Nasty Women and the possibility of better art

Added on by Elissa Swanger.

Given the tone of the campaign, the election of Donald Trump, and the swiftly ensuing threats to basic rights, many of us are both terrified and more engaged in the political process.  Within the first few weeks of 2017 I already participated in two shows titled " Nasty Women", including the massive cash-and-carry show at the Knockdown Center in Queens that earned 35K for Planned Parenthood, a benefit for the ACLU and personally auctioned pieces on facebook for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. 

The critic Jerry Saltz wrote on November 13, 2016: "The election left many feeling alienated, alone, in shapeless psychic pain.  But in fact this foul, broken, alien place is a very old locus of art. Rectly, art has been this high-powered-success-machine mainstream sensation; artists have beome celebrities; we've been treated to narcissistic pictures of pretty people at glamorous events wearing $2,000 worth of clothes".  The gist is, politically the situation sucks, but it may turn out to be a great thing for art. 

Time will tell if that turns out to be true but the political reality has motivated me and many artists I know to be vocal, active and communal in new ways. 

Resist (11.5 x 9.5) 2016_edited-1.jpg

Added on by Elissa Swanger.

I was delighted to participate in " Be Here Now #2" in Brooklyn on October 23.  445 female artists gathered in the Brooklyn Museum as they had earlier in L.A. to make a stand and take a photograph. Here it is:

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Added on by Elissa Swanger.

"'seeing things' is an act of comparison, memory, labeling, and fiction."-Laurie Anderson

I keep returning to this quote from Laurie Anderson from her wonderful interview on thecreativeindependent.com. She conveys succinctly how complicated and malleable the process of seeing really is.  I had noticed even as a child when I drew from life, how what I was observing seemed to change the longer and harder I looked.  Anderson's quote reminds me that, similar to the way that memories shift and evolve, how and in fact, what, we see is as much about what we are bringing to the act of seeing as it is about what it is we see. Looking and rendering can feel like claiming an object or scene, and then releasing it.  It can feel like naming something or admitting a mystery. For me as I paint or draw, how I see can be possessive, generous, melancholy or celebratory, sometimes even all of the above over the course of one art making session.  

 

 

 

Works in Process

Added on by Elissa Swanger.

Added on by Elissa Swanger.

“Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it's all a male fantasy: that you're strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren't catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you're unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.” 
― Margaret AtwoodThe Robber Bride

New Monoprints

Added on by Elissa Swanger.

Doing oil paint mono prints using a brayer and spoons, printing from my palette.  I'm liking some of the effects but have not yet figured out how to get the saturation of color I want without a press ( and a complete squashy mess)! 

Encouragement from Hawaii

Added on by Elissa Swanger.

 The Booooooom blog (http://www.booooooom.com) recently did a "free encouragement from hawaii" project.  A supportive postcard would be sent from a friendly stranger if you left your request in the comment section.  Well, I did. I said that I could use a boost as right after my studio was broken into I came down with a wicked flu- all true.  And like magic, THREE postcards arrived for me yesterday! So nice. 

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That's art for you

Added on by Elissa Swanger.

“Looking through a book of drawings by Holbein I realize several moments of truth.  A nose ( a line) so nose-like.  So line-like.  And then I think to myself  ‘so what?’. It’s not going to solve any of my problems.  And then I realize that at the very moments of appreciation I had no problems. Then I decide that this is a pretty profound thought.  And that I ought to write it down.  That is what I have just done.  But it doesn’t sound so profound anymore.  That’s art for you. " -Joe Brainard

Authenticity, intent and change

Added on by Elissa Swanger.

 

Over the holidays I read the New York Times December 22, 2013 article “ Tricky Business: Defining Authenticity”. It is a fascinating report of the difficulties in authenticating and preserving Minimalist and Conceptual artworks. The bulk of the article is dedicated to reporting how institutions such as The Guggenheim are grappling with both the problems of preserving and displaying works in line with the artists intentions and the implicated questions of how and why we as a culture define and, subsequently, place a monetary (or historical) value on art.

Two things stayed with me from the article. The first is that Robert Morris, when angry at Philip Johnson for not paying for his sculpture, wrote him that he was taking back “ all aethestic quality”, making it a valueless hunk of metal and wood.   (Both aforementioned sculpture AND letter are now in the MOMA collection).  This both brilliant as a conceptual move and absurd. It assumes that either both subscribe to the idea that the artist’s intent is all, or that even if Johnson, does not, Morris’ intent as artist trumps Johnson.  As there is no question that abundant “ aethestic quality” resides in innumerable valueless things, what Morris is really doing is more akin to erasing his signature to render his artwork “worthless”.  However, this choice of words implies more than just that the artist’s intent/will is the ultimate decider, but that without the artist’s cooperation, viewers will not (properly) enjoy it.   This is an idea I have not heard discussed much, at least in terms of visual art; there seems to be a feeling that once the (non- performance) artwork has left the studio it becomes its own entity separate from the artist.

The second item that stuck with me is a small phrase from a quote from Jeffrey Weiss, Guggenheim’s senior in charge of the Panza Collection. He says, “ People are always asking us ‘what does the artist want’? - As if that’s a simple, monolithic thing.  It turns out that it’s one of the most complicated parts of the whole process. It’s not just him [sculptor Robert Morris specifically, who has changed his ideas about the physical importance of his work] and us.  It’s the changing him and the informed us.”

I love the phrase “ the changing him”.  We are of course, all changing all this time, but as my instinct is often to dig in my heels and resist all change this is a lovely reminder, most especially in the studio and with the coincidence of the advent of new year, to continue pushing, destroying, reworking and generally giving myself permission to be the changing me.

MONOPRINTS, GHOSTS AND PRINTS

Added on by sarah mangerson.
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 "Cake"
30 x 22" 
Monoprint
2007

True monoprints are made by painting with oil based inks or paints on glass, and then placing paper ( usually prepared by soaking in water to best take up the inks) on top and either running both glass and paper through a press or using a wooden spoon or other tools to press down on the reverse of the paper.  Here is an example of this kind of monoprint which I made using a press at Brooklyn College. 

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"Shroud"
8 1/2 x 8"
Watercolor on Napkin
2007

My ghost series are actually based on a version of mono prints, as the first ( and sometimes final) stage of the ghost is an imprint of another gouache paintings.  This technique originated when I was trying to figure out something to do with overworked gouaches.  I had previously noted the reverse of the paper towels or rags I was using to blot the wet paintings was often more interesting than the painting blotted.   

 

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"Fan"
7 4/5 X 7 2/5" 
Gouache and Block Printing Ink
2013

The works that I have in the " prints" category that list "Gouache and Printers Block ( or Relief) Ink" are another form of modified mono print, but further removed from the traditional form.  For these I roll out printers ink, then place dry paper that may have existing imagery on it and draw on the reverse of the paper.  As a result, the drawing appears on the front based on the pressure of the pencil, but additional ink is picked up where my hand inadvertently presses down, as well as where ink may be blobbed or runny.  It is intended to be a messy and unpredictable process.  After this print-drawing process I may go back into/on top of the image. 

CURTAINS

Added on by sarah mangerson.
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pink-curtains-(6-x-9).jpg

TOP:
"Green Curtains"
8 1/4 x9"
Gouache on Matt Board
2013

BOTTOM:
"Pink Curtains"
6 x 9"
Gouache on Matt Board
2013

TITLE / NO TITLE

Added on by sarah mangerson.
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TOP:
"Betsy, Tacey and Tib"
5 x 7"
Oil on Panel
2010

BOTTOM:
"Ugly Tree" 
5 x 7"
Gouache and Pencil on paper
2010

I've never been one for titles- I don't consider them crucial for understanding or enhancing my work and more often than not the basic descriptors that I use to identify digital images ( i.e. " girl, yellow." "head") end up serving as titles.   Sometimes I wonder if I'm missing out on a great opportunity.  I'll scheme up some plan to title the work, for example, calling each by the title of the song I was listening to when I considered it finished, and leave others to puzzle out the connection.  These plans inevitably end up seeming trite, pretentious or even plagiaristic to me.

Occasionally a true title will come to me, or I will work on something with a title in mind.  However, the more personal and specific it is to me, the less likely that a title will expand or enhance an artwork. The picture of a girl looking in the mirror is called " Ugly Tree"  from the insult " fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down."  While I consider this a title that is vague and odd enough to be intriguing, it may actually do nothing for a viewer.  The painting of the three girls started my on-going interest in the myth  "The Judgement of Paris" and my fascination in what transpired between the three goddesses as they waited to be judged. However, once they were painted these three girls became to me " Betsy, Tacey and Tibb" after a series of children's books written in the 1940s.  

Though I rarely title works, I maintain a  list of potential titles.  Some are overheard or read phrases like "song of bitch devotion", which a young woman was using in conversation with another, words that I am particularly fond of for both sound and meaning, such as " the gloaming" and others for their multiple meanings, such as "dwell" and" clutch".  Below are some titles of paintings, words and phrases that I have gathered like images and which inspire and goad me on, though I may never actually use them as titles.

Bear baiting; Please remove rabbit before handing in hat; We easterners; Hello from far away; Even demons believe; She retold others stories as her own which I in turn retold as mine; Consolation prize; Hungry ghosts/lotus eaters; Acts of remembrance and acts of oblivion; The night is a shadow

LITTLE STAGES

Added on by sarah mangerson.

 “…I'm confounded by the rectangle, so prudent and yet so infinite. I like to think of each rectangle as a little stage. Sometimes I put on a show; sometimes I just set up props.” 
Ginny Casey