Object of the Week: Summer Evening & Woman in Summer Attire

As another breathtaking Seattle summer quickly approaches, our craving for freedom, both from the chilly Pacific Northwest damp and from the seemingly endless shadow of the pandemic, grows ever more desperate.

In this state, we can easily empathize with the two women portrayed in Uemura Shoen’s Summer Evening and Kajiwara Hisako’s Woman in Summer Attire, both painted in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Each of the two works might at first glance be identified within the tradition of bijinga (美人画), a term used to describe idealized images of beautiful women which emerged in the mid-Edo period (around 1603-1868). However, though Shoen and Hisako were both trained in the bijinga genre in Kyoto, they were motivated to resist its conventions by the desire to represent thoroughly modern women. Their subjects have complexity and agency; they demand more than what social convention has prescribed for them, and long for liberation from the domestic interior that confines them.

In Summer Evening, Uemura Shoen (1875-1949) depicts an elegantly dressed young woman whose back is turned to the viewer as she looks out from a covered balcony. In her left hand she holds a paper fan, and the loosely tied, gold-accented sash, subtle bird motif in the kimono’s patterning, and basket weave on the hem suggest the refinement of a geisha. The diagonal lines in the drapery of her kimono indicate motion, and we sense that though she may be paused in observation, the cessation of movement will be brief. We have no way of knowing whether she is awaiting a guest, enjoying the moonrise, or looking longingly after one who has just departed. This ambiguity leaves us wondering, and enhances the appeal of the image.

Kajiwara Hisako (1896-1988) was well known for her unpretentious paintings of working class or professional women, and this work is considered one of the most evocative examples of her distinctive approach. In Woman in Summer Attire, the sitter actively meets the viewer’s eyes rather than passively looking away. She pierces us with a stare that at once reflects a sense of boredom and defiance; her ambiguous expression leaves this work open to a variety of interpretations.

Shoen and Hisako blended traditional media and format with modern themes in their artistic practice at a time when Japan was undergoing rapid industrialization and globalization in response to invasive influence from the West. These and other works by Shoen and Hisako stand out amongst those of their contemporaries because they not only resist the male gaze, but are in fact crafted in the female gaze. There is an overwhelming feeling of anticipation, even impatience, in the women they portray.

Tori Champion, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art

Images: Summer Evening, ca. 1900, Uemura Shoen, color on silk, 84 7/16 x 24 1/2 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2009.70.11. Woman in Summer Attire, 1921, Kajiwara Hisako, ink and color on silk, 79 5/8 x 22 3/4 in., Gift of Laura Elizabeth Ingham in honor of Amalia Partridge Ingham, 94.149

Masterpiece Moments: Five Beautiful Women by Hokusai

Did you know that you can experience art by the famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai at the Seattle Asian Art Museum? Learn all about Hokusai’s Five Beautiful Women, guided by Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO Amada Cruz. A household name in Japan and known widely worldwide, Hokusai is well regarded for his iconic prints of the Great Wave and Red Fuji. Hokusai enjoyed a prolific 70 year career, during which he created an estimated tens of thousands of woodblock prints. His creative energy and genius can also be found in his paintings, which unlike prints, were not produced in multiples and are more rare, such as this work in our collection.

SAM was selected to participate in the Bank of America ‘Masterpiece Moment’ program—a new series of videos that showcase works of art in the collections of 25 museum partners across the United States. For more than three decades, Bank of America has generously supported a variety of programs at SAM. The Art Conservation program is one major initiative that most recently helped restore Alexander Calder’s The Eagle at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Additionally, the Museums on Us program supports SAM’s ongoing operations and gives their cardholders special access to SAM.

Painted in 1810, Five Beautiful Women features women of different social backgrounds in an intriguing hierarchy and differentiated by their clothing. The garments and accessories prompt us to consider clothing and its relationship to our identity. At the top, a woman in a kimono decorated with an iris design and lavish obi sash is from a high-ranking warrior family. Below her, a young woman from a wealthy merchant family wears a shibori tie-dyed kimono and is practicing flower arrangement. In a black kimono with floral designs and butterfly-shaped hat, the woman in the middle is a lady-in-waiting in the residence of a shogun or daimyo, a Japanese feudal lord. A high-class courtesan, identified by her front-tied obi with a peacock feather pattern, is below her. Anchoring the work is a women in a simple brown kimono wearing a checkered obi sash and she reclines on the floor reading a book. Some scholars suggest she is a widow because of her plucked eyebrows and somber colored robes.

Bank of America recognizes the power of the arts to help economies thrive, educate and enrich societies, and create greater cultural understanding. The Masterpiece Moment program was launched to both celebrate great works of art and provide critical funding for museums across the country, including SAM, during a very difficult time. We are deeply grateful to Bank of America for their incredible support of SAM. Learn more about this wonderful Hokusai work in SAM’s collection by visiting the Masterpiece Moment website. New videos are released every other Monday, and we hope you’ll follow along!

Object of the Week: Essence of Spring, Chevreuse Valley

Born Jean Baptiste Armand Guillaumin, Armand Guillaumin was born in Paris, France, to a working-class family in 1841. And while he might not have achieved the same level of recognition as his contemporaries Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, or Camille Pissarro, Guillaumin was embedded in this important circle of Impressionist artists.

Guillaumin’s youth was spent in central France, where he studied art locally. After moving to Paris at the age of sixteen, he continued his education by attending evening drawing classes after working shifts at his uncle’s clothing store. In 1861, he enrolled at the Académie Suisse, further supporting himself through employment at the Paris-Orléans railway and, later, Paris’s Department of Roads and Bridges.[1]

For Guillaumin, his interest in the ephemerality of light and color connected him with his fellow classmates Cézanne and Pissarro, who would become lifelong friends. His work was included in the famous 1863 Salon des Refusés—a “historical launching pad”and, a decade later, the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874.[2]

During this formative period, Guillaumin’s mode of employ and proximity to the French railway system allowed him to travel (albeit locally) and explore the quickly industrializing landscape. Interestingly, many scholars also believe his financial situation and full-time employment impacted the time he could devote to his artistic career. Still, given his background and preoccupations as a member of the Impressionist circle, Guillaumin was committed to depicting working class scenes, landscapesoften with modern infrastructure such as bridges or viaductsand the changing environment on the outskirts of Paris.

The mid-1880s are understood as a turning point for the artist, as he started focusing primarily on color. For this reason, he is often positioned as a bridge between Impressionism and Fauvism.[3] His painting Essence of Spring, Chevreuse Valley, ca. 1885, is one such painting, depicting an idyllic countryside with rolling forested hills and a gentle pastel-colored sky.

Lyrical sections of bold, saturated colorwhere forest abuts grassare interspersed with flowering cherry trees and, behind them, small cottages and homes. Unlike some of Guillaumin’s other paintings from this period, where the encroaching and expanding reach of Paris looms like a specter (this might resonate for those reading here in Seattle), the Chevreuse Valley’s transition into springits atmospheric effects and energytakes center stage.

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate


[1] Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, “Armand Guillaumin,” https://art.famsf.org/armand-guillaumin. Selected bibliography: Gray, Christopher. Armand Guillaumin (Chester, Connecticut: Pequot Press, 1972); Rewald, John. History of Impressionism (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973).

[2] Pissarro, Joachim. Pioneering Modern Painting: Cézanne and Pissarro 1865–1885 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2005), 28.

[3] Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, “Armand Guillaumin.”

Image: Essence of Spring, Chevreuse Valley, ca. 1885, Jean Baptiste Armand Guillaumin, oil on canvas, 26 x 48 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Philip E. Renshaw, 67.147

Object of the Week: Loser + Clark

“I’m making landscapes that I can live in through an ongoing definition of contemporary life and art. Not about America, but from America.”

– Brad Kahlhamer

It is a painting that, for many SAM staff, is one of the first and last artworks seen during a given workday—a painting embedded in the daily commute from the staff entrance to various offices. And, having worked from home for a majority of the past year, it is both a ritual and an artwork deeply missed.

The painting, titled Loser + Clark, is by artist Brad Kahlhamer. Completed in 1999, the work was featured in a solo exhibition at Deitch Projects, New York, that same year. Its size—84 x 120 inches—is large. The paint, applied in “brushy, sinewy networks,” is set against a white ground.[1] The artist’s light washes of color form an abstracted landscape, upon which shapes and forms are scattered, almost floating: “animals, figures in canoes, wobbly Happy Faces, skyscraper-like stacks of music amplifiers, scrawled phrases, portraits and self-portraits.”[2] Loser + Clark,[3] like other works included in the 1999 exhibition, ironically titled Friendly Frontier, came out of a then-recent trip Kahlhamer had made to Montana and the Dakotas—a trip taken to deeper explore and experience the history and mythology of the American landscape.[4] 

Kahlhamer was born in Tucson in 1956 to Native parents, and adopted by German-American parents as an infant. Raised between Arizona and Wisconsin, and later living in New York City as an adult, the artist considers his upbringing a nomadic one.[5] Relatedly, his paintings function as what he calls a “third place”: “distinct from the ‘first place’ of his Native American heritage, and the ‘second place’ of his . . . upbringing with his adoptive parents”—a way to express and understand two different realities.[6] Viewing both himself and his artwork as “tribally ambiguous,” Kahlhamer embraces notions of cultural hybridity to produce a vision of America that is uniquely his own.[7] 

The artist’s biography informs the mythology of his work, which is infused with rich symbolism. Red, white, and blue, for example, represent Kahlhamer’s version of the American flag, “constructed out of sky, water, and the American earth.” Color, too, holds meaning: the color black is the East, and his towers of black amplifiers signify skyscrapers and urban development; “blue [is] for the sky, the wind, and velocity. Browns and reds [are] for the earth and for flesh. Yellow [is] for understanding. Transparency and openness [are] about possibility.[8] 

For the artist’s 2019 exhibition at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, A Nation of One, Kahlhamer’s notion of the “third place” was presented as a space that is at once a site of singularity and isolation, as well as unification. And while the term means something very specific within the context of Kahlhamer’s life and work, isolation and unity have certainly been ever-present themes this past year. But even more than that, the painting offers space to reflect on what America is—real and imagined—and what it might mean to be American. It is also a vital reminder, every day, that we are on Indigenous land.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate

[1] Holland Cotter, “Art in Review: Brad Kahlhamer,” The New York Times, Oct. 29, 1999, www.nytimes.com/1999/10/29/arts/art-in-review-brad-kahlhamer.html
[2] Ibid
[3] The title Loser + Clark is no doubt meant to skewer the mythologizing of Lewis and Clark’s exploration and the colonial project of Western expansion more broadly.
[4] Meghan Dailey, “Brad Kahlhamer: Deitch Projects,” Artforum, 1999, www.artforum.com/print/reviews/200001/brad-kahlhamer-237
[5]  For a wonderful in-depth conversation with the artist, see Kahlhamer’s interview with Susan Harris from the Brooklyn Rail: www.brooklynrail.org/2020/12/art/BRAD-KAHLHAMER-with-Susan-Harris
[6] “Brad Kahlhamer: Friendly Frontier,” Deitch Projects, www.deitch.com/archive/deitch-projects/exhibitions/friendly-frontier
[7] Brad Kahlhamer, “About,” www.bradkahlhamer.net/about
[8] Deitch Projects, www.deitch.com/archive/deitch-projects/exhibitions/friendly-frontier.
Image: Loser + Clark, 1999, Brad Kahlhamer, oil on canvas, 84 x 120 in., Gift of the ContemporaryArtProject, Seattle, 2002.25 © Brad Kahlhamer

Object of the Week: The Lost Boys

Artist Andy Warhol said, “Everybody has their own America, and then they have the pieces of a fantasy America that they think is out there, but they can’t see…” Before getting started, it’s important to acknowledge the America that I live in: I am a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied woman who was born in the northeast United States during the 1980s. I am looking at a work of art created by Kerry James Marshall: a Black, cis-gendered, able-bodied man who was born in the segregated South during the 1950s. Both Marshall and I are artists and educators, but sadly I don’t have a MacArthur Genius Award or paintings in any major museums. I’ll be approaching this work of art using my own lens and the same facilitation strategy I use for my (now virtual) tours of SAM’s collection: Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS).[1] VTS is used to spark dialogue and empower people to approach a work of art using their own observations and experiences, asking three simple questions. I encourage you to follow along and ask yourself these questions, noticing where our backgrounds may overlap or differ.

The first question of VTS is, “What’s going on in this picture?” This is a portrait of a young boy––his skin is a rich, dark black matte, and his features are defined by white outlines. He has heavy-lidded, almost tired eyes and his mouth is neutral, conveying an expression that is difficult to read. Radiating outward from his head are straight thin lines, evocative of a halo. The background is divided horizontally: the bottom third is a golden color, almost a desert landscape; the top is a deep blue overlaid with white shapes, bringing to mind a sky with clouds, though closer inspection reveals that the organic shapes are actually white roses. The paint looks to be hastily applied, as evidenced by the drip down the forehead of the young man. The drip, although white, mimics blood, similar to depictions of Christ or another martyr and links this to religious iconography.

The next question, “What do you see that makes you say that?” challenges our assumptions and biases. As we conclude Black History Month after a year of increased visibility in mainstream media of the racial inequities for Black Americans, I’ve seen myself get caught up in the imagery of Black trauma, recounting video and photos of the brutal murders of Brianna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Aubrey. I start to wonder if calling this Black figure a martyr is Marshall’s intention, or my own prejudice? Marshall’s own words confirm that I need to dig deeper: “I paint things I care about. It would have been easy to represent these places (and situations) as zones of hopelessness and despair, but I know they’re more complex than that.” 

As I read the label, the curatorial voice chimes in and indicates that Marshall is memorializing Black boys who have lost their lives, stating that the leading cause of death for young, Black men is homicide. In fact, when comparing statistics among racial groups, Black youth (0-18 years old) are seven times more likely to die by homicide than white youth.[2] As an educator, I also can’t help but think about the school-to-prison pipeline and the fact that Black students are three and half times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled, and that Black youth disproportionately make up those youth incarcerated in juvenile detention centers.[3]

The final question is, “What more can we find?” The language here is intentional—creating meaning is a generative process. This is where, if I were actually speaking to people, I would hear different perspectives and my understanding of a work would evolve. However, when at home, I take this question as an invitation to start researching. After procrastinating on this blog post, watching hours of interviews with Marshall, I was especially struck by one quote by the artist: “If you’re constantly being reminded of the ways in which your history and your narrative as a people were rooted in loss and decay, then you’re in deep trouble. Once you make a certain kind of peace with the past, then you should be completely oriented towards speculation about the future.”[4]

I challenge my initial response to this work. I start to see glimmers of hope in the white roses— symbols of youth, innocence, and new beginnings. I begin to unpack the ways that this painting may embody Afrofuturism, the cultural movement that explores the intersection of the African diaspora with technology, science, and liberation. A few Google searches quickly link the Eurocentric religious iconography that I saw in my art history classes to contemporary icons such as Solange Knowles’s appearance on SNL

In asking, “What more can we find?” we open ourselves up to dialogue and start to imagine a different world, a different America––maybe one that’s fantasy, or maybe one that could be our reality? Marshall’s work gives me hope and I’m reminded of the contemporary author and educator bell hooks’s words, The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is––it’s to imagine what is possible.”

– Kelsey Donahue, SAM Assistant Manager for Gallery Learning

[1] “Visual Thinking Strategies,” www.vtshome.org
[2] “Health Equity: Leading Causes of Death – Males – United States, 2017,” Center for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/healthequity/lcod/men/2017/index.html
[3] “Our Demands,” Black Lives Matter, Seattle, blacklivesseattle.org/our-demands.
[4] “Kerry James Marshall,” Art21, art21.org/artist/kerry-james-marshall.
Image: The Lost Boys (A.K.A. Untitled), 1993, Kerry James Marshall, collage of acrylic on paper, 28 x 30 in., Gift of the Collectors’ Forum, 97.32 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

Lunchtime Artist Spotlight: Kristen Ramirez

Take a lunch break for a conversation and some art making with Kristen Ramirez, a Seattle-based interdisciplinary artist. Ramirez toggles between many media and practices and tends to use hard-edge geometric forms in her large-scale murals and public works. Ramirez’s work has a clear visual connection to artists like Anne Truit, Frank Stella, and Kenneth Noland, featured in SAM’s collections.

Want to make art with Kristen? Be ready with a piece of paper, blue tape (aka painters tape), and some mark-making tools (like markers, paint, or crayons). If you have scrap wood and old house paint, all the better.

About the artist

Ramirez is also an educator and arts administrator, championing aspiring artists and established artists alike. Ramirez has taught at the University of Washington, Edmonds Community College, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Path with Art, and Cornish College of the Arts. She currently manages public art projects for the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture and Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT).

SAM Performs: Cross Section Dances

“Moving images
When you stare at something for a while it starts to move.
When you focus/think on it long enough it will move you.” 

– Michele Dooley

Action painting is akin to an artist dancing around their canvas. In this video Michele Dooley, Nia-Amina Minor, and Amanda Morgan, three Seattle-based contemporary dance artists, reinterpret Franz Kline’s movements in Cross Section.

Cross Section came into SAM’s collection earlier this year as part of a gift made to the Seattle Art Museum from the Wright Collection in honor of the museum’s 75th Anniversary. Though it’s been on view before, it’s inclusion in City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped a New Seattle marks it’s debut as part of our Modern and Contemporary Collection. This exhibition presents 64 works, all from the Wright Collection, created between 1943–2003 that define bold and experimental art movements across the United States and Europe. City of Tomorrow features but a fraction of the many works that Jinny and her husband Bagley gifted to SAM over the years. Kline’s Cross Section is a striking example of the Abstract Expressionist art movement.

“There is movement present in a painter’s trace. In the remnants of each brush stroke one can sense action, physicality and gravity. What does it feel like to be a paint brush to watch and listen to it’s swipe and feel each stroke embodied. What does it feel like to move with and through a painting? In the wash of this physicality there are the inevitable left overs and spillages. That space of imperfection and slippage draws me in.” 

– Nia-Amina Minor

Like many abstract expressionist artists, Kline trained as a figurative artist but chose to work abstractly, believing that the basic elements of art—line, color, shape—could evoke a transcendent experience for a viewer. In Cross Section, thick strokes of black and white paint are layered, emphasizing movement in the composition. This work is often referred to as an example of action painting because it can be seen as a record of its making.

Though City of Tomorrow is closing on January 18, the impressive artworks in this exhibition will be on view again as part of SAM’s collection galleries—all thanks to the visionary voyage of Jinny Wright. Through her arts initiatives, donations, and fundraising, Jinny’s legacy lives not only in the art collections and institutions she helped build, but also in her staunch belief that contemporary artists define their time.

“When approaching making movement in response to this work, I immediately was drawn to how abstract it was. Only having black and white strokes leave so much room for interpretation and storytelling. I imagined I was a part of the black strokes, weaving in and out of the white portions. There’s a moment where I slowly slip my shoes off; this was improv, but I envisioned that I was leaving the black strokes to enter white strokes, intertwining them both, one not existing without the other.” 

– Amanda Morgan

Object of the Week: Leaves

Gloria Petyarre’s thirteen-foot-long canvas, Leaves, is a work that stops you in your tracks. It invokes the senses: hearing, seeing, and even feeling. The intricate, seemingly endless, white strokes evoke the movement and gentle patterns of leaves on, or fallen from, trees, the delicate movement of waist-high grass in a wind-swept field, or the long, waving fur of an animal on the move.

This feathery, leafy style that has become a common theme in Petyarre’s work was developed over decades. In the late 1970s, Petyarre came to prominence as a batik painter, before taking up painting on canvas in the late 1980s. Her use of sophisticated batik-making techniques, combined with the referencing of body markings associated with women’s ceremonies, shaped the unique forms of painting done in the Utopia area of Australia’s Northern Territory in the 1980s.[1]

In the 1990s, her work progressively increased in size and painterly precision. She began supplanting her dots and lines with elongated drop-forms in feathery layers “that move over the surfaces of her work with the velocity of wind in foliage or the fluidity of water currents.”[2]

This more painterly leaf design seems a natural progression.

“Petyarre grew up learning traditional techniques of reading the landscape to identify foods, medicinal plants, and everything else that was needed to thrive. Sitting under mulga bushes, helping the elder women prepare their seeds for small cakes, she would see the leaves swirl overhead. At the same time, she could listen to elders discussing the days when grasses and wildlife were more abundant.”[3]

Gloria Petyarre is part of an extraordinary family of women artists. Her six sisters—Kathleen, Nancy, Ada, Myrtle, Violet, and Jean—are all internationally acclaimed artists. Gloria’s niece Elizabeth Kunoth Kngwarray, and great-niece Genevieve Kemarr Loy, are well-known artists, as is her niece, Abie Loy Kamerre, whose work, Awelye “Women’s Ceremony,” is also in SAM’s collection. Petyarre’s and her artistic family’s work draws on the surroundings and rituals of their community in Utopia, in Australia’s Central Desert, Northern Territory. Gloria and her sisters had a classical education in an aboriginal world view that has survived tens of thousands of years in an arid spinifex country. Growing up, they walked across their vast estate, moved according to the principles of rotational land navigation, and honored the other species they learned from.

These Utopian women began painting to enlighten outsiders and rebel against the white cattle ranchers who took over their land. As these outsiders began moving in, they polluted water holes and demonstrated a disinterest in the features of the landscape. An inspiration to create came from recognizing that outsiders were ignorant of the depth of knowledge they had about their environment. These artists turned to painting to demonstrate how they had managed to maintain and honor their country, with all its species, foodstuffs, and medicines. They relied on a seed economy, and noticed that leaves had strong medicines to offer, with particular potency when they were falling off the trees. Petyarre’s work offers an urgent reminder of Indigenous knowledge of the landscape—what may seem like scruffy sandhills can be a utopian ideal, filled with vibrant resources that we need to learn to recognize better.[4] She created this work as a study of leaves swirling through space. With her knowledge of the medicinal properties of certain plants, “she takes it upon herself to focus attention on the moment that the leaves fly.”[5]

The next time you visit SAM, make sure to spend a few minutes with this work, you’ll see it right when you enter the museum. What senses does Leaves invoke in you?

– Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian

[1] Art Gallery of New South Wales, Gloria Tamerre Petyarre Artist Profile, https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/artists/petyarre-gloria-tamerre/, accessed December 2, 2020.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Pamela McClusky, Wally Caruana, Lisa G. Corrin, and Stephen Gilchrist, Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art: Kaplan & Levi Collection ([Seattle]: Seattle Art Museum, 2012): 114.
[4] Interview with Pamela McClusky, December 7, 2020.
[5] Pamela McClusky, “Completing the Map,” in Chiyo Ishikawa et al., A Community of Collectors: 75th Anniversary Gifts to the Seattle Art Museum (Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 2008): 76, 81.
Image: Leaves, 2002, Gloria Tamerr Petyarre, synthetic polymer paint on canvas
70 7/8 x 157 1/2 in., Gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of Virginia and Bagley Wright, and in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2012.21 ©Gloria Petyarre

Object of the Week: Map of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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