Tag Archives: african art

Postcolonial Thoughts: Martin Puryear “Passing through the color line” Part II

by Christopher Hutchinson

There is a simplistic, minimal aesthetic present in Puryear’s work that is undeniably beautiful. He uses the material organically to create semi abstract pieces that have figurative quality and yet not limited by the figure itself. The figure being manipulated and molded is Africa.

To credit these objects for their aesthetic minimal qualities means one should immediately correlate African wood working practice as intelligent design, and it is unfortunate it does not. If Puryear’s work is received as Western mastery and African woodworking is his teacher, then a deeper look into African aesthetics should be noted in Africa’s contribution to modern art. Labeling of his work as post minimalist is insufficient.

The mining of Africa’s aesthetic and ritual that began with Picasso has become a standard practice in Western academia to the point where the visual language of Africa is considered Western. It is not. This pilfering of Africa still has no recompense or tax. This tax free appropriation used over and over again to make the West relevant once more. This can be seen in cubism, surrealism, and arte povera.

Arte Povera

Ar·te Po·ver·a

a style and movement in art originating in Italy in the 1960s combining aspects of conceptual, minimalist, and performance art, and making use of worthless or common materials such as stones or newspapers, in the hope of subverting the commercialization of art.- 1960s: Italian, literally ‘impoverished art,’ from arte ‘art’ + povera (feminine of povero‘needy’) https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=art%20povera

To be a true ecologist today, one must re-establish the aesthetics of beauty within the realm of human trash and material waste. –Slavoj Žižek

http://www.escapeintolife.com/art-reviews/michelangelo-pistoletto-venus-of-rags/

Arte Povera once again acknowledges the stagnation of western academia and proposes a rail against this limit by including trash/outsider as a point of inspiration. The Zizek quote points to the inauthentic intellectual guise wrapped up in this movement. Michaelangelo Pistoletto’s Venus of rags would seem to fulfill the hope to “re-establish the aesthetics of beauty” of Zizek. Does Venus of rags accomplish this re-establishment? It does not.

Like most movements that attempt to redefine Western academia based on the established aesthetic, all that is accomplished is an affirmation of the binary. Pistolletto’s Venus accomplishes that binary where it is clear that Venus is still Venus, even if she is turned and looking at trash, and the trash is still trash. The binary is reinforced not swayed. Povera’s illustration of the binary has now become the definition of commercial or the new rubric to an acceptable commercialism.

The West’s constant search to appropriate and inject new life in the dead lineage of its academia poses a primary concern for all those wishing to gain acceptance and validation of their work from the same. Those validated by the West breathe life back into the lingering notions of aesthetics.

Black, White & Gray

This systemic issue is problematic when considering the success and politics of art makers. At times it may seem that there is no other way but to accept the terms of academia but that is simply not true. There is a way to retain ones artistic integrity and aesthetic.

Mark Bradford was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1961. He received a BFA (1995) and MFA (1997) from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. Bradford transforms materials scavenged from the street into wall-size collages and installations that respond to the impromptu networks—underground economies, migrant communities, or popular appropriation of abandoned public space—that emerge within a city. Drawing from the diverse cultural and geographic makeup of his southern Californian community, Bradford’s work is as informed by his personal background as a third-generation merchant there as it is by the tradition of abstract painting developed worldwide in the twentieth century. Bradford’s videos and map-like, multilayered paper collages refer not only to the organization of streets and buildings in downtown Los Angeles, but also to images of crowds, ranging from civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s to contemporary protests concerning immigration issues. http://www.art21.org/artists/mark-bradford

Mark Bradford amongst others exist in black & white and fear the gray. Bradford exists with integrity and aesthetic. Both Bradford and Puryear have received have been featured on Art21. Bradford differs from Puryear in his clarity of and honesty of material which is then manipulated aesthetically.

Bradford uses found material from his community, not out of pity or sentiment, but an investigation of the language promoted in the community. He uses it as fuel for his artistic practice and does not shy away from its origin. Bradford’s work is also not limited by its origin, nor has it become a spectacle of Blackness. His work achieves a critique of the West without illustrating the binary and upholding its rubric.

Bradford uses found material from his community, not out of pity or sentiment, but an investigation of the language promoted in the community. He uses it as fuel for his artistic practice and does not shy away from its origin. Bradford’s work is also not limited by its origin, nor has it become a spectacle of Blackness. His work achieves a critique of the West without illustrating the binary and upholding its rubric.

Postcolonial Thoughts: Martin Puryear “Passing through the color line” continues next month with Part III.

 

Christopher Hutchinson 2Christopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

 

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Martin Puryear “Passing through the color line” Part 1

by Christopher Hutchinson

Puryear

PBSArt21

The Museum of Modern Art presents a major exhibition of the sculpture of the acclaimed American artist Martin Puryear (b. 1941). The retrospective will feature approximately forty-five sculptures, following the development of Puryear’s artistic career over the last thirty years, from his first solo museum show in 1977 to the present day. Puryear began his career in the 1970s alongside other members of the Post-Minimalist generation. Working primarily in wood, he has maintained an unwavering commitment to manual skill and traditional building methods. His sculptures are rich with psychological and intellectual references, examining issues of identity, culture, and history. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication illustrating all works in the exhibition, with additional reference illustrations of the artist’s works and other comparative material. http://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/28?locale=en

Western Bloodline

Without question Martin Puryear has secured his space in Western art as a master sculptor. He has been regarded by many as being among elite sculptors of any nationality. He has successfully transcended “race” and his work is received as purely art. Not art with an asterisk. Puryear achieved this without the implementation of overt ethnicity, sympathy and propaganda.

Puryear has lead by example the proof of how to be successful as an African American artist within the Western art rubric. Puryear is fully accepted into the Western art vernacular as if there was and is no difference between Africa and the West at all. He is neatly included in the “Post-Minimalist generation”. This is the smoothest transition into the Western academia by an African American artist to date. This rarity of smooth transition deserves an inquiry.

Martin Puryear Bower

Martin Puryear. Bower. 1980. Sitka spruce and pine, 64″ x 7′ 10 3/4″ x 26 5/8″ (162.6 x 240.7 x 67.6 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.Chttp://www.moma.org/d/assets/W1siZiIsIjIwMTUvMTAvMTQvMm80ZjF2dHg0b18xMzU2MS5qcGciXSxbInAiLCJjb252ZXJ0IiwiLXJlc2l6ZSAyMDAweDIwMDBcdTAwM0UiXV0/13561.jpg?sha=aa0796293d9d8397

Passing as an Artist

Passing: African Americans and other minorities were historically discriminated against in the U.S., so the fair-skinned offspring of whites and people of color often pretended to be white to take advantage of the opportunities that would’ve otherwise been denied to them. This practice is known as passing or passing for white. It often required individuals to leave their hometowns and family members behind to ensure that they’d never come across anyone who knew their true racial origins. http://racerelations.about.com/od/understandingrac1/g/Definition-Of-Passing.htm

Many young minority artists wish for the anonymity of Whiteness when it comes to their work. These artists crave a world where the artwork comes first before skin tone. Many of these artists will inevitably hatch a plan to make a beautiful exhibition and hire a White person to pretend to be them during the exhibition to attempt to get an honest response to the artwork, not skin tone then response and then eventually assumptions.

Many of these artists that begin down this path end up with work that no longer reflects them. They end up ghosts that produce pretty objects, objects that are manufactured by IKEA. Only focused on commercial success. Wanting to “pass” is a dangerous proposition that could consume your entire artistic practice.

Puryear’s work begins at an authentic African place and has succeeded in “passing”-Why and how? YALE’s Master of Fine Art department along with an impeccable mastery of craftsmanship go a long way in that smooth transition into the Western credence. Puryear’s new canon’s first stipulation is to educate yourself. You must know where your work fits in the analogs of history. The second order is to make the work impeccable. These mandates immediately remove your artwork from the category of folk, primitive, street, naïve and outsider art-outside of Western academia.

Contemporary artist Martin Puryear carefully considered the site requirements before designing and fabricating That Profile , the large-scale sculpture commissioned for and installated on the Getty Center’s Tram Arrival Plaza. In this video, Puryear’s comments about the design process accompany footage of the sculpture being made, transported, and installed.

Avoidance of Africa

African Mende carved wooden Janus mask, Sierra Leone. Double sided figural visages. 17"H.http://antiquehelper.rfcsystems.com/Full/217/70217.jpg

African Mende carved wooden Janus mask, Sierra Leone. Double sided figural visages. 17″H.http://antiquehelper.rfcsystems.com/Full/217/70217.jpg

Mr. Puryear’s experience with wood, his signature material, has a long history. His father was an amateur carpenter, and he made guitars while in college. As a member of the Peace Corps, he learned “old world joinery” from local woodworkers in Sierra Leone. While attending the Swedish Royal Academy, Mr. Puryear spent three weeks in the studio of furniture maker James Krenov https://mnaves.wordpress.com/tag/contemporary-sculpture/

Stipulation number three, avoid directly addressing Africa, race, ritual, and identity. To do so would pull the work back into the realm of folk. This avoidance is crucial to the commercial longevity of an artist that has “passed”. The need to distance oneself from Africa preserves the Western rubric. This reasoning leads to this acceptance of Puryear’s work as Minimalism and Formalism first primarily. These mandates allow his clearly African practice to be in a visual limbo.

This visual limbo presents itself as the “universal” or “global” aesthetic where any quasi-indigenous people could possibly make it. In this global/universal dialogue the work can and could be applied and credited to many different art movements, all of which use Africa as a springboard to become Avant guard or relevant again while Africa remains primitive. It is easy to see how could be linked to post-minimalism.

Often associated with both Minimalism and Formalist sculpture, Puryear rejects that his work is ever non-referential or objective. The pure and direct imagistic forms born from his use of traditional craft are allusive and poetic, as well as deeply personal. Visually, they encounter the history of objects and the history of their making, suggesting public and private narratives including those of the artist, race, ritual, and identity. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Martin-Puryear-Catalog-from-show-Art-Institute-of-Chicago-Neal-Benezra-/252222144694

This inquiry leads us to this topic. If Puryear is only using Africa as a point of appropriation and inspiration, then how is he any different than Picasso? And if he is acting like Picasso, operating from a colonial view of Africa then he should also be held accountable for that as he continues subjugation of Africa to exalt the West. Herein lays a major problem with attending any institution. If during the process of receiving your desired degree one actually reinforces the Western canon.

Some may say Puryear is not actually avoiding anything; rather he is very subtly and subversively handling such divisive topics as race, identity, and ritual. Those who entertain this thought should be reminded of Puryear’s other stipulation…every opportunity one has to speak about his/her work, make as many references to iconic Western art history. He is not subtle about the West.

 

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

Postcolonial Thoughts: Frida Kahlo and Surrealism, part 1

by Christopher Hutchinson

 

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican Surrealist painter who has achieved international popularity. She typically painted self-portraits using vibrant colours in a style that was influenced by cultures of Mexico as well as influences from European Surrealism. Her self-portraits were often an expression of her life and her pain.

http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/surrealism/Frida-Kahlo.html

 

Surrealisms’s love of the exotic

Id, ego, and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction our mental life is described. According to this model of the psyche, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.[1] The super-ego can stop one from doing certain things that one’s id may want to do.[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Id,_ego_and_super-egos

 

Surrealism’s interest in the exotic begins initially with surrealism’s art mission to be the artifacts of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories. The exoticism presented in Freud’s Id became surrealist illustrations of the “primitive” from a Western perspective. Initially, accessing the “primitive” was merely a jumping off point, to access the inner psyche that was not so heavily governed by the stifling rules of Western painting. This use of the “primitive” is the second overtly appropriation of Africa from the West within a 20 year span from Picasso’s Cubism/African art. The “primitive” of surrealism is slightly different than the direct appropriation of Picasso. It is cloaked in the entitlement of Freud’s writings. Freud gives the surrealists permission to investigate the “primitive” that lies dormant within all humanity. We just have to access it.

This principle of Freud brings about terrible surrealist works that play on this Id/primitive concept “juxtaposed” its binary, the “norm”. Carefully composed compositions that have a jarring effect simply because object and images are not unified in a linear way. Jamming two things together that doesn’t relate to each other in any way is not an exploration. It is not a development of an aesthetic. It is at best a one-liner never to be thought of again, at its worst the work just gets swallowed up in the litany of icons like the yin and yang, tragedy and comedy symbols, and it leads ultimately boring work. It is amazing that this juxtaposition method still exists.

This photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse’s head next to an African ceremonial mask bears a title that references both the black and white process of photography as well as skin color. It was created at a time when African art and culture was much in vogue. The oval faces of the two almost look identical in their serene expressions, but he contrasts her soft pale face with the shiny black mask. He simplifies the conflict of society into a problem of lighting and imagery in aesthetics – one oval next to another oval; one laying on its side contrasted with another that is erect; one lit from above and the other from the side http://www.wikiart.org/en/man-ray/black-and-white

 

Is Frida Khalo’s exotic inclusion to surrealism valid?

Exotic:

Adjective 1. of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad, but not fully naturalized or acclimatized: exotic foods; exotic plants. 2. strikingly unusual or strange in effect or appearance: an exotic hairstyle. 3. of a uniquely new or experimental nature: The flower show included several tropical exotics with showy blooms. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/exotic

The surrealist intentionally tried to be as exotic as possible as an indicator of their Id/primitive quality. Is Frida Kahlo purposefully attempting to be exotic? Is her every day dress a costume? Is she exotic to herself? Of course not. What has occurred here is not unique by any means to Western history. Kahlo is forcefully adopted into a vernacular that is not her own, yet she still paints honestly.   Kahlo is not just jamming things together and hoping they create something new.

 

As with all Western discoveries, the indigenous contribution is eliminated, leaving just a whisper of a name in reference to its origins.   This forceful adoption into surrealism negates Kahlo’s actual contribution to painting. It negates her conscious choices as an artist. It negates Mexico’s ability to produce such an artist of equal standing responding to her time. It not only negates; it also validates the West’s investigation into the primitive.

Kahlo becomes proof that this Western surrealist investigation into the Id/primitive is an unbiased valid pursuit by the West. The desperate stretch to include her in such a dialogue is obvious when one considers Salvador Dali as one of the premier surrealists. Kahlo is Not Dali. Mexicans are not Spaniards. If the goal were truly to unleash the Id/primitive why wouldn’t surrealists look to African art and artists? Dali tried everything outlandish to connect with that Id/primitive by dressing and consuming the exotic. When Dali dresses up, it is a costume. Most of the surrealist artists do not succeed in more than an illustration of the Id/primitive, which in fact is ego, not Id, and sometimes especially in Dali’s work, super-ego. They do not achieve an actual connection to Id. Dali did his best to calculate and present the Id/primitive from a super-ego viewpoint.

 

Kahlo’s paintings are a reflection of an honest narrative. She has a direct relationship with every image and object in her pieces. These objects are not juxtaposed to have psychoanalytical discussions; often times these objects are images that are needed at the moment. Including Kahlo into the canon of surrealism suggests her imagery and objects are random thoughts, playing out a clever Freudian dreamlike state.

 

 

The stretch to tie Kahlo’s work to surrealism has more to do with using the indigenous to validate Western academia. It is a continuation of a foundation laid in romanticism’s Death of general wolfe. Benjamin West’s general has an indigenous native placed to witness and give credence to West’s good nature. The native sits beneath in a solemn respect his place not equal to the general slightly lower and of little concern.

When Kahlo is forcefully adopted into a surrealist dialogue, she actually becomes the exotic native in The death of general wolfe. Kahlo placed at the feet of surrealism only to prove its good nature, slightly lower. Once she is placed in the context of surrealism, it prevents a real analysis of her work. Kahlo’s work is honest; surrealists don’t care about honesty.

 

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Picasso Continued: Avant-Garde Africa

by Christopher Hutchinson

The End of Western Thought

Picasso’s “genius” also stems from his singular contribution that results in the end of the Western tradition of painting. Picasso is credited with the break from classical forms, proportions, and the tradition of rendering the perfect figure. This places Picasso as a heroic figure in art history. The “one” who took art upon himself to charter new territories and inspire new broken traditions.

Leonardo Vitruvian Man

This image provides the perfect example of Leonardo’s keen interest in proportion. In addition, this picture represents a cornerstone of Leonardo’s attempts to relate man to nature. Encyclopaedia Britannica online states, “Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as acosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe.”http://leonardodavinci.stanford.edu/submissions/clabaugh/history/leonardo.html

The leading piece of these broken traditions is evidenced by Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907, considered to be the precursor to cubism. Picasso’s “genius” is cemented in this singular piece where proportion, flatness, dimension are all broken in the new tradition Picasso sees.

“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective in painting. It depicts five naked women with figures composed of flat, splintered planes and faces inspired by Iberian sculpture and African masks. The compressed space the figures inhabit appears to project forward in jagged shards; a fiercely pointed slice of melon in the still life of fruit at the bottom of the composition teeters on an impossibly upturned tabletop. These strategies would be significant in Picasso’s subsequent development of Cubism, charted in this gallery with a selection of the increasingly fragmented compositions he created in this period.” http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79766

Picasso is then credited with inventing cubism, along with Georges Braque, the backbone of the legend of Picasso. Cubism cements Picasso’s legacy. We are led to believe that Picasso’s venture into cubist practice was a natural progression improved upon the foundation provided by Paul Cézanne landscapes, where Cézanne used large geometric shapes, and block of color. This is a plausible explanation only for people who have no idea what it takes to paint, and or blind. There is no way to achieve Cubism without direct appropriation African Sculpture.

cubism

Cubism was one of the most influential visual art styles of the early twentieth century. It was created by Pablo Picasso(Spanish, 1881–1973) and Georges Braque (French, 1882–1963) in Paris between 1907 and 1914. The French art critic Louis Vauxcelles coined the term Cubism after seeing the landscapes Braque had painted in 1908 at L’Estaque in emulation of Cézanne. Vauxcelles called the geometric forms in the highly abstracted works “cubes.” Other influences on early Cubism have been linked to Primitivism and non-Western sources. The stylization and distortion of Picasso’s ground-breaking Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Museum of Modern Art, New York), painted in 1907, came from African art. Picasso had first seen African art when, in May or June 1907, he visited the ethnographic museum in the Palais du Trocadéro in Paris. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cube/hd_cube.htm

Avant-Garde Africa

Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford is a curator and cultural historian. He is a King’s College Institute Associate and a Research Associate at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

As part of the Wonderful Africa Season in 2010, he presented Lost Kingdoms of Africa, four 60-minute programmes for BBC 2 and BBC 4. He presented a second series in 2012. Gus presented The Genius of British Art for Channel 4 in 2010 and hosted The Culture Show on BBC 2 in 2012. http://www.petersfraserdunlop.com/factual_tv/gus-casely-hayford

The contribution of Africa is not an afterthought; it is primary. The reduction of form, geometric vocabulary, multiple perspective, bulbous and inverted shapes on the same form, as well as the analytical investigation of form, and abstracted form, is all apart of African sculpture praxis. The intellectual credit that is heaped upon cubism and at the primitive label on Africa is unacceptable. The Museum placement of Cubism as modern and Africa in the basement is unacceptable. All modern art derives from Africa.

It is even more disturbing when people—the very people affected by this direct cultural appropriation—support these notions. The tradition is now upheld by their naiveté, their hoping to achieve intellectual social status through the same process that claims them to be primitive.

JAY Z “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film.” Directed by Mark Romanek.Performed at PACE gallery

What happens when a Ming dynasty porcelain vase is displayed in America without the Chinese knowledge? A Native American artifact? African art has been physically and intellectually appropriated without recognition. This practice must stop.

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga, and Smoke School of Art Founder. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama. He lived in Alabama for 10 years before moving to Atlanta in 2008.

Learn more about Christopher and his work at Black Flight 144.

Postcolonial Thoughts: Contemporary Primitivism: El Anatsui

by Christopher Hutchinson

Formal & Global

Mr. Anatsui’s wall hangings, majestic as they are, do not use scale as a cudgel. That’s true even of high-profile works like his mural at the High Line and of the wall-spanning, rotunda-filling examples in the Brooklyn show. Only after you have marveled at their intricacy and versatility does the vastness hit you. It helps to know (as many people do, now that Mr. Anatsui is a global star) that these peaked, shimmering fields are made from folded, twisted and linked liquor-bottle caps, at studios in Ghana and Nigeria, and that they have as much to do with post-colonial poverty and strife as they do with opulence. –KAREN ROSENBERG http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/01/arts/design/gravity-and-grace-by-el-anatsui-at-brooklyn-museum.html

El Anatsui has made his way to the top of the art scene using his famous tapestry technique using beer bottle caps. His work has been well respected for years now and deserves a serious conversation as to how his work really functions in this art world. Anatsui is often considered to be a Global artist and sometimes even a Post-Colonial artist. These two terms are often used synonomously, but that would be a mistake. To become a global artist means something very different than being a post-colonial artist. A global artist refers to “universal” appeal. That “universal” appeal is often decided and upheld by the Western rubric of formalism.

Formalism is a particular mode of art criticism and theory according to which all visual art has an intrinsic value. This value is determined by the artist’s ability to achieve an aesthetic order and balance of certain elemental truths within a painting. These elemental truths are the painting’s use of color, line, composition and texture. No matter how much artistic style and taste may change over time, formalism holds that these truths are constant.” http://www.theartstory.org/section_theory_formalism.htm

This formalism is inseperable from Western academia, which is then applied to Global art and artists. From this point Anatsui is a Global artist by how his works function in the current art world. He does discuss his heritage and significance of African/Ghanian aesthetic, but the process of formalism, and globalization nullify the African/Ghanian voice. His work is firstly discussed through the practice and assembly of his wall sculpture. The dialogue is reduced to formal elements, mainly, color, and form. While formalism is a good way evaluate art, but it also a tool to eradicate identity and ethnicity.

EcoArt & Upcycling

Anatsui’s work also has a dialogue that coincides with green art, ecoart, upcycling, saving the earth one bottle cap at a time. These are all good things for an eco-conscious collector, but what does this have to do with African tapestry? Are the beer bottle caps justified? Could this not have been achieved with African/Ghanian tapestry? Is the labor and process most important? Is this really more or less successful than Sam Gilliam’s work?

These questions beg for more specificity in the work of Anatsui. Is the bottle cap the large red shiny technique? Does this technique add or detract from the concept? Can we even get to the concept? Or are we just enamored by the sparkly, pieces in museum lights? Anatsui’s scale seems haphazard at times. His dimensions are often flat. These are major undergraduate concerns.

Craft & Primitive

“Prinitivism-Term used to describe the fascination of early modern European artists with what was then called primitive art – including tribal art from Africa, the South Pacific and Indonesia, as well as prehistoric and very early European art, and European folk art

Primitivism also means the search for a simpler more basic way of life away from Western urban sophistication and social restrictions. The classic example of this is artist Paul Gauguin’s move from Paris to Tahiti in the South Pacific in 1891. Primitivism was also important for expressionism, including Brücke.

As a result of these artists’ interest and appreciation, what was once called primitive art is now seen as having equal value to Western forms and the term primitive is avoided or used in quotation marks. –TATE http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/p/primitivism

There is a strong element of the “Primitive” present in the dialogue around Anatsui’s work, even though the work itself has been formalized and globalized. The “Primitive” raises its head when his work is exhibited along side the “primitive: African sculpture” collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2006. Once again questions arise. What is the purpose to put Anatsui’s work side by side? What is being proven by doing this? Here we have an authentic African artist fullfilling the lineage of Gauguin as true “primitivist.” Anatsui himself discusses the use of the bottle caps as bridging the gap between Europe and Africa. The bottle caps being introduced by Europeans who brought beer. Here in lies the truth behind all globalism. If you want to be successful you must first “bridge the gap.” Second you must acknowledge the Western art history directly in your work. This by no means is Post-colonial.

 

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga, and Smoke School of Art Founder. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama. He lived in Alabama for 10 years before moving to Atlanta in 2008.

Learn more about Christopher and his work at Black Flight 144.

 

%d bloggers like this: