Years ago, when the tiny airplane I had boarded in Denmark made its way through the clouds to descend into a proportionately tiny airport perched atop a Norwegian mountain, what immediately struck me about the landscape below – and continued to thrill throughout that and every visit – was its extraordinary depth and scale. The eye could see for miles and miles, and in that sightline it found extraordinary nature whose shapes, details, and overall composition takes your breath away at every turn. And it’s not just the altitudes, although that probably helps seal the high you experience in those vast spaces.
When I made my way to the Red Room Gallery at Co|So, the Copley Society of Art on Newbury Street yesterday and discovered the work of Norwegian artist Pippip Ferner, what immediately struck me was her ability – even with her smallest works and even though her subject matter is not strictly speaking Norwegian or even landscape-focused – to capture that depth and scale native to her land.
At first glance I thought the show, titled “Sjø,” had something to do with fun (and it is!), because the Danish word for fun is “sjøv.” But the name is actually the Norwegian word for “sea,” which makes a bit more sense. Though I didn’t immediately realize it (many of the works appear abstract from a distance), the drawings and installations in this particular exhibition actually depict sea creatures and organisms, executed with a masterful blend of scientific detail and artistic skill. Always visually fascinating and surprising, never clinical. I felt I could look at them for ages, switching between following the intricate lines and absorbing their gestalt effect.
Ferner, a former graphic designer and illustrator, describes her current project as “a renewed look at small organisms in the water, invertebrates especially” – stunning, often colorful works that harmoniously combine her controlled line work with loose, free-flowing color – an ode to nature’s own blend of chaos and structure, I think.
The small (and, at $100 a piece, fairly affordable) “Urchin” installations on the Red Room Gallery walls capture that combination of controlled chaos in a beautiful, soothing form. The “Sjø” collection offers a good introduction to her total oeuvre of painting, drawing, sculpture and installation, but I’d encourage you to explore Ferner’s online portfolio for the full effect (unless of course you can make it to Norway). I wish I could have seen some of the larger, more abstract pieced in person, because they look stunning and enveloping on line and in print.
Intrigued with the artist and wanting to understand her approach and get to know her, even if from afar, I googled and found this great video, In Studio With Pippip Ferner. In addition to introducing this very open, genuine, pensive and funny individual, it also offers a glimpse into her unique creative process – and really makes you want to pick up a brush, paint and canvas and let loose the creative spirit within. With her confidence and trust in her creative vision, she makes it look so easy. Though we know it isn’t. But I guess that’s the proof of any true talent.
Co|So is located at 158 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116 and is open Tuesday – Saturday 11-6, Sunday 12-5, and Monday by appointment. Phone: (617) 536-5049
So many visits to Aalborg, Denmark – so many missed museum trips. But no more! I finally made it over the holiday break, and will definitely be going back on my next visit. KUNSTEN (“the art”) may be smaller than other world-class museums, but there is a wealth of works to explore. And best of all, what you experience walking through the rooms will be different from your experience of any other museum. The space combines a modern Danish aesthetic with works that penetrate and provoke on a level I did not expect.
Although perhaps I should have. From the first days of my three years in Denmark, I was struck by the depth and complexity of its art. Of its occasional darkness and sometimes disturbing but oftentimes impeccable grasp of human nature. Of Danish artists’ and authors’ and performers’ ability to verbalize or visualize that complexity and dig deep to uncover its roots. When I spoke about this, several people immediately pointed to the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard.
But it still surprised me. I didn’t get the impression anyone was brooding as they cycled through Copenhagen. That they were self-analyzing as they lit candles to generate “hygge” on dark winter nights. And if you’ve read the happiness surveys and watched Oprah’s visit to Denmark – allegedly one of the happiest places on earth – you’d get the impression it’s more about simple everyday pleasures than psychoanalysis. While my fellow Russians have a reputations for philosophizing at every turn, the Danes – the ones I knew, anyway, aren’t prone to ongoing self-questioning, but prefer to – for lack of a more profound explanation – just live their lives.
Danish literature and film, however, was an escape into a different world. Pick up Christian Jungersen’s “The Exception,” and you’ll see what I mean. Exploration of the human condition. Of our darkest sides. Of how weak people can be, and how that has shaped (and mis-shaped) our personal and shared histories.
So with that, back to the Aalborg art museum. The visit, in many ways, mirrored my Danish experience. Far from expanding on the clean, simple minimalism of the trendy design pieces on the gift shop’s shelves, much of the work on the walls was gritty. Some of it was very, very dark. The CoBrA artists’ avant-garde pieces were as joyous and colorful as I had expected them to be in real life, but they were also complex and inquisitive. It all forced you to think, sometimes to squirm. To examine your discomfort, and search for answers as you contemplated why faceless people sometimes make it more difficult to look away than ones endowed with all the necessary human features. Sometimes, what I saw made me too uncomfortable. I couldn’t handle the baby hanging against a black backdrop from a bloody umbilical cord, hovering above (presumably) its own skull. Life and death, yes, but in an execution so disturbing I made my two year old daughter turn away. Still, it moved something in me, and that made it matter.
And a sidenote for families visiting the museum: in true Danish, family-centered style, KUNSTEN had a large, easily accessible room set up right off the gift shop at the entrance for kids. Fun and funky materials, like colorful bits of cloth and the mesh stores wrap fruit in, were strewn over tables and there were plenty of tools allowing kids of all ages to concoct their own creations. The best museum space for kids that I’ve encountered. Helpful for keeping babes away from images of terrifying babes.
Last Friday’s sequence of events leading up to an ideal evening went like this: I was walking the kids to the park on Friday afternoon and spotted a bright green Honda (the boxy model) with two bumper stickers: eARTh, and “Make Art Not War.” Intrigued, I slowed down. A woman exited in a flurry, asked me if I was crossing, giving me an opportunity to compliment her bumper philosophy, and we started chatting. It turned out she was helping to organize an art show at the Boston Center for the Arts’s Mills Gallery that evening. Coincidentally, next door to where we had dinner reservations for my birthday.
The Mills Gallery show – titled The Future of the Past: Encaustic Art in the 21st Century because the encaustic medium is among the world’s oldest art forms – was the place to be in the South End that night. By the time we arrived around 8, the organizers were flustered because they’d run out of wine (a good sign, and all the more reason to visit The Butcher Shop wine bar across the street). And the great turnout wasn’t a coincidence: the show, a survey of wax art curated by MassWax (the local chapter of International Encaustic Artists), is fascinating. It was my first encounter with the encaustic medium, and Connie (of the bumper stickers) explained a bit about the complex layering process, the possibilities for incorporating so many materials into the incredibly deep (in the visual sense: you feel as if you could fall into many of the works like through glacial ice), the care with which it must be sealed in…
An explanation of the medium’s history if you, like me, aren’t so wax-savvy:
Encaustic is derived from enkaustikos (Greek) – “to burn in.” Greek painters used encaustic as early as in the 1st century BC, making it one of the oldest and most enduring of all artistic mediums. (Though as early as in the 5th century BC, the Greeks used encaustic to repair and weatherproof ships!) Encaustic paint is a blend of beeswax and color pigment – and resin, which helps harden the wax and raise its melting temperature (so this wax won’t melt – something I admit I wondered as soon as I learned what the works were made of).
The work of Karl Zerbe, who was a key figure in the revival of encaustic in the 20th century – and was also the head of Painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1937-1955 – is featured in the show, so you know you’re looking at a curating job that serves up the best of the best. The show is fascinating not only because of the caliber of work on display, but also because the contemporary works represent a thoroughly modern take on an ancient medium, showcasing just how diverse a product a single medium can generate.
I wish I’d had my camera and taken some photos, but no camerawork of mine could translate the encaustic effect from the canvas (or wood panel, or other surface) to the web. To get the sense of depth and meticulous layering, you have to see it with your own eyes.
And until December, you can! I recommend this one highly.
Boston Center for the Arts | 539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116
The Future of the Past: Encaustic Art in the 21st Century. October 5 – December 2, 2012. Curated by MassWax and International Encaustic Artists (IEA) Members Barb Cone and Harriet Chenkin. Wednesday & Sunday: 12 to 5pm. Thursday, Friday & Saturday: 12 to 9pm. Holiday hours: Mills Gallery will be closed Thursday-Friday, November 22-23.
If you want to get a broad and fairly complete sense of the type of work Boston artists are creating at this very moment, you can: visit Newbury Street’s countless galleries, spend a First Friday night at SoWa artists’ studios (SoWa = area South of Washington St. in the South End), meander around Tremont Street, and then, if you have it in you, explore a few other Boston neighborhoods scattered with galleries.
Or you can take just one trip to Kingston Gallery in SoWa: a single destination that offers up drawing, painting, prints, sculpture, photography, mixed media and installation by both member and associate member artists (Kingston Gallery has been artist-run for 30 years).
On September 30th, the show “XXX: Kingston Gallery Annual Members’ Exhibition – Thirty Years as an Artist Run Gallery” drew to a close to make room for Mary Lang‘s new photograph show, Raising the Gaze and Ann Wessman’s Close Observation. I had the chance to visit the XXX show (appropriate for all audiences) on its opening night and came away with countless impressions from the twenty represented artists’ works – and a single sense that creativity and innovative, intelligent expression are thriving in Beantown.
The XXX show presented twenty artists – and twenty completely different genres and media. Sophia Ainslie, Susan Alport, Ilona Anderson, Joan Baldwin, Judith Brassard Brown, Linda Leslie Brown, Mary Bucci McCoy, Gail Erwin, Janet Kawada, Mary Lang, Karen Meninno, Barbara Moody, Jennifer Moses, Rose Olson, Sharon Pierce, Susan Still Scott, Elif Soyer, Hilary Tolan, Ann Wessmann, and Luanne Witkowski.
It’s impossible to do all them justice in one post, but I’d like to share a few impressions to give a sense of the diversity of Kingston’s roster.
I got the chance to speak or correspond with three of the exhibiting artists: Sophia Ainslie, Linda Leslie Brown and Janet Kawada. Three women whose works capture Kingston Gallery’s diverse artist base – and broad audience appeal.
Sophia Ainslie‘s current works – which experiment with white space, bursts of carefully selected, arresting colors, and intricate black line drawings in India ink – are studies in harmony and contrast, steeped in playful tension between the distinct visual elements that result in dynamic yet expertly balanced compositions. It’s painterly and modern and has a graphic design feel to it. The composition on display at XXX, like the one pictured, had symmetrical elements, but the finished image, like many of Ainslie’s works, left you guessing what subject Ainslie had in mind. Is it abstract? Or on its way to becoming a recognizable sketch? Ainslie’s viewer is often left guessing – and, in this way, continuously engaged.
Linda Leslie Brown‘s gorgeous sculptural works quite literally breathe life onto walls. Among the branch-like structures you find living plants which, Brown says, are easy to take care of with an occasional dip in water. What I loved about Brown’s piece in the show: it’s original and interesting and has a life of its own (not just because of the plants, but because each work drops a unique shadow that changes over the course of the day, continually altering the overall composition) – and is the type of work I can picture in a home. It would organically fit into any decor and enhance the overall space aesthetic while creating a unique focal point and inevitable talking point.
Janet Kawada‘s piece in the show – a tower of multicolored balls of yarn – made a strong visual impact at the entrance. Its mix of modern styling – the balls of yarn are encased in a tall rectangular frame – with materials that, to many, signal a sort of timeless representation of past generations, is what, in my opinion, makes the piece so intriguing. When I see yarn, I remember my great-grandmother knitting sweaters and scarves for the family in our Moscow apartment. But installations like this are decidedly modern and un-grandmotherly. Kawada’s elevation of the thread to a contemporary artistic installation beautifully fuses the past and present.
In November, Kawada will have a solo show at the gallery. I asked her what she will be exhibiting, and she replied that it was something completely different from what she has ever done before and a bit difficult to explain or predict. It is a performance rather than an exhibition, titled Shift in Time. Every Wednesday through Sunday, from 12-5, Kawada will be at Kingston Gallery, marking the passage of time by creating a ball of string. For Kawada, who has been working with yarn for years, this will be the last piece of a 15 year project. She wants people to join her “for conversation and creating”. Remember when Marina Abramovic did her live performance, Artist is Present, at MoMA? Kawada’s upcoming performance seems to flow in a similar vein, except that Kawada will be completely accessible and ready to engage. A note: there is no limit to how big a ball of yarn can get…
While preparing for her MoMA performance, Abramovic contemplated: “How can a performance be collected from a museum?” And concluded: “One thing you can leave, always, is a good idea, and I really want to have this good idea to leave after me.” I look forward to seeing the idea behind Kawada’s Shift in Time take shape over the course of November.
Kingston Gallery is located at 450 Harrison Ave. #43, Boston, MA 02118, 617.423.4113. Hours: Weds–Sun 12–5 pm and by appointment. Janet Kawada’s Shift in Time will be ongoing in the Kingston Gallery from October 31-December 2, 2012, Wednesday through Sunday from 12-5.
My latest post for Lauritz.com, “How German design immigrated to America – and stayed” – is up on the Lauritz blog! While German design may not be on the tip of designophiles’ tongues, it’s had an impressive influence on so many areas of the American landscape, indoors and out.
A few weeks ago, I also wrote a post about Scandinavian design in the US. After living in Denmark for three years, I couldn’t help developing a soft spot for many aspects of Nordic style – the simplicity, cleanness and lightness of it all. And when I came back to the States, I couldn’t help noticing that the Scandinavian aesthetic is pretty much everywhere you look (and it’s not all IKEA and Bo Concept, folks.)
Having lived back in Boston for nearly a year, it was high time to venture out to a SoWa First Friday at the SoWa Artists Guild. And although one evening didn’t leave enough time to explore all the floors (or even all the studios on one floor – there was so much to see), I was very surprised by the breadth and quality of work on display. Bonus: the fact that the artists are usually present and ready to discuss amplifies the entire experience. (A sidenote: after visiting the AD20/21 event this past weekend, which fell short of most reasonable expectations, it’s comforting to know that there is a place in Boston where good art is alive and well and thriving.)
The SoWa Artists Guild building is set in a spacious, red-brick alley that, on the night I visited, was decorated with lights and looked like a transplanted bit of a charming old European city. I’d had no idea the area south of Washington Street possessed such a gem. It was bohemian and sort of posh at once. You enter at 450 Harrison, and then walk up an industrial stairwell that makes it all feel a bit invitation-only – in a good way – ending up in a long hallway with rooms the artists rent for studio space. There’s something very intimate about seeing the artists in their element, sipping tea, talking to old friends who dropped by with their cockapoos, now smeared in paint from a new canvas drying in the corner. At times I felt I’d walked in on a private party, but the generally atmosphere was relaxed and easy to enjoy.
A few artists on the floor I got to explore stood out:
SilverWoods Studio is a shared venture between Stephen Silver and Beverly Woods. I was very drawn to the abstract landscape pieces Woods had on view, her vibrant and highly contrasted palette, and her perfect fusion of linear and more flowing forms. And Silver’s birch trees stuck a chord – perhaps because birch trees are so integral to the Russian landscape I grew up in…but it was also the depth and sense of mystery Silver creates with just a thumbnail-style image of birch tree trunks, and the way he plays with color and light, that left a lasting impression.
Susan Gheyssari‘s pomegranates, executed to perfection, become more than just still life when she arranges them in geometrically arranged squares or places them against an Eastern-style backdrop. The result is an intriguing combination of modern form and organic shape, often with a strong Persian aesthetic. She explained that the fruit is an ancient symbol of fertility in Iranian culture – but also of love, fitting for the romantic aura surrounding Susan’s studio. She blends traditional patterns and themes into her still life canvases, effectively framing her subject matter in a tapestry-like border. (She also happens to be really lovely, warm and easy to talk to.)
I saw Kim Radochia‘s studio just as the even was coming to a close – and was so glad I’d made it to the very end of the hall, but wished I’d had more time with her work. Modern, sculptural and very diverse (in shape, composition and material), it was unlike anything else I saw that night. Many of the works on display were easy to picture in a home (or outside it) – which is not always true of such pieces: modern sculptures often seem more destined for museums than for daily enjoyment. I’ve been thinking a great deal about a corporate art rotation/placement project, and it was easy to imagine cutting-edge companies and organizations vying for her work. It’s at once abstract and symbolic, very approachable, and engaging: you wonder what inspired each unique piece and watch to see how the whole silhouette changes with any change in shadow and light. Very interesting.
The event, which is held on the first Friday of every month, is definitely worth the trip (you can park for free near the Boston Sports Club down the street and just mention First Fridays to the attendant).
Next stop on the South End itinerary (though this one will have to wait til May): foods and crafts at the SoWa Open Market at 500 Harrison Ave, Sundays 10AM-4PM, May 6, 2012 through October 28, 2012.