Friday, May 21, 2021

At Your Service


Across the road on the upper left
Artist David Hammons 
Installation of a ghostly sort...of sculpture

Lucky for us, we can spend some time out in the world, going to see some art now at my local museum.  It was just a couple of weeks ago that we were in New York City, and we walked into the new Whitney Museum of Art down along the west side of Manhattan.  Looking out from a top floor window of the new Whitney, I see a sculpture that is actually mounted out in the Hudson River, where old piers once stood.  The installation looks complete, but the work is like a contour drawing of one of the old warehouse buildings that once lined this section of the waterfront.  The artist in charge is David Hammons, and I wondered about the kinds of strings that had to be pulled in order for the city to allow this kind of "building" where heavy freighters once tied up along the docks.

David Hammons art is very evocative, even ghostly.  This kind of site specific work reminds me so much of what Robert Smithson would write about in his essays that would recall "monuments" of an era past.  I often walked down this stretch of road when I was a teenager, to photograph and sketch, never stopping to think what the future would hold for this place.  Now, when we come back into Manhattan I almost can't recognize the city where I was born!

Archie Rand's "613" at The Memorial Art Gallery

Closer to where we now live in upstate New York, the cases of Covid have been dropping mercifully and people can feel more apt to want to be outside and enjoy the warmer weather.  Having had a vaccination may lessen the anxiety a bit but we still don't go out to a crowded restaurant and rarely to a show.  I do wonder how a gallery can stay in business under these circumstances.  When I visited The Memorial Art Gallery recently, I did find a few people out to see the new show of Archie Rand's paintings he calls "The 613".

Archie Rand and his "613" paintings

When I go out to see contemporary artist's work, I often recognize their style from having seen a show of their's before, and that is certainly the case with Archie Rand who is a painter I have followed over my years in New York City, and I also remember that Rand was a teacher at Columbia University when we lived downstate.

"613"  is a series of paintings that illustrate more than the ten commandments

The publicity and essays about Archie Rand always mention that he is thought of as something of a renegade by not following trends in the artworld.  "The 613" follows in that regard in that the paintings 
illustrate teachings found in the Torah - a holy book which I once held open during my Bar Mitzvah!  Archie Rand's paintings are all based on the "dos" and don'ts of the Jewish faith.  When looking at this show I right away thought about my own relationship with religion and the standards that I stood for.  Beyond my 13th birthday I neglected religious teachings and sought out other avenues that I found more to my taste.  My teachers in synagogue tried to have me speak in Hebrew, but I didn't have an ear for the language and quickly forgot the letters of that alphabet!

Archie Rand: Between the Comic and the Tragic

Now, when I am faced with the Hebrew in Archie Rand's paintings at the MAG, I will admit it is a struggle!  Certainly the paintings are more than the language and they present an image that is often a kind of comic or cartoon.  I think Archie Rand tries not to be too pedantic in his interpretations of what the commandments may mean.  His style sums up in an image what might cross your mind when you can interpret the painting at all in the first place.  Some of his images stand out- or else I remember them because they are a scream - a man puts his head in a vice, or a woman has her eyes sunk deep in her head and you can see out the other side!  The paintings ( hundreds of them ) are lined up along the walls and you can take your pick of the ones that really register....

John Ahern at The Memorial Art Gallery

Once I step away from Rand's artwork and I come out into the next gallery I find a sculpture by my friend John Ahern - it is of a woman looking skyward, patiently waiting there with her hose and watering can.  This  art  features a figure cast in plaster representing a  " real person".  We get away from that feeling found in Archie Rand's paintings that are sort of funny in that they look like 1950s cartoon strips.  

Jackie Kennedy by Andy Warhol

Art can move you, and it also can bring you very much back to an enhanced reality.  We can see that for certain in the grave way Andy Warhol treats with respect the image of Jackie Kennedy mourning the passage of her husband, the President.  For me the Warhol has the kind of impact I miss with Archie Rand, though I do admit that Rand can be engaging and entertaining!


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Remembering Printmaker Keith Howard


Artist and Printmaker:  Keith Howard ( 1950-2015 )

At this stage of my life, I am grateful for those individuals who have made a deep impression on me as an artist and as a friend, and it is in this manner that I honor Keith Howard.  Looking back, Keith had an impact on me and our printmaking community and his influence is felt by many to this day.  His most relevant efforts to support Non-Toxic Printmaking and to bring his knowledge and expertise to Rochester is a story to be told, and it is something one will never forget.

Keith Howard at work in his apron

How did this come about?  Years before I actually met Keith, I was getting his mailings about the workshops he held at his home turf then in Grand Prairie, up in Alberta, Canada.  I decided to take his summer class and it changed my life - and I guess that decision changed his life too - but we would not know this at that time in 1995.

By the mid 1990s I was teaching at Rochester Institute of Technology and taking night classes there to get up to speed with the latest digital technology.  I was making prints the old-fashioned way with etching plates and acid.  In the printmaking studio at R.I.T. I would leave at the end of an evening with a headache, even though I made some nice color etchings.  There had to be a better way!  I got on a plane one summer and found my way to Grand Prairie - up near the border with Alaska.

Keith Howard's book on Non-Toxic Printmaking

Keith Howard had published his first book about Non-Toxic Printmaking and it sent shock waves through the print community - slowly but surely.  It is hard to shake up this sector of the art making world, especially because the techniques artists use to make etchings and lithography are centuries old!

A couple of years after I took his summer workshop, I asked Keith if he would like to come to Rochester to give a guest lecture and after we did that R.I.T. then asked him if he would like to have a position  teaching here in the States.  His answer was positively yes, but this then tore his family apart!
Keith actually came to live with us in our home on Elmwood Avenue as he adjusted to life in the States.
Keith set up his school for Non-Toxic Printmaking at R.I.T. and started a new chapter in his life.

Keith Howard  lays out his work for us in the studio at R.I.T.

Keith travelled widely to promote his techniques, and the work he made also gradually changed although for many years it was based on photographs he would make.  Keith eventually remarried and they set up their own home in Rochester but he continued to travel and expand the reach of his research.  At some point he also had the thought to translate his visual ideas into paintings, and thus began an unusual chapter in the work of this  ground-breaking printmaker.

Keith Howard's images at Axom Gallery in Rochester, New York

Keith would bring his model Michelle out on location and make panoramic photos which would then be translated into paintings.  Keith would team up with a  gifted painter in China who would take the composition through the steps of making a carefully constructed  verbatim painting of the image.

Keith would unroll the work in our living room and we would all find the artwork remarkable!  What a surprise!

Now it is more than five years since Keith suddenly passed away, and we all miss his ground breaking vision, his humor, and his expertise!  May he rest in peace!

Saturday, May 1, 2021

A Skyline By The Highline


Skyline By The Highline
Photo from the deck of the Whitney Museum

There comes a point when you feel that it is time to come out of your shell, and you cross the bridge to see the sites.  Due to the pandemic we have been in self-imposed lockdown for months and we needed to break the spell after our vaccines and head for New York City ( by car ).  We have made this trip many times and immediately we were in a wave of traffic going into Manhattan and because people are fearful of getting on the subway the roads are packed.

Alan and Paul Singer at The Whitney Museum, New York City

Just try to park your car around The Whitney Museum in the old meat packing neighborhood on the West Side Highway!  Once we found our timed tickets we proceeded to enter the museum and luckily there was not a long line there waiting for the elevator.  The Whitney has eight floors, and we won't have time to see everything, actually all we will do is a few shows and then it is off to Brooklyn for dinner.

Mary Frank, "Swimmer", earthenware 1978

The main reason why we are in the city is to see an exhibition by the artist Julie Mehretu.  Before we see her show we are on another floor of the museum where there is a select group of artists that represent a blend of art and craft.  Here is a work by Mary Frank in red earthenware.  I would see her work at Zabriskie Gallery years ago and my brother Paul Singer, curated an exhibition of her art for a gallery that was close by to the Central Park Zoo.

Why the split between the arts and crafts exists at all is a mystery, and one that would require a lengthy inquiry.  I respect all of the arts and the inclination to devote your life to a creative pursuit is very high in my estimation.

Betty Woodman on the pedestal

Betty Woodman was someone who I met years ago when I would circulate around the art galleries in Manhattan.  I think the painter, Helen Wilson introduced me to her.  In any case Betty Woodman for a time had her ceramic work in the entry of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and that was a major step forward.  Betty Woodman had an artistic family too with her husband the painter George Woodman ( he had a solo show at The Guggenheim Museum of Art ) and daughter photographer Francesca Woodman, and a cousin the sculptor Tim Woodman who I met when we both studied at Cornell University in the mid 1970s.

The artists in this select show use a range of materials from clay and threads to sequins and even a decorative kitchen that seems to glitter.  Liza Lou creates a statement with found objects and so much more ( seen below ) as a commentary on a woman's place in the home!!

Liza Lou, "Kitchen"  1991-96

Finally we are onto the show of Julie Mehretu, and she does  have a great  ambition!  She sweeps you up into a maelstrom of energy and movement even though some of her subject matter comes from linear studies of stable architecture.  Impressive are her large works which combine drawing with ink on canvas painted with acrylics.  She uses levels - really layers of imagery that creates depth with detail and gesture.  It is moving to see such an outpouring from  this artist!

Julie Mehretu at The Whitney Museum of Art

Julie Mehretu is a Ethiopian born artist, and her family moved to the USA from Africa when their government began to fall apart in the 1970s.  As a student of the visual arts, Julie employs printmaking techniques and drawing by hand as well as the computer, and the textures in her work develop from maps and diagrams, and even blurry photos and a fascinating amount of detail can be seen when you move in close. Don't miss her show!

Catalogue / Book for Julie Mehretu at The Whitney

Don't want to miss her show!

And now we can fight the traffic and find our dinner!  Hope to see you soon, Stay Well!