Category: artist

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

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.”


Books Make Great Gifts 2020 Edition

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures
Photo from Amazon. The book was dampened
and inoculated with Pleurotus (oyster mushroom) mycelium. The mycelium then digested the pages – and the words – of the book, and sprouted over the
course of seven days. Pleurotus can digest many things – from crude oil to used cigarette butts – and is one of the fungal species that shows the most promise in mycoremediation. It is also delicious when fried lightly with garlic and will make it possible for the author to eat his words. Photo Credit: DRK Videography

Book sales are up nationwide and the artists promoted by browngrotta arts have done their share of reading this year. Polly Sutton pulled Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King (Penguin) off her shelf where it had been sitting for years. “Worth it,” she says. Nenna Okore recommends 50 Women Sculptors, from Aurora Metro Books. The book, which challenges the perception that sculpture is a male pursuit, features Okore’s work and that of Louise Bourgeois, Ruth Asawa, Yayoi Kasuma and others.

“If you’re curious about the weird wonderful world of mushrooms and how we are related to the Fungi Kingdom, then Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures (Random House) is a literary journey to take,” writes Wendy Wahl. “Merlin Sheldrake stitches together a story of our co-evolution offering scientific and historical analysis in a captivating and thought-provoking way. The author transports the reader into the Fungi Kingdom revealing the mysterious maneuverings of this powerful part of nature’s network and the filament threads that binds us together. In two hundred and twenty five pages followed by chapter notes and bibliography, this is a book with doors to unusual discoveries and pathways of connecting in all directions.”


Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (independently published) is excellent”, says Gyöngy Laky. “Difficult and painful… a must read for every adult person in the U S… should be mandatory reading in high school.” 

L’art du fil, by Marie-Madeleine Masse


Randy Walker recommends a new book from France, L’art du fil, by Marie-Madeleine Masse, published in October by Alternatives press. From the book’s press notes,  photos and embroidered ceramics, arachnean sculptures or totem tapestries … the thread never ceases to inspire contemporary artists from here and elsewhere, as superbly evidenced by the 80 international designers selected in this book one of whom is Walker. “The book is inspiring to me,” he writes,” because it exemplifies how fiber-based work is translated to many scales and contexts and that small, gallery-scale work can and should be celebrated alongside larger works.” 


Objects USA 2020

At browngrotta arts we took note of three beautiful art books that arrived in 2020. First up, Objects USA 2020 (Monacelli Press), with essays by Glenn Adamson and others. In 1969, the Objects: USA  exhibition opened at the Smithsonian Institution, travelling to 22 venues. The exhibtion defined the American studio craft movement. Objects: USA united a cohort of artists inventing new approaches to art-making by way of craft media. Objects: USA 2020 revisits this revolutionary exhibition and its accompanying catalog–which has become a bible of sorts to curators, gallerists, dealers, craftspeople, artists, and auction houses–by pairing fifty participants from the original exhibition with fifty contemporary artists representing the next generation of practitioners to use–and upend–the traditional methods and materials of craft to create new forms of art.

Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock

Another visually striking volume, Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock (Arnoldsche) traces Amaral’s career over five decades, features more than 40 key pieces of work, and examines the artist’s oeuvre through the lens of contemporary and fiber art. Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock celebrates an artist who for decades has gracefully produced across traditional divides: fine art and craft, local and universal, ethereal and material. Published to accompany an exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills (US), between 19 November 2020 and 7 March 2021, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (US) between 27 June to 19 September 2021, and at Museum of Arts and Design, New York (US), between 21 October 2021 and 27 February 2022.

Signe Mayfield

Published in 2018, but new to us is Anchors in Time: Dominic di Mare by Signe Mayfield (Fine Arts Press). The book includes insightful essays, but much of it features full-page photos of DiMare’s meticulously crafted constructions and detailed oil paintings.The book was produced in conjunction with an exhibition of DiMare’s work at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, California in 2018. 

Agneta Hobin

Last but nowhere near least, Agneta Hobin oversaw the publication of Agneta Hobinthis year which features lush photographs of her work, a passel of family and historical photos and text in English and Danish. You can puchase the book at browngrotta arts http://store.browngrotta.com
/agneta-hobin/.


Lives Well Lived: Dorothy Gill Barnes (1927-2020)

We are heartbroken to report that innovative contemporary basketmaker and fiber sculptor Dorothy Gill Barnes, passed away peacefully on November 23, 2020 at age 93, after a short battle with COVID-19. Barnes was a revered member of the browngrotta arts community — she taught our son to harvest materials and mark trees when he was just three.

Portrait of Dorothy Gill Barnes in studio. Photo by Tom Grotta

Barnes was known for developing a distinct working process that included scarring trees that had been marked for eventual removal and returning years later, after the trees had been cut, to harvest the scarred and overgrown bark for use in her baskets. This process enabled her to create dendroglyphs—literally, “tree drawings” — in which tree and time became her collaborators. “The unique properties I find in bark, branches, roots, seaweed, and stone suggest a work process to me,” Barnes said. “I want this problem solving to be evident in the finished piece.”

Born in Iowa, and a longtime resident of the Columbus, Ohio area, Barnes studied at Coe College, Minneapolis School of Art and Cranbrook Academy, as well as at the University of Iowa, where she earned BA and MA degrees in art education. Barnes taught fibers as an adjunct faculty member at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, from 1966 until her retirement from university teaching in 1990. Throughout much of her career, Barnes was a sought-after teacher, participating in residencies and workshops in Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Canada, as well as throughout the United States. Barnes’ early influences were the artist and teacher Ruth Mary Papenthien, who taught at Ohio State University, and Dwight Stump, an Ohio-based traditional basketmaker. She also credited the works of John McQueen and Ed Rossbach as spurring her experiments using natural materials to make contemporary sculpture.

Portrait of Dorothy Gill Barnes. Photo by Tom Grotta

Barnes’ technical investigations placed her at the forefront of contemporary fiber art. She used electric tools to expand the scale, scope and complexity of her pieces and she credited power equipment as the source for ideas that handwork alone would not have suggested. She was comfortable incorporating nails, metal wire and staples along with traditional woven assembly methods. In all of her sculptures, Barnes sought to create structures that honored the growing things from which they came, her materials “respectfully harvested from nature.” Like Rossbach and McQueen, she prized experimentation, spontaneity, inventiveness. She continued to expand her artistic practice into her 90s, as a visiting artist working with students in glass in the Department of Art at Ohio State University until 2018.

Millcreek Willow, 1996. Photo by Tom Grotta

A Fellow of the American Craft Council, Barnes received lifetime achievement awards from the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC and the National Basketry Organization. Other awards include the Raymond J. Hanley Award, Outstanding/Artist Educator from Penland School of Crafts, an Individual Artist Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio, and four Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowships. Her work is in the collections of the Columbus Museum of Art; the de Young Museum of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Mint Museum, Charlotte North Carolina; Museum of Arts and Design, New York, New York; Racine Art Museum, Wisconsin; Longhouse Reserve, East Hampton, New York; Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock; the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, among others. In Nature, a comprehensive retrospective, was held at the Mansfield Arts Center in 2018. The Ohio Craft Museum hosted From the Woods: Dorothy Gill Barnes, a major mid-career survey in 1999. 

Barnes’ work has been represented by browngrotta arts in Wilton, Connecticut since the 90s. “Barnes’ ability to showcase the natural materials with which she worked, yet enhancing them through weaving, plaiting, scarring, stacking and sflaying, placed her at the forefront of contemporary fiber art,” observes Tom Grotta, co-curator of browngrotta arts. 

“[Barnes] is attentive to the innate characteristics of a given wood in her aesthetic decision making and rarely forces a wood into an unnatural or artificial mold,” wrote Jeanne Fryer-Kohles in From the Woods: Dorothy Gill Barnes, the eponymous catalog for Barnes’ solo exhibition at the Ohio Craft Museum. “At the same time, she works intuitively with an experimental turn of mind and integrity of vision …. Barnes’ works are rarely preplanned; she prefers to wend her way toward and into a piece, accepting detours and possible pitfalls as a matter of course. Barnes takes raw nature as a starting point. Rather than subjugating it, as [John] McQueen does, with a ‘civilizing’ impress, Barnes guides and amplifies it – in a sense, keeping its ghost enshrined.”

Dendroglyph Band Mulberry, 2000. Photo by Tom Grotta

Barnes also had a long history of activism in the civil rights and anti-war movements. She could be found every Saturday for many years, on the Worthington Village Green with her friends from Central Ohioans for Peace, encouraging drivers to “Honk for Peace” as they passed. She encouraged others to think globally and have empathy for all, regardless of differences. She supported environmental conservation, Honduras Hope and Habitat for Humanity, where she was a longtime volunteer. 

Friends are invited to attend a virtual celebration of life to honor Dorothy Gill Barnes on Sunday, December 13th from 3-5 PM EST. Details are available at www.schoedinger.com. Donations in Barnes’ memory can be made to The Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org), Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org), or to a charity of your choice. Please visit www.schoedinger.com to send online condolences.


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 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.”


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.”


Volume 50: Artist Focus — Lia Cook

A Beautiful Mind: Lia Cook weaves empirical cerebral data into works of textile art

Detail of Su Series Lia Cook. Photo by Tom Grotta
Detail: Su Series, Lia Cook cotton, rayon, woven 72” x 132”, 2010-2016

There may be nothing as pleasurable than viewing and experiencing works of art up close and in person. However, recent sheltering in response to the corona virus, required us to approach art online, whether offered by galleries or museums or cultural institutions. This experience and the brain’s response to seeing and experiencing art in different mediums, or the school of neuroaesthetics, has long been a point of interest in the work of California-based textile artist Lia Cook.  

Lia Cook Su Series. Photo by Tom Grotta
45lc Su Series, Lia Cook cotton, rayon, woven 72” x 132”, 2010-2016

Cook works in a variety of media combining weaving with painting, photography, video and digital technology. Her current practice explores the sensuality of the woven image and the emotional connections to memories of touch and cloth. Working in collaboration with neuroscientists, she has been investigating the nature of the emotional response to woven faces by mapping these responses in the brain. She draws on the laboratory experience both with process and tools to stimulate new work in reaction to these investigations.

“I am interested in both the scientific study as well as my artistic response to these unexpected sources, exploring the territory between in several different ways.”

Woven Form by Lia Cook. Photo by Tom Grotta
12lc Woven Form, Lia Cook, rayon, cotton; woven, 45” x 53” 1980

Cook has long been an innovator, varying practice methods. Her early works, like Woven Form, were abstract and had an Op Art feel. In later works, like Leonard’s Quilt, she manipulated the textiles, with piecing and paint. That was followed by explorations of photographic images as tapestries made on a Jacquard loom. browngrotta arts has works from each of these periods which you can see on Artsy in Chronicling the Canon: https://www.artsy.net/show/browngrotta-arts-chronicling-the-canon.

Cook’s significant work, Su Series, comprised of 32 weavings of a single photograph, is featured in browngrotta arts’ upcoming exhibition, Volume 50.: chronicling fiber art for three decades. Here, Cook explores emotional response — highlighting the point at which the face dissolves first into pattern and then into a sensual, tactile woven structure and the various emotions the differing images evoke in the viewer.

“Absorption and inclusion are pervasive strategies in Cook’s work, operating at almost every level: formally, in her constant exploration of new techniques; emotionally in the way she stimulates the sense of touch through the eyes; and intellectually in the multiple reference to different art histories,” Meridith Tromble wrote in an essay for the Flintridge Foundation Awards for Visual Artists 1999/2000 catalogue.



Detail of Leonardos Quilt
Detail of Leonardo’s Quilt, Lia Cook acrylic on abaca, dyes on rayon; woven, 94” x 79” 1990

Volume 50.: chronicling fiber art for three decades.continues live through the 20th. http://www.browngrotta.com/Pages/calendar.php. You can also obtain a catalog that includes an image of Su Series at browngrotta.com: http://store.browngrotta.com/volume-50-chronicling-fiber-art-for-three-decades/.


Volume 50: Who’s New? James Bassler

At browngrotta arts, we are delighted to exhibiting the work of consummate innovator James Bassler in Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades. For decades he has applied ancient techniques and materials to create works with contemporary themes. As Joyce Lovelace wrote in American Craft in 2011, “Few have lived life as happily steeped in materials and handwork as James Bassler, textile artist and professor. Bassler is a maker to his core, as evidenced by his extra­ordinary art tapestries, prized by collectors, and his eloquence on the subject of craft – down to the charming, unconscious way he peppers conversation with phrases like ‘weave that in’ and ‘grasping at straws.’” 

Weaving with Coyuche by James Bassler. Photo by Tom Grotta
1jb Weaving with Coyuchi, James Bassler, wedge weave; linen warp; weft of natural brown cotton from Oaxaca (coyuchi), black embroidery floss, silk, 33.5” x 42”, 2015 signed bottom left corner. Photo by Tom Grotta

For decades Bassler has applied ancient techniques and materials to create works with contemporary themes. Bassler is prolific and we have several examples of his work inhouse that we’ll be sharing throughout the year. For Volume 50, we are exhibiting a tapestry, Weaving with Coyuchi, made with coyuche, handspun brown cotton, using a wedge-weave technique, practiced by, among others, the Navajo in the 1880s.  To make Weaving with Coyuchi, Bassler first ran an image of a weaving through a printing press and then enlarged that image on a photocopy machine. After that, “All I had to do,” he said, “was weave it.” We’ll also be including a sculpture, Shop. Made from Trader Joe’s bags spun into thread to make bag from bags, Shop offers a wry statement about materials and materialism.

Shop James Bassler. Photo by Tom Grotta
8jb Shop, James Bassler made of brown paper Trader Joe’s shopping bags, cut and twisted and with yellow and red waxed linen thread; 16” X 10” , 2009. Photo by Tom Grotta

Following military service in Europe, Bassler traveled through the Middle East and Asia in the 1950s — steeping himself in traditional crafts as he traveled.  traditional crafts he saw. After earning a teaching degree in the US, he and his wife, Veralee, a ceramist, moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, where they ran a craft school.  In 1975, he joined the art faculty at UCLA and taught textile art there until his retirement in 2000. He was named to the American Craft Council College of Fellows in 1998. His work is found in numerous permanent collections including: the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, the Cleveland Art Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota and LongHouse Reserve, New York, NY. 

Detail of Weaving with Coyuchi by James Bassler, wedge weave; linen warp; weft of natural brown cotton from Oaxaca (coyuchi), black embroidery floss, silk, 33.5” x 42”, 2015 signed bottom left corner. Photo by Tom Grotta

Come see Bassler’s work and that of 60+ other artists at Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades from September 12-20 at browngrotta arts, 276 Ridgefield Road, Wilton, Connecticut: Opening and Reception: Saturday, September 12th, 1:00 – 6:30 pm, Daily Exhibition Hours: September 13th – 20th, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.

Save Viewing Information: Please note that advanced time reservations are mandatory to view the show. We have worked hard to plan this event with your health and safety in mind. To ensure the well being of all visitors and staff, there will be a maximum capacity of 15 visitors per time slot and wil operate in accordance with safety and social distancing guidelines. All surfaces will be disinfected between reservations. Masks will be required. 

If you have any questions or concerns regarding our policy for the show or reservations, please reach out to us at: art@browngrotta.com or 203.834.0623.