Women Artists of Abstract Expressionism

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Above – Painting by Lee Krasner, titled The Seasons, oil and house paint on canvas,  approx. 92″x 203″ 1957 Whitney Museum of American Art, NY

Yesterday we attended a member preview of the highly acclaimed Denver Art Museum show titled WOMEN OF ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM. These brave and innovative women of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s are my heroes, having charted the direction I would later choose to follow with my art. I did not make that phenomenal association until years later, because the emphasis and the credit was placed upon male artists.

As a dedicated student of fine art in the 60’s at the U of Colorado, Boulder I found myself artistically immersed and influenced during historically volatile times on a campus known for its politically active student body and its cutting-edge art department, among other fine attributes.  By the 60’s the world was rapidly changing, across the board, on all fronts, from religion to civil rights to politics to art, music and literature…

I was inside the momentous flux, historically, geographically, and creatively, in one of the right places to be at just the right time. The art world was evolving at an especially stunning pace; morphing; reinventing; branching off into new vocabularies of expression as art is expected to do when worldly conventions are spinning and older ideas are challenged. Those cutting-edge professors were learning and absorbing right along with students….we were all in it together, but few influential women artists were ever acknowledged or mentioned. If you were a young female artist of that time, that was the elephant in every studio and classroom. The world of art was dominated by men. I was one of less than a handful of women in the expressionistic painting classes where this stimulating, intoxicating new artistic action was happening.

I was vaguely aware of names like Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner (the wife of Jackson Pollock), Elaine De Kooning (wife of William), Judith Godwin, Ethel Schwabacher and the others included in this current show. These women were already  painting their hearts out in NYC and SF, often sharing studio space with their prominent husbands. In the words of Lee Krasner, “I was always going to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock – that’s a matter of fact – but I painted before Pollock, during Pollock, after Pollock.”

Fresh approaches, bold brush stroke gestures and odd new vocabularies of expression ran rampant in these womens’ art, if one cared to look. Helen Frankenthaler said it best: “One of the first rules is NO rules.” In the words of the museum, “While individual expression is key, several themes recur in works by the women artists seen in this show. These include responses to place, the seasons, time of day, meaningful events, and literature, dance or music. These paintings are almost always quite abstract, even when referencing something real. The true subject is never the thing, but the painterly expression itself.”

Quoting now from the Curator of Modern Art, Gwen F. Chanzit, Ph. D at this Denver show:

“…they helped forge the first fully American modern art movement. While there is no one prescribed style, Abstract Expressionist canvases are known for loose brushwork all-over composition, an emphasis on surface rather than depth, and a grand sense of scale. Artists experimented with process and materials to free themselves from previous conventions.”

My love for mixed media and collage art found its origin with the experimentation of these women and the larger abstract movement to which they belonged. Bits of string, tin foil and various papers chosen for their texture or pattern can be found, worked with paint, on the canvases of this show. If I ever needed validation, and that need is by definition part of being an abstract artist, I found it in the work of these women. For them abstract expressionism was risky and unheard of; for me it is the norm. The art of these women has been underreported and undervalued, although they participated alongside men – even husbands! – in studios, art clubs, exhibitions and shows.

The art displayed in this show is so alive with the joy of painting free that it almost brings tears to your eyes. The powerful colors, the textures and the wide open gestures and brushstrokes are screaming freedom – from conventional traditional style and conformity. Seeing it all was a lesson, loud and clear, in being brave, in being a risk-taker, in being unrestrained and fully expressive as an artist. These women were gutsy broads!

If any of you have potential artists in your family or circle of friends, especially girls, remember that women of astounding talent were often ignored, brushed off, undervalued and cast aside as irrelevant. It still happens…..but less consistently.

Thanks to the Denver Art Museum for allowing photos to be taken, and for the quotes I have used here.

Jo Ann Brown-Scott – new novel titled A CANARY FLIES THE CANYON, about the life of a young woman who finds her life’s passion in art

http://www.acanaryfliesthecanyon.com   http://joannbrownscottauthor.com

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Your Life’s Collage

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Mixed Media Collage by Jo Ann Brown-Scott

I have always enjoyed mixing it up. I find it nearly impossible to swallow things whole without tweaking some little aspect here or there to achieve a unique recipe that appeals to my own particular sense of intellectual or aesthetic “rightness”. And we are not talking about food here folks.

I am hardly 100% anything.

My religion, if you can call it that, is a spiritual soup of many doctrines and beliefs. I am not strongly spouting off any hard and fast doctrines – there are aspects of Christianity, Buddhism, the Jewish faith and several others that when combined into one whole all work together quite nicely for me. I am a child of the universe. I believe the earth is alive – our hostess – breathing and in need of constant nurturing. We serve at the pleasure of the planet. And we are so disrespectful.

My art (my life-long passion) and the art of living my life are a collage of experiences which I stitch together as I go, adding new pieces of knowledge to the whole. Whenever a new snippet is added to the fabric I am weaving, everything that has gone before is slightly moved and adjusted and changed by the arrival of new information. Edges of things, sometimes cut and sometimes torn,  are overlapped and meticulously arranged; texture here – color there – lines naturally formed with paths of information and achievement and failure and loss and joy and wonder and discovery take my attention forward to the next thing. Texture, pattern and color are my  life’s manifestation of events – whether those events be happy, sad or somewhere in between. I see my experiences  in those artistic tactile dimensions.

Every single thing is of value to me. I do not miss much. I notice, I am aware. And I am often, daily and hourly and even minute by minute – AMAZED. Life is an ever-evolving tapestry – a blanket of layers – a textile of humankind. I am but one, but I am mighty.

Your life is the same. We all question things. Most of us  live in the space between the extremes of knowing absolutely and not knowing. I truly doubt that you are 100% anything at all, unless it is human. But there is great value in simply that.

Here is a quote from me, found at the PREFACE in my new novel A CANARY FLIES THE CANYON, available on Amazon and Kindle.  http://www.acanaryfliesthecanyon.com

 

Mankind is on an eternal march;

a trail of humanity driven by instinct

and perhaps divine inspiration.

Although we are at time directionless,

straying randomly from the path

an internal compass guides our way

and we are actually at one with the stars,

purposely aligned and aware

of our place in the universe.

book

 

The Second Knowing of Art

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Mosaic from the Grand Palace in Bangkok copyright Jo Ann Brown-Scott 2014

Rumi, the 12th century scholar and poet, is my favorite source of wisdom – as you know I often include Rumi quotes because his words are ageless; he is relevant even now in the chaotic 21st century. Every single time I browse through my Rumi books I am stunned to find quotes that jump off the pages to me exactly when I need them.

Today as I read his words, in speaking of knowledge and practical education, he says:

There is another kind of tablet, one

already completed and preserved inside of you.

A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness

in the center of the chest. This other intelligence

does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,

and it doesn’t move from outside to inside

through the conduits of learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead

from within you, moving out.

And so it goes with painting. Although the artist might be a realistic plein air artist, a painter of photographic realism, portraits, or even a photographic artist, he or she must always call upon something from inside in order to decide upon and create an image. In abstracted art you must pull from an even deeper place, and you must define your own personal language of art.

Some people do that quite well; others struggle with finding the particular art language that is true to their soul. If you, as an artist, try to speak artistically from a place that is not genuine, I believe your art will be soul-less and uninspired. You can spot art that has no soul – there is a lot of it out there. It is gutless, bland and forgettable.

Rumi also said to me today:

Do you know why your soul-mirror

does not reflect as clearly as it might?

Because rust has begun to cover it.

It needs to be cleaned.

Whatever makes your soul sing, seek that. If you know  the secret of where to go, either deep inside yourself or outside in the real world, and what to look for in gathering mental material for your own artistic soul to become inspired and thrive, you are fortunate indeed. We must all find the source of the food that feeds our creativity.

This We Have Now – New Work by Homare Ikeda

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original art courtesy and copyright of Homare Ikeda 2014

This we have now is not imagination. This is not grief or joy. Not a judging state, or an elation, or sadness. Those come and go. This is the presence that doesn’t.  – RUMI, 12th century poet

You have heard me refer to Homare Ikeda in my blog many times (See my Archives) – my esteemed instructor for Advanced Contemporary Painting at Art Students League, Denver. Friday night was his most recent opening titled REVISIT at Wm. Havu Gallery, www.williamhavugallery.com in downtown Denver. The stories told in his paintings are more than magical – they are transcendent. It is not unusual for him to work on a painting for years – sometimes as long as 18 years – revisiting it from time to time, enhancing, subtracting, building layer upon layer in order to evolve the image through the years of its life. These incarnations of art reveal stories of each particular time and place the painting is revisited. That is why and how his art lives, breathes and grows, revealing a language of intricate symbols expressed in whimsical playfulness that provide the artist with a means of conversation, and the art becomes a dialogue between the artist and the paint. How fortunate we are to be offered a glimpse of this personal communication.

http://www.homareikeda.com

 

 

And so….this is how it happens….the fire is re-lit

?????????? The Year Long Canvas BEFORE…..and AFTER (see below)

In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art. – Rumi

I woke up this morning newly-brave.

Born again into risk taking and artistic experimentation.

After about a month of YLC in-action I am ready to make my next big move on the YEAR LONG CANVAS, unapologetically and without a dot of hesitation. Something has kicked in and recharged me, and if I had to guess what that was, I think I would say that it had to be a perfect storm of things.  My glorious weekend in the mountains, a poem I received from a wise blogging friend who lives in Israel and is enduring the agony of that conflict, a Harley ride in the Sunday rain, the full belly laughter that I experienced on the phone with a friend, grown children who still love me – all of which are life affirming and reinforce for me the constant wonder and gratitude for the days and nights I am living. I am filled to the brim with life, wanting to value every day.

To be so fortunate is a miracle to me. I agonize for my friend in Israel. I feel deeply for friends and family who are suffering. The flip side of that is my determination to live my own life to its best potential, as a thank-you prayer to the universe. A joyful offering. I too have suffered, been miserable, lost people I loved, been disappointed and hurt by people who are still alive. I don’t live in a bubble. But I am not one who can hold on to pain and keep wringing it out of my days and nights when I am given a chance to let it go. And I have let it all go. It is just good Karma to remind myself of that every once in a while and have a little celebration.

Today I will do some things to the YLC with a “what the hell” attitude – geez I can always paint another painting – who do I think l I am, giving such weighty importance to a mere canvas? What is the worst that can happen? I very seldom ruin a canvas….

I am tired of avoiding it.

Today I welcome it and will confront it with a smile and a song. I knew I would be back. Told you so.

If you do not like what you see, or you are bored with this entire project, leave now. Or hang in here and  see what happens. You can refresh your mind about what I am doing on the YLC in my Archives if need be. I can assure you that whatever brushstrokes are done today will be made from a stance of positivity, as a prayer of thanks.  Nothing done in the name of my art will be angry. Strong vibrant color is a sign of joy and healthy strength, powerful compositions are confident and life-affirming. Thick paint and high texture indicate the need to feel things deeply and experience passion.

Abstract art is perfect for prayers to the universe; the art Buddha smiles.

YLCJU14 and AFTER, copyright July 2014 Jo Ann Brown-Scott – not yet titled

Getting the Ball Rolling on Summer

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Denver Botanic Gardens Chihuly Glass Exhibit, last week – http://www.chihuly.com  and  www.botanicgardens.org

It is almost the 4th of July and for me that sort of means that the summer is half over. For others it means that the summer is officially rolling along, at its very height of enjoyment. No, I have nothing new to report about the YLC – the Year Long Canvas – but I have a terrific quote from a gifted and successful artist friend of mine named Jane Jones, sent to me as a comment about my previous blog. Jane teaches at the Denver Art Students League –  http://www.asld.org – and she paints like an Old Master, so she knows whereof she speaks. Plus she is wise, funny as hell and inspiring with her witticisms about life  – she doesn’t allow much to slow her down.

Visit her beautiful, floral still-life art at http://www.janejonesartist.com

Jane says:

“I have some paintings that took a year….one month to paint, and 11 months in time out! And then about 10 minutes to finish them. Just because you aren’t painting on it, doesn’t mean you aren’t “working” on it! I’m working on about 5 paintings and haven’t picked up a brush yet! But the process will show when I get them started…and a couple might not ever get started…but they got worked on to their completion before I ever spent anything but time on them….now is that efficient or what!”

Yes I have done that too, but hearing it from another person who understands the process carries much more clout. She is  person to whom I really listen.

A painting is first and foremost, at its very conception, an ambiguous, indistinct creative vision that ebbs and flows, blurs and clears, adds and subtracts, changes color, alters composition, thrills and disappoints, darting in and out of your consciousness as it slowly wakes you up with its possibility ( but sometimes its vision comes in a lightening-fast flash – as in a CREATIVE EPIPHANY – explained further in my book).

This vision incubates in your mind. It cooks. It simmers. It brews. The amount of time that this pre-painting process takes is purely individual. On a good day, I can do all that in an afternoon if I am in the flow. Or it might take months before you or I dare to pick up a brush or a palette knife and attempt to capture on canvas or paper whatever it is that we have been birthing. I KNOW – I am mixing my metaphors here – but it is a both a birthing process and a cooking of sorts, to me anyway. Creativity is like that – all things to all people is what it is. Every single person who is creative has his/her own unique foreplay – their own ritual of preparation before or after conception. It is a “dance by the light of the moon” kind of thing – mysterious, magical and sensual. That is what defines the concept for me.

If the painting is a good one, it matters not how long you spent on the incubation or the birthing of the painting. The fast and furious work is often better and more free-spirited than the one you labored over for weeks or months – that is why I am having such a “thing” about the YLC – I am accustomed to working fast, filling the room with the inspired energy I feel and flying by the seat of my pants without over-thinking and over-analyzing and yes, even over-agonizing about each stroke. This YLC is counter-intuitive for me – but then perhaps that is one of the lessons to be learned from it.

Now I must go and watch the USA play Belgium in the World Cup while the back of my mind mulls over the next new painting I am going to start later today. I can do both, you see, and then find even more answers and ideas in a dream when I go to sleep tonight – because it is always there, this creativity thing, 24/7 every single minute all the time. It is the gift that keeps on giving, right Jane?

http://www.epiphanyfriends.com

https://joannbrownscottart.artspan.com/

BOOK – The Creative Epiphany – Gifted Minds, Grand Realizations by Jo Ann Brown-Scott

 

Year Long Canvas Week # 10 – Reprieve

snow SNOW DAY

The YLC has had nothing new added since last week due to a freakish spring SNOWSTORM in the Denver area and the mountains, making a commute into the city for Monday art class a crazy idea even for me. It was freezing cold; the snow kept coming down, and what began as a slushy rain on Saturday turned more syrupy and thick and then serious by Sunday. On Monday morning it had snowed all night, gotten much colder and morphed into black ice on the highways and a total accumulation of about 7 inches south of Denver where I live and 24-36 inches in the foothills and higher country. The skiers are nuts with joy; the highways up to ski altitudes are clogged with people ditching work and Arapahoe Basin will stay open until June, they have announced. Here where I live, today is better with just cloudy skies, temps in the 50;s and snow nicely melting off all roads. By the weekend we’ll be into the low 80’s.

Oh I know, I could have worked on the YLC at home, but I like to “do her” during class because the energy is so palpable and positive you could cut it with a knife in that classroom. But I also, yes I do, I really really do, like her so well the way she is that I used the “snow day” excuse to give her a reprieve until next week’s class. That’s legal and I made an executive decision to let her rest. I need to think and carefully calculate what will happen to her next.

I actually spent the snow day re-working an old 18×24 inch canvas that I had stored in a closet, and I am pleased with what happened. Often the best work I do is giving life-support to old compositions that I became so disgusted with at some point that I shoved them away into a closet, letting them rest and slip into an intentionally induced art coma. Not as punishment but to give us both a time out, allowing frustrations to settle down. Taking them out, months later, breathing oxygen into them and seeing them with new eyes is usually worth the effort. So yesterday I did that and the attached photo is the finished composition.

?????????? Mixed Media painting titled WHEN IT ALL COMES DOWN, copyright 2014, Jo Ann Brown-Scott

This painting surprised me. The places that are re-worked and covered up with new ideas amount to about 3/4 of the finished image. Only the orange area is original and untouched. The decision was what to cover up and what to enhance, as is usually the case. If you zoom in you will see that there are some shapes delineated with black ink, almost like boulders and stones falling. The orange area has a definite sun, and a sunset type of glow. You might choose to interpret this as a literal landscape with some kind of rockslide and a sun setting above a horizon but that would be the easy way out.

I prefer to think of it as a slide, a break, a tumble of some “LIFE” issues happening in a chaotic rush of action placed in contrast with the permanence of the sun rising and falling every 24 hours in a constant and reassuring event that tells us all that some things never change. The sun will come and go, regularly alerting us that life goes on. Thus the title – WHEN IT ALL COMES DOWN, life continues and hope endures. That’s my story on this one.