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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

HOLIDAY SEASON: A TIME FOR CHILDHOOD REFLECTIONS 12/21/16




Flashbacks of people and events that have touched my childhood hover before my eyes, particularly during the holiday season; commonplace and ordinary incidents, but as extraordinary as an unexpected kiss. I feel the onset of tears for the loss of those moments in time, moments that will never be relived except in the part of the brain reserved for activating nostalgia. The smell of that special hot apple pie with its burnt around the edges brown crust, preserving the taste of butter and cream cheese  - that special dessert my mother baked  as she watched me greedily gobbling up my first slice fast enough in order to eat 3 more slices before it was all gone - a behavior I have still not outgrown.


Getting my head stuck in the apartment’s protective window gates -  valiantly trying to catch a glimpse of the lone tree on the block’s newly budding leaves; my head squeezed between thin rusty iron bars until my beloved Omi (grandmother) came to the rescue, her strong rustic hands pulling the rods apart. And the time the same temperamental Omi, while  babysitting for my sister and me, when my parents were at work, having experienced some unknown slight to her sensitive psyche, decided to turn on the oven and stick her head inside - a dramatically perverse gesture, one that was nullified by the fact that she first opened all the kitchen windows.

Walking hand in hand with my twin sister at 3 years of age - barely getting one skinny foot in front of another - tripping and stumbling off to Mrs. Lang’s kindergarten where we would draw and hear stories of the blonde-haired Roxanne - a name I still treasure - a vision of a princess in braids giving me an exhilarating reason to dream. My first crush, I am sure. 



This was an antidote to Max and Moritz and Heinrich Hoffman’s 1845 classic Struwwelpeter - the darkly humorously illustrated tales that were read to us at home - wild and rebellious children who incurred brutal punishments for their misdeeds. I remember mutilation with scissors figured prominently as did other grotesque humiliations. Strange that my parents, refugees from Nazi Germany would impart these Teutonic morality tales on their children.Being a very easily frightened child, at night after the requisite milk and cookies,  I would pull my cover sheet and blanket so tightly around me that I was barely able to turn around, in order to prevent any other presence from entering into my bed. On the other hand, my more robust sister would tricycle around with abandon - much braver and happier shrugging off the effects of visions of children being baked into pies, etc. 


On a lighter note, Sundays were spent at Fort Tyron Park - where there existed the largest hill I had ever seen - we would begin at the very top rolling down the grass, over and over, a never-ending flight over greenery - a trip into the carelessness of oblivion. And then off to The Cloisters - a frightening Palace of sorts - dark and dank - the beauty of unicorn tapestries and wooden sculptures took me decades to appreciate, finally getting over my fear and fascination with this medieval treasure.




And the end-of-the-day ice cream treat -  black and white popsicles bought from the man with a cart filled with goodies,  watching the melting  chocolate-covering slide off the white creamy interior, quickly licking away before it dripped all over what I was wearing - a sensual  and satisfying respite to the day’s activities. A memory I cherish.



Thursday, December 8, 2016

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL EXHIBITION AT MET BREUER 12/8/16









RUN to see Kerry James Marshall's terrific retrospective titled MASTRY at the Met Breuer before it ends January 29th, 2017. (Photos forthcoming.) This show is so much better than any reproductions can visually communicate - the paint quality, the collaged elements, the excitement of both form and content sleeping together - sometimes at odds and at other times in harmony; thin and thick paint applied to the canvas -- realistic rendering intertwined with powerfully structured abstraction. Bravado brushwork - his hand allowing for drips and globs to accumulate singing along with exquisitely delicate painted areas - observed with a piercing sensitivity. His subjects convey pathos and pain intermixed with the strength and dignity of the African -American community that he knows and loves.






The richness of historical and contemporary references pull us back in time to Nat Turner, the deaths of civil rights activists and the everyday gathering spaces where black people come together for joy and comfort. Marshall's penetrating eye focuses on issues that African Americans have struggled through over the years - public housing, self-identity, and the ever present racism. The paintings themselves are quite graphic - black and white tones dominate - words are incorporated which convey irony as well as poetry in the form of flying banners of musical notes streaming out of high-rise buildings. These artworks are symphonies with codas and resonating undertones creating a deeply felt experience.

Monday, December 5, 2016

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA 12/4/16



Saw MANCHESTER BY THE SEA - an excellent performance by Casey Affleck - a "hollow" man who can barely breathe through a tragic upending of his life; working as a janitor in order to mechanically function and get through each painful memory-filled day.

Concentrating on fixing and healing inanimate objects such as leaking pipes, clearing a path in the snow, restoring energy to electrical malfunctions - adjusting and mending the "outside" world, helps him survive.

This movie is the opposite of a Hollywood-easy answers-magic formulaic solution to the blows that life can slam you with. Worth seeing if you can tolerate the sadness.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

THE CROWN - NETFLIX SERIES 12/4/16




If anyone had told me that I would be interested in the American-British Netflix series THE CROWN  based on a play by Peter Morgan, I would have shrugged them off with a quip about how I had always found Queen Elizabeth II to be  dull and the monarchy just trappings - pomp and splendor. Well, I was wrong on both counts. Lilibet, the nickname Elizabeth was called when she was a child, is shown as a quiet and thoughtful young girl who had a lovely relationship with her father, sharing special father and daughter times that would fortify her when she becomes Queen Elizabeth II (an appealing Claire Foy,) at the age of 25 years old. King George VI ( or Bertie as family members called him,) in a wonderful performance by Jared Harris depicts the King as a gentle, frail man who acceded to the throne with great reluctance at the expense of his own health, after his brother, the cynical Edward VIII’s (Duke of Windsor)  abdication in1936.

This series demonstrates the interrelationship between the Crown and  Parliament - particularly the reigning Prime Minister, who happened to be Winston Churchill (a future Emmy contender performance by John Lithgow - stooped and imperious) who we meet a few years after his decisive role  defeating Nazi Germany in World War II. We witness how everyday acts of government are intertwined with the need for rubber-stamp approval from the Royal House -  the “appearance” of endorsement by the Queen who is an integral link to her adoring  British subjects.


Court Intrigue penetrates into the everyday activities of Queen Elizabeth and her more outgoing and unconventional sister Margaret (Vanessa Kirby)- who was having an “illicit” affair with a divorced man, Peter Townsend - a no-no at the time. If you are part of the Royal Family, one’s private life can no longer be private - choices are circumscribed by precedence and protocol, often with heartbreaking consequences. The marriage of Prince Philip ( a tall, strikingly handsome,  lanky Matt Smith) and Elizabeth is quite fascinating, and had me googling “ Philip-Duke of Edinburgh’s affairs?” There is an unexpected playful eroticism to their genuine affection for one another which becomes inhibited and subdued after the coronation; once she became the Queen her obligations and responsibilities often conflicted with her personal desires and the family dynamic.


I loved John Lithgow as Churchill - gruff, hrummphing away, smoking his cigar,  shrewd and always aware of every action's political consequences. Some of the patina of the “great man - the savior of Britain” gets tarnished, but his wisdom and loyalty are never in question. An episode of particular fascination, highlights Winston’s own love of painting and a resultant clash of egos when his “official portrait” is assigned to the contemporary artist Graham Sutherland; discussions between them about paint quality, brushes, colors, etc. shows how Churchill tries to control the way he is portrayed…in this case to no avail.


The production of this series is plush - and has an expansive feel - but at the same time there is a feeling of intimacy about THE CROWN which kept me involved and interested.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

GRACE VISITS: JOHANNE BRYANT-REID 11/29/16




Johanne Bryant-Reid in front of Roy Crosse Painting

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit with Johanne Bryant-Reid and talk about her art collection and working with the Romare Bearden Foundation for Women's Voices For Change.
Here is a link to the article:

https://womensvoicesforchange.org/grace-visits-art-collector-johanne-bryant-reid.htm

More images in the order that they are mentioned in the article.


Roy Crosse, Home Protector, 58"x6"x2 1/2", wood, metal gold plate, 1992

Jacob Lawrence print from John Brown Series, 1970


Charles Alston, Untitled, gouache, charcoal, pen and ink on paper, 24"x19", 1970

Norman Lewis Untitled (Doll), watercolor, 17"x12", early 1940

Norman Lewis, Untitled, ink and watercolor on paper, 19"x24", early 1940

John Biggers, Four Seasons, print, 24"x34", 1990


Johanne Bryant-Reid in front of  Elizabeth Catlett linotype prints







Saturday, November 26, 2016

WHAT I AM THANKFUL FOR 11/24/16

I am thankful to have had parents who were given the opportunity to escape Nazi Germany's maniacal tyrant and came to NYC to walk and breathe in the air of freedom. My father who studied to be an architect began his life in his adopted country by picking up cast-away-try-on hats from the floor of the S.Klein Department Store on Union Square and 14th St, a long "pick" in hand. He then did draughting work until he got his architectural license In 1948, and spent his life building NYC's Middle Income Housing projects - the client being the ILGWU.

My mother had sewing skills, taking jobs tailoring for different stores and was for many years the major contributor to the family income. We also lived with my maternal grandparents - my Omi and Opa. I adored Omi whose bed I would rush to on Sunday mornings hopping under the fluffy down cover to receive the warmth and comfort my anxious parents were incapable of giving me.

My Omi had other grandchildren, (her son's daughters) in Holland where once a year she would visit (usually on the SS Rotterdam) - and to this day the sight of an ocean liner will bring tears to my eye accompanying a panicky flutter to my heart.

If my parents were alive today, the very fact that Donald Trump could win the Presidency of the country that saved their lives and a nation which they venerated, would have caused them deeply felt grief, fear, and the dread of deja vu.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

MOONLIGHT 11/16/16



MOONLIGHT, directed by Barry Jenkins is an exquisitely written and delicately acted tale of how a young African-American boy navigates through the covertness of childhood isolation, into the reticence of adulthood. Three actors portray Chiron at different stages of existence - all maintain the silent presence of a person with a deep secret viewing a world of abuse and neglect with the curiosity of innocence. The young Chiron/aka “Little” (wonderfully acted by Alex R. Hibbert) realizes at an early age, that he should keep the pain and turbulence that is cloaked behind his dark-intelligent eyes hidden - it is best to stay silent and remain an enigma to others. Desire is  tucked away from the periscope of one's peers, under a translucent sheet of manhood, thereby avoiding some of the emotional lacerations that kids inflict on one another, particularly if you are “different” and happen to be gay and poor, living in Miami with a drug addicted single mother.

Life changes when “Little”, chased by a group of stone-throwing boys, finds refuge in an empty shack , breathless, curling up on the floor, bony arms flung around his thin body for protection. Juan (the wonderful performer Mahershala Ali), who happens to be the local drug dealer, enters the room and sees this young boy silhouetted against the wall, a small warrior standing erect refusing to utter a word, and an unspoken bond is forged - a connection based on Juan’s memories of his own childhood. “Little”,  unwilling to talk, but willing to accompany this tall, powerfully built potential “father figure” to Juan’s house for a home-cooked meal by Teresa ( Janelle Monae), the woman he lives with. Teresa instinctually recognizes a “wounded” child, and provides “Little” with a patina of kindness and warmth momentarily  allaying the scars incurred by years of bullying and abuse.

MOONLIGHT gives us some lovely moments between Juan and his pre-teen protege - particularly one involved with learning to swim and the oft-used metaphor of the power of water to cleanse; but this scene is so beautifully filmed that it erases any notion of banality.

In the next chapter, we meet  the adolescent Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and witness the anguish of being a loner. Bullies take advantage of those they sense can be  tormented and the High School years can be agonizing to a sensitive, fragile young man moving into adulthood. Innocence is slowly eroded; the protective veneer of armor and detachment are easily pierced, yet a sense of wonder remains. Chiron experiences moments of joy particularly in the company of a childhood friend, Kevin (Jaden Piner,) who is practiced in the art of subterfuge and easily glides through his fellow teenagers’ posturing mentality - appearing to be part of a group, but in reality attracted to Chiron’s desolate stillness. Their relationship is restrained, but undercurrents of sexual  yearning - the physicality of touch - a tender finger grazing a hand - can transform years of misery and sorrow into the confusion of love.


The last chapter occurs 10 years later when a powerfully built Chiron  (alluringly portrayed by Trevante Rhodes,) returns home to Miami - his wordlessness remains, but the  years have altered his appearance, and for a moment we believe we are seeing Juan again - the man who helped shepherd  “Little” through the turmoil of childhood. Chiron having maneuvered through sphere’s of hate and humiliation, is eventually able to reconcile with those who have previously cracked his world;  a mother who could not see beyond her own aching needs, and his former confidant Kevin ( Andre Holland,  depicting the sensuous, and elegant, adult Kevin.)  A guileless candor belies Chiron’s rugged presence; the passage of time is complex, paving over the self-inflicted wounds of longing, but also re-igniting the desire to embrace the future.

Friday, November 4, 2016

MY REFLECTIONS ON JOAN MITCHELL PANEL DISCUSSION 11/3/16

Went to a panel on Joan Mitchell related to the exhibition at Cheim & Read titled "Drawing into Painting" moderated by 
Installation: Cheim & Read Gallery

Phong Bui with panelists Joyce Pensato, Louise Fishman and Mark Rosenthal. Whenever I go to panel discussions, I writhe in my seat and mutter under my breath, and always regret not asking questions and challenging some of what is said. I did enjoy hearing Louise Fishman and Joyce Pensato talk directly about their personal encounters with Joan Mitchell; how she was both admired and a mentor of sorts to the then young artists, and how JM's "tough/boy's club/drink them under the table" attitude could be inopportune and oppressive. I particularly appreciated that Louise Fishman did not feel the need to mythologize the artist, and individualized the discussion by interlacing personal history with its effect on her own subsequent artwork.


Phong Bui asked questions of the panel, wondering how they felt about this remark supposedly made by Mitchell: "Painting is like riding a bicycle with no hands", The panelists' responses were varied, but there was agreement that this statement exemplified Mitchell's utter confidence in her process and work. I on the other hand - a painter for many years - felt that utterance referred to the fact that artists are always taking risks...sometimes driving blind, zig-zagging off the path, control unleashed - and then if lucky the exhilarating freedom of discovery occurs.


I have some thoughts about Joan Mitchell's work, and when Phong Bui wondered whether nature influenced her? I wanted to shout out OF COURSE it did - she lived in the midst of verdant gardens in France; her surroundings were infused in her being and became the SOURCE material for her work. I also felt that Mitchell must have studied DETAILS of Monet's late works - the close-ups where we can see Monet's hand making marks gliding the paint with his brush, from the linear to more opaque massive forms - the weaving and overlay of color - both muscular and delicate - the dance of Drawing and Painting are equally important - they cannot be divided as they are inseparable.

Click on link for more information on exhibition:

Friday, October 21, 2016

GRACE VISITS: JUNE WILSON 10/21/16


Studio Table with paints and barnacles, etc


Milk Thistle Pod in June Wilson's Hand

I was excited to have had the opportunity to make a studio visit to the artist JUNE WILSON and write about her work for WOMEN"S VOICES FOR CHANGE. Here is the link to the article:
http://womensvoicesforchange.org/grace-visits-artist-june-wilson.htm

Here is a link to a Video Interview with June Wilson:
https://vimeo.com/12623024

More images in the order that they are mentioned in the article.



Lickety Split Detail: first brush marks before glazing in oil

Lickety Split, 29”x25” oil/acrylic on wood, 2003





Studio Wall with drawings of flight patterns of bees
Milk And Honey, 30"x26",  oil on wood, 2009

Pollen Sac, 30"x26", oil on wood, 2012

It's Gonna Rain,  48"x43", oil on wood, 2015





Blown Away,  48"x43", oil on wood, 2016


Jar of Milkweed pods


Pheasant's Tail on Studio Wall
Midnight At The Oasis, 48"x43", oil on wood, 2015