COVID-19 Update: All SAM Locations Currently Closed »

Object of the Week: Map of the World

Brenna Youngblood’s abstract paintings are invariably more layered—literally and figuratively—than first meets the eye. Originally trained as a photographer, Youngblood works with an extensive personal archive of photographs and objects that she collages onto the surfaces of her densely painted canvases. In a 2013 interview she discussed the importance of this textured surface, and the integration of everyday objects into it:

“Surface is and has always been integral to my practice. The transformation of the surface of my paintings mimics objects, materials, and textures from the real world (i.e. rusted metal, wood). . . . I like introducing familiar objects like the light bulb, the door handle, and wood grain. The paintings are ‘a slice of life’, if you will. They definitely reflect the everyday not just for myself, I think for others as well. They are not only for looking at.”[1]

Youngblood is part of long tradition of artists who incorporate everyday objects into their work—we may immediately think of artists like Jasper Johns, with his thermometers imbedded into the canvas, or Robert Rauschenberg, with his photographs collaged onto their surfaces. In Youngblood’s paintings, the objects that she includes often go beyond the language of abstraction and allude to social or political topics. They are, as she says, “not only for looking at,” but speak to larger real-world issues.

In Map of the World (2015), a map of former colonial territories is embedded in the upper left quadrant of the painting, layered over an otherwise abstract, painterly surface. The political borders indicated on the map are long outdated, but the histories of colonialism that they represent still hold very real ramifications today. The sense of these histories bleeding into the present is suggested by the dripping paint that runs off the map, and the patchwork of rectangular forms just underneath that are themselves reminiscent of political boundaries.

We know that maps are never neutral—the distortions that privilege the northern hemisphere in most map projections are ubiquitous and well-documented, and the political claims they represent are contentious at best. However, they also become such a banal part of our everyday life that we stop looking at them critically, or consider what they really signify. In blending the map of the world (or one version of it) with the formal language of abstraction, Youngblood subtly but pointedly refers to these larger issues, asking us to dive deeper into the surface.

– Carrie Dedon, SAM Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

[1] Brenna Youngblood, interview with Rosanna Albertini, “Not Only for Looking At,” in Flash Art, September 2013, http://honorfraser.com/pdf/press/2013FlashArtBY
Image: Map of the World, 2015, Brenna Youngblood, map, acrylic, and construction paper on canvas, 60 x 60 in., General Acquisition Fund, 2016.7.1 © Brenna Youngblood Courtesy the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery

Object of the Week: Between Rabbit and Fox

Acquired last year and newly installed in SAM’s third floor galleries, Jeffrey Gibson’s 2017 painting Between Rabbit and Fox is a commanding and alluring work. Measuring 70 x 50 1/8 inches, the painting’s luminous acrylic and graphite surface, with its alternating and overlapping blocks and triangles of color, captivates from even across the gallery.

A citizen of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and also of Cherokee heritage, Gibson grew up between the United States, Germany, and Korea. Much like his personal background, which evades easy categorization, Gibson’s artistic practice engages a wide range of materials, ideas, and forms. He has characterized his mode of making in the context of anthropophagia, borrowing from Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954), whose concept centers on the idea of metaphorically cannibalizing, or absorbing, other cultures as a way to gain strength and assert creative autonomy.[1]

Abstraction is inextricable from the long and unique histories of Indigenous visual and material culture in America. Gibson, deeply invested in these histories, also forges his own connections to Modernist geometric abstraction. Whether he blends the hard edge abstraction we see in parfleche designs with the abstraction of Modernist painting, or reimagines traditional beadwork for entirely new applications, Gibson is able to succinctly explore complex themes of cultural hybridity and the history of abstraction and craft.

Gibson has, over time, learned to embrace and celebrate a certain state of “in-between-ness”—being between different cultures and different aesthetic histories.[2] And as the title of the painting Between Rabbit and Fox suggests, even the pattern we see is in-between. Like a highly abstracted Rorschach test or Magic Eye stereogram, our eye flits about the surface of the canvas, seeing both a stylized rabbit and fox flash before our eyes. This state of indeterminacy—of being in flux—is important for Gibson, and it’s important for us, as viewers, to experience and embody this hybridity (if even for a moment) as well.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate

[1] “Innovation and Tradition: Jeffrey Gibson Interviewed by Emily Zimmerman,” Bomb Magazine, May 6, 2019, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/innovation-and-tradition-jeffrey-gibson-interviewed.
[2] Jasmyne Keimig, “Jeffrey Gibson’s Like a Hammer Strikes Today,” The Stranger, Feb. 28, 2019, https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2019/02/28/39366995/jeffrey-gibsons-like-a-hammer-strikes-today.
Image: Between Rabbit and Fox, 2017, Jeffrey Gibson, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 70 x 50 1/8 in., Purchased with funds from the Contemporary Collectors Forum and General Acquisition Fund, 2019.30 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

Asia Talks: Artist Hung Liu with Laila Kazmi

Learn about the art and experiences of Chinese contemporary artist Hung Liu in this virtual artist talk. Hung Liu immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult to attend art school. Her life and artwork offer incredible perspectives on identity and migration, especially in the way she brings together China’s past with American experiences. While the Asian Art Museum remains closed, the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas continues to offer thought-provoking virtual events featuring prominent contemporary artists speaking on some of today’s most pressing topics. Our hope for this series is that the work and words of the artists can help to sustain us through this difficult time.

Hung Liu is a primarily a painter who works with photography as part of her practice. Recently she has also worked with shaped canvases for painting that are assembled to create 3-dimensional work. She is also Professor Emerita at Mills College, where she began teaching in 1990. The National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC organized a large-scale retrospective exhibition of her work that was planned for this summer, but had to be postponed because of the virus closures. Instead it will be on view there next year, from May 2021 thru Jan 2022, titled Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands, 1968-2020.

Laila Kazmi worked with SAM’s Gardner Center to organize and host this talk. She is an Emmy-award winning filmmaker, a producer, and co-founder of Kazbar Media.

Coming up, the Gardner Center’s popular Saturday University Lecture Series begins October 3. Color in Asian Art: Material and Meaning features eight free talks that dip into dimensions of color and pigment. From legend and ritual, to trade and cultural exchange, to technical innovation and changing artistic practices—the use of bold colors has been considered alternatively excessive, precious, or brilliant throughout history. What rare pigments and closely guarded techniques produced some artworks, and what artistic innovations and social changes produced others? Join us to enjoy a spectrum of talks on colors produced from the earth, sea, fire, plants, and insects.

Rising Up with Daedalus

Listen in as DJ Riz Rollins discusses Daedalus/Upliftment by Fahamu Pecou. During SAM’s special exhibition, Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, the in-gallery audio tour featured Seattle area community members discussing works of art in SAM’s collections by Black artists.

In 2019 Rachel Kim, SAM’s Curatorial Intern unpacked this painting as part of our Object of the Week series. Kim writes: Daedalus/Upliftment alludes to the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Daedalus built wings of feathers and wax for himself and his son, Icarus, to escape their prison. Despite Daedalus’ warning, Icarus flew too close to the sun, melting the wax on the wings, falling and drowning in the ocean. Pecou reinterprets this classic tragedy and questions the actions of Daedalus as Icarus’ father. Daedalus/Uplifting provokes a meditation on paternalism and masculinity, in the artist’s own words, through “the breakdown of intergenerational communication and the emotional complexities within the Black male experience that trouble the desire and ability to take flight.”

We highly recommend following Pecou on Instagram to see more of this artist’s paintings and to hear directly from him on his work and current events.

Image: Daedalus/Upliftment, 2016, Fahamu Pecou, acrylic, gold leaf and spray paint on canvas, 84 × 48 in., Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.20 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

SAM Performs: Trapsprung Dances

In Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Trapsprung, a dancer reaches to the tip of their outstretched leg while balancing perfectly on the toes of their other leg. In Interview Magazine, the artist describes being drawn to “the very kind of visceral physical power and grace of dancers, and their occasional closeness to losing control.”

A split second before or after the moment in this painting, and the dancer’s balance will shift into another movement. Here, though, the dancer’s strength and poise are captured in an instant, while Yiadom-Boakye’s brushwork evokes the energy of the movement. Painted from memory and imagination, Yiadom-Boakye features portraits of Black people exclusively, creating images that explore “the wider possibility of anything and everything.” In the current socio-political climate, David Rue, Public Engagement Associate at SAM, initiated a project that celebrates and elevates incredible Black artists living and working in the city of Seattle through connecting them with this work by a prominent Black artist in SAM’s collection. Local artists Amanda Morgan, Michele Dooley, and Nia-Amina Minor, responded to Trapsprung in brief, personal dance works, and offered reflections on the artwork and their lived experiences.

It’s easy to assume that each and every work made by Black artists living right now will only be about police brutality, slavery, or protest. Plot twist! While these are important conversations to be had, it’s also critical to remember that we’re a very dynamic group of people capable of exploring a multitude of artistic experiences. 

What I believe is on the other side of this socio-political monstrosity is the beauty, power, and grace that exists within Black artists. These are qualities that I see within Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s work as well as within the dancers commissioned to respond to Trapsprung. Now is the time to celebrate and elevate their artistic excellence. 

David Rue

On my first visit to the Seattle Art Museum I immediately took notice of Trapsprung.  A Black ballerina dancing in a piece of art is not a common subject that you find in much of the art that is created, so I instantly saw myself in the work, being a Black ballerina myself. The aspect about the piece that I probably enjoy the most though is the perspective and action taking place within it. We are placed behind her and given her perspective as she moves; she moves with intent and direction as opposed to being static and placed in the space only to be seen. I think this demonstrates what women, and particularly Black women are capable of. We are not there to just be viewed or seen, we are a statement in just our being and use this as our power to go forth in all we do rather than let this inhibit us. I like to think the woman in that portrait would take on the world as such. 

Amanda Morgan

Amanda Morgan is originally from Tacoma, WA and is currently a corps member at Pacific Northwest Ballet. She joined the company in 2016 as an apprentice and was promoted to corps in 2017. In addition to dancing, Morgan is a choreographer and founder of her own project titled “The Seattle Project”, which aims to collaborate with multiple artists in Seattle and create new work that is accessible to the community. She has choreographed for PNB’s Next Step at McCaw Hall (2018, 2019), Seattle International Dance Festival (2019), and curated her own show at Northwest Film Forum this past February of 2020. She is currently continuing to still create and connect with artists during this time, and has a dance film coming out in collaboration with Nia-Amina Minor for Seattle Dance Collective this July.

Unstoppable.

Power and dynamic combined with softness and beauty.

Remembering all it is and what it feels like to be a Black woman.

Always acknowledging how much strength and resilience it requires to become the Black dancer in this artwork and the Black artist that painted it.

Michele Dooley 

Michele Dooley is a native of Philadelphia and began her dance training at The Institute of the Arts under the direction of Cheryl Gaines Jenkins. She graduated from the High School for Creative and Performing Arts under the direction of LaDeva Davis and earned a BFA in dance at The University of the Arts, under the direction of Donna Faye Burchfield. While earning her degree, she spent three seasons with Eleone Dance Theatre. Michele trained at Bates Summer Intensive, BalletX summer program, and DCNS Summer Dance Intensive, worked with choreographers such as Gary Jeter, Tommie Waheed-Evans, Dara Meredith, Milton Myers, Nora Gibson, and Ronen Koresh, among others. 

I see her and she’s flying.

Purposefully turned away from a world that is often drawn to her image partly because she makes it look so easy. But I see the effort, the commitment, and I can stand to learn something from the subtlety.  I remember reading that a bird’s wings have evolved to provide lift and reduce drag.  They use their strongest muscles to lift while their wing anatomy minimizes turbulence, friction, and all that would drag them down to the ground. 

I see her and she’s flying.

Nia-Amina Minor

Nia-Amina Minor is a movement based artist and dance educator from South Central Los Angeles. She holds a MFA from the University of California, Irvine and a BA from Stanford University. Nia-Amina is a co-founder of Los Angeles based collective, No)one Art House, as well as a Company Dancer and Community Engagement Artist Liaison with Spectrum Dance Theater.

Virtual Art Talks: Monet at Étretat with Chiyo Ishikawa

Learn more about Claude Monet’s mid-career painting series made during a winter spent on the coast of France with SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art & Curator of European Painting & Sculpture, Chiyo Ishikawa. Though Ishikawa is retiring this year, after 30 years with SAM, she will return for the planning of Monet of Étretat, opening May 2021.

Focused around SAM’s colorful Monet painting, Fishing Boats at Étretat, 1885, the exhibition considers the artist’s engagement with Étretat, a seaside village in Normandy known for its stunning chalk cliffs. During a difficult period in his life, Monet traveled there alone and painted over 80 works, immersing himself in the place and committing himself to the process of painting in all kinds of conditions. He went there in the off-season, interested not in the summer tourist scene but in the daily fishing activity and the timeless rock formations. SAM’s focused exhibition will feature 11 works by Monet, plus contemporaneous paintings by other artists who worked at the same site. Watch this talk and look forward to the exhibition while you stay home with SAM.

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

Object of the Week: Anthony of Padua

Kehinde Wiley’s signature portraits of everyday men and women riff on specific paintings by Old Masters, replacing the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary Black subjects, drawing attention to the exclusion of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives. His portraits are a thoughtful remix of grandiose patterns and hip-hop; there’s an intention behind their gaze, and often-subtle symbolism, which I’ll expand on.

After receiving his MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2001, Wiley’s career flourished. You may have been introduced to Wiley’s art in a number of ways.

1. A Major Commission
In 2005, VH1 commissioned Wiley to paint portraits of the honorees for that year’s Hip Hop Honors program. The theme was “the golden age of hip hop,” evidenced by custom portraits of the pioneering honorees: Notorious B.I.G., Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Ice T, and Salt-N-Pepa.

2. A Major Tour
The Brooklyn Museum organized a national exhibition tour Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic (2015–17), which included a stop at SAM in 2016, and featured SAM’s painting, Anthony of Padua. SAM’s manager of interpretive technology, Tasia Johnson, utilized an app in which visitors could scan the painting with their smartphones and learn more about the symbolism of some of the works on view.

Wiley’s 2013 painting is based on Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ late-19th-century stained glass window depicting Saint Anthony of Padua. In Ingres’ work, the Franciscan Saint holds a lily, the infant Jesus, and a Bible, symbolizing his purity, theological scholarship, and gifts as a preacher dedicated to Christ. Unlike Saint Anthony’s pose, meant to convey a Franciscan commitment to poverty and humility, Wiley’s portrait is infused with worldly seduction: his Anthony’s skin is flawless, his lips are pink, and his gaze, looking down at us, is seductive and empowered. A second depiction of Saint Anthony of Padua, an altar painting in Italy, is even more similar to Wiley’s sitter. Unlike the Ingres version, however, this saint’s body language is more open, facing the viewer. It’s clear that all versions have similarities: Saint Anthony’s left arm holds a book, and his right hand holds a flower or stick.

The orange panther patch on Wiley’s model’s jacket––prominently displayed on his right shoulder––is similar to that worn by the 66th Infantry Division of the US Army during World War II. The black panther was also selected as an emblem of power for the Black Panther Party, which used organized force for political advancement during the 1960s fight for civil rights.

Military jackets like the one worn by the sitter are not only US Army uniforms, but also high fashion pieces worn by celebrities like Queen Latifah. The item became popular for civilian-wear during the 1960s, when counterculture youth subversively wore army green jackets as antiwar commentary. With a young black man replacing a European saint in Wiley’s painting, the jacket’s history as a form of social commentary is further amplified.

3. A TV Cameo: Empire
In season one of Fox’s Empire, Wiley’s paintings were prominently featured in the home of the formidable Lyon family. There is a clear correlation between Empire and Wiley’s work: both are steeped in the bravado and style of hip-hop culture, and serve to upend antiquated notions regarding class, racial identity, and the politics of power. 

4. Celebrities as Collectors
They’re just like us! Celebrities are also fans of Wiley’s work. Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz apparently own a massive painting, and Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka own three paintings as of 2014.

5. The Obama Portrait
In February 2018, the official portrait of President Barack Obama was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The NPG welcomed record attendance figures that year with 2.3 million, which is due in no small part to the new portrait by Wiley, as well as a portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald.

I visited NPG in November 2018. I stood in line at the main entrance at least 30 minutes prior to opening hours and there were already dozens of like-minded visitors cued in line. When the doors opened, the museum staff––without any prompts––immediately announced which floors the Obama portraits were on. The floodgates had opened. Along the way, there were individual signs giving you clues that you were on the right path.

The painting depicts President Obama sitting in a chair seemingly floating among foliage. Surrounding him are chrysanthemums (the official flower of Chicago), jasmine (symbolic of Hawaii, where Obama spent most of his childhood), and African blue lilies (alluding to the president’s late Kenyan father). When I finally came face-to-face with the portrait, I knew it would be the closest I would ever be to him. 

Tina Lee, SAM Exhibitions and Publications Manager

Images: Installation view of Anthony of Padua, 2013, Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 72 × 60 in., Gift of the Contemporary Collectors Forum, 2013.8 © Kehinde Wiley, photo: Natali Wiseman. President Barack Obama, 2018, Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 84 x 58 in. ©2018 Kehinde Wiley

SAM Creates: Drawing from Margaret Gove Camfferman

Margaret Gove Camfferman was an early Northwest modernist whose colors and compositions reveal her love of the Pacific Northwest landscape. The soft palette of colors, blooming trees, and gentle light on the Sound reveal as much about the painter in that moment as the scene she painted. To learn more about Landscape before starting this art activity, click here!

Create your own landscape inspired by Camfferman’s work by choosing a landscape to work from. You can work from real life, a photograph, or an imagined landscape. For materials, you will need paper, pencil, and—if available—any kind of paint, pastels, crayons, or markers to add color.

Once you find your inspiration, start by completing some thumbnail sketches. Draw a series of little boxes on your paper and experiment with your composition. Keep it loose, and draw the scene in a few different ways. Compose in both portrait and landscape formats to see what is most effective.

To create the illusion of space in your work, start by thinking about where the horizon line is. In Camfferman’s Landscape the horizon line is in the upper third of the painting, and her vanishing point is obscured by the tree in the upper left corner. She uses them as tools in her composition to provide the illusion of space.

As you’re sketching, think about what objects are in the foreground (closest to you), middle ground, and background (furthest from you). Objects in the foreground are larger than objects in the middle or background in order to make them appear closer to you.

After finding a composition you like, translate it into a larger drawing; you can still work fairly small if you want—think of this as a study. In pencil, draw the basic shapes in the landscape, leaving out the details.

Now, add color: setting up your palette in advance can help you control the mood and tone of your composition. Working with a limited palette of colors that relate to one another creates harmony in the work. If you need inspiration, check out Coolors for samples of warm, cool, pastel, or vintage color palettes. Like Camfferman, skip the details and try using planes of color to create form and volume in your landscape.

After you’ve laid down some of the larger shapes, add some finer lines to help tell your story.

Take this further by creating a series of works, recording the daily changes in nature and the landscape we live in. Share your work with us using the hashtag #StayHomeWithSAM.

Kelsey Donahue, SAM Assistant Manager for Gallery Learning & Lynda Harwood-Swenson, SAM Assistant Manager for Studio Programs

Object of the Week: Landscape

On Earth Day, we tend to take stock of the impact humans have had on our planet: how our polluting, mining, deforestation, and other acts have affected this round wonder that we call home. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, however, the Earth is seeing a brief respite from this negative human activity—we’ve all seen the reports of air pollution temporarily plummeting. As many of us are limiting our contact with others, staying at home, or even sheltering in place, the Earth’s beauty—blooming flowers, the sounds of animals, lapping waves, or the sound of wind through the trees—has become a source of comfort. I’d like to focus on those gifts the Earth provides for this Earth Day post.

For my family, this time of human isolation has brought an enhanced appreciation of nature and all of the beauty that can be found right in our own yard and neighborhood. We’ve been taking two walks a day (practicing social distancing, of course) and spending whatever time we can in our backyard. We’ve noticed many more flowering trees and plants, and the new gardens that people are eagerly starting. Friends who live in apartments have mentioned pulling chairs up close to a window so that they can be closer to nature while they work from home—even if they lack a view, the sounds of birds help.

Margaret Gove Camfferman’s Landscape elicits this sense of the appreciation of nature for me. This work, sometimes called Orchard on Sound, was painted for the Public Works Art Project of Washington in 1933.[1] The view is from Camfferman’s property on Whidbey Island looking across to Camano Island. It demonstrates a deep awareness of her surroundings. How much I appreciate these flowering fruit trees, the shrubs and other trees, the view of the Sound and the cliffs across the water. Camfferman moved to Langley in 1915, soon after she married the Dutch painter Peter Camfferman, whom she had met in New York. They built their home, called Brachenwood, there and established the Camfferman Art Colony on the property, which included cabins for visiting artists and instructors.[2]

Camfferman, who often painted flowers and landscapes, studied with artist Robert Henri in New York (we even have a painting of her by him in SAM’s collection) and André L’Hôte in Paris. Landscape, which was painted shortly after returning from France, illustrates her development toward modernism. One scholar notes that her work “relied on the theme of nature for her point of departure and attempted to create an analogy between music and painting.”[3] (We recently shared an art activity inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s work, Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1 which helps us better understand that connection between music and art. Check it out!)

Obviously, nature was important to Camfferman, and, perhaps, it’s more important now to many of us—especially during the current COVID-19 crisis. Has your perception and appreciation of nature changed during this time?

– Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian

[1] Rebecca Bruckner and Cindy Beagle, Pioneering Women Artists: Seattle, 1880s to 1940s (Seattle: Kinsey Gallery, Seattle University, 1993), p. [9].
[2] David Martin, An Enduring Legacy: Women Painters of Washington, 1930-2005 (Bellingham, WA: Whatcom Museum of History & Art, 2005), p. 57.
[3] Bruckner and Beagle, Ibid.
Image: Landscape, ca. 1933, Margaret Gove Camfferman, oil on board, 25 x 29 3/8 in., Public Works of Art Project, Washington State, 33.213 © Margaret Gove Camfferman