I met Marie Bourget at an opening for a group show she was in at Reaves Gallery. Fascinated by her research endeavors to find translations of Walt Whitman poems, we arranged to follow-up... which is when I discovered that we had more in common than a willingness to embark on esoteric research projects:
Growing up in Southern California, Marie Bourget dreamt of being a fashion designer. But when she showed her designs to a neighbor who taught art at UCLA, she was deeply discouraged:
“I was so humiliated that I didn’t even draw anything for years”
A year later, her family moved onto a farm in Northern California, as her father pursued a childhood dream in agriculture. Over time Bourget resumed her drawing and her family was supportive of her creative pursuits, but only to a point:
“Both of my parents were very creative people. My father actually started sculpture in his retirement years, and painting […] They encouraged me in my art, but not as a career. They were very practical-minded”
Instead, she was encouraged to study subjects like science and math, which led her into the world of high-tech finance. Meanwhile, she continued to fill sketchbooks:
“I was CFO of a public company and I would be doodling and drawing. So, when I started painting full time, anyone who knew me then said, 'Well I'm sure not surprised because you did it every minute!'"
Eventually, she decided that she needed a life change and left her company to move to France. But she found it more difficult to extract herself from the business world and was called back into duty a couple times:
“Artwork is much closer to my heart than [finance] work […] I worked with a lot of people, especially men, who just wanted to get ahead and wanted to really make money, and I was kind of [ambivalent]”
After leaving the business world yet again, Bourget recalls telling an artist friend in a cafe in Paris that she wished she'd gone to art school. Encouraged by her friend, Bourget approached the Parsons School of Design in Paris, but was asked for something she didn't have at the time.... a portfolio:
"This was a Friday and they said, 'Come in next Wednesday with a collage, a self-portrait, a perspective drawing and your sketchbooks.' So, I just kind of panicked, not knowing what I should do. I can still remember sitting in front of a mirror drawing a self-portrait"
Bourget was admitted and earned a degree in sculpture, where she constructed a number of wood pieces. She attributes her interest in sculpting from wood a bit to family tradition and a bit to and a bit to her taste for challenge:
“My grandfather was a carpenter and my dad had done a lot of carpentry and fine woodworking. I just loved something about putting pieces together, figuring out how to use the material, how to make wood do the things you want it to do […] and also I think it was to get over the fear of using all those saws”
After graduating, Bourget worked in Paris for a year before returning to California. Without the resources to create sculpture immediately available, she struggled at first to begin anew:
“When I moved back from France to the US, it was such a big change and I had a one-year old son [...] I got into my new studio and was like, ‘Oh, yikes! What do I do?’ So, I actually made something into tiny squares - a painting - and I told myself I would fill a square a day”
Using this technique, designed for overcoming writers' block, Bourget transitioned from sculpture to painting, emulating the versatility of her favorite artist, David Hockney. She began creating mosaic-like paintings, with tiles that could be assembled in multiple ways:
"I did a lot of things using a grid, but the actual grid was pieces [...] I had some that were probably up to 40 pieces, hung as if it's a painting, but each piece hung individually with a little bit of space so you could rearrange them as you liked”
With the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Bourget was inspired to explore a culture that she had some exposure to, but was unsatisfied with her level of understanding
"Having lived in France where [there is] a lot more exposure to Arab culture [...] I thought, here we’ve invaded this country that most Americans know nothing about, including me "
Not knowing how to read or speak Arabic, she began an extensive quest to find translations of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. She began to paint excerpts of Whitman's poems in Arabic with elements of Islamic design. She has since found that Whitman’s style of ecstatic poetry was similar to Arab poets:
“Walt Whitman was kind of the great equalizer, was anti-war and, to me, that quintessential American poet"
Similarly, Bourget found that poetry and calligraphy had an elevated importance in Arab culture. She enjoys the script so much that she often ponders the balance between the meaning and the shape of the words she has chosen, even creating a piece that reads “Form versus Content”:
“I was thinking: how much is really the form - because I think it’s really beautiful - versus how much is the content”
Such has been her visual journey through Islamic and Arabic motifs, but the message she would have for viewers is beyond the surface:
“It’s not always black and white. We have these kind of [ideas] where, ‘we’re good, they’re bad’ and [it's not that simple]”
To that end, she has mixed the geometric patterning of Islamic design, which is non-figurative by definition, and the geometric patterning of American quilt-making. Though she realizes the context may be lost on some viewers, she nonetheless enjoys the aesthetic:
Despite having previewed the David Imlay (below) show at Reaves Gallery a couple weeks ago, I stopped by the opening on Friday night and was pleased to find that several new pieces had been added. The show is up until February 4:
Next, I made my way to Zonal Home, also in Hayes Valley, which is showing works by Dale Eastman through February:
Drawing from her background in journalism, Eastman creates delicate wall hangings and installations that explore the thoughts and ideas beyond words, using visual references to writing on paper with fabric and thread:
In one elegant installation, Eastman has sewn a short story one word at a time and coiled the composition in a glass jar:
Amongst the artists regularly on display was Barbara Kleinhans, whose abstract landscapes fit well with the mood of Zonal's farmhouse antiques:
Local artist, Phoebe Seligman has several figurative works on display downstairs:
The brightness and gloss of Lola's resin and acrylic pieces are in contrast to the rustic ambiance of much of the store, but the combination give a distinctively modern feel:
Back upstairs, Leslie Morgan's aquatic themed prints and paintings are varied in technique and style:
Consistent with Zonal's theme, Nicole Baugass' mixed media pieces mix pop-art with nostalgic retro:
TechCrunch recently reviewed a new niche social network focused on the artist community. I agree with their view that niche networks will likely struggle, unless they manage to reach critical mass within their niche. Furthermore, I question the need for artist focused social networks, given that artists are often trying to connect with the public and potential audiences. Ideally there would be a set of artist-focused applications (galleries, event calendars, ecommerce, etc.) within a broader social network, like what MySpace has done for musicians. That said, I am curious if there is an emerging niche network leader, or if everyone is already on the larger platforms, so I decided to conduct a little research myself..
I'll keep this survey up until a trend emerges or I get really sick of it.
Since starting the Arteaser Project, I have enjoyed learning from the artists I interview and being introduced to new artists, techniques and ideas. In many ways my conversation with Joshua Hagler epitomized this experience, as I frantically wrote down his reference points for follow-up investigation.
Born on an Air Force base in Idaho, Josh Hagler was raised in a conservative environment. At age nine, his family moved to rural Litchfield, Illinois, where Hagler escaped into the supernatural world of comics:
"I drew comic books religiously as a kid. I loved reading comics, so I was always making these comic books. I was like twelve years old and they were rip-offs of the X-men and so on, superheroes with powers. That's how I fantasized as a kid, just creating these worlds and characters"
At sixteen, the family moved a second time to Arizona and although he dreamt of going to Chicago's Art Institute, he opted for a more practical degree in illustration at the University of Arizona. As part of the first generation in his extended family to go to college, support was not taken for granted and Hagler himself worked for the school newspaper as art director and drawing comics, as well as illustrating children's books:
"My parents just made it apparent to me early on that that was how it was going to be: so its either sink or swim, which I think was a very valuable lesson"
"I pretty much wasn't aware of anything culturally, except for comic books, until about the time I was about to graduate from school, from art school [...] It all started from that genre - [the] sci-fi/fantasy world - until I became interested in the art world and contemporary art and modern art"
Meanwhile, his horizons were broadening in other ways:
"[I was] always involved the church, both in Illinois and in Arizona. It was in Arizona that I got involved in the campus Christian organizations and stuff like that for quite a while, until [because of] everything from taking classes in philosophy and comparative religion and various things [...] I ended up just getting away from all of it."
After graduating, Hagler moved to San Francisco, using the money from selling his car to get settled. He credits the friends and contacts he's made in San Francisco as pushing his creative work to the next level:
"I kind of see my BFA, my undergrad, as what just got it started, but I think my real education just had to do with moving to San Francisco. That was really more of an education I think, in art terms"
He began working as an illustrator and by 2004 he was doing illustration full time. Hagler also began to familiarize himself with galleries and was able to phase out his illustration business as he sold more paintings. By spring of 2007, he held his first major solo exhibit, called "Bring Us Rapture":
"That was the first body of work that I had prepared that specifically dealt with Christianity, that dealt with - really, what I now kind of realize I was concerned with - which was groupthink. I'm interested in the strange creature that is the human being that as an individual behaves one way and then as a social creature behaves another. So I think I've just been creating a mythology based on that"
Since recieving a grant in 2008, Hagler has been able to focus full time on creating the series for his upcoming show, titled "72 Virgins to Die For," in which he goes beyond Christianity to further explore human social behavior in the context of religion:
"It deals with Islam and Mormonism and Judaism and Christianity, Catholicism as well [...] When you take a step back, they're all really similar. They're ideas are really similar, what they require of people is really similar, in certain places and certain times"
One of these common requirements that Hagler reflects on is purity and its relationship to power, control, and violence:
"The way that I'm defining purity is not specifically in reference to sexuality, but also spiritually, intellectually. To me, the main feature of purity is that you buy into idealism of some kind or another - that's the price of admission. So if you're not willing to buy into that wholeheartedly then you can't be pure, and unless you're willing to buy into that wholeheartedly and take a vow of purity of some kind, you're also not as easily manipulated."
To suggest that the applicability of his message is broadly human, Hagler often obscures and distorts the faces of his human subjects or covers them with moths, in reference to a Sufic allegorical story about understanding the nature of God only through destructive denial of self:
"The vortex and the moth are two features that I use over and over in this body of work [...] I guess I look at it as alluding to timelessness [...] They're not specific people - they're ideas"
Human subjects are not the only embodiments of purity in Hagler's work: he also uses animals that are treated inhumanely for the sake of indulgent delicacies, such as Ortolans, Baluts, foie gras, and veal. Some of these delicacies have religious overtones, but some seem to speak more broadly about violence masked by beauty and purity:
"You follow an obsession far enough and you start to realize that maybe its not as simple as you first thought [...] It's this feature about human behavior that causes what I think of as violence, whether that's literal violence or violence of the mind [...] It doesn't have to do with a specific religion. A religion cannot be inherently good or evil - it's just a vehicle"
While he recognizes that the destructive facets of human nature that intrigue him transcend religion, it remains his point of reference:
"I keep trying to dig further and further. I think religion lends specificity to sort of ground some of this stuff [...] so ultimately I think that there will always be that aspect of religion there because that is my experience and I think I experienced the most amount of [...] disillusionment."
As Hagler continues to explore deeper and darker elements of humanity, he considers his study inconclusive and remains sensitive to the subtleties of humanity's connection to religion:
"I want to go further into what happens when you take those things away that people believe in. And maybe we do need those things [...] maybe in the end that's what I end up finding [...] I don't really want to make polemic work that is picking on a particular religion, that's saying 'you're the cause of all our problems' "
Laden with reference, Hagler's visually compelling works have a distinct style that often suggest the supernatural in order to reflect on the utterly human:
"It's starting to be something complete unto itself [...] They are myths themselves and they just are now borrowing from religions that people still believe in in a literal way."
I first met Mirang Wonne during the Hunters Point Open Studios in October, where I was intrigued by large, mysterious-looking paintings of trees and branches. I returned to her studio months later to learn the story behind her work.
While living in Paris for art school, Mirang Wonne met another Korean native who recognized the artist's name. As it turned out, this woman's family had purchased the house that Wonne grew up in and Wonne's parents hadn't thought to check the attic for their daughter's doodles:
"Since my parents were selling the house, they painted everything, but they didn't know that I did graphics in the attics! [...] So she said, 'You know we bought your house and we found your graphics in the attic [...] there's all these small drawings and there's always a name: Mirang Wonne'"
Indeed, the attic walls weren't the only surfaces to Wonne took to drawing on. As the youngest of six, Wonne generally had free reign and her mother, who was a fashion designer, never chastised her for doodling around the house:
"We have a system where every season we change the wallpaper [...] so if I [drew on] this or that, we were changing it very often. And then my parents are very liberal people, so they allowed me to do anything"
Wonne's residential graffiti wasn't the only art showing in the household. Her father, who worked in education, collected illustrated scrolls, which he changed around the house ever season and would occasionally invite the artists over. Once in school, Wonne would draw in her school notebooks from the back, while taking notes from the front. But getting into a university art program was no joke:
"When I went to school in Korea [...] we had very strict education, like classic eduction to get into that school [...] We prepared 3-6 years, so for whoever gets into the art school in university, they sort of mastered how to draw and how to sketch and how to paint"
After college, Wonne received a scholarship to do graduate studies at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. The early seventies in Paris were punctuated by student revolutions and she was involved in a number of group shows and her first solo show: an installation in four outdoor pavilions. For the installation, which integrated with nature through paper sculptures that moved in the wind, Wonne had to adapt some of her ideas to the local environment:
"I wanted to have huge rocks covered with paper, colored paper, but [small rocks were] all I could find at that time because Paris really doesn't have huge rocks or mountains!"
Wonne went on to complete a doctorate in art theory at the Sorbonne, but when she returned to Korea, she quickly realized that she didn't enjoy teaching. Around the same time she married another Korean who worked in the US, so she moved to the States. After working as an art director in New York for several years, Wonne moved to the Bay Area, where she began gravitating back towards creating art:
"I started all over again. I mean I always wanted to do painting, but since I had young kids so I thought I couldn't [...] but really one day I couldn't bear myself"
To brush up on her painting (pardon the pun), Wonne had tried taking an art class in the States, but compred to the four hour practical entrance exam required for university admittance in Korea, the American art education system was far less structured:
"[In] my country, Korea, we don't have to explain too much what I'm doing. The professors - they look at it and they know right away what I'm doing"
Meanwhile, despite the recession of the early 1990s, Wonne signed up for commercial studio space and began working as a career artist. She now views her studio as her sanctuary:
"I know one thing: without this space, I would go crazy [...] I would be miserable [...] this is like my sanctuary [...] I'm so happy that I have some space to work. And sometimes the work comes out right, sometimes it doesn't , but even then I feel so fortunate"
In the sanctuary of her studio, Wonne channels her emotions and experiences into her work. A couple years ago, some medical concerns cast a shadow on Wonne's life, which inspired a new series of work:
"After that period I came in [to the studio] and it was so gloomy. So just after that was a [bunch] of colors [...] I did all kind of color work because I needed some colors"
Whether colorful flowers, wispy branches, or peaceful boulders, Wonne frequently uses natural imagry in her work, but she is quick to point out that her work is not about nature, per se:
"It's not nature is my subject matter - life is my subject matter [...] I kind of borrow the form of nature to express something that I want to express"
For Wonne the relationship between life and nature may be less distinct, an attitudes she attributes to her Asian heritage:
"Being Asian [...] we have kind of a peculiar philosophy [...] we grew up like 'I am part of nature'. It's not learned from a textbook [...] the common thinking is 'we are part of nature, we are part of the universe' it's not anything [from] a particular philosophy we studied"
She recently returned to Asia in 2008 for her first show in Korea in many decades, where her work was well received. Having come a long way from doodling on attic walls, Wonne's instinct to convey her ideas visually remains:
"Artwork is like a diary for me. It sounds kind of casual, but it really means a lot to me. I try to be as honest as possible"
Despite still being in the recovery stages of a mild cold, I set out on Friday afternoon for a full evening of San Francisco gallery viewings and openings. My first stop was Market Street Gallery, which was showing works on paper by a number of Bay Printmakers, including gallery owner, Ronald Newman:
The show, which is meant to emphasize narrative works, is largely figurative, but varies in mood from playful, to somber, to downright dark:
The show, which includes work by Lordan Bunch (below), is up until February:
My next stop was Velvet da Vinci, which is featuring an installation by Portland artist, Hilary Pfeifer, for the month of January. Pfeifer's ecosystem of plant organisms are housed in a botanical greenhouse-like structure:
Despite their resemblances to species of the plant kingdom, her bonsai-like creations are reflections of more human conditions, with names like "Proles Nonfecundus":
With some "newer" species "growing" on the greenhouse structure itself, the installation has an enchanting quality that must be experienced in person:
Also on display are some pieces by Judith Hoyt (below):
My last stop was Gallery1988, for "Faces and Spaces" featuring Nathan Stapley (below):
In his first solo show, Stapley has over 80 small paintings on display through January:
Almost entirely watercolor or gouache on paper, Stapley's paintings are largely playful and lighthearted:
Loosely organized into sub-collections, like musicians, movie characters, or urban features, the portraits are of widely familiar subjects: