Calder Smartphone Tour: Untitled (Métaboles)

Alexander Calder shares a rich history with performance art. He projected many of his ideas onto the stage, collaborating with composers, actors, and choreographers, including Martha Graham, Virgil Thomson, John Butler, and Jean Vilar. Perhaps nowhere is the expansiveness of Calder’s vision more apparent than in these collaborations, in which the disciplines of music, dance, and sculpture expand our understanding of known experience. 

Calder was commissioned to create an artwork that would accompany Métaboles, a new ballet choreographed by Joseph Lazzini to music by Henri Dutilleux and produced by the Théâtre Français de la Danse. The result, Untitled (Métaboles), embodies Lazzini’s themes of variation and transformation. Its subtle movements echo the delicate movements of the figures onstage as it continually unfolds in space. The dynamic mobile made its public debut alongside the ballet’s premiere at the Odéon-Théâtre de France, Paris, in 1969. The ballet also featured costumes designed by Calder.

Calder’s interest in performance didn’t end there, however. In 1968, the year before Métaboles was realized, Calder premiered his own “ballet without dancers” known as Work in Progress at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome. The result is approximately 19 minutes long, with Calder-designed costumes, hanging and standing mobiles, stabiles, and painted backdrops, accompanied by electronic music by three composers.

Listen to the third stop of the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection to hear Calder Foundation President Alexander S. C. Rower discuss how considerations of space and movement played influential roles in the artist’s creation of Untitled (Métaboles). You can explore all 16 stops on the audio tour via our SoundCloud or by scanning the QR code adjacent to select works in SAM’s galleries. Reserve your tickets to see Calder: In Motion at SAM to witness how this work ‘dances’ for yourself!

Untitled (Métaboles),1969

NARRATOR: This unusual work was made as a prop for a ballet, Métaboles, produced by Théâtre Français de la Danse, in 1969. Sandy Rower:

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: Here, he was invited by Joseph Lazzini, who was a choreographer, to collaborate and participate with this stage performance. And it’s a highly active work: the way the loops are connected makes it have a lot of movement. So, you could imagine it hung high above dancers and being quite free in its movement.

Calder often regarded his work in relation to choreography. I mean, his mobiles—the composition and the way they move—and if you think of them as multidimensional experiences—you begin to quickly relate them to music and dance and other arts. So, he kind of broke a lot of traditions in sculpting—what we think of traditionally as sculpting bronze and marble and clay—and he got rid of the mass, and then he introduced this activity of the sculpture responding to our space, responding to the room that we’re in or, in this case, in the theater.

NARRATOR: The work was made according to Calder’s initial model and assembly sketch.   

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: Its qualities are extremely unusual because it was actually fabricated by set masters, so not made the way that Calder usually made his mobiles, at his foundry or in his studio with his hands himself. The fact that he could step away and allow others to introduce their aspects makes it really a collaborative thing.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Mountains (1:5 Intermediate Maquette)

In 1975, Alexander Calder was commissioned to create a monumental sculpture for the nine-story atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. The result, Mountains and Clouds, is a towering two-part composition that stands 51 feet tall.

Mountains (1:5 Intermediate Maquette), the first artwork visitors encounter in Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection at SAM, is a scale model—referred to as a maquette—of the stabile portion of Calder’s colossal sculpture. The artist began creating intermediate maquettes in the mid-1960s as part of the process of scaling up his colossal sculptures “to study the overlapping of the plates and the piercing of the holes.”

In November of the following year—just under a month after the opening of his highly-applauded retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art—the artist traveled to Washington, DC  to finalize the details of the project with the architect. That evening, Calder returned to New York City, where he unexpectedly died of a heart attack. The artist’s death led to several delays in the commission’s completion with the final installation eventually taking place in 1986. Today, the stabile portion of Mountains and Clouds remains on view in the Hart Senate Building while the mobile undergoes restoration.

As a stationary work accompanied by a hanging mobile, Mountains and Clouds is the only composition of its kind that Calder created. Learn more about Mountains (1:5 Intermediate Maquette) and the sculpture it is paired with in SAM’s galleries, Femme Assise (1929), in the second stop on the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion. Browse all sixteen stops in the tour via our SoundCloud or by scanning the QR code next to select artworks in the exhibition.

Mountains (1:5 Intermediate Maquette), 1976

NARRATOR: In his later years, Calder focused primarily on large-scale public works. And of course, you can see one such work—The Eagle—here in Seattle in the museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park.

You’re looking at Mountains, a model for the “stabile” component of Calder’s massive 51-foot high work, Mountains and Clouds. A “stabile” is a stationary sculpture, in contrast to Calder’s moving sculptures, called “mobiles.” In the monumental work, the stabile is paired with a mobile, which hovers above it.

Calder made the full-sized sculpture for the Hart Senate Building in Washington, DC. It was one of his last projects before his death in 1976. The sculpture is made from sheet metal—one of Calder’s most favored materials.

KENNEDY YANKO: Metal is one of the most fascinating materials in the world. You know, it’s something that we are excavating from the ground. It’s coming from the earth…

NARRATOR: Kennedy Yanko is a painter and sculptor who works with metal.

KENNEDY YANKO: …and it carries what it’s known and what it’s experienced. It’s this amazing material that goes from a hard state to a liquid; and my relationship to this heavy, typically connoted as an industrial material is quite interesting because I watch it break like a twig. It actually becomes something that’s delicate to me.

NARRATOR: This late work is paired here with one of Calder’s earliest works, a wooden sculpture called Femme Assise, from 1929.

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: I think that’s really informative and quite interesting to have them together: you get a sense of a trajectory.

NARRATOR: Alexander S. C. Rower is President of the Calder Foundation, and the grandson of the artist.

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: And also, you get a sense of really the 20th century in terms of aesthetics, just in these two objects.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Chloe Collyer.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Introduction to the SAM Exhibition

Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection is now on view at SAM! As part of this SAM-exclusive exhibition, we’ve developed a free smartphone tour featuring additional insight on Calder’s life, legacy, and artistic career.

Composed of 15 stops, the tour includes interviews with collector Jon Shirley, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz, sculptor Kennedy Yanko, and Calder Foundation President Alexander S. C. Rower, as they share their educational and personal thoughts on artworks including Fish (1942), Toile d’araignée (1965), Bougainvillier (1947), Red Curly Tail (1970), and many more of the artist’s most iconic works.

Tune in to the tour’s introductory stop now to get acquainted with the artists, scholars, curators, and admirers who contributed to this auditory experience. Then, explore all 15 stops in the audio tour of Calder: In Motion by scanning the QR code next to select artworks in the exhibition or on your own time via our SoundCloud

Introducing Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection

JON SHIRLEY: My name is Jon Shirley, and I am pleased to share with you Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection. The works of Alexander Calder that you will see in these galleries have been collected over the past 35 years first with my late wife Mary and now with my wife Kim. Over those years we have found that living with Calder’s work has been a beautiful and uplifting experience. 

Alexander Calder was a great artist whose father and grandfather were both sculptors. In Paris in the late 1920s Calder invented a new world of sculpture—first by using just wire and then by creating abstract works of sheet metal, wood, and wire that moved. As you will see, this collection spans Calder’s art career from the 1920s until his death in 1976. The audio guide will discuss many different works that I love so please take the time to listen and learn about Calder the man and his art.

My family and I sincerely hope that you will find this visit a dynamic experience and that you return to the Seattle Art Museum for many years as we present ongoing exhibitions related to Calder and the artists inspired by Calder.

NARRATOR: The exhibition attempts to capture something of how the works were displayed in the Shirleys’ home – setting up a unique dialogue across the decades. Joining us for this encounter will be exhibition curator José Diaz… 

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: My name is José Diaz.

NARRATOR: …painter and sculptor Kennedy Yanko…

KENNEDY YANKO: Hi! My name is Kennedy Yanko.

NARRATOR: …and Calder Foundation President—and grandson of the artist—Alexander S. C. Rower. 

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: Hi, I’m Alexander Rower. Everyone calls me Sandy.

NARRATOR: I hope you’ll enjoy your tour.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Hokusai Smartphone Tour: The Mansion of the Plates

Katsushika Hokusai is renowned for his illustrations of popular Japanese ghost stories. In The Mansion of the Plates, the historic Japanese artist depicts the story of the maidservant Okiku, who was accused of breaking a precious porcelain plate that belonged to the master of the mansion in which she worked. She then either committed suicide by throwing herself into a well or was killed by her enraged master and thrown into the well.

It is said that Okiku’s ghost rises from the well night after night to count the mansion’s plates in a haunting moan: “One… two… three,” followed by a horrible shriek when her count comes up short. In Hokusai’s clever yet unusual version of the scene, the plates themselves rise from the well one after another, making up the snake-like neck of the ghostly head.

Learn more about Hokusai’s artistic interpretation of this supernatural tale from the curator of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Dr. Sarah Thompson and Tufts University Professor Susan Napier by tuning in to the seventh and final stop of the exhibition’s free smartphone tour. Explore all seven stops on the tour by scanning the QR code adjacent to select artworks in SAM’s galleries or on your own time via our SoundCloud. Don’t miss your final chance to see Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence in Seattle before the exhibition closes at SAM this Sunday, January 21—get your tickets now!

The Mansion of the Plates, about 1831–32

SARAH THOMPSON: Professor Susan Napier teaches international literary and cultural studies at Tufts University. She is known for her comprehensive studies of Japanese comics and animated films, manga and anime, and the connections between present-day popular culture and the floating world of Hokusai’s time. She is especially interested in fantastic and supernatural images such as Hokusai’s ghost prints.

SUSAN NAPIER: What we have in front of us is, even by Hokusai’s unique and extraordinary standards, one of his most amazing prints. This is darker, stranger, and weirder than even his other ghost prints, which are also often pretty dark and strange and weird, ’cause we’re really trying to figure out: What are we seeing? What’s going on here? And we see this creature coming out of what looks like a wooden bucket. It’s actually a well. And it’s female. We can tell that by the hair, the long hair, and the fairly delicate features. But what is that on her neck—or is that her neck?

In fact, they are ceramic plates. They’re dishes. It’s a very famous story. It’s about a young girl, a serving girl named Okiku, and she served in the mansion of a very prominent samurai. At least that’s how the story goes, the most popular version. And this samurai, her master, made advances to her, which she steadfastly rejected. And he did it again, and she still rejected him. And he grew angrier and angrier. So, at one point he decides he’s really going to teach her a lesson, and he breaks one of a set of ten ceremonial, very beautiful, very valuable plates that the mansion owns. And this is actually a major crime in that era. And she could have been punished by death for breaking a plate. He accuses her of having broken the plate. She denies it, says she didn’t do it; he says, “Well, I’m sorry. If you don’t give in to me, I’m going to tell everyone that you broke the plate, and you’re going to be put to death.” So there are two versions of what happens next. One is that she is so upset and traumatized by the whole thing that she plunges into a well in the mansion’s garden and dies. The other one is that he actually throws her into the well in a rage and essentially murders her.

Well, it’s really the most eerie and unique part of this. Apparently after the girl had died, people began hearing strange sounds from the well. And they would come out and they’d hear a girl’s voice counting, and she would be counting, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.” And you are kind of waiting for her to say ten. And instead of saying ten she gives out this terrible hideous scream. And (laughs) I love stories like that because—Japanese literature and folklore is full of stories of ghosts, and particularly ghostly women. Really, Japanese ghosts tend to be female on the whole. But this one is such an interesting story in that she’s not just revenging herself, which she probably is by haunting the well, but also kind of imploring and asking to be noticed and to be—for people to understand what has happened to her.

This ghost story, the whole story of the plates, is still referred to in modern Japanese popular culture. And you see a—there’s an episode of a very popular anime series called Maison Ikkoku, in which one of the characters dresses up as Okiku and hides in a well one night and ends up not being able to get out and has a lot of misadventures. I think it’s sort of like a Halloween festival kind of thing. But it’s generally comic and quite funny. But if you want a really scary vision that was inspired by this Hokusai image of the plate mansion, you have to look at the very, very popular and very scary Japanese horror film Ringu, or The Ring. Because if you’ve seen it, you’ll probably never forget one of the most important and terrifying images of a young girl with long black hair covering her face, and she’s coming very slowly, climbing out of a well towards you. And it is really a riveting and terrifying scene. And it is absolutely kind of an homage to Hokusai’s picture of the plate mansion.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: The Mansion of the Plates (Sara yashiki), from the series One Hundred Ghost Stories (Hyaku monogatari), about 1831–32 (Tenpо̄ 2–3), Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760–1849, woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Hokusai Smartphone Tour: White Cyclamen I

As a founding member of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement, American artist Robert Kushner favors geometric and floral patterns within his work. Like many of the artists in this movement, Kushner resisted conforming to the minimal compositions that dominated American artistic conventions at the time, opting instead to look beyond the nation’s borders for artistic inspiration. 

His 1999 painting, White Cyclamen I, on view as part of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at SAM, features aesthetic resonances from Islamic tile work, Iranian carpets, and Japanese ceramics and woodblock prints. As part of the free smartphone tour of the ongoing SAM exhibition, Kendall DeBoer, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, spoke directly with the artist about how the work of historic Japanese artists, including Katsushika Hokusai, influenced the creation of this work and many others across Kushner’s oeuvre.

Tune in to this recording blick clicking the link above or by scanning the QR code adjacent to this artwork in the exhibition’s galleries. Listen to all seven stops of the audio tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence via our SoundCloud. The exhibition closes later this month on Sunday, January 21. Don’t miss out—reserve your tickets to see it at SAM before it’s too late!

White Cyclamen I, 1999

KENDALL DEBOER: In the mid-1970s and 1980s, the Pattern and Decoration movement in the United States declared independence from the reigning Western aesthetics of masculinist Minimalism and defied Modernism’s rejection of ornamentation. Reveling in beauty and looking to global influences, Robert Kushner is considered one of the founders of this significant movement in American art. His colorful, blossoming, exuberant, sparkling canvases incorporate transhistorical points of aesthetic reference, including but not limited to Japanese woodblock prints. The magnified florals, like White Cyclamen I, pay homage in particular to Hokusai’s large flower prints.

While working on this exhibition, we were in touch with the artist directly. Thinking about Hokusai and his relevance to contemporary artists, Robert shared the following thoughts, which I will read on his behalf:

“When I look at the flower compositions of Hokusai, and indeed other Japanese masters, I am always drawn to the precision of line, the exactness of observation of the plant forms, and the grace with which they inhabit an open indeterminate flat space. Even more inspiring to me is the intentional and skillful flattening of the drawn lines. A single thin line can enclose the form of a flower’s petal or leaves, allowing the flat, unshaded white paper behind to create a three-dimensional volume. In my own paintings, such as White Cyclamen I, I try to paint with my own version of this manner of engaged, enlivened, observed, accurate, delicate, bold lines. Looking one way, the curving whiplash lines of my cyclamen and its leaves are scattered shapes on the colored surface behind them. But then, there is a magical moment when those lines coalesce into the volumetric form of the living flower that is before me. This is a wonderful lesson to be offered by Hokusai, a Japanese painter and printmaker from two hundred years ago.”

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: White Cyclamen I (detail), 1999, Robert Kushner, American born 1949, oil, acrylic, and gold leaf on panel, Courtesy of the artist and D.C. Moore Gallery, New York, NY.

Hokusai Smartphone Tour: Chemical Falls

Katsushika Hokusai’s influence knows no bounds. Nearly four centuries after his death, the Japanese master and his woodblock prints continue to inspire the work and practice of contemporary artists. One such artist is Merion Estes.

With strong ties to early Los Angeles feminist art spaces and a pioneering role in the Pattern and Decoration movement, Merion Estes typically depicts landscapes and seascapes. She combines found imagery from printed fabrics with collaged materials and spray paint to build up lively texture and vivid color, often with a political tone. In Chemical Falls, on view in Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at SAM, Estes blends visual pleasure with the horror of environmental crises, specifically citing Hokusai as an influence on her ongoing treatment of natural scenes.

Learn more about this 2016 work from Kendall DeBoer, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, by tuning in to the fifth stop of the exhibition’s free smartphone tour. Explore all seven stops on the tour by scanning the QR code adjacent to select artworks in SAM’s galleries or on your own time via SoundCloud. Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence closes on Sunday, January 21. Reserve your tickets to see Estes’s work, alongside more than 300 artworks by Hokusai and his contemporaries, now!

Chemical Falls, 2016

KENDALL DEBOER: Chemical Falls by Merion Estes is a more recent example of a theme the artist has frequently visited throughout her over fifty years of art making: beautiful landscapes and environmental degradation. As is her process for many of her artworks, Estes created Chemical Falls by combining collage elements with a section of found, printed, mass-produced fabric, which she then spray painted in high-keyed and striking colors. Building up layers of pigment and texture, Estes presents us with a breathtaking waterfall that is as alluring as it is otherworldly—and laced with the sinister specter of polluted waters.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1938, Estes received her BFA in 1970 at the University of New Mexico. She then quickly earned her MFA in 1972 at the University of Boulder Colorado before moving to Los Angeles, California. In LA, Estes would become a key figure in early feminist arts organizations like Womanspace and Double X. She was also part of the Pattern and Decoration movement in the United States, which often intersected with feminist art concerns. Pattern and Decoration artists rejected the austerity of Minimalism and Conceptualism, which they felt relied on sexist and racist assumptions, in favor of championing ornament, aesthetic beauty, and artistic production traditionally categorized as “women’s work,” like fiber arts. These interests persist in Chemical Falls, with its fabric basis, layers of patterned land masses, and geometric striations of water.

Many pattern and decoration artists felt the European canon of Western art history was too narrow in scope and therefore looked elsewhere for artistic precedents. Quite a few of these artists found inspiration in Japanese prints, including Estes, who has looked to Hokusai as an ongoing influence throughout her career. The intense verticality and perspectival view of Chemical Falls feels in direct conversation with Hokusai’s series A Tour of Waterfalls in Various Provinces. Comparing Chemical Falls to Hokusai’s work The Amida Falls in the Far Reaches of the Kisokaidō Road from 1832 reveals similar treatment of linear falls pouring between curving, earthy cliffs dotted with sprigs of green vegetation. Each work features a circular form near the top of its composition, perhaps a source for the waterfalls. These parallels show the continued relevance of Hokusai in Estes’s work.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Chemical Falls, 2016, Merion Estes, American, born 1938, printed fabric and spray paint on canvas, courtesy of the artist.

Hokusai Smartphone Tour: Under the Wave off Kanagawa

If there’s one work by Katsushika Hokusai you’ve definitely seen before, it’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa. More commonly referred to as the Great Wave, this iconic woodblock print has been cited everywhere from book covers to Lego sets, anime, and even an emoji (🌊). To offer a closer look at this infamous print, Dr. Sarah Thompson, Curator of Japanese Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, called in an expert: Dr. Christine Guth.

On the fourth stop of the free smartphone tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at SAM, Dr. Guth, author of Hokusai’s Great Wave: Biography of a Global Icon, explains how this work became a global icon. Put plainly, the Great Wave’s strength is in its broad applicability across time and space.

Many first time viewers of the original print find themselves surprised by its small size, she explains, as the work has been reprinted an infinite number of times in various proportions, skewing our perception of its original size. However, with its commanding depiction of a wave, it’s been interpreted a multitude of ways, including as an expression of the powerful force of nature.

Listen to the recording now for Dr. Guth’s full discussion of the Great Wave. All seven stops on the free audio tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence can be accessed via QR code in SAM’s galleries or on our SoundCloud. The exhibition closes in just over a month—get your tickets to see it before it’s too late!

Under the Wave off Kanagawa, about 1830–31

DR. SARAH THOMPSON: Dr. Christine Guth is one of the most distinguished scholars of Japanese art in the English-speaking world. Her book Hokusai’s Great Wave: Biography of a Global Icon was a huge help to me in planning this show, and I am delighted that she has agreed to tell us more about it in person.

DR. CHRISTINE GUTH: So, maybe this is the first time you’ve looked at this print in the original. And when you see it in reproductions you have the impression that it’s a huge work of art, but it’s very small. And it wasn’t intended as a unique work of art, but was printed many, many times. There were probably about 3,000 impressions made during Hokusai’s lifetime. It had a huge impact on Hokusai’s contemporaries, but they would’ve looked at it very differently than we do today. For instance, as you look at the print today, probably the first thing you notice is the giant cresting wave with its rather menacing claw-like extensions.

And then, you see the tiny Mount Fuji in the background. Now, certainly Hokusai’s Japanese contemporaries would have seen that as well, but they may have paid more attention than we do to the boats cutting through the waves, because Hokusai intended this image to represent a particular moment in time and place. And what it suggests is boats carrying the first catch of bonito of the season from the fish market in Osaka to Edo, because fresh sashimi made from bonito was a real delicacy.

One of the distinguishing qualities of the series of Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji is not only that it shows the mountain from many different vantage points, but it captures it at different seasons and different points in the day. And I think that this print evokes that in the sense that the first catch was usually in the fourth month. That would be May today. So, there’s a very strong seasonal quality to the series. Today when people look at this print, some people see it as threatening and some people see it as an expression of the force of nature. And in fact, that was used very often after the terrible tsunami in Japan in 2011. And one of the great strengths of this print is the way it can speak to so many people across time and space. That’s what’s made this a global icon.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa-oki nami-ura), also known as the Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei), about 1830–31 (Tenpō 1–2), Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760–1849, woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Photograph ©️ Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Hokusai Smartphone Tour: Album of Miscellaneous Sketches Including Designs for Artisans

On the third stop on the free smartphone tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exhibition curator and Curator of Japanese Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Dr. Sarah Thompson is joined by Michiko Adachi, Bettina Burr Associate Conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for a conversation on Katsushika Hokusai’s unintentionally collaborative Album of Miscellaneous Sketches Including Designs for Artisans.

This collection of sketches, although believed to be mostly drawn by Hokusai, was passed between many of the artist’s students and peers, with each contributing new drawings. Learn more about this album and its contents by tuning in to the audio recording above. Then, explore all seven stops on the exhibition’s free smartphone tour on our SoundCloud or by visiting the exhibition in-person at the Seattle Art Museum. Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence closes Sunday, January 21, 2024. Reserve your tickets to see it now in the heart of downtown Seattle!

Album of Miscellaneous Sketches Including Designs for Artisans, about 1830s–40s

DR. SARAH THOMPSON: The Asian Conservation Studio at the MFA are the people who clean and repair the art objects so that they appear at their very best in exhibitions, and who make sure that they are always stored and exhibited in the safest possible conditions. Michiko Adachi, who handles works on paper, will tell you more about an especially interesting object that she has treated.

MICHIKO ADACHI: This book with sketches and preparatory drawings is part of the Hokusai school drawing collection. The collection was believed to have been purchased by William S. Bigelow when he was living in Japan in the 1880s, from Hokusen, who had been a pupil of Hokusai.

These books are immensely fun to look through as each page holds something entirely different, from a more finished drawing, to design work, to even just a small sketch of a mouse. They were probably drawn or added throughout the years by multiple students and artists as drawings were often passed along. For this book, it is thought that a large percentage of the drawings were drawn by Hokusai himself.

These drawings are usually drawn on a thin, translucent paper in black ink, cut and pasted onto a thicker paper bound in a book format. Often you can see the artist making an outline in lighter gray ink before the final sketch, or red ink to place a grid or to make corrections. Artists also made corrections in their drawings by pasting another sheet of paper onto the desired area. The original drawing is usually still visible because the paper is translucent and often not completely pasted down, giving you a glimpse into the artistic process. You can see one of these corrections in the rectangular design work in the bottom right of this book. On the right-hand side, there are three animals surrounding two figures. The artist had initially drawn a circular pattern on the body of the animals, but later decided to change this by pasting a piece of paper on top and then drawing the animals again without the pattern on its body. If you look closely the circular pattern is still visible through the pasted paper.

A grant from the Toshiba International Foundation allowed for the conservation and imaging of a select group of Hokusai school drawings, such as this book, enabling us to share this small but special collection. You can flip through this book on the screen located next to the book.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Album of Miscellaneous Sketches Including Designs for Artisans, about 1830s–40s, Artist unknown, Japanese, ink on paper, mounted in paperbound album, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Hokusai Smartphone Tour: The Story of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Jōruri-hime

In The Story of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Jōruri-hime, Katsushika Hokusai depicts a famous scene from classical Japanese literature with a modern twist. While the narrative of the 12th-century story remains the same—the young samurai Minamoto no Yoshitsune hears Princess Jōruri-hime playing the koto and duets with her on his flute, jumpstarting a passionate love affair—the costumes worn by some of the characters reflect the fashion and style of the 18th century.

While under the tutelage of Kasukawa Shunshō in the 1780s, Hokusai designed many of these works, known as perspective prints, which incorporate exaggerated versions of the Western-style vanishing point perspective within elegant settings. In the second stop on the free smartphone tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exhibition curator Dr. Sarah Thompson discusses where Hokusai likely learned this artistic technique and points out how he achieved this perspective in this work. 

Tune in to this audio recording now on our SoundCloud to learn more about The Story of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Jōruri-hime or by scanning the QR code accompanying the artwork in the exhibition’s galleries. Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence is now on view through Sunday, January 21, 2024 at the Seattle Art Museum—get your tickets now!

The Story of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Jōruri-hime, late 1780s

DR. SARAH THOMPSON: Let’s take a close look at an early work by Hokusai, a color print with the signature “Shunro” that he used in the 1780s when he was a student of Katsukawa Shunshō.

The scene is a modernized parody version of a famous story from classical Japanese literature, in which a young samurai, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, hears the sound of a lady named Jōruri-hime playing the koto at night. He stands at her garden gate and plays a duet with her on his flute, and this is the beginning of a passionate love affair. In the print, the flute player wears the costume of the 12th century when the story is set, but the lady and her attendants wear modern 18th-century clothes. When Hokusai was in his twenties he designed many works of this type, called perspective prints because they use an exaggerated version of Western-style vanishing point perspective. He probably learned this technique by looking at artists such as Utagawa Toyoharu and Shiba Kōkan, whose work you can see hanging nearby; and he combined it with the things that he had learned from his own teacher, Shunshō: drawing elegant figures in various poses and arranging them in an attractive setting.

In this picture, Hokusai uses two different systems of perspective to give the effect he wants. The building in the left half of the picture is drawn with converging lines that recede toward a distant vanishing point to give the impression of a very large, spacious interior. But in the garden scene to the right, Hokusai uses a traditional Asian perspective, with a high horizon line and distant objects placed higher in the picture, as you can see in, for example, the large painted screens by Shunshō also in this exhibition. For Japanese artists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Western perspective was an attractive and effective drawing technique, but was not necessarily the only option. In the famous landscape prints that Hokusai designed almost 50 years later, in the 1830s, he uses Western perspective most of the time but still feels free to alter it occasionally for a special effect.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: The Story of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Jо̄ruri-hime (Genji jū̄nidan no zu), from the series Perspective Pictures (Uki e), 1780s (Tenmei era), Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760–1849, woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Hokusai Smartphone Tour: Fine Wind, Clear Weather

You may know Katsushika Hokusai for being the creator of the infamous woodblock print The Great Wave—officially titled The Great Wave off Kanagawa (about 1830–31)—but what other artworks of his do you know? In the introductory stop on the free smartphone tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influencefrom the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exhibition curator Dr. Sarah Thompson offers insight on another of Hokusai’s most recognizable woodblock prints: Fine Wind, Clear Weather (1830).

The audio recording begins with a brief introduction from Dr. Thompson, Curator of Japanese Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, about the exhibition and the many artworks on view that derive inspiration directly from The Great Wave. Dr. Thompson then introduces Kendall DeBoer, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who collaborated with Dr. Thompson in curating this exhibition and the contemporary artworks that are featured within it.

Dr. Thompson then turns her attention to Fine Wind, Clear Weather. More commonly referred to as Red Fuji, the print comes from the same series of prints as The Great Wave, called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. As the title makes evident, Red Fuji depicts the sacred Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan admired for its beautiful symmetrical shape. Although not as universally recognized as The Great Wave, Red Fuji has served as inspiration for other artists looking to capture the mountain’s picturesque views. Among the artworks inspired by this print on view elsewhere in the galleries, points out Dr. Thompson, are Yoshitomo Nara’s 1999 parody print White Fujiyama Ski Gelände and Toyota Hokkei’s 19th-century print Mount Fuji

Hear more from Dr. Sarah Thompson, Kendall DeBoer, and other artists and scholars as part of the free smartphone tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence now on our SoundCloud. Or, if you’re in SAM’s galleries, scan the QR code accompanying select artworks to be routed directly to each stop on the audio tour. The exhibition is on view at SAM’s downtown location through Sunday, January 21, 2024—reserve your tickets now to see Red Fuji and so much more!

Fine Wind, Clear Weather, 1830

DR. SARAH THOMPSON: Hello, and welcome to the exhibition “Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence.” I’m Sarah Thompson, the curator in charge of Japanese prints at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In this show, we’ll be focusing on the most famous and influential of all Japanese artists: the painter, book illustrator, and print designer Katsushika Hokusai. Even if his name is new to you, you probably already know his most famous work, the woodblock print that has been given the nickname the Great Wave and has become one of the best-known visual images in the world. You will see a number of works based on it in this show, which looks at Hokusai in terms of the many other artists that he interacted with, both directly and indirectly. The works in the exhibition include about one-third by Hokusai himself; about one-third by other artists in Japan during his lifetime, from 1760 to 1849; and about one-third by other artists around the world, from the 1850s right up to the present, who learned about Hokusai’s work later on and found inspiration for their own work in it.

For works of contemporary art related to Hokusai, I’m lucky to have the help of my colleague Kendall DeBoer of our Contemporary Art department, and I’ll ask her to introduce herself now.

KENDALL DEBOER: Hi, I’m Kendall DeBoer, and I’m a curatorial assistant in the Department of Contemporary Art here at the MFA Boston. I specialize in contemporary craft and unconventional materials, and I’ve been delighted to work alongside Sarah on this show as a collaborator, bringing in contemporary artworks influenced by Hokusai. You’ll be hearing from me later on in this tour.

DR. SARAH THOMPSON: Now I’d like to look at one of Hokusai’s most famous images after the Great Wave, the woodblock print that has been nicknamed the Red Fuji. It’s from the same series of prints as the Wave—which you will see later in the show—called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and published in the early 1830s, when Hokusai was already in his seventies. These prints were commercial products, mass produced, and sold in stores. Hokusai did the drawings, and other people then carved the wooden printing blocks—one for each color—and did the printing. Hokusai’s Fuji series was a huge, best-selling success, and it made landscape a major subject in Japanese printmaking for the first time.

Sacred Mount Fuji was an ideal choice of subject for this breakthrough print series, because it is the tallest mountain in Japan and it has a beautiful symmetrical shape that has attracted artists for centuries. The real title of this print, written in the upper left corner along with the series title, is actually Fine Wind, Clear Weather. It’s probably early morning, and the mountain—which appears in different colors in different weather conditions—looks reddish in the dawn sunlight.

Hanging near Red Fuji is a print made in 1999 by the well-known contemporary Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, who created a humorous parody showing Mount Fuji as a ski slope by painting over a reproduction of the famous print and then using color xerox to make limited-edition prints of his painting. Also nearby is a 19th- century print by Hokusai’s most successful student, Hokkei, who specialized in designs for privately commissioned prints, known as surimono. This image, from a series of three prints showing lucky things to dream about at new year, looks similar to some of the prints in Hokusai’s Fuji series, but it was probably made a little earlier, in the 1820s. Since Hokusai designed the Fuji prints late in life, many of his students, such as Hokkei, were already successful artists in their own right by that time. So, did Hokkei base his work on an earlier design by his teacher Hokusai? Could Hokusai have been inspired by the work of his own former student? Were both of them looking at depictions of Fuji by earlier artists? Or were they both looking at the mountain itself? There are many possible kinds of relationships between works of art, so keep these ideas in mind as you look at other comparisons throughout the show.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Fine Wind, Clear Weather (Gaifū kaisei), also known as Red Fuji, from the series Thirty six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei), about 1830–31 (Tenpō 1–2), Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760–1849, woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Nellie Parney Carter Collection—Bequest of Nellie Parney Carter, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In Boafo’s Words: Happy Siblings

“I wanted to make my paintings the way I want people to see me, you know, I just wanted to show Blackness in a different way. Why can I not be Black and be happy?”

– Amoako Boafo

After witnessing a rare moment of playfulness between his siblings in 2019, Amoako Boafo decided to commemorate the moment in a portrait. Happy Siblings marks the first of Boafo’s paintings to include members of his immediate family.

Despite the portrait’s use of muted colors, Boafo still finds the painting to be joyful. Brightness, he says, does not equate beauty. Tune in to the eighth stop of the SAM-exclusive smartphone tour of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks on our SoundCloud to learn more about this work and how the artist incorporates his family into his art. Or, if you’re in the galleries, scan the QR code next to this work to access this and nine other recordings related to the exhibition. Soul of Black Folks closes this Sunday, September 10—get your tickets to see it at SAM’s downtown location before it’s too late!

Happy Siblings, 2019

NARRATOR: Boafo painted this portrait of his siblings in 2019.

AMOAKO BOAFO: It’s not often that I see them playful like that. So, when I saw it, I’m like, let me capture this moment and let me just put it down.

NARRATOR: The portrait was a way of including the artist’s family in his practice.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I wanted to find a way to get my family into my painting because they have an idea of what painting is, and they like what I’m doing, but they don’t really know much about it.

I mean, the thing is that they don’t come to the studio, you know, because they have other things to do, and they feel like when they come, they will disturb me, which I don’t think it is true; but instead of waiting for them to come around I want to go to them.

NARRATOR: Interestingly, for this joyful image, Boafo has chosen a muted paint color, buff titanium, for his brother’s shirt.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I don’t think it has to be bright to be beautiful. Because this color palette has a lot of white in the background, which is plain. So it gives it a lot of shine.

NARRATOR: It also makes a strong contrast with his siblings’ skin color.

AMOAKO BOAFO: You know, dark… dark helps with light.

NARRATOR: This image of light and joy is important for Boafo.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I have done a lot of paintings on my struggle. But then I had to change that for myself. I wanted to make my paintings the way I want people to see me, you know, I just wanted to show Blackness in a different way. Why can I not be Black and be happy?

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Happy Siblings, 2019, Amoako Boafo, oil on canvas, 63 x 63 in., Jesse Williams Collection.

In Boafo’s Words: Steven Onoja

This 2018 portrait is of Steven Onoja, a well-known contemporary photographer and close friend to Amoako Boafo. Although Onoja typically finds himself behind the camera, Boafo asked the Nigerian photographer to take a chance in front of his canvas and allow him to paint his portrait. The result is an intimate painting that highlights Boafo’s early foray into sculpting the skin of his subjects through finger painting.

From his choice in clothing and facial expression, it’s clear Onoja is well-respected in his industry. This was a deliberate choice by Boafo. In discussing this painting on the seventh stop of the SAM-exclusive smartphone tour of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks, the artist explains how choices such as these inform the spirit and character of his subjects. Although viewers likely do not know Onoja personally, the way Boafo artistically depicts him gives you insight into the man he is.

Learn more about Boafo’s intentional artistic choices by exploring all nine stops of the exhibition’s audio tour on our SoundCloud. If you’re in SAM’s galleries, use your phone to scan the QR code accompanying select works to be routed to the adjoining recording. Soul of Black Folks closes in just a few weeks at SAM—get your tickets to see the exhibition before it closes on Sunday, September 10!

Steven Onoja, 2018

AMOAKO BOAFO: Steven is a photographer that I know. I like the kind of pictures that he takes; the way he poses; and just the way he carries himself; and I wanted to just capture that.

NARRATOR: As so often in Boafo’s work, fashion plays an important role.

AMOAKO BOAFO: Now you don’t know Steven, but in just the way he’s dressed, you can already sense who he is; and for me, fashion… it gives you a bit of the person and their character and their image and their spirit without you… or without them saying anything.

NARRATOR: The painting dates from 2018 and it gives an insight into Boafo’s evolving practice.

AMOAKO BOAFO: You can see clearly like this is an old painting, or early stages of me developing my language with my finger painting and my color palette, and you can tell this is all flat tones with just the face as the busy space.

NARRATOR: The flatness of the painted surface, together with the simplified forms, allow Boafo to incorporate abstraction into his art.

AMOAKO BOAFO: Figuration can also be abstraction in a way. You can see this is clearly a figure. But then you cannot really tell how the jacket is worn. You cannot tell from where the trousers and the arm of the jacket meets. I mean, I like the idea of painting figures and portrait because it tells a certain story that I like and I want to explore in that area, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have or add a bit of abstraction to my work as well.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Steven Onoja, 2018, Amoako Boafo, oil on canvas, 63 x 55 in., Courtesy of Derek Forjour Collection, New York City.

In Boafo’s Words: Red Collar

When first looking at Amoako Boafo’s 2021 portrait, Red Collar, viewers can’t help be drawn to the striking multicolored dress that dominates the center of the painting. It comes as a surprise to many when they eventually realize that the artwork draws its title not from the striped dress, but rather from the dog’s small red collar.

On this sixth stop of the SAM-exclusive audio tour of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks, the artist explains how the painting’s striped dress came to be. Although he originally planned to adorn the subject’s dress in an intricate pattern using his paper transfer technique, his decision to use of gesso—a thin, white paint often applied to surfaces such as wood panels or canvas to allow for a smoother surface—to prep the canvas, made a paper transfer impossible. Finger painting a design on the dress was also not an option, the artist explains in the recording, because he reserves this technique for the exposed body. In the end, he decided to use a paintbrush to create the dress’s stripes.

Hear more from Boafo by exploring all nine stops of the free smartphone tour of Soul of Black Folks at SAM on our SoundCloud. Or, if you’re in the galleries, scan the QR code accompanying each work to be routed to the adjoining recording.

Red Collar, 2021

NARRATOR: The two women, with their dog, are friends of the artist in Ghana. But he painted the portrait in California. A striking feature of the painting is the boldly striped dress. In fact, this design was not Boafo’s original intention. In Los Angeles, he was working with a different canvas surface, which he had prepared using gesso.

AMOAKO BOAFO: So gesso is another layer that’s used to prepare canvas, and I like to do that because when I gesso the canvas and it dry, I sandpaper it, and it gives me a smooth surface for me to be able to move my fingers when I’m painting because when it’s rough, my fingertips hurts a little bit.

NARRATOR: Initially, Boafo had planned to create a pattern using the paper transfer technique he describes in Stop 3, The Menu.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I wanted to do a transfer print, but then with the gesso on that canvas, the print could not hold, and so I had to find different ways to resolve, and that’s how I got to the pattern that she was wearing.

NARRATOR: Boafo created the stripes using a brush. As usual, finger painting is reserved for the skin and body of his characters.

AMOAKO BOAFO: The exposed body—like face, arm, and hair—those are the only spaces that I use my finger. Anything outside that, the painting of the dog, the clothes, the background, everything else is done with a brush.

NARRATOR: For Boafo, this distinction creates a particular intimacy with the characters.

AMOAKO BOAFO: Not that when I paint with a brush it’s not good or I don’t like it, but there’s a different kind of joy and happiness in being able to, like, touch a mood and move things around to form something. There’s a different feeling with that.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Red Collar, 2021, Amoako Boafo, oil on canvas, 84 x 108 in., The Hornik Collection.

In Boafo’s Words: Self Portrait – Masked

“I always want people to know that I’m looking. Even when I’m not there, I’m still looking. If you’re looking at my painting, my painting is looking at you, and I’m looking at you.”

– Amoako Boafo

The image of a face mask is now synonymous with the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It comes as no surprise then to learn that Amoako Boako painted Self Portrait – Masked in 2020.

In the fifth stop of the free smartphone tour of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks at SAM, the artist discusses the evolution of his artistic process while in lockdown in Ghana. Although the mask covers the majority of his face, the artist still finds beauty in his intricately patterned mask and direct gaze. Taken as a whole, this image demonstrates how communication continues despite lacking most facial features.

Explore all nine stops in the exhibition’s audio tour now on our SoundCloud or scan the QR code accompanying any work to tune in while exploring SAM’s galleries. The exhibition closes in less than one month—reserve your tickets to see it before it closes on Sunday, September 10!

Self Portrait – Masked, 2020

NARRATOR: Self-Portrait – Masked, dates from 2020. Boafo was in Ghana when COVID struck. This shaped his experience of the lockdown: for most people he knew, staying home was just not an option.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I mean, it was a different case there because almost everybody, I mean the larger population, the work they do is hand to mouth, which means if you don’t go to work in the next day or two days, you might not have anything to eat.

So, I did not have the sense of just staying home and just staying in and not doing anything. You know, I was out there trying to support as much as I could.

NARRATOR: Wearing a mask is linked in our minds with the horrors of COVID. But Boafo’s mask is not just about protection from disease: it is covered with his distinctive patterning.

AMOAKO BOAFO: We all know—when COVID happened—we all know what it did and the impact it had. There wasn’t anything beautiful about it. But I needed to make the painting in a way that it still would be beautiful for you to look at.

NARRATOR: Above the mask, Boafo’s eyes meet ours directly.

AMOAKO BOAFO: Well, I always want people to know that I’m looking. Even when I’m not there, I’m still looking. If you’re looking at my painting, my painting is looking at you, and I’m looking at you.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Installation view of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 2022, photo: Sean Fleming.

In Boafo’s Words: Umber Brown Belt

“I want my characters to pose with this kind of self-confidence, and in this painting, the character’s pose is exactly what I want to achieve. She’s present in the space.”

– Amoako Boafo

Self-confidence is an essential characteristic in all of Amoako Boafo’s portraits. Not only is this accomplished through his subjects’ poses, but also by the artist’s use of vibrant colors, an unflinching gaze, and distinct fashion. In Umber Brown Belt, the subject exudes self-confidence in her decision to directly face the viewer. This confidence is further emphasized by the artist’s choice to give her bright red lips, an intimate stare, and an intricate floral blouse.

On the fourth stop of the free smartphone tour of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks at SAM, the artist explains the reasons behind his creative hallmarks. Listen to the audio recording now on our SoundCloud to learn more about the artistic choices in Umber Brown Belt or scan the QR code accompanying the work to tune in while exploring SAM’s galleries. The exhibition closes Sunday, September 10—reserve your tickets before it’s too late!

Umber Brown Belt, 2020

NARRATOR: Umber Brown Belt is a portrait of a woman from the artist’s neighborhood. The belt of the title cinches her lavishly patterned floral blouse. For Boafo, his use of pattern is connected to the patterned fabrics common in his home city of Accra, the capital of Ghana.

AMOAKO BOAFO: You cannot go a day without seeing anything with a pattern in Accra, anything colorful in Accra. So, I think, whenever I’m painting and I’m making those outfits with the print, I think of the patterns that I see daily, and the colors that I do come across. That’s what I think of and how I interpret them.

NARRATOR: Dress is important for Boafo in presenting his characters.

AMOAKO BOAFO: The way you appear in certain spaces, people think of you the way you are dressed. I want my characters to pose with this kind of self-confidence, and in this painting, the character’s pose is exactly what I want to achieve. She’s present in the space.

NARRATOR: This idea of presence is significant for Boafo.

AMOAKO BOAFO: Everything is connected to my experience in certain spaces and locations where I find myself and how people look at you and how you feel. I think, you know, most of the spaces that I’ve been before have not been that inviting. Sometimes you are there but not really there. And the thing is that I want to change that kind of ideas with my paintings. I want to be present. I want people to feel my presence.

NARRATOR: There’s one final detail you may have noticed: the woman’s hands are left unpainted.

AMOAKO BOAFO: The energy that I want from the painting, if I’m already getting it, it doesn’t make sense to add more because sometimes adding more: it’s not necessarily good.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Umber Brown Belt, 2020, Amoako Boafo, paper transfer and oil on canvas, 82 5/8 x 66 7/8 in., Courtesy the Collection of Marilyn & Larry Fields.

Muse/News: Boafo’s Presence, History Digs, and Pastel Bauhaus

SAM News

Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks, the Ghanaian artist’s debut museum solo exhibition, is now on view at the Seattle Art Museum! Evening Magazine interviewed Ramzy Lakos, SAM’s Educator for Digital Learning, about working with the artist to create a Seattle-exclusive smartphone tour for visitors that shares the artist’s perspective

“It’s very personal, I think, to paint someone’s skin using your fingers. And it also leaves a trace of the artist on the painting itself. And I think that’s something he wants you to feel; he wants you to feel like he’s there in the gallery with you.”

And at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, don’t miss historical Japanese prints and Toulouse-Lautrec works in Renegade Edo and Paris. KUOW’s Mike Davis recommends the show in the most recent edition of his “adventures in art.” And in a recent Stranger Suggests, Charles Mudede recommended the “expertly curated” exhibition.

“This was not the stuff of the warrior class. This was the floating world of fleeting and popular pleasures: music, theater, whore houses. Also fleeting was the nightlife of Belle Époque Paris brilliantly and famously captured by the prints of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Local News

“Seattle’s Museum of Museums to shut down after three years”: The Seattle Times’ Margo Vansynghel reports on the sad loss for the city’s museum community. 

In her latest ArtSEA post, Brangien Davis of Crosscut shares details about “the fancy new entrance to the Colman Dock ferry terminal” debuted recently by Waterfront Seattle as part of the massive waterfront renewal project. 

“Unearthing Japanese American history at a dig site in North Seattle”: The Seattle Times’ Tat Bellamy-Walker on the former site of Green Lake Garden Co. and the archaeology project to reveal its story as home to a Japanese American community before WWII-era incarceration.

“‘We’re digging up these histories, but this history is all around us,’ [archaeologist Alicia] Valentino said. “These people didn’t just disappear. They’re in the community today.’”

Inter/National News

In another archaeology story, Hadami Ditmars reports for the Art Newspaper on the discovery of a “1,000-year-old fish trap and the remains of the ancestral village of ȾEL¸IȽĆE (pronounced Tel-eech).”

Melena Ryzik for the New York Times on the new Louis Armstrong Center, which joins the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens for even more ways to celebrate the famed jazz trumpeter, singer, and bandleader.

“It Was Like Pastel Bauhaus”: Artnet speaks with artists Gary Panter and Wayne White about working with the late Pee-wee Herman to bring “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” to life.

“Paul [Reubens], Ric, and Wayne, we’re all painters,’ Panter said. ‘We really brought the sensibility of art and art history to the set. Paul was more of a conceptual artist. He had a lot of input, and we had endless ideas.’”

And Finally

“Meet the diplomat in Seattle who’s become a social media star by folding origami cranes.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: L. Fried.

In Boafo’s Words: Reflection I

Reflection I marks Amoako Boafo’s first self-portrait following his move from Accra, Ghana to Vienna, Austria. With his head resting on his hand, Boafo resembles artist Auguste Rodin’s famed sculpture The Thinker, a work that has come to symbolize both the suffering and salvation found in self-reflection.

In addition to Rodin, many consider this self-portrait to allude to W.E.B. Du Bois and his notion of the double-consciousness as outlined in The Souls of Black Folks (1903), for which Boafo’s exhibition is named. This concept interrogates the idea that Black people constantly have to look at themselves through the eyes of ‘others.’ In looking at himself in the mirror, Boafo challenges the ‘othered’ gaze often applied to the Black body—a theme explored by the artist within many of his works.

Tune in to the free smartphone tour of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks to learn more about Reflection I and eight more of Boafo’s portraits. It can be accessed on your own time via our SoundCloud or by scanning the QR code accompanying each work in SAM’s galleries. Get your tickets to see the exhibition today!

Reflection I, 2018

NARRATOR: Boafo painted Reflection I in 2018, after leaving Ghana to study in Vienna, Austria. The radiator under the mirror deliberately points out the change to a European setting. The new environment sparked a period of self-evaluation for the artist: it led him—for the first time—to paint himself.

AMOAKO BOAFO: Working with myself helped me understand who I am as an artist and a human being. Making that image also help others look at themselves and think of things differently. It is a way that I wanted to experience my masculinity myself and not what society sees to be normal. I wanted to see how it looks like when you explore more of the flesh.

NARRATOR: As part of this exploration, Boafo has developed a distinctive skin color palette of umber brown and ultramarine blue. He applies the paint directly to the canvas using his fingers.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I wasn’t able to move forward with the brush painting the way I wanted my characters to feel, the way I want to express their feeling, because for me, painting is just more than capturing the perfection of a person. There is character. There is feeling. There is energy. The brush could not give me that kind of feeling. And so I arrived at painting with my finger.

NARRATOR: Here, the artist meets his own gaze in the mirror.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I think sometimes we look away from our experiences, and painting being a tool for me to express myself, I don’t want to shy away from the experiences. I want to look at it. I want people to see me looking at it because for me I feel like that’s the space where I get to be myself.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Reflection I (detail), 2018, Amoako Boafo, oil on paper, 51 1/8 x 43 3/8 in., Image and work courtesy Roberts Projects, Los Angeles and Private Collection, photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

In Boafo’s Words: Jean Jacques Ndjoli

Before entering the galleries of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks at SAM, visitors are greeted by a 2020 portrait of contemporary fashion designer and stylist Jean Jacques Ndjoli. Hanging amidst a wall covered in Boafo’s well-known Monstera plant print, the portrait offers an introduction to the artist’s signature style with its vibrant yellow hues and the apparent use of his distinct finger painting technique.

Learn more about this artwork and eight more of Boafo’s portraits by tuning in to our free smartphone tour of the exhibition on our SoundCloud. Or, if you’re in the galleries, scan the QR code accompanying each work to be directed to the relevant stop on the tour. The exhibition closes Sunday, September 10—get your tickets to see it before it’s gone!

Jean Jacques Ndjoli, 2020

AMOAKO BOAFO: This is a painting I did in LA [where] it’s sunny all the time. You know, you are guaranteed to get your fresh pressed orange juice.

NARRATOR: To capture that mood, the artist focuses on one color.

AMOAKO BOAFO: You have three shades of yellow. So, the overall pullover is the cadmium yellow hue, and then the background, I tinted it with white, and then I added a bit of brown to the yellow hue to have that inner pullover.

NARRATOR: Boafo is a figurative painter. In other words, he paints recognizable figures and objects. But this image goes beyond straightforward representation. The flat, simplified forms of the hooded pullover become abstract areas of color.

They also create a strong visual tension with the thickly finger-painted skin of the face.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I think of colors that, you know, just highlight the face and the figure.

NARRATOR: The important thing for Boafo is to elevate and celebrate his characters.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I consciously think about how to elevate the characters and place element or colors that only elevates them or complement them and not compete and take away from them.

I think the thing with celebration is that we don’t do it that often, and I think it would be good that we celebrate others more often: for people to know that we see what they are doing, and they are appreciated and noticed for what they are doing.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Jean Jacques Ndjoli, 2020, Amoako Boafo, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in., Collection of Josef Vascovitz and Lisa Goodman, courtesy of Roberts Projects, Los Angeles.

In Boafo’s Words: Introducing Soul of Black Folks

“I like people to be with me through the journey of making [a] painting, even though they’re not in the studio space. I want people to come to the show and feel like they made the paintings with me…”

– Amoako Boafo

Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks is now on view at SAM! As part of the contemporary Ghanaian artist’s Pacific Northwest solo debut, we developed an audio tour of additional artistic insight. Featuring interviews with Boafo and exhibition curator Larry Ossei-Mensah, the tour highlights eight of the artist’s portraits created between 2016 and 2022 and is exclusive to Seattle audiences.

The tour kicks off with a brief introduction to the exhibition and Boafo’s artistic process. This stop includes a discussion of the exhibition’s title—drawing its inspiration from W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal 1903 ethnographic study The Souls of Black Folk—and the artist’s distinct finger painting technique used to sculpt the skin of his subjects. The recording concludes with Boafo explaining what he hopes Seattle visitors will take away from experiencing his artwork.

Explore all nine stops of our smartphone tour in SAM’s galleries by scanning the QR code accompanying each of the featured works on view or listen to it on your own time on our SoundCloud. Get your tickets to see the exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum through Sunday, September 10!

Soul of Black Folks: Introduction

NARRATOR: Welcome to the Seattle Art Museum and to Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks. This is the first solo museum exhibition in the United States for Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo. The show brings together over 30 works created between 2016 and 2022. It has been guest curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah.

The title of the exhibition is inspired by the seminal ethnographic study, The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois, dating from 1903. The book was an assessment of Black life at the turn of the 20th century. Boafo’s work offers a visual equivalent for our times: it can be seen as an exploration of Black life in all its breadth of experience and emotion. The exhibition is a celebration of the humanity of Black people in 2023.

Boafo’s paintings combine skillful brushwork with finger-painting: specifically, he uses his fingers to mold and sculpt the bodies of his subjects—subjects that he refers to as ‘characters.’ We’re delighted that Boafo will be joining us throughout the tour, offering insights into his artistic process and inspiration. 

AMOAKO BOAFO: I like people to be with me through the journey of making the painting, even though they’re not in the studio space. I want people to come to the show and feel like they made the paintings with me because there is all the choices of colors and movement that you see, and you feel like you are part of the painting, or you are there when the painting was made.  I want people to have that feeling when they come.  

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Inside SAM’s World of Compelling Cloth: French Coverlet

While many of us source our coverlets—more commonly referred to today as a bedspread—from big-name companies, in 18th century France these objects were typically handwoven and dyed with meticulous precision by local artisans. They often featured intricate embroidery details that took hours to craft. In the sixth stop of our smartphone tour of Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth at SAM, we take a close look at a French coverlet from the late 18th century and explore its fabric, known as Chiné à la branche. Browse all seven stops of our free smartphone tour from the exhibition’s galleries before it closes on Monday, May 29 or in your own time here.

How was Chiné à la branche used?
European ikat fabrics were incredibly expensive to produce, which is one of the reasons Chiné à la branche is most closely associated with royalty. Marie Antoinette had a particular affinity for the fabric, having her court clothes and palace furnishings made of various Chiné à la branche designs. The more popular designs in court were soft, blurred floral patterns, which were used for everything from dresses to upholstery.

How did industrialization affect ikat?
Industrialization led to the French abandoning the slow and costly production of ikat. Rather than hand-dying individual bundles, they were able to print patterns directly onto the warp threads. The dress shown above is stylized to look like ikat, but technically does not follow the traditional ikat process.

Verbal Description of French Coverlet

This coverlet was made in the late 18th century and measures five feet, six inches tall and four feet, nine inches wide. The ikat top layer of this coverlet is made of silk and linen thread and the back is made of silk. The layers are connected by quilted embroidery. This coverlet—or, bedspread—has both the colorful print-like pattern of the weave and a textured pattern created by the quilting process that joins the ikat fabric with other layers of the piece. The backing of this bedspread is a pink silk fabric. Between the silk backing and the ikat top layer, there’s about half an inch of batting—or, filling—that would make the coverlet a more effective warming layer for a bed.

First, we’ll examine the woven pattern of the ikat, which is precise in its execution, but has an intentional blurry quality around the edges. The pattern is a repeat of vertical stripes: a powder-blue stripe about three inches wide sits next to a cream colored stripe about five inches wide. This set of stripes is repeated six times across the coverlet. Within the cream colored stripe, there’s more detail. Thin lines on both edges of the cream stripe in pale yellow, dusty rose, and black frame an abstract design of flowers.

The stems and leaves of the flowers are a soft, mossy green and run down the center of the cream stripe in alternating curved lines that are reminiscent of vines. Splashes of the same dusty rose color form the blossoms of the flowers. Both the blossoms and the stems have irregular edges that artists in France nickname ‘flambé’—or, flaming—an aesthetic that was desirable at the time. On the sides of the coverlet, there are two strips of the fabric that have been cut off and attached perpendicularly to the rest of the bedspread, making the pattern horizontal on the edges.

Now let’s focus on the quilting that joins the layers together. The quilted stitching is done in a clear thread so that the lines themselves are only visible by the indentation and texture they create on the surface of the bedspread. In the center of the piece, there is a circle surrounded by eight symmetrical petal shapes, forming a simple flower shape like a large daisy. The daisy has three rings encircling it and then diamond shapes fill up most of the coverlet until about a foot from the edges where they are boxed in. Around the diamonds, small hearts and daisies alternate in a border to the quilting.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: French Coverlet, late 18th century. Collection of David and Marita Paly. Silk, warp ikat, linen weft, quilted embroidery. 66 in. x 57 in. Marie Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria by Joseph Ducreux. 1769. Pastel on parchment. © Château de Versailles. Robe à la Française, French, 1760–70, Silk. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Inside SAM’s World of Compelling Cloth: Woman’s Robe (Mashru)

Mashru is an Arabic word meaning ‘permitted’ or ‘allowed.’ In many Islamic cultures, a mashru is a garment made of a silk-cotton blend worn my individuals of all social classes. This stop of the smartphone tour of Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth explores the history of mashru garments with additional content not found in SAM’s galleries. Learn about these garments below and see an example for yourself by visiting the exhibition at SAM’s downtown location before it closes Monday, May 29. Plus, explore all of the stops in SAM’s free verbal description tour on SoundCloud.

One ikat textile that has traveled across Asia is the satin-woven fabric known in India as mashru. This type of silk-cotton blend is called mashru. Mashru cloths were worn by men and women across the Islamic world. In some Islamic cultures, Muslims are not permitted to wear pure silk garments, so textile makers in India experimented by adding cotton into the silk weave, creating a garment that was soft and lightweight, but also acceptable to wear.

Verbal Desciption of Woman’s Robe (Mashru)

This garment is a mashru. Mashru is spelled M-A-S-H-R-U. The robe was made in Syria in the 19th century and measures five feet, six inches tall by four feet, five inches wide. The garment is made of silk and cotton thread and metallic embroidery. The robe is hung on a ‘T’ frame with the arm sleeves stretched out and the back of the garment facing the viewer. A dense pattern of stripes and arrowhead shapes defines this woman’s robe from Syria. The robe’s hem extends down to the wearer’s knees and the long sleeves reach to the wrists.

Let’s start by talking about the pattern on the outside of the garment. Long, thin vertical stripes alternate in cherry red, black, and light pink. Layering on top of these stripes are horizontal bands of white arrowhead shapes which create a complex illusion of depth. By contrast, the inside of the robe is lined with a soft cream white cotton. The inside of the sleeves are decorated with a cotton ikat cloth with blue and white stripes.

Now, let’s focus on the structure of the robe. The body of the robe is made three vertical panels of fabric—roughly equal in size—that hang down separate from one another so you can imagine how they might sway and twirl as the wearer moved about. To join these panels together and close up the robe, the wearer would fasten a series of balls and loops found along the edge of each panel which is scalloped with reprieving triangle patterns. As we zoom into that edge, notice how metallic thread is embroidered into decorative designs, adding weight and stiffness.

The rest of the robe is thin and lightweight; the surface is silky smooth. This comes from the blend of fibers used here: silk for the warp threads—which run vertically—and cotton for the weft threads which run horizontally. This type of silk-cotton blend is called a mashru, an Arabic word meaning permitted or allowed. Mashru cloths were worn by men and women across the Islamic world. In some Islamic cultures, Muslims are not permitted to wear pure silk garments so textile makers in India experimented by adding cotton into the silk weave, creating a garment that was soft and lightweight, but also acceptable to wear.

– Lily Hansen, Marketing Content Creator

Photos: Mushruu (woman’s Ottoman robe), 19th century, Silk Road (garment made in Ottoman world; ikat cloth possibly Syrian), silk warp ikat and cotton weft, metallic embroidery, 53 x 66 in., Collection of David and Marita Paly. Traditional Mashru Weaving in Gujurat, India.

Inside SAM’s World of Compelling Cloth: Chief’s Poncho

This stop on SAM’s smartphone tour of Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth explores an indigo and cream poncho created by the Mapuche people of Chile in the late 19th century. It includes photos and text not found in the exhibition’s galleries as well as a verbal description of the textile intended for visitors with low to no vision, or anyone interested in taking a closer look at the artworks.

Scroll below to learn about Chile’s Mapuche people, the connection between weaving and land rights, the significance of stepped crosses on Mapuche textiles, and a thorough explanation of one particular poncho on view in SAM’s galleries. You can explore all seven stops of the exhibition’s smartphone tour and thirteen available verbal descriptions while visiting SAM or on your own time. And don’t forget: Ikat is on view at SAM’s downtown location through Monday, May 29—don’t miss it, get your tickets today!

Who are the Mapuche?

The Mapuche are the largest group of indigenous people in Chile and make up about 9% of the country’s population. Mapuche culture has existed in Southern Chile and Southwestern Argentina since 500 BC, but the current relationship between the Mapuche and the Chilean State is fraught. The government has stripped away land rights from the indigenous groups, and has met protests with a variety of human rights abuses.

How are land rights and weaving connected?

As the Mapuche people lose their land, they also lose access to the raw materials used in traditional crafts, such as weaving. Indigenous forests are being cut down and replaced with more profitable logging materials, like eucalyptus and pine. Many of the indigenous species being destroyed are used by the Mapuche for dying wool, creating drums, and even in medicines.

What is a Stepped Cross?

A stepped cross, also known as a gemil, or chief’s mantle, is a design featured frequently in Mapuche weaving. It represents the art of handcrafting, science, and knowledge. A poncho with these bold geometric patterns and deep indigo hue would be worn by a distinguished leader in the community. The deep, almost black, indigo color indicates the “celestial vault”. On a man’s garment, this signifies the wearer is accomplished beyond the parameters of humanity.

Verbal Description of Mapuche Poncho

Woven in Chile by the Mapuche people in the late 19th century, made of sheep’s wool and dyed with indigo. It is four feet and ten inches tall by four feet and eleven inches wide. This poncho is made by the Mapuche, which is the largest group of Indigenous people in Chile. It would be worn by a chieftain, a mature man of elevated position in their community. Lying flat, the poncho is a square shape. There is a vertical slit in the middle of the square meant for a person’s head to fit through. When worn, the front and back sides of the poncho hit just below the waist of an average sized man. The poncho appears to be black and white, but upon closer inspection, the colors are the deepest shade of indigo and a warm beige. The indigo hue was achieved from months of dyeing and oxidation, creating a color so rich and intense it seems almost darker than black. The pattern on the poncho is made of geometric designs of stepped crosses and lines in indigo with the surrounding space being a warm cream color. Nine equidistant vertical lines cover the poncho. Sitting on the lines are staggered stepped crosses. The stepped crosses look like pixelated diamonds, with three steps on each side. An indigo fringe sits on two edges of the poncho—what would be the front and back when worn by a person. Symmetry is a very important part of the textile. If you folded the poncho onto itself in any direction, it would create a perfect inversion every time. The poncho is made of woven Spanish merino wool; thick and rough but still pliable. When worn by a chieftain, the fabric wouldn’t simply fall flushed to its wearer, but pucker and lift as the sturdy wool tries to maintain its shape.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photos: Mapuche, late 19th century, Chile, warp ikat sheep’s wool, indigo, 58 x 59 in., Collection of David and Marita Paly. Mapuche protesters wearing traditional clothing © Negro Ramírez. Loom and weaving with “cacique’s mantle” design Nancy Epulef Barra, Mapuche, b. 1971 wood, wool yarn, vegetal dye/dyes © National Museum of the American Indian. Chief’s Mantle (Manta de Cacique) Chile, Mapuche, 20th century wool; ikat © Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Inside SAM’s World of Compelling Cloth: Agbada

Not all of the stops on SAM’s smartphone tour of Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth feature artist interviews and other audio content. Some stops, such as this one focused on a traditional Yoruba agbada, offers additional exhibition information via pictures and text accompanied by a verbal description of the artwork on view. Look below to learn about the importance of these traditional men’s tunics and how they’re made. Browse through all seven stops of the exhibition’s free smartphone tour and listen to its thirteen available verbal descriptions now, then purchase your tickets to see the exhibition at SAM’s downtown location before it closes on Monday, May 29.

What is an Abgada?
An agbada is a long, flowing robe with wide sleeves worn by men in some parts of West Africa, often decorated with embroidery. Traditionally, agbada were prestigious garments associated with royalty. These days, agbada are more common with a wide variety of styles to fit the occasion.

What is Aso-Oke?

Agbada are traditionally made from Aso-Oke fabric, which is a hand-loomed cotton cloth of the Yoruba people in Nigeria. The style of Aso-Oke fabric featured on the garment in this gallery is known as ‘Etu,’ which is made to imitate the striped blue and white colors of the Guinea Fowl for which it is named.

Verbal Description of Agbada

This garment is called an agbada—spelled A-G-B-A-D-A—which is the Yoruba word for a men’s tunic. This garment dates from the early 20th century. The garment is exceptionally oversized to create a strong impression, as it measures four and a half feet tall by five feet wide. The agbada is Aso-Oke strip-woven, which is a Yoruba term that specifically describes this type of handwoven cloth, which incorporates cotton, ikat, and cotton hand-embroidery. The base fabric in this garment is a dark blue cotton, resembling denim. Layering over the blue cotton are thinner strips that gradually shift from red to white. The stripes are vertical on the bodice of the garment, but horizontal on the sleeves. At the center of the garment, are two pockets for resting your hands, like the pockets on a hoodie. Along the neckline, adorning the front of the agbada, around the frontal pockets, is intricate white embroidery. If you look closely at the embroidery, you can see where the red stripes have bled onto the white thread, turning them light pink. The neckline’s embroidery appears as point-side down adjacent triangles that give the impression of a lacey necklace. The embroidery on the front consists of eleven rounded medallion-like shapes that form a symmetrical grouping around the pockets. The medallions are about the size of a fist and their shapes resemble chain links. The embroidery around the pockets is similar to the neckline with lacey pointed bands encircling the pocket openings.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photos: Agbada (tunic) and pants, mid-20th century, Africa (Yoruba), cotton, tunic: 47 x 88 in., pants: 36 x 32 in., Collection of David and Marita Paly. Ori of Otun, photograph by William Buller Fagg. Nigeria, 1949-1950. Royal Anthropological Institute London. © RAI. A late C19th image of an aso oke weaver, one of the earliest known photos of aso oke production. Photographer unknown, courtesy Foreign & Commonwealth Office Archive, London.

Inside SAM’s World of Compelling Cloth: Rowland Ricketts on Zurashi

As part of Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth at SAM, exhibition curator Pam McClusky commissioned textile artist Rowland Ricketts and weaver Chinami Ricketts to create a site-specific installation showcasing the importance of ikat as a living tradition and the repetitive nature of its creation. Their large-scale immersive installation, titled Zurashi/Slipped, welcomes visitors to the exhibition’s galleries with an indigo wave of threads that flow from floor to ceiling.

Listen to the recording above to hear directly from Rowland about the process of creating Zurashi/Slipped and what he hopes visitors get out of their hand-woven work. Then, explore all seven stops of the exhibition’s free audio tour on our SoundCloud and reserve your tickets to see the exhibition before it closes on Monday, May 29.

Rowland Ricketts on Zurashi/Slipped

One thing that I hope [with this installation, is for] people to viscerally experience ikat. This installation is made up of some 6000 odd lines hanging down with patterns on them and it’s very repetitive, as Chinami has said. Even making the work was a very repetitive [process] as we were measuring the same things over and over, binding the same things over and over, and dyeing the same things over and over. But there is a really powerful accumulation in this work and through its process that is really a foundation for all the works in the exhibit, right? All things made with ikat do have this repetitive nature of binding and dying and unbinding and weaving, so I think I I hope that that’s palpable to people.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Inside SAM’s World of Compelling Cloth: How Ikat is Made

By now, you’ve likely seen or heard the word ‘ikat.’ From advertisements on the side of King County Metro buses to the gorgeous graphic gracing SAM’s lightbox in downtown Seattle, the word is everywhere. But what is an ‘ikat’ and how is it made? In this first stop as part of the smartphone tour of Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth at SAM, Ramzy Lakos, the museum’s educator for digital learning, gives an overview of this time-honored textile and lays out the many intricate steps necessary in creating an authentic ikat.

Listen to the recording above to familiarize yourself with the subject at the focus of this limited-run exhibition at SAM and explore all seven stops of the exhibition’s free audio tour on our SoundCloud.

How to Make an Ikat

RAMZY LAKOS: Let’s talk about how ikat textiles are made. Techniques, materials, and tools vary all over the world, but we’ll cover some of the basic details in this audio stop.

The process that defines ikat textiles is known as resist dyeing, which requires binding threads  with a material that repels liquid dye. Traditionally, materials like palm and banana fiber were used to bind the thread, but plastic is [becoming] increasingly common. After they are tied off, the bundles of thread are submerged in liquid dye. Those areas that are tied off will remain the color of the original thread, and the exposed patches of thread slowly take on the new color. The longer the threads soak in the dye, the deeper and more vibrant the final result. By tying off different sections of thread for each new color, the dyer can create increasingly complex multicolored patterns. 

Dyes are traditionally made using organic materials. A few examples include indigo leaves, ginger root, onion and pomegranate skins, and cochineal insects. However, synthetic dyes have been popular since the late 19th century. 

After the dyeing process is complete, the weaving process begins. To create a textile, a weaver takes the dyed threads and stretches them over a frame called a loom. The threads stretched over the loom are known as the warp. To create a solid cloth, the weaver passes a thread side to side, over and under the taught warp threads—this is known as the weft. At this stage, the weaver takes care to match each thread to the next so the design lines up correctly. 

There are a few kinds of ikat. The most common is known as a single warp ikat, where only the vertical threads are resist-dyed. Less common and more challenging is single weft ikat, where the horizontal threads are resist-dyed. The final and most complex category is double ikat, where both the warp and the weft threads are resist dyed, so two different designs have to be lined up on the loom. 

The visual signature of an ikat is a movement at the edges of a design that result from the slight shifts of individual yarns during the dyeing and weaving process.  All over the world, there are regions where ikat was discovered and cultivated as a unique way to embed images in cloth. 

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: L. Fried.

Alberto Giacometti: Head of a Man in Profile

Although Alberto Giacometti is most often remembered for his towering statues and landscape paintings, the artist began every new project with a sketch. Preferring either a ballpoint pen or pencil, he referred to the act of drawing as the “basis” for all of his artworks.

In Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure—the extensive retrospective which shares its name with the ongoing special exhibition at SAM and is available for purchase at SAM Shop—contributing writer Catherine Grenier writes of Giacometti: “The numerous drawings he made of the same motif show the simplification he carried out in his sculptures… In many of them, the natural movement, the inclination of the body, the folding of the leg show that they are drawings made while looking at scenes in the street” (33).

Guided by SAM Museum Educator Lauren Kent, this audio recording from SAM’s smartphone tour Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure guides visitors in a close-looking activity at one of Giacometti’s sketches, Head of a Man in Profile. Visit SAM’s downtown location through Sunday, October 9 to experience Toward the Ultimate Figure and listen to all seven stops in the audio tour.

Head of a Man in Profile, ca. 1959

NARRATOR: Giacometti once said that ‘drawing is the basis for everything’. Here’s SAM educator Lauren Kent on Head of a Man, a lively portrait in ballpoint pen.

MUSEUM EDUCATOR LAUREN KENT: Take a moment to stand in front of this drawing and take it in with your eyes. Zoom in to notice the details of the lines and marks on the paper. Let yourself get lost in these details. Then, zoom out to notice how it all comes together. Take out your finger to draw in the air. Find a starting point and trace the path of the lines that you see. Experiment with moving very slowly, like an ant walking along its path (voice slows down). Now, speed up and move quickly, chasing everywhere Giacometti drew with his ballpoint pen.

What shapes, angles, and movements does your finger make? Which areas do you return to and repeat over and over again? Which areas don’t you touch at all?

How do you think Giacometti was feeling when he made this drawing? What was the energy in the studio like? Do you think that he knew this model? What do you see that makes you say that?

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Head of a Man in Profile, ca. 1959, Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, 1901–1966, blue ballpoint pen on paper, 65 × 19.3 cm, Fondation Giacometti, © Succession Alberto Giacometti / ADAGP, Paris, 2022.

Alberto Giacometti: Walking Man I & Tall Woman IV

In 1958, Alberto Giacometti was invited to compete for a public artwork for the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. Envisioning three outdoor sculptures including a Large Head, a Tall Woman, and a Walking Man, Giacometti set out to make them in plaster. After a year of several attempts—three versions of Walking Man, four of Tall Woman, and two of Large Head—Giacometti abandoned the commission due to his dissatisfaction with the results.

Discussing the abandoned project, Giacometti was quoted as saying, “I can see they are a failure, or rather, not fully achieved—they are all wide off the mark in a big way.” Despite the artist’s self-assessment, the sculptures were soon celebrated as some of his most iconic works.

In SAM’s ongoing exhibition, Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, Giacometti’s initial vision for the plaza is recreated with Walking Man I, Tall Woman IV, and the addition of Dog (Le Chien) (1951). In this audio recording, SAM Educator Yaoyao Liu guides visitors through a close-looking exercise of the two towering artworks Giacometti envisioned for the Chase Manhattan Plaza. Listen to all seven stops of the smartphone tour when you visit Toward the Ultimate Figure at SAM’s downtown location through October 9.

Walking Man I (1960) & Tall Woman IV (1960)

NARRATOR: Commissioned together in 1958, Walking Man I and Tall Woman IV were intended as outdoor sculptures for New York City’s Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza. Though the sculptures were never delivered, this initial context can help us think about how they relate to one another. Here’s SAM Educator Yaoyao Liu to guide you in a close looking exercise.

YAOYAO LIU: In the gallery, take time to move slowly around each sculpture, taking in details such as color, texture, and form. Then move back and view the two sculptures as a pair. What did you notice looking up close at each one, then seeing both at the same time? Where do you see connections between these two sculptures? And where do you see differences?

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: L. Fried.

Alberto Giacometti: Man with a Windbreaker

In Alberto Giacometti’s never-ending pursuit of a new vision of the human form, the artist often turned to nature for inspiration. Many of his early artworks—most notably in his paintings and sketches—focused on the dynamic landscapes of his upbringing in Stampa, Switzerland. This motif remained as his career progressed, yet his exploration with nature and man’s relationship to it was explored in new ways.

With its tiny head perched on an oversized mound, of which only the figure’s arms can be identified, Man with a Windbreaker (1953) is one of Giacometti’s sculptures which best demonstrates his evolving relationship to nature. While he experimented with scale, texture, and perspective in nearly all of his artworks during this artistic period, this sculpture stands out for its evocation of a geological concretion, with some scholars going so far as to call it a stalagmite.

In this audio recording, SAM Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama discusses Man with a Windbreaker, comparing the rough texture of the mound to a “rocky mountainside.” Tune in to this, and seven other audio recordings which accompany artworks on view in Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, when you visit the exhibition at SAM’s downtown location through October 9.

Man with a Windbreaker, 1953

NARRATOR: Giacometti’s experimentations with scale and texture come to the fore in Man with a Windbreaker. Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama:

ERIKA KATAYAMA: At this point in his career, Giacometti is constantly manipulating perspective and scale as a means for him to capture his vision of the human figure. Notice the dramatic contrast of proportion in this sculpture. The tiny head sits atop a large, almost mountainous body. The rough texture of his clothes reminds me of a rocky mountainside. As a viewer, this gives us the illusion that the body of the man is close to us, looming large, whereas the tiny head is far away.

VOICE OF GIACOMETTI: For me, any deformation is entirely involuntary. I simply try to recreate what I see. My struggle is to grasp and possess an appearance that constantly escapes me. I try to express what I see, but unfortunately I never manage to make something that truly resembles it.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Man with a Windbreaker, 1953, Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, 1901–1966, bronze, 50 × 28.6 × 22.5 cm, Fondation Giacometti, © Succession Alberto Giacometti / ADAGP, Paris, 2022.

Alberto Giacometti: The Cage

In both his paintings and sculptures, Alberto Giacometti used the architectural device of a cage to surround and outline specific constraints for his artistic vision. While Giacometti used a physical frame to demarcate the borders of his paintings, in his sculptures, the artist built physical cages in which to constrain his artworks. First utilized in Cage (1930–31) and Suspended Ball (1930–31), Giacometti returned to the idea of the enclosure as a framing device nearly twenty years later as he began to think more deeply about the self-referential interior of the sculpture compared to its surroundings.

The Cage, First Version is reminiscent of a display case. The upper portion presents a figure and a bast as if laid out in a vitrine. The standing figure is not proportional to the considerably larger head, thus disrupting a reading of these figures within a conventional perspectival space. Placed at the outer edge, the standing figure holds on to the armature that marks the perimeter, looking out beyond. The cage, just as the figures themselves, are composed of the same nubby bronze texture that Giacometti is often recognized for.

Listen to the audio recording above to hear SAM Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama discuss Giacometti’s continuous use of cages, frames, and proportionality throughout his artistic career. All eight audio recordings—produced by the Seattle Art Museum as part of the free smartphone tour of Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure—can be found by scanning the QR codes accompanying selected artworks on view in the exhibition through October 9.

The Cage, First Version, 1949–50

NARRATOR: Giacometti uses cages and frames as a way to further explore the relationship between the viewer and the object, the sculpture and its surroundings. Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama:

ERIKA KATAYAMA: The cage functions both symbolically and psychologically in this work, forming a space which encloses the subjects within. And as a viewer, we see the standing figure and the oversized head, which are not in correct proportion to each other, yet they both exist within the bounds of the cage—and so we have to consider them in relation to one another.

NARRATOR: How does the cage shape how you view this piece? Try imagining it without the cage, what changes?

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: The Cage, First Version, 1949–50, Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, 1901–1966, bronze, 90.5 × 36.5 × 34 cm, Fondation Giacometti, © Succession Alberto Giacometti / ADAGP, Paris, 2022.

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