Monthly archives: October, 2020

When Words Aren’t Enough: Artists and Politics, Part I

Art often has a point of view. Artists shine a light on society’s ills, chide fellow citizens, disrupt the status quo. Think Picasso’s Guernica, Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With and Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. In honor of art’s pivotal political role, for the next three weeks, we share some pointed commentary from our artists, to contemplate in this heightened US election season. In this post, works by Danish artist Grethe Sørensen and American artist Gyöngy Laky that foreshadowed the events of this past summer — protests in the US supporting Black Lives Matter movement and criminal justice reform. 

Movement by Grethe Sørensen,  
tapestry from the arists video of a protesting the death of Eric Garner in NYC. Photo by Tom Grotta
18gs Movement, Grethe Sørensen, cotton, 89.5″ x 64″ x 1.875″, 2016, tapestry from the arists video of a protests over the death of Eric Garner in NYC. Photo by Tom Grotta

In December 2014, Grethe Sørensen was in New York working on, among other things, finding motifs that might form the basis for a site-specific tapestry (25′ x 21.25′) for a primary school in Denmark. The motif needed to illustrate movement and Sorensen’s first idea was to work with light in motion, a subject she had been very engaged in earlier works. “Our hotel was on the corner of Broadway and Canal Street,” she writes, “where we had a room on the 7th floor. When we got back to the hotel on December 13th around 6 pm, Broadway was filled with people instead of the usual cars in seven lanes. Thousands of people of all races came in an endless stream down the street shouting ‘I can’t breathe’ or ‘stay calm, don’t shoot’, carrying banners and flags, small and large signs with the words ‘I can”t breathe’. It was very moving, and we felt we were witnessing a momentous event which we as foreigners could not take part in.” Sørensen and her husband rushed back to their room and began to shoot video and take stills to document this spontaneous outpouring of citizen outrage.

Detail:  Movement, Grethe Sørensen, 2016, Photo by Tom Grotta
18gs Movement, cotton, 89.5″ x 64″ x 1.875″, 2016, $28,000 tapestry from the arists video of a protesting the death of Eric Garner in NYC

They had found themselves in the middle of the protest march against the police violence caused by the death of Eric Garner during a brutal arrest, captured on video and viewed around the world. “When I went through my material from New York,” says Sørensen, “there was no doubt, the motif from the march should form the basis for the tapestry for the school. This motif describes movement in all ways – people are moving mentally, emotionally, politically and physically – I can hardly imagine a better motif for a teaching institution.” Movement presents this motif in a smaller scale.

The death of Eric Garner also impacted Gyöngy Laky‘s work. Laky’s work often addresses current events. In June, 2014. she was working on a project involving airplanes having been invited to participate in “Airplane Show” planned for January, 2015, at b sakata garo, a gallery in Sacramento, CA.

“Airplanes!,” Laky writes. “What a great topic to contemplate.  They are elegant shapes full of history and significance, having altered human civilization in a most consequential way.  I found my imagination ranging from bird-shaped baskets to exotic flying machines that allowed us earth-bound humans to lift ourselves off the ground, fly far and near and to experience parts of the world we might otherwise never be able to visit.”

Breathe (For Eric Garner) , Gyöngy Laky, 2015  Variable size.  Stainless steel bank pins.  The smallest version is 24" x 15" x 1.75"  It can be scaled up to very large with different pins, nails or specially produced stainless steel spikes.
Breathe (For Eric Garner) , Gyöngy Laky, 2015  Variable size.  Stainless steel bank pins.  The smallest version is 24″ x 15″ x 1.75″  It can be scaled up to very large with different pins, nails or specially produced stainless steel spikes.

But contemplation did not lead to composition — at least not of an airplane, she recalls. “Nothing I thought up impressed me nor did any of my ideas awaken my interest.” Yet, an idea began to grow. “As often occurs in my art process of imagining ideas for works, words drift in my mind intertwining and mingling with imagery I visualize offering possible connotations to contemplate. The word, air began to hold such a deep, full, and reverberating meaning for me that I embraced it as my theme.  Air is essential to life and the sky belongs to all of us.” she notes. “I began to feel the blocks that were hampering my imagination slipping away.  I could breathe more easily again.  Frustration was evaporating.  I began to discover an intriguing new way of working to create the lightness and poetry the word evoked… stainless steel shimmering pins stuck directly into the wall to form the word in script.  It looked tenuous, as if it could be blown away in an instant like the wafting disappearance of contrails whispering the passing of planes overhead.”

On Thursday, July 17, 2014, Laky recalls, air became an appalling focus everywhere. Eric Garner was deprived of it in New York by a policeman’s chokehold and being held on the ground by other officers.” Garner repeated the words ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times as we watched the video over and over again on every news cycle.  It rang in my ears. The video was devastating.  

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

Air took on a new and alarming meaning and became literal as  At least 134 people have died in police custody from “asphyxia/restraint” in the past decade alone (6/25/20, USA Today), Laky observes.

As she watched what happened to a man apprehended for allegedly selling cigarettes, the police beating of Rodney King 1991, rose from her memory.  “I was born amid the violence of war on the frontlines of battle in Hungary. Though a baby then, I must still carry some of that early trauma deep down somewhere,” Laky suggests. “These murders speak to some visceral aspect of my being.” She remembered, too, that Rodney King called for an end to the violence, asking, “can we all get along?” “It is my hope,” Laky says, “that the protests and demonstrations of today that have given voice to the change that is essential for us to lead us to a better future in which we do all get along.”


Volume 50 Art Focus: The Salon Wall

In our recent exhibition, Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decadeswe featured a gallery wall with art by nine international artists from five countries.

works by Claude Vermette, Wendy Wahl, Caroline Bartlett, Toshiko Takaezu, Joyce Clear. Photo by Tom Grotta
Works by Claude Vermette, Wendy Wahl, Caroline Bartlett, Toshiko Takaezu, Joyce Seymore. Photo by Tom Grotta

Salon walls, or gallery walls as they are also called, are a favorite with designers, according to Invaluable, for a reason: they can be curated to fit an assortment of styles and work well in virtually any room. (“15 Gallery Walls to Suit Every Style,”  https://www.invaluable.com/blog/gallery-wall-ideas/utm_campaign=weeklyblog&utm_medium=email&utm_source=house&utm_content=blog092420 ) Salon walls “first became popular in France in the late 17th century,” according to the Invaluable article. “Salons across the country began displaying fine art from floor to ceiling, often because of the limited space, that encapsulated the artistic trends of the time. One of the first and most famous salon walls was displayed at the Palace of the Louvre in 1670, helping to establish the Louvre as a global destination for art.”

clockwise, from upper right: Mia Olsson, Jo Barker, Karyl Sisson, Debra Valoma, Jennifer Falck Linssen, Marian Bijlenga, Polly Barton, Åse Ljones. center: Wendy Wahl. Photo by Tom Grotta
clockwise, from upper right: Mia Olsson, Jo Barker, Karyl Sisson, Debra Valoma, Jennifer Falck Linssen, Marian Bijlenga, Polly Barton, Åse Ljones. center: Wendy Wahl. Photo by Tom Grotta

Our Volume 50 salon wall was a fitting testament to the 50 catalogs we have produced and were celebrating in this exhibition. In our 50 catalogs we have featured 172 artists from 28 countries. Our salon wall featured works by nine of those artists from five countries. Wendy Wahl creates work from pages of encyclopedias, leading readers to think about changes over the time to the way acquire information. Mia Olsson of Sweden created a work of brightly colored sisal, inspired by traditional, pleated folk costumes. We included Jo Barker’s tapestry, Cobalt Haze. People often think Barker’s lushly colored tapestries are oil paintings until they are close enough to see the meticulous detail. Lewis Knauss imagined a landscape of prayer flags in creating Prayer Mountain. For Deborah Valoma, simplicity is deceptive. The truth, she says, “scratched down in pencil, lies below the cross-hatched embellishments.” 

Jennifer Falck Linssen found inspiration in Asian ink paintings for her wall work, Mountain. The peaks in the paintings are a play of opposites: serene and forceful, solid and ethereal, strong and vulnerable. Mountain explores this duality and also the layered, often subtle, emotions of the human heart and its own dichotomy. Marian Bijlenga‘s graphic, playful work displays a fascination with patterning. This work was inspired by the geometric patterning of Korean bojagi, which is comparable to modernist paintings by such artists as Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee. In bojagi,small, colorful leftover scraps of fabrics are arranged and sewn together to construct larger artful cloths. The triple-stitched seams are iconic. This work, says the artist, specifically references the grid of these seams and the special Korean use of color. For Polly Barton, the technique of ikat serves as her paintbrush for producing contemporary works. From Norway, Åse Ljones uses a blizzard of stitches to create her works. “No stitch is ever a mistake,” she says. “A mistake is often what creates a dynamic in the work.” 

A salon wall is a great way to collect for people who are interested in different artists and different mediums. At browngrotta we’ve always suggested that clients had more wall space on which to display art — it just hadn’t been uncovered yet. We’ve created another salon wall in our non-gallery space. On it, we’ve combined oil paintings, fiber works, ceramics and photography. The wall can accommodate our continuing desire to collect — above, below and on the side.

works by Ed Rossbach. Photo by Tom Grotta
A gallery wall highlights weavings by Ed Rossbach. Photo by Tom Grotta

“A gallery wall is absolutely ideal for a small apartment, as it can give a room real interest, depth and a properly decorated feel without taking up any floor space — and thereby minimizing clutter,” Luci Douglas-Pennant, told The New York Times in 2017. Douglas-Pennant founded Etalage, with Victoria Leslie, an English company specializing in antique prints, vintage oil paintings and decorative pictures for gallery walls. “If you don’t have one large wall, gallery walls can be hung around windows, around doors, above bed heads, above and around fireplaces or even around cabinets in a kitchen.”

Three works by Sheila Hicks from our 1996 exhibition: Sheila Hicks: Joined by seven artists from Japan
Sheila Hicks introduced us to the gallery wall in an exhibition she curated at browngrotta arts in 1996, Sheila Hicks: Joined by seven artists from Japan. In that exhibition, she displayed three of her works in the space between two windows.

For works of varying sizes and shapes to get you started on your own version of a salon wall, visit browngrotta.com, where we have images of dozens of available artworks to pique your interest.


Artist Focus Volume 50: Caroline Bartlett

9cb Mnemonic by Caroline Bartlett, wooden canvas stretchers, battening, stretched linen, pigment, 16" x 52", 2003. Photo by Tom Grotta
9cb Mnemonic by Caroline Bartlett, wooden canvas stretchers, battening, stretched linen, pigment, 16″ x 52″, 2003. Photo by Tom Grotta

UK artist Caroline Bartlett is a student of textiles and assembler of experiences as much as she is a textile artist. “The historical, social and cultural associations of textiles, their significance in relation to touch and their ability to trigger memory become central to ideas,” she says. “Textiles are at the core of my practice, providing the means and materials to process and articulate ideas, but often also acting as the reference point in relation to content.” 

Detail of The Great Green Wall by Caroline Bartlett, linen/hemp, cotton, porcelain, perspex, 20” x 56” x 1”, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta
Detail of The Great Green Wall by Caroline Bartlett, linen/hemp, cotton, porcelain, perspex, 20” x 56” x 1”, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta
Finding a method

Bartlett had plans to become a 3D Designer, she told Daniel in an interview for Textileartist.orgThat intention was altered when Bartlett found her strengths lay in the 2D sphere. “Weekends were spent browsing the Victoria and Albert Museum and I discovered those wonderful pullout drawers that were in the textile section; each a total surprise.” She followed her growing interest through a BA course in printed textiles. However, it was at a time when printed textile design was carried out in flat painted gouache. “I spent my last year going partially against the prescribed grain and trying rather unsuccessfully to exploit and develop surface qualities through knitting and quilting, without being clear what it was that engaged me. Later, on the Post Graduate Textile Diploma course at Goldsmiths, I started to explore print in combination with methods of manipulation and had my answer.”

18cb Pulse by Caroline Bartlett, linen/hemp, cotton, porcelain, perspex, 43" × 108" × 1.5", 2018. Photo by Ton Grotta
18cb Pulse by Caroline Bartlett, linen/hemp, cotton, porcelain, perspex, 43″ × 108″ × 1.5″, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

As a result, imprinting, erasing and reworking, stitching, folding and unfolding became defining characteristics in her work. More recently, explorations like Pulse have also resulted in works that integrate textiles with other media such as porcelain. Pulse draws on ideas of ephemerality and the cyclical nature of growth and change. In The Great Green Wall, allusion is made is made to an African-led project proposed in 2007 and to be completed by 2030. This symbol of hope has the ambitious intention of growing a 4,000-mile natural wonder across the width of Africa from Senegal to Djibouti involving 11 countries.

20cb Meeting Point by Caroline Bartlett Mono-printed, stitched and manipulated linen, cotton threads 60” x 16.5,” 2020
20cb Meeting Point by Caroline Bartlett Mono-printed, stitched and manipulated linen, cotton threads 60” x 16.5,” 2020. Photo by Tom Grotta

No time for complacency.

For Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades Bartlett created Meeting Point. “Ideas for this piece were set in motion while walking and conversing on a coastal trail in the bright light of a sharp but sunny winter day,” she says. “I started to think about the rhythm of the walk and making a work in which two pieces were in conversation with each other. Meeting Point embodies ideas of a place and time but also alludes to coming together across a divide where paths converge, intersect, where there is difference but also similarity. A plea for our times.”

Bartlett in her studio/home in 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

Bartlett continues to challenge herself. “As age and experience expand, I find myself more aware of how I work,” she says. “I continue to actively need fresh challenges while knowing  and recognizing limitations of self and the art world in general. Again the push/ pull. No room for complacency.”


Art Assembled: New This Week in September on arttextstyle

As you may know by now, we launched our Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades exhibition in September. In celebration, we’ve highlighted some of the many talented artists that are featured in the Volume 50 exhibition, including: Neha Puri Dhir, Keiji Nio, and Sara Brennan.

Neha Puri Dhir
3npd Unseen, Neha Puri Dhirstitch-resist dyeing on hand-torn strips of handwoven silk, 45.5″ x 43.5″, 2016. Photo by Tom Grotta.

India-based artist Neha Puri Dhir has explained that she finds inspiration from her surroundings and real world experiences.

“My journey as an artist has been a quest to impart a visual language to the varied influences and interactions that have left a mark on my mind,” said Neha Puri Dhir. “Having worked closely with traditional textile craftspeople across India, the heart has always appreciated the labor of love.”

Keiji Nio
Keiji Nio 10-12kn Blue, Yellow, Red Border, nylon tape, acid dyes, 4” x 13” x 12” (each), 2004. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Japan-based artist Keiji Nio works with the traditional technique of Kumihimo, Japanese braiding. In his works he often combines both industrial and natural materials.

Sara Brennan
43sb Old Blue and Brown Bands -series I , Sara Brennan, wools, linens and silk, 14” x 35” x 1.25”, 2020. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Scotland-based artist Sara Brennan is most commonly known for her renowned tapestry work, among many other things.

When speaking about her work process, Brennan said she likes working in series, as you can push depth and boundaries.

“Small tapestries often seem to become part of an ongoing series of work,” said Sara Brennan. “They can be viewed as a whole or in isolation as individual pieces. They lend themselves to exploring, exploiting and investigating materials and ideas. My work takes its initial inspiration from landscape, responding with a very simplified and reduced use of form. It is an expression of a whole and a personal response.”

Our online portion of Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades is now live on Artsy. To view the works from these talented artists and many more, visit the following link.