200 words #27 / Anni Albers

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Anni Albers / Wall Hanging 1926, Mercerized cotton, silk, 2032 x 1207 mm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Everfast Fabrics Inc. and Edward C. Moore Jr. Gift, 1969 , © 2018 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

In the critical rehabilitation of weaving as a serious artform, much is made of the analogy between the figurative ‘weave’ of painting – the modernist grid being a heavy-handed example – and the literal weave of fabric on a loom. It is a comparison from which the art of weaving invariably comes out on the bottom. It is a comparison also which would have us see the weave as a starting point for something supposedly greater, and not the result of an accretion of experimentation, symbolism and knowledge, and an end in itself.

Shortly after moving to Black Mountain College in 1934, having trained at the Bauhaus, Anni Albers began taking frequent trips to South and Central America. She collected textiles, and her eye discriminated as much based on aesthetic interest and her own feel for quality as a producer of textiles as on the historical importance of the sample. For Albers, Peruvian weaving was the ‘highest point weaving could aspire to’ (1.). Her respect for the accumulated wealth of weaving knowledge from different cultures was evident in her own unhurried and sophisticated oeuvre. In the artist’s own words – ‘let threads be articulate again…to no other end than their own orchestration’ (2).

Anni Albers at Tate Modern

(1.) Briony Fer on Anni Albers in Tate exhibition catalogue

(2.) Anni Albers, ‘Pictorial Weaves’ in Anni Albers: Pictorial Weavings, exh cat, Cambridge, MA 1959

Toshiko Takaezu

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Toshiko Takaezu / #8 Closed Form, 1970-1979, Salt-glazed stoneware, 9 x 8 1/2 inches (22.9 x 21.6 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of the artist, 2007-68-8, © Toshiko Takaezu

When potters are learning essential skills on the wheel, they will often use a gauge – perhaps no more than a chopstick held in place with a lump of clay – to ensure that a series of pieces reach the same height and diameter. And to develop an awareness of the vessel as a 3-dimensional object, and to ensure uniformity of shape, they might use a mirror held in place to reflect the side which is out of view as the piece is being formed. In short, everything the potter does reminds her of the form and volume of the object she is making.

For several decades the American artist Toshiko Takaezu (b. Hawaii 1922, d. Hawaii 2011) taught the skills involved in forming pottery on the wheel, teaching first at the Ceramics Department at the Cleveland Institute of Art in Ohio, and then at Princeton, where she helped to develop the visual art program. She herself had studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Michigan under the influential Finnish ceramist Maija Grotell – a training which would give her a solid yet experimental approach to the unique challenges and problems of ceramics.

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Toshiko Takaezu throwing a ceramic pot / Toshiko Takaezu papers, 1937-2010. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Wheel formed pottery’s unique challenges are tied to the demands of the medium and the skills involved in handling and forming it. This is a factor which often leads to more subtle shifts and developments over time than might be registered in another artform, such as painting. Another factor which influences the way the potter thinks about her medium is the serial mode of producing vessels on the wheel. In Japanese pottery this repetition, and the natural impulse to try to produce identical objects, was harnessed and made central to the creation of such objects as Chawan – tea bowls thrown off the hump – a method of repeat throwing in which the potter forms a series of vessels one after another from a single large hump of clay on the wheel. In Japanese pottery the subtle inconsistencies and imperfections which necessarily result from any attempt at identical repeat throwing are embraced rather than rejected.

Toshiko Takaezu was maturing as a potter and artist in the 1950s – a period when artists such as Peter Voulkos were exploding the very form of the vessel itself. Voulkos, like Takaezu, was an immensely skilled potter. He took his experiments to a large scale and chopped up and reassembled his colossal pots so that they relinquished all functionality and now looked more like modernist sculptures. To me they recall the wobbly urns and jugs that Braque painted in his patient 1940s reworkings of Cubist still life. Voukos’ rupture with the integrity of the vessel looked dramatic on the scale at which he carried it out and was in tune with concurrent developments in painting. On deeper reflection however, Voulkos’ innovations might equally appear as radical reworkings of the kind of openwork ceramics being produced in Korea in the 5th century AD which often featured ventilated bases and angular protrusions. So, the idea of a complete rupture with tradition in ceramics is one which disregards the knowledge and skill which the serious artist will have acquired in order to be able to make even the slightest shift in what he produces and how it looks.

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Toshiko Takaezu / Enclosed Form, 1980; ceramic wheelthrown white clay vessel form with small hole at apex. Gift of MaryAnne Normandin. Credits: Photo by Hannah Finegold. Rights: All Rights Reserved. Image: https://mimi.pnca.edu/

Takaezu’s rupture with the idea of functionality in ceramics was, on the face of it, subtler than that of Peter Voulkos. At the end of years of wheel forming open ended vessels, manipulating subtle shifts in elegant necks, and experimenting with glazes, Takaezu’s revolutionary break came in the moment she decided to close the form completely, sealing it at the top with a steady and patient hand. It is the kind of shift which one can imagine happening in a single unplanned moment following thousands of near repetitions of thrown pots on the wheel, like waves lapping the shore until one finally covers the last visible rock. It was a radical shift very much in keeping with the artist’s personality. In the same way that there is no distinction made in Japanese culture between the status of a painter and a potter, Takaezu saw no distinction in her life between the activities of pottery, cooking and gardening. To her the attention and patience required by each were essential to ensuring any degree of mastery.

From this tidy gesture of sealing the top of her vessels, the artist proceeded to elaborate on the forms which could be produced now that the functionality of the object had been reduced to a memory. As she became further drawn into the formal properties of the sealed form, she produced objects of larger scale and more ambitious technical challenge. Like Braque’s pots which seem to emerge from the camouflage of the densely patterned canvas, and with a steady, humming energy like that of Giorgio Morandi’s painted arrangements, Toshiko Takaezu’s vessels from this point on were objects pure and simple, with all the mystery and beauty that this implies.

Toshiko Takaezu documentary on YouTube

 

 

 

200 words #24 / Josephine Halvorson

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Josephine Halvorson / Night Window, February 11-12, 2015, 2015, Oil on linen, 31 x 22 inches, 79 x 56 cm © Josephine Halvorson, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

Representational painting demands that we take it on faith that a subject exists as depicted. Josephine Halvorson paints her subjects on-site and within real-time constraints such as available hours of daylight – or in the case of the series Night Window, which the artist painted during a residency at the French Academy in Rome and which shows the same window on multiple nights – available hours of darkness. Her subjects fill the canvas and convince with every brushstroke.

Peering into the darkness and imagining the world we knew in daylight still there is also an act of faith. The unyielding opacity of Halvorson’s darkened window, with its implied depth, heightens our impulse to catch sight of that world. Looking from painting to painting in the series for traces of difference, we see more discernible depth and detail in the window frame than the endless night beyond.

Halvorson’s subtly different night scenes give the lie to any idea that we register a painted subject solely through the evidence of what is clearly depicted. Just as we can imagine the flaking paintwork on the window frame implied by the artist’s brushwork, so too can we hear the sounds from the darkness outside.

Night Window series on the artist’s website

ART21 / Youtube video of Josephine Halvorson making a painting

Josephine Halvorson at Sikkema Jenkins

Works from the series currently on view – The Lure of the Dark at MASS MoCA

 

 

200 words #23 / Channing Hansen

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Channing Hansen, 9-Manifold, 2017, 42 x 48 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Marc Selwyn Fine Art. (see below for full list of materials used to create 9-Manifold)

The idea of a painting as something akin to a weave is one which facilitates several convenient associations. Apart from the literal weave of canvas, there is the interplay between layers, the superimposition of glazes, an infinity of textures and tonalities, and an equally unlimited scope for the arrangement of marks and painted motifs, arrangements often made stronger through varying degrees of separation than proximity. And this is to say nothing of illusory depth.

Channing Hansen arrived at his current preoccupation with knitting and weaving via an involvement in latter-day Fluxus and an interest in physics, fluid dynamics, and surgery theory. Employing a profound knowledge of fibres such as wool, alpaca, silk, and mohair, and an almost scientific dedication to sourcing and recording the provenance of the material he uses, Hansen creates irresistible, painterly weaves which he mounts on wooden stretchers. There are occasional gaps in the weave, and collisions of colour which may appear random, abstract. Hansen’s weaves however are largely determined by pre-applied computer algorithms, which dictate colour choice, pattern, and stitch.

George Maciunas would doubtless approve of this artist’s approach to the creative process – “Like a mathematical solution such a composition contains: beauty in the method alone.”*

*Taken from a Fluxus manifesto written by George Maciunas for the concert ‘Après John Cage’, Wiesbaden, 1962.

Channing Hansen / Fluid Dynamics at Marc Selwyn Fine Art

(Materials used in 9-Manifold: Bluefaced Leicester, California Variegated Mutant (Hattie), California Variegated Mutant (Hope), California Variegated Mutant (Petra), California Variegated Mutant (Pine), Dorset Horn, Exmoor Blueface, Romedale (January), Romedale (Patty), Romney (Martin), Romney (McKenna), Romney (Nevaeh), Romney (Noble), Romney (O’Connor), Romney (Osiris), Romney (Princess), and Shetland (Freya) fibers; silk noils, and Tussah silk fibers; gold, holographic polymers, pearl dust, and photoluminescent recycled polyester; banana cellulose, bamboo, bamboo carbon fiber, rose cellulose , SeaCell , legume cellulose, and Sequoioideae Redwood)

About theglazelondon banner image / Hans Hofmann’s 1958 mural for the New York School of Printing, 439 West 49th Street, New York.

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Mosaic mural for the New York School of Printing, 439 West 49th Street, New York, Hans Hofmann, 1958. Image: Robbie O’Halloran, 1999.

The banner image for theglazelondon might not be the most arresting one to use to brand a website devoted to visual art, but I chose it because it is a photograph of one of the few public art projects by the great Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann, and for the fact that so many people walk past it every day without realizing the significance of the artist behind it.

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I took the photograph in April 1999 – the same month that I first saw Hofmann’s paintings in the flesh at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The two visits – first to the Met to see the paintings, then to West 49th Street to see the mural – constituted, as much as I am comfortable calling it such, a kind of pilgrimage. Hofmann’s position in 20th century American art, and the story of Abstract Expressionism specifically, has always seemed to me to be more peripheral than it ought to be. At about the same time that I was looking at his work in New York, I had been reading a lot of what has been written about Hofmann, and of course the artist’s own writings on art. Hofmann was one of the most respected and vocal teachers of the time; a fact which may have contributed to the diminution of his reputation as a serious force in the community of his painter peers.

Hofmann’s thoughts on painting were quite well formed even before he moved permanently to America from Germany in 1932. And it is not so much his having such a direct connection to European Modernism that made his work difficult to incorporate smoothly into the emergent critical space of Ab Ex, so much as the fact that Hofmann attached to his work, so vocally and with such conviction, unfashionable interpretations of what he was doing. The story of American Painting in the 1950s is very much owned by the critics who made the work visible and not by the artists.

At its heart, Hans Hofmann’s art was about pure visual sensation, the way color and form operate, interact, and the effect this has on the viewer, at first optically, but ultimately on a more subjective level. I like the fact that Hofmann has never been a household name, even in certain houses whose walls are lined with art books. For painters however, every square inch of his canvases is an object lesson in getting on with the job, and enjoying it in the process.

Further links:

Walls of Color; The Murals of Hans Hofmann at Bruce Museum

New York Times article on Walls of Color – Roberta Smith

200 words #21 / Louise Fishman

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Louise Fishman, A LITTLE RAMBLE  2017, Oil on linen, 70 x 90 inches, 177.8 x 228.6 centimeters. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

By the time Louise Fishman took her first painting class in 1956, the same year Jackson Pollock died, Abstract Expressionism was already in decline. Retrospectively, Fishman has been spoken of as belonging to this movement, if only by way of a spiritual affiliation rather than as having played a part in its formation. In fact, had Fishman been a true contemporary of the main players in Ab Ex, it is unlikely still that she would have engaged with them to any great extent. She has been, by her own admission, a loner when it has come to creating alliances and nurturing relationships within the artworld. For such a solitary activity as painting this is perhaps no disadvantage. 

Fishman’s canvases are packed tight with contemporary riffs on Ab Ex – the sweep and drag of the brush, or whatever other implement the artist employs, leaving on the canvas the unmediated imprint of a super-sized gesture. If this sounds unsubtle, then the effect within each of Fishman’s canvases is elegant and controlled. The artist’s stated intention “…always, was to not repeat a painting”. The implied grid in each painting however, upon which the painted marks proliferate, allows a remarkably consistent voice to emerge.

Louise Fishman at Cheim & Read, New York

200 words #20 / Liz Larner

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Liz Larner, ix (calefaction), 2016, ceramic, glaze, stones, minerals, 59,1 x 97,8 x 24,8 cm, 23 1/4 x 38 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris, Photo : def-image.com

Liz Larner has said that she was drawn to sculpture because it is the “most physical of artforms”. If this is true of sculpture, then it must follow that ceramics is one of the most physical of sculptural artforms, not only in the way the material demands such direct manipulation in the studio, but also by virtue of the sheer variety of surface effects, density, texture, and form it is possible to achieve.

Larner started working with ceramics in the early 90s, learning about slab building and glazing from the artist Ken Price. In this recent series she has refined the lessons of her earlier experiments into the effects of colour as articulated through sculpture and installation art to produce surprisingly small scale, but highly-charged pieces. Whilst ceramic vessels have long been used to carry pictorial and decorative devices, it is less common to be presented with the raw physicality and haptic allure of ceramics displayed in the same way that we might view a painting. There are no pictograms here, no curlicues – just the irresistible indulgence of rich glazes and raw, brittle ceramic – the kind of sculptural object that Larner might describe amongst her work as “a concrete poem”.

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Side view – Liz Larner, ix (calefaction), 2016, ceramic, glaze, stones, minerals, 59,1 x 97,8 x 24,8 cm, 23 1/4 x 38 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris, Photo : def-image.com

To view more of the artist’s works from this series follow the link below:

Liz Larner at Galerie Max Hetzler

Quotations in the text above were taken from a lecture given by the artist (see link below) at the Nasher Sculpture Center:

Liz Larner speaking about her work at Nasher Sculpture Center