Category: Art

Artist Focus: Yasuhisa Kohyama

Our artist focus this week is on Yasuhisa Kohyama.

portrait of Yasuhisa Kohyama and Wakae Nakamoto
Yasuhisa Kohyama and Wakae Nakamoto. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Yasuhisa Kohyama’’s masterly ceramics are inspired by the ancient Shigaraki, Jomon and Yayoi ceramics of Japan. Kohyama has played a significant part in reviving the use of the traditional Japanese anagama wood-firing kiln. He was the first potter in the area to build such a kiln since the Middle Ages. Using the distinctive Shigaraki clay and a wood-firing kiln, he has created modern ceramic vessels and sculpture, which are vigorous and new, but timeless in their beauty.

Kohyama shapes his asymmetrical forms using a piano string, thereby creating distinctive, rough surfaces. The clay with its nuggets of feldspar creates a tactile quality not often seen in contemporary work. No glazes are used, but the wood ash and the placement in the kiln produce an extraordinary array of colours and shading on the surface.

grouping of Yasuhisa Kohyama ceramics; wood-kiln ceramic
Yasuhisa Kohyama wood-kiln ceramics. Photo by Tom Grotta

The exhibition of the works from the first firing of the anagama kiln in 1968 created widespread interest in Kohyama’s work, with famous potters such as Shoji Hamada visiting the exhibition. Collectors and museums were quick to acquire his works, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Gardiner Museum of Art in Toronto, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Art and Craft in Hamburg and the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park in Shiga, Japan.

“Keeping a tradition alive and fresh like that is not easy for any contemporary Japanese ceramic artist. No other Shigaraki artist, in my humble opinion, does it with the flair and diversity of Kohyama,” wrote Robert Yellin in the catalog for Kohyama’s 2002 Tokyo exhibition, which was held at the Takashimaya Department Store in Tokyo. (http://www.e-yakimono.net/html/kohyama-yasuhisa.html) “His larger works, which speak of the wind, canyons, and mountains, would look equally at home in a traditional Japanese tokonoma (alcove) or a marbled penthouse in London. To have that spirit in form, whatever the size, cross borders with such ease is a testament to the integrity and vision of Kohyama. Ceramic art is indeed universal.”

Detail of Yasuhisa Kohyama
Detail of Danpen by Yasuhisa Kohyama 神山易久, 2016. Photo by Tom Grotta

Kohyama’s work is the subject of Yasuhisa Kohyama: The Art of Ceramics (Arnoldsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart, Germany), co-authored Susan Jeffries, former curator of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art in Toronto, Canada and Michael R. Cunningham, former chief curator of Asian Art at The Cleveland Museum of Art. Kohyama’s work also graces the cover of Contemporary Clay: Japanese Ceramics for the New Century by collectors Alice and Halsey North and curator Joe Earle.

48yk Sai, stimuli: character of Sai an ancient word that means container for offering to Gods, wood-kiln ceramic, 14.5″ x 13″ x 3.25″, 2011. Photo by Tom Grotta

Artist Focus: Laura Bacon

Laura Ellen Bacon is a sculptor who works in natural materials en masse. She uses dicky meadows, one of the most popular and desirable basket willows, a variety that is widely distributed throughout Britain and Ireland. Her work has been described as ‘monumental,’ ‘compelling’ and ‘uncanny’.

Portrait of Laura Bacon
Laura Bacon entering her UK studio. Photo by Tom Grotta

Her large-scale works have been created in landscape, interior and gallery settings including Saatchi Gallery, Chatsworth, New Art Centre, Somerset House, Sudeley Castle (for Sotheby’s) and Blackwell – The Arts and Crafts House in Cumbria. Bacon describes her organic, site-specific woven sculptures for buildings as “muscular forms” that “nuzzle up to the glass and their gripping weave locks onto the strength of the walls.” “In a truly baroque manner, her monumental installations include curvaceous forms and woven willow forms that resemble a kind of sculpted fabric, which springs from garden walls, hangs on the façade of a building, or billows out from a window ledge,” wrote Jane Milosch, Office of the Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture, Smithsonian, in the exhibition catalog of Green From the Get Go: International Contemporary Basketmakers. Yet, when browngrotta arts visited her studio in the UK we were taken aback by how small it was in contrast to largeness of her works. You can see her here, barely able to fit one of her smaller works through her studio door. 

Detail of Surface Form stripped willow from Somerset, UK 30” x 45” x 28”, 2010

Her goal in creating her evocative work is to bring intrigue into both natural and built environments, creating work that might serve to remind  viewers that nature can still surprise. “The ambition in my work is to generate a kind of intrigue and an appeal that touches a powerful nerve (perhaps ancient in its origin) that we cannot precisely locate,” Bacon says. Her work has been driven by a personal and solitary desire to build and shape form with her hands. “The thrill of making an internal space by turning and tying the material into position provokes a strong desire in me to make. My work responds primarily to the structural features of a particular site, in much same way as the questing foot of a Weaver bird might regard the flex of a bough or a colony of wasps might collaborate within the rafters,” she says. “I also respond to the feeling of the site and the opportunity to give the work (and in some way, the host structure) a sense of movement, of slow growth, as if the work will continue to grow when the viewer’s back is turned.”

Poise by Laura Ellen Bacon
Poise, Laura Ellen Bacon, willow, dicky meadows, 19” x 37” x 22”, 2016. Photo by Tom Grotta

Poise, 2016, for example, is an enormous basket form that Milosch observes “seems incapable of sitting still. Instead, it is an energetic, woven structure that twists and turns with such energy that is recalls a robust, fleshy Rubenesque female torso.” Surface Form,  which was featured in browngrotta arts last exhibition, Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades, was originally created for Jerwood Contemporary Makers, a prestigious award, of which she was one of winners who shared the prize. The brief, to all the exhibitors, was to create a work that had to be no more than a meter, and sat upon, or involved itself with, a specific square plinth. In response, Surface Form seems to swallow the edge of the surface.

Surface Form Basket by Laura Bacon
Surface Form, Laura Ellen Bacon
stripped willow from Somerset, UK, 30” x 45” x 28”, 2010. Photo by Tom Grotta

Bacon’s work has been exhibited or collected by the Holburn Museum, Bath, UK; Ruthin Craft Centre, Wales, UK; The Gallery, Winchester Discovery Center, UK; Blackwell, The Arts and Crafts House, Cumbria;; Derby Museum and Art Gallery; FUMI Gallery, Sardinia, Greece; Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, UK; Solomon Gallery, Dublin, Ireland; Hall Place, Kent, UK; Crafts Council, London, UK; Chatsworth Garden, Derbyshire, UK; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; and the Morris Museum, Morristown, New Jersey.


Return to Nature: an Art Trend to Watch in 2021

Artsy has identified Return to Nature as an art trend to watch in 2021. “Amid the ceaseless anxieties of 2020, people around the world found solace in nature,” wrote Shanon Lee on the online art platform earlier this month (“Trends to Watch in 2021: Return to Nature,” Artsy, January 6, 2021 https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-trends-watch-2021-return-nature). “They escaped the daily barrage of uncertainty to ground themselves in something more evergreen,” writes Lee. “That impulse, whether yearning for the freedom symbolized by the great outdoors or discovering refuge in the world of flora and fauna, can be seen in new works by contemporary artists.” Artsy sees Return to Nature as “one of the biggest artistic shifts we’ve witnessed emerge from the tumultuous unpredictability of 2020.”

Sara Brennans
 Dark Blue Line I, 1999
Broken White band with Pale Blue II, 2011
Journey-Tree-IV, 2020
Sara Brennans
 Dark Blue Line I, 1999
Broken White band with Pale Blue II, 2011
Journey-Tree-IV, 2020

This impulse is not one that has been wasted on UK artist Sara Brennan. known initially for starkly abstract weavings. In recent years, her weavings began to incorporate a hint of imagery, evoking treelines and clouds. During the pandemic, imagery became paramount. Brennan began to weave trees that had been part of her prepandemic world. “The drawings for the tree tapestries were taken from photographs of trees that I would drive past on a journey that I had been doing at least twice a week for the last six years or more,” she writes. “This journey stopped during Lockdown. Drawing, weaving and looking at these trees from a different context took me on another journey. The study of these trees and the tracing of time brought a new rhythm to a place.”

Flowers by Keiji Nio braided polyester, based on the images on the left. Photos by keiji Nio

Japanese artist Keiji Nio drew on images of nature for his work during the pandemic, as well. For his work he photographs nature — the beach, the sea, then silkscreens the images onto fabric tapes and from these, he creates braided sculptures. His most recent work, which is brightly colored, features a flower. “The picture of the flower used for this work was taken when I was looking for the flower which emphasized red, yellow and green in the botanical garden” says Nio. “Now that I can’t go out freely, I made a work using these flowers as materials so that I can feel the vivid color and fragrance of these flowers which we’ll experience again in the world after COVID is cured.”


The Artful Gift Guide: 5 Under $1500

Is there someone special on your gift list? Or maybe it’s you who deserves an inspirational, one-of-kind item to wake up to each morning?

One of these five works of art from our crated collection might fill the bill.

Tissus d’ombres, Stéphanie Jacques, print on canvas, wool embroidery, 35.5”x 35.5”, 2014

Tissues d’ombres is a stitched, image of basketry by Stéphanie Jacques of Belgium. Jacques works in a variety of media. She uses volume to give life to an unfilled interior space in her vessels and prints. This space allows her to speak of something other than what is shown by the visible form: the movements of the body, the desire, the intuitions, a certain savagery, something that remains alive despite everything, that pushes from the inside, cracks the carapaces, overflows. 

Silver Stream II, Greg Parsons, mercerized cotton, metallis, maple and magnets, 6″ x 30.5″, 2002

Silverstream II by Greg Parsons evokes a sparkling stream or a sky full of swift-moving cirrus clouds. Parsons is is a curator and a textile and product designer who has worked for Burberry among others. 

Orbit, Jiro Yonezawa, bamboo, urushi lacquer, 9.75″ x 13″ x 7.75″, 2019

Jiro Yonezawa is a master Japanese bamboo basketmaker. For Yonezawa, bamboo basketry is an expression of detailed precision. In baskets like Orbit, you can see the contrast of disciplined formality in technique and natural freedom in form that is characteristic of his work.

Aurora, Nancy Koenigsberg, coated copper wire, 8.5″ x 13″ x 13″, 2011

Nancy Koenigsberg sculpts works of copper and steel narrow gauge wire. In Aurora, lace-like layers allow for transparency, the passage of light and the formation of shadows. Lines cross and re-cross to create a complex network.

Ceramic Plate, Claude Vermette, ceramic, 9.75″ x 9.75″, 1980

This charming ceramic plate is by Claude Vermette, a artist from Montreal, Canada. Early in his career, Claude Vermette concentrated his efforts on architectural ceramics for which he created new forms of composition for clay, a wider variety of modules for tiles and bricks, and patented, new enamels. In his 25 years as ceramist, he produced large works in more than 100 public buildings, more than a dozen Montreal subway stations, and the General Motors building in New York. The latter part of his career was spent as painter.

These works can all be found at our store at http://store.browngrotta.com/art/.


The Artful Gift Guide: 5 under $400

As we spend more time in our homes — working, playing, learning —the desire to surround ourselves with artful items that inspire is all the more acute. Here are five unique items from $55 to $400 to delight you or a friend or family member at the holidays and beyond.

The small print: Order for the holidays by December 14th and we’ll ship by the 15th (though due to COVID we can’t guarantee the shippers’ delivery schedule). If you’d like us to gift wrap your purchase, email us at art@browngrotta.com, as soon as you have placed your order. To ensure we know you want gift wrapping, don’t wait to contact us — we generally ship as soon as the orders are received. Quantities are limited.

Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades Catalog
Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades
Essay by Glenn Adamson, Photography and design by Tom Grotta,
164 full color pages, 9″ x 9″, 221 color images
published by browngrotta arts
$55.00
Handmade Japanese Silk Shawls by sisters Chiaki and Kori Maki
24km Tesu Shawl, Kaori Maki
malda and tassar silk, dyes/harad, indigo, 86″ x 25”; 1998
$380
1chm Silk Shawl/Check, Chiaki Maki
80% malda and tassar silk, 20% wool, yarn dyed by natural material, 82″ x 31″, 1998
$400
Small Red Basket by Danish basketmaker Birigit Birkkjaer
Birgit Birkkjær
65bb.17 Ode for the Ocean 17
linen and stones, shells, fossils, etc. from the sea
2.5″ x 3″ x 3″, 2019
(other colors available)
$130
Japanese Bamboo Vase by Jiro Yonezawa
70jy Ladybug, Jiro Yonezawa
bamboo, glass, kiribako box
7″ x 5″ x 5″, 2009
$400
Coffee Table Book The Grotta Home by Richard Meier
The Grotta Home by Richard Meier: A Marriage of Architecture and Craft
with contributions by Glenn Adamson, Matthew Drutt, Sheila Hicks,
Joseph Giovannini, Louis Grotta, Jack Lenor Larsen, John McQueen,
Richard Meier, Wendy Ramshaw and David Watkins
336 pp., 28 x 30 cm, approx. 300 ills, hardcover English
$85.00

A Victory for Future Art Funding

Big Bird
The LBJ Presidential Library exhibition, On the Air: 50 Years of Public Broadcasting, 2017, in Austin, Texas. On Nov. 7, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and, eventually, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and National Public Radio (NPR).  Characters © 2017 Sesame Workshop LBJ Library photo by Jay Godwin 06/24/2017

Elections have consequences, as they say, and 2020 election will be no different. Donald Trump tried to make the world to his artistic tastes. His reach was sweeping in efforts to cut funding for the arts and simultaneously oddly specific. I.e., DC should have no more contemporary architecture (www.npr.org); and duck stamps should feature hunting paraphernalia www.thedailybeast.com. He oversaw the disbanding of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, after a mass resignation of private committee members in response to his comments on right-wing violence in Charlottesville, VA in August 2017. And, of course, there would be four years of budgets that included cuts to federal arts programs — National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, even Museum and Library Services.

President-elect Joe Biden’s record is quite different. As The New York Times described him, he’s “No RBG, but a Loyal Promoter of Culture “https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/30/arts/biden-arts-culture.html. Biden’s attitude, wrote The Times, is “less from a consumer point of view and more about the inspirational value and transformational value of the arts,” quoting Robert L. Lynch, president and chief executive of Americans for the Arts. “It’s not, ‘Look, I loved this piece, or this song.’ It’s more about the bigger role of the arts in society.” 

National  Endowment for the Arts Recipients; Lia Cook, Dona Look, Adela Akers, John McQueen, James Bassler, Debra Sachs, Thomas Hucker, Norma Minkowitz and Gyöngy Laky
Funding for the Arts in Action: work by nine National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Recipients; Lia Cook, Dona Look, Adela Akers, John McQueen, James Bassler, Debra Sachs, Thomas Hucker, Norma Minkowitz and Gyöngy Laky

Actors’ Equity endorsed Biden’s candidacy. “Vice President Biden understands that the arts are a critical driver of healthy and strong local economies in cities and towns across the country,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity. That could bode well for passage of Americans for the Arts Creative Workplace Proposal — 16 specific actions for the next administration to take in order to put creative workers to work rebuilding, reimagining, unifying, and healing communities in every state and territory, as well as within tribal lands www.americansforthearts.org. Among the suggestions from Proposal: Put artists to work addressing public and mental health in communities; Complete the launch of an ArtistCorps within AmeriCorps; and Direct and incentivize the integration of creative workers and creative organizations at the municipal, county, state, and tribal levels during disaster relief and recovery efforts.

Private efforts will continue to be key to the arts’ support, too, of course. For a comprehensive look at new philanthropic initiatives, including #ArtistSupportPledge and Artists for Artists appeal, read “Funding the Future of the Arts,” by Gareth Harris, November 2, 2020. https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/funding-the-future-of-the-arts?

browngrotta arts wants to play its part, too. From now until the end of the year if you make a purchase from us, we’ll contribute 5% of any sales we make to the American for the Arts Action Fund. 


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

War and violence are often influences for artistic works. In the last of our three columns on Art and Politics we look at three works in which artists have commented on specific conflicts and three that address the futility violence in differing contexts.

Compound, Norma Minkowitz, mixed media, 70” x 54.75” x 1.5”, 2011

Concerns about war animate Compound, a work by Norma Minkowitz a large panel that chronicles a nightmare scenario, the last moments of Osama Bin Laden’s life.  It features a tiny-mesh crocheted surface. It has a powerful push me/pull me effect once the subject matter– which includes stylized soldiers, SEALS parachuting from a helicopter, the compound where Bin Laden was hiding, and the World Trade Center — clarifies itself. This whole is an unforgettable image.

Responding to a call for art for a browngrotta arts’ exhibition entitled Stimulus: art and its inception in 2011, Norma Minkowitz began, as she usually does, to sketch.  “I began in a spontaneous, unplanned manner,” Minkowitz explains, “arranging lines and subtle patterns, until I had a feeling of the direction it would take. Suddenly, I realized that the linear image had become the apparition of an aerial view of the compound where Osama Bin Laden was found, which I had seen in a newspaper article. Compound combines a replica of the space and my vision of the event.

“This is not my usual way of working,” she says. It is more literal because of its historic significance. I enjoyed this different approach and found it quite timely as we remembered the attack on our country on September 11, 2001. I wanted to commemorate courage, justice and the resolve of the USA.”

Women Warriors, Dona Anderson, mixed media, 2005-2011. Photo by Tom Grotta
Women Warriors, Dona Anderson, mixed media, 2005-2011. Photo by Tom Grotta

The war in Iraq influenced Dona Anderson, as well and resulted in a series of “armor” pieces, including Women Warriors. Anderson’s granddaughter was in the army stationed in Japan while the granddaughter’s husband was in Iraq.  When he came home for a break, he said he did not have any body armor. Anderson was so bothered by this information that she used her art to create some stylized armor for him.

El Salvador, Ed Rossbach, muslin, camouflage netting, sticks, plastic, plastic tape, wire, tied, dyed, linoleum block printed, 1984. Photo by Tom Grotta
El Salvador, Ed Rossbach, muslin, camouflage netting, sticks, plastic, plastic tape, wire, tied, dyed, linoleum block printed, 1984. Photo by Tom Grotta

A previous conflict in Latin America led to the creation of a textile construction, El Salvador, by Ed Rossbach in 1984.  Here, the artist using very simple materials constructed a powerful anti-war statement. The death squads in El Salvador killed many thousands of people before the civil war ended. Rossbach pushed the bounds of conventional 1950’s design. His art used raw materials — like camo mesh — to create forms that explore context, scale and juxtaposition to create irony

Globalization IV; Collateral Damage, Gyöngy Laky, ash, commercial wood, paint, blue concrete bullets, 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta
Globalization IV; Collateral Damage, Gyöngy Laky, ash, commercial wood, paint, blue concrete bullets, 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta

Gyongy Laky, a student of Rossbach’s, regularly addresses political issues in her work. Laky is a powerful advocate for the environment as well as a proponent of the hiring of more women at the University of California, Davis where the artist taught for many years. Through Globalization IV Collateral Damage, she speaks with great force and conviction about the utter waste of blood and treasure that is war. Constructed of ash and commercial wood scraps the three letters spell WAR but can also be rearranged to create other vivid elucidations of the subject: MAR, ARM, RAW, and RAM. Bullets for building and red paint are also used in the construction to dramatic effect.

Help-Siring Soldiers to Sacrifice, Judy Mulford, waxed linen, buttons, beads, babies & bullet casings, 23" x 11" x 9.5", 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta
Help-Siring Soldiers to Sacrifice, Judy Mulford, waxed linen, buttons, beads, babies & bullet casings, 23″ x 11″ x 9.5″, 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta

In Help-Siring Soldiers to Sacrifice,  Judy Mulford, has created a female figure with bullet casings making up her skirt to illustrate the tragedy for mothers in war zones, whose children are served up as fodder for never-ending conflicts. “My art honors and celebrates the family,” says the artist. “It is autobiographical, personal, graphic and narrative. Each piece I create becomes a container of conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings, one that references my female ancestral beginnings.”

NRA Approved,  James Bassler, woven, stitched and batik dyed; silk and sisal; each 20”h X 12”w X 4”d (as mounted), 3 pieces in one box  with 3 custom stands, 2014.Photo by Tom Grotta
NRA Approved,  James Bassler, woven, stitched and batik dyed; silk and sisal; each 20” x 12”w x 4”d (as mounted), 3 pieces in one box  with 3 custom stands, 2014. Photo by Tom Grotta

James Bassler commented on gun violence in schools in a series of vests that make up NRA Approved. “The cloth I wove, batik dyed and stitched, was inspired by the 19th Century Japanese fireman’s jacket,” he explains. “It was also inspired by our 21st Century public debate about gun violence and what we, as a nation, could do to make our schools safe from the tragic incidents of our times. The NRA has openly suggested that teachers and students wear bullet-proof vests. Often, our young students do wear waterproof aprons when doing creative work. Here, in these woven sculptural forms, I have added camouflage to help conceal children in harm’s way. Camouflage, indeed, has been used throughout.”

Artists can — and do — share their political observations through their work. The rest of us can do the same through our votes. Please do!


When Words Aren’t Enough, Artists and Politics, Part II

Art is not created in a vacuum. Artists have a keen eye that they often cast on current culture. California artists James Bassler and Gyöngy Laky have both been influenced by Donald Trump’s disruptive impact on our political lives, an influence that they have expressed in their art.

JAMES BASSLER
What’s Happening  2016
four-selvaged construction, with shibori star field; warp and weft are a mix of linen, silk, nettles, and cotton, with synthetic dyes. Photo by Tom Grotta.
JAMES BASSLER
What’s Happening  2016
four-selvaged construction, with shibori star field; warp and weft are a mix of linen, silk, nettles, and cotton, with synthetic dyes. Photo by Tom Grotta.

In early 2016. James Bassler, was invited to participate in the 10th Shibori International Conference, to be held in Oaxaca, Mexico that November. Each entry was to utilize some resist-dyeing technique. “I chose to attempt a field of stars in the American flag,” Bassler writes. “I also chose to weave the flag using the pre-Columbian four-selvage construction. The process is slow, but allows for design changes as the weaving proceeds.” He began in the early months of 2016, coinciding with the political preparations of electing a new president. “Those events,” he recalls, “in particular the dominance of Donald Trump, began to affect my design decisions in making the flag. The red and white stripes in my weaving began to incorporate definite agitation, the same agitation I felt watching the presidential debates. The more extreme the rhetoric, the more extreme the stripes.” The flag was completed and sent off, first to LongHouse, East Hampton for a summer exhibition, then to Oaxaca, Mexico by mid-October. The work was returned from Mexico in March of 2017. In early Spring, it was selected to be in an exhibition in Portland, Oregon. There, “as a result of the presidential election,” Bassler says, “the instructions to the exhibition staff were to hang the flag upside down.”

JAMES BASSLER
Donald and His Hapsburg Empire  2016
wedge weave construction; indigo-dyed linen warp; linen, handspun silk from Mexico, spun duck feathers from Mexico, commercial silk weft. Photo by Tom Grotta.
JAMES BASSLER
Donald and His Hapsburg Empire  2016
wedge weave construction; indigo-dyed linen warp; linen, handspun silk from Mexico, spun duck feathers from Mexico, commercial silk weft. Photo by Tom Grotta.

The same exhibition in Oaxaca in January 2016 inspired Donald and his Habsburg Empire. In this piece, Bassler tried to capture both the historical and the contemporary attitude of arrogance and entitlement that has existed throughout history. Historically, the Habsburgs, the ruling family of Austria, 1276-1918 and of Spain,1516-1700, gave the world elitism through birthright, with no regard to proven achievement. “Today in the United States,” he says, “the Kardashian and the Donald Trump model has made the acquisition of vast sums of money and profit an alarming societal objective, an elitism that values profits over people.” The concept was to have contemporary artists explore the use of spun feathers, relating back to their usage in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The invitation was accompanied by many visuals, including images of ceremonial textiles, from those distant centuries, housed in museums throughout the world. “In all honesty, it was a bit daunting to accept the invitation,” Bassler says. “As the only North American in the exhibition, what might I do?  After reviewing all of the material, I couldn’t help but notice that on many of the ancient textiles the feathers were used to promote the double-headed eagle of the Habsburg Empire, a reminder to those subjugated as to who was in charge.  With that in mind and the fact that the feathers came from Canadian ducks, it was a logical step to create the double-headed ducks. The Donald Trump arrogance factor developed as the presidential debates materialized,” he observes.

Donald Trump’s candidacy concerned Gyöngy Laky as a citizen and an artist. “When it became clear that Donald Trump was the Republican candidate” she remembers, “I cringed and told my husband I worried he could win the election and he did. I have been horrified by his demeanor, corruption and abuse of power.”  She was particularly disturbed by his comment shortly before the Iowa caucus, when he bragged that he could commit a crime and it would not deter his supporters. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” he said. “It’s, like, incredible.”  Laky’s best friend lived two blocks from Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. “This man is joking about killing her or someone else,” she thought. The work that resulted was direct; with a wide-ranging message. “I knew I would have to make an art piece to address who he is… a racist, a sexist, a criminal, a liar, a tax cheat, an incessant golfer on our dime, a man who seems to enjoy making fun of and hurting people and destroying our institutions, someone who does not believe in science, someone who populates our government with incompetent people, someone who supports white supremacists… someone who said proudly that he could commit a crime killing a person without remorse or guilt nor suffering consequence.” The result was Fifth Avenue, 12/23/16 , made in 2019 out of an AK-T Tequila MX bottle, golf tees and a golf ball.

GYÖNGY LAKY
Fifth Avenue 1/23/16, 2019 
AK-T Tequila MX bottle, golf tees and golf ball. Photo by Gyöngy Laky
GYÖNGY LAKY
Fifth Avenue 1/23/16, 2019 
AK-T Tequila MX bottle, golf tees and golf ball. Photo by Gyöngy Laky

Art can help us to understand how to proceed and inspire us to join the fray, observes Laky, quoting Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”  Laky also cites a sequel to last year’s Emmy-nominated short,  A Message From the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a new film, Message From the Future II: The Years of Repair, both illustrated by Molly Crabapple, which urges us to look forward with hope. “In Message II, Opal Tometi, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and Gael Garcia Bernal, Nnimmo Bassey and Emma Thompson, call upon us to be hopeful, be strong, be active and take part.”

Looking forward, “I’m counting on our younger ones, joined by my generation who remember the 1960s, to turn us around,” says Laky. “With the many difficulties we face fumbling and scrambling toward the possibly most consequential election of our lifetimes, we’re called upon to lift our spirits and gather our strength, awakening our activist souls.”


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.