Category: Tapestry

An Artist Evolves: Lia Cook’s Five Bodies of Work

Lia Cook is a relentless innovator who has been involved in textile experimentation since her graduate and undergraduate work in Arts and Design at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1970s. 

While Cook has created varied bodies of work in her storied career, her explorations have a consistent theme. They all involve the experience of touch, the sensation of the body and the physicality of cloth. “Cook’s work defies the ‘ocular-centricity’ of Western art by overturning the hierarchy of the senses and repositioning the sense of touch in the foreground. While the work is never handled in the gallery or museum, the sense of touch is so fully activated that the experience of the work is startlingly touch-sensory,” writes Deborah Valoma, in Lia Cook: In the Folds — Works from 1973 – 1997

Space Dyed Weaving
48lc Space-Dyed Weaving II, Lia Cook, rayon, cotton; woven, 72″ x 33″, 1975

Cook’s early work aimed to envelop the viewer in monumental cloth. “The work was imposing, strident and typically employed magnified imagery of weave patterns as the subject,” writes Valoma, “depicting both in realization and representation the structural realities of weaving.” Space-Dyed Weaving-2, created in 1975, is an example of work from this period. So is Spatial Ikat III-2, the prize for the winner of our Art for a Cause 2021 sweepstakes with UncommonGood (uncommongood.io.), which continues through July 31st.

Through the Curtain in 5 Scenes Transposed
13lc Through the Curtain in 5 Scenes Transposed, Lia Cook dyes on rayon; woven, 5’ x 18.5’, 1986

In the 1980s, cook turned her attention to textile structures — curtains, pockets and crazy quilts. Through the Curtain in 5 Scenes Transposed, which hints at curtains on a stage, is from this period. In the 1990s, Cook created works that took inspiration from images of fabric painted during the Renaissance, when images of drapery were an essential part of a painter’s training.  

Material Pleasures: Leonard I
8lc Material Pleasures: Leonard I, Lia Cook acrylic on linen, dyes on rayon; woven, 53” x 77”, 1993

As Valoma describes, in works like Material Pleasures, created in 1993, Cook painted the imagery of draped fabrics on linen or abaca with acrylics or oil paints. The canvases were finely stripped and inserted as weft into hand-painted warps and woven on a 32-harness loom, purposefully defying conventional definitions.

Big Susan
43lc Big Susan, Lia Cook, woven cotton, 168” x 48”, 2005

In the mid-90s, after two artists-in-residencies, one in Italy and one in Germany, Cook’s work took yet another turn — focusing on the Jacquard loom and incorporating photography, to create works that were narrative and personal. This body of works was featured in The Embedded Portrait, her solo exhibition at the University of Wyoming Art Gallery in 2009.

In 2010, Cook’s shifts again. As an artist-in-residence at the University’of Pittsburgh’s TREND program (Transdisciplinary Research in Emotion, Neuroscience and Development, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine), Cook was able to compare the emotional responses of viewers to actual photographs and to her weavings of photo images “I wanted to explore the nature of people’s emotional connection to woven faces,” she explains. “I thought that the material and structural aspects of the textile, the physical evidence of the hand and the memories associated with these tactile experiences might intensify the reactions. Something about the textile engenders embodied emotional response beyond that of the two–dimensional photo.”

Neural Networks
23lc Neural Networks, Lia Cook woven cotton and rayon, 83″ x 51″ x 1.5″, 2011

To test her hypothesis, Cook, in collaboration with scientists at TREND tried several approaches. Cook and the scientists could see noticeable differences in individual images from MRI data and in records of electrical brain activity from EEGs when volunteers compared flat and woven images. She underwent this MRI imaging on herself and then, using software from MGH/Harvard, Biomedical Imaging Lab, she manipulated the images for a series of weavings that combine faces and images of brain fibers, as you can see in Neural Networks, 2011.

Cook’s experiments in neuroaesthetics continue — and as always, she makes adjustments and changes her gaze to produce something new. Recently, she has merged three fibers into her imagery — neural fibers, plant fibers and the parallel lines that she used in the 1970s. “Art and science are more similar in their process than many people think,” says Cook. “Each requires starting with a question, being curious, discovering something new, being willing to take the answers or lack of answers — good or bad — and building on that for the future.” 

Keep watching, as this remarkable artist continues to experiment, innovate and create remarkable work.


Craft is Now an Art Market Force: Just 3 Weeks to Win a Lia Cook of Your Own

Lia Cook Spatial details
Details of Spatial Ikat III_1976; Spatial Ikat III-2, 1976; Space-Dyed-Weaving-2, 1975

Craft is now an “art market force,” according to the art platform Artsy, “How Craft Became an Art Market Force,” Benjamin Sutton, February 10, 2021. “The boundaries separating painting, ceramics, weaving, drawing, glassblowing, printmaking, and other processes and practices are now porous if not completely antiquated. This is plainly clear from visiting most major art museums where, increasingly, textiles share wall space with abstract paintings and glass, and clay sculptures sit on plinths alongside bronzes.”

The Ceramic Presence in Modern Art: Selections from the Linda Leonard Schlenger Collection at the Yale Art Gallery in 2016 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuNAdtbxRPw) provided an early exhibition example of impactful intermixing of media. The exhibition featured over 80 objects from the Schlenger collection by leading 20th-century ceramicists—including Toshiko Takezu, Ruth Duckworth, Kenneth Price, Lucie Rie, and Peter Voulkos—alongside works in other media from the Yale University Art Gallery’s permanent collection by artists such as Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, Isamu Noguchi, Mark Rothko, and Edward Ruscha. The Gallery recognized that, allthough critically lauded within the studio-craft movement, works by these ceramicists were only then coming to be recognized as integral to the wider field of contemporary art. This ecumenical approach is further illustrated in Making Knowing; Craft in Art 1950-2019  at the Whitney in New York (November 2019 until February of next year; https://whitney.org/exhibitions/making-knowing). The exhibition “foregrounds how visual artists have explored the materials, methods, and strategies of craft over the past seven decades. Some expand techniques with long histories, such as weaving, sewing, or pottery, while others experiment with textiles, thread, clay, beads, and glass, among other mediums.” It includes artists like Robert Raushenberg, Kiki Smith and Agnes Martin beside Robert Arneson, Sheila Hicks and Ron Nagle. Also exhibiting currently, Women in Abstraction, at the Pompidou Center through August 23rd (https://www.centrepompidou.fr/en/program/calendar/event/OmzSxFv) .Transcending the traditional reductionist hierarchies between high and low art, the exhibition presents a history that includes dance, the decorative arts, photography and cinema and artists that include Ruth Asawa, Barbara Hepworth and Lenore Tawney. 

Fiber art has played a major part in this surge of interest and now through July 31st, you can be a part of this emerging trend. Enter the UncommonGood sweepstakes for an important Lia Cook tapestry. You’ll promote her work, fiber arts and the Breast Cancer Alliance in the process, and just maybe, add a remarkable work to your your personal collection.

Installation view of Making Knowing: Craft in Art
Installation view of Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, November 22, 2019–January 2021). From left to right: Peter Voulkos, Red River, c. 1960; Robert Rauschenberg, Yoicks, 1954; Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S.270, Hanging Six-Lobed, Complex Interlocking Continuous Form within a Form with Two Interior Spheres), 1955, refabricated 1957-58. Photograph by Ron Amstutz.

Spatial Ikat III-2, woven by Lia Cook in 1976 during a formative period for fiber art, will be the prize in a sweepstakes organized by UncommonGood, along with a $7,500 prize, a Zoom call with the artist and a copy of the catalog: Lia Cook: In the Folds – Works from 1973 – 1997. The tapestry was donated by browngrotta arts in Wilton, Connecticut, as the latest of its Art for a Cause projects. The proceeds from the sweepstakes will go to the Breast Council Alliance.

Lia 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. Long recognized as an innovator, Cook’s work has been featured in dozens of group and solo exhibitions worldwide. Her work is found in dozens of museum collections, including that of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

In Spatial Ikat III-2 Cook aimed to envelop the viewer in a work that was imposing and strident. She perfected the technique used in this work over a period of years. Distorting a plain weave with strenuous physical intervention, the lines undulate and create a topographical terrain, creating the illusion of massive threads moving over and under one another.

Spatial Ikat III-2
Spatial Ikat III-2 by Lia Cook

Donating to win this important tapestry, aids the Breast Cancer Alliance. BCA funds innovative research, breast surgery fellowships, regional education, dignified support and screening for the underserved. 

Enter the sweepstakes here: https://uncommongood.iohttps://uncommongood.io/sweepstakes/win-a-lia-cook-art-piece-valued-at-35000-and-7500-in-cash


Artist Focus: Carolina Yrarrázaval

Carolina Yrarrázaval portrait
Carolina Yrarrázaval portrait by Tom Grotta

Strength and refinement are words used by those who review or just experience Carolina Yrarrázaval’s elegant tapestries. For a 2003 solo exhibition at the Chilean Museum of Fine Art in Santiago, Sheila Hicks wrote of her works: “Somber steps/weaving dignity/without digression/relentless ascent/rigorous denial/without shame.” Yrarrázaval’s work features a formal and chromatic purity, achieved through the use of colors achieved through a personal dyeing process.

Tapestries by Carolina Yrarrázaval
Tapestries by Carolina Yrarrázaval. Photo by Tom Grotta

There are multiple influences reflected in Yrarrázaval’s work. A solo exhibition, Capas de Recuerdos, at the Centro Cultural Las Condes in 2019, was entitled Layer of Memories, reflecting the layers of weaving, years of research and volumes of textures that feature in her work. Yrarrázaval draws on different manifestations and cultures, from pre-Hispanic geometry to the subtlety and mystery of Japanese textiles. 

Detail of  Memoria Andina
Detail of Memoria Andina, Carolina Yrarrázaval, linen and cotton, 54.25″ x 25.25″, 2019. Photo by Tom Grotta

For example, she lives on the Chilean coast and that environment infuses her work, which features blue greens, wavy lines and iridescent threads that reflect the colors of the beach and lines of the ocean and the horizon. She has traveled to India and Japan and cites costumes she saw there as another influence, evident in deep reds and indigos. She works in linen, jute, cotton, silk, raffia and hemp.

Amazonas, Carolina Yrarrázaval
17jy Amazonas, Carolina Yrarrázaval, yute, jute, raffia and silk, 35.5” x 39.25”, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

Traditional textiles are still another source of influence for Yrarrázaval. “Throughout my entire artistic career I have devoted myself to investigating traditional textile techniques from diverse cultures, especially Pre-Columbian techniques, trying to adapt them to my creative needs. Abstraction has always been present as an aesthetic aim, informing my choice of materials, forms, textures and colors. The simple proportions are guided by an intuitive sense that avoids the use of mathematical formulas.” 


Our 51st Catalog – Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change

The theme of our most recent exhibition, Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change was intentionally broad, to cover all sorts of external circumstances — besides the pandemic — that might influence an artists process. 

Adaptation: artists respond to change cover

Artists who work with browngrotta arts coped with the changes of the last year various ways — moving locations, taking up art photography, taking new inspiration from nature. But COVID and lockdowns are just some of the many reasons artists make changes in others include adapting when a material becomes unavailable (willow) or a new one suggests itself (fiber optic, bronze, copper, steel, kibisio, akebia), making a move in the US from the East to the South or from one country to another or from the city to the desert, facing a change in physical abilities (allergy, injury), an altered personal relationship, or a commission opportunity or an exhibition challenge. Our 51st catalog tells the stories of 47 artists from 14 countries, how their art has changed and why.

Adaptation: contents page

Replete with photos of work, installation and detail shots the catalog also includes an essay by Josephine Shea, Art Bridges Initiative, American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

“Every year brings losses and change, but 2020 brought them on a global scale. In the US, election-year politics and racial injustice, were layered on top of the pandemic,” writes Shea. “Some of the artists in Adaption created work that responded to the challenges of moment, while others looked at long-term issues, like climate change.  Work by these artists also reveals the impacts of lockdown constraints, some imposed and some self-imposed, as studio space access was interrupted and available supplies a variable for experimentation …. And, that art aids resilience, providing artists a way to find calm, express emotional turmoil and turn adversity — like injury or a mudslide or trip on a vine — into opportunity.”

Jin-Sook So spread

The artists included in the exhibition and catalog are: Adela Akers (US), Polly Barton (US), James Bassler (US), Zofia Butrymowicz (Poland), Sara Brennan (UK), Pat Campbell (US), Włodzimierz Cygan (Poland), Neha Puri Dhir(India), Paul Furneaux (UK), John Garrett (US), Ane Henriksen (Denmark), Kazue Honma (Japan), Tim Johnson (UK), Lewis Knauss (US), Nancy Koenigsberg (US), Yasuhisa Kohyama  (Japan), Irina Kolesnikova(Russia/Germany), Lawrence LaBianca (US), Gyöngy Laky (US), Sue Lawty (UK), Jennifer Falck Linssen (US), Kari Lønning (US), Federica Luzzi (Italy), Rachel Max (UK), John McQueen (US), Mary Merkel-Hess (US),Norma Minkowitz (US), Laura Foster Nicholson (US), Keiji Nio (Japan), Gudrun Pagter (Denmark), Eduardo Portillo & Mariá Eugenia Dávila (Venezuela), Mariette Rousseau-Vermette (Canada), Heidrun Schimmel (Germany), Hisako Sekijima (Japan), Naoko Serino (Japan), Karyl Sisson (US), Jin-Sook So (Korea/Sweden), Polly Sutton (US), Noriko Takamiya (Japan), Chiyoko Tanaka (Japan), Blair Tate (US), Wendy Wahl (US), Gizella K Warburton (UK), Grethe Wittrock (Denmark) and Shin Young-ok (Korea), Carolina Yrarrázaval (Chile).

Lewis Knauss Spread

For a copy of Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change, visit our website: http://store.browngrotta.com/adaption-artist-respond-to-change/


Artist Focus: Włodzimierz Cygan

Detail: Cycle Tapping: May, Włodzimierz Cygan, viscose, linen and fiber optic, 117” x 34”, 2014

In a recent catalog of Włodzimierz Cygan’s work, Dariusz Lesnikowski, writes that commenting on Cygan’s work is both easy and hard. “Easy because his works fascinate, stimulate imagination, and trigger a variety of associations and inspirations.” Difficult because his work has been analyzed often and “[h]e is one of those artists who have significantly reshape the art of weaving, daring to overcome the traditionally guaranteed limitations of his field of art.” According to Lesnikowski, fibers in Cygan’s work are constantly used in new ways, meeting the warp in successive places for interlacing and each time providing unpredictable surprises. (“Woven on the bright side of imagination,” Dariusz Lesnikowski, Włodzimierz Cygan: Unique Fiber, Gallery Amcor, Lodz, Poland, 2020).

Traps, wool, viscose, linen, sisal, fiber optic installation 92” x 106”, 2019

Cygan’s work has been exhibited in Europe, Asia and Latin America, including the Jean Lurcat Museum in France, the Kyoto Art Center in Japan and the National Gallery in San Jose, Costa Rica. He was awarded a Bronze Medal at the 6th International Fiber Art BiennialFrom Lausanne to Beijingand the Grand Prix, 12th International Triennial of Tapestry. Cygan is reknown for his textile innovations. “When trying to determine why the means of artistic expression in tapestry was becoming archaic,” he has written, “I realized that one of the reasons might have to do with the custom of treating the threads of the weft as the chief medium of the visual message. . . . These observations led me to wonder how the artistic language of textiles might benefit from a warp whose strands would not be parallel and flat but convergent, curved or three dimensional … .” As a result of these explorations, in some of Cygan’s works, the warp changes direction, enabling the weaving of circles or arcs. 

Detail of Miracle, Włodzimierz Cygan linen, wool and sisal, 56.5” x 47” x 6.5” 2006

For more than 10 years, Cygan has been teaching at Gdańsk Academy and Architecture of Textiles’ Institute at Łódź Technical University. Miracle, which won the Bronze medal at the 6th From Lausanne to Beijing, features a hypnotic curve, that draws the viewer into the heart of the work. “The artist shapes the rhythm of the composition, consciously interfering with the structure of the fabric. Like a calligrapher, he builds the form by weaving the thread of the weft through the framework of the warp,” writes Lesnikowski. “Regularity (the general rule) confronts irregularity (modifications) of the warp.”

Blue/Green Weaving, Włodzimierz Cygan, polyester, linen, sisal, fiber optic, 41” x 41” x 15”, 2018

In 2004, during the 11th Lodz Triennial, Cygan met Danish artist Astrid Krogh

who worked with optical fibers. She gave a lecture for Cygan’s students and provided him the optical material that was not available in

Poland at the time and gave him another opportunity to experiment. He created a work entitled, Dear Astrid as a thank you. He has created several works since using optical fibers, including Blue/Green Weaving in 2018 and Traps in 2019. You can see more examples of Cygan’s work on our website: http://www.browngrotta.com/Pages/cygan.php.


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: 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.”


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.”