Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Artists of the 2012 Gold Coast Art Fair

First, I would like to salute all the artists who brave the elements to participate in outdoor festivals like the Gold Coast Art Fair.  On a hot day like today, they risked heat exhaustion in the sweltering heat, not to mention the possibility of a thunderstorm that thankfully didn't happen.  I was happy to see some artists I've featured on her before, including Dovile Riebschlager, Case Island Glass, and Robin Kittleson.  Here are some new artists whose work I found particularly intriguing.

Keith Grace
Ari Gradus
Royal Arts Studio

Paul Freundt
Black Button Studio
Barbara K. Spraul
She Lion Jewelry
Tim Parker
Andrea Lebeau
Romy and Clare
Erica Farrel
Stuart McClean
Kathy Dotson
Carl M. Crawford
Karina Llergo Salto
Michael Bryant
Joy Bauer

The show continues through tomorrow and despite its name, is actually being held in Grant Park and not the Gold Coast.  Visit the official website of the show for more information.

The Freedom Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson - A Saturday Solutions Book Review

Since Independence Day is coming up next week, I thought I'd share an important book about freedom. Don't you love it when you serendipitously come across a book in the library when you're looking for something else? That's how I came to read The Freedom Manifesto a few weeks ago. The book's full title is The Freedom Manifesto: How to Free Yourself from Anxiety, Fear, Mortgages, Money, Guilt, Debt, Government, Boredom, Supermarkets, Bills, Melancholy, Pain, Depression, Work, and Waste. I wish I had found it back in 2007 when it was first published.

I'm writing about this book on this blog because as artists, we need the freedom to create. Unfortunately, we often deny ourselves that freedom. We don't give ourselves permission. We have been taught to have a particular set of standards and ambitions that get in the way of creating the art that needs to be made. We worry too much about whether our art will sell or about other people's measures of success. But Julia Cameron said, in her own manifesto of sorts, that "To be an artist is to risk admitting that much of what is money, property, and prestige strikes you as just a little silly." This book makes that admission loud and clear, and encourages its readers to do the same.

What I love about Tom Hodgkinson's irreverent book is that he questions so many of these notions, and does it with such a wry British sense of humor. (Ironic, isn't it, for me to turn to a book by a British author for inspiration on Independence Day?) He writes about the rules that were meant to be broken and explores fun ways of breaking them.

There are so many great quotes from this book that I had a hard time narrowing down my list of favorites. Here are several observations and pieces of advice that resonated with me:

On beauty:
  • Things used to be more beautiful. That is fact. The industrial process can be seen as a process of uglification, as everything becomes objectively uglier when it submits itself to the rule of mass manufacture, cheap labour and profit. Noble, contemplative Quality is murdered by venal, avaricious Quantity.
  • Perfectionism itself is a  kind of death; the machine can turn out thousands of perfect objects, but they have no life.
  • Only buy beautiful things. Only make beautiful things.
  • It is one of the terrible ironies of the age that something as expensive as plastic, which relies on limited supplies of oil, has become cheaper than wood, which is endlessly renewable.
On shopping:
  • To free yourself from the cycle of work-spend-debt-work, simply stop consuming.
  • To be able to find an odd item that looks good from a second-hand shop proves you have real style and are not just a mere follower of fashion. Style is about being yourself, and fashion is about being like the others.
  • Don't make luxury into a meaning.
  • Treat abundance and want with the same detachment.
  • When it comes to freeing ourselves from faith in machinery and technology, one answer is to go backwards. I have discovered that it is very easy to live like a millionaire, if you simply go back in time a little. Super 8 cameras from the 1960s, for example, cost about £1 and are much more fun than the dreaded camcorder.
On the future:
  • The future is always about machines. But I don't think about the future; I think about the present. The future is a capitalist construct. The past teaches us that the future has let us down, and let us down many, many times.
  • Worrying about the future is a useless act; it does nothing to improve the present.  Funnily enough, the people who encourage others to worry about the future are those who want your money now. They themselves are not worrying about the future; they are maximizing their profits today.
On working:
  • It is the separation of our lives into mutually competing zones that causes the problems, the anxieties, the illnesses, the debts. Our goal should be to bring them together, to integrate them, to harmonize them, so work and life become one and the same thing.
  • One unhelpful solution thrown up by modern society is the dreadful aim "work-life balance." Oh, horrors! Quite apart from being an ugly, awkward and vulgar little phrase, there is something rotten about the whole concept because it implies that work is bad and life is good. Well, make work good, make work into a creative pleasure, and you won't have to worry about balancing the good with the bad; all will be good.
  • We are encouraged to believe that we are useless, unable to look after ourselves and hence need an employer to subdue our unruly self and slot it into a strict timetable. When you realize that, in fact, you are free, this problem ebbs away.
  • Career precisely reflects the dynamics of other modern myths: it is a greedy monster, never satisfied, always wanting more. And career encourages what I consider to be a terribly unnatural self-specialization: in our urge to compete, we tend to try to become very good at one small thing to the exclusion of all others.
  • Careers don't allow us to be fully ourselves; careers take as an index of success money and status rather than pleasure in work and creativity. "Vocation," on the other hand, means "calling," and it is a task that earns you a living and which you enjoy doing.
  • Create your own life. Cast off resentment. Reject the idea of 'have-tos'. You don't have to do anything. You have free will. Exercise it.

However, I don't agree with everything he has to say in the book.  There are times when he seems to overgeneralize and idealizes life in medival England too much, and in one cringe-worthy passage about civility, as these commenters also have noted, he completely misses the point of the American Civil War. (In fact, I hope than in a later edition he will correct this egregious factual error.)  He's not a historian and it is definitely not a history book. But if you read it these shortcomings in mind, there is a great deal to be gleaned from it.

This book might inspire you to go to your studio and make something you never thought you could make before. Or quit your job. Or go Occupy something. It certainly inspired me. Just wait until you see what I'm posting on Independence Day!

You can read more of Tom Hodgkinson's writing at The Idler.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The MCA's Skyscraper is a Soaring Success

Chris Burden, Chrysler Building; Enoc Perez, Marina Towers, Chicago

I have a confession to make that will shock my fellow Chicagoans: my favorite skyscraper is not the Willis Tower or the John Hancock Building. It's the Chrysler Building in New York. I love its art deco styling. And so I've decided to start this post on the MCA's new Skyscraper show with a picture of Chris Burden's Erector Set model of it.

Chris Burden, Chrysler Building

The representations of skyscrapers here range from literal to figurative, like this colorful sculpture.

The Vulnerable Icons portion of the exhibit calls attention to the fragility of the built environment. At first glance, Ahmet Ögüt's Exploded City looks like a cute scale model of a miniature city.  It even has a model train.

Ahmet Ögüt, Exploded City

But every building and vehicle's real life counterpart was destroyed by explosions. The bus is from London, the train is from Madrid, and the federal building is from Oklahoma City.  Hitting even closer to home are the pieces inspired by 9/11.  I found Hans-Peter Feldman's 9/12 Frontpage very hard to look at.
Hans-Peter Feldman 9/12 Frontpage

The global newspaper headlines about the World Trade Center attacks brought back so many bad memories.  To me there are two timelines: life before 9/11 and life after it.  Because it happened just months after I graduated from college, I feel as though it cast a bitter shadow over my future.  I still see it as a reason to despise the year 2001.  Sometimes I still wish I'd graduated in a different year.

Roger Brown's Ablaze and Ajar seems oddly prescient though it was painted years before the tragedy.  Despite my sentiments about 9/11, I can't help but find humor in his paintings, even in this one.  I sense Roger Brown has both pity and schadenfreude for the little people falling from his towers. It makes me think about the folly of our human endeavors.  How silly of us to place so much faith in our built environments when they could crumble and burn, toppled, leveled, and scorched by nature's fury. 
Roger Brown, Ablaze and Ajar

It's a reminder that our buildings are not monoliths but are impermanent, and ultimately are subject to the laws of gravity they stand in defiance of. (Ironically, I am writing this in a high rise building as storm clouds gather outside the windows.)

Kader Attia's Untitled (Skyline) is a beautiful installation made of refrigerators of varying sizes covered in little mirrors.  In a stark contrast to the doom and gloom of the Vulnerable Icons, it expresses a sense of wonder.

Kader Attia's Untitled (Skyline)

We can spy on the people in the windows of Jennifer Bolande's Appliance House.  The piece is an ingenious use of lightboxes and transparencies.

Jennifer Bolande, Appliance House

Jennifer Bolande, Appliance House (detail)

Appliance House made me wonder why we feel the need to put curtain walls in our contemporary buildings.  Are our lives on display? Is the profusion of windows exhibitionistic or voyeuristic? Have we become the people who live in glass houses that the old saying warns us about? I like art that makes me think.

There is something magical about Yin Xiuzhen's Portable City.  Each little city fits into a suitcase, and the buildings are all made of fabric.


You really need to see it in person to appreciate the effect.  This photo really doesn't do it justice.  And there is even a model version of downtown Chicago in a suitcase, which, judging by the crowds around it, seemed to be the most popular piece in the gallery.

And then there were things like this.  Guess what this sculpture is made of?


Yes, that's right.  This sculpture is a tower made of Lego bricks.  There's also a tower made of stacked cardboard boxes.  When I see pieces like this in museums, I feel a strange mixture of resentment, anger, amusement, and envy. Who are these people and why do they get to show stuff like this in museums? (And why can't I do it, too?) Warhol was right. Art really is what you can get away with.

Speaking of Warhol, his experimental film Empire is playing in the exhibit.  I would recommend it to anyone who is an insomniac or enjoys watching paint dry.  Even the caption on the wall says that it was intended to test the patience of the audience.  It is the embodiment of everything I hate about video installations.

But I know there are people out there who love video art and minimalist Lego and cardboard box sculptures, (not to mention the giant orange-enameled I-beam I forgot to mention) so I won't rain on your parade if you happen to be reading this blog.  There is something for everyone in this show. And I must admit, an MCA exhibit would feel incomplete without these sorts of things. They are the enforced tropes of the contemporary art world.  By now it would be weird to go to a contemporary art museum and not hear someone complaining, "my kid could make that."
Enough snarkiness. I will end on a positive note, with a picture of another piece I really liked, Erica Bohm's Austin Building (from the Cityscapes series), a digital photo printed on Plexiglas.

Erica Bohm, Austin Building (from the Cityscapes series)
The Cityscapes Series is another collection worth seeing in person.  The Plexiglas gives it an ethereal quality that the photo above cannot convey.  The vignette styling gives it a haze of nostalgia applied to a new building, using contemporary digital technology to create a 19th or early 20th century feel. (The Instagram effect)

I've always been a city girl, so of course I have a natural affinity for this show. Skyscraper is one of the best shows I've seen at the MCA in a very long time. I like it as much as the 2009 Buckminster Fuller exhibit, and plan to go see it again.  Skyscraper: Art and Architecture Against Gravity runs from June 30th through September 23, 2012.  Visit the MCA's website for more information about special events related to this show. (And try to go on a Tuesday evening if you can!)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My first museum exhibition!

Composition in Primaries by Tiffany Gholar. Acrylic on cardboard
Composition in Primaries

I am so excited to share my big news: one of my paintings will be in a museum! Composition in Primaries is going to be part of an exhibit at the Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier.  The name of the exhibit is Unboxed: Adventures in Cardboard and my painting will be one of many works of cardboard art on display. And you don't have to worry about it getting damaged by rambunctious little art patrons because it will be under Plexiglas.

In addition to displaying my art at the museum, I will also be teaching two art workshops there on April 13th and 14th 2013 from 1 - 3 p.m.  If you're a parent or teacher in Chicago and want your kids to learn how to make art from cardboard, mark your calendars and save the dates.

Unboxed will run from August 28, 2012 through May 5, 2013.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Art and anatomy

My high school was a math and science academy, which meant I had to take electives in math and science (instead of art and music like I wanted to).  Senior year I took Human Anatomy and Physiology.  Our Human A&P teacher's lecture style was so dry and boring that just about everyone fell asleep except for some extremely ambitious aspiring doctors who were trying for early admission to medical school.  And it was right after lunch, so that didn't help.  Amongst ourselves, we called his class Nap Time with Norman.  But these artists I found on Colossal have found a way to make anatomical studies that are compelling, whimsical, and even fun.

Dissected Lego Men by Jason Freeny

Quilled paper anatomy pieces by Sarah Yakawonis

Piñata Anatomy by Carmichael Lynch of Carmichael Collective.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rashid Johnson and Phantom Limb at the MCA

I finally made it to the MCA so I could take a look at two new exhibits: Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks and Phantom Limb: Approaches to Painting Today.

My favorite part of the Rashid Johnson exhibit was his photography.

Rashid Johnson, The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club (Emmett), 2008

Rashid Johnson, Self Portrait as the Professor of Astronomy, Miscegenation and Critical Theory at the New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club Center for Graduate Studies, 2008

Rashid Johnson, Self-Portrait with my hair parted like Frederick Douglass, 2003

What exquisite portraits!  The reference to W.E.B. DuBois' concept of double consciousness made them all the more profound.  I also like the way in which the portraits show a variety of African-American men. He wants to tell the world that there is no singular "Black Experience" and I think his work exemplifies that.

There is also a great sculpture of cross hairs, a reference to the logo for NWA that is also symbolic of the urban violence that has taken the lives of so many young Black men. In perhaps one of the best art label captions I've read so far, the text says that it is unclear which side of the cross hairs we are on. I am not sure who wrote that, but they deserve some recognition for making such a direct and unpretentious statement, a rare find on art museum walls these days.

Rashid Johnson, Triple Consciousness, 2009. Black soap, wax, vinyl in album covers, spray enamel, shea butter, plant and brass

I have to admit I'm not really a fan of most video or installation art. Perhaps all the courses I took in cinema studies and interior design have made me expect something different from what is typically shown in art museums.  I was amused, however, at Johnson's use of things like Al Green and Bob James LPs and shea butter in his installations.  The little vignettes he put them in reminded me of the living rooms of older people I've known who haven't made renovations since the 70s, giving their homes the feeling of a time capsule.  He calls his process “hijacking the domestic" and I can definitely see that in his work.  Also, since his work is inspired by hip-hop, including those particular albums makes sense because both Al Green and Bob James have had many of their songs sampled by hip-hop artists.

The Phantom Limb show made me smile because the first piece I saw was by one of my favorite artists, Robert Rauschenberg. 

I also really liked this untitled piece by Richard Jackson. He used the smaller canvases to smear paint on the larger ones, avoiding paint brushes altogether.

Shows like this one help me to keep an open mind about what painting and art really mean, and show me possibilities I may not have considered before.

Message To Our Folks will run until August 5th and Phantom Limb is on display until October 21st.  Admission is free on Tuesdays for Illinois residents, and annual memberships are definitely worth it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

New prices coming in August

stimulus package - detail

I will be raising the prices of my artwork in August.  The prices of my paintings have remained the same since I finished graduate school in 2009.  Three years later, after participating in numerous art shows, the time has come to increase them so that I can sustain my art practice.

If you're a collector, this is great news.  The art you have purchased from me has appreciated in value.  If you've been thinking about buying a painting, you have a few weeks to get one at the current prices.

Please note that the prices for the photos in The Doll Project will not increase, nor will the hourly fee for my interior design services. 

Thanks to everyone who has supported me by purchasing my art.  I really appreciate it!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The colors and textures of NeoCon 2012

With so much to look at, it's easy to experience a sort of sensory overload at a show at the Merchandise Mart, and NeoCon is no exception.  So it's no surprise I almost forgot to write in detail about the colors and textures on display.

Hair on hide leather is going to a new level of interest with laser-cut designs.  This is what the always edgy Edelman Leather is doing:

They've got some competition from Tiger Leather, which is featuring a striking embossed patent leather line:

I had the privilege of attending John Turner's Benjamin Moore 2013 Color Pulse presentation. How fascinating to learn about the origins of the color forecast, as a team of color experts traveled the globe to explore art, fashion, and design shows and report their findings.

 John told us that pastels are going to make a comeback, that accidental color combinations coming from the use of found and recycled materials will become more prevalent, and that black and white will not be a very common color scheme in the coming year or two.

Though for the most part their forecast was in a similar vein, Shaw Contract Group has some interesting predictions of their own.  They took social unrest into account in their predictions.  Did you know the Occupy movement has a color scheme?  Here it is:

When it comes to color trend predictions, I've learned not to always take them literally. I like what I like, as does every individual, regardless of marketing departments pushing this year's "new black" on all of us.  Right now, I'm particularly fond of colors somewhere between magenta and violet.  I'm enraptured by this gorgeous velvet sofa from the Robert Allen booth :


As for textures, the theme appeared to be a study in contrasts, rough/smooth, organic/geometric, glossy/rugged.  These are the sorts of ideas that I will take with me to my studio.





I also realized that some of the products I saw would be great for an installation or sculpture.  Just think of what I could do with these panels:



The space age material at the bottom is a metal foam!

My artistic process is inspired by interior design, and my interior design process is inspired by art.
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