Saturday, May 30, 2015

Art in Europe, Part I: The Paintings

I have so much to tell you. So much, in fact, that I'm divvying up this post into three posts.

I just returned from a trip to Europe! I started in Vienna, Austria, where I met my mom for five days, who is traveling around the continent for 2½ months, viewing art, music, and literature related sights she's always dreamed of.  There we visited the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Belvedere Palace museum over three days. After we said goodbye, she headed south to Italy, and I flew north, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, where I spent a day at the Rijksmuseum, had a lesson with a local artist, and visited the former home of Rembrandt van Rijn.

In sum, I am a changed person. Humbled, inspired, excited, and so very grateful.  Let me show you what I saw.

We spent two full days at the Kunsthistorisches. It was huge, and full of famous things. All we did was look at the paintings. Here were my highlights:

Pieter Breugel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow, 1565

There was a whole room devoted to a significant collection of Breugel's work, and I remember liking this picture when I learned about it in my very first art history class in 2013. Breugel painted a series of "season" paintings, and this one represents winter. Winter landscapes were not a thing at that point. Breugel was the first to paint such a scene.  We spent two hours in this one room, as there were so many other great paintings in there. To get a better sense of this room, you can actually see it in a movie called Museum Hours, available to stream on Netflix. This movie was a great introduction to the museum before I saw it for myself. (Of course, it is no substitute for being there in person!)

This is the Breugel room.

This painting (below) caught us off guard in terms of how much it interested us: Ecce Homo, painted by Titian, 1543. It is huge (each person in the painting is at least the size of a real human), and there is so much going on that you don't even notice until you sit in front of it for 15 minutes at least. The audio guide helped us come to love this piece. 

We knew Vermeer's The Art of Painting (1665-1668) was somewhere in the museum. We found it tucked away in a dark and quiet corner, almost as the painting itself suggests. I was surprised to hear that Vermeer was not famous for a couple centuries! Now, only 35 pieces of his work are known, and very little is known about the artist himself. This painting is one of the earliest to depict an artist at work in his space.

A real highlight was seeing this beauty in person. I've known this painting for years while knowing nothing about it. There are so many interesting things to say about it! It's called Madonna in the Meadow, painted by Raphael in 1505-1506. Everything in that period of painting had to do with harmony: how the humans were depicted (round and healthy), composition (note the triangle of the three figures repeated in the triangle of the mountains behind them), etc. This is also one of the first times Mary was depicted outside rather than inside or enthroned. My favorite part, which you can hardly see in this picture here, are the gold highlights. Raphael signed the portrait in gold paint to look like embroidery in the edge of her collar. 

I believe that I looked at every painting on that floor of the museum, and in total I counted three paintings by women! I was so relieved to see them. Sofonisba Anguissola was one of the first renowned women painters documented in art history. She was born around 1532 and lived a very long life. This small self-portrait was done when she was quite young, in 1554. She is a painter worth knowing about. Here is a link to her Wikipedia page.

Tiny, but really great.

Two other paintings by women were this one, by Dutch painter Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750), and there was a huge painting of Marie Antoinette, by French painter Louise Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun (1755-1842), and my photo of it is not worth showing!

Mom loved the Caravaggio room.

This was another painting I'd studied in art history, called Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his Gallery at Brussels, ca. 1651, by David Teniers. 

And here is one of the rooms at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

The museum itself is quite a beaut, built for the very purpose of housing the art within.

Can you believe that was all just one museum? Another day we visited the Belvedere Palace museum, where we spent at least a full hour looking at about ten paintings by Gustav Klimt. My mom is so well-read in the history of the humanities, plus she trained for a year to be an art museum docent, that this hour was possibly the best of the trip. We completed geeked out! We discussed subject, interpretation, style, context, and emotion of each painting. To learn that he finally found his style, the thing that made him famous, only in his 40s, was encouraging and inspiring. It was these later works that have made him a permanent fixture in the story of art history. I've never loved Klimt's work, but after this short but rich visit, I at least understand him better and appreciate his work all the more.

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907-1908

 Gustav Klimt, Fritza Riedler, 1906

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl (unfinished), 1917-18

My time in Amsterdam is elaborated on more in the next two posts, but during my visit to the Rijksmuseum, I got to see some moving pieces. Besides the Rembrandts, which you'll read about below, I saw Vermeer's The Milkmaid (ca. 1657-58), which was quite small. I loved the audio guide's description of why this painting is so special--much of it is to do with the attention to detail and its composition. Right above her upper hand, there is an actual pin hole in the canvas, which served as Vermeer's vanishing point. The details around the figure, such as the shadow under the nail in the wall, and the Delftware tiles that serve as a baseboard along the floor, add visual interest. Another cool thing is that X-ray pictures of this painting have shown that Vermeer originally painted a map on the wall behind the figure, but then painted over it to strengthen the composition. 

I visited this museum on a Saturday and it was very busy. Here is Rembrandt's The Night Watch (mentioned again in the post below), and the constant group that surrounded it:

I actually saw a Youtube video of President Obama getting to view this painting in 2014, which I found helped me be more patient with the fact that I didn't get to see it without the throngs of people in front.

To end this post, it seems appropriate to share my favorite piece in the Rijksmuseum. Winter Landscape with Skaters, painted circa 1608 by Dutch painter Hendrick Avercamp. 

One of the information sheets near the painting said this: "Avercamp specialized in winter landscapes. This scene on the ice is one of his earliest and most elaborate pictures. The artist chose a high vantage point overlooking a frozen river teeming with figures at play or work. With his panoramic views and anecdotal style, Avercamp was following the Flemish tradition, specifically that of Pieter Bruegel."

And we've come full circle!

(To read more and see more photos, see my mom's blog post about our time in Vienna.)

Art in Europe, Part II: Ingrid Siliakus

As I planned my trip to Vienna and Amsterdam, the fact quickly surfaced that it was going to be an "art trip."  As you know, I was planning to spend some significant time in art museums, but also I wanted to make art and talk about art-making. The idea solidified in March when my stepmom sent me this link:

What????? I asked myself in wonderment. Before you read this blog any further, I implore you to click on that link and be amazed by Ingrid Siliakus' paper architecture work.  Even after seeing it in person and understanding how it works, I am no less amazed. Here is a sample:

Turns out, Ingrid is from Amsterdam. So, emboldened by my good luck contacting working artists for the paper I wrote for my art history class this spring, I emailed her. And she wrote back. In no time, we had arranged to get together when I would be in Amsterdam in late May.

Ingrid was a delightful host and teacher. It turns out we have a lot in common and we got along famously. She asked me what I wanted to learn, and I was able to articulate my love for design and detailed precision. She showed me not only how to cut, score, and fold 3-dimensional designs from just one sheet of paper, but how to design such a thing. Even with her tips, the process can get confusing, but I think it is just a matter of practice. Here are some photos from our time together:

Ingrid's in-home studio includes a flat file, two laser cutters, and an air filter/ventilator. This small space is where all the magic happens.

Ingrid teaches at the local school for art and design, so she shared one of the designs with me that she uses there:

The pen-like tool on the right is what Ingrid called a stylus. I was so excited to learn about it--it will change my life in terms of scoring. Up till now, I've been using only a bone-folder, which is a wonderous tool in itself, but not quite right for this task. That's a little like using a butter knife when really you need a flat-head screwdriver. Upon my return to the States, I immediately purchased two, and discovered that they're also called scribers. They're a print-making tool.

Then we looked at (scrutinized!) some of her other prototypes and I was able to ask all the questions I could think of. 

Spending this time with Ingrid made my visit to Amsterdam so rich! I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to learn from her.

Art in Europe, Part III: Rembrandt

When my mom and I visited the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, there were three self-portraits by Rembrandt van Rijn, displayed on the same wall, all in a row. The first one I ever saw was in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh two years ago, and another just last week in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  Rembrandt is famous for these portraits because he painted (or etched) so many over his lifetime, representing the various stages of human life and showing his ability to paint all different types of facial expressions and skin. Painting skin is something that takes skill, let me tell you. I have yet to be successful in such an endeavor. 

Here is the self-portrait I saw in Amsterdam, entitled Self-Portrait As Apostle Paul, painted in 1661 (or you can click here to see a sampling of his other self-portraits):

The Rijksmuseum has a large collection of other famous works by this artist. Before I went there, I never really felt that connected to Rembrandt. I understood that he did things that were special and important in terms of art-making, but he was just one of many. But now that I've seen so many works of his, and visited his house, now a museum, I am newly in awe.

The three Rembrandt paintings I spent the most time with in the Rijksmuseum were:

The Jewish Bride, ca. 1667

The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild, known as the ‘Sampling Officials,’ 1662

The Night Watch, 1664

Rather than go on an on about my personal experience with these paintings, I want to tell you that the Rijksmuseum experience was really great. Technology is being utilized to make museum visits all the better. The audio guide or (free) app that accompanies these paintings and many more of the works in the museum is what made my time with them so rich and meaningful. You've probably heard this before, not only from me about my own work, but from others: seeing an artwork in person is no comparison to the pictures of it, whether in books or online. Like I said, it is the experience of seeing these pieces in person that makes me feel like I have a relationship with them. I understand them and the artist so much better now.

At the risk of writing a (too?) lengthy post, let me tell you about a few more things, Rembrandt-related. 

After seeing these paintings, I visited Rembrandthuis, where Rembrandt lived in Amsterdam during the height of his career as a sought-after artist. 

The house was completed devoted to art. Sure, there was a kitchen and a place for him to sleep, but otherwise, here were the rooms: 
  • an entry room and a separate gallery for his patrons and buyers to come view/buy art
  • a small office in order to keep his papers in order
  • a beautiful, large, north-facing studio
  • a room of curiosities where he kept things like busts or statues of feet or hands, or stuffed alligators or skeletons of fish or coins or feathers or costumes or armor
  • a separate studio where he taught his students, and 
  • a room for etching or print-making

During my visit, I got to see a demonstration on etching/print-making, and another about how he would have made paint. (Rembrandt achieved all he did with just 13 paint colors!)

Finally, as I stepped onto the top floor, where the teaching studio was, a woman invited me to participate in a free art workshop in which we would study light and dark. I didn't hesitate! For the next hour and a half, I and 6 other "students" used one of three mediums (graphite, a red drawing medium similar to conti, and something completely new to me, bistre) to copy the forms and shapes of an upside down image she provided. She encouraged me to try the new medium, which I thought would be a great challenge.

At some point, the profound fact occurred to me that I was spending time in the studio of a great 17th century artist, painting, doing an exercise he himself might have had his students do. Was this real?

Here's how my piece stood by the end, before we presented them to the rest of the class:

Then, the reveal! Flip them over and all of a sudden, there's a scene!  All of ours were laid out, and the teacher talked us through what we had learned.

I got so much more than I'd bargained for at the Rembrandthuis. Thanks to that, to the museum, and to these two videos, I now feel a strong connection to Rembrandt van Rijn.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Card Swap 2015

The 2015 6 degrees of HLM Card Swap was once again a smashing success!  The theme this year was either "birthday" or "bird." Some people combined the two, and others diverged from the theme to create something totally different. It is a particular pleasure of mine to see how the same theme is translated into so many creative and unique ways by different people. Let me introduce you to our participants and their fine works of art (and click on any photo to get a closer view):

Brittany is from Fort Collins, and she used napkins with a bird print decoupaged onto cardstock and cut into tiny flying birds heading for tasty seeds (beads!) on a branch.

Laura is also from FoCo. She was really excited to get to participate this year, and she found inspiration in Anthropologie catalogs, placing bird images in unexpected interiors, in the mood to celebrate.

Nancy, from Portland, Oregon, played with a toucan/two can theme, using an original design and manipulating it in Photoshop to get it just right.

Susan used a combination of paper she had leftover from last year's swap, washi tape, bird cut-outs, and her own encaustic backgrounds to create a harmonious design. (She is from Fort Collins.)

Ambra lives in Canada--our one international participant this year--and was inspired by a birthday card I made for her many years ago. She made this collage then scanned and printed it to share the love tenfold.

This is Diana's first year in the swap, and she made a unique mix of cards. She and her school-aged kids worked together on the illustrated ones. Miles designed the middle one, and Claire came up with the right center one.  They all live in Tinmath, CO.

Claudia, another local, is also new to the swap this year, and her cards were a great contribution, utilizing different papers and hand-stitching.

Anne has participated in the swap several times, but this year she was inspired to do something different from her usual photography. She used a pin to create patterns that, at first, she hoped would be bird-like. She found she was happier when she didn't try to control the forms, though, resulting in molecular, fractal, starburst, and circle shapes. She is from Seattle, one of four people in our swap from Washington!

Another Washingtonian, Gloria participated for the first time in the swap. She contributed sweet watercolor paintings of birds. Of anyone who got to see all her cards before they were divvied up, the "Picasso Bird" (center) was a particular favorite.

Reid is another Seattlite. I've been inviting her to participate for years, and finally this year she said yes!  She did a series of ten "Let's..." cards. Each card had a unique illustration and inside, a suggestion for what we should do, like "Let's make each other mix tapes," or "Let's make out."

Not only did Reid participate this year, but she recruited a friend! Jaala, our fourth Washington representative, used old pages of text about birds to cut out silhouettes of birds and feathers. She and Reid even got together to make their cards in a fun work party of their own.

My card was inspired by a Martha Stewart Valentine's project I spotted in the February issue of her magazine. (Click here if you'd like to see it and get a template.) Lately I've been really into drawing, so I checked out some bird books at the library and drew from those using just one pen. I initially wanted to draw a different bird for each card, but after 5 drawings, I had to get a move on with the constructing of these volvelles.  I had particular fun researching good bird jokes to use. Paul (husband) had to hear each and every one of them. Ha!

I can't think of a year that Andrea hasn't participated in the card swap. She's from Fort Collins and we had an art date to get her cards done. She's a big fan of recycling old cards into new ones. She saves every card she receives in order to turn it into a new one.

This is Annie's first year in the swap. We met at the 2013 Fort Collins Studio Tour, when she visited my studio that weekend. The next year, she came back to tell me that my studio inspired her to make her own space for creating, and thank goodness she did that, because these excellent cards are one result of her efforts to make time and space for art in her life.

Gaye is from Fort Collins, too, and throughout the year, saves and presses leaves and flowers she finds. She was reminiscing about her camp counselor years when making these cards, a refined version of a simple craft project. Many of the flowers she saves are from cacti.

Gene was recruited this year by another loyal participant, Jennifer, both of whom live in Santa Rosa, CA. Gene used colored pencils to bring us into the world of joyfully sliding down sand dunes with the sun low on the horizon, and Jennifer's card (below that) was made with a stamp she carved out of a potato!

Haley is from Fort Collins, and she printed out engineering designs (made by her husband, Eric) on decorative paper, then cut them into bird house shapes. The outside represents science, while through the window on the inside, you'll find music!

Jessie and I have been working together at the university for about a year, but she recently revealed to me that we have art in common. Of course she had to participate in the swap! She drew this fun abstracted cupcake design while at the work party in my studio in April.

Kara is from Oregon, and another one I've been trying to recruit to the swap for a few years. This year she said yes, and hand-drew each of her ten cards in unique birthday/bird designs.

If you've been following along with the swap for years, you'll know that Katie (from Fort Collins) has actually already made two previous cards with a bird theme. This year, she wanted to find something she could do together with her three year-old daughter. Coinciding with her choice to make sun prints, I happened to be studying women artists in art history this spring, and Anna Atkins, the inventor of camera-less photography and a botanist, was introduced to me in class just a few days after Google made a doodle in honor of her 216th birthday.

Another Fort Collins resident, Mary Lu had a rough year of it in 2014, so was glad to have an excuse to say hello to her creative side again through the card swap. She made this fabulous rooster linocut, then hand-colored each one with colored pencils.

Megan's done the swap before and I was glad to have her back for a second time this year, with her "bubbly" happy birthday cards made with ink and watercolors.

Mia also played around with watercolors to create this sweet 'hello' card. This is her second year in the swap and she's from the Fort.

Phuong is a regular contributor from Boston, who also used watercolors and ink to create a dynamic and bright card design.

Sandy made ten unique collages for her ten cards, which also incorporated some drawing and watercolor. This is her first year in the swap and she's from Fort Collins.

Another local, Shari, covered masking tape in ink, then pressed it onto the paper to create the unique background pattern for her stamp design. She said it made a big mess, but the effect is pretty cool.

Last but not least, Siri joined the swap again this year after her last time, maybe 4 or 5 years ago. She's from State College, Pennsylvania and used some metallic papers to add pop to her birthday card design.

Two last photos, including the Big Picture (sorry for the bad quality of a nighttime photo) and everyone's piles after my friend Marci and I divvied them up late one night before my big trip (thanks Marci!). Be sure to click on the photo to see better who made what. In total, we were 28 people, which meant 280 cards! Thank you so much to those who participated. Whether you made cards this year or not, I hope you'll consider joining us next year for the 6 degrees of HLM card swap. It's your participation and help recruiting your friends that make the swap the success that it is.