Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gail Wight, Restless Dust - San Francisco Center For the Book

 "Anemones would mock us and Darwin's ghost would lose his mind among the barnacles" Gail Wight, Restless Dust. 2009 IIMPRINT Residency Book project at the San Francisco Center for the book.

Since 1996, the San Francisco Center for the Book has been teaching bookmaking and related skills and showing work that expands the boundaries of the book arts. The current exhibit, "Restless Dust," by Gail Wight is no exception. The source of the book title is a quote from Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley,

“It appears to me impossible that I should cease to exist, or that this active, restless spirit, equally alive to joy and sorrow, should be only organized dust.” 

 It was Wight's idea to issue an invitation to Darwin's ghost to wander around the greater Bay Area and the metaphysical colloquium between them led to this elegant and poetic dialogue between art and science. In looking at the ways in which Darwin's legacy has impacted our culture, she examines the fragile and endangered state of our environment.

Gail Wight, Cabinet of Curiosities -2001
Touch any image on the top of the cabinet and it will lead you to another series of images (some with sound) to a time-based meditation on the nature of evolutionary science.

In an e-mail exchange with Ms. Wight, I asked her "what actually led you down this artistic path in the first place? You've been working in the intersection of art and science for quite some time. Was there an "ah-ha" moment or was it slower, more organic (as it were)? How did you come to link Mary Wollstonecraft and Darwin? Or was it "just" an artistic leap? I was also looking at your CV - do you think of yourself as an artist who uses scientific images or a scientist who uses art to convey ideas? Or is that misframing the question?"

This is her response, "A good two decades ago, while an undergrad at Mass Art in Boston, I was going through some medical difficulties. The entire world of medicine - its history, altruism, and vagaries - just overwhelmed me. My fantastic professors gave me "permission" to think of medicine and science as subject matter for art, not so popular an idea back then. I am, happily, still stuck in this rut. It's an deep and cavernous rut filled with seemingly endless inspiration for art."

"I'm absolutely an artist, not a scientist in any way. I do rely on the generosity of scientists. I like to think that while I'm using scientific imagery, I'm also tapping into scientific methods, practices, habits, abnormalities, culture, tools, and a certain way of viewing the world, in order to construct artistic allegories that might have some relevance for people."

"Wollstonecraft and Darwin... They're both on my personal list of favorite "great thinkers." I think they were both trying to think outside of the rigid constraints of their times, and expand our understanding of our own humanity. That quote by MW just breaks my heart. Darwin was so determined to do so much, discover so much in the little things of life. Barnacles were his favorite, but he studied SO many aspects of the living and geological world. When I started to think about him as a person, rather than just a figurehead, Wollstonecraft's quote came to mind."

In addition to the completed limited-edition book and documentation of Wight's residency, the exhibition includes earlier referential work such as The Cabinet Of Curiosities, Ghost and Ground Plane, among others. In the glass case lining one part of the exhibition space, the Center is displaying some of the paraphernalia that went into the making of the book - steel letterpress alphabet shapes, lino cuts, hand made stamps, tags with fragments of 19th century copper plate writing, pages open to show some of the quirky and poetical texts in the book.

The snowflake mandalas (Ground Plane, 2007-08), on the wall are actually digital prints, with individual images from hundreds of exact scale photos of squirrel, marmot, snake, frog and other animal bones. Taken from the Hadley Lab Collection, each mammal was between one to ten thousand years old. Wight states: “These images became a way for me to think about deep time and the Earth's crust as a crowded record of that time, a conduit of information about the past, and the space upon which we draw our present lives.”

The end wall of the exhibit has the following quote from from Stephen Jay Gould:
"The most important scientific revolutions all include as their only common feature the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another and previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos." By combining 19th century scientific images with 21st century technology, Ms. Wight's work is  playful, poetic, elegant and insightful. This is art that is made with the intent of making us think more deeply about our place in the world and our imprint upon it without being pompous or, worse yet, boring and trendily obscure for the sake of being obscure.

All images courtesy of the San Francisco Center for the Book
Michael Bartalos is a board member for the SF Center for the Book and provided the photos for this article. 
Blog of her work in progress:
Gail Wight's website:

Restless Dust - A ghost walk with Darwin, up until April 17th, 2010
SF Center for the Book
300 De Haro St. Ste. 334
San Francisco, CA 94103
Gallery Hours: Sat 12-4; M-F 10-5.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Operation Restore Defenestration

Defenestration -- the art landmark building on the corner of 6th and Howard with all the furniture hanging out of the windows and crawling up the walls -- is celebrating its 13th anniversary. On March 5, 1:AM Gallery (right across the street from Defenestration) will kick off a fundraising event and solo show by the artist, Brian Goggin. Funds will be used to repair and restore the building so it will be "once again beautiful by day and vibrant by night."

On the artist's website, there's a history of the building and many opportunities to donate. You can even "sponsor" a specific piece of furniture.

--Ramona Soto

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Weekend Wrap Up for Feb 20-21st.

Margaret Harrison. Captain America. Intersection for the Arts.

I've got some suggestions for weekend viewing - a mixture of shows from cartoons to a new show of Asian paintings at the Cantor Art Museum in Stanford.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shanghai - Art of the City at the Asian Art Museum

My longer piece on Shanghai is up at Chez Namaste Nancy. I haven't exhausted the subject so be prepared for more. Upcoming is "Soiled Doves, Modern Women and Celluloid Goddesses - the visual vs the virtual."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Shanghai - Art of the City at the Asian

Over at Chez NamasteNancy is the first of several posts on this complex, interesting and sometimes disappointing show. I diss Baker, love Shen Fan and post a couple of links. As always, feedback welcomed, comments encouraged and no respectful opinion turned away. We even publish posts from bloggers not wearing shoes or the appropriate apparel.
Stay tuned for more...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nudes for Valentine's Day

You can draw your own inferences about this, but when I decided to spend the day at the Getty, I'd completely forgotten that it was the Valentine weekend. (Not that I have anything against Valentine's Day; on the contrary, I love glitter and lacy white doilies and hearts and pink tissue paper and anything trimmed with marabou.) Nor would I have ever imagined that every single couple in Los Angeles would think of the Getty as a romantic pre-Valentine's Day outing. However. As is regrettably so often the case, I was wrong, and the lines of cars on Sepulveda proved it.

And upon reflection, why not? What better way to celebrate love than to look at images of love?
(Mars and Venus, Allegory of Peace, Louis Jean François Lagrenée, French, 1770, Oil on canvas)

In spite of the lines of cars--and the attendant delays--and the crowds (consisting in the main of couples, some very affectionate, some rather affectionate, and some not at all, such is life and the vicissitudes of love and relationships, God bless us all), I really did not mind being wrong about this.

There was something beautiful about being in such a lovely place with so many people--so many different people, people at all different levels of experience with museums and art. There were the few groups of young art students with their outlandish clothes and/or hairstyles and de rigeur sketchbooks; there were young mothers and fathers pushing strollers, and large families with children of various ages; there were grandparents with their grandchildren; and mostly, there were couples. Of every age. At sunset, every vista point--and this is a center with a great many vista points--had been taken over by a couple embracing in the pink and gold light.

I looked at the Rembrandt and pupils drawings, then chatted with the guard. He said his favorite exhibit was the French furniture, so that's where I went next. There were so many beautiful things--chandeliers and tapestries and polished wood chests with gilt all over, and silver, and porcelain, and an orange velvet settee with matching chairs that I coveted so intensely I believed for a tiny second that if I could only acquire that settee and those chairs, there would be nothing left to wish for in life.
Then I saw this bed:
This picture doesn't do it justice, maybe you will understand when I tell you that every single person who saw it (except me, I knew it'd be on the Innernets) pulled out a cell phone to take a picture. Every single one.

I asked the guard there what his favorite exhibit was, and he said the paintings, so onward and up I went. Rubens. All those billowy bodies. Rembrandt. All those wonderful Italian nudes. (Am I the only person who thinks this is one of the funniest things I've ever seen?)

And here are two of the millions of reasons to return, as these paintings are "not currently on view" (but I love them, so I thought I'd tack them on):

(Andromeda, "Workshop of Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish, about 1640s, Oil on canvas")
(Female Nude in a Landscape, William Etty, English, late 1820s - 1830s, Oil on paper mounted on masonite)

The whole point--and forgive me for rambling, and forgive me for saying what we all know--is that sometimes art just makes you feel wonderful. It doesn't have to be provocative (although one might argue that the nudes certainly are, especially the Etty); it doesn't have to make you think (although it might). It can simply be a pleasure.

Happy Valentine's Day.
(The Fountain of Love, Jean-Honoré Fragonard French, about 1785, Oil on canvas)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Shanghai at the Asian Art Museum

Cross Posted from Working Artist's Journal

Saw the Shanghai show at the Asian Art Museum yesterday. It strikes me as an historical exhibit, using art to tell the history of Shanghai, one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, and sister city with San Francisco since 1979.

Using paintings, prints, posters, furniture, clothing and installations, the show is arranged chronologically, covering the the period from 1850 to present. It's an abbreviated telling - the accompanying catalog is excellent however, and fleshes out many of the political and historical details between/behind the visual art.

"Shanghai Style" is on display here - an aesthetic sensibility that grew out of a place that had plenty of wealth, plenty of artists, a long history of cultural pluralism, and pride in local historical art motifs. The resulting innovation is a kind of torrone, with startling surprises like photorealist heads on the otherwise traditionally painted portrait scroll "Huang Jinrong and Du Yuesheng." (Click images to see larger version.)

A set of gorgeous woodblock prints (top image) from the 1950s reference Japanese woodblocks and European painting. And they have some spectacular examples of chromolithography made in the 1960s.

Contemporary Shanghai artists continue the fusion. Liu Dahong's "Mawangdui" is an embroidered banner based on one of his paintings. (Image at top left.) The stitching is done in such a way that the design is almost identical on both sides of the fabric. The images tell the story of a peasant girl as she moves through twentieth century political movements in China.

My favorite was an installation in the center court, by Zhang Jian Jun, called "Shanghai Garden." He used 3000 bricks from demolished 1920s era Shanghai apartments to line the floor and build bases for sculptures, which were cast from traditional Chinese garden rocks. But the sculptures are made of silicone. Tiny pots holding solar-powered animatronic plants dot the "garden."


Shanghai will be on view from February 12 through September 5.

Images courtesy of the Asian Art Museum, from top to bottom:

"Evening Glow on the Huangpu River" 1955. By Shen Roujian (1918­1998). Woodblock print with oil ­based inks and watercolors. Collection of the Shanghai Art Museum.

"Mawangdui", 2009 (detail). By Liu Dahong (b. 1962). Embroidered silk, one of two pieces. Collection of the artist.

"Huang Jinrong and Du Yuesheng", 1924. By Yu Ming (Chinese, 1884–1935). Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper. Collection of the Shanghai Museum.

Last two images, "Shanghai Garden" by Zhang Jian Jun, photo & video by Anna L. Conti

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Weekend rambles: outsider art, sky photos and video whimsy

I followed Ramona's advice and went in search of art that I hadn't already seen. Well, I've seen Hartman's work in the past and loved it but the other artists I looked at were entirely new to me. James Castle (at Gallery Paule Anglim and BAM) is another outsider artist who has been recently discovered and Katya at Haines Gallery (up until February 20th) uses video and illustration to create works that are charming and bizarre (in a good way)

Natasha Shawver and Ernie Shawver at Gallery A440

More at:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Inspiration across disciplines

Just a quick note to remind everyone how important it is to be open to cross-disciplinary experiences in the arts. Many readers are visual artists, and often we find that we mainly feed off others doing the same thing: we attend art openings of --yes-- visual art.

So, if you have the opportunity this weekend, attend an exhibit, concert, reading, or performance a little outside your usual sphere. It will inspire you in unexpected ways.

One performance to catch is the Ronald K. Brown / Evidence dance troupe, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts tonight and Saturday. We attended last night's performance, and it was eye-opening for its dynamic use of color, composition, and space. The integrated but non-matching choreography, as well as the diversity of the dancers' bodies, was captivating and fresh. Sitting there, flashes of ideas for new work kept popping up. So be prepared to capture those inspirations by sketching/writing them down on a moleskine in the dark!

--Ramona Soto (bluemonk)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Studio Visit: Carol Es

Cross posted from "Working Artist's Journal":
art studio

Early last month I visited the studio of Los Angeles artist, Carole Es. Her "Moppet" space is located in the Highland Park area, in a rectangular pumpkin-colored building with a steam-punk Dutch door. The moppet is painted over the door and rests on the studio divan. The space is small, bright, attractive and incredibly neat. She offered us some drinks, showed us her work and then sat down to chat.

Carol Es in her studio

I first became aware of Carol and her work in (I think) 2004, via the nascent art blogging community. There weren't many artists blogging then and almost none were women. Carol's voice was funny, powerful, and true. So I guess I was drawn to her words, at first. When I started noticing her visual art, she was working on prints, drawings and books, so I mistakenly assumed she was not a painter. Wrong. I wasn't paying attention.

Moppet Studio

But I have to say, her books, prints, collage projects, and other non-paint projects are fabulously original, stunningly well-crafted and full of narrative content. The stories are personal and dreamlike (nightmarish in some cases) but there's always an intelligently humorous salve to the edge. One of my favorites in her print series was "Blogger Killings" - a revenge fantasy.

Painting by Carole Es

The paintings are similar in terms of content but with the additional element of the paint's layers and color subtleties. She still incorporates patterns and stitching in the pieces. I asked her about the painting on the easel. She said we were looking at the acrylic underpainting - she'll add oils next, and do the stitching last. The paintings are on stretched canvas and she forces a stickpin through the painted (dried) canvas before threading the design. This was the first time I'd seen her work person and it's larger and more complex than photos can convey.

She's been in this studio since last summer and it took a tremendous amount of work to get the studio set up. She started with a raw, abandoned space that needed cleaning, painting, new windows, and door installations. I asked her if it had had any effect on her work. She wasn't sure: "I have a home studio too, this space is more for studio visits . . . I don't know so much doubt this space because it's kind of small. I can work on a couple of things at once, but my old studio was much bigger, it was overlooking the ocean, in a park, it was really tranquil. It was really a precious place . . . something I'll never have again, and I was able to work on 6 or 7 projects at one time. It really was a sanctuary, so it was a completely different thing I'm dealing with now . . . there's street noise, it's completely different . . I don't know if it's affecting my work."

She's applying for multiple grants & residencies, an ongoing process that she's very persistent about. Depending on the outcome of those applications, she may do another book this year. Her upcoming shows are listed HERE. Another recent blog review is HERE.