All posts in “Abstract art”

Object of the Week: #10

As part of the For Freedoms’ 50 State Initiative put on by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, we’re contextualizing works in SAM’s collection within today’s political atmosphere. The program is inspired by American artist Norman Rockwell’s paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (1941)—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

For this week’s post, we’re focusing on freedom from fear by looking at Frederic Edwin Church’s A Country Home painted in 1854, just seven years before the American Civil War. The painting illustrates an idyllic landscape, lush with vegetation and a tranquil pond. The mood is calm and serene with the sun casting a warm, comforting glow. Church, a member of the Hudson River School, paints the American landscape as a modern-day Eden. The artist’s view of his time and place is one of optimism, hope, and contentment.

 

As we compare Church’s work to Mark Rothko’s abstraction #10, painted in 1952, the differences couldn’t be greater. Rothko’s work was completed just 98 years after A Country Home, but during this period humanity witnessed two world wars (the second of which perhaps had the greatest impact on the views of artists). How much did their views of America change, as well as the times they lived in? After the horrors of World War II, how could one paint idyllic landscapes? Yet, even though freedom won the War, fear persevered—the ugly side of the human race was exposed. As a result, art turned abstract and humanity collectively wept.

So this brings us to today: even if divisiveness, racism, and hatred are overcome, what lasting effect will these times have on our art and how we view our time and place? If equality, respect, and compassion win politically, will we still be free from fear? Or is it too late and have we already exposed the darker sides of ourselves?

– Manish Engineer, SAM Chief Technology Officer

Images:
#10, 1952, Mark Rothko, oil on canvas, 81 3/4 x 42 1/2 x 2 1/4 in. (207.65 x 107.95 x 5.72 cm), Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 91.98, © Artist or Artist’s Estate. A Country Home, 1854, Frederic Edwin Church, oil on canvas, 32 x 51 in. (81.3 x 129.5 cm.), Gift of Anna Robeson Baker Carmichael, 65.80.
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Object of the Week: Power Plant I

Born in 1880, Arthur Dove was a master of abstraction, light, and color, always seeking to capture the hidden rhythms and feeling of his given environments—whether natural or man-made. In Power Plant I (1938), Dove transforms a looming building into shifting planes of color and shape. The plant, its smoke stacks, and surrounding telephone poles are in reality solid and immutable, but Dove renders them formless, with all dimensionality equalized on the canvas.

One of four artists recently installed in our American galleries, Dove (like the rest of his cohort) is celebrated for his unique approach to abstraction, which evokes—rather than describes—the world around us. Below is an excerpt from an essay by Dove, titled “Me and Modern Art,”[1] that sheds light on his thinking and approach to painting that sheds light on his thinking and approach to painting:

It is sometimes refreshing just to be painting with no plans; by that I mean pure painting, with no further intention.

            It has a tendency to make one feel the two-dimensionality of a canvas, a certain flatness which is so important in the balance of things, and often so difficult to attain.

            I have seen a child of five do it beautifully, and after three years in school be absolutely unable to accomplish it again. How well I remember the answer when two grown ups came in and asked the child what he was thinking of when he painted those things. Simply “I wasn’t thinking of anything, I was just painting.”

            Pure painting is extremely helpful in finding one’s own instincts. It helps us to see how much stronger is our imagination than our intellect. There is too much of the intellectual in art nowadays, and pure painting tends twoard [sic] the elimination of this intellectual forcing process.

            We must learn by our own mistakes and find our own find. Profiting by the mistakes of others, and building up knowledge through the findings of others may make an artist successful but it will never make him creative.

            They may say that we cannot create anything, that everything has been done. Perhaps, it doesn’t matter—if we have not done it. That may be the real reason that I am writing this—because I have never done it.,[sic]—instinctively I dislike the idea of writing “about” things and painting “about” things. Have always felt that it is much better to write things and paint things that exist in themselves and do not carry the mind back to some object upon which they depend for their existence. We lean too heavily on nature. I would rather look at nature than to try to imitate it. In the same way I enjoy looking at a Greco, a Cezanne [sic], or an Afircan [sic] sculpture, but have no desire to do one. And if we find at any time that we are depending too much on any one thing, we will also find that it is by just that much that we have missed finding our own inner selves.

Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Power Plant I, 1938, Arthur Dove, oil on canvas, 25 x 35 in., Partial and promised gift of Mr. and Mrs. Howard S. Wright, in honor of the Museum’s 50th year, 84.64 ©
Artist or Artist’s Estate
[1] Arthur Dove essay, “Me and Modern Art,” not after 1946. Arthur and Helen Torr Dove papers, 1905-1975, 1920-1946. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
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Object of the Week: Mary, Queen of Scots

“…I could not believe that all these seemingly important contributions of women had been omitted from the mainstream of culture, be it in art, literature, history, or philosophy. My discoveries intersected with the values of my upbringing—which had emphasized the possibility of radical transformation—and led me to conclude that the only real solution to the problems I was facing lay in the creation of an entirely new framework for art: one that included, rather than excluded, women, along with women’s ways of being and doing, which, I was convinced, could be quite different from men’s.”

– Judy Chicago, Beyond the Flower: The Autobiography of a Feminist Artist, 1996

It would be an understatement to summarize Judy Chicago as simply “a pioneering feminist artist,” for her impact is far greater than those four words can suggest. Perhaps best known for her 1979 work The Dinner Party, which celebrates the achievements of women in Western culture, Chicago has throughout her decades-long career dedicated herself to the research and representation of women artists, writers, thinkers, and historical figures. Deploying a wide range of female symbols and domestic craft traditions typically considered “women’s work,” Chicago has redefined the art historical canon and inserted herself—and other women—within it.

In the years prior to The Dinner Party, from 1972 to 1973, Chicago created a series of paintings entitled Great Ladies, dedicated to historical queens such as Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great, and Queen Victoria. Considered “abstract portraits,” these paintings served to represent the lives of important women in history and “challenge the overriding presumption that women had no history to speak of.”[1] The pictured lithograph, Mary, Queen of Scots (1973), is based on paintings from the series and bears Chicago’s signature visual style: radiating spiral lines that resemble that of flower petals or sunrays, rendered in soft, muted pastels. Chicago once described her formal approach to the series as an attempt “to make my form-language and color reveal something really specific about a particular woman in history, like the quality of opening and blockage and stopping, the whole quality of a personality.”[2]

In fact, bordering the image is text, written by Chicago in Palmer Method cursive: “This print was originally intended to be brightly colored with a glowing yellow center and a blue-green outside edge. It was to be titled Mary Tudor/Mary Sunshine—Mary Tudor, the Queen, daughter of Henry the 8th and Catherine of Aragon; Mary Sunshine, the printer. As I’ve worked, the image changed, becoming more subdued and quiet. Now it reminds me of Mary, Queen of Scots, the proud woman locked up in the tower for her ambitiousness.” This first-person description sheds light on Chicago’s process, as well as the specificity and closeness she feels to the women she portrays.

Despite the historical debates that still center on Mary, Queen of Scots, Chicago celebrates her accomplishments as an ambitious woman and role as a major political figure in 16th-century Europe. In the words of the artist, “One reason for my staunch and abiding commitment to feminism is that I believe its principles provide valuable tools for empowerment—and not only for women. In my view, feminist values are rooted in an alternative to the prevailing paradigm of power, which is power over others. By contrast, feminism promotes personal empowerment, something that, when connected to education, becomes a potent tool for change.”[3]

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

[1] Judy Chicago, Beyond the Flower: The Autobiography of a Feminist Artist (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), 36.

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/07/t-magazine/judy-chicago-dinner-party.html

[3] Chicago, 27.

Image: Mary, Queen of Scots, 1973, Judy Chicago, lithograph, 20 x 20 in., Gift of Bruce Guenther, 82.189.
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SAM Gallery Artists on Seattle: Jason Gouliard, Patty Haller, and Anna Macrae

What does it mean to be local in a city that is rapidly growing? This month hear from two of SAM Gallery’s newest artists whose work is on view in New Art, New Artists through February 5. One of these artists transplanted to Seattle four years ago and the other comes from a family that has lived here for four generations. Hear how Seattle influences the creative output of these artists and then come see work by some of SAM Gallery’s newest regional artists in all their complexity, interest, and beauty, regardless of where they are from.

Jason Gouliard

Having moved from Austin, Texas to the Pacific Northwest four years ago to pursue a career in the tech industry, I wouldn’t say that my work is specifically inspired by Seattle—Though I do try to create work that is as complex and layered as the city I now call home. My paintings explore the intersection between abstraction and meaning. Abstract assemblages with recognizable reference points. I think of them as earnest attempts at condensing rich, complex subject matter down to drips of paint through juxtaposing traditional abstract expressionist painting methods with cartography, proofreader’s marks, and amateur roadside museum techniques of display, classification, and critique.

 

Patty Haller

I’m a fourth generation Seattleite, most comfortable in a mossy wet forest in the fog, on a darkening late-November afternoon, even. My paintings explore complexity in the forest, analyzing the layers of plant growth we see all around us in the Pacific Northwest. I have a studio at Magnuson Park where I’m surrounded by soccer families, dog walkers, and artists. Every day I see people doing healthy things together, and I truly appreciate how Seattle values this. Showing at SAM Gallery only amplifies my pride of place. It’s a hub for art lovers. I’m meeting new people and enjoying Seattle’s active social media community. I love that our SAM Gallery show coincided with Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, whose work is an enduring influence on me. I remember seeing an image of Helga Testorf in a book in my Nathan Hale High School art class. Helga’s braids! I couldn’t get enough. Last week I looked so closely at Wyeth’s brushwork I nearly broke the barrier that would set off an alarm. I should be more careful, but I just love the art that much. Resources like SAM help me to dream of the paintings I’ll make next.

Anna Macrae

We emigrated to Seattle from England in 2001. My new environment certainly changed my art making—from small realist watercolor paintings, to large bold abstract renderings. I feel that shift was largely due to scale, for a start the walls are so much bigger here, and I can move a 48 x 60″ canvas in my car! Seattle embodies an abundance of extremes and contradictions that generates a rich influence and narrative for art making. From a very young age I had always made, played, and explored. I feel this has continued to be present in my art practice. I have always allowed myself the freedom of discovery through “mistakes”. For me, there are no wrong choices when making art, I trust in my intuition and value those unexpected awkward marks that can only present themselves when you truly surrender to the process.
Images: Act V, Romeo & Juliet Abstract, Jason Gouliard, paint and mixed media on paper under plexiglass, 12 x 24 in. Fort Casey Big Data, Patty Haller oil on panel, 36 x 24 in.  Follow your lead, 2017, Anna Macrae, oil and mixed medium, 48 x 48 in.
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