Friday, November 27, 2009

Michele L’Heureux, Emily Lisker

Michele L’Heureux of Waltham, Massachusetts, and Emily Lisker of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, are exhibiting their paintings together at AS220.

Lisker makes folksy surreal symbolic paintings of ladies and robot guys in bright primary colors. There’s so much going on – colors, patterns, curious characters – that it can feel rather much. But one painting in particular sticks out: “Sisterhood” features two women standing side by side in flowing gowns with their hands crossed and their heads hidden behind framing curtains that echo the dresses. Part of what makes this painting work is that Lisker uses fewer colors here, and lets her knack for patterns energize the composition. But it’s also the strange, surprising power of those hidden heads. It’s haunting.

L’Heureux’s “Gender Redux” paintings are layered with images of gender and sex symbols: DNA spirals, the white scribbled words “girl” and boy,” outlines of bras and women’s shoes, stenciled letters “XY.” She seems to be mulling something about gender and sexuality, but the themes float around everything unresolved. But she’s quite a painter – mixing collage, acrylic, charcoal and screenprinting to build exciting scuffed and scrubbed surfaces. They recall old peeling wallpaper that reveals the layers of time behind. They suggest a history.

Emily Lisker and Michele L'Heureux, AS220, 115 Empire St., Providence, Nov. 1 to 28, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Emily Lisker's painting "Sisterhood"; Michele L'Heureux's painting "Butch"; and Emily Lisker's paintings "Stage of Indecision" "Blind Date" "Balance"

Eric Sung, Jeanne Williamson

From our review of Jeanne Williamson of Natick, Massachusetts and Eric Sung of Providence at Providence College:
Orange plastic net construction fencing provides inspiration for Williamson’s artworks at the college’s Hunt-Cavanaugh Gallery. She mixes hand-painting, monoprinting, and block printing atop quilted fabric in variations of the same theme: grids with dots, ovals, and dotted squares that resemble dice.
Read the rest here.

Eric Sung, Reilly Gallery, Oct. 22 to Dec. 4, 2009, and Jeanne Williamson "Off the Fence," Hunt-Cavanagh Gallery, Oct. 26 to Dec. 4, 2009, both at Providence College, River Avenue, Providence.

Pictured from top to bottom: Eric Sung, "Jea-Katrina," 2007; Jeanne Williamson, "12x12 Series," 2008.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Meaning of Thanksgiving

From my report on my recent visits to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in search of the meaning of Thanksgiving:
If you're looking for meaning in the overly sanitized myth that is our national Thanksgiving celebration, a good place to start is southeastern Massachusetts, where nearly 400 years ago that band of hungry, ill-prepared religious zealots tried to colonize the middle of nowhere at the start of winter. I commenced my own journey there, in Plymouth, at the top of an 80-foot waterslide, which would take me from the deck of a replica Mayflower into the cool waters of a shimmering blue pool.

The John Carver Inn, which is just a five-minute walk up from the Plymouth waterfront, is much like other ordinary motels, except that its swimming facility boasts a mural of Plymouth Harbor, that replica of the Mayflower jutting out from a wall, and, in the showcase center of the pool, a hot tub set in a replica of Plymouth Rock. What could be more American than that?
Read the rest here.

My adventure included (pictured from top to bottom) Pilgrim Cove Indoor Theme Pool at the John Carver Inn; the Mayflower II; Plymouth Rock; the waterslide at Pilgrim Cove Indoor Theme Pool; (five photos of) the recreation of 1627 “New Plimoth” at Plimoth Plantation; (three photos of) the “Wampanoag Homesite” at Plimoth Plantation; and (two photos of) the National Monument to the Forefathers. Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Pilgrim Hall Museum and the Rock

A few blocks up from Plymouth Harbor, at the Pilgrim Hall Museum, you can touch a piece of the fabled Plymouth Rock – greasy black from thousands of fingers that have come before trying to get in touch with history. These days it’s fashionable to assume the Rock is just one more bit of mythology. But if you’re inclined to believe, what you believe is this: The Pilgrims left the Mayflower out in deep water and then came ashore aboard their smaller shallop sailboat. The harbor was shallow and marshy, so the Rock provided a convenient pier to step out upon and avoid soaking your wool clothes. It’s based on a 1741 account from Thomas Faunce.

“It’s our great oral tradition,” museum director Peggy Baker tells me. “But the man who told it was 90 years old. He had known Pilgrims as a young man. So he might have heard it first-hand. We’ll never know.”

Downstairs the museum displays a number of items said to have made the passage aboard the Mayflower. The most striking artifact is a woven wicker cradle (pictured at top) said to have come aboard the ship and held Peregrine White, a boy born aboard the Mayflower in Provincetown harbor in November 1620 – the first English child born to the settlement. It’s end is worn thin by the feet of Founding Babies. It’s literally the cradle of America.

Peregrine White’s father died that first winter. In the first English wedding at Plymouth, his mom Susanna married Edward Winslow (pictured at left), who lost his wife that terrible first winter here. After the English settlers made an alliance with nearby Wampanoags lead by Massasoit, who taught them how to cultivate crops in New England, the colony flourished. Winslow later wrote about the harvest feast that the Pilgrims held with their Native American neighbors that fall, which became a model for our Thanksgiving holiday:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others.”
Edward Winslow would later serve as governor of Plymouth Colony, as would the couple’s son, Josiah (his tiny leather baby shoes are here), who would lead the colony into the 1675 war with Native Americans lead by Massasoit’s son Metacom, also known as King Philip.

Pilgrim Hall Museum displays portraits painted of Edward and Josiah during a 1651 trip to England. Edward, Baker says, is “the only Pilgrim to have his portrait painted from life.” He seems a serious, skeptical fellow with a pudgy face, long hair, a mustache and goatee. Josiah (pictured below) has long flowing hair and a haughty glare in his eyes, like he’s absolutely, arrogantly sure he knows just what he’s doing.

Pilgrim Hall Museum, 75 Court St., Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

40th National Day of Mourning in Plymouth tomorrow

United American Indians of New England is scheduled to meet at noon tomorrow, Thanksgiving, with hundreds of people at the Massasoit statue on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to hold their 40th annual National Day of Mourning, followed by a protest march through town.

The annual protest began in 1970, when a Wampanoag named Wamsutta Frank James was invited to speak in Boston at a September dinner hosted by the governor celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing. But state officials rejected his speech when they learned that he planned to give a accounting of the Native American point of view. Instead, he and other Native Americans from across the country gathered at the Massassoit statue on Cole’s Hill, where he delivered his talk that Thanksgiving, which the group had declared a “National Day of Mourning.”

“Our spirit refuses to die," James said then. "... We stand tall and proud, and before too many moons pass we'll right the wrongs we have allowed to happen to us. We forfeited our country. Our lands have fallen into the hands of the aggressor. We have allowed the white man to keep us on our knees. What has happened cannot be changed, but today we must work towards a more humane America, a more Indian America, where men and nature once again are important; where the Indian values of honor, truth, and brotherhood prevail.”

Pictured: Last year's National Day of Mourning demonstration at Plymouth Rock; the boulder on Cole's Hill commemorating the National Day of Mourning, and the statue of Massasoit, with its plaque, on Cole's Hill.

Julia Gandrud

From my review of "Screening My Thoughts" by Julia Gandrud of Cranston at AS220 in Providence:
Gandrud exhibits recent hand-drawn animation and book projects in “Screening My Thoughts.” In Safe Painting Dream, a woman leaps off the top of a building after a canvas that has fallen over the edge while another woman rappels down the building’s side, peer-ing into windows at a cat, a pregnant woman floating through the air, and girls who mutate into a carrot and a frog.
Read the rest here.

Julia Gandrud, "Screening My Thoughts," AS220’s Project Space, 93 Mathewson St., Providence, Nov. 1 to 28, 2009.

Note: I'd like to apologize to Julia for misspelling her name in my Providence Phoenix review.

Pictured: Julia Gandrud's hand-drawn animation "Tranmission."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

“Procycle 2009” at Machines With Magnets

From our review of “Procycle 2009” at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket:
You’re looking over the handlebars of a bike, down the narrow canyon between a pair of city buses heading right at you. Sam Rosenholtz’s photo "Chinatown" (pictured here) of riding the wrong way in the middle of traffic defies the rules of the road, but it produces a striking image. The wide-angle lens makes it look as if the bike is parting a Red Sea of traffic. The Brookline, Massachusetts, photographer mounted a camera to the frame of his bike to make you feel you are recklessly there.

The shot is one of the standout artworks in “Procycle 2009” at Machines With Magnets. The theme — an “exhibition of bicycling culture” — seems like perfect idea for the greater-Providence art scene. Cycling and art go hand in hand here, as evidenced by the piles of bike parts awaiting reuse that were one of the standout features of Fort Thunder and other art lofts around town. Providence’s size makes it eminently pedalable and biking suits the environmental, political, and economic stances of many artists in town.
Read the rest here.

“Procycle 2009," Machines With Magnets, 400 Main Street, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Nov. 5 to 29, 2009.

Monday, November 23, 2009

George Grosz at Cape Cod

“In 1935 I spent the first of seven summers in Cape Cod,” the German artist George Grosz wrote in his autobiography. “That landscape with its beautiful high dunes was the exact inner landscape that I had been carrying with me for so long. There it was in real life!”

Grosz tried to become something of a new artist upon emigrating to the United States, to adopt a more jaunty American outlook and become a popular magazine illustrator. “George Grosz: The Years in America, 1933-1958,” a collection of his drawings and paintings that was on view at David Nolan gallery in New York in October, showed how he continued to draw his trademark acid satires, but also, inspired by Cape Cod in particular, attempted semi-traditional landscapes and nudes. And his political work took on new allegorical tones – as in paintings of stick men that are stand-ins for the artist himself – that sometimes turned to treacle.

Grosz had visited New York from June to October 1932 to teach at the Art Students League, then returned briefly to Germany, before sailing back to the United States in January 1933.

“I saw the cracks in the floor, and noticed that this or that wall was starting to wobble,” he wrote in his autobiography of those last days in Germany. “I observed my cigar man was overnight wearing a swastika in the same buttonhole where there always used to be a red enamel hammer-and-sickle.” Back in New York, as Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Grosz received “letters reporting searching for me both at my empty Berlin apartment and my studio. I have reason to believe that I would not be alive, had they found me there.”

His Cape Cod scenes seem an escape from all that. His 1940 oil, gouache and watercolor painting “Artist and Model in the Dunes” (pictured at top) depicts a rosy lady, naked save for a hat, grilling a hotdog over a fire among the dunes as an artist, who is apparently naked too, sketches her. Grosz never seemed to develop in oils the dashing rakish facility he had with drawing and water-based media. His oil paintings feel clotted, curdled and constipated somehow.

The Cape Cod works are rife with naked ladies bending over in the hot sand – a strange combo of cheese and sordidness. Even when his landscapes are devoid of people, like his charcoal and watercolor drawings “Dunes Cape Cod” (1939) and “Cape Cod. Dunes Near Truro” (1940), they seem sexualized, as if among the sea grass and rolling dunes Grosz saw furry lady parts everywhere.

Grosz continued to draw rancid scenes of America and critiques of Nazi Germany, but they often don’t quite have the crackle of his early subjects. That early, post World War I work skewered blundering prideful oblivious greedy political, military and business leaders. Maybe he was just exhausted by the time the Nazis arrived. Maybe his time was past. But I wonder if the out and out evil of the Nazis just flummoxed him.

“When Hitler appeared,” Grosz said in a 1958 radio interview, “I felt like a boxer who had lost. Everything we had done had been done in vain.”

“George Grosz: The Years in America, 1933-1958,” David Nolan, 527 West 29th St., New York, Sept. 16 to Oct. 31, 2009.

George Grosz sketchbook in Harvard's 2006 show "Under Cover."
Aaron Siskind in Gloucester.
Barnett Newman’s summers in Massachusetts.

Pictured from top to bottom: George Grosz, "Artist and Model in the Dunes," 1940, oil, gouache and watercolor on paper; "Dunes Cape Cod," 1939, charcoal and watercolor on paper; "Cape Cod. Dunes near Truro," 1940, charcoal and watercolor on paper; "So Smells Defeat," 1937, brush and reed pen on paper; and "Four Rabbis Speak," 1941, reed pen, pen, ink and opaque white on paper.