Category: Art Textiles

Adaptation Opens Saturday at browngrotta arts, Wilton, CT

from left to right works by Paul Furneaux and Eduardo Portillo & Mariá Eugenia Dávila. Photo by Tom Grotta

This Saturday at 11 am, our Spring Art in the Barn exhibition: Adaption: Artists Respond to Change opens to the public. We can’t describe it better than ArteMorbida: the Textile Arts Magazine did. “This project is born from the reflection on how the world of art and its protagonists, the artists, had to rethink and redesign their action, when the pandemic, significantly affecting the global lifestyle, compelled everyone to a forced and repeated isolation,” the magazine wrote. “But the need to adapt their responses to change, generated by the complicated health situation, was only the beginning of a broader reflection that led the two curators [Rhonda Brown and Tom Grotta] to note that change itself is actually an evolutionary process immanent in human history, generative, full of opportunities and unexpected turns.”

Tapestries by Carolina Yrarrázaval. Photo by Tom Grotta

The 48 artists in Adaptation pose, and in some cases answer, a series of interesting questions about art. Does it offer solutions for dealing with daily stress? For facing larger social and global issues? How do artists use art to respond to unanticipated circumstances in their own lives. The work in the exhibition offers a wide variety of responses to these questions.

Several of artists wrote eloquently for the Adaptation catalog about how art has helped them manage the stress and upheaval of the past year. Ideally, for those who attend Adaptation: Artist’s Respond to Change that calming effect will be evident and even shared. 

pictured: works by Lawrence LaBianca, Włodzimierz Cygan, Chiyoko Tanaka, Gizella Warburton, Norma Minkowitz, Polly Adams Sutton

Wlodzimierz Cygan of Poland says the time of the pandemic allowed him to draw his attention to a “slightly different face of Everyday, the less grey one.”  He found that, “slowing down the pace of life, sometimes even eliminating some routine activities, helps one to taste each day separately and in the context of other days. Time seems to pass slower, I can stay focused longer.” Life has changed in Germany, Irina Kolesnikova told us. Before the pandemic, “we would travel a lot, often for a short time, a few days or a weekend. We got used to seeing the variety in the world, to visit different cities, to go to museums, to get acquainted with contemporary art. Suddenly, that life was put on pause, our social circle reduced to the size of our immediate environment.” Kolesnikova felt a need to dive deeper into herself and create a new series of small works, Letters from Quarantine, “to just work and enjoy the craft.”

clockwise: Adela Akers, Irina Kolesnikova, Ane Henriksen, Nancy Koenigsberg, Laura Foster Nicholson, Lawrence LaBianca, Gizella Warburton. Photo by Tom Grotta

Other artists were moved to create art that concerned larger social issues. Karyl Sisson’s Fractured III, makes use of vintage paper drinking straws to graphically represent in red and white the discontents seen and felt in America as the country grappled with police violence against Black Americans, polarized election politics and larger issues like climate change and the environment.  Climate change and the danger of floods and fire were reflected in the work of the several artists in Adaptation. New Yorker Nancy Koenigsberg created Approaching Storm, adding an even greater density of the grey, coated-copper wire that she generally works with to build a darkened image that serves as a warning for the gravity of current events.

High water appears in Laura Foster Nicholson’s view of Le Procuratie, which envisions a flooded Venice, metallic threads illustrating the rising waters. Works by Adela Akers and Neha Puri Dhir were influenced by wildfires in California and India, respectively.

left to right: Karyl Sisson, Jennifer Falck Linssen, Sue Lawty, Jin -Sook So

Still other artists found way to use their art as a meditative practice in order to face their sense of personal and public dislocation. For Jennifer Falck Linssen, the solution was to turn off all media, go outside and find inspiration in morning and evening light. For Paul Furneaux, initially cut off from his studio, the garden became an obsession as he undertook an extensive renovation.  Returning to art making, the spring colors, greens and yellows he had seen while gardening, created a new palette for his work.  Feeling the need for complete change, Hisako Sekijima turned away from basket finishing. Instead, immersing herself in the underlying processes of plaiting. Her explorations became both meditative and a process that led to new shapes. 

Experience these artists’ reflections on change in person. Schedule your appointment for Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/adaptation-artists-respond-to-change-tickets-148974728423

The full-color catalog(our 51st) for Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change is available Friday May 7th:

http://store.browngrotta.com/adaption-artist-respond-to-change/


Art Out and About: Exhibitions Around the US

Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change

Happily, vaccines are on the rise and art openings are, too.

We are excited about our own opening, Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change, May 8 – 16. You can join us by making an appointment through Eventbrite:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/adaptation-artists-respond-to-change-tickets-148974728423  Elsewhere, exhibitions are ongoing live coast to coast this Spring. Check some or all of these events in person, or online. Art makes a comeback!

Uncommon Threads: The Works of Ruth E. Carter
New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! (NBAM)
Massachusetts

May 1 – November 14, 2021

Uncommon Threads NBAM

A solo exhibition celebrating Massachusetts-born Ruth E. Carter’s 30-year career as an Academy Award-winning (Black Panther, 2018) costume designer rn Ruth E. Carter’s 30-year career as an Academy Award-winning (Black Panther, 2018) costume designer. 

For more info: https://newbedfordart.org/ruth/

Sonya Clark: Tatter, Bristle, and Mend
National Museum of Women in the Arts
Washington, DC 
Through June 27, 2021

Sonya Clark: Tatter, Bristle and Mend

This first survey of Clark’s 25-year career includes 100 sculptures made from black pocket combs, human hair and thread as well as works created from flags, currency, beads, cotton plants, pencils, books, a typewriter and a hair salon chair. The artist transmutes each of these everyday objects through her application of a vast range of fiber-art techniques: Clark weaves, stitches, folds, braids, dyes, pulls, twists, presses, snips or ties within each object. 

View in-person or online https://nmwa.org/exhibitions/sonya-clark-tatter-bristle-and-mend/

Craft Front and Center
The Museum of Arts and Design 
New York, NY

May 22, 2021–Feb 13, 2022

Craft Front and Center
Photo courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design

MAD’s collection comprises over 3,000 artworks in clay, fiber, glass, metal, and wood, dating from the post-war studio craft movement through to contemporary art and design. Craft Front & Center is organized into eight themes exploring craft’s impact. Each section is punctuated with pivotal and rarely seen works from iconic makers, such as Betty Woodman, Marvin Lipofsky, Lia Cook and Magdalena Abakanowicz. The exhibition also casts a fresh eye on craft’s pioneers; celebrating Olga de Amaral, Charles Loloma, Ed Rossbach, Kay Sekimachi, Katherine Westphal and others who pushed the boundaries of materials and sought more inclusive sources of inspiration. The exhibition affirms craft as one of the most exciting spaces for experimentation and wonder in art today.

Building Bridges: Breaking Barriers

Ruth’s Table
San Francisco, CA
Virtual Exhibition through May 13, 2021

Artist Talk April 15 at 4:30 pm (PST)

Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers

See the Exhibit 

RSVP for the Artist Talk on April 15th

If you are not near an exhibition with in-person viewing, you can visit this two-part exhibition series online. Building Bridges: Breaking Barriers aims to help break barriers in perception by recognizing the unique agility and skill possessed by professional older artists at the pinnacle of their careers, their continued value and contribution to the arts and society, leading us to building bridges of an intergenerational nature. The exhibition, which includes work by Lia Cook, highlights artists who are particularly notable for their ability to transform their oeuvre in the thick of their careers. Each artist displays a selection of works that represent evolution and, sometimes, rupture from earlier works, demonstrating a compelling ability to take risks, break new ground and shape attitudes through their artistic practice.


Artist Focus: Blair Tate

Balir Tate Self portrait
Blair Tate self portrait, 2021

Blair Tate has explored flat woven grids in her work since the 70s. Her work evidences an “austere elegance,” Jack Lenor Larsen and Mildred Constantine observed in the seminal The Art Fabric: Mainstream in 1985. “I began weaving in the early 70s, under the influence of 60s Minimalism and modernist architecture,” she wrote in 1986. “I believed that form should follow function and accordingly I sought an objective basis for my work. In this, I was reacting against the majority of the weavnig I saw at the time: weaving that seemed either unfocused and overwhelmed by an eruption of materials, or myopically and exclusively concerned with complex technique …. I determined that my work in fiber should come from fiber and celebrate the medium.” 

Rift, 1991 by Blair Tate
Rift, Blair Tate, linen, cotton rope and aluminum, 96″ x 65″, 1991. Photo by Tom Grotta

To compose her works, Tate creates modular units of woven linen strips tied together with cotton cords. The knots that result create an additional pattern — what Tate considers a scaffold for the tapestry, producing a second complicating scrim. She sees an analogy between textile and text. The strips are like sentences that can be edited,  “rearranged to re-contextualize, to forge relationships, to develop meaning.” Her influences are diverse, African kente cloths “for their beauty and directness,” Baroque architecture, Berber carpets, Italo Calvino’s, If on a Winter’s Night a Travelerand an appreciation for Japanese order and symmetry, broken by natural variations. In addition to her weavings, she has worked as a commercial textile designer, authored The Warp: A Weaving Resource (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1984) which analyzes the elements of weaving, and in the past year, she has made masks for neighbors, friends and a local care center.

Pangaea, 2021 and Small Gemelli, 1977 by Blair Tate
Pangaea, linen, cotton rope and aluminum, 46″ x 29″ x 1.5″, 2021 2021
Small Gemelli, woven linen, spago (hemp). loosely constructed plaid. It exposes and clarifies each element of weaving – counted wefts follow a small doubling sequence within parallel warps which leave all weft ends exposed, 24.75” x 18.75” x 3.25”, 1977

In Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change this spring at browngrotta arts (May 8 -16), Tate will exhibit two works that explore her ideas about the warp. Small Gemelli (1977) was one of her earliest pieces to focus on the elements of weaving. It is a simple plaid – one of the most fundamental woven configurations – but opened to keep both warp and weft distinct.  In Panagea, created this year, Tate consciously wove to the very limits of her warp to minimize loom waste.  In the past, she says,  “I might have incorporated interruptions in the strips while weaving, thereby wasting the unwoven warp; in Pangaea, the gaps emerge only in the rearranging.” 

Jaiselmer by Blair Tate
Detail of Jaiselmer by Blair Tate, linen, cotton rope and aluminum, 73″ x 39″, 1999. Photo by Tom Grotta

Artist Focus: Naoko Serino

Naoko Serino portrait
Naoko Serino, 2021

Japanese artist, Naoko Serino, our focus this week, works in jute, a remarkably adaptable material that provokes references to other biological structures. Jute’s golden sheen and sinuous strands “yield a most spectacular softness and luminosity,” notes author Moon Lee (http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/naoko-serino-spins-vegetable-fiber-into-golden-sculptures). In Serino’s work, “the natural fibers are spun densely or pulled thin, making for infinite gradations of densities. Irregular shapes in varying degrees of transparency provoke an effect that is strongly biological. Spheres, tubes, tubes contained within spheres, spheres contained within cubes, and rows of coiled strands evoke thoughts of phospholipid bilayers of cell membranes, veins, sea sponges, and so forth.” 

Existing -2-D
13ns Existing -2-D, Naoko Serino, jute, 56″ x 56″ x 11″, 2006

Serino creates her sculptures by first covering molds with jute fibers, which she removes when they have dried, creating a final work combining individual fiber elements. Some of the works that Serino creates are small individual pieces, while others are installations that are large enough to fill an entire room. Despite the fragile appearance of the jute fibers, the works have an imposing presence. 

Existing II
12ns Existing II, Naoko Serino, jute 7.375” x 8.5” x 8.5”, 2016. Photo by Tom Grotta

“I moved to a seaside town 30 years ago. I felt the light and wind there and my feelings were stirred by my proximity to Nature,” Serino says. “I began to see with new eyes and I discovered a material, jute. I think the discovery was inevitable. In and through my hands, a dignified hemp produces a shape that contains both light and air. I am grateful that I came across this material. It is a joy for me to express things with jute that stir deep emotions in me. I see myself continuing to express my feelings in this form.”

Generating outside
Generating Outside, Naoko Serino, jute, 39.5″ x 24″ x 4″, 2020. Photo by Naoko Serino

Serino’s work was included in the Fiber Futures: Japan’s Textile Pioneers exhibition which traveled from Japan to New York, Milan, Copenhagen and other venues. She was awarded the Silver Prize in the 10th Kajima Sculpture Competition and the Encouragement Award in the 16th Kajima Sculpture Award in 2020. She was a awarded the first prize in the Collection Arte & Arte alla Torre delle Arti di Bellagio, Como, Italy in 2014, the Silver Prize in the 10th Kajima Sculpture Competition and the Encouragement Award in the 16th Kajima Sculpture Award in 2020.

Generating Mutsuki
17ns Generating Mutsuki, Naoko Serino, jute, 9.5″ x 8″ 8″, 2021. Photo by Tom Grotta

Serino is one of the artists whose work is included in browngrotta arts’ next Art in the Barn exhibition, Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change (May 8th – May 16th) http://www.browngrotta.com/Pages/calendar.php. Her work for the exhibition, Generating-Mutsuki, came out of her desire to create a work along the lines of the large-scale sculpture she created for Kajima Sculpture competition in a smaller size.


A Whiter Shade of Pale

Bow-W-98.2, Masakazu Kobayashi; Petites-ailes-de-glacé-blanc, Micheline Beauchemin
Bow-W-98.2, Masakazu Kobayashi, rayon, aluminum, 30″ x 33″ x 3.75″, 1998; Petites-ailes-de-glacé-blanc, Micheline Beauchemin, nylon, silk and silver aluminum wire, lead wire, 30″ x 32.25″ x 7″, 1980’s. Beauchemin used white to evoke the icy rivers of Quebec. Photo by Tom Grotta

As American Songwriter opined, “who could have possibly predicted the success of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” which went to #1 in the UK in 1967, #5 in the US, and has outlasted so many other flower-power and psychedelic-flavored tracks from that era to be one of the most enduring songs of the 60’s?” 

Traverser, Gyöngy Laky
Traverser, Gyöngy Laky, ash, paint, “bullet for buildings” (trim screws), 22” x 22” x 22”, 2016, Photo by Tom Grotta
paper sculpture, Naomi Kobayashi
Untitled, Naomi Kobayashi, , Naomi Kobayashi, kayori thread, paper, 99″ x 54″ x 5″ (x2), 2006. Photo by Tom Grotta
Ondes, Simone Pheulpin
Ondes, Simone Pheulpin, cotton, 26” x 49.5”, 2016, Photo by Tom Grotta. Pheulpin creates her wall- and free-standing sculptures exclusively of white cotton tape.

It’s an unforgettable lyric that often comes to mind when we view works by artists who work with browngrotta arts. Many of of them work in white, to evoke clouds or an icy river or purity or to explore the absence of color or a dichotomy with black. 

Second Cousin, Grethe Wittrock
The Second Cousin, Grethe Wittrock, white paper yarn knotted on steel plate, 67” x 78.75”, 2006. Photo by Tom Grotta
Sara Brennan tapestry
Detail of Sara Brennan tapestry, wools, linens and silk. Brennan incorporates dozens of shades of white in her tapestries. Photo by Tom Grotta
White Paper Shell, Federica Luzzi
White Paper Shell, Federica Luzzi, paper cord, 12.875″ x 12.875″, 2016. Photo by Tom Grotta
Plan Your Parenthood-Population, Judy Mulford
waxed linen, polyform, antique mother of pearl buttons, beads, pins, gesso, knitting needle, gourds, rock, wooden doll chairs, 22″ x 7.5″ x 8″, 2009 . Photo by Tom Grotta
Blanc de Blanc, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette
Blanc de Blanc, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, wool, 4’6″ x 10′, 1980. Photo by Tom Grotta

“In many cultures, white is seen as the color of innocence and virginity, purity, loyalty and peace,” noted the Textile Museum in Tilburg, the Netherlands in its materials for its 2019 exhibition, Black & White | Symbolic Meaning in Art & Design. In the West, white clothing and decoration are symbolic of the joy around births, baptisms and weddings, the Museum notes, while in many African and Asian cultures, as well as in medieval Europe, white is the traditional color of death and mourning. 


Artist Focus: Lija Rage

This week we are highlighting the work of artist Lija Rage of Latvia. Rage creates her fiber works by painting small sticks and wrapping them in copper wire, by gluing and sewing, layer upon layer until the work is finished. Her work is infused with color. As Rage described it for her 2018 Colours exhibition at the Mark Rothko Centre in Daugavplis, Latvia,

Lija Rage. Photo by Ruta Pirta.
Lija Rage. Photo by Ruta Pirta.

“Green – the woods outside my window; blue – the endless variety of the sea; orange – the sun in a summer sky; brown, grey and black – fresh furrows and the road beneath the melting snow; red – the roses in our gardens. The colours in my work are drawn from the splendour of Latvian nature.”

Animal, Lija Rage, silk, metallic thread, flax 2006 photo by Tom Grotta
Animal, Lija Rage, silk, metallic thread, flax 2006. Photo by Tom Grotta

Rage is influenced by different cultures. “I plunge into them with the help of literature,” she said in her statement for the Transition and Influence, exhibition, which traveled in the UK. “I am particularly interested in drawings of ancient cultures on the walls of caves in different parts of world; Eastern culture with its mysterious magic, drawings of runes in Scandinavia, Tibet and the mandala, Egyptian pyramid drawings. The world culture seems close and colorful to me due to its diversity.”

Beginnings, Lija Rage, bamboo, copper wire, fabric 2019, photo by Tom Grotta
Beginnings, Lija Rage, bamboo, copper wire, fabric 2019, photo by Tom Grotta

Rage was born in 1948 and lives and works in Jūrmala, Latvia. She completed a master’s degree in the Textile Department of the Art Academy of Latvia. Rage has been a member of Latvian Artists’ Union since 1976. Her work has been featured in more than 10 solo shows and in numerous group exhibitions in Latvia and abroad.

Detail, Beginnings, Lija Rage, photo by Tom Grotta.

Rage has received a number of awards: Grand Prix of the Baltic Applied Arts Triennial in Tallinn, Estonia, special award of the Korean Biennale (2007), the Valparaiso Foundation grant (2009); the Nordic Culture Point grant (2010); Excellence Award of the 7th International Fibre Art Biennale in China (2012); Excellence Award of the Applied Arts Biennale in China (2014). 

Crossroads, Lija Rage. Winner of the Excellence Award
Crossroads, Lija Rage. Winner of the Excellence Award

In 2020, she received an Excellence Award for Crossroads, at a solo exhibition at the Zana Lipkes Memorial Museum, which memorializes a family that hid Jews during World War II. The exhibition text quotes Rage, “With our works and our choices, we all leave traces and footprints. Human paths intersect, and the choices we make have consequences and affect others. To life! Spread goodness.”


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/.


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.”