Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Thoughts on Assemblage

Remnants of Everyday Life
I don't think outside the box; I think of what I can do with the box. 
                                             -Albert Einstein

Well my run of getting into gallery exhibitions has come to an end. While it is disappointing, I am continuing to push myself to enter. I have to say that I really thought my piece "Remnants  of Everyday Life" fit the prospectus perfectly for "Common Objects." I am looking forward to attending the opening. 

I do not know why it has taken me so long to embrace making assemblages. As a child I was fascinated by Joseph Cornell's (1903-1972) boxes that were on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. And even as an adult, I always stop by and visit them.

Cornell  is one of the earliest assemblage artists with his work placed in shadow boxes. He had no formal art training and he did not attend college. It wasn't until the 1940s that he started making any significant money from his artwork. He had a fear of strangers and never married. He had a passionate, but platonic, relationship with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama while she was living in New York in the mid-1960s.  Kusama is an interesting person and artist on her own. She is still making art at 87! If you don't know her work, check it out. I love how her clothes match her artwork.

Exploring Pinterest, I discovered the assemblage work of Hannelore Baron (1926-1987) . Unlike Cornell's boxes which invite us into a personal and idiosyncratic universe, Hannelore's boxes are damaged, sealed and forbidding. We are unsure of the exact contents. She escaped from Nazi Germany and ended up in New York. She is also a self-taught artist who was highly successful. I was thrilled when I discovered her. 

Cornell influenced Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008). Rauschenberg created his "combines" series (1954-1964) "using found objects in random juxtaposition in order to unleash the unconscious mind by free association." I do not worry about people's unconscious mind when viewing my work, but this quote has made me think.

I can still remember being in some heated debates over The Bed, one of Rauschenberg's first "combines," by quiltmakers who did not like how he used a quilt. I thought it interesting and elevated quilts. I was more annoyed that the quilt is often referred to as a "blanket." From MOMA's Learning site, "Legend has it that these are Rauschenberg's own pillow and blanket, which he used when he could not afford to buy a new canvas. Hung on the wall like a traditional painting, his bed, still made, becomes a sort of intimate self-portrait consistent with Rauschenberg's assertion that 'painting relates to both art and life... [and] I try to act in that gap between the two.'"

To be clear, I do not think my work holds a candle to the artists I have shared with you today. And it wasn't until I began putting my assemblages together that I realized how much the fascination of certain artists from my youth are now providing me with not only inspiration but courage. 

I have had conversation after conversation with friends about how our children have no interest in our "stuff."  My assemblages are filled with family "stuff" that was passed down to me or I dug out of the trash. I wonder why these items were kept while others with thrown or given away. Remnants is full of these items.  Robert's (my father's legal guardian) last pair of glasses. My grandfather's shaving brush. Why did my dad save my first pair of roller skates then wait more than 40 years to give them back to me? What happened to the child's spoon? Who ate with the fork? When "Mirage" hung during ARC Gallery's Home exhibition, I was happiest when I saw people lean into and spend time looking at it instead of just glancing and walking by. I want to draw people in. I want people to think about the items they keep. What do you have stored away? What memory does it hold?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Valentine's Day and a Giveaway

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt. -Charles M. Schulz

When my friend Barbara asked me to join her in a day of making things for Valentine's Day, I jumped at the opportunity. She suggested we make Valentine hot pads. I had not made hot pads for a long time so I made a test one before our play date then cut out several to bring along. When I got to Barbara's house, she excited told me that she had come up with an idea that would take us about an hour and we each could have five gifts. Well, three hours later we did each have five necklaces done. We moved on to making Valentine's. I finished first because I made simple ones and moved on to making hot pads. By the way, Barbara still has not had one. At home, I decided to use some wooden hearts that I bought to make some tags to go on my gift bags. One of my missions this year is to use the things I have purchased. I am going to need to live for a very long time. 

I think it is important to take time to just play. Katie Pasquini-Masopust  shared with me that she has a group of friends that get together once a year and make log cabin quilts. This mini retreat is all about friendship and doing something that they all love--quilting, but just for fun.  

I find that after doing this kind of crafting, I feel recharged and ready to tackle something more serious. It is also fun to be able to share. Shoot me an email (musgrave.karen at with your name and address and I will send you a Valentine.  

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Thoughts on "Wings" and "Seeing Red" Exhibitions

I feel truly blessed lately as my artwork has been embraced like no other time in my life. I truly did not know what to expected when I went to the opening of "Wings" at the Tall Grass Gallery in Park Forest (south suburbs of Chicago) on January 21 in the afternoon. The gallery itself was beautiful, but the mall it was in was just about empty. It was also 61 degrees! Well, I was blown away. The space was packed with people. The artwork was incredible. All the artists were given name tags and asked to stand near their work for questions. There was a nice spread of food with a variety of drinks. I binder with artist information was available. The president of the organization (Tall Grass Gallery is a nonprofit gallery run by volunteers) was kind and invited me to become one of their juried artists.  I loved the variety of artwork that was in the show- 45 artists from 8 states. This was the largest call of entries that they have had. I was thankful that the jurors were open-minded when it came to "Wings."  

There were paintings, watercolors, a charcoal drawing (won an award), sculptures, a collage, photographs, and an assemblage. Here are just a few that spoke to me and I was able to get a photograph. I liked the dragonfly monoprint on mylar, Navigating the Familia by Kim Laurel and was not surprised it won one of the awards. The gentleman in the painting with wings was present but not very approachable.  I have always admired Laura Lein-Svencner's collage work and I was taken by her assemblage piece.  By the way, the wings are from a real crow that she found dead on the highway. Lindsay Sanbothe's acrylic painting Cinerors Vulture was amazing. She also won a prize. The gallery presents first, second and third place awards and three "Awards of Excellence." It was a great experience and I left feeling appreciated as an artist. 

On Friday night, I traveled to ARC Gallery in Chicago for the opening of "Seeing Red." All the pieces had to be 18" wide or less and this was an open call so no jurying. This is the second time I have had a piece in the gallery so I was excited.  I entered this time to be supportive of the gallery. ARC Gallery is also an nonprofit gallery, although a women run one, that is more than 40 years old. I have visited exhibitions at the gallery for more than 30 years and never imagined that I would ever have a piece hanging in the gallery. I was surprised, although maybe I should not have been, with the number of political pieces that were in the exhibition including a DVD for sale of the Women's March in Chicago. 

The gallery quickly became full of people, but I was struck by the contrast between the two experiences. There was not a book with artist statements, no name tags so no way to know if other artists were present and two fundraisers was going on- a bake sale and decorated masks from Michael's. Maybe the fundraisers should not have bothered me, but they did.  I was greeted by a member and we talked briefly. My piece is hanging in a great spot that can be seen from the gallery's windows. My friend Barbara Wester's piece, Seeing Red, is two pieces down from mine and I thought how great serendipity can be. I found the exhibition interesting, but I was left wanting more.

Both "Wings" and "Seeing Red" will be available for viewing until February 25. If you have a chance to see either, I would love to hear your thoughts.