Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa

I made a point to get to the Blanton to see this before it came down January 22nd, since it is the largest collection of El Anatsui’s work to be shown in the United States, and the Blanton is the only southwest venue to host the exhibition.  My determination was rewarded with vibrant visual rhythms.  Scribbling my impressions in a small notepad helped me keep some works fresh in my mind so I could post them here.

chip chop/chip chop/repeat, nick nack/repeat.  

Installation view. Courtesy of The Blanton Museum of Art. Photo: Rick Hall
Installation view. Courtesy of The Blanton Museum of Art. Photo: Rick Hall

Patterns reminiscent of woven fabric and methodical marks written as language were burned, carved, & gouged into planks, laid side by side to form tableaus; arresting figures emerged from wittily assembled, carved, and painted wood scraps. Worn materials made new again through the artist’s visceral energy: scored and scoured, charred and etched, painted and pieced.  Each work has stories to tell, transformative journeys to recount.

I am glad to be reminded that the range of materials, tools, and mark-making techniques available to an artist is as wide as the imagination.  Fancy supplies are not required to make something meaningful.


"Stressed World," 2011. Courtesy of The Blanton Museum of Art. Photo: Rick Hall.
“Stressed World,” 2011. Courtesy of The Blanton Museum of Art. Photo: Rick Hall.

Metal made fluid, flexible, like nets of some mystic ritual, woven from bottle tops & wire, discarded bits of mass consumption.  Patterns and shapes suggestive of  familiar forms:  a corset, a cloak, a flag, a map. Rippling from sparse to dense and back again, the varied color clusters and compositions providing a unique tone for each work.

Even the draping of the “tapestries” speaks volumes in each work .  “Stressed World” was stretched and pulled taught, yet sagging under its own weight. Lulling waves swelled in “Oasis.” “Tahari in Blue” was somehow formal with its thick, crisp creases.  “Susuvo” fluttered like a regal flag.  I was surprised to discover that such installation choices were likely made by the curator rather than the artist, as explained in Glasstire’s article about the exhibit.

Making the rounds in the gallery and gazing upon some works more than once, I became conscious of time, its passage, the substantial duration required for the wall sculptures.  Yet amazingly, some pieces conveyed chaos, despite the sustained, deliberate, and tedious construction apparent.  I love the way art surprises me, puzzles me, spurs me to trains of thought not present in my workaday life.

Images borrowed from Glasstire.


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Looking back over the last year, we realized a lot has happened, and we’ve done A LOT.  Remembering is a good mental and emotional exercise.  We are so grateful to have such wonderful family, friends, and colleagues, who make our lives so rich and fun.  The paragraphs below include many highlights from 2009 – we know we didn’t get everything, but this gives a pretty good overview of our year.

On the Home Front, we made lots of improvements inside and out.  Outside work included painting of trim, fascia, and doors (goodbye country blue!); backyard landscaping to address erosion and improve drought tolerance including a retaining wall and fill dirt to level out the walkway to the side gate, crushed granite to line the walkways and reduce the amount of water-needy grass, experimental swaths of native prairie grasses, and a rainbarrel installation.  Inside, we had roller shades installed on livingroom and kitchen windows, put up new stylish curtains on pantries, got a new microwave (glue wouldn’t keep the old one together – believe me, I tried), and a new credenza in the living room.

Between the two of us, we’ve enjoyed many professional accomplishments:  Amo was elected to the ISEA board, received a hefty University Continuing Fellowship Award, and attended four professional conferences: ASTE in Connecticut, AERA in San Diego, CAST in Galveston, and an NSF P.I. conference in D.C..  Mel attended the OR09 conference at GA Tech in Atlanta (conveniently also visiting with family & friends).  At the Library, Mel initiated a web committee and introduced the use of several Web 2.0 tools (a library news blog, internal Sharepoint wikis, LibGuides); coordinated completion of a Library website refresh (including a major facelift on the homepage); agreed to chair a professional committee; and hired/managed her first full-time supervisee (this list helps me assuage the nagging feeling of getting nothing done at work).

Even though much of 2009 was hotter than hell (literally), we still played outside alot:

  • Palmetto State Park camping with friends, twice, for birding, hiking, lounging, eating, drinking, laughing, eating, drinking, napping, storytelling, acoustical music playing, burning things, sharing.  Best campfire food experiment:  toasted marshmallows stuffed with homemade lemon curd.  yum!
  • Neighborhood park volunteer cleanup
  • Birding hike in Balcones Canyonland with neighbor friends
  • Water play – Barton Springing & pontoon boat play day out on Lake Travis with the posse
  • ~5 months of group training with friends, culminating in Mel biking on a relay team in the Danskin Triathlon
  • sweating it out at the Blanco Lavender Festival volunteering at our Juniper Hills Farms friends’ product tent, cured by blissful evening dips in their infinity pool
  • wandering streets and beaches of Galveston
  • hiking and picnicking with the posse at Reimer’s Ranch
  • riding our bikes as much as we could, to see free show at SxSW, explore the East Austin Studio Tour, and take weekend morning rides with our friends followed by diner breakfast grub-outs.

We have had much fun on the musical front:  we saw Amy Ray @ Stubbs, and Flight of the Conchords at Bass Hall (Amo won free tickets on KUT radio!); our West Lake Bitches garage band practiced for the first time in January and gave our first live performance for an audience (including strangers) on New Year’s Eve;  Amo’s bluegrass duo project the Honeytones (where she gets to vamp on her treasured Collings mandolin, newly acquired this year) has been gearing up for their first public performance;  Amo taught upcoming tweenage rockers at Girls Rock Camp; DNN news: the never-say-die band found a new best drummer Karl, celebrated the release of their second full-length self-produced album ROCKET, and played raucous fun show in San Antonio (among many other local shows at new venues like Club DeVille, Lambert’s, the Moose Lodge, etc.).

We celebrated well on the holidays: Valentine’s Day traditional dinner date at Little Thailand in Garfield (last time we would see the gregarious host/proprietor Mr. Dick Simcoe, RIP); Easter Brunch at Juniper Hills Farm; 4th of July swimmin’ & eating at Phe’s house in Arlington (mini-flag decorations included); Halloween candy give-out followed by backyard firepit fun with friends; Thanksgiving and Christmas in Arlington with family; New Year’s Eve WLB performance followed by dance party with unexpected drunk neighbors in attendance.

The family news bag was mixed this year:  In chronological order – Amo’s dad passed away unexpectedly (our friends planted a memorial tree in our backyard);  Phe turned 65 (we dined well and got cultured at the Dallas Museum of Art to mark the occasion); my brother-in-law enlisted in the Army, and shortly thereafter, he and my sister announced they were expecting their first child; my grandfather passed away.

Notable milestones: Inauguration of Barack Obama (hallelujah);  Amo’s birthday (swimming at Barton Springs, Paramount Marilyn Monroe movie, Tex-Mex at Polvo’s); new (ish) car – we love our Toyota Rav4; our 6 year anniversary (we got rings!); my birthday (Galveston b & b, beach-walking, seafood-eating).

Other travels and random fun: Amo went on family vacation to the Disney-parks in Orlando; Mel visited good friends in L.A.  We saw David Sedaris read; we put on costumes for our friend’s 40th birthday-Yacht Rock party and a pre-Christmas Wig party.  We dance a lot – it is good for the soul.

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Re-acquainting with painting




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We saw this super-fun cycle-centric version of Alice in Wonderland in a very small park in downtown Austin, picnicking with friends in the grass just feet from the performers in their marvelous costumes. Perfect entertainment on a balmy autumn night.

Austin Bike Zoo - alice and the door mouse
Austin Bike Zoo - animals
Austin Bike Zoo - jabberwocky
Austin Bike Zoo - mad hatter's teaparty

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Collecting Stephanies

Amy & I ventured downtown today, braving the wonderfully blustery storm-threatening weather, to explore the Art City Austin fine arts festival. Our friend Stephanie Nance was one of 200+ artists selected from across the country to hawk their wares in our weird, art-lovin’ city. Although we saw a few of the usual local suspects and their creations, we enjoyed the mixture of traditional and experimental artwork, most of which was immaculately crafted. Delicious treats from Oaxacan Tamaleo and Holy Cacao (cake balls on a stick!?) kept our taste-buds happy.

We have a few bite-sized Nance originals in our home, and today, we bought a piece from another favorite local artist, Stephanie Strange. I have been enchanted by Strange’s typewriter drawings for a couple of years now, and I’m ecstatic to be the proud owner of one, finally!


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Quick, before it’s gone!

This past Sunday, Amo & I spent a couple of hours at the Blanton Museum of Art to catch the last day of some exhibitions recommended by friends.

Reimagining space: The Park Place Gallery Group in 1960s New York was a lively assemblage of paintings and sculptures created to capture the spirit of the urban industrial landscape the artists were working in and inspired by at the time.

Geometrically-shaped canvases painted with electric colors and machine-perfect lines and patterns parlayed perspective, dimension, and depth, a visual reflection of jazz, modern architecture, the Space Age, and an interest in the fourth dimension.

My favorite pieces in the exhibit were by sculptor Mark di Suvero: reclaimed materials from demolition projects such as steel beams, chains, pipes, and broken pieces of wooden framing and furniture were soldered and bolted together into wonderfully dynamic kinetic pieces that called to me like the playscapes in the parks of my youth. Dang that “No touching” policy in the gallery. I was also delighted to learn that the big orange sculpture I’ve been gawking at lately (part of a series of sculptures loaned to UT by the Met and scattered around campus) is one of di Suvero’s.

The New York Graphic Workshop: 1964 – 1970 exhibition presented the conceptual work of a small group of printmakers seeking to explore and redefine the practice of printmaking. Holy moly I love art that challenges tradition! Especially traditional ideas about what art is, what it can or can’t be. Good mental exercise. Repeat daily.

This group sent little mini-exhibitions through the mail, and created interactive installations for viewers to walk through and participate in. They even invented a fictitious character and then made and sold prints attributed to him to benefit a Latin American scholarship fund at Pratt. Ingenious!.

The Park Place and NYGW artists were admirably dedicated to establishing and working in collaborative, cooperative spaces, independent of commercial galleries & dealers. I think there are several small cooperative arts groups here in Austin – I’ll have to go a-hunting now, and report back later.


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