Tag Archives: women artists

Postcolonial Thoughts: Notes on Ellen Gallagher, Part 1

by Christopher Hutchinson

 

The American artist Ellen Gallagher is admired to the point of reverence on the other side of the Atlantic. Her distinctive combination of politics and prettiness has been catnip for collectors and critics alike these last 20 years. For the latter, there is always so much to talk about – her range of references from Moby Dick and Sol LeWitt to Black Power and Detroit techno, her trademark restyling of 50s ads and 60s sci-fi movies, her evident if excessively elusive intellectualism – all appealingly couched, to collectors, in the delicate aesthetic of her paintings and prints.

It is worth knowing about this high regard when visiting Gallagher’s retrospective at Tate Modern. It helps to explain the sheer scale of the event: almost 100 works, many of them multi-part, accompanied by a catalogue of eulogies by some of America’s finest art writers, and all kicked off by a gigantic blown-up reprise of Man Ray’s famous photograph of Matisse sketching an odalisque in harem pants on a couch with Gallagher’s own face pasted on to the model and Sigmund Freud in the role of Matisse.https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/may/05/ellen-gallagher-axme-tate-review

 

 

Note1-Painter & Videographer

This investigation comes about after an Atlanta,GA based non-profit Smoke School of Art’s weekly homework assignment and is primarily based on the “Brilliant Ideas” video and the well written review of her retrospective by Laura Cummings. Cummings does an excellent job of sifting through the multiple layers of sentiment and projections heaped unto this mediocre artist that validates Gallagher as the “most recognized African American painter since the nineties”. These notes take the well-articulated points by Cummings and the fodder present in Gallagher’s dialogue and points out the inadequacies that are consistent through Gallagher’s career.

Gallagher’s work makes one think fondly on the kitsch-laiden work of Romare Bearden. Once again this cut and paste mediocre practice of collage is proven to be the breeding ground of knick knack collectibles.

The gridded, collaged canvases of Gallagher’s ’90s works deal in eyes and lips borrowed from American minstrelsy, repeated as patterns across canvas http://waaaat.welovead.com/upload/rss_download/20130622/600_0/201306220003272123.jpg

 

The gridded collage above, Gallagher’s breakthrough piece, is an indicator of her true interest which has nothing to do with painting. No painter’s painter would be satisfied with this attempt at painting. Collage does not operate on the interest of painters who enjoy painting. So why does Gallagher retain “reverence” status as a painter? Cummings answers this question with nods to minimalist artists such as Agnes Martin’s still abstract grid paintings. It is a stretch of the imagination to include this comparison as valid because the success of Martin’s work is due to the primacy of paint. Martin would never cut and paste these transitions.

That distinction may not seem like much of a distinction but Martin never felt the need to move to the violent act of cutting a canvas to apply such a coarse transition as Gallagher. When an artist feels the need to abandon the primacy of a medium to plop down texture it is an indicator of lack of mastery. It is an indicator of an obvious inadequacy. This inadequacy then begs to be overlooked relying heavily on sentiment and the projection of others to overcome it. Without mentioning “minstrels” are these paintings good? No.

 

Minimalism

  1. A school of abstract painting and sculpture that emphasizes extreme simplification of form, as by the use of basic shapes and monochromatic palettes of primary colors, objectivity, and anonymity of style. Also called ABC art, minimal art, reductivism, rejective art.
  2. Use of the fewest and barest essentials or elements, as in the arts, literature, or design.
  3. Music A style of music marked by extreme simplification of rhythms, patterns, and harmonies, prolonged chordal or melodic repetitions, and often a trancelike effect. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Minimalist+art

Gallagher’s rough application is an aversion to minimalist practice, an aversion to Martin, Lewitt, and many others. Again, this comparison to these amount to nothing more than name dropping to force a conversation that is not there. Minimalist seeks to reduce and subtract mediums and ideas to its purest form. Gallagher’s laborious, often clumsy steps, amount to a contrived additive process where emphasis is placed on the quantity of labor not an interest in a stringent pursuit in her praxis.

Note 2.5-sentiment

Prior knowledge for this show. An entire gallery, for instance, is hung with numerous editions of what appear to be pretty much the same work: sheets of lined exercise paper glued to canvases, sometimes lacquered, sometimes painted fetching colours and sometimes featuring racial caricatures of big lips and bug-eyes. These mouths and eyes are always tiny and sometimes so faint as to be spectral, which carries its own meaning. Gallagher describes them as “the disembodied ephemera of minstrelsy”.https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/may/05/ellen-gallagher-axme-tate-review

Cumming’s articulates the above observation of Gallagher’s well. If Gallagher’s work requires prior knowledge of all sorts turns out to be a requisite to be received, then how can she be a great artist? A great resource maybe, like the Dewey decimal system–a way to access library books on several unrelated topics that have minute correlations to each other. Research should be a prominent part of every artist’s practice, but if it is a requirement for the viewer to do the same then that artist has not communicated properly, or it so generic and populous that everyone can create their own narrative. The sprinkling of buzzwords that are racially charged with advertising amounts those unimaginative juxtapositions of surrealists who exploited the indigenous primitive imagery to access their subconscious. This type of practice is just lazy.

 

This essay continues next month with “Postcolonial Thoughts: Notes on Ellen Gallagher, Part 2.”

 

Christopher 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.

 

 

That Moment When Artists Snap

by Carla Aaron-Lopez

Carla writes about the experience of being an emerging artist. Her previous posts are: Notes from kingCARLA, Notes from kingCARLA 2, Notes from kingCARLA 3.

Kevin Bongang, Mural in Edgewood neighborhood, Atlanta

Kevin Bongang, Mural in Edgewood neighborhood, Atlanta

“Kevin just snapped,” said Corey. And he did.

One year, his drawings looked a certain way and the next year they were on another level. They took on their own whimsical nature unlike the controlled squiggles that Kevin was known for drawing. His color palette no longer looked like someone studying color but of a man that had created his own world and the colors informed the mood of the characters that inhabited this make-believe space. I was blown away by someone that I felt had potential but wasn’t sure where he was going with all that. Half of the time I don’t even know where I’m going.

I had this conversation about Kevin with Corey, an artist friend of mine, a few years ago before I left Atlanta. Corey is another person that also snapped when it came to his art. It is his series of female portraits that are just striking. At the time, I didn’t really understand the ramifications of Corey’s statement about Kevin or what it meant to truly snap artistically. Years later on a spontaneous trip back to Atlanta, I saw one of Kevin’s newest public art murals and began to understand the power of snapping as an artist.

As much as I’ve studied art, there is a legit moment when the artist snaps. The work changes and evolves to an actual visual statement versus a singular creative object. Hobbyists make creative objects. Artists make visual statements that force viewers to think and see the world differently . As cliched as it is to use Picasso as an example, he snapped the day he walked into a museum, saw some African masks and changed the direction of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. That same painting changed the entire direction and nature of modern art in the late 20th century. Picasso makes art history and we all know the rest of the story from there.

What went through his head the moment he saw those masks? We can speculate but we weren’t there nor can we go back in time to have a Being John Malkovich moment and crawl into his mind to see what he really thought.

We just know that it was at that moment, he snapped.

Honestly, I’m waiting for my moment to snap. I’m in awe and envy of my friends that have had their moment. I want to evolve but I have let fear get in the way. Fear of not making something mind-numbingly great. Fear of not hitting the black intellectual nail on the head. Fear of getting fired for making super controversial feminist (yes, I’ve finally admitted that I am a feminist) work because I’m a middle school art teacher and the list goes on. It’s these types of fears that keep me from progressing the way I would like to as an artist and I don’t know when or how I’m going to get rid of them. I’m on the side of my proverbial mountaintop but scared to continue.

Eventually, I’m going to snap too. Or just be stuck in waiting until I quit making art.

I look up to many artists that have all had that moment somewhere in their career. Sadly, majority of them are men due to the art world’s lack of compassion for all women artists. Even more sadly is that if those same women artists have never had children and it wasn’t because of a biological reason (see Frida Kahlo), I lack total respect for them. My life doesn’t align with theirs. They will never understand the beauty and harsh reality of motherhood. They will never understand the intense paranoia of doing something that could possibly take food off your table and clothes off your child’s back. Face the facts, I live in the South and Southerners don’t do controversy very well. That’s a reality for me while others can get away with it. I stand in the wings of life’s grand stage secretly applauding their controversial actions.

I’ve lacked in producing any work this past year because I’ve finally achieved the goal of getting my career as an educator and financial life together. Not only have I been concerned with making my art but seriously, how was I going to pay for this? How were supplies going to get into my home? These priorities force me to think and see art differently. Encounter new ways of executing old ideas. Boldly steal concepts from my favorite artists and force them into my fold. I figured out a long time ago that if I wanted to make the bold, controversial art, I needed for it to be large, attention-getting and everything that I feel I cannot be in public.

I want the work to be disgusting and unladylike. I want to do it under a pen name of a white man and totally fuck with the perception of gender and power because why not? White men rule the art world. I want the work to have everything that you hate in it. Pictures of outer space and shit. Big, fat ass strippers because why not? Throw in little nods to slavery and the black experience here and there because black and white people love that shit.

Maybe I have snapped and I don’t know it yet.

Maybe I’m fantasizing again.

Or maybe I’m bored and unchallenged because I am a middle school art teacher who spends nothing but time sharpening my foundational sword.

There’s only so much I can do right now in this moment.

–    Ms. Lopez

 

Carla Aaron-Lopez photoArtist: Carla Aaron-Lopez

Instagram: @iamkingcarla

Twitter: @teachkingcarla

 

Notes from kingCARLA 3

 

In Post-Partum Document, artist Mary Kelly explores the mother-child relationship.

In Post-Partum Document, artist Mary Kelly explores the mother-child relationship.

 

By Carla Aaron-Lopez

kingCARLA  writes about the experience of being an emerging artist. Her previous posts are  Notes from kingCARLA and Notes from kingCARLA 2.

Last time I was in this space, I was complaining commenting about being an emerging artist. I made statements about getting over rejection and pushing to make more work instead of being such a procrastinator. I’m still a procrastinator actually but soon after, I began working two jobs and my tune has changed a bit transforming into something else. At this point, I’ve joined the American workforce as a middle school art educator while I work the retail slave ship on the weekends slinging slacks to 40-year old men that wish to look younger. It’s a heavy load to work seven days a week constantly but I’ve got a child that needs stability. I’m a parent, yo. An artist and a parent. Add in the fact that I’m a woman and you’ve got a black unicorn on your hands.

And how is this possible, you say?

Like this.

Art is my life but my son is bigger than art. Sometimes, art has to be put on the backburner staying warm for him to have a home to live in, proper clothes to wear and yummy food to eat. I’m not breaking up with art. I just have to take long pauses here and there. Recently, I came across an article that I actually agreed with on Hyperallergic. It was a weekend long-read titled The Problem of the Overlooked Female Artist: An Argument for Enlivening a Stale Model of Discussion written by Ashton Cooper. Hell of a title. I commend Cooper or the copyeditor for thinking of that.

I became enlivened by her perspective on the redundant language used to talk about women artists. Cooper sourced numerous articles released about women artists throughout 2014 in which the language used to speak about them was either truly stale and unimaginative or spoke about a woman artist in a rediscovered fashion as if she was a fly on the wall during big historical moments in art but really she was an active and vocal artist the entire time the big historical moment in art was going down. Check out this excerpt from the article about Phyllida Barlow in which the author quoted an article from The Guardian circa March 2014:

She’s taught everyone from Martin Creed to Rachel Whiteread, but it’s only now, at 70, that Barlow is getting her dues as an artist.

Barlow, who turns 70 this week, has spent her adult life making sculpture, enjoying her greatest success by far over the last 10 years.

She went on to the Slade until 1966, and then began teaching, and having children; she and Peake have five in all. […] In those days, she was working in total isolation.

The part I highlighted in bold stood out quite strong to me. Especially the part that says she was working in total isolation. I guess when you have five children, everything is all about your children. Hell, I only have one! My guess is that art never went onto the backburner for Barlow as it has for me but I know it wasn’t always on the forefront either with her being a teacher and a wife. My other guesses include that she was never in isolation with five children and she eventually had to learn how to become an effective teacher. I may not know much about Barlow but I can relate to her story if those are the only tidbits I ever learn about her.

The article comes to an apex while speaking about Barbara Hepworth, her married life and her cavorting with the international art world and comes to close with fascinating information around Judy Chicago, Isa Genzken and Sarah Charlesworth’s careers with some strong questions: What was she doing then? Where was she showing? Who was she in community with? How did her practice change? What forces of exclusion did she face?”

I don’t know. The information just isn’t there. What I do know is that if reality showed up at any of these women’s doors looking like maternity then it is my hopes they assumed their new roles as mother to a child (or more) and truly began a new adventure, chapter, section of their lives. We already know the art world is notoriously white, male and sexist as well as racist. We also already know that many people believe that when a woman gets pregnant, her life is automatically over. That’s not necessarily true. If the lives of the women outlined in this article were over I think we wouldn’t be talking about them. There wouldn’t be a Tate retrospective on Barlow or MoMA’s current exhibition on Sturtevant (who’s completely new to me).

In essence, I believe they sharpened their metaphorical swords in the hours after the children went to bed or over to grandma and grandpa’s house for the weekend because that’s the only time I get to do anything regarding art. Everything becomes a juggling act that you just work out over time. I hope to make work as profound as these women but I don’t want to be 70 years old to get my recognition for it. That’s that bullshit if I have spent a lifetime possibly struggling to support my family on teacher pay. I’d rather take the recognition money now and create a trust fund for my son because that’s my reality in addition to art.

Too bad I wasn’t born with a dick because I wouldn’t have the ability to give birth and be weighed down with the overwhelming responsibilities of having child. Everything always falls on the mother whether a father is or isn’t present. While I care so much about art, I’ve learned that the art world doesn’t care about my child. Making the decision to sacrifice my love for art is constantly on and off the table. Every moment becomes a moment to create or think about art differently. I’m constantly sharpening my metaphorical sword as an art teacher to a group of students who could honestly give a fuck about art in the first place.

It’s hard out here for a pimp!

Based on that article and these words I’ve written, I guess I’ve got to pimp harder.

 

Artist: Carla Aaron-Lopez 

woke up with my horns on. fell in love with a cadillac. born/raised in charlotte, nc. baptized in the dirty south also known as atlanta.

@iamkingcarla
whoiskingcarla.com

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