Posted by BG Staff // November 9th, 2017
Hand lettering has been part of California artist Leigh Wells’ art practice for over twenty years. Self-taught from vintage calligraphy books, she initially approached each letter like a tiny, graceful drawing. Her calligraphy style has evolved over the years to using split-nib pens, but the letterforms still retain a uniquely free-form, hand-drawn quality that reflects a deep love of typography and graphic design. A native of the Bay Area, Leigh received her BFA from the University of San Francisco, with further study at Crown Point Press, San Francisco Art Institute, and Parsons/New School in New York. She now splits time in her Berkeley studio between her visual arts practice, custom calligraphy, and illustration for publishing and editorial clients such as the New York Times and Harper’s Magazine.
We’re excited to offer a special calligraphy workshop with Leigh during Bg Craft Fest! Workshop participants will learn the basics of modern calligraphy, letter anatomy, and how to use a split-nib pen. All materials will be provided, and participants get to take home their own pens for additional practice. Seating is very limited, so get your ticket here. Sunday, December 3, 1-3pm.
Posted by BG Staff // October 17th, 2017
The work of Oakland-based artist Alicia McCarthy fully and sincerely embraces the aesthetics of handmade. Her colorful woven grids are playfully imprecise, sometimes dotted with further traces of her hand like fingerprints or drips and splatters of paint. She was born and raised in the East Bay, leaving to attend Humboldt State University before transferring to San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). The communities she developed at both schools were to have significant lasting effects on her approach to art-making and include mentor Irène Pijoan, who Alicia says “continues to be a teacher to me even after she’s passed.” Alicia was a member of San Francisco’s so-called Mission School, a loose art movement associated with SFAI alum like Barry McGee and Ruby Neri. Formed in the early 90s, the artists of the Mission School made art with a low brow, street, punk, graffiti, folk, or DIY aesthetic as an antithesis to what they perceived as growing corporatization and gentrification. This past spring Alicia received SFMOMA’s prestigious SECA Award and exhibited at the museum. Her pieces in About Abstraction reflect her ongoing and deep connection to material and an exploration of the grid through gesture and mark-making.
Alicia’s early work was heavily influenced by the economical and intentional use of unconventional media like found wood and house paint. She feels these humble materials naturally hold a valuable dialogue with the painting – using found wood puts a limitation on size and shape and their surface can alter the pigment. She’s now started purchasing some supplies new and feels less bound by the found materials, though it continues to be a learning process: whether the wood is found or bought, what kind of art does it want? She admits working that out can take days or even years.
Her paintings often incorporate words, sometimes misspelled on purpose, and are labeled “Untitled” and unsigned. She riffs on the idea of the “grid” in her own visual language of color and composition. Here, too, she’s “collaborating with the materials,” as each color has its own texture straight from the tube.
Her smaller piece in About Abstraction was created on a piece of found wood given to her by Virgil Shaw, the son of Richard Shaw, a master ceramic sculptor. She credits the Shaw family with profound influence on her work.
Many thanks to Alicia for the studio visit! Don’t miss her original mural in our ArtSite space. About Abstraction is on view at the Bedford through December 17.
Posted by BG Staff // August 31th, 2017
Exploration of American history has put culture at the forefront of our national conversation. The Bedford Gallery’s 2017-18 season considers people and culture from the perspective of contemporary art, and delves into work that articulates our collective story and cultural portrait. From Bay Area women painters and renowned environmental artist Ned Kahn to the diverse narratives of African American artists from Berkeley’s Paulson Fontaine Press and visionary painter Frida Kahlo, this season is sure to spark exciting dialogue you don’t want to miss!
– Carrie Lederer, Curator of Exhibitions and Programs
About Abstraction: Bay Area Women Painters
September 24 – December 17, 2017
In the spirit of discovery, About Abstraction celebrates 16 Bay Area women artists, emerging and established, who have worked in abstraction for years. This show provides a platform for their work that features precise, powerful lines, as well as gestural patterns. Artists include Lorene Anderson, Eva Bovenzi, Heather Day, Linda Geary, Amy Ellingson, Alicia McCarthy, Mel Prest, Cornelia Schulz, Canan Tolon, among others.
Above: Heather Day, Junk Yard #6 (detail), 2017, acrylic, pastel, graphite, spray paint, 22 x 30 inches
Ned Kahn: Seed Vortex
January 11 – March 25, 2018
Exploring the intersection of art and physics, Ned Kahn's enormous metal sculpture Seed Vortex shifts a transient sea of tiny mustard seeds in a slow, constant, and captivating spin. A MacArthur Fellow who lives and works in the Bay Area, Kahn has placed numerous public artworks around the world, including Wind Fins at Walnut Creek's Neiman Marcus. This solo show includes several other sculptures by Kahn, many of which are hands-on and participatory.
Above: Ned Kahn, Negev Wheel, 2016, sand, steel, and motor, 23 ft diameter
Personal to Political: Celebrating the African American Artists of Paulson Fontaine Press
April 15 – June 24, 2018
There is no singular way to address the conversation of race and representation in contemporary art. The artists of Personal to Political capture the personal narratives and political battles of African American artists across the country, reflecting a collective experience in uniquely individual ways. In addition to numerous prints from Paulson Fontaine Press, a fine art printmaker in Berkeley, this show includes paintings, sculptures, and quilts with both narrative and abstract imagery. Artists include Radcliffe Bailey, Gee's Bend Quilters, David Huffman, Kerry James Marshall, Martin Puryear, Lava Thomas, among others.
Above: Kerry James Marshall, Vignette (Wishing Well) (detail), 2010, color aquatint, spitbite aquatint and sugarlift aquatint with softground and hardground etching, scrape and burnish, drypoint and collage, 53 x 41 inches. Courtesy of Paulson Fontaine Press, Berkeley, CA.
The World of Frida
July 8 – September 9, 2018
In The World of Frida, we celebrate the culture, style, and persona of visionary painter Frida Kahlo, weaving juried and invitational shows that reference the artist with a national traveling photography exhibit titled Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray. Hungarian-born Muray met Kahlo in a chance encounter in Mexico in 1931 and became her lover and friend. His color and black and white photographs are some of the most iconic images of the artist that exist.
Organized by the Nickolas Muray Photo Archives. Circulated through GuestCurator Traveling Exhibitions.
Above: Nickolas Muray, Frida on White Bench (detail), New York, 1939, digital pigment print on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper, 14.75 x 10.13 inches. Courtesy of Nickolas Muray Photo Archives.
We also offer private docent-led tours, perfect for small groups! Tours are suitable for kids or adults. You can find pricing and booking information on our tour page.
Posted by BG Staff // August 17th, 2017
Myth busting: The arts don’t increase the quality of life in local communities at the expense of economic development, according to the latest study by Americans for the Arts. The results of the study, conducted every five years, show that Walnut Creek’s arts organizations significantly boosted the city’s economy with $41.5 million in spending, leading to more jobs and increased local and state government revenue since the last study in 2012.
“The Arts & Economy Prosperity Study reinforces what I’ve long believed – the Lesher Center for the Arts and all of our arts programs are an essential part of what makes Walnut Creek a wonderful place to live, work and visit,” says mayor Rich Carlston. “Not only do people attend and participate in our arts offerings, but the arts are also a reason why people and businesses choose to make Walnut Creek their home.”
John Collins, vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus in Walnut Creek, at our opening reception for Material Girls. Pictured with Bedford curator Carrie Lederer and Diablo Regional Arts Association executive director Peggy White. Much of our programming is possible thanks to generous funding from DRAA.
Non-profit arts and culture organizations like the Bedford spent $21.1 million in 2015. That includes not only staff jobs but also shopping local for framing and exhibition installation needs and hiring local contractors for services. In turn, local organizations supported us by renting the gallery for their annual holiday parties and special events, and business leaders and employees came to our opening receptions and exhibitions.
Women mean business too! 3 women-owned businesses in Walnut Creek to visit after seeing our shows.
Local developer Brian Hirahara is an avid supporter of public art. Here (left) he poses with Bullman with Bulldog and artist Gerald Heffernon. The scupture was gifted to the city by Hirahara.
Our audiences pumped $20.4 million in revenue to local businesses, spending an average of $31.90 over the cost of admission per person per event. That includes paying for parking/transportation, visiting restaurants and cafes, and purchasing items like exhibition guides and gifts in the gallery. We support local designers in our merch counter with jewelry by Molly M Designs and Unpossible Cuts, as well as pennants for rooting for the home team or just spreading joy by Feed the Fish Co (also a favorite at our annual holiday craft fair Bg Craft Fest – stay tuned to see who’s coming this year!).
Gallery tours are free for all Contra Costa schools, but teachers and parents drive traffic to our shows with recommendations to their friends and family.
“The arts in Walnut Creek are an integral part of the fabric of our community,” says Jay Hoyer, President of the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. “Not only do the arts make our community more interesting, fun and beautiful; they also help our economy and economic wellbeing.”
Many thanks to all our visitors, donors, artists, crafters, parents, business leaders, and gallery friends who support us!
Posted by BG Staff // August 3rd, 2017
This weekend’s Cute Critter Live Draw in the gallery has us super excited to meet the cutest animal ambassadors from Petaluma-based Classroom Safari. Naturally, when organizing a show of cute and cuddly, we expected lots of animal submissions, and Sweet n Low does not disappoint – we’ve got an entire alcove of animal-inspired pieces! Researchers believe pets and other domestic animals have been a large part of human life going back 30,000 years, so it’s no wonder we’re still firmly under their sweet spell.
Bay Area artist and naturalist Tara Tucker creates entire stories in her expressive and exquisitely detailed animal drawings. Often mixing species and absent of humans, these scenes are a surreal glimpse into the many mysteries of the animal kingdom. @taratuckerart
Shannon Taylor’s work is the stuff of magic. Her paintings and illustrations take us on a whimsical journey of light and beauty, sprinkled with plenty of fairy dust. @magicmakerdreamweaver
Korean-born sculptor Jihoon Choi just wants to bring a little joy and optimism into the world, one large, pixelated animal at a time. Using the cube as a starting point, his vibrant wildlife sculptures are pop art creatures sure to bring a smile to your face. @jakejihoonchoi
Michael McConnell’s animal paintings are full of imagination and often humor. His two pieces in Sweet n Low are from his Tethered series, exploring the innocence and vulnerability of childhood. He’s also the owner of Faye’s Video, a great video store/coffee shop in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. @poopingrabbit
Mixing fairy tales and girlhood memories, Belgian-born artist Marie Van Elder’s collaged works on paper also hint at darker intimate and domestic narratives. Girl and Goat (right) suggests a kinship with “Mr. Seguin’s Goat,” a cautionary tale of freedom at any cost. @mvanelder
Monachopsis is the feeling of being out of place or not fitting in, an apt title for Bay Area native Yesenia Gonzalez’s poignant, manga-esque girl and fawn. Detached from a hostile red Earth, she’s forever lost in space. @yesigonz_art
Lisa Britton’s cute bunny No. 1 takes a look at the often exploited lives of many domestic animals we keep as pets, with lives that frequently end up as anything but cute. As the artwork title suggests, this work is the first in a portrait series that includes mice, chickens, sheep, and pigs. @lisabrittonart
Using fine oils, Oakland painter Jane Fisher depicts dog breeds known for their ferociousness, e.g. the cane corso and retriever breeds, in a muzzled state. Their downcast eyes and laid-back ears suggest sadness at the restraint, however. @janefisher1608
Jane Fisher, Yesenia Gonzalez, Michael McConnell, Shannon Taylor + other invited artists will be painting & drawing on the spot at our Cute Critter Live Draw event, so come watch them in action and purchase an original piece at super affordable prices! Saturday, August 5, 3-5pm, tickets available through Eventbrite or at the door.
Posted by BG Staff // July 18th, 2017
Childhood is another theme popping up in Sweet n Low, our summer show of cute artwork from artists around the world. What’s cuter than a baby or sweet child? How about cute toys, those stalwart symbols of childhood evocative of long summer days, playing outside, and magic around every corner. Childhood conjures up warm and familiar emotional feelings of innocence, comfort, wonder, exploration, and personal moments yet shared experiences, when things were new and full of mystery. Several artists in the show dive headlong into this nostalgic sea:
The 80s hit toy is back, thanks to My Little Pony Friendship is Magic, a TV reboot of the child classic now popular with adults as well. Several Sweet n Low artists interpret the magical ponies in very different ways, from Elizabeth Abaravich’s pony cape of community to Diana Krevsky’s commercially cute graffiti in Cutesyfiti, and Nicole O’Loughlin’s ode to feminist craft and Billy Idol in Mony Mony Ride Your Pony. (Do yourself a favor & listen here.)
Canadian photographer Fausta Facciponte’s Beautiful Chaos is a complex heap of vintage and kitschy toys, jumbled together for maximum cuteness that borders on the chaotic and uncanny. @ f_a_u_s_t_a
Jenny Rosenberg’s Girls’ Room is a collector’s paradise of American pop culture nostalgia. It’s a snapshot of one of the many rooms of books, toys, photos, and memorabilia in the quirky Unknown Museum, started by Mickey McGowan in 1974. An interview with McGowan reveals the fascinating history of this iconic Mill Valley, CA landmark.
A Wisconsin-based artist with a penchant for paper dolls and reliquary effigies, Paul Nitsche blends anatomy and the ephemeral with mechanical machines. His automatons are delightfully alive, like The Four Humors, 2016-2017.Watch them animate here. @paulnitscheart
Irish editorial and portrait photographer Mark Nixon captures the well-worn and steadfast companions of childhood in his series Much Loved. After noticing how much his own son cherished his stuffed Peter Rabbit, Mark solicited similarly adored teddies from his clients and the public, including bears belonging to Bono and Rowan Atkinson aka Mr. Bean. Above, Pink Teddy, the 24-year-old beloved bear of Aisling Hurley.
As for why teddy bears, Mark offers us this poetic answer:
When everything was unknown, they were there.
Where anything could happen, they were there.
These repositories of hugs, of fears, of hopes, of tears, of snots and smears.
Alone at night, they were the comforters, when monsters lurked in darkened corners, when raised voices muffled through floors and walls.
These silent witnesses, these constant companions, defenders of innocence.
Their touch, yes, but their smell, that instantly calming, all embalming musk, unique to each, soothing and smoothing the journey from consciousness to un, from purity to im, from infancy to adult-terre.
Sworn to secrecy, unconditionally there, unjudgementally fair and almost always a bear.
Inspired by H.G. Wells’ book Little Wars, David Reyes’ series of war toys shoot actual wooden projectiles from their cannons for a mix of fun and destruction. Panzie and Shermie, 2015. @davidreyesarts
At first glance, Janet Yano’s artwork is instantly familiar. The W.R.A. Game looks just like a standard Monopoly board, complete with real dice and classic pieces like the top hat and battleship, but a deeper look reveals a critical and personal exploration of Japanese-American internment during WWII (like her grandparents) – anything but a game. @janetyano
Fine art and experimental photographer Andras Ladai captures his own memories and feelings of childhood reflected in his daughter with the most iconic bath toy of all time: the rubber ducky. Camouflaged Cuteness I, 2016.
More childhood cuteness on view in Sweet n Low through August 27.
Posted by BG Staff // June 30th, 2017
One of our biggest inspirations for Sweet n Low was Margaret Keane’s iconic “big-eyed” waifs, adored and ubiquitous since the 1960s. And it’s a popular trope in many of the works in the show, from Iris Gonzalez’s doe-eyed sweet girls to Tony Speirs’s adorable animals and even Heidi Bekebrede’s cute dog cups. Why are big eyes so universally cute? Science points to evolutionary biology – babies are born with eyes over half the size they’ll grow to as an adult, and those big baby blues get us to protect and care for them, thereby passing on our genes. Now get ready to say awww:
Margaret Keane, Pocket Poodles, 1962, oil on canvas, 30 x 24 x 3 inches. Courtesy of KeaneEyes Gallery, San Francisco, CA. @margaretkeane
Korean-born surrealist painter Joon-Hee Park putting final touches on her dreamlike Self-Portrait with snabbit, 2017. @ptgfrk
Kelly Tunstall’s long-limbed beauties are fashion-forward & super cool. Left to right details: Dairy Queens, 2016 and Ice Cream Truck, 2016. Courtesy of Stranger Factory Gallery, Albuquerque, NM. @kellytunstall
Inspired by pop culture and manga, So Youn Lee’s space explorer character ‘Mango’ is full of innocence and sweetness – and glittery stickers! @soyounlee
Ceramic artist Heidi Deidi Bickety Beidi (aka Heidi Bekebrede) pours whimsy and playfulness into her “cuteware” cups. She also writes funny jingles, like this one :
Now you may be wond'ring what you'd do with art work so bewitchin'
Well, many folks have told me that they keep theirs in their kitchen.
Oh perhaps your den or living room, just so your friends can see 'em,
You could even turn your bathroom into a Cuteware museum.
Known for his beautifully rendered oil portraits, San Francisco painter David Michael Smith references anime writer Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy, an android rejected by his creator who desperately wants to be human, in heart, 2007.
Tony Speirs mixes vintage and pop culture references in I.D.K. (I Don't Know), 2016. @tonyspeirsart
Texas-based artist Iris Gonzalez is heavily inspired by Japanese street fashion and kawaii culture. Life is Sweet, 2016. @irisngnz
Italian-Israeli artist Eliane Davidovich’s ceramic figures would feel right at home in a Tim Burton film. Prima Ballerina, 2016.
Raúl Alan Velazquez’s colorful, big-eyed rockers reference the vibrant street art scene of Mexico City. @raulalan_art
Check out all these artists & more in Sweet n Low, on view in the gallery through August 27.
Posted by BG Staff // June 2nd, 2017
In organizing Material Girls, we discovered that exhibition artists Lynn Aldrich and Sabina Ott shared more than just a deep adoration of materials: Sabina was also Lynn’s MFA mentor at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. Though they make distinctly different work, they both alter and combine common materials in unanticipated ways to address personal or global issues in large-scale sculpture, and they have remained supportive friends over the years. This unexpected yet delightful connection got us thinking about the dynamic power of student-mentor friendships, and immediately Bay Area-based painters Monica Lundy and Hung Liu came to mind as excellent examples. Both weave history and narrative in their work, and their relationship has blossomed well past the classroom, proving there’s no substitute for an engaging teacher.
Monica Lundy (left) & Hung Liu (right)
Bedford Gallery: How and where did you two meet? What helped you connect, and how did your relationship evolve over the years?
Monica Lundy: I was an admirer of Hung’s work before I first met her. At the time Hung and I met, a friend of mine was a student of hers at Mills College. As a part of a class assignment, my friend brought Hung and her painting class to my studio for a visit. Hung is such a warm, welcoming person and enthusiastic artist that I was immediately taken with her. It seems she has that effect on most people she meets. The following year I was accepted into the MFA program at Mills College and Hung was my supervisor and mentor. Over the years our relationship has evolved from an academic mentorship to a deeper, more meaningful friendship.
Hung Liu: Part of what helped us connect was how eager Monica was to challenge herself and get out of her comfort zone, artistically. I was also impressed with her commitment to research in regard to her painting practice. She went to great lengths in traveling to libraries to source subject materials, such as the State Prison Archives in Sacramento. She has even traveled abroad (to London and now Rome, for instance) in pursuing firsthand materials for her paintings.
Monica Lundy participating in The Art Escapists’ Pop Up Plein Air Day at Montalvo Arts Center, September 2015. Photo: Airyka Rockefeller.
What was the greatest thing you learned from each other? Did it change or influence your work?
ML: I have learned many important things from Hung, and continue to learn and be inspired by her. We often talk in depth about art and life, which are inseparable. Through our conversations and time spent together, I am reminded to continually dig deeper and hold my perception of the world with more curiosity and compassion. One’s perspective and approach to life invariably influences how one approaches art making. For example, when you look at Hung’s paintings, you can immediately feel that the artist behind the work is a compassionate person who cares deeply about the world and the people who have passed through it. An artist’s journey is one of continually learning, and responding to the world around us.
HL: Research plays a very important role in making art work, and Monica’s hardworking approach to the overall painting practice resonates with my own pursuits.
Hung Liu, Odalisque, 2014, mixed media, 41 x 74 inches. Courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, NY.
Are artist-mentor relationships important to your ongoing art practice?
ML: Hung is very important to me, both as a friend and artist. However, I don’t consider these two things to be separable for us. She is an endless spring of wisdom and artistic insight and continues to enrich my life. Any time spent with her is both grounding and illuminating. Looking back into history the history of artist-mentor relationships, I admire the close connections certain artists have had with one another. One example is that of the relationship between Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, two important painters who met through an artist-mentor relationship and maintained a close friendship over the rest of their lives. These kinds of stories throughout history remind me that artists exist on a kind of creative continuum. We learn from one another directly or indirectly, but must look back at what has come before us to know how to grow forward. I feel very fortunate to be in this time and place as an artist, and to have Hung in my life in the capacity I do.
HL: Visiting each other’s studio is important from both ends, and the friendship element of this bond is ultimately the most important. The older artist serves an important mentor role, and the younger artist is an important friend and inspiration. I appreciate the young and dedicated colleagues of mine a great deal.
Work from Monica Lundy's show House of the Strange Women, a series of mixed media works on paper based on historic mug shots of men and women arrested for prostitution in San Francisco between 1918 and 1938. The large-scale works incorporate pulverized charcoal, coffee grounds, and mica flakes.
What do you admire most about each other, personally or artistically?
ML: Everything: Hung is a stellar example of a strong, talented, intellectual and dedicated woman who has overcome obstacles that were set before her in life, and continues to carve out her place in history through powerful painting. I am humbled by her life story, and impressed with all that she has accomplished along the way. She is a beacon of strength and passion.
HL: Monica is honest and has a great sense of humor. She works hard and her paintings have conceptual depth, and continue to be both innovative and technically advanced.
Hung Liu, Photo: Paul Andrews
Are there specific challenges faced by women artists that benefit from a relationship like yours?
ML: All women benefit from surrounding themselves with strong, wise women. I certainly continue to find inspiration and strength in the company of Hung, and through the conversations we have about all the nuances of being women and artists.
HL: There’s always sexism (in the art world, and beyond) but that is not my main focus. Female artists are on the frontline of equality, and our practice can prove to the world that women artists can be equal and as strong as anyone else.
Co-curators Monica Lundy and Walter Maciel with Chinese born American contemporary painter, Hung Liu. Photo courtesy of Walter Maciel Gallery
How did your collaboration for the With Liberty and Justice for Some show at Walter Maciel Gallery come about? In what way was your relationship important for the show? (Check out KQED video of the show HERE)
ML: Upon the election, I felt passionately about trying to create a project in which artists from all over could collaborate in response to the incoming administration. I immediately started discussing this with Hung, not only because she is a close friend, but also a wise and thoughtful artist. Together we discussed the philosophy behind the project, and what kind of a message it should send. Hung helped form the concept of creating a project that demonstrated love and support of people, rather than voicing cynicism and anger towards an administration. Based on the response to With Liberty and Justice for Some, it is obvious that Hung’s guidance helped create a very powerful message, as well as a project that continues to grow and inspire me as well as other artists. It’s almost as if this project has now taken on a life of its own.
It was also through Hung that I know Walter Maciel, a kindred spirit who immediately shared my passion for the project, and thus became the co-curator of With Liberty and Justice for Some. The first exhibition took place at Walter Maciel Gallery in January, which was timed to coincide with the presidential inauguration. Since then, the project has been exhibited at San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery and will now continue onto Berkeley Arts Center later this summer.
HL: We had been communicating on different ideas and in the process she worked out the excellent idea for the show with WMG. Overall, the discussion and communication we and other artists were having after the election was key to that and other successful responses.
From With Liberty and Justice for Some: (left) Monica Lundy, Hung Liu, 2017, mixed media on 16 karat gold, 8 x 8 inches; Hung Liu's portrait of her son, Ling Chen Kelley (2017).
With Liberty and Justice for Some will be on exhibition at Berkeley Arts Center September 23–October 8 and feature California artists. Monica is currently artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome, Italy, working on a new series of paintings based on historical photographs of women considered “bad fascist women” and hospitalized under Mussolini. “I draw inspiration from the strong women in my life now to reflect on, and make work about, the strong women that have come before us,” she said. Hung’s new show Promised Land, featuring recent work based on photographs by Dorothea Lange, is now on view at Rena Bransten Gallery through June 24.
(left) Sketch for Monica's new series of work in Rome, via Instagram @monicalundy_; (right) Works by Hung Liu in Promised Land: Mocking Bird (2017) and August (2017), images courtesy of Rena Bransten Gallery.
Posted by BG Staff // May 25th, 2017
Los Angeles-based artist Lynn Aldrich is a material redeemer – she takes ordinary objects like gutter spouts and sponges and transforms them through repetition and composition into elegant sculptures. The ubiquitous, hardware-store nature of her materials hints at her industrious approach to art making as well, that “it’s labor, it’s a job.” You won't find her on social media, so enjoy the following peek into her studio and process and discover the careful consideration she brings to each of her pieces.
Would you describe yourself as a minimalist? How about your work?
Minimalism is inspiring because of its reductive simplicity and “truth” to materials. I’m also interested in the critique of emotive gesture that minimalist work presents, and its regard for placement so as to activate surrounding space. I have a brain reeling with text and images, past and present – one of my departures from Minimalism is a desire to pack this complexity into layered metaphors to be discovered by the viewer.
I’m very intrigued by the poster above your studio desk, who are these women? Can you talk a little about your studio set up? Do you often build your sculptures inside, even the larger ones?
So glad you asked! It is from a print series titled People in Real Estate, made in 1997 from portraits I collected of women real estate agents advertising their professional expertise in the Sunday editions of the Los Angeles Times. At first, seen as humorous or strange (lots of big hair!), the images expose cultural pressures for celebrity and the pathos of personal longing for validation. (Still have a few for sale . . .!)
For many years, I had a big industrial space in downtown L.A. until taking over a 1950 mid-century modern house with a backyard as my studio. L.A. has these pockets of undeveloped mountain “wilderness” surrounded by horizontal urban sprawl – so I get to have both Nature and Culture close by, two favorite subjects of observation. I have named it My Marfa, and work and display art inside and out. So far, the cheap beige carpet is still in place – I really like working on the floor for some things, and it’s comfortable!
I love the blues in many of your pieces. Do you prefer to work with natural colors? Having studied painting, how do you incorporate it into your sculptural work? Which brings you more joy (painting or sculpture, or some combination of both)?
Having a painting education must help in decisions about color, but for me the choice is about what color is appropriate to the meanings residing in the object under construction. It’s more a Duchamp thing, like lifting a color out of a color chart.
Joy is an interesting word, not the same thing as happy and usually associated with something profound like after an experience of suffering. I feel it in my spirit when something I thought might work in the evolution of the piece, does finally, actually turn out to be good! Kind of like what God said after each day of creation.
Do you keep an art journal? How does your brainstorming process tie into the studio, e.g. do you often veer far from your initial idea as you create it?
I do keep a kind of messy journal, but it’s more like a folio of collected text, articles, quotes and images, drawings, descriptions of ideas. Concepts grow and become clearer in this stage – I’m pretty certain what I’m after, even usually come up with a title, before I start making stuff in the studio. Of course intuition comes to play as I see what is developing, but in general, I go through the process of editing and reducing things down on paper.
You live in the LA area, a sprawling metropolitan city but with the coast at your doorstep, abundant sunshine, surrounded by nature in your home and studio. Can you talk about how where you live affects the themes of your work, colors, forms, etc?
Flannery O’Connor said that a good writer finds her subject in her “own country.” Weird and wonderful Los Angeles is my home, though I think having lived in eleven different states, back east and in the south, gives me a different lens on the So Cal scene. There is a deeply ingrained American equation connecting this place to Paradise, though it ends up becoming a quest toward a receding horizon, always just out of reach. In a flattened world, this myth becomes universal. So while my art is directly affected by the artificiality, materialist consumption, and surface glamor of this location, I am also inspired by the extravagance of its natural beauty of ocean, mountain and desert, and of course, its Light and Space.
You often work alone to create your pieces, not relying on a team of assistants to do the assembling and more laborious tasks. Although you deal with off-the-shelf and “readymade” objects, why is this solo connection to the work so important for you as an artist, and does that come across in the work itself? I really dig your quote of “we still live life in bodies.”
I do at times have helpers, usually former students, but I prefer the solitude of working alone, like a monk in my cell (with a Fra Angelico fresco on the wall would be nice!). I’m sure this slows down my “production,” but that is exactly what I want the works to do for the viewer when finally installed. I’m thinking of this individual crafting of obdurate physical stuff as an act of resistance to our world of screen shots and media clouds.
Right: detail of Lynn Aldrich's work Baptistery, 2005, gold leaf and magazine paper on cardboard, dimensions variable.
One of my favorite things about visiting another artist’s studio is their desk, often full of personal treasures or inspirations. Is there something here with an interesting back story, and how did it end up on your desk?
This is the inside of a closet in the master bedroom of My Marfa that has been made into a desk and worktable. Yes, fragments from projects and collections are starting to accumulate here. Julia Kristeva has said that awareness of one’s death is the impulse behind the collecting of fragments in an attempt to create a meaningful whole. The fake fur fabrics on the table are from my “collecting” activity in the Los Angeles fashion district. The gold leafed page on the wall is from another collecting binge –coffee table books of garden and swimming pool designs. I painted over everything but the pool and window shapes in each glossy photograph – then presented a huge grid of the arranged pages titled Baptistery, 2005.
Your work asks us to look outward with “a gaze on the world,” i.e. what science does, but you’re also very spiritual. How do you find a balance between the two? How does this come out in your art?
My father, brother, and son each have a PhD in pathology, ocean physics, and astrophysics respectively – I share the family scientific curiosity, but as an artist, I can add reflective contemplation and poetic or philosophic analogies to the sense observations that Einstein called the “subject matter” of science. I’m not trying to “balance” science and faith, but rather to appreciate their rich intersections in the pursuit of understanding actuality. I want to seek the wisdom that T.S. Eliot laments we moderns have lost in “too much knowledge about too much information.”
Finally, as an avid reader, what are you reading these days? (Read our recent post on the literary inspirations behind the works in Material Girls)
Thomas Cahill’s series of books on the enduring gifts of Western thought and culture to all of humanity. Surprise – we got some things right that you may have missed!
Am going through The Simone Weil Reader with sorrow and amazement.
My sister who lives in Florida just sent me a book titled, Salvation on Sand Mountain, a reporter’s description of snake handlers and faith healing in the Appalachian Mountains.
I read a selected portion of the Bible almost every day, and look forward to reading The Best American Science and Nature Writing series publication every year.
I reread The Road by Cormac McCarthy occasionally just to be reminded about how lovely, mysterious and fragile life on this planet is. (Don’t bother with the movie – it manages to lose all the compelling intensity invoked by the author by erasing almost every reference to beauty and every casual or otherwise reference to God.) [Bg note: Roger Ebert agrees.]
Many thanks to Lynn for sharing her thoughts and studio with us! Material Girls is on view in the gallery through June 4.
All images except Baptistery taken from the film “Lynn Aldrich – Uncommon Artist,” written and directed by John Schmidt. Watch the full film here.
Posted by BG Staff // May 11th, 2017
Exhibition school tours are a big part of our week here at the Bedford, and none of it would be possible without great teachers who appreciate art and the value it brings to their students and classrooms. To celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week (which really should be year-round), we take a look at some great artists-teachers and the big impact they had on their famous students:
Alfred Stieglitz & Georgia O’Keeffe
It was hardly love at first sight when Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) first met her future husband and mentor Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946). Not long before, O’Keeffe, then an emerging artist and teacher in South Carolina, had begun a series of charcoal drawings and sent a few to one of her friends, who then showed the work to Stieglitz—an important art dealer and acclaimed photographer at the time.
One of O'Keeffe's early charcoal drawings in 1915 that stunned Stieglitz, Drawing XIII.
Stieglitz was so taken with the drawings that he exhibited O’Keeffe’s work at his gallery in New York, without her permission. When O’Keeffe discovered this, she confronted him in person and from then on, their relationship grew.
Georgia O'Keeffe with watercolor paint box, photograph by Alfred Stieglitz, 1918.
Soon after, O’Keeffe moved to New York under the guidance of Stieglitz, who provided for her financially, allowing her to concentrate on her art. They married in 1924.
Lawren Harris & Emily Carr
Born in Victoria, British Columbia, Emily Carr (1871–1945) met several members of the Group of Seven in Toronto in the late 1920s, including Lawren Harris (1885-1970). These artists welcomed her into their studios, and at the end of her visit, Harris told Carr, “You are one of us.”
Lawren Harris, Pic Island, Lake Superior, 1924; Emily Carr, Above the Gravel Pit, 1937
At this point Carr hadn’t received a lot of positive critical response to her art, making Harris’ praise all the more significant. She felt inspired by Harris’ work, and through her correspondence and friendship with him, Carr’s pieces became influenced by Harris’ use of limited color ranges, light and smooth geometric shapes. He also guided her in the importance of putting design principles ahead of subject.
Emily Carr's The Crazy Stair sold in 2013 for a record-breaking $3.39M.
Emily Carr exhibited with the Group of Seven in 1930-31, and went on to become one of Canada’s greatest modern artists.
Thomas Hart Benton & Jackson Pollock
Pollock seated front right on the steps of the Benton summer house.
In 1930, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) quit high school and moved to New York City from California. There, he studied under Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), a regionalist painter, at the Art Students League.
Jackson Pollock, Going West, 1935.
Pollock and Benton’s relationship extended beyond teacher and pupil—Pollock would often do odd jobs for his teacher’s family in return for meals, and in the early ‘30s, he and another student accompanied Benton on a summer trip across the Western US.
Thomas Hart Benton, Arts of the West, 1932. Pollock was a model for the harmonica player on the left.
While Pollock never really adopted his idol’s regional style, Benton’s discipline, focus, and rhythmic use of paint helped Pollock to hone his craft and inspire his future work.
Posted by BG Staff // May 4th, 2017
Chicago-based artist Sabina Ott’s work is full of rich narratives and connections, bringing together elements of painting, drawing, sculpture, and installation to push the boundaries of banal materials like Styrofoam and burlap. Below, Sabina takes us with her in the studio for a behind-the-scenes look at her process and inspirations.
Carpentry tools for cutting and carving meet classic artist’s studio in this diverse range of tools and materials on Sabina’s work desk. Mirrors are a key element in her work as well – here a leaning stack in various shapes and sizes.
A new sculptural painting gets a hint of bright spray from Sabina’s collection of neon paints. This piece echoes the abstract textural language of yellow and green mass is a gem, her large wall piece on view in Material Girls.
In this video, Sabina talks about the surprising inspiration behind a new body of work to take us “out of this universe and into another.”
Though she often works with monochromatic colors like whites and greys, several pieces explode with color, a nod to her beginnings as a painter. Transformed by layers of materials these works touch on kitsch and vulgarity and continue to explore the grid and its complex associations.
Both as an educator and an artist, Sabina is deeply inspired by literature. Many of her artworks reference Gertrude Stein in both title and theme. A favorite corner in her studio, this bookshelf features exhibition catalogs, artist profiles – Arshile Gorky, Yayoi Kusama, Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman, and Joan Mitchell, among them – and essay collections. Sabina is currently Professor of Art at Columbia College Chicago.
Find out what Sabina’s currently reading!
Thanks for the fun tour, Sabina! Check out her work in Material Girls with LA artist Lynn Aldrich, on view through June 4.
Posted by BG Staff // April 21st, 2017
Eva in Woodstock, 1963 / Eva in her studio (images via Eva Hesse documentary)
An ambitious female artist in the male-dominated art world of 1960s New York, Eva Hesse battled with self-doubt and inner criticism despite a growing reputation at a young age. Her decade-long career was dominated by the use of unconventional materials, especially those of an ephemeral and transitory nature that would degrade over time and later pose many challenges for conservators. Much of her work cannot be shown or traveled easily as a result, but Eva was consumed with purpose as she forged ahead with her materials. “Life doesn’t last. Art doesn’t last. It doesn’t matter,” she said.
Eva with relief paintings in Kettwig an der Ruhr, Germany. Photo: Manfred Tischer (via Eva Hesse documentary)
Her influential body of work explored process, color, texture, and shape that played off but challenged the grid and other key elements of Minimalism, often in repetition with a touch of the “absurd.” Both organic and geometric lines can be found in a single piece, and though she worked in series or multiples in her installations, the forms were often handmade and irregular, in contrast to the industrial trend of rendering the artist’s hand and process invisible in the finished work. Her sculptures and installations were imbued with energy and inspired by the human body, a balance of both ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ as she explained it, and heralded a new postminimal art movement.
Quote from Eva Hesse journals, photo by Gretchen Lambert circa 1966.
Born to a Jewish family in Hamburg in 1936, Eva Hesse was put on a Kindertransport to Holland at two years old with her sister Helen to escape Nazi pogroms. The family reunited a year later and settled in New York before the war, but they lost most of their extended family in the Holocaust. Subsequently her mother battled depression and committed suicide in 1946 when Eva was not quite ten years old. According to her sister, Eva’s traumatic childhood led to feelings of abandonment, anxiety, and rejection that would haunt her most of her tragically short life.
Eva at work / Eva with Josef Albers (via Eva Hesse documentary)
She began to pursue an arts education at a young age, graduating at sixteen from New York’s School of Industrial Art. She received a certificate in design from Cooper Union and studied painting at Yale with renowned color theorist Josef Albers. Around this time she also made a lifelong and important friendship with fellow artist and creative champion Sol LeWitt and began exhibiting her drawings and paintings. She met and married sculptor Tom Doyle, though their relationship was fraught with difficulty and they were separated just five years later.
Page from Sol LeWitt's letter to Eva imploring her to "just do" / Eva Hesse, Untitled (detail), 1967, drawing on paper
She had her first solo exhibition of drawings in 1963. Her sister Helen said drawing was always her favorite medium, though she began exploring sculpture in earnest after a pivotal residency with Tom in West Germany in the mid-1960s. She engaged with mixed feelings about returning to Germany in relief paintings that incorporated found objects around the industrial residency studio, venturing into the three-dimensional space that would come to dominate her work. Over the next few years, before her death from a brain tumor in 1970 at the age of thirty-four, Eva dove headfirst into an intense exploration of materials, including rope, latex, and fiberglass, often working with fabricators and studio assistants to complete an astonishingly rich and visceral body of work in a short period of time.
Eva Hesse, no title, 1965, ink and pencil on paper, gift of her sister Helen Charash, 1977 / Eva Hesse, Untitled or Not Yet, 1966, nets, polyethylene, paper, lead weights, and cord, 71 x 15.5 x 8.25 inches, on view at SFMOMA.
She continued to work through her illness with courageous drive. Her sculpture Expanded Expansion was included in the Whitney Museum's anti-form show Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials in 1969, an exhibition that featured few women but many influential artists like Carl Andre, Richard Serra, Philip Glass, and Robert Ryman. Pushing boundaries even then, she said: "I wanted to get to 'non art,' non connotive, non geometric, non nothing, everything, but of another kind, vision, sort, from a total other reference point. Is it possible?" Her influential mark on the art world was swift but long-lasting. As art critic and author Lucy Lippard once said, “She wasn’t manipulating materials, she was the materials.”
Eva Hesse in front of Expanded Expansion, 1969.
We're excited to host a Lunch & Art afternoon with our volunteers for a private screening of Marcie Begleiter's 2016 documentary Eva Hesse – a wonderful perk of volunteering at the Bedford! More on our volunteer opportunities and how you can join the team here.
Posted by BG Staff // April 7th, 2017
Read: ‘Burnt Norton’ from Four Quartets, by T. S. Eliot
See: Lynn Aldrich, Sudden Storm (Cloudburst)
“A cloudburst on the desert horizon reminds me of T. S. Eliot’s poetic observation, ‘In the drained (concrete) pool, there is water out of sunlight.’” – Lynn Aldrich
Click here to hear the complete poem, read by Eliot himself.
Illustration by Raffi Anderian for the New York Times
Read: The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us by Diane Ackerman
See: Lynn Aldrich, My Pet (for the Anthropocene)
The term ‘Anthropocene’ refers to the era when humans began to have a dominant influence on Earth’s geology and biological system. Scientists suggest this era began around 1950 or 1960, but the term wasn’t coined until 2000, by the atmospheric scientist and Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen.
Aldrich began collecting fake fur fabrics many years ago, thinking about their fantastic, manufactured weirdness, but also feeling a kind of sad loss that wildness (diversity of species and environments without human intervention) is rapidly shrinking across the globe.
Read: Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews by Calvin Tomkins
See: Lynn Aldrich, Silver Lining
Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades,’ his series of sculptures made from everyday objects placed out of context, are a huge inspiration for Aldrich. Silver Lining is a play on words, an installation of beautiful silver spouts reminding her of falling rain and a hope for good outcomes – necessities for an artist living in Los Angeles.
Gertrude Stein illustration by Lisa Congdon.
Read: Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein
See: Sabina Ott, why is a pale white not paler than blue
“In the 1990s after reading Gertrude Stein, I began a body of work with roses and wax. There’s something so beautiful and inexplicable about the way Stein takes an everyday object, removes it from its context, and then places it next to another familiar thing in the wrong way. The syntaxes switch, and everything is thrown up in the air and falls down, and then you can experience it in a fresh way.” – Sabina Ott
Most of the titles of Ott’s works come from various books and poems by Stein, including this one. The juxtaposition of pale colors and bulbous foam forms gives this piece a strange, seen-it-in-a-dream quality.
From Tender Buttons:
“Why is a pale white not paler than blue, why is a connection made by a stove, why is the example which is mentioned not shown to be the same, why is there no adjustment between the place and the separate attention. Why is there a choice in gamboling. Why is there no necessary dull stable, why is there a single piece of any color, why is there that sensible silence. Why is there the resistance in a mixture, why is there no poster, why is there that in the window, why is there no suggester, why is there no window, why is there no oyster closer. Why is there a circular diminisher, why is there a bather, why is there no scraper, why is there a dinner, why is there a bell ringer, why is there a duster, why is there a section of a similar resemblance, why is there that scissor.”
Highly recommended: Lisa Congdon’s beautifully illustrated version.
left: Illustration by Clement Hurd; right: Illustration proposal for the book by legendary illustrator Leonard Weisgard
Read: The World is Round by Gertrude Stein
See: Sabina Ott, yellow and green mass is a gem
Ott created this sculptural painting and others in Material Girls while she was producing a massive mountain of polystyrene for another project, inspired by this book, Stein’s only work for children. This painting shares a similar, bright and reflective surface with that mountain. This piece also incorporates a grid, but Ott undermines the structure with extreme depth and uncontrolled spray.
Read: The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
See: Sabina Ott, here and there pink melon joy (inferno)
The artworks that form this installation hang from chains of varying heights— many look as if they have been burned. Ott researched medieval torture implements and learned that people who were tortured were often contained in a metal grid or cage and suspended. In its original form at the Chicago Cultural Center, here and there pink melon joy spanned three galleries, and like Dante’s Divine Comedy, guided visitors through three stations: Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso). The mirrors in her two Purgatory pieces in Material Girls are used to symbolize a reflected reality.
Parts of this post excerpted from our limited edition exhibition guide, available now in the gallery. Pick one up to learn more about our artists’ processes and inspirations. Material Girls is on view through June 4.