Category Archives: Artists

An Eye to the North

As promised, this week’s post is a taste of the some of the art we experienced in the Atlantic Provinces a couple of weeks ago. Three exhibits in particular stood out, making for a wonderful combination of textiles and drawing.
I could almost pretend they knew I was coming.

But first…
I think this public sculpture is worth sharing.

Migration Pathways #2

Migration Pathway #2 ©Giorgia Volpe                                                                                               Suspended over the St. Lawrence River near the Quebec Public Market, “th(is) piece ties together past and present in notion of migration, a seminal influence shaping our society and evolving territory. Migration Pathway #2 shows the vulnerability and endurance inherent in human and animal migratory and nomadic lives. Woven canoes rise in the air approaching the banks of the St. Lawrence in a surprising parade-like movement. The work pays tribute to Quebec folk traditions, the beliefs of early sailors, and First Nations traditional knowledge, and occupies a traditional site of meeting and dialogue for all these communities.”

Migration 2

 

The Museum of Civilization in Quebec City was a very happy discovery. With exhibits involving history, science, art and culture, there was way more than we could absorb in one visit. However, two concurrent shows stood out.

The first, an extensive retrospective on the work of Hergé, the Belgian cartoonist and creator of The Adventures of Tintin. It’s a show that would be appealing to any age, and certainly inspiring to young drawers.

 

 

It was fascinating to study the extensive display of his working drawings up close, then to follow his progression through gouache color proofs, and onto final finished prints. You can’t help but admire in his ability to capture and express so much through a judicious economy of line that is all one weight and lacks crosshatching, a style he pioneered that became known as “ligne claire” (clear line).

Captain Haddock

The following appeared on one of the museum labels:    “Although comics have long been regarded as a minor art, figures like Hergé have propelled them to unrivaled artistic heights. Certain lead pencil sketches of Captain Haddock, Tintin, or Professor Calculus, for instance, are exercises in style with enough complexity, astute turbulence, and accuracy of tone to rival works by such masters as Dürer, Holbein, da Vinci, Ingres and others.”

 

 

Next, in a neighboring gallery, Carole Simard-Laflamme’s installation Dress of Nations is a work at once ethereal and imposing. Created to evoke every stage of life, from birth to death, this work is made of 6,000 “seed dresses” — textile miniatures made from pieces of recovered garments, threaded together and suspended from the ceiling in rows, composing the bodies of two large dress forms.

Dress of Nations, ©Carole Simard-Laflamme                                            Statement: “Our garments tell our stories. They reveal our identities and present the symbols of our cultures. With this work, I wish to underscore our differences and our uniqueness…”

 

Over 400 people from different cultures sent the artist a piece of clothing along with a testimonial. The garments were cut, mixed, reassembled, and stitched together on wires, each seed-dress bearing a golden stamp. The overall effect was quite moving.

 

 

 

Finally, it was pure luck that Zachari Logan’s exhibit Topiary opened at the Anna Leonowens Gallery of the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design the day before we arrived in Halifax. What a great bonus that we were able to attend his lunchtime talk, a part of their visiting artist series.

Logan

Green Man, Natural Drag series     ©2012 Zachari Logan, pastel on paper, 50 x 100 inches.

Logan’s detailed pastel and pencil drawings explore the intersection between “masculinity, identity, memory, and place”. He discussed in detail the parallels between his subject matter and the way he sees himself within society as a queer man.

Zachari Logan, blue pencil on mylar

His highly skilled draughtsmanship is mind-blowing, but the depth and intelligence in the metaphors he constructs based across a spectrum of art history, interlaced with an unflinching confrontation of some of the more poignant challenges many face within our world today, completely swept me away. I am still thinking about his work due to his seamless pairing of concept with execution.

Although this exhibition had none on display, ceramics are another component of Logan’s overall practice and the statements he makes through his art. Obviously I was intrigued by his marriage of the two disciplines in light of my own quest to coherently bring my drawing and textile work together.

Visit this page on his website to see more of his art and for a greater understanding of the ideas behind these and other works in his various series.

Datura, from Eunich Tapestries series     ©2013 Zachari Logan, pastel on paper, 10 x 5 feet        I was quite moved by Logan’s discussion of his portrayal of “ditches” and the plants that appear there. Having grown up in Saskatchewan, ditches were a familiar part of the landscape for him, filled with plants that are scorned as weeds. But he asked us to consider the term “weed” and how classifying certain plants as undesirable with that epithet can be equated with the words we use to label people who, for whatever reason, society rejects as well.

Our trips north never disappoint. Because art seems to be such a valued and public part of Canadian life, I’ve been seeking information about their dedication to investing in culture as a nation. This 2016 article from the Washington Post is quite an eye-opener. Considering the ever-precarious state of the arts in the US, I’m tempted to say: read it and weep.

Perennial Inspiration

I don’t remember exactly when it was I bought Sara Midda’s 1981 book In and Out of the Garden, but it must not have been too long after it came out. Years before I was able to have a garden of my own, that little book has graced my bookshelf in all our many homes, serving as an inspiration and a reminder of the universal beauty and solace to be found in the magic that results from adding seeds to soil.

Scissors Detail 1

Stitching in progress, detail      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                    The idea of including and concentrating on an area of tone-on-tone cropped up while working on the piece previous to this one.

The main draw for me is Midda’s tiny watercolor images, luminescent and charming. Paired with her hand-lettered text of quotes, historical facts, poetry, and recipes, I have always found a gentle delight in reading and rereading this book that underscores much of the way the world of horticulture captures the imaginations of those of us inclined to garden.

Scissors Detail 2

Detail      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                  The scissors remain more sketchily defined as a foil to the heavily stitched areas above and below them.

In 1990 she followed up with Sara Midda’s South of France – A Sketchbook, and in 2014 A Bowl of Olives: On Food and Memory was released. I was quick to buy copies of each as soon as I learned it was out, happy to become re-immersed in Midda’s eye for the details that honor the essence of the unsung elements that surround us, things we tend to take for granted but which give such a strong sense of place and moment. All three books are meditations of a sort, quiet picture books with “more”. To some degree I am sure appreciation for her observations have had some lasting sway on my own choice of subjects.

Scissors Detail 3

Detail      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                  In the end, I think it’s the “conversation” between the diversity of pattern, evident in both the stitching and the stitched-resist pattern, that pulls the piece together, making it whole.

Despite looking, I haven’t had much luck learning more about Sara Midda. There is relatively little information about her on the web other than a few promotional articles and blog posts marking the release of each book. Disappointingly, she doesn’t seem to have ever had a website. So I was thrilled to discover that Danny Gregory* conducted a 40 minute video interview with her on his Sketchbook Club blog last week. How lovely it is to hear her talk about her process and the history of these books. Outwardly quiet and gentle, just like her art, it was one of those rare occasions when all elements seemed to add up.

Scissors Unframed

Divide and Conquer, unframed     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                  Stitched-resist dye and embroidery on silk

Have you had a similar experience with a book that has had a lasting impact on you? Please fill us in…

*I credit Danny Gregory’s book Everyday Matters and his original blog of the same name as being the instigation behind spurring me to commit to drawing regularly. I have no doubt his welcoming and encouraging approach, pointing out the huge benefits to be gleaned from drawing, regardless of ability or experience, has been one of the main driving forces behind awakening or reinvigorating the desire to draw for thousands of people. If you aren’t familiar with him, check out his site.

Reportage

There’s a lot to be said for keeping up the sketching habit while traveling. I love that drawing gives me an immediate sense of grounding in unfamiliar surroundings while allowing for more fully absorbing a new environment. Stopping to sketch is a wonderful opportunity to squeeze in a breather during a busy day of sight-seeing, and to pay closer attention to the common bits that define a particular locale. At the end of a full day of exploration, my husband and I have become very fond of finding a cafe or bar where we can sit with a drink and watch the world pass by while recapping our experiences. Pulling out my sketchbook has become a comfortable part of that favorite routine.

Waiting to Board

Waiting to Board, BTV     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

That said, this past week in Seattle there were eleven of us, so my best chance to draw was in the morning while everyone was relaxing over coffee as we pulled together our itinerary for the day ahead. Therefore, my drawings are mostly rooms around the house we rented and various breakfast-related still-life set ups. Even so, there is enjoyment in going through each drawing after getting home because, even if the subject itself isn’t that exciting, I am brought back to that moment so precisely: the conversation, the surrounding atmosphere, the overarching feeling of that point in time. It’s a wonderfully direct way to re-experience the moment; there is much to be said for the power of drawings in recording an event.

Cafe Flora

Cafe Flora     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

On the flight home I read this article by Lauren Tamaki who had been tasked by the NYTimes to sketch the Bill Cosby trial since photographs weren’t permitted. Her drawings and accompanying text bring a level of humanness to the proceedings, a quality that could potentially become lost in photographs. My point is not to discount the poignancy and recording power to be found in excellent photography, but rather to draw attention to the benefits contained in a drawing made with time and consideration and which, via the individuality of the artist’s marks and gestures, expresses an immediacy and presence in that particular moment. Details Tamaki captured by hand, such as the ornately carved courtroom door, the assistant district attorney’s hand gestures, or the body language of others in the courtroom, convey an emotional connection with the circumstances that might otherwise be overlooked.

Counter Shapes

Counter Shapes, Breakfast     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Since becoming acquainted with Urban Sketchers, I am much more aware of reportage artists and the importance of their work. Using their skills to tell some of the harder stories that surround us, via means that are arguably more intimate than those of a movie camera or still photography, they have an opportunity to fully immerse us in that particular time and place.

Iris Chair

Iris Chair     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

I encourage you to explore a few such artist’s work:

Veronica Lawlor drew on the streets of Manhattan as 9/11 unfolded and in the weeks following. She compiled her sketches in the book September 11, 2001, Words and Pictures. This blog post from The Global Art Junkie drills home the power and authenticity of Lawlor’s drawings in marking that day.

I first learned of Richard Johnson’s work on Instagram. Citizen Sketcher Marc Taro Holmes interviewed Johnson about sketching the homeless in Washington, D.C., resulting in a very interesting discussion about the ethical responsibilities of such work.

Molly Crabapple is an award-winning artist who reports on injustice and rebellion around the world. Her work is spellbinding.

And let’s not forget Winslow Homer who was a reportage artist during the Civil War.

In circling back to the more mundane matter of keeping an account of traveling for pleasure, I know that bringing home spectacular images of newly discovered territory is commonplace when everyone has a smart phone capable of taking wonderful pictures. My husband’s photos are terrific and and I am so grateful for the fleeting moments he is able to catch in a heartbeat.

Knife & Spoon

Knife & Spoon     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Yet there is also a lot to be said for the depth of memories that are rooted in the slower process of drawing. For me, they have unmatchable value as souvenirs.

 

Taking Action Creatively

“Art never affects the world in a vacuum. It exists as a part of culture. Political art standing against repressive forces in society is part of the culture of change. Political art affects the real world as part of the force that keeps the human spirit alive. it keeps the flame of justice burning. It keeps memory alive. It moves with the struggles and moves the struggles forward.”        Paul Boden, The Huffington Post

I'm With Her

Women’s March, Montpelier, VT January 21, 2017

Although hardly a novel form of expression, I am more aware of the pervasive nature of political art now than at any other time in my life. Voices are surfacing from far and wide, including, and perhaps most notably, from quarters that haven’t previously felt compelled to speak out in protest. The sense of urgency is palpable. For me, the key take-away is the power art has given, and continues to give, to voicing distress / anger / concern / fear, not just in our current political climate, but throughout history.

Yes We Can!

Women’s March, Montpelier, VT January 21, 2017

That voice doesn’t have to be loud, but just as drops of water will carve through stone, change is effected through persistence. This week I want to highlight two local artists I am privileged to know, whose practices center around putting forth powerful statements about the issues that concern them.

Knotweed Not Safe

Knotweed Not Safe     ©Eve Jacobs-Carnahan            Photo credit: Paul Rogers Photography

Eve Jacobs-Carnahan is a mixed media artist whose knitted sculptures seek change by raising awareness and offering perspective, particularly on environmental issues. The thousands of pink “pussy” hats of the Women’s March on January 21 prompted Eve to wonder how one advances an important message such that people will listen and consider it, rather than turning a cold shoulder. In her pursuit of understanding how individuals can be globally motivated toward action, she realized the pussy hats exhibited an unparalleled and viral example of such solidarity.

Chemical Lawn Natural Lawn

Chemical Lawn Natural Lawn   ©Eve Jacobs-Carnahan   Photo credit: Paul Rogers Photography

She brought this idea to the public last week in her talk “Art As Action: Knitters Speaking Out”. Offering an examination of 7 art knitters* who convey ideas about social and political issues through their work, the presentation provided examples of the way these artists powerfully express their objectives via inspirationally accessible means. I think everyone left the hall considering how they too might communicate their views at a time when, for many, remaining quiet seems an untenable option.

India Tresselt

© India Tresselt

As a daily practice, Temari artist India Tresselt is working to bring awareness to her concerns via her aim to make one artwork of resistance for each of the first 100 days of the Trump administration. At the end of January India began posting those pieces of protest to her Instagram profile. She told her followers:

I am disheartened and angry and scared. It is very difficult to lead a normal life and engage in my normal activities when everything in me is screaming that This. Is. Not. Normal.  …I will continue to make pretty things because putting beauty out into the world has to make a difference, but I will also make things that aren’t pretty, because things are very definitely not pretty these days, and I will show all of this work here because I cannot stay silent.”

India Tresselt

©India Tresselt

I find comfort in the fact that beyond the daily dose of news in the papers, on television and on the radio, grassroots artists are taking productive action, speaking up against issues they see as wrong. Countering loneliness and fear, their voices work toward eliminating isolation while fostering solidarity. In deference to the adage “an image is worth a thousand words”, a visual message can be so much richer than traditional media, striking directly at the heart of an issue while connecting with an audience in a much more visceral way than pages of text or unending interviews with talking heads.

I celebrate all those who raise their voices creatively — as well as the fact that we have the freedom to do so.

*The list of 7 artists discussed in Eve’s talk:
Sabrina Gschwandtner
Katharine Cobey
Adrienne Sloan
Lisa Anne Auerbach
Cat Mazza
Liz Collins
Lindsay Obermeyer

We Won't Go Back

Women’s March, Montpelier, VT, January 21, 2017

One last thought: In his uplifting SNL monologue on January 21, Aziz Ansari jokingly observed, “Crazy couple of days, man. Yesterday Trump was inaugurated, today an entire gender protested against him”. I can’t let that go without referring to William Congreve’s often misappropriated quote from The Mourning Bride, closing line of Act III: “Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d / Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d”.

Again and Again…and Again

For the past two weeks I have been so busy posting images of the latest stitched piece that I completely forgot to show you the original sketch.  It would have made much more sense to insert it last week rather than the quick waterbrush drawing of Quinn, but the happy result of my absent minded oversight is it made figuring out what to write this week much easier!

Coffee 1

© 2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                                          Original sketch from which the fiber piece grew.

I feel like there is still plenty to learn by drawing this white cup and saucer, so I’m planning to keep at it. And while you may feel like you’re experiencing déjà vu, these three sketches really are different from any that I’ve posted before. I would like to read about Georgio Morandi as I’m sure I could learn a lot from his work and ideas. Looking for suggestions, I found an extensive monograph on Amazon with the subtitle Nothing is More Abstract than Reality. The title in itself is enough to pull me in, but the library will be a more viable option. However, if you’ve read a worthwhile biography on Morandi, I would greatly appreciate your recommendation.  You can either leave a comment or email me privately.

©2016 Elizabeth Fram

Meanwhile, I found two quotes from Edgar Degas that ring especially true with what these sketches are helping me to discover:

One must do the same subject over again ten times, a hundred times. In art nothing must resemble an accident, not even movement.

The fascinating thing is not to show the source of light, but the effect of light.

                                                                                                        -Edgar Degas

©2016 Elizabeth Fram

I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Wishing you and yours the best of holidays…

Art-full Storytelling

It wouldn’t be right to post this week without first extending a warm thank you to all of you who have taken a moment over these past two years, many of you faithfully each week, to read Eye of the Needle. I hope that by the time you get to this week’s entry your cooking chores will be well behind you and you are heading back to your studio — or perhaps taking a moment to put your feet up and just digest. And in that case, perhaps the following suggestion might be of interest.

whitecup5

White Cup 5      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                               These cup and saucer sketches are becoming more and more about an abstracted composition of shape and value, and less about portraying an object

I recently came across The Memory Palace, a storytelling podcast by Nate DiMeo. He has created almost 100 episodes, and as the current MetLiveArts Artist in Residence at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, DiMeo is producing 10 more episodes “interrogating the collection to draw out the revealing secrets and stories of the art”. He dives into details, fleshing out the stories behind the artists, their works and the times in which they were created. I’m envious of anyone who will be visiting the Met and can listen in the presence of the works as he describes them. Follow this link to learn more and to hear the 3 episodes that have been completed so far. In DiMeo’s words:

“I come across something from the past — in a novel, during a museum visit, in a documentary, in some listicle on some website…that moves me, that makes me want to know more, and I go off and research it. The writing and production process, in a very real way, is all about me figuring out how to move the listener in the same way that I was moved”.

And finally, to switch gears entirely, those of you who know me well know that I am the definition of social-media-phobic. Always late to any trend, I have taken the leap and opened an Instagram account (elizabeth_fram) this week. I invite you to follow me for a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day in the studio.

Best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving weekend…

Lessons from Canada

While out of town last week I read Gabrielle Zevin’s novel The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. An entertaining read that surrounds the redemptive power of books and writing, I think it would appeal to anyone who is drawn to pass a leisurely hour or so exploring the shelves of an independent bookstore. Among other themes, it delves into the way certain books seem to speak directly to our deepest selves at a particular time in our life. Yet, when revisiting those passages years later, we marvel that they ever resonated so strongly, instead finding significance in completely different sections that garnered no notice on the first pass. It’s an inspiring affirmation of the way personal life experience is reflected back to us through art.

Uniform

Uniform Measure/Stack    Stephen Cruise, 1997 Toronto

We were in Canada, and as I go over the photos I took in Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario, I’m realizing in hindsight (and probably because I’ve been mulling over Zevin’s book) why the work of particular artists grabbed me. Whether through a shared affinity for composition, color, shadows, subject, or a sketch-like approach, many of the works were remarkably accessible and struck a parallel with issues I am challenging myself to develop within my own work.

RooftopsBright

Rooftops     A. J. Casson, 1924

My education, for the most part, covered European, Asian and American art; I don’t remember any discussion about the work of Canadians. How can that be? So the time spent at the AGO opened my eyes to some spectacular work while broadening my exposure to the scope of Canadian art history.

Walker-Court-AGO-copy

Gehry Staircase in the Walker Court, Art Gallery of Ontario

First, let me say that the AGO is a gem of a museum, impressively renovated by Toronto native Frank Gehry. The galleries are warmly infused with light and provide seating (also designed by Gehry) that is unusual for its design and comfort — definitely not your average museum bench!

Gehry-Bench-AGO

Gehry designed gallery seating

I  was swept away by the work of Clarence Gagnon (1881-1942). Many small oils (approx. 8″ x 10″) filled one of the galleries, intimate in scale yet monumental in brushwork and descriptive power — many portraying rural Quebec landscapes, mostly in winter. His subjects surround every day occurrences, providing a contemporary feel despite depicting scenes of close to 100 years ago. Their small size captures the intimacy one finds flipping through a sketchbook, including a sense of immediacy that can be lost in a larger, more considered painting.

Horse Racing in Winter Gagnon

Horse-Racing in Winter,Quebec  Clarence Gagnon, 1927, oil on wood, 22.2 x 28.2cm The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario

Lawren Harris‘ (1885-1970) early pieces also caught my eye with their lyrical study of color, light, and snow. I was intrigued by and drawn to his treatment of shadows as subject, not merely support.

houses-on-gerrard-street-by-lawren-harris

Houses on Gerrard Street,  Lawren Harris, circa 1918, oil on board , 10 5/8″ x 13″

My favorite piece of the day was Chickens on Lace by David Milne (1882-1953). This composition, with the objects arranged toward the perimeter of the piece, struck a particularly strong chord. I would have happily included it in this past post about my own inclination to use that device. His work is firmly rooted in the world around him as you can see and hear in this short video, prefaced by his no-nonsense statement “I paint what I see…at any hour of any day”.

Chickens On Lace

Chickens on Lace, David B. Milne, 1940, oil on canvas, 50.4 x 65.8cm The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario

So, while I usually enjoy any chance to see unfamiliar art because new lines of thinking and inspiration are often opened, this visit was special. In the same way that life circumstances draw us to certain passages within our reading, I think I connected with the work of these and some of the other Canadian artists on view at the AGO because it helped spur a greater understanding of the directions I am currently pursuing.  But I wonder, would this work have resonated so strongly 5 years ago? And in another five years, will it hold the same sway? I’m not sure that it matters; what is important is the connection experienced now.

Spectators-copy

The Audience, Michael Snow, 1989    Toronto’s Rogers Centre

Beyond the walls of the museum, I was truly impressed by the amount and quality of public sculpture in both Ottawa and Toronto — prominent reminders of the respect and importance with which Canadians hold their history, their environment, and the Arts. Coincidentally, Hyperallergic posted this article last week covering the Canadian government’s pledge “to invest nearly CAD 1.9 billion (~USD 1.4 billion) in the nation’s arts and culture over the next five years to promote Canadian creativity both at home and abroad”. That’s close to twice as much as the $148 million the US Federal budget has earmarked for the NEA in 2016! What I really love is their understanding that “Investing in the Canadian cultural sector helps to create jobs, strengthens the economy and ensures that the unique Canadian perspective is shared with the world.”

McKinney,-Edwards-copy

The Famous Five, (detail) Barbara Paterson, installed 2000 on Parliment Hill, Ottawa         Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards, two of five women celebrated in this statue for petitioning in 1927 to have women legally considered persons so women could be appointed to the Senate.

Time Out

I’m taking a bit of a break this week but I discovered some wonderful art that I am sure you will want to see.

I love it when I come across work that is unexpectedly joyous and which underlines that it’s not necessary for art to take itself too seriously in order to make a viewer think. The following artists’ work hinges on a mixture of reframing perception, humorous visual play, and incongruous materials. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. The artists’ names below link to their websites so you can view more.

Erik Johansson Photography –  be sure to also explore his videos. And you can read further here.

Erik Johansson

Cut and Fold © Erik Johansson                                                               Used with permission

Classical Sculpture in “Hipster” clothes, Photographs by Léo Caillard. Read and see more of these wonderful images on Resource Magazine Online.

Leo_Caillard_11

© Léo Caillard                                                 Used with permission

And finally, don’t miss Hirotoshi Itoh’s Stonework: Pleasures of Paradox (click on Sculpture 1 and Sculpture 2). His pieces will delight you! More photos and background information are available in this article.

Hirotoshi_Itoh_6-600x600

© Hirotoshi Itoh                                                                                  Used with permission

Grab a cup of tea/coffee, put your feet up and join me in taking a breather and celebrating creativity. I’ll see you next week.