Visual Research Journal #21 – 24

As I mentioned last post, I have two new painting assignments that deal with memory. The first, which I will call Project A, I am challenged to use memory as content and for the second, Project B, to use memory as a strategy (i.e. I can only paint from memory). There are a million and one directions I could go with these projects, and at the end of the day, I need to deeply consider how my paintings’ themes and techniques contribute to this contemporary art dialogue.

One of the first few ideas that came to mind for Project A is the fact that white people’s memories have been believed for hundreds of years, over, and to the detriment and oppression of, people of color. AND OFTEN THOSE MEMORIES WERE COMPLETELY MADE UP, either intentionally or unintentionally. I recently watched a Netflix limited series called, The Mind Explained, and one of the episodes is one memory (link here). The episode points out that memories, especially fine details like faces, degrade incredibly quickly, and are very unreliable. There have been countless examples where DNA testing later exonerated people of color from crimes, often falsely accused by white people who “witnessed” them committing the crime. Take for example, Malcolm Alexander (pictured below) who in 1980,  was arrested for rape as a result of an uncertain identification from the victim. He was exonerated in 2019 with the help of the Innocence Project. But the fact remains, that he spent time in prison, is life stolen from an unreliable memory of a white person. How much better would it be if white people’s biases and unreliable memories could be challenged earlier?

Malcolm Alexander was exonerated in 2019 after 38 years in prison for a wrong conviction based on an eye witness.

In addition to the unreliability of memory, the fact remains that I am a white woman in art school and have the incredible privilege to explore any of my memories via art. As an art educator and activist, this is a perfect opportunity to use my privilege to explore but also condemn this historical and present day implicit bias to believe white women’s memories. Exactly how I talk about this visually in an oil painting is still a work in progress. My teacher recommended I research different artists who have explored themes of white privilege – both successfully and unsuccessfully.

Dana Shutz is the first artist in this post, and I am intentionally not including her oil painting in this post. She is a white American artist, who only recently gained more renown via her painting entitled, “Open Casket” which was in the 2017 Whitney Bienniel. The oil painting sparked outrage – it is an abstracted portrait of Emmett Till in his casket. The disgusting irony here is that in the death of Emmett Till, it was a white girl’s lie that led to him being brutally tortured and murdered in the first place. (For more in-depth research, read about civil right’s history here). There have been many opinions about Dana Shutz work, one of which you can read in this article, but since this is my research journal you have to listen to my opinion: the fact that this white woman is profiting from black and pain and suffering is exactly why many people of color don’t trust white women. Time and time again, white women have repeatedly participated in exploiting the pain of people of color for personal gain while simultaneously claiming good intention and innocence. This is NOT what my painting would hope to achieve. Rather, my painting would be to condemn this white ignorance and call out this harm so white people could seriously reflect on how their actions, biases, and beliefs are harming others.

The next artist is Sanford Biggers and again I am not including the work because it is another example of the glorification of black murder. His infamous Laocoön was part of a solo exhibition at the David Castillo Gallery in Miami Beach. His work depicts an inflatable Fat Albert, whose body is lying facedown on the museum floor. As it inflated and deflated slowly the viewer easily makes the connection between people like Michael Brown or Eric Gardner, who in their last moments, had trouble breathing. Although Sandford Biggers is an African American artist, the work did not comment or critique the violence, but rather made it into a spectacle. Read an article about the work here.

I am honestly shocked that I am having such a hard time finding white artists who talk about white privilege in their work. Why are there so few white artists talking about this topic? Okay, well let’s move in the direction of artists who deal with the unreliability of memory…

Let’s start with Sunni Fornier. At a young age, Sunni dealt with unexpected circumstances that have caused her to realize the fragility of life. Her work reflects these experiences through her themes of impermanence, time, and memory examining personal histories. Her series of work entitled October 1916, is an assemblage of photopolymer intaglio prints made from copper plate etchings revolves around her grandfather’s rapid decline with dementia.

​Okay last artist for this post – Erin Carty. As a bi-racial artist, she seeks to explore with the concept of in-between space — a liminal space — the middle ground between two objects, and the comfort thats she feels there. She takes aerial photos from planes, and combining them with photos her parents took when they were younger to create these new places and new memories. 

“By bringing the past and present together, I create these non-accessible places. The viewer will never be able to access them, because those moments were only available at that time. However, I want my viewers to experience that same sense of familiarity in unknown places that I feel. This series evokes my feelings into an actual image, rather than just me dealing with my feelings internally. Sometimes it feels that I’m all over the place, but I feel really secure in that middle ground, and I hope people get a sense of that space and comfort.” – Erin Carty

Visual Research Journal #17 – 20

All of the artists in this visual research journal are contemporary. Why does that matter? Studying contemporary art allows allows me as a student to broaden my understanding of myself, my community, and the world as part of a part of a cultural dialogue. Because contemporary artists are still alive and making art, this dialogue allows for deeper critical thinking and exchange of artistic ideas within the context of both historical and current ideas and issues.

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Gallery), 2016, acrylic on PVC panel, 60 ½ x 48 ½ in.

Up first is Kerry James Marshall. His work challenges the authority of Renaissance painting in art history and seeks to “reclaim the image of blackness.” This article in Even Magazine said it best: “As if to emphasize the literal truth of that statement, and to articulate the sheer and willful inaccuracy of the everyday language we rely on to sort others and ourselves into abstract color categories that carry real social consequences, Marshall paints his subjects not brown, not even dark brown, but inhumanly black.” I love the way the figure in this painting is staring straight at the viewer, challenging the gaze. I’m not sure what the image framed glass behind her is of… can you tell? Comment below!

Keltie Ferris is an American artist working in New York by combing her love of Impressionism, abstract painting, Pop art, and graffiti into huge paintings produced through intensive layering. In her latest process, she presses her oil-covered body against the canvas surface, and then brushes or sprays color onto it. Supposedly this processes is hailed as a juxtaposition of simultaneous concealing and exposing, but to me it just seems odd and a kitche way of exploring body’s role in art.

Easy Ride (2019) © Eddie Martinez (Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York)

Running with the theme of painters inspired by graffiti, next we have Eddie Martinez. He is a self-taught American artist of Puerto Rican ancestry working in New York. Many of his teenage years were spent making graffiti, and his paintings on canvas reflect that rough, expressionistic lines and bold colors seen in street art and drawings. I like his art because his modality of mark making directly reinforces his intention.

Finally we have Basim Magdy who is an Egyptian artist now living in Basel, Switzerland and Cairo, Egypt. His work primarily explores themes of the unconscious and memory on n paper, film, photography, and installation. I have two upcoming painting projects that deal with memory as both subject/content and method – the next entries will focus on artists who deal with the theme as memory more! Stay tuned ❤ Thanks for reading!

Visual Research Journal #13 – 16

I recently stumbled upon a bunch of artists through online research and via recommendation by other artists. Some of these names I had heard before, but didn’t realize they were contemporary – aka still alive!

Jeff Koons. He is known for working with popular culture subjects and his massive sculptures of everyday objects, most commonly balloon animals, in stainless steel that have mirror-finish surface. I didn’t realize how controversial he is in the art world; as a former Wall Street trader, Koons does not create the artworks himself but has a studio of assistant who works on them. He recently unveiled a sculpture commemorating the victims of the Paris terrorist attack. Read the NY Times article here.

‘Bouquet of Tulips’ was created as a symbol of remembrance, optimism and healing.

Ai Weiwei. Perhaps one of my favorite artists for his political activism. He is a champion for human’s rights, and openly opposed to the Chinese government. I was actually blessed to go to his Hirshorn exhibit back in 2017 when I was living in Washington, D.C., which focused on portraits of famous political activists in exile and graphic patterns of surveillance.

David Hockney. He is an English painter, printmaker, and an important figure the pop art movement of the 1960s. Today he is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. He is still alive at 82 years old and still working on art! I’m intrigued by this celestial garden and perspectives that invite the viewer into the painting.

David Hockney, ‘Garden’, 2015

Jenny Saville. She is known for her large-scale painted depictions of nude and voluptuous women. In 2018 she became the world’s most expensive woman artist after her painting Propped sold for $12.4 million at a Sotheby’s sale. When Propped was first shown in 1997 in Charles Saatchi’s infamous exhibition, Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Gallery at the Royal Academy of Art, it had a huge mirror hung opposite it so that the viewer could turn away from the picture, read the text in work , and implicate themselves in the artwork. The words are a french quote from acclaimed French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray that explores the interactions of men and women. It translates to: “If we continue to speak in this sameness–speak as men have spoken for centuries, we will fail each other. Again, words will pass through our bodies, above our heads and make us disappear.” Read this interesting 2016 interview with the artist where she explains her art here.

Jenny Saville. Propped. 1992 (self-portrait).

Visual Research Journal #9-12

Hey friends! I had the chance to go to the opening of Baltimorean Derrick Adams’ show entitled “Where I’m From,” on display at Baltimore City Hall. A lot of his work is centered around his Black identity and culture. These large scale oil paintings are photos from his own family albums, and pay homage to close familial ties in Black culture. He abstracts the forms into blocks of color, really drawing the viewer to examine the figure, their body language, and the importance of an archival of Black family life in fine art.

Another artist who I stumbled upon on Instagram is Baltimore’s Stephen Towns. He won the coveted Sondheim Prize in 2018. His most recent work at the Chicago Expo, a series entitled “The Bridge,” is really beautiful – he paints portraits and stories of freed enslaved black people. Appropriating religious iconography and gold backgrounds reminiscent of Byzantine art, he is remaking art and history through his work.

If you know if other Baltimore artists, let me know! I found the next artist through a teacher’s recommendation – Yinka Shonibare DBE. He is a British-Nigerian artist that explores the layered relationships forged by centuries of colonialism, global trade, migration, politics, and cultural exchange. He is particularly interested in the stories West African and Indonesian batik cloth tell to create a story of fusion and freedom.

Finally, we have Inka Essenhigh, an American and New York-based painter. I’m interested in her work because I see similar themes emerging in my art – idealized landscapes. Mythology, landscape and the urban versus pastoral are recurring motifs in her work. She blends abstraction and figuration in an investigation of psychological and metaphysical realities.

In a 2017 interview, Essenhigh states,

“I think about the archetypes and stories that we tell ourselves, and reenact in some way. We change our consciousness through storytelling all the time. If you want to change how people are thinking about something, you can tell a story about it. It does the job really fast. I don’t think I’m necessarily changing consciousness, but I’m painting another place. I would like my paintings to have that feeling — that other worlds are possible.

Visual Research Journal, Entries #5-8

So many artists, so little time! I really want to highlight Baltimore-based or Baltimore-born artists, since when I am a high school art teacher, I will be able to use this community asset to inspire my students. Who knows maybe I can even invite them to my art class in the future!

The first artist actually has an exhibition that has an opening reception on Thurs. 9/26 at 4:30 – 7:30pm at the Scott Center at Carroll Community College. Ariston Jacks is a Baltimore based artist with a MA in Painting & Printmaking from University of Arkansas. I like the way his art reflects personal narratives and the spiritual through use of symbols. The work I have been also works with family and spiritual symbolism, so I appreciate looking at other contemporary artists working with similar themes.

“Guided by the spirit realm, research, and the oral tradition of my Father, I construct a modern mythology centered in truth and impending prophecy. The L.O.S.T. Gate (Legacy of Supreme Triumph) series documents my ancestral heritage through veiled images that are filled with secret messages and sacred geometry presented through a contemporary lens. These mythical narratives of family, archetype, and icon illuminate the spirit of man by chronicling discerning perspectives which illustrate the human condition outside of the edited scope of mainstream culture.” – Ariston Jacks

Sherald, Amy. Sometimes the king is a woman. (2019) oil on canvas. 137.2 x 109.2 x 6.4cm

Next, Amy Sherald. She is a contemporary Baltimore-born painter who quickly rose to fame when she painted Michelle Obama’s portrait for the National Portrait Gallery in D.C., becoming the first African American woman commissioned to paint a first lady. She is having a solo exhibition entitled, “the heart of the matter” that deals with people, landscapes, and cityscapes as opportunities to paint version of herself and African Americans into the American art narrative. The title of the exhibition comes from bell hook’s book “Salvation” and builds on themes of silence and stillness felt in other great works like Elizabeth Alexander’s poem “Black Interior.” She is really dealing with the idea of blackness and black identity in both the public and private spaces.

NORA STURGES, “Attic:\”, 2019, gouache on panel, 4.5 x 6 inches

The next artist I found as I was looking through Baltimore community-based, independent art publication called Bmore Art. They publish a quarterly magazine that is a great resource to find upcoming gallery openings and events, reviews of work, and artist interviews. Nora Sturges has an opening next week on Thurs. Sept 26 @ 6pm at the C. Grimaldis Gallery on N. Charles Street and I hope I can go! I also found out today that she is a professor at Towson University and teaches painting – Smaltimore strikes again! Inspired by the mystery and humanity of late medieval Italian frescoes, she works in oil paint, gouache, to explore abstracted landscapes of color and form.

Last but not least, we have Whitney Frazier. She is an interdisciplinary artist, teacher and activist living in Baltimore and is currently pursuing her MFA in Community Arts at MICA. Her work centers around the collaborative process of art believing it has the ability to create social justice and strengthen our communities. Check her website out here.

“My mixed media works layer collaged images and gestural paint strokes. My abstractions express broad political and social commentaries about this moment and imagined futures.” – Whitney Frazier

New Semester, New Challenges: Visual Research Journal Entries # 1 – 4

Hi friends! I took a break over the summer from being an over-achiever; hope you did too! lol. Now it’s back to student-soon-to-be-teacher-grind-mode and my schedule is intense but so enjoyable. In addition to taking required Art Education major courses, I wanted to challenge myself as an artist, and signed up for intermediate oil painting class for fun. The class focuses on how we create meaning through imagery, technique, medium, framing , and although it requires 5 projects, they are all very open ended and can explore any theme.

The first two projects deal with processes for creating a meaningful composition using 1) collage and 2) a single photograph. Also assigned is what the professor calls, a “visual research journal” where I explore contemporary artists that interest me. It’s a great way to stay current with what other artists are doing.

I figured this would be a good stepping stone to figure out what I wanted to do with my projects. In doing a little bit of research, I found Jessie Craig, a portrait photographer who has work in the permanent collection of the UK’s National Portrait Gallery and has shot the photos of Oprah and Leonardo DiCaprio. The tie-in here is that Craig also creates inventive photo-based collages.

I like her work because she plays with value, repetition, color, negative space, and humor. The first image I like the way she tiles the models, making me question the role of the model and how they are often seen as replaceable or replicas of each other, maybe alluding to that lack of identity with the cut out of the face. I also feel like she challenges that narrative, and maybe addressing how the models may see themselves: the grayscale palette and then the burst of bright green hair draws your eye to the foreground. The Elijah Wood collage is just so funny, I had to include it and the last collage is actually a weaving of the printout. In the third piece, I like how the artist breaks the photo’s fourth wall, simultaneously deconstructing the photo and commenting on photography’s ability to weave a reality that we readily believe as truth.

JACKIE MILAD, “Chaos Eyes”, 2019, acrylic, flashe, marker, and collage on canvas, 72 x 68 inches

Another collage-inspired artist that I stumbled upon is a local Baltimorean: Jackie Milad! She actually has a show right now at the C. Grimaldis Gallery on Charles St., entitled, Chaos Comes and Goes, and run from 9/26 – 11/2. This exhibition showcases pieces from previous works that have been reborn through collage. Milad aims to question preciousness and practice experimentation, while also highlighting themes of history and culture. She breaks down symbols that references her experience in the world as an Egyptian-Honduran-American artist, playing with themes like time, movement, and resistance to permanence. 

Helado, Helado, Helado, 2017, 4′ x 4′ x 3.5″  billboard paper, street posters, house paint, spray paint, graffiti markers, graphite, found fabric, carpenters glue.

Artist Matthew Grimes, who is currently based in Virginia, also does mixed media collage. At first glance, I’ll be honest, I was not wowed by his collage paintings. But then I read his artist statement, and his concept really resonants with me in terms of how to use collage to investigate meaning:

“The act of paying attention serves as the genesis of my currently expanding line of deconstructed collage paintings. The streets, in particular of Santiago, Chile, are laden with posters screaming intentions via graphics, imagery, and words. Yet it isn’t the designed communication that pulls me in, but the allure of the endless decaying layers of juxtaposed color and texture producing in concert an almost silent chance of passive composition… My intention is to bring to light the electric beauty of which falls silent to most passersby, ciphering the positive qualities out of the banal of everyday to act catalyst towards increasing observation of this world we live in.” – Matthew Grimes

Finally, here is some work by Baltimore-born and raised Beth Hoeckel. As an artist, play is an important part of her process, working with images she’s often been saving for years. “I almost always start with no specific idea in mind. The work grows organically and intuitively and I enjoy building something out of nothing.” She often juxtaposes foreground and background objects and inquisitive figures, who are often standing on the edges of cliffs, or looking out to lakes or even into deep space. She has literally hundreds of collages on her website, all categorized into theme – here are just a few.

From even just this beginning research, I am definitely excited to have fun with these projects! All of these artists used the technique of collaging in different ways to convey different meanings. My next step for the collage work will be to gather more imagery that the helps convey my meaning, my “why” – and then cut and play! ❤

Art & Reading <3

This summer I took two art classes, one of which was ARED 464: Author/Illustration in Art Education where I learned about the intersection of illustration and literacy. Reading is an active, cognitive, and affective process to create meaning. Readers actively engage with the text and build their understanding, which is why picture books are so awesome – they help young readers engage and build their comprehension.

Reading is also a sociocultural process: it occurs within a situation whose participants, time, place, and expectation affect the reader and the meaning they construct with the text. Ergo the meaning is constructed from what the students already know – culturally, socially, topically, etc. This is called cultural funds of knowledge – teachers can take advantage of the fact that diverse students have different background knowledge, and leverage that to improve and encourage reading. In fact, English Language Learners (ELLS) need more intense and intentional scaffolding to bridge their experience to the content of the text, develop schema, and internalize academic language. Ergo not simplify but rather amplify!

Back to School 2018 bulletin board at Busbee Elementary depicts an image of Drake and riffs off the lyrics from his hit song “In My Feelings.”

After investigating author/illustrators, our final project was to write / create our own picture book! As many of you know, I teach Meditation for Kids class on Sundays in Baltimore (click this link for kids meditation class information). For these classes, I regularly read children’s books that exemplify the topic for the class, whether it is compassion, recognizing our feelings, listening, loving kindness, etc. For this reason, I really wanted to write a children’s book about how to do a basic breathing meditation. I used this website, <mystorybook.com>. Check out my final picture book here!

Also more good news: next week I start a summer internship with Reading Partners! I wrote about them in my March post, and now I get to work for them! My job will be mostly community outreach, introducing folks and encouraging them to volunteer with Reading Partners. What I love is this organization is that it is evidence-based and community-driven, working one-on-one with students for 45 minutes twice a week, following a structured, research-based curriculum. Last semester I volunteered at Robert Coleman Elementary school and witnessed first hand the progress my students made in reading. They just needed some extra scaffolding and support to build up their skills and comprehension. Consider volunteering by visiting this link! It was a ton of fun and really powerful honor to help a student so directly, without needing to be a teacher or parateacher.