September 30, 2007

Fossils at the State Museum

I recently met with the curator at the South Carolina State Museum to discuss some proposals for a lecture series on art and science. After mentioning my interest in fossils to him, he showed me the museum's recent acquisition of a huge turtle fossil recovered in the vicinity of Charleston. It was a specatular specimen - about six times the size of the Harvard turtle of my previous blog. The synchronicity of it all!I have a series of paintings of fossils that were exhibited at the Lancaster museum some time ago. Revisiting this series makes me want to do a few more - perhaps based on the State Museum collection. Sometimes you can travel far and wide to find specimens for inspiration only to find that the true gems are just around the corner. I've posted here, however, a painting made from a drawing I made of a fossil in a natural history museum in the Netherlands. The painting is in private collection in New Orleans and had survived hurricane Katrina.
There are a number of new paintings and mosaics in the works right now. But most of my studio time this week was spent on an elaborate commission of a painting with a mosaic border - something I've been working on slowly since August. One more hour of work and it will be finished. Check in next Sunday for my new work - paintings of unusual architecture.

September 22, 2007

The Last Wren

Art does not always need to be sought after. Sometimes it presents itself. Over the last few decades of creating art, I have had an unsolicited companion in my studio. I tried to ignore the Carolina wrens that kept flying into my studio, making a racket and getting lost in my supply cabinets. Intrepid birds, they got into everything, cackling werever they went. Then I took notice of them - especially their eyes. Their painted eyes made me nostalgic for China. The black pearly eye set inside a broad band of white with black stripes on either side of the white bore an uncanny resemblance to the highly stylized painted eyes of a Peking opera character. The wren reminded me of the Dan actor - a female character traditionally played by a man. I started thinking whimsically of the Carolina wrens as reincarnated Dan actors, relegated to bird status by some unfortunate karma.
I made drawings of the wrens on museum board then carefully cut them out to use as templates. Some I painted and used in mosaic collage work. The rest I used to fashion relief sculptures out of plasticine clay. I made plaster sprig molds from the carefully sculpted plasticine and used these to make multiple ceramic birds. Initially, I painted them in natural colors, then I painted them in vibrant ones - like the garish silk robes of the Peking opera actors. I then returned to natural colors again, only with the additions of pearlescent glazes and 24k gold overglaze in the details. I mounted the finished ceramic birds onto the remnant squares of heavy duty particle board that was left over from house preparations for a hurricane Floyd that never struck here (I had the boards cut up into numerous 12" x 12" squares). The compositional structure of the glass and ceramic mosaic backrounds for my Carolina wren series owes a debt to my training in classical Chinese painting - although some resemble Japanese screen painting and yet others have a European cinquecento look. The luminosity of the backround glass is often heightened by adhering gold and silver leaf to the obverse side so that the light passes through the stained glass and reflects the metal leaf.
I completed the very last Carolina wren mosaic, pictured above, a few weeks ago. I had to take a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before finding just the right way to finish this piece. I found my inspiration in a spare ink painting of briars and reeds by Shi Tao. They were so delicately overlaid in carefully calculated gradations of ink. How odd, I suppose, to interpret the strokes of ink and brush in glass. Yet how appropriate, too, as glass is merely a super-cooled liquid, flowing slowly through the epochs.
For those who have the good fortune to be in South Carolina, this mosaic and other Carolina wren mosaics can be seen now at the Pinckney Simons Gallery in Columbia, where they will be on view until December. Click on the link to visit their on-line gallery.

September 16, 2007

The Tale of the Harvard Turtle

I have presented in some of my blogs a number of curiosities from my sketchbooks. Like the sketch of the strange creature from the Han bronze, my sketches are often used as resource material. They can be sketches of other artworks, items from every day life, or something as unassuming as a turtle skeleton. At the Harvard museum of natural history, there is a fine collection of minerals, bones, and fossils. In addition to a few sketches of fossil fish, I made a simple line drawing of a fossilized turtle skeleton. As usual with my sketchbook items, the sketch lay untouched as the image simmered in my brain for about a year. It then emerged fleshed out with green paint as a detail in the aptly named paper mosaic, "The Dream of the Green Turtle." This was exhibited as part of my one-woman show, "Reflections on an Imagined Archeology," which opened in spring, 2005 at the Rabold Gallery, and once again in the exhibition, "Stones, Bones, and Fibers:Excavating Civilizations of the Mind," at Pinckney Simons gallery in January of this year. I used the image once again this past spring in Kim Wozniak's seminar on making mosaic installations in Mesa Arizona. I simplified and squared the design to make it suitable for vitreous glass tesserae. The finished mosaic just barely is discernable as a turtle skeleton. I gave it a final resting place embedded in a garden bench. After these two interpretations, painting and mosaic, I 've returned to the sketch and touched it up as - coming back full circle to the original inspiration. A lot of mileage for a turtle. I've picutured his various permutations here...

September 8, 2007

The Ex-pat in Holland

Now that my "official" review has been posted, and I am no longer obliged to sound like William F. Buckley, I thought that I would add a post about the review process and the memories it brought back. There were so many Dutch artists presented as well as expatriate Americans in Holland, I had to return to my old stomping ground and my previous days as an expatriate non-objective painter in Holland. In order to obtain some images and backround information, I had to go to Dutch websites. I am by no means a fluent Dutch speaker but I can at least negotiate my way to the "zoeken" button to search for images. But it was a pleasure to scan them - I even found myself beginning to mutter to myself in Dutch as I searched.
It was also a pleasure to speak with the curator and gallery owner, Wim Roefs, who happens to be from the area of Holland where I lived a number of years ago. Wim described to me his love of the process of art making - rare in curators. I was particularly impressed by the time he took to establish an intimate relationship with the artist's methods and techniques - even spending all day in an artist's studio to watch the creative process. No wonder artists like him.
I found an old photograph of an exhibition I had at the Gallerie de Vierde Dimensie in Plasmolen, Holland. The owner of the gallery and I had studied at the same institute in Maastricht years ago. We bonded over our love for ceramic sculpture (she did great work) and our spritely slavic natures (she's Czech I'm half Ukrainian). I've posted this evidence from my ancient history here along with a better view of one of the works from the exhibition. It sold at the exhibition and is in a private collection somewhere in Great Britain. I still do non-objective work on paper from time to time but it is for the most part off the record.
If you like minimalist non-objective work, click on the gallery page. In case you are not a Dutch speaker but want to see the work of the artists, click on the button that says "Kunstenaars" and you'll get a list of artist's names to scan. Have fun!

September 7, 2007

The Fame Factor

Fame. It is seductive, illusive, alluring. Americans are obsessed with it. Andy Warhol generously allocated to us all a fifteen minute portion of it - a portion we so hungry for that even a transient flicker of it in our lives is eagerly grasped.

"The Fame Factor," an exhibition of mixed media works by twentieth century artists, currently on view at Gallery 80808 in Columbia, SC explores the vicissitudes of acclaim through a presentation of artists who have earned various degrees of prominence. The exhibition is complex and somewhat didactic in nature as the artists presented demonstrate that fame is a relative thing - relative to time, place, choice of media, and audience. The artists presented are Benny Andrews, Karel Appel, Lynn Chadwick, Corneille, Jacques Doucet, John Hultberg, Richard Hunt, Wilfredo Lam, Ibram Lassaw, Ger Lataster, Lucebert, Sam Middleton,
Joan Mitchell, Hannes Postma, Reinhoud, Paul Reed, Edward Rice, Kees Salentijn,
Virginia Scotchie, Laura Spong, Leo Twiggs, Bram Van Velde. With so many artists featured it is a challenge to find a thread of continuity in this body of work, except to say that each artist is a master of his media.

Because of the large concept of "The Fame Factor," the span of history the work represents, and the cultural diversity of the artists, it would be advisable to see the exhibition more than once and to do some backround reading. Please click on to the links for a preview of the work of artists with whom you are unfamiliar - you won't be dissappointed!

A number of artists in the exhibition were part of, or influenced by the avant- garde CoBrA movement of 1948 - 1951, so named as an acronym for the cities that the majority of the artists hailed from; Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. They are represented in this exhibition by their works on paper, a fortuitous neccessity, as these works have a critically acclaimed appeal that often surpasses their paintings. In these and several other works on paper by other artists, there is an immediacy to them as a fingerprint of the brain that it exciting and captivating. The mark making process recorded by these artists is both revealing and deceptive. The silkscreens by French artist Jacques Doucet, for instance, have had multiple runs through the press so that a surface is built up creating the impression of paint.

Another impressive series is the group of mixed media works on paper by Kees Salentijn. Large, iconographic images with vestiges of figuration, they are brilliantly rendered in every permutation of line possible. Calligraphed, scratched, penciled, dripped and drawn, the marks pull together like a symphony.

Perhaps my favorite works in the exhibition are the silkscreen prints by Benny Andrews, which are nothing short of a sheer joy to behold. The frenetic, richly patterned subjects contrast starkly to a plain white backround. And who can resist the irreverence of "Turtle Dove," depicting an airborne turtle flying past a fantasy tree. (I have been working of late on a series of images based upon a turtle skeleton and seeing this somehow resonates with me at this time.)
The drawings by sculptors Ibram Lassaw and Richard Hunt are especially noteworthy, as it is unusual to see the 2-D work of 3-D artists. But this gives us a rare glimps into a sculptor's working process and I thank the curator for including these.
An immense amount of work and careful thought was put into this outstanding exhibition. Please honor this by seeing it in person if you can, and reading about it if you cannot.
The exhibition runs from September 7 - 18 at 1223 Lincoln Street, Columbia, SC. The opening reception is Friday September 7, 2007, 5 -10PM. For more information contact Wim Roefs at ifART, 803 238-2351 or
copyright 2007 Janet Kozachek

September 1, 2007

The Dance of Larry Rivers

While cataloguing my drawings, I came across a sketch I made of Larry Rivers dancing on a page of gesture studies of a robed model. In the New York of autumn, 1988, Larry Rivers taught the graduate painting class at Parsons School of Design. An icon of American painting, Larry Rivers struck an impressive figure. He was all angles - a chiseled aquiline face with an incredible beak of a nose. As an artist he was the consummate maverick, defying all the social and political mores of the twentieth century art world. I found a kindred spirit in this man, as he appropriated images from both western and eastern art history. His art was an amalgam of styles and influences as a result. Most contemporary art historians explain his reinterpretations of everything from Dutch masters to Japanese woodcuts as a deliberate attempt to challenge the status quo of artist as rugged individualist with impenetrable boundaries of identity. In my conversation with Larry Rivers, however, I detected a more visceral motive for his appropriation of the past. There was a yearning not to merely RE-present the past but to possess it. I've felt this same yearning when making drawings from the art of past masters. The slow process of rendering folds the touch of the artist into one's soul. The experience becomes a dance with the past.
On a sunny autumn afternoon in Larry River's classroom, while the model was on break, she put on a short robe then twisted around vigorously. I drew her as quickly as I could. But then Larry Rivers spontaneously broke into a funny dance himself which I also made a quick sketch of.
Despite his eagerness and his superstar status, most of the graduate students under his tutelage that autumn were not terribly impressed. Whether it was a mismatch of personalities, a negative reaction to his commercialism, or just a naive unreadiness for the raw reality of the New York art world I cannot say. But the lack of enthusiasm on the part of his students caused Larry Rivers great consternation, which he periodically vented upon someone or something. One day, he decided to rail against a teapot in a graduate student's still life set up. The teapot, yes, it was the teapot that was the cause of the ill wind in the studio! It was an outrage - a relic of the nineteenth century that must be obliterated! So Larry Rivers removed the offending teapot from JD's innocent still life set up and gave him a lecture on painting things that are only pertinent to modern life and not archaic objects that no one ever even uses anymore like a TEAPOT! I piped up to say that I use one and was quickly dismissed as being possibly the only person in the United States that does. And with that Larry Rivers left the studio to buy JD objects that he decided would be more apropos for 1988 American life. He came back from his shopping trip some time later and made a still life arrangement for JD consisting of a box of tampax and a jar of emolient. Now JD, being the urbane young man that he was, never did paint Larry River's still life. But I wondered if I would have painted it had I been challenged to do so. After coming across my little drawing of Mr. River's dance, I have decided to make three small paintings in homage to this landmark painte. After all, I think of Larry Rivers every now and then, mostly in the mornings when I'm drinking tea out of a favorite teapot from my collection. Even though I'm in the 21st century.
Larry Rivers passed away in 2002 and that year there was a retrospective of his work at the Corcoran gallery. Click on to the link to get a view.

Announcement for Common Ground

This past summer, I had the good fortune to have been invited to teach a course on Chinese Art for Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. Every summer artists, writers, dancers and musicians converge upon this hilly college town to ply their trade and share their expertise. During the weekend festival between the two-week class sessions, there is an arts festival featuring live entertainment. WAMU 88.5 FM will broadcast an historic moment of this summer's festival with Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson's appearance. Listen Monday at 8PM or go to