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Those Who We Admire

One must always be prepared to learn something totally new. ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein

ART YARD Advanced Studio was off to a wobbly start this week with a super glitchy Zoom situation. Upon signing in several participating artists got error messages. Like Air Traffic Control I was fielding texts and reading emails and getting calls. In the end, several of those getting error messages found a work around and joined what was a fabulous session titled Samoa Moriki and the Art of Portraiture with Teaching Artist Jane Huntington.

Through a screen shared PowerPoint, Jane showed us the artwork of her friend Samoa Moriki.

Samoa Moriki with his portrait of Chief Wolf Robe
Samoa Moriki portrait of Angela Davis

Jane describes the process: “The students responded enthusiastically to Samoa's work. We discussed his subjects, personal heroes based on his work and life outside painting as a musician, activist, artist – Ken Takakura, James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Freddy Mercury, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, etc. We talked about the symbolic elements Samoa incorporated – the silhouette of a hanging woman, piano, and black cat in Nina Simone’s portrait, the raised fist, and the banker from the game Monopoly in the Angela Davis portrait.

Using the material of our choice we combined elements from various images to make a portrait of hero, favorite artist, musician, scientist, actor, politician, activist, teacher, etc.

Artists Wayne, Kevin, and Marilyn all used parents as their subjects. Pat and Ed and Jenn paid homage to writers and thinkers. Vera and Sarah did portraits of women who transformed their victimization into political action. Halli did a portrait of her beloved Dolly Parton, and Eden’s piece was of two influential poets and teachers that helped guide her path. Meridith painted artist Ruth Asawa, who’s path as a teacher and artist inspired her career trajectory. My portrait was of a college friend and collaborator who passed away way too young, but who’s art, life, and family opened up my world to what it was like to live creatively in all things. The goal was to finish a piece in 1 hour, although quite a few, including myself, needed to finish their pieces after the session.”

Eden explains: “My piece pictures one of my old teachers Ms. Colette “Lotus” Brown and my good friend, a poet who has worked with the likes of Beyoncé, Yrsa Daley-Ward. They are two very spiritual poetic black women, and I put them against this yellow collage background because it represents the colors of the Orisha Oshun - guardian of the river, the arts, and femininity.”

Eden Moore, Portrait of Ms. Colette “Lotus” Brown and my good friend, digital drawing

Sarah tells us: “My project is about Malala Yousafzai a 23 years old Pakistani activist for female education and the young. She is a Nobel prize winner as she opened a school in her town. She was shot in her face by someone how did not want girls to attend school and be educated. She changed so much of Pakistan's roles as having the right for children to get free education in Pakistan. I added books with Arabic letters and a gun flowers shooting flowers. I added the sun as the joy she brought for the kids, not worrying about going to school.”

Sara Gumgumji, Portrait of Malala Yousafzai, marker and paint on wood

Halli had many reasons to depict Dolly Parton (actually Eden piped in that she considered Dolly Parton as well!) who in addition to her considerable musical talent, is a style icon, gracious to her varied fan base and most recently contributed to the Moderna Covid vaccine.

Halli Beaudoin, Portrait of Dolly Parton, collage

Vera’s digital collage The Mirabal Sisters, Fight the Trujillo Regime depicts sisters who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo (El Jefe) in the Dominican Republic and were involved in clandestine activities against his regime. Three of the four sisters were assassinated on November 25, 1960. The assassinations turned the Mirabal sisters into symbols of both popular and feminist resistance. In 1999, in their honor, the United Nations General Assembly designated November 25th the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Vera Tineo, The Mirabal Sisters, Fight the Trujillo Regime, digital drawing

Wayne portrays his “mother and her Staffie dogs, her yoga practice, her butterfly tattoos, her avid reading and her beloved salad greens!”

Wayne Gross, Portrait of My Mother, pencil and colored pencil

Kevin beautifully draws his mother, depicting her natural beauty and kindness. Kevin added the DNA helix as a sort of wall paper background.

Kevin Anderson, Portrait of my Mother, pencil

Marilyn writes: I enjoyed Jane’s lesson for the opportunity to make a collage presenting my hero, my father, Ralph August. In fact, my father was my connection to ART YARD BKLYN. He had studied drawing and painting with Marie Roberts at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, NJ. I think he began classes when he was already in his 80s and continued for many years. His participation slowed into his 90s, but he continued doing pencil portraits of friends and neighbors in the retirement community where he lived in Teaneck. There he was known not only as a gentleman, as a story teller, and as a man with a great sense of humor, but also as the resident portrait artist. Fairleigh had an exhibition of his portrait work in one of the campus galleries in March 2007. It was through my father that I got to know Marie, and she became a family friend. Marie encouraged me to join ART YARD when we spoke early on during the pandemic. The large photo in my collage was taken at my father’s 100th birthday party. I’m happy to share my hero with you.

Marilyn August, Portrait of My Father, Ralph Augus, collaget

Ed collaged his portrait of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

Ed Rath, Portrait of Ludwig Wittgenstein, collage

Jenn “chose to depict Louisa May Alcott using a combination of Micron pens, collage materials, and watercolors. The photo reference that I used was a black and white photograph taken of Alcott in 1857, when she was 25 years of age. Alcott is most well known for her famed novel, Little Women, which allowed her to single-handedly support herself and her family. This feat was progressive for a woman of her time and I often wonder what this experience was like for her. When the Civil War began, Alcott was 29 years old and refused to stay home. She deeply wanted to contribute to the fight for freedom and joined the Union forces, serving as a nurse. During this time period, she wrote letters to her family frequently, illustrating her experiences until at last, she returned to her home state of Massachusetts after becoming ill. She later published these letters under the title, "Tribulations Periwinkle," after the name she gave herself and used to sign her letters: Nurse Periwinkle. Alcott remains one of my personal role models and I enjoyed honoring her in this way through Jane's lesson. I included periwinkles in my piece to pay homage to her writings as Nurse Periwinkle.”

Jennifer Dodson, Portrait of Louisa May Alcott, Micron pen, collage, and watercolor

Pat expounds “This is a collage portrait of the writer Ursula K. LeGuin and the way I read her. The circles represent the worlds that she invented (the sun in the upper left is an homage to the sun motif that Samoa Moriki uses in several of his portraits), and the water represents the ocean of creativity or something like that (I just liked it). The man above UKL's head is Ishi, the last known member of the Native American Yahi people; the rest of his people had been killed in the California Genocide of the 19th century. UKL's parents were anthropologists, and studied and wrote about Ishi when he was brought to live on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, in 1911. (There is, obviously, a lot to be said on this matter.) Ishi gave lessons in flintknapping and worked as a janitor. The pink landscape behind Ishi is the Ishi Wilderness, an area in northern California believed to have been the home of his people. I first learned about Ishi when I was studying at Berkeley; one of the campus buildings has a courtyard named after him; my department would hold receptions there after talks. UKL never met Ishi--he died thirteen years before she was born--but I can't help feeling the presence of Ishi behind her work. In some of her novels, humanity makes first contact with other humanoid cultures on other planets, but only sends a single, solitary representative, so that the representative does not have anyone else from their home culture to keep them from becoming part of the culture that they encounter, and the culture from becoming part of them. In such encounters no one stays unchanged.”

Pat Larash, Portrait of Ursula K. LeGuin, Collage

Jane painted a memorial piece of her friend Erika in a significant location and decorated with depictions of origami cranes, a particular iconic symbol for her friend.

Jane Huntington, Portrait of Erica, watercolor

My own piece is a trifecta of powerful role models. In the center is Artist, Activist and Educator Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) a profoundly talented sculptor who wielded imagination and hope in the face of intolerance and who cared deeply about education and access to art for all people. I based the portrait on a beautiful photograph by her friend Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) who aimed to portray the beauties of character, intellect, and spirit in her subjects. The background is my version an illumination from the Book of the Queen written by Christine de Pizan (1364-1430) often regarded as one of the first feminists.

Meridith McNeal, A Powerful Trifecta (Ruth Asawa, Imogen Cunningham, Christine de Pizan), watercolor


Also this week...

Dennis, Vera and I met with people from PS1 about possible collaboration to coincide with the amazing exhibition Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration. More about this soon...but I think we will be able to work with artists from the exhibition in a zoom session! And we may be able to host a special screening of the full gallery walk through.

Tameca Cole, “Locked in a Dark Calm” (2016), collage and graphite


Yesterday New Scientist magazine wrote: “Stunning cave paintings discovered in Indonesia include what might be the oldest known depictions of animals on the planet, dating back at least 45,000 years. The paintings of three pigs, alongside several hand stencils, were discovered in the limestone cave of Leang Tedongnge on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.”

I love this 45,000+ year old pig painting!

An ancient picture showing three pigs may be the oldest drawing of animals in the world, photo by AA Oktaviana

It brought to mind a piece I did in 2007:

Meridith McNeal, Potent Sorcery, 2007, hand-sewn tea stained paper

Vera and I were recently talking about artists who depict or address hair as social and/or political commentary. I reminded her of the work of Sonya Clark which was in the exhibition I curated the first year Vera was my student! (The piece below was in that exhibition.) With the students we created a site-specific installation along both sides of a long hallway using combs to build up the imagery.

Sonya Clark, Afro Abe II, 2012, five-dollar bill and hand embroidered thread

I was thrilled to read that National Museum of Women in the Arts will present Sonya Clark: Tatter, Bristle, and Mend March 3 – May 31, 2021

“Textile and social practice artist Sonya Clark is renowned for her mixed-media works that address race and visibility, explore Blackness, and redress history. This exhibition—the first survey of Clark’s 25-year career—includes the artist’s well-known sculptures made from black pocket combs, human hair, and thread as well as works created from flags, currency, beads, cotton plants, pencils, books, a typewriter, and a hair salon chair. The artist transmutes each of these everyday objects through her application of a vast range of fiber-art techniques: Clark weaves, stitches, folds, braids, dyes, pulls, twists, presses, snips, or ties within each object.”


An opportunity of interest:

From January 4–31, artists are invited to submit designs for a library card. Designs will be reviewed by a panel of Brooklyn Public Library staff and community stakeholders. Finalists may have their works displayed and the selected design will receive a $2,000 stipend for their work.


Who are your role models?

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