"In our minds there is an awareness of perfection and when we look with our eyes we see it" - Agnes Martin
While this show ended on January 11th, the Guggenheim still has up on their website recordings about each of the individual paintings exhibited of the oeuvre of this artist. Widely shown alongside her contemporaries - mostly male - in the mid 20th century, Agnes Martin didn't appear to have a glass ceiling hovering above her head. In video interviews with the Canadian abstract artist, she says about her process that the best days are when she can keep her mind clear all morning. In these short films that were part of the exhibit, Martin says "If I think, I make a mistake. I do not think and I keep my mind empty... paintings painted by the intellect are not artwork... The inspiration is about emotion." I love this open admission of creation being an act that does not originate within us, but instead that we are a conduit for the creative process to happen. When we act with consciousness, but without the limitations of the judgment of our intellect, a transformative process is engaged. It seems that we are not alone in the act of creation, but collaborating with forces outside of our visible landscape. I believe many working artists can relate to this at times euphoric experience. This is what is felt to be taken away by inspiration, is it not? To feel you are merging with something outside of yourself. This is why emotion is scary - it is larger than ourselves, and can be difficult to control. Perhaps this is why Martin worked so much with grids and geometric shapes - to give structure and exacting form to unwieldy emotion.
Her works generated quite a bit of awe in me as I traveled up the circular museum, engaging with almost exclusively square and rectangular paintings. Lines line everywhere, horizontal, vertical, lines within lines. The vertical lines gave me the sense of a door in the wall, or a gateway to that elsewhere where the inspiration comes from. They offered a way through. My notes from my visit are works of poetry in themselves: "Subtlety. Pay attention. Power of difference", they read. A white piece entitled Islands I found to "vibrate and seem active in my gaze, almost twinkling back at me in the form of light." The Untitled #9 had an "arresting use of subtle variation in color to capture nature, uniqueness", and Untitled #16 gave me the "sense that I could dive right into the cool contour of horizontal line, and be forevermore calm, at peace, ephemeral." Her work gives the viewer a much more fantastical experience than one would expect from the formality of line. I am not keen to debate whether work has aura, that often-abused term, but her work certainly seemed to be imbued with a consciousness of some kind. It was alive. It wanted to engage with you at a level beyond the reasoning logic of your mind, and speak to you about the mystery that lies there, one we so often ignore.
In Homage to Life, the vivid emotion Martin speaks of as being her constant inspiration - and indeed the only inspiration she determines as true - was laid bare. There was an almost heavy sadness, but it was for the sake of beauty. The simplicity of her brush strokes expressed the finality of life, and yet an entire lifespan seemed to be packed within the shape of a trapezoid, if only you could imagine it holding every experienced moment. This dark, black shape was staking its claim on the grey canvas, it was declaring its life. Made of fluffy brush strokes, the darkness also suggested a softness which was ended in stark contrast at the harshness of the shape's straight edges.
At the uppermost step in the museum, the final piece is of a rainstorm. To end the show like this, with cloudy skies, and water dripping from the canvas itself - what else is life, it had me asking, if not to feel the drops of rain in the midst of a rainstorm. Is it nothing more than this? Somehow Martin's work was engaging the mystery, and simultaneously giving an answer. Yes, I felt the show said to me, yes this very moment that you are in, this is your life. In this very moment, this is where life is happening. Pay attention. There is nothing more, and nothing less, than this.
There is a wonderful book of essays on her work published by the Dia Art Foundation, titled after the artist. In it, Michael Newman begins his essay with these words: "Agnes Martin's paintings call for a certain kind of attentiveness. The paintings take time, and time seems to slow down in viewing them. Without grabbing our attention, they make us want to spend time with them." This is what I found. I was transported by her meticulous grids and her geometric forms in conversation with the world around them. They seemed to want to speak to me, in a language without words, and I wanted to spend the time to listen until I could ascertain what it was that they had to say.
Creative endeavors are dependent upon a certain amount of freedom - freedom to have the time to explore new ideas, and the freedom of a society that allows one to engage with ideas that may not fit within the status quo. We are grateful to the women who have come before us as artists, as activists, as freedom-fighters, and as cultural icons, who have made it more possible to be artist as female today. We are also cognizant of the inspiration that the natural world and connection to the land offers us as artists, and are deeply inspired by spiritual traditions of indigenous nations in North America and elsewhere.
In light of recent political upheaval in the US, and a normalization by the Canadian government of the incredibly anti-woman, anti-environment, and anti-just-about-everything-that-we-recognize-as-civil society positions of the new US president-elect, we would like to take a stand. We as individual artists stand up for racial, economic, social and environmental justice. We stand for equity, and we want to put that into action.
As we explore in our practice the creative power of love and its impact on justice, we also recognize that money is an energetic force, and as such we have committed to donate a portion of our profits to the people defending our natural resources with their blood, sweat and tears. We recognize that our lives without access to clean drinking water, clean air, and fertile land and seeds, would be short-lived, and that our creative practice depends upon the natural world to give us life. We therefore pledge to donate 10% of the proceed of our artwork to protectors of our natural resources.
At this time, this portion of our proceeds will be sent directly to Standing Rock water protectors. As time passes, we will update you as to where our donations are being sent, but we will continue to support these protectors of our most precious resource, the planet that gives us life, and to which we are eternally grateful.
Katie & Janna
Creating work without knowing why is something that I have done time and time again. I take a piece off the loom and wonder: why was this made? Pieces sit in my home, in my studio, travel with me from one city to the next. Throughout time I have vacillated in my practice between work that is functional, and a desire to make things that have absolutely no use value whatsoever. With the nonfunctional work I ask myself: if I am not exhibiting this, what am I doing?
It is always a welcome respite to this self-inflicted agony to encounter artists who have been making their work their entire lives without much recognition. It's a reminder that making requires absolutely no external response. Creative process is somewhat of an alchemy. Color, light, form, sound, time, space - you work with these elements to attain a result that otherwise would not have been brought to life. Sometimes the result is something to celebrate, and sometimes you think it a failure, but the end result is primarily a conversation between these elements and the self. Then it can open up to others who show any interest in your pursuit.
Carmen Herrera, a Cuban-born American abstract artist, whose first in-depth exhibit is taking place now at the Whitney museum, is 101 years old. For seven decades she has been exploring abstraction alongside many household names such as celebrated abstract painter Ellsworth Kelly. Yet her identity as both female and immigrant did not prove advantageous when it came to reception of her work here in the United States. In spite of tepid response from an art world that did not place value on her oeuvre, her career has spanned two continents and she has diligently explored her ideas every day for 70+ years. Clearly, if she was asking herself my aforementioned query "why create?", her answer came about in the form of an unabated inquiry of line and color.
I visited her work at the Whitney on a blustery day in late October - arriving just around 4pm when the wind came up strong and the rain began. I barely made it into the museum without losing my umbrella, and I was pummeled by a sign that flew into me, my ankle becoming the most recent victim of a climate out of balance. So, I viewed Carmen Herrera's show limping around with an ice pack lodged into my sock. It felt like somewhat of a metaphor for the impediments that Carmen had in the eyes of an unequal art world, the dual identity of being immigrant, and female, two constructed barriers to recognition that followed her most of her life. While my encumbrance was physical, and inspired by a wonky climate, hers was the simple fact of being an artist in a time and place where women were not considered as such. In a brilliant short film directed by Alison Klayman, "The 100 Year Show" (currently available on Netflix), someone asks Herrera how it feels to have her work shown at the Whitney. Her response: "It's about time". Sure is. We're grateful to have it, as it is work that definitely lends itself to inspire many a tapestry weaving...
The exhibit grouped her work by location: Havana, Paris and New York.
This puppy is fresh off the loom. I wove this in record time (for me that's still slow), but not before I did a whole lot of sampling - which is very unlike me. I was so unsure what I wanted to weave on my big Mirrix next, so naturally sampling was the thing to do. It helped that I had a couple of 12 hour security shifts in an empty building over a weekend, so I brought my loom (which was totally allowed, btw!). Weeks later the building was full of residents, so I was lucky to get those easy shifts while I could and get these samples off the loom there.
In the tiny samples in the first instagram pic I was playing around with blending greys for a gradation and thinking about including vertical lines using the pick'n'pick weaving technique. I had also done three other samples in natural dyed yellow, blues and purples respectively, in gradations that ombred from white to colour. I was really unimpressed with them, so those stopped there. The greys were fun and I was loving the vertical lines from edge to edge but before I committed to doing a bigger one I wanted to one more sample where the lines were exclusive to a shape near the center. I didn't love it, but my friend did so I gave it to her for her b-day :)
The final weaving is 19" wide and 36" long (including fringe). I wove it at 9 ends per inch using 100% Canadian sheep's wool spun in Canada at Custom Woolen Mills.
One of my first social art projects (although I wouldn't have called it that then) was Vancouver Yarn. It's a resource website connecting the Greater Vancouver community to textiles stuff around town. I recently began making short video recaps of interesting events in and around Vancouver, so I thought I'd share the most recent one here. I live in a remote town on the outskirts of Vancouver and this amazing Fungi and Fibre Symposium, which is a biennial event and travels all over the world, was occurring down the street from me a couple of weeks ago. Somehow I convinced people to let me peek into a few of the workshops and take some pictures. Here's what happened...