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.