art and can connect with people without even saying a word.

        Documentary photography is centered around people and their lives, whether they are extravagant or mundane. Its importance lies in the fact that it holds pieces of history, inspires social change, and helps us to feel more connected to others.

Sources

Arnold, Brooke. “What is Documentary Photography.” Modula. Last modified December 2, 2021.  https://wp-modula.com/what-is-documentary-photography/ 

ArtNet. “David Goldblatt.” ArtNet. Accessed December 13, 2021. http://www.artnet.com/artists/david-goldblatt/

Gibson, James F. Contrabands at Headquaters of General Lafayette. 1862. Photograph; 11.5 x 15 cm. Liberty of Congress, Washington, D.C. https://www.loc.gov/item/2014646902/

Goldblatt, David. A plot-holder and the daughter of a servant, Wheatlands, Randfontein. 1962. Gelatin silver print, 21 x 14.1 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/258962/a-plot-holder-with-the-daughter-of-his-servant-wheatlands-randfontein-transvaal

Kuroski, John. “America’s Darkest Hour: 39 Haunting Photos Of The Civil War.” Ati. Last modified February 24, 2020.  https://allthatsinteresting.com/civil-war-photos#2.

National Galleries Scotland. “Documentary Photography.” National Galleries. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/glossary-terms/documentary-photography.

Rosner, Helen. “The Anxious Hands of New York’s Subway Riders in the Face of the Coronavirus.” The New Yorker. March 14, 2020. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/the-anxious-hands-of-new-yorks-subway-riders-in-the-face-of-the-coronavirus.

Woltman, Nick. “Protests erupt in Twin Cities over death of George Floyd.” Twin Cities. Last modified May 28, 2020. https://www.twincities.com/2020/05/27/2nd-night-of-violent-protests-over-minneapolis-mans-death/.

Art In Focus: Women from the Center Is Worth the Visit

Vanessa Bell. The Artist in her Studio, 1952. Oil on canvas; 24″ x 20″. Paintings and Sculpture Collection at Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT. Image by Yale Center for British Art.

        The Yale British Art Gallery’s Art in Focus: Women from the Center is an exhibit that took place from January 14th, 2021-October 10th, 2021. It was curated by current Yale University students Emma Gray, Sunnie Liu, Annie Roberts, Christina Robertson, and Olivia Thomas. According to the curators the exhibit is, “Inspired by Yale University’s celebration of 50 years of coeducation in Yale college and 150 years of coeducation in Yale graduate programs, Art in Focus: Women From the Center highlights women artists whose inventive art practices have enabled them to stake out space in the art world.” An exhibit like this is very important, because it showcases the importance of diverse female representation in art. When discussing art history, women artists, especially women of color, are usually left out of the picture and men are in the forefront. Finally, women of all backgrounds are taking the stage and are finding their place in the art world. One unfortunate downside of the exhibit is that it felt incomplete. Walking around, there seemed to be something missing, as if some pieces were taken down. However, the artwork that was showcased makes up for this. 

        One of the first things that is noticeable about the exhibit is that it is more diverse than most. The art world is notorious for not being very inclusive. For many years, women and people of color artists have been excluded from art museums. According to a 2018 study done on diversity in museums, researchers found that in 18 major art museums, 87% of artists represented were male, and 85% were White. In this exhibit, there are pieces from artists who are women of color such as Joy Gregory, a Black woman, and Rina Banerjee who is Indian American. Often, non-white artists are not showcased as much in art galleries; especially in galleries that focus on British art, where work from white artists is usually prioritized. Yale made a genuine effort to include women from different ethnicities, which is appreciated.

        The stand-out part of the exhibit was Women as Muses. The female muse is the most prevalent theme in Western art. Throughout history, muses have been idealized and objectified by the male gaze, but these works challenge our understanding of the relationship between the artist and the muse. Often in Western art, artists’ muses (who are mainly women) are subject to being seen purely as objects. The onlooker does not see the muse as a whole person, but instead, only someone to gawk at and admire. Muses can also be used for male artists to project their sexist feelings onto. An example of this would be Pablo Picasso and the many women who inspired his works. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) which translates to “The Young Ladies of Avignon,” is a painting by Picasso that shows unflattering depictions of his five female subjects, who worked as prostitutes. The ladies are posed naked together, their bodies are abstract form, and their faces are deformed with traditionally masculine features. This work has been criticized for being dehumanizing to the women, especially because of the stigmatization around sex work in the 1900s. When discussing the meaning behind the painting, Rachel Higson states, “In Les Demoiselles, the women working in the brothel have angular vaginas and powerful poses expose the dangers of liberated female sexuality. This painting is about women, not for women—a formula on which so many patriarchal institutions rely. The phallic orientation of the pear and apple at the bottom center of the canvas reveals how exposed the genitalia and in essence the male viewer is when up against an independent woman.” Many people feel that Les Demoiselle d’Avignon and his other works with female subjects tap into Picasso’s fear of women’s sexual freedom.

Neeta Madahar. Sharon with Peonies, 2009. Chromogenic print on photographic paper; Sheet: 39 3/4″ × 30″ and Image: 34 7/8″ × 28″. Prints and Drawings Collection at Yale Center For British Art, New Haven, CT. Image by Yale Center for British Art. Photo by Neeta Madahar.

        In Women as Muses, female artists are reclaiming their power and depicting themselves through their own gaze, also known as the feminine gaze. Vanessa Bell’s 1952 painting The Artist in her Studio shows the artist herself sitting on a chair in front of an easel and canvas looking back at the viewer. She is holding paint brushes, suggesting that she is about to paint something, or is in the process of doing so. The color palette is muted, giving the painting a quaint and still feel. Bell perhaps was inspired by looking in the mirror and decided to paint herself. She may have also wanted to showcase what her painting process looks like. Another standout piece in the exhibition is Neeta Madahar’s Sharon with Peonies (2009) This piece is a part of a greater collection of works called Flora, which contains seventeen images of Madahar’s friends. She describes the goal of this project as, “The portraits, shot in a style reminiscent of 1930-50s glamor images, are not concerned with nostalgia, but anchored in the present, aware that fantasy personas are shams that can be superficially occupied and manipulated in front of the camera.” In this photograph, a dark skin Black woman with giant cream-colored peonies in her hair, wearing an asymmetrical blue metallic top. Her head is turned to the side and her eyes are closed, with one of her hands on her chest. Rarely in famous historical pictures and paintings are Black women the muses; this photograph subverts that.        

Women being included in the art discussions is extremely important. A gallery as influential as Yale highlighting women of all backgrounds will hopefully inspire change in the art world. Women in Focus, although small, is worth the trip to the Yale British Art Gallery. There are very compelling artworks, and there is also diversity and representation for all women.

Sources

Bell, Vanessa. The Artist in her Studio. 1952. Oil on canvas. 24″ x 20″. Yale Center For British Art, New Haven, CT. https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:61974

Brooklyn Museum. “Neeta Madahar.” Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/about/feminist_art_base/neeta-madahar

Higson, Rachel. “Reframing Picasso: Hannah Gadsby and ‘Separating the Man from the Art.’” The Prindle Post. Last modified August 2, 2018. https://www.prindlepost.org/2018/08/reframing-picasso/

Madahar, Neeta. Sharon with Peonies. 2009. Chromogenic print on photographic paper, 39 3/4″ × 30″ and 34 7/8″ × 28″. Yale Center For British Art, New Haven, CT. https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:81309

Yale University. “Art in Focus: Women from the Center.” Accessed December 13, 2021. https://britishart.yale.edu/exhibitions-programs/art-focus-women-center.

Topaz, Chad M., Bernhard Klingenberg,Daniel Turek,Brianna Heggeseth,Pamela E. Harris,Julie C. Blackwood,C. Ondine Chavoya,Steven Nelson, and Kevin M. Murphy. “Diversity of artists in major U.S. museums.” PLOS One. Last modified March 20, 2019. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0212852.

Responding Jason Stanley’s “Titus Kaphar,” 2019

In this interview with Bomb Magazine, Titus Kaphar explains that he wants to bring attention to Black historical figures who are left out of discussions of American history. In one of Kaphar’s pieces named Absconded from the Household of the President of the United States (2016), there are multiple rusted nails tacked into a portrait of George Washington. The nails are all holding onto shredded pieces of paper with names of all the enslaved people that Washington owned. This piece calls out the fact that Americans credit George Washington for what he did for the country as the first U.S. President, while ignoring that the United States was built off the backs of enslaved people.

Titus Kaphar. Absconded from the Household of the President of the United States, 2016. Oil, canvas, and rusted nails on canvas; 60″ x 48″. Building a Legacy: Chrysler Collects for the Future, Norfolk, VA. Image by Kaphar Studio. Photo by Jeremy Lawson Studio.

Imperialist countries like the United States often like to mask the shame of its past. George Washington and multiple other Founding Fathers owned slaves. This is proved by states like Texas that are now trying to suppress the teaching of slavery and other horrific events in American history. I remember that I didn’t learn that the early presidents and other famous American figures owned slaves until I was in high school. Art like Titus’ is important because it shows how white-washed American history is, and how historical BIPOC figures are overlooked.

Sources

Titus Kaphar. Absconded from the Household of the President of the United States. 2016. Oil, canvas, and rusted nails on canvas, 60″ x 48″. Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA.

https://www.kapharstudio.com/absconded-from-the-household-of-the-president-of-the-united-states-2016/

Vladimir Kush: Awakening the Subconscious

An exceptional Surrealist painter and sculptor would be Russian-American artist Vladimir Kush. His artwork falls into the Surrealist category for its themes involving awakening the subconscious through juxtapositions, thus the merging of dreams with reality. He states how his works emphasize the use of metaphors. His works involve bright, upbeat, whimsical, creative, subjects rather than dark or destructive ones, invoking the viewer’s imagination and inner child. Because of this, according to his website, “The Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health uses Vladimir Kush’s intellectual paintings with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.” In 2011 the artist was awarded the painter of the year presented by Picasso’s granddaughter. Along with his subject matter it makes sense that the euphoric, imaginative, dream state types of subjects are primarily sold through his galleries in Laguna Beach, California, Las Vegas, Nevada and Maui, Hawaii as giclée prints, jewelry, handbags and face masks which are also sold on his website. These locations are on brand for the artist because the vibrant tourist destinations match the embodiment of his artworks.


Vladimir Kush was born in Russia, near the Moscow forest-park, Sokolniki. He began his artistic study and practice as early as age seven, then spending approximately a year at the Moscow Higher Art and Craft School. This time was short lived because he was drafted into the Russian Army. Six months into training, his unit commander encouraged him to use his artistic talent for propaganda posters. Perhaps his artworks to come after were a therapeutic escape from the harshness from training for the Cold War and also claims how during his time in Russia he could not travel due to government regulations thus resorting to the use of his imagination. After his service he finished his education with a degree from the Institute of Fine Arts. Thereafter he created portraits on Arabat Street in Russia to support his family. “In 1987 Vladimir began partaking in his first exhibitions organized by the Union of Artists. In 1990, at an exhibition in Coburg, Germany, almost all of his displayed paintings were sold. After the exhibition’s close, Vladimir flew to Los Angeles, CA, where 20 of his works would be exhibited.” Still working his way up he’d freelance portraits on the Santa Monica pier. His next destination as well as where he currently resides is in Hawaii.

Kush’s African Sonata (oil on canvas, 21 in × 24 in) depicts elephants with giant tubas for faces. With that being the primary focus also included barbary stag, a deer lookalike found in Africa pictured with a harp for antlers. Along the bed of water are Great Egrets also found in Africa which are similar to pelicans. The scene takes place on a desert with volcanoes in the background as well as various brass instruments, (french horn, cymbals) resembling the shape of long yellow grass. Pieces like this encourage viewers and especially children to never stop exploring, pursue interests that make you feel alive, and as well as along with all his works that everything is connected and no idea is too far fetched.


Vladamir Kush. African Sonata, n.d. Giclee on canvas; 21 x 24″. Jacob Gallery collection, Oakville, Ontario, CA. Image by Jacob Fine Art Gallery.


Along with the theme of Kush’s work many of them use a hazy yet sunny, dreamlike landscape as the background. One of his most well known works is Departure of the Winged Ship (circa 2000, oil on canvas, 39 in × 31 in), a staple within Surrealist art published in books and magazines. It is commonly mistaken as one of Dali’s works. It features a large wooden ship stylized to look like the ones from centuries ago and instead of using a cloth sail it is replaced by colorful vibrant butterflies resembling good luck. The top clouds are puffy yet are also illustrated to look curly giving them a whimsical effect. Artistically placed there are also two sets of wings apart from the sail that are on the bottom. Kush’s standard skinny humanoid figures wave goodbye with their fishing nets at the bottom right standing on top of the rocky shore. It’s said to
speak upon the exciting adventure behind a distant voyage.


What makes Vladimir Kush so appealing is the feel good themes of imagination that take the viewer out of the everyday mundane, which is something everyone regardless of background
enjoys. The power to wish and the power of imagination inspires the viewer within their own life and it’s difficult to feel otherwise when looking at his work. Like other surrealist pieces it’s
enjoyable for the viewer to make sense of the quirky juxtapositions and the meaning behind his metaphors. In other words, the unordinary makes the viewer stop and stare and can’t help but want to make sense out of it.

Surrealism: Art of the Subconscious

A beloved art movement, while also groundbreaking when it first came about, is surrealism which emerged during the early twentieth century right after WWI. It’s defined as art that invokes the inner workings of the human psyche or subconscious through juxtapositions creating symbolism. Along with dadaism emerging only a few years before, the symbolic absurdities remained throughout surrealism. The meaning behind the movement (along with expressionism and dadaism) requires higher level thinking for the viewer to understand than previous centuries’ artworks. Surrealism’s goal is to illustrate the merging of dreams with reality, a mystical and intriguing concept for the viewer to make sense of. Examples of surrealist artists include the most well known Salvador Dalí, along with Leonora Carrington.

The meaning behind a surrealist piece is not always obvious and the viewer must dissect it like a puzzle. Keep in mind that interpretation and meaning differ. No matter which era of art the artwork’s interpretation is subjective to the viewer thus having them form their own reaction and opinion. Unraveling the artist’s meaning behind a surrealist work is what makes it so special. Surrealism gives power to the artist to invoke a whole new idea. The meaning behind those pieces were quite literal, unlike surrealist pieces. Even within the more recent preceding years of surrealism the expressionist (art that conveys a feeling) and dada movements’ subject matter were more relatable because groups of people have either felt that emotion or have joked about what’s mainstream. Surrealism opens creative possibilities for the artist to share their distinct, personal, precious dream state.

The first and perhaps most well known surrealist piece is Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. The landscape background is of his view of the Mediterranean and the Sierra de Rodes from his cottage home. The clocks do not hold their original form as they appear to be melting. The pink matter figure is often interpreted to be Dali himself based on the similar nose structure and which many viewers perceive as flesh to soon be rotting. The fly and the ant correlation at the bottom left of the composition has been thought to speak upon the relation of flies carrying disease which can demolish an ant colony. The meaning viewers find behind it is displayed as grim, in that memories fade. To achieve what is shown on the canvas, before beginning his surrealist works Dali, gained knowledge about the subconscious through Sigmund Freud who had developed the renowned psychoanalysis technique. The artist used what he learned from Freud to do the following, “The year before this picture was painted, Dalí formulated his ‘paranoiac-critical method, cultivating self-induced psychotic hallucinations in order to create art. “The difference between a madman and me,” he said, ‘is that I am not mad.’”1 Thus, accepting his eccentric brilliance caused the pioneering of a whole new art movement. This is similar to Lenora Carrington’s work because the two artists portray an unseen reality.

Leonora Carrington’s intriguing And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur also comes with lots of symbolism to dissect and put together to unveil its meaning. She was very into mystical concepts such as witchcraft to begin with. Clouds and stars are juxtapositioned underneath the ceiling. A minotaur is displayed with tiny hands performing witchcraft. The boys wearing a cloak could refer to the cloak’s symbolism of their identity being transformed. A rose is displayed that appears to be tampered with, however there’s also white feminine dancing figure with a disproportionately large flower coming from her head with a bright light only shining upon that figure. Nearby there are two white whippet dogs, the only creatures that notice the light, relating to the speculation that animals see spirits that people do not. Throughout the painting are crystal balls scattered. In the background but not centered is the abstract, almost indescribably flowing green figure with a small cross at the top of it. One analysis points out Carrington rewriting the Greek mythology of Theseus conquering the minotaur then travelling the labyrinth of conquering subconscious desires. Carrington does not display the minotaur as conquered and the feminine nuances are not subdued but rather empowered. It’s a surrealistic piece because the story is juxtapositioned but the storyline’s theme about the subconscious. The artist explains that we live in a visual world that changes so much that it’s not worth spending the time that people do to make sense of it, which fits into the lens of a surrealist.

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Leonora Carrington. And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur, 1953. Oil on canvas; 23 5/8 × 27 9/16″. Museum of Modern Art collection, New York, New York. Image by Museum of Modern Art.

There is much to unpack when it comes to understanding the meaning of surrealist artwork. The artist displays a scenario that has not yet been seen by anyone else by using juxtapositions. Dream states allow for this. During the times of the two World Wars when conformity was the norm, producing art that’s subject matter was entirely unique to the artist was controversial but nonetheless gained much attention. It took more than just artistic skill, which was the standard upheld for art beforehand. Surrealism portrays the subconscious, which is incredible since it isn’t tangible.

Bibliography

“Horns of the Goddess: The Minotaur in the Work of Varo, Carrington, and Lam.” Ebrary. Accessed November 15, 2021. https://ebrary.net/153654/psychology/horns_goddess_minotaur_work_varo_carrington.

Lynley. “Symbolism of Coats and Cloaks.” SLAP HAPPY LARRY. October 31, 2021. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.slaphappylarry.com/symbolism-coats-cloaks-robes/.

“Salvador Dalí. The Persistence of Memory. 1931: MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.moma.org/collection/works/79018.

Tate. “Surrealism – Art Term.” Tate. Accessed November 11, 2021. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/surrealism.

“The Meaning of Salvador Dali’s Famous “Melting Clocks” Painting: The Persistence of Memory.” EmptyEasel.com. October 26, 2021. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://emptyeasel.com/the-persistence-of-memory-famous-melting-clocks-painting-by-salvador-dali/#history-of-surrealism.

How Feminism and Women Artists Go Together

A dominant narrative within Western art history is that women are objectified. While that being the common theme for the portrayal of women within fine art history is unsettling, there isn’t a real issue as long as the woman portrayed is comfortable doing so, like Rose from The Titanic. But unfortunately it’s common, especially within the older narrative for the woman to be uncomfortable or even spied on, and is captured by the artist within her facial expression. Now that those disturbing facts are put to light, it’s good to mention that (only) in recent decades women artists are being acknowledged. With that, this essay answers a few questions that feminists seek answers to. What characterizes art made by women about women? It could be anything they want. Does it fit a role? No. Fortunately due to evolution of women’s rights these answers are ones that supports feminist ideology. Any woman who makes her own art empowers herself by doing so. This means whether they prefer to portray their gender as more conservative versus more exposed doing so supports feminist ideology.

Artwork produced by women about women may or may not speak against gender roles. One of the first that addresses it though, is Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro’s Womanhouse art installation and performative work in 1972. But of course that doesn’t mean that the female artist depicting a fragile and emotional woman in her work doesn’t support feminist ideologies. Cindy Sherman is a contemporary American artist whose works feature herself and addresses the way women are viewed. She never intended for her work to have a feminist undertone but is glad that feminists appreciate her work and that women find it empowering. Sherman’s work mainly consists of dressing up in costumes and wigs and documenting herself. Her first highly recognized work is her Untitled Film Stills 1977-1980 series. According to the MoMA’s description,

“Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills is a suite of seventy black-and-white photographs in which the artist posed in the guises of various generic female film characters, among them, ingénue, working girl, vamp, and lonely housewife. Staged to resemble scenes from 1950s and ’60s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art-house films, the printed images mimic in format, scale, and quality the often-staged “stills” used to promote films.”

These photographs of course stirred controversy at the time, and perhaps is the reason why she first gained so much attention. Untitled Film Still #14 from 1978 depicts her as a stereotypical vamp woman. Back in the 50s and 60s the use of this term was popular and was one of many coined by men to stereotype women. It made sure to warn fellow men about such women exuding sexual prowess taking advantage of them through film. The term was used to identify a woman typically with heavy makeup (red lipstick) along with showing more skin than usual to enhance her sex appeal as a means to seduce men and manipulate them. Cindy Sherman knowingly portrays herself as such here, along with a weapon, black dress (the color choice perhaps meaning sinister), and a brazen-faced presumptuous facial expression. What causes the controversy is that men felt unsettled having their counterpart instead of themselves being in control. Sherman portrays that as a female she is conscious of this, thus mocking the 50’s and 60’s film stereotypes throughout the series.

Cindy Sherman continues to take the paradoxes of womanhood and runs with it throughout her career. Her work becomes more and more attention grabbing, unsettling, shocking, and humorous. Pregnant Woman from 1991, does this by discouraging motherhood and of course the housewife notion. Yet another controversy, this work by her was done right after Demi Moore’s pregnant and nude Vanity Fair magazine cover, almost recreating it with the same short hair style. Sherman has messy bedhead short hair, black or brown dilated contact lenses, wears a caked on application of makeup, a soaking wet as well as torn white flannel, and has nipples so inflamed they look in pain. Not only is this not the Western ideology of how men would like to perceive women, but it’s also not what any woman wants to be either. They don’t want to become a demonic creature that is forced to sell her body because the baby’s father left her which is what one could read this as. While humorous, it can also speak upon the serious importance of Planned Parenthood in our world. That is, not bringing life into this world that will struggle to survive.

Cindy Sherman. Untitled (“Pregnant Woman”), 1991. Chromogenic print on Kodak paper; 17″ x 11″. Caviar20 collection, Toronto, Ontario. Image by Caviar20.

To answer the question about what role and characteristics do women artists display, perhaps Cindy Sherman is simply having fun with her work. Perhaps topics such as conservatism versus nudity within the feminist realm are about the woman’s ability to choose whichever empowers herself, no matter what men or what society deems as acceptable for the times. The same goes for women who enjoy being a housewife versus women who enjoy living an independent life. Gender identity and how it’s portrayed is a personal choice. To each their own. That is what feminism means, to the right to choose and allow the freedom of expression within female artists.

Sources

Berne, Betsy. “Studio: Cindy Sherman – Interview.” Tate. Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/cindy-sherman-1938/studio-cindy-sherman.

“CINDY SHERMAN “PREGNANT WOMAN”, 1991.” Caviar20. Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.caviar20.com/products/cindy-sherman-pregnant-woman-1991.

“MoMA Learning.” MoMA. Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/cindy-sherman-untitled-film-stills-1977-80/.

The Prismatic Palette: Frank Vincent DuMond and His Students

The Prismatic Palette: Frank Vincent Dumond and His Students was an exhibition displayed June 19th to October 3rd, 2021 in the Lyman Art Museum in New London, CT. Dumond’s life consisted of illustrating until age twenty three only then to learn the painting tradition of the Academie Julian Paris in 1888. The academy’s alumni are Diego Rivera and Marcel Duchamp. With this education, he then brings back to the U.S. what is known as American impressionist painting, creating his own works and teaching for six decades at the Art Students League. While Impressionism isn’t abstract art, it isn’t realism either. It clearly resembles the subject however, while doing so it romanticizes it by depicting the changes of natural light throughout time during the day. This creates a widened, bolder, and brighter color palette. However, what Dumond is known for throughout his career and teachings is coining the term prismatic palette, a groundbreaking concept which many artists adopted. Dumond taught the renowned Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, and John Marin.

The first thing the viewer notices when walking in the room is Thomas Torak’s Landscape with Rainbow, (2018) Oil on Linen, 20” x 24” this work was done by a student of Frank Mason, whom of which had taken over the prismatic palette teachings of Dumond at the Art Students League. The other thing viewers immediately notice is that there is sound from the video playing. It’s an educational video for oil painting that discusses Dumond’s sense of color theory. It explains how during his education in France he acquired the skill of premixing his oil paints, a prevalent practice done by nineteenth century painters. However Dumond coined the term prismatic palette through his arrangement of colors on the palette. He does this by taking a few parent colors at their full saturation and arranges several light to dark values on each side of them on one palette. The constant principle is that when mixing lights and darks it was more than just adding black and white. In order for it to be prismatic, blue violet would gradually be mixed in for darks and cadmium yellow lemon does the same for lights. Therefore it makes sense that a prismatic palette is used for natural lighting, due to this connection with the natural associations with color through the sun and nighttime. While his learnings occurred during the impressionist era it makes sense how the artist used colors to support the vivid hues found within that movement. Heavily focusing on landscape painting throughout his study as well as teaching, the video also states that he taught his students to keep their premixed paints in a palette that encloses like a box due to potential weather changes. In that same area right next to that educational video screen is an replicated example of the palette-box he’d use with all the premixed paints arranged as mentioned.

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Thomas Torak. LANDSCAPE WITH RAINBOW, 2018.
Oil On Linen; 20″ x 24″. Lyman Allyn Art Museum collection, New London, CT. Image by https://www.thomastorak.com/workszoom/2679040/landscape-with-rainbow#/.

Also featured within the exhibition is a set of his illustrative paintings that comes in a pair of two. The subject is of east to westward expansion in nineteenth century America. The top one is of the new American settler’s departure from the east coast. The bottom piece is of their arrival in California. This pair of works not only gives the exhibition artistic education but also historical context. Another piece within the exhibition is a landscape of Grassy Hill right in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It gives a sense of his personal life because it was a portrait of his own farmland. The exhibition is inspiring because it not only shows what he is capable of but also presents the talent he brought out in his students as well. There is a watercolor portrait of Winfield Scott Clime on that same Grassy Hill owned by the Dumonds, done by his student Ogden Pleissner from the Art Students League.

This exhibition was presented nicely. It was a typically lit exhibition, with spotlights for each piece and low lighting for the rest of the space. The only criticism perhaps would be that it could’ve had a larger collection of Dumond’s own illustrative works. All in all it captures his life’s work well, not only by presenting it but also explains his sense of color theory, making it highly educational, especially for painters.

Sources

DuMond’s Prismatic Palette in Practice. YouTube. August 16, 2021. Accessed December 5, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YpPYbDG3tU&t=198s.

“Frank Vincent DuMond.” The Ridgewood Art Institute. Accessed October 23, 2021. https://www.ridgewoodartinstitute.org/our-history-looking-back/frank-vincent-dumond.

“The Prismatic Palette: Frank Vincent DuMond and His Students.” Lyman Allyn Art Museum. Accessed October 23, 2021. https://www.lymanallyn.org/the-prismatic-palette/.