Chery Baird – Dictionary of Marks

Chery Baird talks with Jay Zerbe about her 2 books (so far!) of collages made from leftover scraps from her other 3 collage series (see my prior blog for more info about those).

recycling an inheritance

when the mother of my late partner, john reuter-pacyna, fled germany during WWII, she took only her most valuable belongings. they were limited to two suitcases. amazingly, one of the things she took was a 12-volume set of german encyclopedias attempting to show all the animals that lived on all continents, and in all of the oceans and seas.

i inherited that set of heavy tomes from john, and would sometimes leaf through them. the quality of the images was exceptional. all were original etchings and lithographs. with old-style german lettering that was nearly impossible to decipher. but i knew they couldn’t stay in my bookcase forever. something good had to come of them.

i ended up donating the complete set to my sister, chery baird. and she ended up producing 4 wonderful series of collages using their illustrations. she even deciphered the german enough to look up the animals in english, and added that information to the back of each collage!

the four series which resulted were: Zoo Zone, Menagerie, Wildlife Preserve, and Dictionary Of Marks.

the Zoo Zone series use only black and white etchings, combined with chery-made papers, and are very wide: 7 x 26″.

the Menagerie series use only the beautiful old colored lithographs, painstakingly created before the advent of color-separation technology. those are 8 x 12″, or 12 x 8″, depending on their orientation.

the Wildlife Preserve series use the large black and white etchings. those are also 8 x 12″, or 12 x 8″, depending on their orientation.

the Dictionary Of Marks series are collages made from the small cut leftovers, arranged abstractly.

i am incredibly pleased that this inheritance has been used in such a creative fashion, and will enrich the lives of the many people who will acquire these collages. a fitting tribute to john reuter-pacyna’s mother’s preservation of them – against all odds!

What to see in Atlanta this month

on my recent annual visit with my sister, Chery Baird, who lives in Atlanta, we spent a day visiting the High Museum, and several galleries.

although i saw a few interesting paintings, many of the galleries were showing rather tepid work. pale color, relaxing quiet abstractions… perhaps because it is summer.

the main draw of the day was an extensive show comparing works by two 20th century masters: Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso at the High Museum.

although the two artists only met in person a couple of times, their work influenced the other substantially. seeing the influences laid out in a beautifully presented, and well-documented exhibit was a thrill!

overall, i vastly preferred the Calder’s on view. the Picasso paintings kept disappointing me because he would add an iconized “smiley face” onto a beautifully composed abstract – ruining it for me.

below i show two examples of an excellent (without the smiley face) and so-so (with the smiley face) version of one of Picasso’s paintings in the exhibit. you may or may not agree with me.

another portrait – much more abstract, was more disturbing emotionally, but much more satisfying.

Calder by contract, i found consistently amusing, and transporting.

so if you are anywhere near Atlanta (the last day is september 19) be sure to stop by!

abstracting tradition

some artists are born within cultures that have specific visual art histories, based on traditions handed down over centuries.

asian and Arab artists are particularly notable, since both may employ calligraphy (an honored tradition in both cultures) in work that otherwise feels very abstract.

i think the path into abstraction for asian artists is a easier path, because Zen practices allow for loose control – such as the practice of ink flinging. which influenced both Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell – to name just two western artists. there have been many others.

in the Muslim Arab world, imagery, especially of humans, but not allowed. although many folk artists, as well as fine artists, ignored that dictum. but wildly rendered, almost illegible calligraphy, was allowed. in fact, it was venerated. as the viewer deciphered the text, somewhat like unraveling a drawer of loose string, the message became known. contemplation was rewarded with knowledge.

today i came across two good examples of the stretching of tradition, leading to beautiful abstractions.

the Arab artist is Helen Abbas, a contemporary Syrian artist. the Asian artist is Hong Zhu An, a contemporary Chinese artist.

i hope you enjoy their work. we discuss many artist’s work in our weekly Focus On Abstraction Zoom meeting on artistvenu. i look forward to seeing you there!

similar but not the same

in our weekly online meeting of artists, this week we discussed two similar artists’ works. Richard Diebenkorn and Frank P Phillips, a contemporary artist. Diebenkorn died in 1993, after a very successful career of painting and teaching. Frank P Phillips was born in 1974. it is obvious that Phillips is aware of Diebenkorn’s work. the use of multiple framing devices, mostly on the left edge, and large open, slightly translucent space in the center of the canvases is a dead giveaway.

but where are the differences? as artists, we usually subscribe to the dictum that our work should be unique. a difficult task – if you know your art history, and are aware of what is currently being shown in galleries.

in our discussion, there was a lot of back and forth among us, and some very perceptive comments. it’s always great when artists can get together to discuss art!

please join us to discuss art every week! thursdays, at 11am CST. different kinds of topics are discussed, but lately, we have been discussing abstract artwork that i have come across, both current and “vintage”.

looking, learning, and sharing.

The Border of Abstraction – Where is it?

i have followed the career of Andrew Piedilato for several years. today i’m going to discuss a few of his paintings, and talk about his development over that time period.

this kind of analysis is what we often do in our Focus On Abstraction weekly seminars. Check us out! well worth the small monthly subscription fee.

i have found work by Piedilato that pre-dates the years i will talk about today, but i’m not covering that early work here. but i will say that it is very much in line with the developments he has pursued since then.

this kind of analysis is what we often do in our Focus On Abstraction weekly seminars. Check us out! well worth the small monthly subscription fee.

i have found work by Piedilato that pre-dates the years i will talk about today, but i’m not covering that early work here. but i will say that it is very much in line with the developments he has pursued since then.

the earliest two works are from 2010. the piece, “Hummingbird” depicts in somewhat realistic terms a sinking boat. the horizon of the purple sky is uneven, making the viewer feel the waves of the water. the water itself, painted with varying levels of transparency over a dark background, gives a great feeling of depth and distance. the bottom of the painting, this overlay is slightly translucent, but as that paint migrates up the canvas, it becomes more and more opaque, which an additional depth element. the “subject” is simple to understand. a sinking boat. with shattered pieces floating here and there. but the strikingly great thing is the red bow/prow, rising up just above the horizon, and touching the violet sky. topped by a worn yellow pirate ship bowsprit: a nostalgic? threatening? reference, but either way, adding a bit more emotional depth.

the second painting from 2010 is “Ice Boat II”. here the color palette goes sweet, with the exception of the mustard yellow, with an even more sour subject. another shipwreck, with fragmented broken planks creating a carefully carefree geometric abstraction all on its own. a seemingly chaotic scene, with icebergs in the background, against a romantic peach sky. these discordant relationships – both compositionally, and emotionally, do the reverse of what a Fragonard (of a similar palette) does. here we have chaos and death in (ironic) decorator hues. we sense a deeper message. something that is hard to convey with a completely abstract painting. although a few painters (notably DeKooning) managed to do it. anguish. sorrow. an indifferent universe.

i will be critiquing two more Piedilato paintings in my Focus on Abstraction workshop – exclusively available on artistvenu. so sign up for my workshops (Abstraction Academy), participate in elevated discussions about abstract artwork, as well as your own work, in a safe artist-supportive and artist-supported environment.

hard edge, easy to like?

hard edge abstract painting is not a genre that everyone likes. but then again, people who like hard edge abstraction are less inclined to like abstraction that is “soft” (Mark Tobey, Richard Pousette-Dart, Morris Louis, etc), or somewhat referential (Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell, Ben Nicholson, etc). hard edge abstraction removes for the most part any indication of brushwork, and usually any reference to recognizable images. what it does provide is a varied experiences: strong composition (Ellsworth Kelley), hit-you-in-the-gut color (Peter Halley), extremely subtle color (late Ad Reinhardt), ascetic discipline (Bridget Riley)… and more. here are a few samples from a few of the hard edge abstractionists that i love!

Hairy Who? he’s back!

when i finished my daily eCollage today, it took me back to the days (late 1960’s) when my work was very much influenced by the chicago Hairy Who? artist group. they were later renamed the Chicago Imagists. the original group consisted of Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Jim Falconer, Suellen Rocca and Karl Wirsum. to that group were added as imagists: Roger Brown, Ed Paschke, Christina Ramberg, Philip Hanson, Barbara Rossi, Ed Flood, Irving Petlin, Sarah Canright, Richard Wetzel, Ray Yoshida, Errol Ortiz, Ronald Markman and Lynn Duenow.

ronald markman was my advisor in graduate school at IU/Bloomington, but well before that i was an Imagist. it suited my angst.

i veered away increasingly to abstraction during the 1980’s, and am now what i call an abstract painter with real world references.

but today, my old Hairy Who? self reappeared. much more abstract, but nevertheless…

must be the zeitgeist.