Yearly Archives: 2019

Letters Detail: Glazed and scumbled, the effect can be enhanced or minimized

On Saturdays, my mom used to take me along when she went shopping in the big department store. Inevitably we rode the elevator to “Notions” on the third floor. “What are notions?” I asked one day on the way up. “They’re things you didn’t know you needed, but when you see them you have a notion to get them,” she told me. Mom seemed to wander around in a mental daze, picking up things like needles, buttons and cuticle remover. She once bought a red pincushion “so grandma can have a place to organize her pins.”

Letters Nature Abhors a Vacuum, 1973
Acrylic on canvas
103 1/2 x 112 1/2 inches
by Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)

When asked recently about plans for my work in 2020, I found myself struggling for words. I wanted to please the person who had asked, but I simply didn’t know the answer. How does one predict the future of the most powerful and mysterious, unfolding force of one’s life? While the nuances, challenges and pleasures are all-consuming, they remain impossible to plan or describe before they appear. Even the process is in flux. And while many artists find talking aloud useful for keeping them on track, for me, there’s a kind of guilt when I do it — as though I’ve somehow betrayed the gift of my Hero’s Quest. My Quest only reveals herself to me when I pick up my brush.

Letters Mike Kelley 1 (2007) at the Cleveland Clinic by Jennifer Steinkamp (b. 1958) 
Steve Travarca photo

Meanwhile, in Canada, doctors are prescribing museum visits with the cost of admission covered by universal healthcare. “We know that art stimulates neural activity,” says Montreal Museum of Fine Arts director general and chief curator, Nathalie Bondil. The program, piloted last year, is an extension of the museum’s work with their existing Art and Health Committee, where they participate in clinical trials studying the effects of art on people with eating disorders, cancer, epilepsy, mental illness, and Alzheimer’s disease. This “museum as hospital” idea also has legs for older people, the physically disabled and others with mobility issues. Because looking at art bumps cortisol and serotonin levels in the brain, it produces an effect in the body similar to exercise.

Letters Spider, 1994
Bronze, silver nitrate and brown patina, and granite
274.3 x 457.2 x 378.5 cm
by Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010)

I’m in my studio most mornings about five. As far as I can see, it has something to do with the idea that I might be able to fix the thing I was working on the day before. While it hasn’t always been this way, lately it’s been getting worse. Or better, depending on your point of view.

Studies by neuroscientist Dr. Ying-Hui Fu of the University of California indicate early risers may be living with a mutated gene. I can handle that.

Letters Gone, 2019, for the exhibition Companionship in the age of Loneliness
7 metres

While the art world goes bananas over a banana in Miami, Peter and I are strolling through another kind of shopping spree in Melbourne. Here, Brian Donnelly, a.k.a. KAWS, has mounted a survey of his output-to-date at the National Gallery of Victoria, packaging his beginnings as a ’90s New Jersey graffiti tagger, his “interventions” with bus stop posters, billboards and cartoon icons and his present-day collaborations with Japanese toy manufacturers, global clothing retailers, a luxury brand of cognac and Paris fashion week. If it’s an object of consumer lust, KAWS has x’ed out its eyes, re-appropriated it as art and re-merchandised it as a top echelon consumer good in his adjoining pop-up shop.

Letters Startled (owl), 1984
sugarlift aquatint, printed in black ink on ivory wove paper
75.9 x 56.8 cm 
by Brett Whiteley (1939-1992)

It’s been noted that young twins, left alone together, sometimes develop unique and original words and even sentence structures to communicate with each other. An idiosyncratic language, a condition known as “ideoglossia,” is also sometimes found in only one person. I’ve noticed it myself when I’ve been confined for long periods on my own in remote places. At one time I started calling my large soft brush a “spleeb.”

Letters Ned Kelly Holding up a Kangaroo, 2009
Gouache on textured paper
56 × 83 cm
by Adam Cullen (1965-2012)

Since my father’s death, my mum and I have engaged in an activity I’ll call, “anecdotes you may not have heard before.” In it, we tell each other stories about my dad — mine usually involve things he taught and told me, while hers are about her husband, the Human Artist. Our activity always honours an unspoken understanding that keeps his heroic role in our family — and my creative universe — intact. My mother continues to mother me at her highest expression. I honour her with my dedication to my work and gratitude for her vital role.

Letters Purple Haze
acrylic on canvas 
75 x 75 cm
by Brian Crawford Young

Yesterday, Brian Crawford Young of Inverness, Scotland, wrote, “I’ve been having a crisis since I got back from a wonderful residency at the Art Students’ League, Vytlacil Campus in Rockland County, New York. The ambience was great, the staff helpful, the scenery brilliant, and the quick access to Manhattan exciting. But when I got home to the Highlands of Scotland everything crunched to a halt. All my fears and self-doubts emerged and creativity stopped. Any thoughts on this sort of blues?”

Letters The Cradle, 1872
oil on canvas
56 x 46 cm
by Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

While mingling at an 85-year-old’s birthday party recently, I overheard a conversation between two artists: “How’s your work going?” asked the first. “It’s not. I haven’t picked up a brush in months,” said the second. “No time to paint.” They batted, back and forth, the creativity-hijacking perils of family, social obligations, sports, studio rent, Thanksgiving and the deadly word, “worthwhile” — as in, “I’m not doing it enough to make the sacrifices worthwhile.” The cake came, everyone sang, the candles were blown out and a wish was made. “The secret to life,” nudged our host, “is that you need to do what you really want to do.”

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