Should Art Match Your Sofa?

Wind Sculpture, 2018 by Yinka Shonibare
Wind Sculpture by Yinka Shonibare, an example of a well placed  work of art.

The age old indignation of someone holding a fabric swatch up to a piece of art is something many artists endure.  I was reminded of this lately when rewatching Hannah and Her Sisters when the character Frederick, an artist, becomes outraged when a potential client wants to consult his decorator before buying. So let me pose this question: Don’t we owe it to a piece of artwork to place it in the most beneficial setting?  Let’s talk about this a little more.

Recently, I became aware of several well meaning community based public art projects where artists, often sculptors, are awarded public space to show their work outdoors for a specific period of time.  This is a wonderful benefit to the community and the artists but often not a benefit to the artworks.  A small public park not far from where I currently live has such a program. The artworks chosen are well crafted and have a broad aesthetic appeal but look as though they were unloaded any old place on the green space giving the impression of a yard sale more than an outdoor gallery.

Similar things can occur even in the most professional public sculpture program.  My hometown of Philadelphia has a world class public sculpture collection that takes great pains to place the works.  The problem is as the cityscape changes due to construction or myriad other things that can affect a location, the sculptures may no longer be presented in the best way.  And in a city the size of Philadelphia, the logistics involved in moving a piece of public sculpture to a new location can take years.

Now all the talk so far has been about three dimensional art so let’s talk about two dimensional art.  Let’s face it, when you buy something to perk up your spirits, you are not going to plop it just any old place; you are going to put thought into it.  We do this with furniture, lighting, media, decoration, & family photographs. So who are we kidding when we pretend we are not going to do the same thing with a painting?  I had the fortunate experience of studying at the Barnes Foundation. Dr. Barnes had a very unique way of displaying his collection.  It was if everything on any given wall, when viewed all together, created another whole picture in and of itself.  Symmetry was important, as well as size and shape of the painting but it did not stop there. Even elements withing each painting were considered: color, shapes, lines, etc.  Dr. Barnes’ presentation of his painting collection also broke the rules by including furniture and other objects mixed within the painting display.  These furnishing and objects also had to have elements that enhanced and blended with the paintings.  If you have never been to the Barnes foundation, I urge you to go on their website where there are often photographs of the galleries. The link highlighted takes you directly to their collection but look around the site for photographs of full gallery shots.

Lastly, I will talk about a public sculpture that I think is beautifully placed. The piece is called Wind Sculpture by Yinka Shonibare. Whether you like the piece or not is not really relevant to the points I am going to make so please don’t zone out yet.  This sculpture is

Sculpture placement
Wind Sculpture in a larger view of its setting on the grounds of Davidson College

on the grounds of Davidson College which was founded in 1837. First note that Wind Song is a contemporary piece of art with regard to era, feel, and materials so it works well with one of the college’s newer buildings. Think for a moment what this sculpture might look like if it were in front of a building from the early 20th century.  The organic, curving lines of the piece are a nice contrast to the geometric lines of the building.  The colors of the sculpture are both warm (the browns, oranges, earth tones) and cool (the blues) just like the colors of the building (bricks – warm, glass/chrome – cool).  The ample space around the sculpture allows for it to be viewed at a number of angels.  Basically, it blends just enough to seem a natural part of the environment but stands out just enough to add some interest to the open space.

So maybe it is ok if the painting you buy matches your sofa. And if it doesn’t, that’s ok too but make sure you place it with care.

Artwork in Progress

All the houses in progress
Yet to be Names Work in Progress

Early in the winter of 2018, I set out to make 60 small houses to fit in a particular box.  I did not know what the end product would be like but I set a goal to finish them before April of this year and here they are.  Now they are not “complete, complete” yet, it is still a work in progress, meaning, the houses still have to be strung together and I have not yet decided whether that will be a more vertical format or a more horizontal format. And this is a poor photograph to top it all off.  (John if you are reading this, I will eventually get that camera!)  In any case, I had decided originally that the piece would be called suburban sprawl but the more I worked on it, the more they reminded me of the urban row homes I lived in most of my life so felt that the use of the word suburban seemed wrong.  I am still going to make a piece called suburban sprawl but it will be different from this.   I plan to complete this piece very soon and will post the final project then. You can read the original post related to this entry here. 


New Work: Diary of a Vegetable Farmer

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This is a piece I have worked on off and on since last summer.  For those of you who do not know me, I work as a vegetable farmer for a small commercial farm. The above work is an artist book consisting of four parts.  Each part folds out into a section of three pages. I have not yet made the slip case for this book but will post it when it is complete.  This work was printed by hand using black ink on Rives BFK and backed with a cream color Unryu paper.  Each section, folded, measures 5 x 7 inches.

Installation Art: Any Back Yard

Window on Broad
Any Back Yard, 2006 

I have talked on and off about installation art and mentioned a few pieces I have done in this medium.  One of my favorite installations I have made is Any Back Yard.  This installation was on view at the University of the Arts Window on Broad for the month of April, 2006.  The “window” is a deep space (think department store type window space) that faces a busy street. The installation is about attracting birds to an urban yard.

Personal symbols in artwork is another topic I touched on and laundry is another such symbol for me.  Laundry hanging out to dry is an everyday site in a city so it is no wonder such imagery was stuck in my mind.Read More »

Installation Art

Window on Broad
Any Back Yard, 2006

Probably the first thing I should do here is describe Installation Art for readers who may have heard the term (or maybe not) but never quite knew what it was.  Installation art is a themed exhibition that takes up an entire space, is temporary, and generally is not marketable unless an institution purchases the whole installation for its permanent collection.

My first memorable experience with installation art was sometime around 1990 at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire.  My family was there visiting my mother, who had relocated there a few years earlier.  I cannot recall who the artist was or the exact message, but I do recall the work was making a statement about trees, possibly the exploitation of trees?  Anyway, I was very impressed how this artist used the medium to present a message.   A second installation that impressed me was on display at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.  It was was a map of the local rivers, streams, creeks, as well as ones that no longer existed.  The map was made of glasses filled with water (or turned upside down if the waterway no longer existed). The size of the glass seemed to represent the size of the waterway.Read More »

The Origins of the Cookie Cutter House Project ~ Part 3

2.Tenament with Bird Nest - side 1
Tenement, Circa 2008, Private collection

Some where in the early 2000s, my imagery and the associated symbols in my work took a turn away from buildings and houses.  When they did show up, they tended to be less of the main point and more part of an entire message.  Around this time I became interested in book arts and installations.  Installation art, which is what the Cookie Cutter Project will be, is an interesting art form and something you can read about  here.   Though the artwork is still a mixture of media, installation and book arts, by their nature, are three dimensional.

The first piece on this post, Tenement, can be called a sculpture, or three dimensional print, or a book depending on your definition of such work. It is made from three small boxes covered with etchings I made of (what else?) buildings! On the very top of this piece, a paper birds nest sits and is embellished by another ubiquitous personal symbol in my work, a TV antennae.


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