The Tale of Auguste’s Brain

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, After the Bath (1888)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, After the Bath (1888), oil on canvas, 25 ½ x 21 ¼ inches, Wikipedia images
by D. Dominick Lombardi

It was probably somewhere around 1987 when I read a quote attributed to Auguste Renoir in an art magazine. I don’t recall the exact passage, but he likened his paintbrush to his penis when discussing why he so obsessed over capturing the erotic aspects of a woman’s flesh. A month or so later I made a drawing, I was in my pseudo Post Modern stage making sculptures that looked like they could have been executed in the nineteen teens, twenties or thirties, and the subject was my interpretation of Renoir’s sensual sentiment about his female nudes. It wasn’t long before I started to carve small pieces of wood, carefully calculating their shape and size so they would fit together without imbalance. After I was satisfied with the shape and length of each section they were painted and lightly sanded before the final assembling.

In a few weeks Auguste’s Brain (1988) was completed. Of course, the penis had to be the centerpiece – oversized and in control and in the end, I had pretty much captured the design in the third dimension. After a day or two of deliberating I decided to show my partner, Diane. Things were going well at the time as I was showing and selling works in New York, Chicago and Cologne during art fairs and in gallery exhibitions and I had hoped to get her opinion on where I should first unveil this new piece. To my surprise, she hesitated a bit then said she wasn’t sure the sculpture or idea made sense – she wondered aloud if I wasn’t “barking up the wrong tree” attacking one of the great Impressionists whose work can be found in every substantive private and public collection throughout the world. Remember, this was prior the Internet being accessible to all and I had no real way of substantiating the quote without doing extensive research in a library and it was very unlikely that I would find the proof I needed.

You also have to remember that this was before the 1990s when the epicenter of the art world in New York City was moving back from the East Village to SoHo, and there was at least one penis proudly presented in nearly every exhibition. This following Mapplethorpe and the Contemporary Art Center of Cincinnati’s obscenity case that ended in an acquittal in 1990 – a case initiated by Senator Jesse Helms against NEA funding practices. Not long after that, in the mid 1990s, the dam of pent up penises had burst and it had become a running joke as gallery goers would say “Penises are in!” as we all had gotten over our collective fear that something would go horribly wrong if an institution exhibited a photograph, painting or sculpture of a clearly rendered penis.

D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste's Brain (1988)
D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste’s Brain (1988), acrylic and paper on carved wood with wire, 10 ½ x 6 ¼ x 5 inches

But back then, in 1988, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place (pun intended). What was I to do? After a week or so of weighing my options I decided to reduce the penis to a harmless nub, not unlike the receiving end of a peg leg. As soon as I made the radical reduction I knew it was wrong but it was too late. The sculpture was securely and irreversibly ‘glued’ together with acrylic medium at all contact points and I would have to completely break down and rebuild each part so it was best to just forget about it and simply move onto the next piece.

 

D. Dominick Lombardi, CCWS-25 (2018)
D. Dominick Lombardi, CCWS-25 (2018), mixed media, 21 x 14 x 12 inches

Over the next thirty years I would think about that decision every time I happened upon that sad form of a once proud protruding appendage and think of what could have been. I wonder even today, if there was the ability for me to do an Internet search, if I would have talked myself into keeping the man intact. About two years ago I did do an Internet search, typing in something like “Renoir’s brush is his penis” or something like that, and “I Paint With My Prick” appeared on the site Quote Investigator – it was that easy. More recently, when I was working on one of my new sculptures that featured a toy statue from the 1960/70s with its face buried in the butt of the main figure I decided if I was silly enough to make that connection or placement that I certainly could restore Auguste’s Brain to it original glory.

D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste's Brain
D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste’s Brain (90), cyanotype on museum board, 10 x 8 inches

By mixing papier-mâché with acrylic medium I was now able to carefully rebuild my thirty-year-old mistake using an old watermarked cyanotype print as my guide. Once the bulk of the penis was roughly a little over the desired shape and size it was a matter of some rasping, filing, sanding then finding just the right combination of colors to complete the restoration and voilá, quoting Arby’s: “we have the meat(s)”. As an added punctuation to my newly liberated stance as an uncompromising artist I attached a few one-of-a-kind stickers to reflect of my current-day obsession and the piece was done.

D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste's Brain (1988-2018)
D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste’s Brain (1988-2018), acrylic and paper on carved wood with wire, 10 ½ x 6 ¼ x 5 inches

So here I am, once again struggling with the idea that there is something to be learned by Renoir’s pronouncement when he said he paints with his prick. Or did he actually say: “It’s with my brush that I make love” as stated in the Yale Book Quotations. Either way, I’m sticking with my original design and Diane now likes it too. No matter what he said, my interpretation is the man was speaking metaphorically and his declaration is what my sculpture represents.

D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste's Brain (1988-2018)
D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste’s Brain (1988-2018), acrylic and paper on carved wood with wire, 10 ½ x 6 ¼ x 5 inches

 

 

Water Over the Bridge: Contemporary Seascapes

Holly Sears, Swimmers (2011), oil on paper
Holly Sears, Swimmers (2011), oil on paper, laminated on board, 20 x 26 inches, Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

 

by Julie Garisto

Considering the scope of climate change, it really begs the question why more artists aren’t tackling the subject.

Fortunately, we’re seeing a sea change. Artists from the Sunshine State (and others) are assuming the mantle for bringing attention to a subject that is as dire as it is censored – heck, the words “climate change” are even forbidden from being included in official documents, a mandate from Gov. Rick Scott.

At the Morean Arts Center, the comprehensive exhibition Water over the Bridge: Contemporary Seascapes displays both accessible and challenging works in a staggering variety of media. Curated by D. Dominick Lombardi of Valhalla, N.Y., and Amanda Cooper, the Morean’s Curator of Exhibitions, it’s a must-see for anyone who cares about supporting visual art and gaining perspective on the environment.

“Contemporary artists can very often be like the canary in the coalmine warning of the presence of deadly gases,” Lombardi wrote in the exhibition’s program. “Artists can bring to light the changes in sea levels, and the industries that contribute to the problem by simply exposing, with visual and written references, a very troubling reality that we are in the thick of a political battle for our very future, and the futures of the animals and plants we love.”

Rieko Fujinami, Invisible Site (2016), engraving on plexiglas
Rieko Fujinami, Invisible Site (2016), engraving on plexiglas, 45 x 60 iches, Photo: Courtesy of Dale Leifeste

Artists helping meet Lombardi’s objective include Kate Helms, Kenny Jensen, Selina Roman, Anne Bowen, Babs Reingold, Carolina Cleere, Margaret LeJeune and Rieko Fujinami.

While some may flinch when invited to a climate change-focused exhibition for fear of a heavy-handed downer experience, “Water over the Bridge” does much more. It elevates the discussion, offering as much that’s life affirming as is foreboding. It provides humor and whimsicality as well as punch-you-in-the-gut pathos.

“If you look at works by Don Doe, Bill Gusky, Scott Hatt, Dale Leifeste, China Marks and Selina Roman, you will see that they are raising our awareness of rising sea levels with a bit of humor,” Lombardi elaborates. “I also believe that we have to be thankful for the not-for-profit institutions like the Morean that will mount challenging shows that raise important issues like climate change. Since not-for-profits do not have to rely on selling the work they exhibit, they can show art that goes beyond saccharine seascapes and landscapes. Living in New York I am no stranger to rubberneck delays on highways. It’s a shame there is such great interest in slowing down to look at the carnage of a car accident across a roadway, while issues about the environment have become a nasty political battle.”

China Marks, Game Day in Oceana (2018)
China Marks, Game Day in Oceana (2018), fabric, lace, thread, colored stone, fusible adhesive, 27 x 34 inches, Photo: Courtesy of the artist

According to her artist statement, Kate Helms calls attention to the “parroted paradise … born of stout St. Augustine grass, primly planted medians, perfectly spaced palms, and gracefully arcing sprinkler showers.” Her works are “united by a desire to question cultural attitudes about the fabricated environments we inhabit and fetishize to the point of precarious delusion.”

Her installation Colony 1 proposes a creepy hypothetical scenario; it foresees the future state of an antique chair in an opulent Florida living room after its been submerged for decades — the chair’s once opulence is reduced to an absurd oddity as realistically crafted barnacles overtake it. It’s both a poignant and humorous look at how nature may conquer us if we don’t stop abusing it.

“I haven’t lost all hope and you shouldn’t either,” Helms said during her recent gallery talk at the Morean, adding that her work is not intended as a death knell but a call to action.  A Stormwater Program Administrator for the City of Largo, the scientist/artist has painstakingly tracked the effects of runoff and expresses no doubt that climate change is human-influenced.

According to her artist statement, Kate Helms calls attention to the “parroted paradise … born of stout St. Augustine grass, primly planted medians, perfectly spaced palms, and gracefully arcing sprinkler showers.” Her works are “united by a desire to question cultural attitudes about the fabricated environments we inhabit and fetishize to the point of precarious delusion.”

Her installation Colony 1 proposes a creepy hypothetical scenario; it foresees the future state of an antique chair in an opulent Florida living room after its been submerged for decades — the chair’s once opulence is reduced to an absurd oddity as realistically crafted barnacles overtake it. It’s both a poignant and humorous look at how nature may conquer us if we don’t stop abusing it.

“I haven’t lost all hope and you shouldn’t either,” Helms said during her recent gallery talk at the Morean, adding that her work is not intended as a death knell but a call to action.  A Stormwater Program Administrator for the City of Largo, the scientist/artist has painstakingly tracked the effects of runoff and expresses no doubt that climate change is human-influenced.

Kate Helms, Colony 1 (2016)
Kate Helms, Colony 1 (2016), resin, cloth, sandpaper and found chaise, 74 x 28 x 35 inches. Photo Courtesy of Dale Leifeste

Babs Reingold’s mixed-media installation The Last Sea mirrors a more current reality, one that harks viral videos of wildlife strangled by plastic bags — a canoe filled with flaccid, nondescript small stuffed animal corpses and strewn with plastic litter. In addition, one of Reingold’s Luna Ladders hangs overboard. From one perspective, it denotes a “jump ship” attitude like those of wealthy people who believe they can just colonize Mars. On the other hand, the ladder could intimate one last hope for survival. Adding a touch of dark humor, the boat’s name, the piece’s title, spelled out in a boat name painted whimsically in a recognizable 1950s-style semi-cursive font. It’s a light touch on a dark piece. Ultimately, The Last Sea offers a chilling scenario, a proposition of the last major body of water on Earth. Its theme, a progression of Babs Reingold’s series “The Last Tree,” takes its inspiration from Jared Diamond‘s 2004 TedEx talk, when he asks, “What was the person who cut down the last tree on Easter Island thinking?”

Babs Reingold, The Last Sea (2018)
Babs Reingold, The Last Sea (2018), mixed media, dimensions variable, Photo: Courtesy of Dale Leifeste

The ideal exhibition to bring teens and tween students to, Water over the Bridge engages and elicits critical thinking and discourse; a highly prescriptive antidote to reactive social networking and comment-board trolling.

“This exhibition does succeed as a kind of protest,” Co-curator Amanda Cooper says in the brochure for the show. “If you ever thought about land conservation and wondered why it was important or whether you should care about it — one only has to look at these paintings to see what we stand to lose. Sometimes a beautifully and lovingly crafted work of art speaks louder than a megaphone.”

In tandem, The Morean Arts Center is also presenting a solo exhibition by an established artist who places an emphasis on the joy and wonder we feel while encountering nature. “Leslie Neumann: Manna from Heaven … and Earth,” shows the trajectory of an established artist and conservationist‘s work over a long period of time, focusing on the beauty of nature vs. our troubling current events.

Arguably the world’s most urgent problem, climate change not only hits close to home on both the figurative and literal level, but offers a number of philosophical quandaries to explore — from the most elemental of human needs to more abstract, complex issues around stewardship of our planet, morality and evolution.

Editor’s Note:

That climate is changing is generally without dispute. The crux of the issue between believers in manmade warming and skeptics of the impact by human activity on the planet, is the extent to which either human or non-human factors shape our environment. “The science is settled” orthodoxy of climate alarmism took a political broadside with the change in U.S. administration. Even with the departure EPA’s Scott Pruitt, the likelihood of returning to Obama-era environmental regulations are slim to none.  At the centre of the debate are the atomic structures that make up our atmosphere. In a recent posting on www.icecapus Steve Graham cites that “Carbon dioxide is a trace gas. Only four of every 10,000 molecules in our atmosphere are CO2 and the amount that human industry could have added over all of our history is only a fraction of one of those four molecules.” Sea levels aren’t rising. The polar icecaps are not melting. Historically we’ve been as warm or warmer in past ages. So go the arguments. Let us know where you stand.  – Steve Rockwell

Mitchell/Riopelle: Nothing in Moderation

Musée national des beaux-art du Québec, Québec City, Québec, October 12, 2018 – January 7, 2018 Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, February 18 – May 6, 2018

by Emese Krunák-Hajagos

On my way to this exhibition I was thinking of Joan Mitchell and Jean-Paul Riopelle as a Golden Couple of a Golden Age. The Golden Age is true. Paris still had its charm and New York was rising into its future glory. Riopelle was a golden boy, irresistible and charming with his expensive race cars – including Bugattis – boats, properties and artistic success. Mitchell was a very confident person, athletic and not shy about her body at all. Looking at photographs with her lovers we can’t miss seeing the sexual magnetism radiating from her. It was a good match in many ways, but they were everything but a golden couple.

Both Riopelle and Mitchell came from middle-class backgrounds, with Mitchell from Chicago, Riopelle from Montreal. Riopelle exhibited with Les Automatistes in Montreal in 1946 and signed the manifesto Refus global, written by Borduas in August 1948, gathering a group of abstract painters who wanted to break free from the strict Catholicism of Quebecois life. After WWII artists came to Paris longing for a bohemian life and Andre Breton ruled like a pope, surrounded by a large group of painters and writers. Riopelle met him in 1947 but remained independent, never associating himself with any group. His circle of friends in Paris included Sam Francis, Samuel Beckett and many more of the geniuses of that era.

The artists of the first generation of Abstract Expressionism in New York, like Willem Kooning, Hans Hofman, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock and the poet Frank O’Hara among others, created an important movement and a new centre of visual art started to build up around them. The New York art world in the early 1950s was dominated by men but Mitchell, who spoke frankly, aggressively and emphasized that her gender was not important, but being a painter was, established her significance among them.

When Mitchell and Riopelle met in Paris in 1954, he was already a well-known and successful artist, while Mitchell was just exploring Paris on a grant. They remembered differently about the place they first met but their 25-year relationship started with Riopelle showing up at Mitchell’s studio with “a huge bouquet of rolled canvases” as curator Michel Martin writes. Mitchell divided her time between New York and Paris from then on.

When she was gone, Riopelle missed her. When he lacked inspiration in oil, he turned to gouache and tried to follow the transparency and unique textural effect of Mitchell’s work. In a letter in 1956, he confesses to adopting her materials and technique: “I’m happier because ultimately (my work) resemble(s) your painting, my love.” Sans titre (La Fontaine) (1957) also reveals the complex bonds between them. Mitchell discreetly wrote in the upper left-hand margin of the painting “Le Laboureur et ses enfants, La Fontaine!!” referring to the well-known fable but also to Labours sous la neige, a work that Riopelle had recently produced. Mitchell kept the painting for a long time, as a message of affection for Riopelle. Riopelle stated, “Friendship is a special kind of solitude, a solitude split in two.” Their lifestyle was anything but lonely. They socialized a lot, people visited and stayed in their studios and they went out dining and drinking all night with friends.

The AGO’s exhibition follows a dual chronology focusing on points of mutual influence. As Martin says, “these two sensitive and extremely powerful personalities could not have evolved without being affected by the singular context of their relationship as it developed over the years.” Sometimes the artistic influence is unmistakable as in the pair of small-scale gouache on paper works (Mitchell: Untitled, 1958 and Riopelle: Gitksan, 1959) that share the same palette and gestural approach.

art fairs Miami
Joan Mitchell, Girolata, 1964. Oil on canvas, 258.4 × 481.7 cm (triptych). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966 (66.3581) © Estate of Joan Mitchell. Photo: HMSG, Smithsonian

They were abstract painters but critics claim that both Mitchell and Riopelle got their inspiration from nature. Mitchell disagreed. She said: “I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me, and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I prefer to leave nature where it is, it is beautiful enough, I wish not to improve nature, I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more likely to paint what it leaves with me.” She was not interested in reproducing nature but in “painting the feeling of the space.” Riopelle stated in an interview, “Nothing abstract, nothing figurative. My most abstract paintings, according to some, are for me the most figurative, in the true sense of the word. Abstract: “abstraction,” “to abstract” “to derive from” … My approach is the exact opposite. I don’t take anything from Nature I move into Nature.” Mitchell and Riopelle shared the same vision, and their works were both infused by the powerful evocation of nature.

In 1954-55 Riopelle painted a series inspired by the Austrian Alps. Saint-Anthon (1954) is a bird’s eye view of the snow-covered peaks. The abstract landscape is built upon a large white background, unusual in Riopelle’s palette, interrupted by dark knife painting directly from the tube to give texture, and modified by occasional red and blue calligraphy. Mitchell’s Untitled (1955) uses similar colors. She catches a memory image and depicts it in fluid translucent strokes, with the presence of color at its center: a patch of dripping light-rinsed and storm-tossed blues skimming across viscous grey whites. It seems to be coalescing into the shape of a tree – Mitchell talked about mentally losing herself in trees – as the painter subverts the traditional relationship between figure and ground, never allowing the image to come together as a tree. Throughout her career, this tension remains inherent in ambiguous figure-ground relationships.

Joan Mitchell, Piano mécanique, 1958, oil on canvas, 198.1 × 325.1 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Gift of Addie and Sidney Yates (1996.142.1)
© Estate of Joan Mitchell Photo: National Gallery of Art

Energy and power radiates from Mitchell’s brushstrokes in Piano mechanique (1958). While the white background is present, bright colored lines and marks move in every direction, instead of a centralized composition, following the energy of the artist’s hand. She also changes her vertical canvas for a horizontal one, Riopelle’s preferred format. Riopelle also physically engaged in his works, as we can see in Landing (1958). He covers the entire surface with layers upon layers of strong colored paint, as he throws himself into the painting, sculpting the surface of the canvas until the paint seems to overflow – then he uses a knife to give texture to the paint and finishes it with a gloss to direct the light. He prefers to finish a canvas in one stretch, sometimes working 12 hours straight; as he said, “when I hesitate I do not paint, when I paint I do not hesitate.” Mitchell, on the other hand, made many sketches before painting.

Jean Paul Riopelle, Landing, 1958, oil on canvas, 200 × 375 cm. Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Purchase (A 68 56 P 1) © Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle / SODRAC (2018) Photo: Richard-Max Tremblay

The relationship between Mitchell and Riopelle was very rich, combining all the elements of life and art. They talked about art, their experiments, accomplishments and successes, their struggles and their ecstasy – their state of mind and their artistic practise. That must have been a wonderful journey for two such great artists. There was love too, both physical and intellectual. Throughout their journey together they crossed into each other’s territory, friendly, gently and lovingly but also screaming with anger. They were annoyed by unfulfilled promises, and not getting what they desired out of the relationship. Mitchell’s hope for a fully shared life seemed to be close to realization when they moved into a studio in Frénicourt, Paris in 1958 but it didn’t work out. Even after Riopelle’s divorce from his wife in 1962, the relationship between Mitchell and him remained turbulent and they both had many lovers on the side. Mitchell put her unhappiness into a few violent and angry paintings throughout these years.

The early 1960s was a relatively happy period in their life and their styles visibly intertwined. Riopelle got a boat, Serica, as payment from his New York dealer, Pierre Matisse, and they went sailing in the Mediterranean. Their large triptychs, both from 1964, show many similarities. They both build on the color of white, using a symmetrical structure, such that the painting on the left is mirroring the one on the right, so the panels seem to communicate with each other. The left and the right panel of Riopelle’s Large Triptych depict the rocks of the seaside in their whitish greyness with the buildings of the small villages in earthy browns, greens and reds, surrounded by the blue sky and sea as the colors shine in the strong sunlight. The middle panel departs from all reality and abandons strong colors, showing something like a map. Riopelle uses his signature technique so the different layers create a strong texture in which he literally carves the edges of the rocks. Mitchell’s favourite multi-panel format was the horizontal triptych composed of vertical modules. She liked the way the vertical divisions undermined the continued effects of a landscape. Girolata is a good example of this. In front of an atmospheric whitish background patches of mossy greens, dusty silver greens, cerulean blues, violets and all imaginable shades of grey cover the panels in a soft, dance-like movement. Here too, the central piece seems to unify the others into one, more balanced, composition. It feels like the metamorphosis of a landscape but Mitchell said she didn’t want to portray the landscape but to transpose to the canvas the effect of the complex sensation of her memories of the time she spent with Riopelle. When placed face to face on the walls in the AGO, these works illustrate the dialogue that developed between the two artists and compare Mitchell’s poetic and sensual gestures to Riopelle’s more virtuous spatial strokes. It seems that a sense of harmony had been archived.

Joan Mitchell, Un jardin pour Audrey, 1974, oil on canvas, 260 x 360.5 cm (diptych). Private collection, Paris. © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

 

But it was more likely an illusion. While their careers skyrocketed – Mitchell had her first retrospective in the Whitney Museum (1974), Riopelle became an international artist whose paintings sold for high amounts – the distance between them deepened. Mitchell, using her inheritance after her parents’ death (1969), bought Monet’s property La Tour in Vétheuil, where she settled for the rest of her life. Riopelle built a studio in the Laurentians (1974) and divided his time between France and Quebec where he fished and hunted. They still spent time together but less and less often and their styles no longer show the similarities of the 1950s and 1960s. Mitchell, accompanied by her dogs, enjoyed the solitude of her gardens. She dedicated the diptych, Un jardin pour Audrey, (1974) to her friend Aubrey Hess, who recently passed away. In the left panel, we are guided into a beautiful garden with light pouring in, flurries of blazing gold against a radiant white – a composition that reminds us of Monet, without becoming a still life or a landscape. The right panel juxtaposes the lightness of the left with a heavier composition and a darker palette. Together they seem to depict paradise lost and found, radiant with the love of nature.

The tension between the couple grew and Riopelle called Mitchell “Rosa Malheur” – Rosa Unhappiness. He started to spend more and more time in Canada. Mitchell painted Chasse interdite (Hunting is forbidden) (1973) to let Riopelle know that she doesn’t approve of his hunting trips because it takes him away from her and she misses him. Riopelle embraced Quebec’s vast landscapes with its wildlife, fishing and hunting, depicting First Nations cultures that resonated with him. The title of the painting Micmac (1975) or Mi’kmaq comes from the Indigenous peoples in the Gaspé Peninsula, but in French the word means confusion or disorder. It is a very intriguing work. As the story goes, the artist painted one of the panels then transferred it into a blank canvas. Then he extensively reworked both until they seemed to be different. The left panel has a shining dark area at the top contrasted with a matt white on the right. Darker, warmer colors on the left seemingly oppose the lighter, colder palette of the right. Both panels have hidden crosses (a reminder of Riopelle’s struggle with the Catholic religion) and the elements of the paintings are organized around them. Chaos rules the surfaces with a little bit hope in white light of nothingness at the bottom of the right panel.

Joan Mitchell Jean-Paul Riopelle
Jean Paul Riopelle, Micmac, 1975, Oil on canvas. 300 × 400 cm (diptych). Collection Sylvie Blatazart-Eon, Paris. © Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle / SODRAC (2018).

In late 1974, when Riopelle stayed longer than usual in Canada, Mitchell visited him and created her Canada series, dominated by disorderly shapes of browns and greys. In Returned (1975) she reduced her palette and used almost geometrical shapes, echoing Riopelle’s tendency for structure. Riopelle in his Iceberg paintings also abandoned his rich color range, until only black and white prevailed (Iceberg No.3, 1977). As he said, “If I dared to paint my series of icebergs in the 1970s, it’s because the color white doesn’t exist in nature. If snow were white, no painter would be able to render it.” As later added, “In the arctic nothing is clear cut, all is not black and white. The sky, though, seems black, really black, and on the ground is not even white snow, there it is ice that is grey and transparent.” The paintings don’t give us any direction in these strange landscapes where white ice rules, distracted by the black calligraphy of cracks and trees under an overwhelmingly black sky. Meanwhile Mitchell, enchanted by nature in her garden, painted single sunflowers, weeds, rain and her favourite linden tree Tilleul (1978) with dramatic intensity.

They saw each other less and less often and when they did, they argued more, until their final separation in 1979. It was a stormy relationship by all accounts. They were both heavy drinkers, Mitchell was an alcoholic and often depressed. When drunk they became abusive, as many of their friends wrote: they were violent, crazy and scary. They were a perfect match, both in the strength of their characters and the quality of their paintings and above all theirs was a great love. The chemistry between them was strong, creating a shining glow of happiness sometimes and deep craters of anger on other occasions. Meanwhile their lives went on, and they both became icons of the art world in their own right. Their interaction can be compared to two stars shining at each other until, at some point, they parted ways, still rising, without outshining each other.

Together and separately, they lived an extraordinary life of extremities – nothing in moderation.

The Magic of Kanaz Forest of Creation

The Tatsuo Kawaguchi–Beyond Viewing Exhibition at the Kanaz Forest of Creation in Japan

by D. Dominick Lombardi

japan, art, Kanaz Forest
Kanaz Forest of Creation, as seen from a nearby walking path (all photos courtesy of the author, unless otherwise noted)

Kanaz Forest of Creation is an excellent example of an art institution that beautifully and elegantly bridges the gap between art and nature. A must see if you happen to be traveling through the city of Awara in Fukui Prefecture, where you will experience a ‘rebooting of the spirit’ that only the right combination of inspiring creativity and the serenity of an unspoiled forest can produce. There are works here placed in intimate clearings such as Kimio Tsuchiya’s 2005 Hidden Pyramid, a three-sided mound comprised of a variety of materials that is slowly and quietly being reclaimed by nature. You can read this work as a metaphor for any previous civilization that had achieved great wealth and power, only to fall over time to the winds of change. Or, it can be seen as a reminder that no matter how well we build something with steel and concrete, that there is no such thing as permanence when faced with the will of nature. Then there is the fallen tree that was mindfully carved by Shigeo Toya in 2000. Seen as a substantial sculpture left along the sinuous path to the nearby lakes, this delicately shaped object is a constant reminder that anything can be re-imagined, repurposed, resurrected or made anew if only we take the time to open our minds.

Tatsuo Kawaguchi, Japan
Tatsuo Kawaguchi, 2013-2017, Relation–Small Darkness of the 1450 Days, installation detail

The current one-person exhibition at the Kanaz Forest of Creation is Tatsuo Kawaguchi–Beyond Viewing – a show that I found to be profoundly thought provoking and visually stunning. Imagine a room filled with 1,450 small cast-iron containers spread precisely and methodically across three walls and floor of a large windowless room. Relation–Small Darkness of the 1450 Days (2013-2017) is the work of the acclaimed 70-year-old Conceptual Artist Tatsuo Kawaguchi, who sees nature to be much more than what we can observe and understand in our world. His nature is far more expansive, and of the entire universe.

Relation–Small Darkness of the 1450 Days can be taken in a number of ways. We may understand the darkness in each box as collectively representing the dark matter that fills the blackness of the vast spaces in and around our galaxy – a thought made even more precise as we can not directly observe dark matter out there in outer space, or in the absence of light in any of Kawaguchi’s boxes here at the museum.

One might also see each box as containing death represented by the end of light or life but that may be assuming too much. My personal feeling is that we are looking at something that is oddly romantic. That the capturing of the darkness of night when all is quiet and heartbeats become more pronounced is a time when one’s soul is calmed by the release of daytime activities and responsibility. In addition, there is another connection to nature in this room, as the artist has added bamboo sections covered in metal that comprise Darkness in Bamboo (2015).

Tatsuo Kawaguchi, Japan, art
Tatsuo Kawaguchi, 2015, Darkness in Bamboo, detail

Darkness in Bamboo is installed on a long white shelf that runs along the one remaining wall of the Relation–Small Darkness of the 1450 Days installation. Darkness in Bamboo is based on the experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, when vast amounts of bamboo washed up on the beach near the artist’s studio. Like the sealed boxes in Relation–Small Darkness of the 1450 Days, the various naturally closed segments of the displaced bamboo forms an air-tight barrier, while its numerous joints inevitably contain darkness. Seeing these sections on Kujukuri-Hama Beach, Kawaguchi presumed the air inside each segment of bamboo had not been contaminated by the fallout from the Fukushima disaster. In this instance, the sealed darkness becomes clean air and, representing by default, a giver of life and not a metaphor for an end or death.

Tatsuo Kawaguch, Star of Light, Star of Darknessi
Tatsuo Kawaguchi, 2012, Star of Light, Star of Darkness, Reversed Universe. Photo courtesy of Kanaz Forest of Creation

Moving through the museum you will find another profoundly impactful installation titled Star of Light, Star of Darkness, Reversed Universe (2012). From one side of the room visitors will find a number of large, equally sized and framed high-contrast photographs of the nighttime sky suspended from the ceiling. From the opposite side of the room, the back of each photograph becomes visible as a reverse of what is seen from the front side. This ‘negative’ appearance is created when Kawaguchi fills in with pencil, the corresponding light or stars from behind – visible when the print is backlighted becoming semi-transparent.

This action of filling in or cancelling out the light is in keeping with the premise of the Relation–Small Darkness of the 1450 Days and Darkness in Bamboo, however, the playfulness of the approach of hand-coloring in with a pencil the stars gives this installation a sense of the individual as being a part of the universe. To quote Neil deGrasse Tyson: “The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”

There are a great number of other incredible works in this exhibition, far too many to list and discuss individually, therefore I urge you to see and experience it first-hand if possible. With that said, I would like to point out a few works that really hit home for me. The first is Relation–From Light to Darkness (1989), which is comprised of two sealed flashlights, one of which looked something like a miniature replica of Statue of Liberty encased in lead. Created in 1989, the concealment of light, and in my mind liberty, speaks volumes about the mindset of far too many individuals, while simultaneously showing how art communicates with individuals colored by what they bring to the conversation.

On a lighter note, it is a great privilege to see some earlier pieces, most notably Work 65-32 (1965) that brought a smile and a sense of mischievousness to the exhibition.

From 1967 there is Interrelation that shows an approach to art making that has tinges of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism while adding a nod to science, space travel and technology in general.

Finally, there is Existence–Stone or Stones (1974) placed perfectly on an elevated platform just outside the museum walls. In carving a large rock to create two new stones, and being left unfinished, is a piece that will get most thinking about the relationship between nature and creativity, or nature ‘as’ creator. How much of what we see, our vast canyons, our majestic mountains and our endless forests are the ultimate creations by the forces of nature. How one person in Kawaguchi, can remind us of our basic physical, mental and spiritual relationship to nature in a simple and profound way is a joy to behold.

Deep in the Shallows

Michael Zansky at Herron School of Art+Design, Indiana University, Indiana

by Dominque Nahas

At the Herron School of Art + Design Galleries students and faculty at Indiana University were lucky enough to become immersed and enmeshed in the exhibition Deep in the Shallows curated by the galleries’ new director Max Weintraub who has an eye for installation. This remarkable show brings together a series of 2016-17 art works on burnt paper and carved plywood and acrylic produced by the New York based artist Michael Zansky who draws and carves using both hands equally. Eleven of Zansky’s works belonging to his Saturn Series, plywood paintings measuring 16 feet by 12 feet, are showcased at Herron. Also included as part of Deep in the Shallows are Zansky’s burnt-paper artworks from his Flatlands series, each measuring 72”x 52”; there are seven of these. Completing the show are a six works from Zansky’s series of smaller Saturn works made of carved wood and acrylic measuring 40” x 30.”

By any measure Deep in the Shallows is a hard-to-miss, impossible-to-ignore standout event. There is a decidedly provocative aspect to Zansky’s vision that constitutes a type of dare. How big a work can you make that doesn’t lose its vitality by being in a giant exhibition space that threatens to swallow up anything that is put in its way. The vestigial shapes and references to human-bestial objects that the artist conjures up through his mark making stay with you, pressing themselves into your brain like pesky eidetic image-floaters that simply refuse to vacate your mind’s eye. In Zansky’s case his giant-sized wall works, with their billboard scale has undeniable presence. And this presence is made all the more intense due to the works’ bizarre imagery, essentially carved, line-work drawings on a Herculean scale placed against vast, undifferentiated white (read: blank) expanses. This whiteness gives the visual and spatial sensation of an endless extent of space thus amplifying the grotesque conundrums, arcane signs, nearly-hermetic symbols and fantastical creatures that populate it: a giant ear standing upright on a meandering design, an ancient Egyptian half-man/half elephant sprightly hopping over crystalline forms on an upraised dais, a bowing monster-man with corkscrew head and deformed hands, wearing the linen kalasiris, a loose pleated skirt that was the main garment worn by Egyptian men in ancient times. Zansky draws inspiration from a spectrum of historical and artistic sources ranging from ancient Egyptian and Assyrian art, to Piero della Francesco, Francisco de Goya and Vincent van Gogh, to alchemical symbology and symbols drawn from the medieval hermeticism, to perhaps iconology borrowed from the occult wisdom of Renaissance Neo-Platonists and magical cosmology. His uncanny images are pieced together, collage like, and remind me of the odd results that play themselves out after a game of Exquisite Corpse. What are we to make of all of this truly staggering image-play? Zansky’s arcana-filled, surrealistically elliptical, obtuse imagery pertains perhaps, to the unknowable as much as it points to our collective hunger for resolution and certainty through science, reason, faith and art. Apophenia is the tendency to perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things, so perhaps Zansky’s art in Deep in the Shallows is an existential ode to the collective unconscious, to the crazy wisdom of drives or urges driving human imagination and fantasy.

There is an austere grandiosity to the largest of these Saturn wall-works, and they resist any charge of pomposity, I contend, because of their quirky, out-of the-box, amusing/puzzling inscribed iconography that, while being blatantly obvious and legible from from great distances, are in the final analysis so resistant to straightforward interpretation (as per the intentions of the artist). A mystifying aura pervades, saturating the Herron Galleries, as the Sphinx-like secrets of Zansky’s intractable giant artworks remain hidden in plain view, the artist’s craftily cobbled-together, closed-system, imagistic fragments loom over the viewers, teasingly.

Looking at all this indwelling imagery in Zansky’s art that is so resolutely poetic yet regressively intractable, F.W.J. Shelling’s comment that art was the resolution of an infinite contradiction in a finite object seems valid. By turn noumenal and phenomenal, knowable and unknowable, and alternating between the reverie-like and the nightmarish, the normal and the abnormal, the tragic and the ludic, Zansky’s vision is poised between the extremes of public address and private torment. Indeed Zansky has always been alert to the conditions, to the thin interface that separates the human from the subhuman, the so-called thin veneer of civilization that Freud brings up in his Das Unbehagen in der Kulter (Civilization and Its Discontents); Zansky’s art in its individuated way nearly points to this deep-structured irresolvable struggle, a fight that continues and continues. His work, his working style, and his metaphoric conceits are perpetually pointing to and pointing out the clash of oppositions and contradictions in himself and in the world. In the press release to Deep in the Shallows Michael Zansky is quoted as he refers to his enigmatic tableaux as “fragment frames in some ongoing drama from an unknowable storyboard”…in order to express…”how inexplicable human existence is, how strange it is.” hat continues and continues. His work, his working style and his metaphoric conceits are perpetually pointing to and pointing out the clash of oppositions and contradictions in himself and in the world. In the press release to Deep in the Shallows Michael Zansky is quoted as he refers to his enigmatic tableaux as “fragment frames in some ongoing drama from an unknowable storyboard”…in order to express…”how inexplicable human existence is, how strange it is.”

Editorial Contributors

D. Dominick Lombardi

D. Dominick Lombardi is represented by Kim Foster Gallery in New York, NY and Prince Gallery in Copenhagen, Denmark. Since 1978, Lombardi has curated over 100 exhibitions in a variety of museums and galleries. Titles include: Water Over the Bridge, Tondo, Tondo, Tondo, Duchamp’s Plumbing, Shaky Ground, reVision, Through the Veil of the Soul,  HEAD, Eye on the Storm, In Their Own World, Monkey Spoon, Anonymous, Bóm: How art can disrupt, reorient or destroy, Fear is a Four Letter Word, Speaking in Strings: Ken Butler and Kurt Coble, Critics Select I & II, Over the Top – Under the Rug, FUNKADELICIDE, The Impact of War, The Waking Dream, The Tradition  of  Icons and Champions of Modernism: Non-Objective Art of the 1930s & 40s and Its Legacy. For past 21 years, Lombardi’s 400 plus features, interviews and art reviews have appeared in such publications as as The New York Times (1998-2005), The Huffington Post (2012-present), ARTslant (2012-14), Art in Asia (S. Korea) (2007-09), Public Art and Ecology (China) (2011-12), Sculpture (1999-present), dART (2005-present), Art Papers (2004), ARTnews (1997), ARTlies (2004-09), Juxtapoz (2002), New Art Examiner (1997-98), Night (1996-97), Art New England (1997-99), NYARTS magazine (2004-09) and culturecatch.com (2006-present) among others.

Dominique Nahas

Dominique Nahas is an independent curator and critic based in Manhattan. He teaches critical studies at Pratt institute. He is currently writing books on the work of artists Allison Stewart and Amer Kobaslija.

Christopher Hart Chambers

Christopher Hart Chambers is an artist based in NYC. He also writes about art for several periodicals and occasio-nally curates exhibitions. Last year the Nassau County Museum of Art’s Contemporary Gallery featured a solo exhibition of his work. Also last year he co-curated with Al Diaz the Graffiti Street Art exhibition at the Bishop Gallery in Bedstuy, NY. www.christopherchambers.com

 

Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Emese Krunák-Hajagos is an art writer with publications in dArt International magazine (Toronto/Montreal/New York/San Antonio), NY Arts (New York), Artes Magazine (Connecticut), Huma 3 (Madrid/Venice), Balkon (Budapest), Interpress Graphic (London/Prague/Budapest). She writes in English and Hungarian and a few of her articles are translated into Spanish. She is member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). Emese is co-founder and co-publisher of artoronto.ca, an online art magazine covering the visual art scene in Toronto. Her holistic approach brings together the history, philosophy and cultural atmosphere of the times, providing a more complex understanding of the art. She lives in Toronto.

Siba Kumar Das

Siba Kumar Das is a former Indian diplomat and a United Nations official who writes about art – an interesting thing to do when a global art is coming into being. Serving the United Nations Development Program in New York and several developing countries, he addressed global development challenges at international and local levels, concentrating on poverty eradication and the reduction of inequalities and exclusion. He now lives in the United States as a citizen, splitting his time between New York City and upstate New York. He has published articles on artists living in the Upper Delaware Valley, and is presently focusing on art in a more global context. His experience in development and interest in art has brought home to him that artistic creation and development success are born in similar crucibles.

Gae Savannah

Gae Savannah is a sculptor/writer based in New York City. She works
in new materials including plastics. Savannah also writes for Sculpture magazine. She teaches Contemporary Art, Film, and Writing in the MFA program at School of Visual Arts.

Julie Garisto

A Largo High and USF grad who’s currently enrolled in University of Tampa’s Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto is an assistant editor/contributor at the central Florida nonprofit arts agency Creative Pinellas, where she covers arts and music events. Julie also contributes to the Tampa Bay Times as well as other publications. She served as arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing (2010-2015).