Buff Monster, Rainbow Kitty Harmony, Hello Kitty Show, Corey Helford Gallery; Photo credit Genie Davis
Hello Kitty 45th Anniversary Group Show
Corey Helford Gallery, Los Angeles through August 3
Written by Genie Davis
Long has the Corey Helford Gallery held exhibitions that celebrated the pop art aesthetic. Perhaps none shines more brightly – with glittery images, sculptures and cotton-candy-colors – than the Hello Kitty 45th Anniversary Group Show. Created in partnership with Hello Kitty’s parent company, Sanrio, the main gallery exhibition included over 100 artists culled worldwide.
The exhibition offers literal interpretations of the Hello Kitty designs. The show riffs on it, offers sculptural pieces that include it, animated images and mixed media works that highlight it. Hello Kitty has plenty of history worth of homage, reinterpretation, and gentle humor. A huge fan base supports Hello Kitty products, and revels in its message of kindness, respect, and friendship. And obviously here, many artists love and are inspired by Kitty.
The exhibit at Corey Helford brought out costumed fans in droves on opening night, making attendees impromptu participants in Hello Kitty performance art. There were prints available for purchase and a stop by from a plushy Hello Kitty herself.
But in the end, of course, the focus was on art and the upbeat, positive, fun elements of the Hello Kitty aesthetic. Some works are whimsical, some are more seriously conceptual, but all are unique, and all are simply pleasurable to take in. In a socio-political age rife with anxiety, it was a welcome brightness.
Armed with only a jaunty bow near her ear, Hello Kitty is so cute she seems to purr. Here, she is glamorous, brilliantly hued, and made to dazzle.
“It’s a Lovely Day” by Pip & Pop is perhaps the perfect piece to represent Kitty. Tiny Hello Kitty images are embedded in this mixed media sculpture, which gives the viewer everything the show and its icon seem to embody: a tactile, confectionary-like look, pastel rainbow colors, sparkles, Hello Kitty figurines, a tiny pink-glazed donut, sprinkles, glitter, gum drops. Created from glitter, resin, crystal beads, modeling clay, polymer, and yes, even sugar itself, this sweet mini-mountain conveys sweetness in all forms.
From Tina Yu, “Miss Kitty” is also a sculptural work using clay, resin, polymer, and crystals. But it is entirely different, a gracefully feminine Hello Kitty “porcelain” doll, featuring demurely crossed legs with little pink bows. But this long-haired girl is also at least part-cat. She has cat ears, a cat nose and lips. She is dressed up with a red bow at her neck and a sparkling-handled Hello Kitty purse. She has both embodied and accepted her feline grace, and is thoroughly reveling in it.
Another favorite was “Hello Kitty Day Dream,” by Dena Seiferling. Using a repurposed bubble gum dispenser as a kind of interstellar bubble of a see-through Hello Kitty head, a felted sculpture within the dispenser of a cheerful blue fish, and a base created from a hand-painted wooden can made to resemble a can of tuna, even the fish Hello Kitty may dream of consuming is happy.
Among the stand-out wall art pieces, Hello by Nate Frizzell is a lovely burst of realism. A stunning white cat with a pink bow below her ear sits patiently on a wooden plank positioned against a lush rolling green meadow as a background. It is more inspired-by the idea of a happy cat than homage to the actual image, refreshingly natural, and beautifully created in oil on canvas.
Synthetic enamel on wood, and the polar-opposite of “Hello” is Okuda San Miguel’s surreal pop “Hello Kitty Skull.” Against a background done in vibrant rainbow shades, a black bird stands in silhouette on Kitty’s head. The head is bisected, half multi-colored and prismatic, while the other side is black and white patterned with stars. One eye is open and dark in classic Kitty style; the eye on the rainbow side is differently shaped and filled with tiny stars – it may be closed in a Kitty wink.
“Risky Kitty” by Risk is a mixed media assemblage that merges an iconic Rolling Stones album cover with Hello Kitty. Red tongue lolling out, this kitty is made from Kandy Car paint, aerosol, and crushed abalone, positioned over a collage of backgrounds: road sign, license plates, and recycled spray can panel. The darker color palette is counteracted by a bevy of butterflies.
Yarn and foam are used to create a woven Hello Kitty in La Belle Epoque’s “Dance with Hello Kitty.” Here, the ultimate textural kitty wears an elaborate floral headpiece along with her jaunty red bow; she’s positioned in a cat-like natural pose, lying down, with a fluffy tutu.
A glittery kitty rides a unicorn in Kristy Bomb’s “Hello Kitty Confection.” A mosaic of mixed media on wood, there are mini Hello Kitty’s, glittery unicorns, and beads among other items within the outlines of both Kitty and unicorn.
There are too many other pieces to mention, but each offers their own sensibility, their own lively take on what is obviously a beloved pop culture phenomena. From black and white pop cartoon images by Albert Reyes in “Hello to the Kitty” in which Hello Kitty is one of many faces depicted – humans and felines, perhaps her fans; to the mixed media on panel “Goodnight Moon” with kitty in queenly robes, by Chris Berens; Hello Kitty fans – and even those barely familiar with the kitty trope, will find plenty to look at and enjoy.
Khang Bao Nguyen; Image courtesy of the artist
The Philosophy and Spirituality of Art
Written by Genie Davis
July 8th to July 28th, Khang Bao Nguyen will bring his jewel-like, richly philosophical art to Shoebox Projects.
Nguyen takes spiritual and philosophical insights which he’s uncovered and translates into a visual vocabulary that encompasses perception, consciousness – and as he puts it “an immediate awareness of Being that is free from the mind’s thought-constructs.”
His mesmerizing work is both maze and mosaic; astonishingly detailed, it invites contemplation. This is not work to be quickly observed and walked by, rather it inherently demands an intensity of gaze and time that pays tribute to the artist’s immersive process.
Nguyen says “My work investigates the nature of existence, knowledge, perception, consciousness, the ground of being, totality, liberation, nonlinear consummation, and non-dual awareness. I’m currently a PhD student in Eastern and Western philosophies – the non-dual tradition, dialectical tradition, postmodern philosophy – at Claremont Graduate University, and I integrate philosophical insights into my artwork.”
In both his studies and his art, Nguyen explains that he is creating a bridge between the philosophy from the East and West, showing both what they have in common and their differences. What he derives from his studies he applies to both his approach and subject for his art. But the viewer needs to be aware of none of this to appreciate the artist’s serene and beautiful patterned work.
Of his work at Shoebox Projects, Nguyen notes “My work in this exhibition is a continuation of my past work as well as based on new insights. I create artwork in order to help me to see from different visual perspectives.”
These perspectives are both liberating for the artist and the viewer. “I believe visual perspectives have the capacity to open my mind beyond simple conceptual comprehension, by triggering certain intuitive insights and direct experiences,” he asserts.
There is palpable, moving spirituality in his work, that elevates both Nguyen’s art and the experience of the viewer. He is both inspired by and inclusive of the spiritual in his work, creating a reverential circle of visual bliss. This reverence and the meditative quality of the work isn’t surprising given the strength and beauty of the artist’s devotion to both art and philosophical exploration.
“My artwork is a reflection of my practice/investigation in the non-dual spiritual traditions, which includes Zen Buddhism and Dzogchen,” he explains.
The observable beauty and visceral depth of his work is a tribute to the complexity of it. This level of precision and perfection is intensely rewarding to examine, and the result of a long artistic process.
“The details and patterns in my work require many hours to build up layers of complexity from simplicity,” he says. “I break up solid shapes into smaller facets in order to create a sense of movement, reflectivity, and uncertainty.”
The result is something quite amazing. The works are highly geometric in their patterns, yet delicately evocative. To say they transcend the everyday is almost beside the point – they are both meditative mandala and spiritual DNA. The palette is varied and lustrous, and the colors seem to reflect, enhance, and grow from the image Nguyen creates.
The artist employs a variety of mediums. “I use oil paint, ink, and graphite on canvas, paper, or wood panel. I usually gravitate towards earth tones or cool colors – shades of turquoise, purple, blue, green, black. To me, these colors invoke a sense of contemplation.” And to the viewer, as well.
Created for the soul, the heart, and the mind, Nguyen’s work transfixes and shines, as if it came from both beyond this existence and within it. His Shoebox Projects residency should be a don’t-miss.
El Anatsui, Venice Biennale; Photo credit Sydney Walters
The 2019 Venice Biennale
By Sydney Walters
The Venice Biennale is a vast and magnificent art experience nestled in one of the many gems of Italy. Showcasing artists for over 120 years, the Biennale is divided into two primary sites, the Giardini, which houses most of the international art pavilions, and the Arsenale, a massive gallery streamlining artists from across the world into one, meandering space. May You Live in Interesting Times leans more heavily on installation and video art rather than traditional mediums such as drawing and painting. As the title suggests, intrigue and innovation is the top commodity in this arena.
Sue Yuan and Peng You’s Can’t Help Myself was the first major double-take in the Giardini Pavilion. A giant mechanical arm with a squeegee affixed to the end endlessly mops up a pool of viscous red liquid at its base. It is a groaning machine whirling around, flicking the blood-like material on the surrounding Plexiglas and on itself.
And speaking of mechanized art, Shilpa Gupta creates an interesting work of a metal gate repeatedly slamming into the wall. Chunks of drywall litter the ground and a dusty trail of rubble outline the sweeping arc of the gate’s path.
Part of Christine and Margaret Wertheim’s Pod World is also displayed in this section of the exhibition. Tiny seascapes are hand knitted under encased in clear boxes like aquariums. The details captured here are remarkable as they describe rippling coral reefs.
The best video in this portion of the show is one that is modified and repeated in the Arsenale section. It is the video work of Kahil Joseph called BLKNWS, an ongoing project streaming an uninterrupted flow of images and videos of black American life. Two screens are juxtaposed on the wall on top of a large black and white photograph of nuns. Because the screens are presented like a diptych, it is difficult to not try to make connections between the unrelated news on each screen. But its disjointed nature lends itself to cast a wider net with which to consider the undulating evolution of culture.
In the British Pavilion, Cathy Wilkes exhibits a muted but powerful solo show. The ghost of Agnes Martin would nod her head approvingly at the pastel washes on canvas and soft grey curtains hung delicately on the wall. Yet the stars of the show are her free-standing figures gracing the space. A small girl, minimally described with a bald head, protruding ears and mere dots signifying two eyes and a mouth, is dressed in a plain yellow gown. A large pregnant belly which looks like a concrete semi-circle, is fixed to the front of her dress.
Another showstopper worth mentioning is El Anastui’s installation in the Ghana Pavilion. As always, his lustrous work challenges the boundaries of hard and soft materials as he creates colorful and flexible drapery. The Ghana Pavilion is an interesting space. The doorway is packed with mud giving off an earthy aroma and video installations project various elements of nature in a visual opera.
After taking the ten-minute walk over to the Arsenale portion of the show, visitors are greeted by Zanele Muholi’s wallpaper photographs at the gallery’s entrance. These striking black and white images appear throughout the space, adding unity to the exhibition. The women pictured act like larger than life goddesses, overseeing the entire affair.
Video art can be difficult to sit through, especially when there are so many other things to see. But Korakrit Arunanondchai and Alex Gvojic’s No history in a room filled with people with funny names 5 is well worth the thirty-minute viewing. Visitors plop down on huge fluffy pillows in front of three video projectors. The pacing is of each video is perfect, twisting and contorting like a kaleidoscope, unraveling a narrative, landscape and fantasy. It is refreshingly easy to slip into the arms of the artists and trust them to carry you through this fantastic journey.
All in all, May You Live in Interesting Times is a kinetic experience best enjoyed over several hours of days. Alongside the art installations, the Biennale features dance, music and theater performances. Happenings will occur until November 24, 2019. For further information, visit their website.
Gina M.; Image courtesy of the artist
Dark Whimsy: The Work of Gina M.
Written by Genie Davis
Artist Gina M. creates works in layers of meaning and visualization. To see her work is like unpacking a series of wonderful and startling surprises.
“What may look innocent or naïve at first glance contains deeper levels of narrative the longer people spend with it. I love watching people look at my work,” she attests. “First, they walk up and see the cute face, the detailed texture, or the funny pose. Then there’s that moment where they discover tire tracks through the center of a 6-foot ceramic bear, or the broken neck of a toy giraffe. They then read the juxtaposed title and that’s when I hear the “aw” and it all comes together.” She describes the experience she wants for her viewers as a journey, “somewhat like the one I had while making the work. I attribute my 20-years of creating trompe l’oeil, fool-the-eye faux finishes and murals in clients’ homes for my fascination with visual deception.”
Gina M. says she creates because she has an “over-active mind.” She describes her work as being “like an interior self-portrait to me. It evolves as I’m affected by my surroundings, by life events, by my emotional and psychological self-reflection.”
The artist works on multiple bodies of work at any given time, noting “Sometimes it takes years to finish something that only has three parts because I’m waiting to find just the right part. Other times, like in this political climate, I create 13 pieces in a month, with more on the way, because what I’m feeling seems so urgent.”
She sees her art as constantly evolving in scale and material choices, but describes her work as staying consistent in terms of message and tone. “New or different access to construction materials will dictate a change in my making, but one constant runs through, even when themes in my art vary from melancholy, to political, to ironic: most pieces contain some form of a toy or reference to my childhood.”
Some of the artist’s bodies of work consist of digital photography and collage, other involve painting with acrylic, oils, and encaustic wax. There are sculptural works with paper mache or ceramics, and assemblages of found objects from human discards and nature. Gina M. is also creating a new body of work which she refers to as photo embellishments, combining photography and assemblage. She’s also begun to place her works within a new narrative in larger installations, such as her upcoming Under the Big Top, which will open at H Gallery + Studios June 29th in Ventura.
Gina M., Family Circus; Image courtesy of the artist
Creating work that is both whimsical and dark requires both a light touch and her signature passion for layers, a passion which Gina M. says she feels a need to express in each piece. “It’s also a form of entertainment for me,” she says. “If I can make the viewer want to touch the ceramic because they don’t believe it’s not fabric, or if I can put them off-guard as they realize what drew them in is not what it’s all about, I’m satisfied.” She adds “Also most people are more complicated than they seem at first, and presenting a creepy cute object mirrors that. Spend more time with a person and you see the beauty in the flaws.”
According to Gina M., her formula for creation is all about working in three different layers or subtexts. She breaks these down as “the bait” which is whimsical, the hook which is “creepy,” and the message – evoking an emotional reaction in her viewers.
She was raised in an artistic environment, and her commitment to creating art came early. Her mother and a friend owned and operated a puppet theater in Norwalk, where the family spent many weekends developing shows, building puppets and hosting birthday parties. “Art and creativity were a way of life,” she explains. “As a shy lonely child, nurtured by puppets and their puppeteers, my connection to anthropomorphic forms began early. I was often found in the corner of the playground, twisting grass and twigs into small figures.”
She may have changed in terms of her medium and scale, but she’s creating fascinating, figurative works in a variety of formats. When Under the Big Top opens at H Gallery, it will be her largest installation project to date, a part of a group exhibition exclusively dedicated to installation art work. In the exhibition, the figurative assemblage she calls her Toy Box Kids will “stand on stage, exposing their narrative bellies, under a nine-foot striped canopy covered with lights.” According to Gina M. “The show features both ceramics and assemblage sculptures and an 8-foot faux puppet stage.” She describes it as being “a toy box of whimsy and a repository of coded narrative overstuffed with humor and metaphor, masking the gloomy overtones of melancholy. My vocabulary of iconic child-like imagery exudes the urgent warnings of the inevitability of loss and the resurrection of the metaphorical inner child.”
Other work recently on view included her ceramic and found-object sculpture “Nature Cake,” exhibited at Blue Roof Studios in the group show Let Me Eat Cake, Too!; and a 6-foot ceramic wall piece titled “My Bare Skin” at the Pasadena Society of Arts 94th juried Annual at Burbank Creative Arts Center.
She describes her installation in Ventura as a preview of sorts for her solo exhibition upcoming January 21st, 2020, Through the Toy Shop and Behind the Curtain at the Don B. Huntley Gallery at Pomona College.
Whatever the venue or medium, viewers of Gina M.’s work can be assured what they see will be filled with a panoply of human emotion; that it will be deeply involving, and that it will bring smiles as well as the revelation of darker meaning. Like life itself, being under Fernandez’ “big top” is a circus of feeling, wonder, the strange, and the sublime.
Gabriella Sanchez, In a Manner of Speaking, Charlie James Gallery; Photo by Michael Underwood, courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery
Upstairs/Downstairs at Charlie James Gallery
Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles through July 20
By Lorraine Heitzman
There is a fascinating undercurrent of psychological themes embedded in a pair of shows now on view at Charlie James Gallery. In the main gallery, Gabriella Sanchez straddles two distinct cultures, her Mexican heritage and her Southern California roots in bold, graphic paintings that mesh her dual identities. Downstairs, Specific Abstractions, curated by Matt Stromberg, makes the case for the influence of the individual and culture upon non-objective art, influences that have largely gone unacknowledged. Both shows are excellent examples of the way different artists use biographical information in their works, particularly when they involve a mix of cultures.
In Gabriella Sanchez’s second show at Charlie James Gallery, In a Manner of Speaking, her paintings continue the play between graphics, letterforms and bold color that she introduced last year in her debut solo show, By Any Other Name. When she splashed onto the scene her work was notably vibrant and fresh, bringing her unique sensibility to a territory once occupied by the likes of Corita Kent, Stuart Davies, Andy Warhol, and the many other artists who have been inspired by advertising. Sanchez borrows freely from established styles, but through her references to Hispanic culture and newly introduced elements of her personal story, she convincingly makes the work her own.
The eight paintings in this show have become more complex than those exhibited in 2018. Whereas previous paintings impressed with their joyful, pure palette and simplicity, Sanchez now uses photo transfers and employs deeper colors, more tonalities, and perhaps most significantly, more complicated narratives. Metallic gold, silver and bronze have been applied to the surfaces and contribute to the saturation and density of the paintings. Instead of maintaining the stripped-down look of her previous work, she has added images from family photographs that introduce men constrained by their machismo, and uses both English and Spanish keywords to highlight ironic differences between the two cultures. In First and Second, a man’s face in profile is featured twice, once in black and white and the other with an overlay of green on top of the face, almost like a kabuki mask. Below, in Gothic lettering, the word “Baile” is written, with the first four letters highlighted. In Spanish, the word means dance, and to emphasize the meaning, a photographic print of what appears to be a ballerina by Degas is superimposed over the word, partially obscuring the letter “e”, so in effect, “bail” is read first. In this painting, as in the others, Sanchez is setting up word games, reinforced by images to point out the ironies and discrepancies between two interpretations. The result seems a little awkward as she transitions to more elaborate compositions, but it is compelling to follow this artist’s development as she feels her way to deeper emotional content.
Specific Abstractions curated by Matt Stromberg, Charlie James Gallery; Photo by Michael Underwood, courtesy of the artists and Charlie James Gallery
Matt Stromberg, a Los Angeles-based art writer, has assembled the work of eight Southern Californian abstract artists in Specific Abstractions and urges the viewer to consider the work in the context of the artists’ inspirations. In general, abstraction is often seen through the lens of modernism and conceptualism (and many other ism’s) but the artists in this show imbue their work with meaning tied to their different cultural backgrounds or biographies; Tanya Aguiñiga, Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia and Rubén Ortiz Torres were each born in Mexico, and Leonardo Bravo was born in Chile, but the idea of Specific Abstractions is not about drawing from a specific heritage but rather that non-objective art can be highly personal, decorative or even nostalgic. There is a strong humanistic impulse behind these works instead of a purely intellectual pursuit. Perhaps Stromberg’s larger point may be that all art should be understood in context; certainly these examples destroy the assumption that abstract art is made in a vacuum.
Bravo’s small hard-edged, geometric paintings reference tapestries and the architecture of his native country. They explore spatial relationships as well as textile patterns but are virtuoso gems of color and balance that succeed on their own merits. Hurtado Segovia appropriates weaving techniques that recall Mexican shopping bags and turns them into artful wall hangings made from woven, hand-painted paper. These miniature pieces hint at the impact of his larger tapestries but still show his ability to elevate and isolate a lo-brow method of construction into an object of fine art. Tanya Aguiñiga, raised in Tijuana, has long been involved with border communities, using art as a bridge for her social practice. Her two textile pieces, a macramé wall hanging with brass embellishments and a free-hanging banner with gold leaf, reflect her interest in crafts and her relationship to Hispanic culture. In Spring Portal Rachid Bouhamidi finds inspiration from his Moroccan heritage and uses applied arts to slyly incorporate a comic figure within the mesmerizing geometries of Islamic mosaics.
Brenna Youngblood contributes an oversized, painted three dimensional letterform perched atop a slim table. I, like some of her earlier assemblages, is a sculptural metaphor for a simple equation, or in this case, a resolute self-portrait. Rubén Ortiz Torres turns to the cosmos in Lo que se ve no se pregunta (What you see you don’t ask), flipping a well-known axiom on its head in a beautifully realized extraterrestrial landscape. John Knuth’s The Low Desert is an example of one of the artist’s fly paintings in which he uses insects to create his suggestive, minimal imagery. By altering the diet of flies and confining them to a desired space, Knuth harnesses their labor in a bazaar collaboration that he likens to the social construct of Los Angeles. Lastly, Dan Levenson creates an imaginary history of early twentieth century modern art replete with aged, crackled canvases and easels. Levenson shows his love and affinity for the birth of abstraction and in doing so, makes that moment in time tangible, a case of fiction being just as convincing, if not more real than fact.
Both Specific Abstractions and In a Manner of Speaking bring insight into different cultural and personal identities through art that spans many narrative and abstract forms. In the end they resonate with us by offering new ways to look at art, and new ways to think about ourselves, too.
Hurtado Segovia, Three Years: The Davyd Whaley Foundation, Castelli Art Space; Photo credit Genie Davis
Three Years and Seven Artists: The Davyd Whaley Foundation
Castelli Art Space, Los Angeles
Written by Genie Davis
Beautifully curated, Three Years: The Davyd Whaley Foundation, exhibited at Castelli Art Space in June, offered a look at the works of seven artists supported by the foundation over the past three years.
The collection of diverse, exciting art included a wide range of lustrous works; a mix of sculpture, paintings, and photography.
According to show curator and foundation director Nick Brown “The exhibition was a way for us to offer continued support for our artists and raise visibility for them and the foundation.”
The show included Andrea Bersaglieri, Susanna Battin, Margaret Griffith, Laura Krifka, Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia, Phung Huynh and Ryan Jeffrey.
Brown describes the curation as “an interesting experience. Typically, the curator would create a concept for the show, and then select artists that they felt reflected that concept and work from each artist that fleshes it all out. In this case, I was beginning with the artists, because the general concept was to promote our awardees through an exhibition. So, the task became finding conceptual and aesthetic commonality in the diverse range of work.”
The task was astutely accomplished. Among the works exhibited were a stunning sculptural piece by Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia, “Vida, passion y muerte,” created with acrylic, glass beads, and metallic floss on muslin; and sculptural work as dazzling as it is delicate in works by Margaret Griffith such as her “Versailles,” created from hand cut Tyvek paper and acrylic. The delicate and precise floral oil images of Andrea Bersaglieri paired perfectly with Susan Battin’s acrylic and graphite landscapes and their vivid, buttery yellow backgrounds. A completely different sort of landscape was on view with Ryan Jeffrey’s classically composed, painterly digital depiction of urban streets. The figurative portraiture of Laura Krifka and Phung Huynh couldn’t be more different in style and approach, but are equally involving and intimate. Also exhibited was foundation namesake Davyd Whaley’s mixed media on wood “Surrender,” a lush and layered, highly-textured abstract.
Laura Krifka, Three Years: The Davyd Whaley Foundation, Castelli Art Space; Photo credit Genie Davis
Brown correctly asserts that “the strength of the exhibition was both inherent in the works themselves and the diverse forms that they took. This enabled me to curate the show in a dynamic way revealing these properties. Laura Krifka is an extraordinary realist painter whose work could be intermixed with Susanna Battin’s conceptual paintings that are dual sided and suspended at an angle revealing both sides of the work. This creates a transition from wall-bound work to painting occupying a semi-sculptural position to the sculptures of Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia which are rooted in the medium of fiber art. Lorenzo’s work then built towards Margaret Griffith’s large paper-based installation pieces. Phung Huynh’s political, stylized realist paintings hang nearby, along with Andrea Bersaglieri’s masterful small scale paintings of weeds which share space with Ryan Jeffrey’s digitally manipulated prints of Google Maps street view screen grabs.”
Brown stresses that the diversity of both artists and their work was in full view. A commitment to diversity is a continued goal for the foundation. Brown notes “As the director of the foundation, I am always an artist first. Our programming moving forward will continue with artist teacher grants, emerging artist grants and various other opportunities not filled by other entities serving artists in the Los Angeles area.”
According to Brown, “Each grant cycle we have three independent jurors that decide who the foundation will issue grants and other opportunities to. We invite one of our previous artist awardees and two arts professionals working at the highest levels to make these determinations. This means we have a very diverse range of awardees, because of the rotating nature of the jury. The foundation itself has no overarching aesthetic principle. This should encourage all artists to apply for our opportunities and not be dissuaded if they are not awarded in their initial attempt. Also, our free application process provides artists visibility, getting their work seen by influential people in the community who serve as our jurors.”
Foundation founder Norman Buckley established The Davyd Whaley Foundation in 2016 in honor of his late husband Davyd Whaley. “It was a way to proactively process my grief—to find meaning in the loss– by promoting Davyd’s artistic legacy, and also the values that were important to him. Davyd had much success at the end of his life, but he also had a great heart for service – he was the most open-hearted person I’ve ever met. He felt it was important to give back when one had the opportunity. In my life now I continue to take my inspiration from him.”
According to Buckley, Whaley’s goals “were always evident: Make art. Buy the art of others. Help people whenever possible. Grow in consciousness. The mission of the Foundation was designed around these tenets.”
In the first year of the Foundation two grants were awarded — a mid-career artist and an artist-teacher grant. The following year, a third grant was given to another mid-career artist. And this year, four grants were given: emerging artist, artist-teacher, and two residencies. Buckley says that to date more than $42,000 has been donated to local artists chosen from hundreds of applications from the Southern California area by an independent jury.
“The jury changes each year, but has always been comprised of members from the local art community,” Buckley explains. “I am not personally involved with the selection of grantees, nor is anyone from the Foundation staff, nor was I involved with decisions about the exhibition.”
The Foundation is managed by Whaley’s friend and associate Anitra Kyees, who Buckley notes has been instrumental in its startup. Other key members are Brown, whom Whaley met while taking a class from him at UCLA Extension; Ellie Blankfort, the Foundation’s original director; and her husband, Peter Clothier, who wrote the essay “A Hero’s Journey” about Davyd, which is in the monograph of Davyd’s work, DAVYD WHALEY. The monograph is available on Amazon, with all proceeds going to the Foundation.
Buckley wants people to know that the foundation was established to support artists in an unrestricted way. “Many grants in the art world are designed around certain criteria, but I wanted to do something that would allow artists to figure out for themselves how to use the money. I am encouraged by those we have awarded so far.”
He describes them as each being “unique in their approach to their craft and thoughtful about the philosophy behind their work. My hope is that the Foundation will be a way to bring more attention to their work.” Buckley adds “I feel that Davyd would be very happy with those who have received this honor in his name. In his life, he wanted to support other artists in whatever way he could and encourage others to do the same. I am grateful that, through the Foundation, I am able to carry on his legacy of generosity and service.”
Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983. The Broad. Photo Credit Sydney Walters
Unfurling Truth in Art at Soul of a Nation
The Broad, Los Angeles
Through September 1st
By Sydney Walters
This exhibit at The Broad Art Museum charges off the starting block in 1963 at the time of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Birthed out these turbulent and violent times, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983” is a comprehensive survey of black artists grappling with political changes and frustrating stalemates that distill into communal and individual pride and identity.
The American flag, a symbol of pride and freedom for many, is handled distinctively different in Faith Ringgold’s The Flag is Bleeding. Three figures, a black man, a white woman and a white man are painted behind the stars and stripes of the flag. The red stripes ooze paint from each red horizontal line. The black man holds a knife in his left hand and with his right, plugs a stab wound on his shoulder. The figures placidly smile while looking directly at the viewer. Ringgold highlights the discrepancy of consciousness of black and white America. All is well for the white folks. But while holding the same calm gaze as his comrades, the black man is violated by the racist history of America which forces him to live defensively holding a knife while nursing a wound.
In line with artists like Ringgold whose work is in direct dialogue with American history, Dana C. Chandler paints on a bullet holed green and red door. A “US Approved” insignia is on the top right corner. A painted name plaque reads: Fred Hampton, Chairman Black Panther Party. In 1969, Chicago police shot through a door and murdered the young Black Panther leader. Hampton’s door was cast into evidence to prove the Panthers shot first. Seeing that Hampton was sleeping at the time of the break in, the “evidence” was proved false. Chandler’s painting is a relic of corrupt justice and stands like a tombstone honoring the death of a brave young leader.
Wadsworth Jarrell, one of Chicago’s AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) has several psychedelic paintings included in the exhibit. Infused with the Kool Aid colors of double dark cherry red, blue raspberry blue and lime green, Jarrell paints Black Prince, a portrait of Malcolm X transcribing parts of his May 1963 speech under the face and the repeating “B” letter standing for “Black, bad and beautiful” cropping up around the figure. The colors are dizzying and appear to vibrate as each saturated color begs attention.
Ed Clark is one of the artists featured in the Abstract Expressionist section of this exhibit. His oval Yenom (#9) is a blurred horizon with sap green fading into a sandy mid-ground before entering a turquoise blue foreground. For artists like Clark and Sam Gilliam, color field and abstract paintings encourage meditative response to their use of color and line. Devoid of figures, these artists rely on the technicality of the painting to deliver messages. They are love songs to how the brush moves, how paint dances across canvas and how material transforms expectations.
Striking black portraits from artists such as Emma Amos, Raymond Saunders and Berkley Hendricks are just around the corner. Hendricks in particular creates uncommon color pallets for his portraits. In What’s Going On, he paints five black figures, four men and one woman. He chooses quite uncommon colors for the figure/background relationship. The men wear white suits and hats and are painted against a white background. The woman’s naked body and the men’s hands and faces are the only contrasting element on this piece. The viewer’s eye bounces from flesh piece to flesh having with the sumptuousness of the skin carrying much more visual interest than the stark whiteness.
This way of seeing What’s Going On is what makes Soul of a Nation so extraordinary. Contrary to the cannon of art history, depicting whiteness and being white is not, in fact, what is always interesting or important. In fact it is the distinct pockets of black identity, the faces, hands and bodies that charge this exhibit with exuberant power and does nothing short but enrich the dialog of art histo-ry.