Tag Archives: art

Wendy Red Star – Telling It Like It Is Now

Wendy Red Star in “Winter Thesis” (Photo by Kaelan Burkett)

Attending public school in Montana, Wendy Red Star didn’t learn anything about her indigenous Apsáalooke (Crow) history.  She was taught the usual curriculum of European arrival in the Western Hemisphere, western expansion of White settlers, cowboys-and-Indians tales, etc.  But, as has been common in U.S. history, she and her fellow Crow students saw nothing – nothing positive, for the most part – their people’s presence in what is now the state of Montana.  Years ago, however, she became determined to change that and began researching her people’s history on her own.

Today, the multi-media artist is working to ensure future generations of Crow students – and all American pupils, for that matter – aren’t slighted in the same way.  Mixing her indigenous history with humor and personal research, Red Star creates images of Native American peoples from the past and in the present to help everyone understand they aren’t just school mascots or figures from old black-and-white photographs.

Her latest creation, Apsáalooke: Children of the Large-Beaked Bird, is being exhibited at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCa), which is bringing her work to children.

“I think it would be really wonderful to present that history to children because when I grew up,” Red Star said in a recent interview, “I attended public school in Hardin, which is a town that’s surrounded by the Crow reservation and once was part of the Crow reservation.  We never talked about anything having to do with Crow history, even though the student population was a mix of Crow kids and white rancher kids.  So, to me, it’s always been a fantasy to have that history presented in some way.  Then we tried to figure out a way to best engage that age demographic, for the exhibition.”

Righting wrongs and addressing past grievances has never been easy.  But it’s something that has to be done.

The exhibition runs through the spring of 2021.

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Dancing for COVID

Hans Holbein’s “The Lady,” part of his “Danse Macabre” series, c. 1526

From illness and tragedy, art always seems to bloom to place ourselves and our world into a grand perspective.  After the “Black Death” rampaged through Eurasia and North Africa in the 14th century, the “danse macabre”, or dance of death, became an artistic representation of how death is the ultimate equalizer.  Beginning in Western Europe and gaining popularity in the Middle Ages, it was a literary or pictorial representation of both living and dead figures – from pope to hermit – leading their lives as normal, before entering a grave.

Recently some pallbearers in Ghana envisioned the dance for contemporary deaths and the ensuing funerals.  As many Africans tend to do, they celebrate death as the next stage of life – mournful and often tragic, for certain.  Singing and dancing, they honor the deceased for the life they led on Earth and the glorious new life they should have in the next realm.

It’s how I view death.  My paternal grandfather said he respected death more than any other aspect of the world because it’s not prejudiced or bigoted.  It simply spares no one.  I felt some measure of glee when I watch the ending of the 1997 movie “Titanic”, as the ship sank and the plethora of furnishings and luxurious items shattered.  Not because I love seeing things destroyed!  But because all of the vainglorious possessions of the vessel’s wealthiest patrons could not save them.  They may have been rescued because of their wealth, as many of them entered the smattering of lifeboats first.  But, whether dead at that moment or dead later, they would never be able to take those items with them.

We all come into this world naked and screaming, clutching nothing but our souls in our hands.  We leave with the same.

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Saltarello by Arte Factum


Miracle of the True Cross at the Bridge of S. Lorenzo, oil painting by Gentile Bellini, 1500; in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice.

The current COVID-19 crisis has been compared to the “Black Plague”, which ravaged much of Eurasia in the middle of the 14th century C.E.  Historians and scientists now believe the scourge first appeared in Western Asia in the 1330s, before storming into India and the Middle East via the legendary “Silk Road” and then into Europe and Northern Africa.  It even reached the Danish outpost of Iceland.  It’s a wonder, I believe, it didn’t make it to North America, as Viking explorers had already reached what is now Newfoundland.  Europe was the hardest hit region, with some 50 million estimated fatalities.  Overall, it killed roughly 350- 375 million people.  But, since they had no accurate population counting system at the time, the death rate very well could have been several times worst.

There are some chilling similarities to the COVID-19 debacle.  It began in Asia and seems to have struck Italy first.  Back then religious leaders convinced their ignorant, illiterate followers that the pestilence was God’s condemnation for whatever sins they’d committed.  On top of that, national commanders initially didn’t realize the severity of the pandemic and concocted whatever excuses sounded plausible.

Politics aside, one other element remains relatively unchanged: the love of music and dance.  We’ve seen people across the globe cope with isolation and mandatory quarantines by singing and dancing; playing music on their doorsteps or balconies for neighbors to hear; connecting with family and friends through cyberspace to share melodies.  Again, there are similarities with the “Black Plague”.

Medieval Europeans also often used music and song to celebrate life’s various events.  I find music from this time and place beautifully intriguing and even somewhat familiar to current musical trends.  As usual, Italians always rose to the occasion; creating a number of songs and dances to express the beauty of life.  The saltarello is a perfect example.  An Italian dance style dating to the 14th century, it involved leaping and skipping and was performed to music done in a triple meter tempo; usually accompanied by tambourines, guitars, and singing.  Saltarello survived into the 18th century and, by then, had become a popular folk dance.  Saltarello rhythm and energy bears similarities to tarantella; another popular Italian folk dance also often performed at weddings and dating to medieval times.  A well-known contemporary model appears in the final movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ symphony.

Featured performance: Arte Factum

Image: SCALA/Art Resource, New York

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Tomás Sánchez – Landscapes of Isolation

“The interior spaces that I experience in meditation are converted into the landscapes of my paintings; the restlessness of my mind transformed into landfills.  When I paint, I experience meditative states; through meditation, I achieve a union with nature, and nature, in turn, leads me to meditation.”

– Tomás Sánchez

If one word can best describe the world we’re living in now, surrealism has no equal.  Seeing the empty roads and highways of the Dallas /Fort Worth-area that I’ve known my entire life is one of the most uncanny experiences I’ve ever had.  I’m still trying to comprehend this slow-motion cataclysm and all of the chaos around it.

Tomás Sánchez seems to understand the concept of a surrealistic existence.  His paintings truly exhibit that sense of isolation; something we introverts love, but that even we realize is not always perfect.  Yet, in those moments of solitude, titanic waterfalls and endless canopies of treetops often embrace (almost swallow) a tiny nondescript figure with its natural beauty.  The latter aspect is reminiscent of dramatic sunsets and massive ocean waves I’ve encountered; elements of the world that should render the most egocentric among us as humble.

Aislarse (Isolate)”, 2001

Orilla y cielo gris (Shore and gray sky)”, 1995

Autorretrato en tarde Rosa (Self-portrait in pink afternoon)”, 1994

Llegada del caminante a la laguna (Arrival of the walker to the lagoon)

Meditación y sonido de aguas (Meditation and sound of waters)”, 1993

Atardecer (Sunset)

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Lunar Souls

Artist, writer, photographer and fellow blogger Art Browne has a unique – and sometimes twisted – view of our universe.  Which is why I know, without a doubt, that he is my long-lost twin brother!  When not tormenting spiders or ridiculing helpless cats on his blog, “Pouring My Art Out”, Brother Art captures some truly fascinating visions of the natural world.  In a recent series of simple cell phone shots, he photographed the moon in various stages and from various angles over San Diego, California.  A few of them are presented below.

I have to concede these lunar photos make me feel incredibly sentimental.  Every time I look up at the sky and see that glorious moon, I – sniff – always get homesick.

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Screaming Match

Curators at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia have developed a new app called “Heartmatch” where visitors can learn what historical painting best represents them.  I thought, what the hell; it looks like good fun.  So, I tried it and got this:

Now I know why I didn’t get my first computer until May of 2000 and my first cell phone until October of 2001.  BECAUSE ME AND TECHNOLOGY NEVER HAVE BEEN SYMBIOTIC!

I guess I’ll just resort to finding my “heart match” the old-fashioned way: bars, truck stops and porn videos.

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Booth Blooms

Well, at long last, someone has found a good use for old phone booths*. Botanical designer Lewis Miller ambushed the streets of New York City recently to adorn an otherwise ordinary corner in swaths of floral color and energy.  A few years ago Miller transformed the notoriously banal empty garbage cans into vases of sumptuous flowers.  In this most recent endeavor to make a gritty urban area appear palatable – a project he dubs “Flower Flash” – Miller and his crew filled a Manhattan telephone booth with a plethora of flowers and greenery.

“What initially began as a Lewis Miller design experiment to reinvigorate and reconnect us to our craft, turned into a beautiful shared experience in a city of millions,” the group stated.  The “reactions to our flower flashes emphasizes the basic goodness in all people and prioritizes compassion”.

The results are more than a little impressive, and I feel we need more of Lewis Miller’s works in our increasingly crowded and convoluted world.

*To the under-30 crowd, phone booths are tall glass structures where people would have to make phone calls if they weren’t at home, at work or in jail.  You’d put a quarter into a little slot towards the bottom of the actual phone; wipe the receiver as best you could so you wouldn’t catch germs like herpes or gingivitis; and press little buttons on said phone to make the call.

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Barring Trump

Donald Trump’s star on Hollywood’s legendary “Walk of Fame” has been vandalized too many times to count in the nearly two years since the cantankerous business tycoon was selected by the former Soviet Union to be our president.  The City of Hollywood – trying to perform its civic duty – has been willing to consider any reasonable idea of how to protect “The Donald’s” star.

A street artist known as “Plastic Jesus” has devised an ingenious idea: put the star behind bars.  Literally!

“There have been calls to jail Trump since the day he was elected, and today he was certainly put behind bars – or at least his now infamous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was caged,” PJ wrote in a recent email to Artnet News.

The London-born Los Angeles resident has become known for ambushing the public – and specifically, public figures – with graffiti-style street art combining humor and irony to express his criticism of current affairs.  In other words, he’s a true artist who tackles weighty subjects in order to piss off people who believe everything is just fine with the world.  In this case, the pissed off would be Trump supporters, as well as those who merely shrug at the sight of Trump’s star on the “Walk of Fame”.  It’s obvious (to those of us not been enamored with celebrity) that Trump’s placement in the White House is the most blatant act of fraud since Bill Cosby was labeled “America’s Dad”.

“Artists are able to connect and convey opinion in a universal way,” PJ notes.  “So I think it’s important for artists to speak out.  I think art encourages dialogue and debate like no other media.”

My advice?  Keep pissing people off, brother!

Just another typical day on the “Walk of Fame” in Hollywood, California.

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$1 and a World of Art

Never judge a building by its facade.

Never judge a building by its facade.

 

What can you buy for a dollar these days? Maybe a pack of gum, or a single doughnut. In Chicago, it can buy an entire building. Okay, said building is a 1920s-era former bank on the city’s south side. Long-abandoned and crumbling from one end to the other, it’s the type of structure where the best residents are birds and rats. Artist Theaster Gates, however, saw something else: a world class arts center. The Chicago native, an urban planner with a gallery of prestigious art awards and even more creative vision, literally purchased the 20,000-square-foot edifice for a single U.S. dollar in 2013 from the city and began transforming it into a conclave for exhibitions, artist residencies and the headquarters for the Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit organization he established in 2010 to foster cultural and artistic development in forgotten and underprivileged neighborhoods. Earlier this month the former Stony Island State Savings Bank was reintroduced as the Stony Island Arts Bank. Among other artifacts, it contains the book collection of John H. Johnson, founder of “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines; the record collection of Frankie Knuckles, the “Godfather of House Music”; and slides of art collections from the University of Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Gates described the center as a “a repository for African American culture and history, a laboratory for the next generation of black artists,” and “a space for neighborhood residents to preserve, access, reimagine and share their heritage, as well as a destination for artists, scholars, curators, and collectors to research and engage with South Side history.”

As a writer, I’m naturally attracted to the slew of books the place houses. But it’s obviously much more than a glorified library. It’s a people’s center; far removed from the ranks of high society cocktail parties and stuffy art museums. Gates has connected the beauty of art and literature – hallmarks of a progressive nation – with communities that some thought worthless. In this volatile election season, where self-proclaimed saviors of the masses regurgitate their ideas of revolution and the future, that’s simply extraordinary.

Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates

 

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Million Dollar Scream

If Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” isn’t enough to create the anxiety within you that it was intended to invoke, then its $119,922,500 price tag should do it.  The iconic work Munch produced in 1895 is supposed to be a reflection of an anxious society on the verge of a new century.  I guess that’s why it continues to entrance people.  Last week “The Scream” broke a world record, becoming the most expensive artwork sold at an auction conducted by Sotheby’s.  The figure in the drawing – which is actually a pastel on board and not classified as a painting – is said to be man holding his head and hollering beneath a blood-red sky.  I’ve always thought it looks like an androgynous cretin drawn by an angry kindergartener.  But, if people in 1890’s Europe were angst-ridden, then I’d hate to see their reaction in early 21st century America.

Munch described his inspiration for the drawing:

“I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city.  My friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”

And, of course, being the good artist he was, Munch let his dreams move his hand.  Who says artists aren’t human?

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