Women in Art: Emma Amos

I am going to start this post about Emma Amos in the middle. Last October, I saw the retrospective exhibit, Emma Amos: Color Odyssey, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We are all familiar with Paul Gauguin’s topless portraits of Tahitian women. Growing up, I was given to understand that those women walked around that way all the time. Only it wasn’t true. By the time Gauguin got to Tahiti in 1891, “[i]t had been thoroughly Christianized and colonized. The women were not walking around half-naked. … They tended to be wearing … Christian missionary gowns.”

That made Amos’ painting, Tightrope, pictured below, really resonate with me. It’s is Amos’s depiction of the difficult balance she had to maintain as a Black woman, artist, wife, and mother. The t-shirt she holds is a reference to Gaughan’s painting of his 13-year-old Tahitian wife. For more information on Tightrope, and her other paintings, I recommend Arianna Richetti’s excellent article, Emma Amos: The Story of the Postmodernist African-American Artist.

Tightrope

The vulnerability Amos displays in tightrope brought to mind a passage from a novel by Lorene Carey that I read a few years ago. The protagonist of The Price of a Child is not an artist, but other aspects of her life are uncomfortably similar.

"Mercer pulled her arm tighter over Mattie's shoulders. She thought      of Pryor's long fingers and how she hated him to touch her breasts. Why her breasts? They had always been hard, just getting past that part. Especially when she was pregnant or, worse yet, nursing. She could wall off from the waist down and not make herself mind so much. Maybe her breasts were too close to her head. She couldn't wall off from the neck down which is what she tried to do." Lorene Carey, The Price of a Child: A Novel, 1995.
My Work Suit

How a Black female artist must present herself to be recognized as a painter working. Note that the suit is a pseudo transformation of Amos into a white man. Beading Yoda, who knew Amos, told me that she was a member of the Guerrilla Girls.

All I know of Wonder

Amos often used fabric to frame her work, as she did in the above painting which contains a bathing scene, a female figure with multi-colored skin tones and a black male bather that evokes classical Greek imagery. Amos said, “Every time I think about color, it’s a political statement.”

X-Flag

Before you pass this off as derivative of Jasper Johns, take a closer look. Amos has depicted an American flag backed by a Confederate flag. There’s also fabric, and photographs of children playing and Malcolm X.

Flying Circus is a triptych that is part of Amos’s Falling Series, that is partly a commentary on Ronald Reagan’s social spending cuts in the 1980’s. Amos saw falling through space as both frightening and liberating.

There are some enlightening and instructive videos on the Color Odyssey exhibit from the Georgia Museum of Art. To view them, press here and here.

Art That Infuriates People

I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art recently with my friend Christa. I like to look at art with Christa because she knows so much and has such an interesting perspective (the same reason I like to watch movies, which can be anything from Mad Max to Macbeth, with my husband.)

I’d heard of Cy Twombly, but didn’t know much about him. I still don’t know a whole lot, but I learned that the Philadelphia Museum of Art is home to one of Twombly’s major works. Fifty Days at Illiam. We saw the series of ten paintings after seeing the fifty-year retrospective of Sean Scully. Scully’s work was technically and artistically brilliant, but I found it lacking in emotion. Perhaps this is just me because apparently, Scully “sees art devoid of emotion as dishonest.” But what is art supposed to mean anyway?

When we entered the room that houses Fifty Days at Illiam, I saw nothing but emotion. We all know the story of the Trojan war and the story of Achilles who was so incensed when Trojan Prince Hector killed his besty Patroclus that he lost all control. Fifty Days at Illiam captures frenzy that led to a chain reaction of violence that ended with eternal night.

Shield of Achilles
Achilles wants vengeance

How’s that for emotion? Red and black and images that could pass for male genitalia or cannons depending on your point of view. Probably the former since this was the Trojan War and not the War of 1812.

Compare this battle scene with this one. Achilles kills Hector, Paris kills Achilles and havoc is unleashed.

Like a Fire that Consumes All Before It.

You can see all the paintings here, and learn more about Cy Twombly here.

Now I have heard that a lot of people don’t get Cy Twombly. Maybe because some of his materials included crayons, glue, and house paint, and he scribbled across his canvas. People probably say, “I could do that.” Maybe. But they didn’t. Or if they tried, their work didn’t have the color, the emotion, the audacity. John Waters said, “Cy Twombly is my hero because in the beginning his work so infuriated people.” Twombly’s work doesn’t infuriate me. It moves me.

Ars Medendi

Ars medendi is Latin for medical arts.  Is medicine an art or a science?    Some say it’s both; medical knowledge is gathered through scientific study, but the application of that knowledge  is an art .   That’s why they call it practicing medicine, and it is not coincidental that practicing is also the same way you get to Carnegie Hall.
But seriously folks-I live in Philadelphia and walk past  a couple of fascinating sculptures almost every day.  One is a tall weathered metal cylinder in which mysterious looking symbols and foreign words in several alphabets-Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese-are punched out of the metal as if the creator wanted to make a giant stencil.  The other sculpture is a long trapezoid-shaped screen with the same design motif.   They intrigued me from the first time I saw them, but there are no plaques indicating what they are, who the sculptor is, or why they sit on opposite ends of   the plaza of Thomas Jefferson University Medical College.

People must have been asking the Jefferson administration the same questions because it appears that Jefferson recently added information to its web site about the sculptures.  They are entitled Ars Medende and the artist is Jim Sanborn, known for his Kryptos sculpture at CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia. You can read more about Sanborn and his work here.

And now for the sculptures

The Medical Arts cylinder was installed on the corner of 9th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia in 2009.   It interesting by day but captivating at night.

When the cylinder is lit up at night it reflects  cryptic  symbols and foreign words onto the walkway and an adjacent building.   What do they mean?

I got a clue one night as my husband and I walked across the plaza.  He pointed  to the top of the  cylinder and asked me, “Do you recognize that?  It’s a DNA sequence.”  He should know, because he wrote a book called Corporate DNA: Learning from Life and did a lot of thinking about DNA and how it works while he was writing that book.   I admitted that the letters bore a strange familiarity even though I would be hard pressed to remember anything about DNA from high school biology.

Another look at the cylinder by day.  See the DNA sequence at near the top? Can you recognize anything else?

The Medical Arts screen  on the other side of the plaza on 10th Street  was placed there in 2008.  The first time I saw it, I was transfixed.  When I finally looked down,  I found two rusty X shapes from the stamped out metal that lying on the sidewalk.

There is other beautiful  art on the Jefferson Campus and I wish they would let the public know more about it.  You might remember the controversy that ensued after TJU decided to sell Thomas Eakins’ painting “The Gross Clinic” to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007.   American surgeon Samuel Gross taught at Jefferson Medical College and the story is that Eakins took one of his anatomy classes.

There is a statue of Gross in the courtyard by Alexander Sterling Calder who was the father of  Alexander Calder, known for his jewelry and  better known for his mobiles.  There is so much history at TJU both artistic and scientific.  But that is a topic for another post.

Enjoy the video about Jim Sanborn


Desert Jewels

I have always been fascinated by the jewelry of the African continent.  Each region (I hesitate to say country because those are mostly artificial creations of colonization) has its own style and these are broken down further depending on the tribe or ethnic group.

Some of my favorite designs come from North Africa, so I jumped at the chance to see  the Desert Jewels: North African Jewelry and Photography exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last year. If one word describes North Africa Jewelry, it’s flamboyant.  These massive jewelry pieces blend design  traditions (Moorish and Jewish for example) and materials that could be local or that could have traveled thousands of miles on the back of a camel.   Most of the jewelry is meant to be worn every day; some is ceremonial.   It’s not uncommon for a piece to be taken apart and  refashioned into another design.  Gold is rare and most of the materials are not precious.    I was surprised to see the Star of David motif on so much of the jewelry, even though the Jews have long been a presence in Morocco.  And the jewelry is stunning.

The photographs in the exhibition gave me the opportunity to see some jewelry as it was worn and and to catch some glimpses of this exotic part of the world portrayed as even more exotic and mysterious for the Western audiences, sometimes by staged scenes or the use of fake back drops.

The Exhibition was put together by the Museum for African Art.   I highly recommend the  exhibition book.  If you buy it directly from the museum, you will help to support local African artisans and museum programs.


Philadelphia From Up High

Here’s another way to look at things: From the 50th floor of a tall building on a clear day with a zoom lens.  You can look down into Easten State Penitentiary, get a bird’s eye view of Swann Fountain,  see ships on the Delaware,  the Ben Franklin Bridge, and see the Schuylkill River meandering behind the  Art Museum.

Fifty Years of Public Art in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its Public Art Program this year! It had one the first “percent for art” public art program in the United States when it passed an ordinace in 1959 that required that a percentage of construction costs for municipal projects be set aside for fine arts. Read more about the program’s history here.

The pictures below are a sampling of some the public art in Center City Philadelphia. I’m sure you’ll recognize some of them. Yes, those are huge dominoes and Monopoly pieces! One of my favorites has always been Claes Olbenburg’s Clothespin in Centre Square. That’s a reflection of City Hall in the building behind it in the picture below.

You can find out more about the great public art in Philadelphia here and here.

Klay Kismet

A couple of years ago, I spent a few days at Arlene Groch’s house claying nonstop alongside Arlene, Ellen Marshall and Melanie West. During the course of the claying frenzy, I made some bracelets with long beads usinga variety of techniques.

tb1tb4

In October, Barbara McGuire taught a master class in Philadelphia and was the guest artist at the Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild’s monthly meeting. She saw my bracelets and remarked that I had used oneof the stamps she designed. Then I remembered admiring one of Arlene’s stamps and using it to texture some of the beads.  Arlene bought the stamp on Barbara’s web site.

designwire

Barbara McGuire is the author of two of my all time favorite polymer clay books,Foundations in Polymer Clay Design and Wire in Design. So I was  looking forward   to her demo at the meeting.  I was not disappointed.  And the members who took her face canes class gave it rave reviews. The Guest Artist Program is one of the best perks of PAPCG membership.

If you want to see pictures from the meeting, go to the guild’s Flickr site. If you’re in Philadelphia this weekend, try to catch the  PMA Craft show where Melanie West is participating as an emerging artist.

And not for the last bit of Klay Kismet:  Arlene happened to go to school with my boss.  How Kool is that?

Dear Fleisher

Dear Fleisher, 4 X 6 Inches of Art is the Fleisher Art Memorial’s biennial exhibition and sale of original artwork. The invitational exhibit features postcard sized (4″x6″) art in a wide range of media. Each piece is signed on the back to preserve the artist’s anonymity and sold for $50.00. I heard Fleisher raised almost $55,000 this year.

Some of the more than 150 contributing artists this year were Jill Bonovitz, Burnell Yow!, Signe Wilkinson, David Brewster, Isaiah Zagar, and Eliza Auth.

I was asked to participate in the last two exhibits and have chosen to work in polymer clay. Here are my pieces from 2006 (left) and 2008 (right). The Fleisher Art Memorial is a neighborhood and City treasure to which I am glad to contribute.

DVD’s from Kato, Miller and a Calder Article


 

Donna Kato Presents: Tips, Tricks & Techniques for Polymer Clay  is three and a half hours of Donna Kato demonstrating caning, transfers, mica shift, finishing techniques and more. The gals at video night (you know who you are) gave it a five (out of five) pasta machine rating. A bargain at $34.95. To order, press here.

I love everything Sharilyn Miller. (To see my review of her Tribal Treasures video, press here.) I just got finished watching her Ethnic Style Jewelry Workshop video, and all I can say is “Wow!” Another three and one half hours of valuable information on wire working, and instructions for making four bracelets and two necklaces. A steal at $39.95. To order it, Press here.

I wrote about the Alexander Calder Jewelry Exhibit at the Philadelpha Museum of Art in an earlier post. The latest issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist has an article on Calder’s jewelry well worth reading: “Calder’s Mobile Jewelry” by Cathleen McCarthy.

Thinking about Design

A book I heartily recommend is Hinges and Hinge-Based Catches for Jewelers and Goldsmiths. It covers more than hinges and catches. You’ll find information on soldering and construction, some tool making ideas, and tips on solving technical and design problems. Even if you are not a Metalsmith, I recommend you read the book for examples of author Charles Lewton-Brain’s approach to creative thinking and problem solving:

Thinking is the most important thing you can do as a goldsmith and a jeweler. Solving problems is what being an artist or craftsperson is about. Utilizing contrast and comparison helps in analyzing a problem. Look for patterns: if something looks like something else, there is probably a relationship, a link. . . .[from which]one can gain a deeper understanding of the principles behind them. This is the same approach used by scientists and art historians; one understands systems and problems by using contrast and comparison.”

In the same vein, I recommend you go to the Polymer Art Archive and read  Rachel Carren’s explanation of why one of Victoria Hughes’s necklace designs works so well. Sure, we all read about design and take classes where teachers use abstract terms and diagrams. Maybe you could take a test on the class and get an “A,” but most of us are not going for the grades at this point. We want to improve our designs. Carren, provides a concrete analysis of how a master approached a design. How cool is that?   The Polymer Art Archive contains some more examples of  Carren’s  insightful commentaries on design.  Well worth a read. 

Finally, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is hosting a not-to-be-missed exhibit of Alexander Calder’s jewelry. The exhibit runs through November 2, 2008 at the newly-opened Perlman Building. This is the first exhibition devoted solely to Calder’s jewelry. What’s especially nice about it is the large number of pieces are displayed in glass cases so you can see the front and back.

Calder used cold connections and basic fabrication techniques to make his jewelry, but this didn’t limit him. All of his designs were well thought out and seem fresh 60 years later. If you can’t make it to the Museum, you can always order the exhibition catalog on line. Or you can do both like I did.