I am Who I Say I Am
This week ART YARD Advanced Studio on Zoom learned about the art and social activism of Lily Yeh and her group Barefoot Artists in a fascinating session with Teaching Artist Vera Tineo.
Vera explains her concept for the lesson: “Art can heal us and our community. Advanced Studio Artists were tasked to confront a problem their community faces and illustrate the problem and/or possible solutions in any medium. Healing Community is conducive to healing yourself.”
I found Yeh’s work so inspiring and not unlike what we do at ART YARD! In my piece I referenced the look of Yeh’s gorgeous brightly colored mosaics as well as the wonderful birds eye view map of the Village of Arts and Humanities in my vision of a permeant space for ART YARD.
In her first piece Nayarit also takes direct inspiration from Lily Yeh’s artwork, in particular her early traditional Chinese landscape ink drawings. Then in a lovely watercolor she created a second artwork addressing the horrible effects of plastic waste on birds.
Nayarit Tineo, Healing our Community I & II
Many of us laughed out loud when Pat’s piece came up during critique. Finding great humor in her spot-on depiction of that completely overwhelmed feeling we have all experienced. When she then explained her topic was the overwhelming frustration of healthcare in this country we heartily complimented her visual critique of that hulking problem!
Karla depicted a stylized rendition of her view out the studio window. She explains: “The tree appears in many of Yeh’s works. I reference it as a symbol of hope, growth and breaking free….also as witness to the passing of time and it’s issues. In the Japanese culture, sacred trees symbolize both birth and death, beauty and violence. In liturgical/religious symbolism green symbolizes hope and life. Black, eternity; Yellow, youth and happiness; White, birth and new life. Color symbolism is used through history in many art forms. Interesting how my work suddenly appeared to have a sidewalk like image below a tree….must have channeled that poem of Delphine’s. Comparison with the tree as visual focus.”
Delphine created two touching and powerful pieces. One about her sadness at those who do not operate from a place of love. She also provides a stop-gap by depicting a plunger, symbolic of taking action to reestablish a loving community.
Delphine's second piece goes along with a poem she wrote recently on her way to school.
A lonely Birds Call
By Delphine Levenson
Wind blowing through the wrestling leaves
Sap trickling down the tree bark
The call of a lonely crow sitting
on the Highbranch the snap of
A twig as a critter rustles behind a bush
The crunch of a foot print in the snow
The crash of the shimmering ocean riding up on the shore
My toes sunk in the sand as water rushes over them
A tickle up to my fingers
I'm in peace
I'm in my calm
And I am home
Ed trains a gimlet eye on the despicable thoughtless waste of ultra rich, and the plight of gripping substance abuse amongst the destitute.
Vera and Zeke both look at the plight of people living without homes. Vera honing in on the growing population taking shelter at her local subway stop in Queens. Zeke focusing on vacant buildings in Portland, ME which should in fact be inhabited.
Jacob takes on the fight for a Living Wage, casting a dim look upon the often proffered pizza party in lieu of adequate pay. His glitter slice packs even more of a wallop when you know how much Jacob loves pizza!
Vera sums up the session: “I chose to present the work of Lily Yeh her art and her activism and its nomadic and hybrid style as a parallel to that of ART YARD! Our tenacity to survive and thrive through covid has made us a closer community, similar to Yeh’s work. We all dug in to important issues from health insurance and tax stress, to the need for housing to stop gun violence.”
Even in its unfinished form Marilyn’s piece could and SHOULD be used as a public service poster!
Once again frigid temperatures kept ART YARD Advanced Studio usually in person operating on Zoom. In this session titled I am Who I Say I Am Teaching Artist Aisha Tandiwe Bell introduced us to the art and ideas of Toyin Ojih Odutola who says of her work: “My Biography is written in my eyes, on my skin in the texture of my hair. It is woven into my breath.” And to portraits by Michael Volpicelli composed of layered text relating to the person depicted.
Aisha opened the lesson asking each of us to recount something about yourself that none of the others in our group would know about you. As we took turns sharing these tidbits, we unwittingly exposed our vulnerability to each other. The effect: it made us feel closer. This is a great strategy to use in your artwork. Sharing personal things with your audience develops deeper emotional connections (e.g. Vincent Van Gogh, or Alice Neel) cementing your shared humanity.
Aisha then had us create a portrait of ourselves or others using one or both of the techniques employed by these artists. Both Aisha and Ed used a combination of methods in their self-portraits.
Likewise Nayarit worked with self-portraiture separating facial features to take back negative comments she has received over the years.
Vera went big! Her digital piece a portrait of world powers and political mishegoss.
Ed compliments several artists: “Naya's piece poetically expresses the idea that, The Mind is not located inside the Brain. Indeed, contemporary brain scientists are discovering more evidence that consciousness may in fact be located outside the body. Naya's drawing of two heads connected back to back, one with a brain, the other with a spiral of words perfectly illustrates the idea that, Language is the link between Consciousness and the Mind.
Using small black dots to build his self- portrait, Wayne's phantom-like visage dances like a sun shower on a hot sidewalk.
Likewise, the exquisite line work in Pat and Meridith's portraits of Edgar Allan Poe and Ruth Asawa is so delicate they appear to be held together by static electricity, offering tantalizing evidence that perhaps Bishop Berkeley's thesis that the exterior world does not exist was right.
"In closing," Ed finishes, "always remember: We're not crazy. We're Artists."
Dennis writes: Our partnership school, Brooklyn New School (BNS), was closed on Tuesday in celebration of Lunar New Year. It's too bad, in a way, that we are only at BNS one day per week. Think of the excellent projects we could have made with our students all week - tiger costumes, tiger paintings and drawings, sculptures of those waving hand cats that we see everywhere around town (they're called Maneki-neko - and they're actually Japanese altho one does see them in most Chinese restaurants and shops), or simply lots of art making about all those fruits eaten to celebrate the New Year.
Then I thought .... can a person from a Brooklyn Italian American family have a personal Lunar New Year memory? Why not? I do.
I worked with a lovely and very energetic and smart Chinese-American woman for many years - her name is MeiFong Wong. She was known as Mei Mei to her family because she was the youngest of all of her brothers and sisters (and Mei Mei means "little sister"). I would refer to her as The aMEIzing Mei because she worked non-stop all day. When I'd say that, she'd walk away shaking her head. She'd always give me one of those beautiful red envelopes with money in it and a little Maneki-neko at Lunar New Year. I had a pretty big collection of them as the years went by. Once, someone gave me a solar energy powered figure of Queen Elizabeth who'd give a royal wave when in the right light. I placed QEII amongst all the waving cats. Mei looked at it, didn't say a word, took it off my desk and put it in a bottom drawer and walked away .... shaking her head.