Thursday, March 9, 2017

When you catch yourself looking

Right up there in my blog subtitle it says "thinking out loud."  This post is one of those "thinking out loud" ones.

Last weekend I saw the exhibit Cross Country: The Power of Place in American Art 1915-1950 at the High Museum here in Atlanta.  It's a thoroughly enjoyable show for several reasons.  First of all, there's lots to see--hundreds of pieces of painting and photography.  It's organized by region rather than chronologically or by medium, so you see artists responding to the Southwest or the Midwest or wherever all together in one gallery.  I particularly enjoyed seeing photography hung next to painting rather than off in a side nook somewhere.

I enjoyed it also because, like at a party where you meet new people and are delighted to discover you have things in common--who knew?!--I discovered a few artists new to me that I really enjoyed. More about that in a minute.

And finally, and most interestingly for me, I watched myself watching, caught myself looking as it were and became curious about what was catching my eye this day.  Why was I taking these particular photos with my phone?  What was I responding to?  What clues might this give me for my own work?

Here are some of the pieces I photographed.  My hands-down favorite was this piece by Georgia O'Keeffe.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Barn with Snow, oil on canvas, 1933
I think what I love the most about this piece is the detailed pattern of the foundation stones on the right side.  The contrast of that small pattern with the broad planes of color in the rest of the piece just seems so eloquent to me.  My second favorite details are the delicate white lines of snow above and below the windows.

Hanging next to that piece is this one (apologies for being out of focus):
Arthur Dove, Landscape, oil on canvas, 1929
Again, strong, graphic, abstracted shapes dominate.  Dove made the neat trick of putting a white shape in the center that somehow manages not to look like a hole in the painting.  This painting seemed to me to be having an interesting conversation with the O'Keeffe next door.  And with this piece across the room:

Dale Nichols, When the Grass Grows Green, oil on canvas, 1939
This artist, Dale Nichols, was new to me.  I guess I might just be an unreconstructed modernist, because again I am loving the strong graphic, simplified shapes here, and (again) the bright white plane of the building.  There is a quality of stillness and silence in these paintings that I really love.

Now for something really simplified:

Harry Callahan, Weed Against Sky, Detroit, silver gelatin print, 1948 (printed later)
I love the absolute simplicity of this print.  I had to look twice--I thought it was a drawing or perhaps a relief print or etching at first.  (Please disregard the ghostly reflections in the glass--unavoidable.) I wonder, how much courage does it take to work so minimally?

The next day, I saw this on my morning walk.  I don't think I would have noticed it at all had I not seen the Callahan the day before.

Molly Elkind, tree buds

Here's another piece from the show that I mistook for a print at first glance.  Again, these strong simple shapes seem so expressive.  And a textile artist is bound to love all those perpendicular lines.

Jacob Lawrence, Firewood #55, gouache, watercolor, ink on paper, 1942

Carolyn Wyeth, Open Window, oil on canvas, 1944
I love running across women artists I hadn't known of before.  Carolyn was Andrew Wyeth's sister and obviously a thoughtful and sensitive painter in her own right. The composition, with its single wilting rose on a ledge or table in front of a window, is unusual and enigmatic.  

Charles Sheeler, The Upstairs, oil on canvas, 1938
I am sometimes surprised as I round a corner at home by the interesting compositions made by doorways, shadows and furniture.  I liked Sheeler's paintings in the Cross Country show for the same reason.  This one of Sheeler's reminded me of a photo I had taken in our house:

Molly Elkind, interior
Looking back at the pieces that struck me from this exhibit, it occurs to me it might be a useful exercise to print them out and trace over the main shapes and lines, to see the compositions without the distraction of color and texture.  I might learn something about shape, line and proportion. 

What about you?  When you see a gallery or museum show, do you find yourself noticing what you notice?  

1 comment:

  1. In my recent research I came upon your name through UofL and thought you would enjoy my blog commemorating Alma Lesch whom, this year, would be celebrating her centennial birth date: We hope to recognize her once again in a September exhibit at New Albany, IN Arts Council of Southern Indiana Harrison Gallery showing some unknown works from her life's production of mixed media and fiber.