Palingenesis, and the Art of Everythingism

Two important exhibitions in London last weekend: Natalia Goncharova Retrospective at Tate Modern, and Lee Krasner: Living Colour at Barbican.

In Goncharova’s famous painting, The Cyclist, the figure is willfully heading in the opposite direction to that indicated by the pointing authoritarian finger.

It suitably sums up Goncharova’s spirit. A leading figure of the new avant-garde art scene in Russia, she defied convention at every turn.

The Cyclist (1912-13), with its Futurist devices of depicting time and speed with multiple outlines, challenged the Italian Futurists obsession with machines by choosing a more peaceful mode of transport, a bicycle.

 

Born in 1881, the same year as Picasso, Natalia Goncharova was a generation older than Lee Krasner, with origins very different to that of Krasner’s Jewish parentage.  From a family of impoverished aristocrats, Goncharova learned about the lives and traditions of the peasants who lived on the family estate, which was to become a great influence on her work.

The first modern artist to have a retrospective exhibition in Russia, Goncharova had previously been charged with obscenity and had her paintings confiscated for daring to paint the female nude so explicitly.

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The breadth of her work is astonishing. Painter, printmaker, fashion and set designer, she also embraced and initiated art forms such as Rayonism. To indicate the diverse range of her work,  life-long partner, Mikhail Larionov coined the term ‘everythingism’.

She was one of the first Russian artists to perceive and value the high artistic merits of Russian national creativity, and some wonderful samples are shown in the exhibition. In Round Dance, 1910, for example, the artist imitates peasant woodcuts in paint. She portrays the peasants with faces like in icons, which has the effect of a attributing to them a saintly status.  She explained that ‘the need to go back to these naive forms of art, is necessary to find new forms’.

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Folk art is not refined. But it is sincere, revealing the instinct of the tribe/community, the people unconsciously preserving the treasure of these primal concerns. Goncharova recognised this. She also recognized the power of folk tales and mythology, and her ground-breaking sets and costumes for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Golden Cockerel (1914), produced by Diaghilev as a part of the famous Saisons Russes in Paris, are based on the Old Believer lubki’s subjects and colour palette as well.

I got the sense that Lee Krasner (1908-84) was just as determined, radical and brave. She also refused to develop a ‘signature image’;  being restless like Goncharova, she continued to experiment with different styles and forms throughout her life. It was most important to her that her paintings emerged authentically from within.

“I like a canvas to breathe and be alive. Be alive is the point.”

The show at the Barbican gives a rich overview of her life and career from early self-portraits and life drawing, showing a progression into the abstract expressionist works for which she is known.

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Siren, 1966

I was particularly interested in the ‘hieroglyphic’ images and her abstract alphabets, what she called her “mysterious writings”. They reminded me of Mark Tobey’s ‘white writing’ paintings:  dense, rhythmic nets of black paint over multicolor backgrounds or meticulously over-written in white like sacred scripts.

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It was after her husband died and she was able to work in the barn space that she really found her artistic identity. Here she could work on an unprecedented scale, tacking lengths of canvas directly to the wall. She then produced her ‘Night Journeys’ series of paintings, made during chronic insomnia using organic, umber tones because she didn’t like using colour in artificial light.

Vibrant colours returned some years later in a shift from soft, biomorphic shapes to more hard-edged abstract forms. Palingenesis, titled after the Greek word for re-birth was something Krasner considered fundamental for her practice.

“Evolution, growth and change go on. Change is life.”

Lee Krasner Palingenesis, 1971 Pollock Krasner Foundation_0

Palingenesis, 1971 by Lee Krasner

In another act of metamorphosis, she tore up work she wasn’t happy with and created astonishing collages from the fragments.

Burning Candles, Desert Moon, and Bald Eagle collages by Lee Krasner.

 

“Painting is a revelation, an act of love…as a painter I can’t experience it any other way.”

lee krasner painting portrait in green in her studio 1969

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Artists Apart

Two exhibitions in Swansea this weekend: Sarah Poland who has a residency in GS Gallery, and Frances Richards at the Glynn Vivian.

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Sarah Poland’s mark making using inks made from oak galls has a zen-like quality. I love how she combines this with photographic images she calls ‘moon-drawings’, made by using a long exposure on full-moon nights in the woods.

Oak Gall Ink – nick-named Ink of poets and Kings – is a very expensive, beautiful, indelible black ink. But for me, the process from start to finish, from gathering the oak galls in an ancient woodland in west Wales, to making the ink, to using it in my work is an important process in the work. At the very least because I can control and play with the viscosity and texture of the material. The work is about exploring drawing through making and using oak gall ink as much as it is about the place and the experience of where they were found. I am working it on paper, canvas and gesso panel.

-Sarah Poland

Moon drawings and oak gall ink.

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Sarah Poland with work made during the residency

Frances Richards: An Artist Apart at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery – 15 June – 1 September 2019, concentrates on this visionary artist’s  embroidery collages, drawings and monotypes, executed during the war and previously unseen until now, as well as the figurative and flower paintings of her later years.

Richards studied at the Royal College of Art from 1924 to 1927, specialising in tempera and fresco painting. She admired the early Italian renaissance painters Giotto, Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico; the British artists Samuel Palmer, William Blake and David Jones; and the poetry of the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, George Herbert and Arthur Rimbaud. On display at the GV gallery is the collection of her Les Illuminations – illustrations to prose poems by Arthur Rimbaud lithographs.

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Dawn
1973–5

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1973–5

Bottom 1973-5 by Frances Richards 1903-1985

Bottom
1973–5

An Artist Apart highlights the perspective of a hugely gifted female artist and how she responded to the dark mood of wartime Britain.

 

 

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Frances Richards, On Being Alone, 1963, Watercolour on board

 

Alchemy and Healing

Catherine Lewis has taken over the gallery 1a Inverness Place,  an empty shop, as part of her wellspace residency.

Cat works with materials that she gathers from her local environment  –  natural, local plant materials, and uses sustainable print processes and recycled cloths.

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Catherine had collected water and wood from a nearby healing well site, and was using it as part of the residency, encouraging visitors to draw and write using her wonderful inks made from walnuts, beetroot, hibiscous, turmeric.

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The spring, which still exists at The Oval and which was the principal reason for the arrival of St. Isan in the area in 535AD, is known as Ffynnon Llandennis. Ffynnon Llandennis is one of a number of healing springs in Cardiff which were considered to be holy and endowed with powers of healing…

‘It rises out of the soil with great force, and immediately forms a pool of considerable size, which is overhung with trees, and teems with aquatic growths of various kinds. The scene is one of wild and romantic beauty…’ (John Hobson Mathews, 19C city archivist).

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The well-tree dressing has echoes of the clootie well tradition, which are places of pilgrimage in Celtic areas. Strips of white cloth or rags are tied to the branches of the tree as part of a healing ritual.

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Catherine has created a well-ness space for slow making and recovery; a space that houses her urban ink making lab, using the well water and materials found whilst walking between the well sites and the gallery. She invites visitors to bring ink ingredients to her and also donations of old bottles to store ingredients and finished inks.

 

 

 

Close Your Eyes and Sing

Our workshop ‘Close Your Eyes and Sing: Expressive Painting,’ for the community arts festival, Made in Roath was a great success. More than fifty abstract works of art were created by individuals using the backs of old carpet tiles, and Picasso’s advice that ‘to draw you must close your eyes and sing’.

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Our first participants were good on the eyes closed part, but struggled to think of song lyrics, and didn’t seem keen on just humming or la la-ing, despite much encouragement! We weren’t too strict about following the rules, and by Sunday most people were painting with eyes wide open, which produced slightly different, more controlled work, but overall there was no worrying about not being able to paint or draw, as everyone was willing to have a go at manipulating the paint.

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I loved how the works were all so wildly different: even though the only materials were basic poster paints in primary colours, there was a surprising range of tones and textures and some wonderful mark making and use of negative space.

Participants working on their tiles.

 

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A few people came back the next day for a second go, or to tell us how much they enjoyed it. As it was such beautiful weather, it was possible to dry the paintings in the sun so that participants were able to collect their work later in the weekend.

 

 

 

Exhibition: Pioneering Abstract Artists

The exhibition Surface Work (11 April – 16 June 2018 at the Victoria Miro, Mayfair) was a rich feast, with abstract work by more than 50 artists, all women, from five continents, spanning every decade between 1918 and 2018.

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I knew of some of the artists who have “shaped and transformed, and continue to influence and expand, the language and definition of abstract painting”: Helen Frankenthaler, Yayoi Kusama, Lee Krasner, Agnes Martin, Mira Schendel, Gillian Ayres to name a few, but the majority were new to me, and it was revelatory to ‘discover’ so many artists who had been there for years, producing fantastic work in obscurity.

The exhibition gave me the opportunity to see work I had only seen small reproductions of in books such as one of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets.  Kusama began painting the Nets in the early sixties shortly after she moved to New York, living in poverty until she began to sell work through a dealer. I love the intensity and repetition of the repeating loops that seem to expand and contract like a murmuration. There is a tension between a random and systematic aesthetic. Apparently, Kusama would paint the Nets for uninterrupted sessions of 40 to 50 hours as a way to channel and contain her mania. She has repeatedly revisited and expanded this body of work throughout her career.

 

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Infinity Net (HNBKY) made in 2012

 

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 Kusama with early ‘Infinity Net’ paintings in her New York studio, 1961

 

Also immersed in the tradition of the sublime is Loie Hollowell’s work. Link Lingam (yellow, green, blue, purple, pink) 2018, has an intriguing undulating surface that folds into the design giving it a sculptural element.

Loie Hollowell

 

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Jessica Warboys’ large canvases are ‘painted’ by the sea shifting and scattering mineral pigments into them. The coast and landscape are a source of inspiration and influence for Warboys, who draws upon pagan history and folklore in her films and performances. She had a solo exhibition at Tate St Ives recently that included Hill of Dreams, a film that draws from Welsh fantasy writer Arthur Machen’s book of the same name.

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See here for the online catalogue with overview of every artist.

 

 

Whatever the Weather

The sessions that I am running at the lovely new mental health unit Hafan Y Coed have evolved into a combination of writing and art. As this is a new venture for me, it has been interesting to see how the planning of the course translates into practice.

We have taken a generic theme for each session, and this week was ‘weather’. As mindfulness is really useful in cultivating creativity, I’ve tried to incorporate it into the sessions. Learners initially used pictorial prompts as a focus, imagining themselves into  various natural scenes, engaging all the senses through a short guided visualization. From this, they did some free-writing – jotting down anything that came to mind without worrying about punctuation or spelling or whether it seemed relevant – anything at all. This free-writing often leads to some unexpected story seeds and associations that can be developed later into a poem or short prose piece.

We read poems by some well known poets relating to the weather, and discussed how we felt about each piece. Then I presented a few examples of expressive art such as Frank Auerbach’s  series of drawings he made after walking on Primrose Hill, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s watercolour, ‘Sunrise’.

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Working Drawings for ‘Primrose Hill’ 1968. Coloured chalks and black pencil on cartridge paper.

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Sunrise, 1916 – Georgia O’Keeffe

 

As we had access to the resources in the art therapy room, there was a good variety of mediums for learners to choose from to create their own weather-inspired art works. Within the work, they could incorporate their favourite words or phrases from those they had written earlier.

Two wonderful landscapes with text, using acrylic paint and coloured pencils.