WOW! – Work of the Week – Fulvio Bianconi – Pezzato Vase, Model 1329



Fulvio Bianconi
Pezzato Vase, Parigi, Model 1329
c. 1951
Polychrome patchwork glass
5 w x 4 1/2 d x 9 1/2 h in.
Signed Venini Italia to underside



About the work:

Fulvio Bianconi is one of the most important designers that generated the “Renaissance” of Venetian Murano glass-blowing art in the 20th century.

Bianconi was an innovator, focusing on pieces with sophisticated shapes, characterized by strong colors, designing striking works, some of which sum up the enthusiasm of the “fabulous” Fifties that would become icons of Murano glassmaking. He was the first glassmaker to portray human figures in glass, breaking with the long-held tradition of glass being perceived as a secondary material as far as artistic expression goes.

In 1946 he travelled many times to Murano to learn more about the art of glassmaking. Here he met Paolo Venini who, invited him to collaborate with his glassworks. From this collaboration the Figure della Commedia dell’Arte, the Tiepolos the Fazzoletto, the Sirene, the Pezzati and many others emerged.

New workmanship techniques of the glassmaking art and revision of the age-old ones were the subject of the creative research of Fulvio Bianconi. Molding movement and color into his glass pieces, Fulvio Bianconi established a totally up-to-date link with the history of Murano.

Before his innovations, glass had been used for utilitarian purposes. Bianconi pushed the limits of glassmaking in the traditional sense and material of glass itself by transforming it in both theory and practice. In his more than sixty years of artistic activity, he designed thousands of books, produced innumerous illustrations and paintings, and designed and created thousands of glass objects.

Bianconi was free to experiment with the formal qualities and potentials of glass as a fluid and organic medium. His earliest freelance work for Venini, which he not only designed but also cut and ground himself in order to become familiar with the medium, engages in a spontaneous aesthetic that intentionally and ironically protests against traditional values of perfect craftsmanship.

Fulvio Bianconi was one of the only glass designers who adapted trends in contemporary art into his work. There is an immediacy and flamboyancy in his aesthetic achieved through an improvised and freehand manipulation of glass while in the furnace. Rather than engage in the tradition of perfect repetition that had so long denoted artisanal excellence, Bianconi instead injected the individuality and expressivity of the artist’s hand into his glasswork designs. “The artistic glass,” wrote Bianconi, “must be unique, if it is repeated it loses its charm”. Though his idiosyncratic designs oftentimes brought him into direct conflict with the more restrained sensibilities of master Muranese glassworkers, it is exactly this freedom from traditional constraints that would lead Bianconi’s designs to have such a lasting influence.

An initial love for color and tendency towards abstraction would characterize the direction of Bianconi’s further creative evolution in the realm of glasswork. As he gained increasing confidence in his value as a designer, Bianconi reveled in the medium’s expressive potentials, and began to wholeheartedly utilize the luminosity of glass to develop intensely colorful displays that are almost painterly. Indeed, while form is always an essential part of Bianconi’s design, it is most often color that comes to the forefront as the true subject of his work.

This is particularly true of this week’s Work Of the Week (WOW!), which focuses on the Pezzato series, designed in 1950 and first displayed in the 1951 Triennale.

The Term “Pezzati” means spotted or patched, here, irregular patchworks of colored tesserae (small pieces of glass that form mosaics) are fused together to decorate and form the wall of the irregularly formed vase, in a seeming reference to both the theatricality of the harlequin’s outfit and Paul Klee’s work of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

This was a difficult technique, as each color has different properties, and they all have to be worked so that they get along with each other. To produce these Pezzati, the tesserae were first obtained from a cane flattened into a tape and cold-cut, and then arranged in a mosaic pattern on a fire stone. Once in the oven the effect of the heat welds the tesserae together forming a glass pattern, which then encloses into a cylinder shape to be worked into the final form, by blowing and hot-modeling.

For the Pezzati, Bianconi generally opted for unusual forms with flattened cross-sections, which were particularly irregular and characterized by soft lines, sometimes interrupted by constrictions and protrusions.

The Pezzati were proposed in 5 chromatic combinations, identified by the names of cities or continents: Paris, America, Stockholm, Istanbul and Venice. This Work Of the Week (WOW!) is from the Paris (Parigi) color scheme, composed of red, blue, green and clear tesserae. It is a prime example of Bianoni’s interest in color – bold and strong but calibrated. It also reveals his curiosity and innovative skills as well and his playful creative nature.

Fulvio Bianconi is a name well known to collectors of fine Italian glass. He designed many of the most important and original pieces associated with the mid 20th century Murano Italian glass, and the Pezzato pieces are among his most striking and sought after.

WOW! – Work of the Week – James Rosenquist – 1, 2, 3 Outside



James Rosenquist
1, 2, 3 Outside
1971
6 color lithograph with embossing and debossing
40 1/2 x 31 in.
Edition of 70
Pencil signed, dated, titled and numbered


About the work:

“Popular culture isn’t a freeze-frame; it is images zapping by in rapid-fire succession, which is why collage is such an effective way of representing contemporary life. The blur between images creates a kind of motion in the mind.”

James Rosenquist is best known for his colossal collage paintings of enigmatically juxtaposed fragmentary images. These images, brought together and enlarged overwhelm the viewer,  through their sheer scale which makes them difficult to discern at first glance. They are mostly fragments of enlarged, photo-realistic images done in the advertising style of the emergence of consumer culture in America during the 1960’s. This is no accident, Rosenquist started out his career as a billboard painter, and was among this first of the classic pop-artists to directly address the persuasive powers of advertising, highlighting the omnipresence of ads.

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Rosenquist’s 1, 2, 3 Outside

1, 2, 3 Outside was originally painted in 1963 in a manner that denies each of the three panels immediate recognition due to the scale of each fragmented image, so enlarged that they are each removed from their original context. This is where Rosenquist’s fascination with subliminal persuasion through advertising becomes evident. Each image is artistically packaged based on defining characteristics and incorporates as much visual imagery as possible onto the picture plane. Together, however, they form a bombardment of information without any kind of visual relief.

The imagery is on such a monumental scale that it gives the impression that it is coming straight at the viewer and suggests a strong socio-economic commentary, implying that the work itself is a starting point for deeper reflection. “I wanted the space to be more important than the imagery,” James Rosenquist said. “I wanted to use images as tools.”

Rosenquist used generic imagery, no brand names, and created a new kind of picture. He described the effect: “People can remember their childhood, but events from four or five years ago are in a never-never land. That was the imagery I was concerned with—things that were a little bit familiar but not things you feel nostalgic about. Hot dogs and typewriters—generic things people sort of recognize.” Rosenquist reminds us to observe more intently and become more self-reflective, taking our time with the experience of looking.

As such, 1, 2, 3 Outside exemplifies Rosenquist’s contribution to Pop art: grand scale, fragmented composition that encompass an amalgamation of consumer imagery and evokes visual memory flashes of consciousness.

“WOW! – Work of the Week – Jesus Rafael Soto – Screenprints A, B, C & D from the Jai-Alai Series



Jesus Rafael Soto
Screenprints A, B, C & D from the Jai-Alai Series
1969
Screenprint on Perspex
24 1/4 x 19 1/2 in. each
Edition of 300
Signed and numbered, etched in perspex


Jésus Rafael Soto was a defining figure of both the Optical Art and Kinetic Sculpture movements. He was an acclaimed artist in his native Venezuela, having graduated from the Escuela de Bellas Artes y Artes Aplicadas in Caracas, and moved to Paris after the Second World War to undertake research in constructivist art. He participated in a groundbreaking exhibit at the Denise René Gallery in Paris called Le Mouvement. René’s guiding principle was that art must invent new paths in order to exist. And Soto’s art does just that.

He explored the phenomenological effects between two-dimensional and three-dimensional planes, fully engaging his viewers from every angle. He was a master at removing all subjectivity linked to personal taste, employing strictly geometric forms, squares, straight lines and primary colors, with a focus on the depiction of relationships between and movement of objects, rather than the objects themselves.

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Soto’s Screenprints A, B, C & D from the Jai-Alai Series

The series takes its title from a sport in which the players and the ball remain in continuous motion, involving the ball to bounce off a walled space by accelerating it to high speeds with a hand-held device called a cesta. This continual movement transforms the relationship between space and time and are characteristics of the series that Soto explored in a conscious way. In naming the series Jai-Alai, the artist is allowing the viewer to understand his artistic research, by identifying the source. Just as in the process of observing the sport firsthand, each and every vantage point is equally as valid as it is important, and Soto has translated these distinct views into the artwork. The game does not occur from a single lens or fixed point of view, and neither does the art. It requires a process of moving through multiple states of time and space.

Working with flat lines of color and abstract geometric form, the artist stimulates optical effect through the manipulation of color theory and the dynamic between background and foreground, turing the viewer into a spectator from many different angles.

As one of the most intriguing artistic minds of his day, Jésus Rafael Soto’s quest for aesthetic representation of the immaterial, rejection of the figurative and use of traditional geometric form resulted in not only a career marked with ingenuity and success, but also of a wholly fresh and interactive experience for the viewer of his kinetic works.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Keith Haring – Fertility #2



Keith Haring
Fertility #2
1983
Silkscreen
42 x 50 in.
Edition of 100
Pencil signed, dated and numbered



Throughout his work, Keith Haring was never afraid to confront the socio-political challenges of his time. He was an outspoken and ardent activist against racism, homophobia, the apartheid in South Africa and AIDS.

Despite that Haring addressed difficult topics in his work, he always approached these subjects with high energy and optimism. He was heavily influenced by graffiti writers and street art in New York City, and created what would become his signature style, composed of the heavy use of line drawing, vivid colors, and simplified humanoid and geometric forms. These glyphs that could be read, like an urban, tribal language were accessible to all, and easy to take in by a wide audience.

“Art is something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further.”

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Keith Haring’s Fertility #2.

Fertility #2 is the second work in the Fertility Suite of 5 works. Created in day-glow pigments, the piece is exceptionally bright, which conveys a warm and happy message, and evokes the New York club scene that Keith Haring was a part of.

It is a work that captures both the mysteries of ancient civilization with the representation of the pyramid, but also the imagination of extra-terrestrial civilizations through the flying saucers. The pyramid was a common theme in Haring’s work, simultaneously referring to antiquity and symbolizing eternity. It is also connected to the hieroglyphic language that Haring employs throughout his body of work, and the notion that images are a universal language. The UFO on the other hand represents a cosmic energy and suggests supernatural forces or people who were situated outside of social norms. They always symbolize positive energy and empowerment.

Lines and circles have a darker connotation in Haring’s work, they refer to the lesions of HIV and AIDS victims. These threats are surrounding a pregnant woman who is in distress, agitating her arms, trying to get attention.   

Combined, what does all this imagery stand for?

In the 1980’s there was a high prevalence of HIV infection among pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was a terrible epidemic that devastated vast regions. The 1980’s were characterized by an insufficient response (both in the US and abroad) by government leaders in response to the AIDS epidemic. Ronald Reagan, the US president at the time, did not address the issue until over 21,000 Americans had already perished from the virus. Haring was a staunch activist and leader in promoting awareness about the virus and Fertility #2 is a centerpiece in his fight in relation to the transmission of the virus from mother to child, a particularly common problem in southern Africa.

The lesions, or dashes and circles have infected all the land in his depiction of the African landscape, and the pregnant mother is terrified for her unborn child. Keith Haring, loved the hope and innocence of children inspired. To him, they represented a better humanity: color-blind, unprejudiced and caring, uncorrupted by greed and hatred towards others. This work represents the saving of children and human kind from the evils of illness and inactive leadership.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Ed Rushca – Bliss Bucket



Ed Ruscha
Bliss Bucket
2010
Lithograph
28 3/4 x 28 in.
Edition of 50
Pencil signed, dated and numbered

About the work:
One of the most important postwar artists, Ed Ruscha came into prominence during the 1960s pop art movement. First recognized for his associations to graphic design and commercial art, Ruscha became admired for his mediations on word and image, where a word literally becomes an object.
Language has often invaded the visual arts during the past century, but no other artist uses it the way Ruscha does. His early paintings are not pictures of words but words treated as visual constructs. “I like the idea of a word becoming a picture, almost leaving its body, then coming back and becoming a word again,” he once said. “I see myself working with two things that don’t even ask to understand each other.”
This weeks WORK OF THE WEEK – WOW!!! is Bliss Bucket, a snowcapped mountain scene, bearing the words, with his self invented font.
Since the late 1990s the mountain has become one of Ruscha’s most consistent motifs. He produces classic mountains, taken either from images of the Himalayas or from his own imagination.
Ruscha has said, ‘It’s not a celebration of nature. I’m not trying to show beauty. The concept came to me as a logical extension of the landscapes that I’ve been painting for a while – horizontal landscapes, flatlands, the landscape I grew up in. Mountains like this were only ever a dream to me; they meant Canada or Colorado. I’m not really painting mountains, but an idea of mountains. picturing some kind of unobtainable bliss or glory … tall, dangerous, beautiful.”
He has used these epic backdrops to support a range of ambiguous or bland phrases such as this one here. The deliberately neutral typeface in this work has now become his trademark font, with squared off letters recalling those in the Hollywood sign. He describes it as ‘no-style’ or Boy Scout Utility Modern’
Actually, the words aren’t so much written on top of the depiction of the mountain as inscribed within the work, the crisp lettering clear, clean and as virgin as the snow itself. Each word has the momentous authority of an alp; they shout, as though to start an avalanche.
Ruscha would stumble upon these words, considering them to be his own version of Duchampian readymades. When the words began to invade his mountain paintings the result was boldly striking and beautifully absurd. The mountains receded to the background while statements such as BLISS BUCKET threw themselves at the front of the plane with big, look-at-me lettering making it impossible not to enjoy these clever combinations.
Inspired by the text based works of fellow Pop artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Ruscha pursued a lifelong artistic exploration into the formal elements of printed text and its fluid relationship to the visual image. By culling words, images and phrases that have been imprinted in his memory and that are found in mass media (print culture, advertising billboards, etc.), his work often serves as a visual encyclopedia of American culture. These symbols of consumer culture are as deeply rooted in the American vernacular as the mountains Ruscha paints.
His clever word associations pop off brightly colored canvases daring the viewer to react. For Ruscha words are also images, in that they provoke the imagination of the viewer.
Ruscha’a mounting paintings speak to how commercialism and consumerism are slowly encroaching on the natural world. This work is about before and after and the passage of time. The presence of commercialism and consumerism is unnatural and harsh, yet they accurately reflect the effect that our consumer driven culture has on the dwindling unspoiled natural world.
Mass media, billboards, and megastores are empires in their own right and have left an indelible imprint on our world. The unblemished views of these pristine monuments are slowly being encroached upon by sprawling suburban strip malls and colossal super stores. “The buildings violate the beauty of these mountains,” The abstraction with which he renders is classic Ruscha – he doesn’t give us too much but just enough to trigger our imaginations and associations. The subtlety of this rendering allows this painting to leave a far more substantial imprint on the viewer and make a much stronger statement on the condition of our world.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Shepard Fairey, Sedation Pill HPM



Shepard Fairey
Sedation Pill HPM
2013
HPM (hand-painted multiple), screenprint and mixed media collage on paper
40 x 30 in.
Edition of 10
Pencil signed and numbered


About the work:
IT TAKES THE SEDATION OF MILLIONS TO HOLD US BACK
It’s no secret, Shepard Fairey has always been open about controversial social and political topics, as evidenced in his artwork which promotes awareness of social issues. His aim in his work is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment.
This is exactly what this week’s Work Of the Week! WOW!, Sedation Pill HPM depicts. Shepard comments about this work, “The Sedation Pill print is inspired by the title of my favorite Public Enemy album “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back”. I think the biggest problem in America is the indifference and complacency about important issues that results from much of the population being perpetually hypnotized by conspicuous consumption, social media, entertainment, and self-medication. Using sedation and escapism for relief from the rat race might make us less aware (blissfully ignorant) but also less empowered to improve our role within the rat race… a vicious cycle of cause and effect.”
However, something very interesting about this work, that many may not notice until pointed out is the influence of another social and political activist artist.
Fairey’s Sedation Pill could have been crafted 50 years ago by famed Pop artist Robert Indiana.
Using words like Stay Alert and Eyes Open as imagery to effectively convey his message, and of course the title of the work “It takes the sedation of millions to hold us back”. Fairey, creatively taking a page from Indiana’s playbook, not only uses words, but also positions them along side of geometric forms and shapes, and effective fonts to emphasize not only the word but its connotations.
Indiana brilliantly understood that words would not be enough. He had to pair them with form, shape, color, and draw the viewer in by making the work visually optical, and kinetic. Shepard Fairey did all this with Sedation Pill.
If the influence of Robert Indiana is not obvious to the viewer just on the merits of the work itself, well then Fairey let us know by adding the number 5 at the top right and bottom left of the work.
In 1963, Indiana paintied “The Figure 5”, owned by the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington D.C.

Shepard Fairey, Sedation Pill HPM (detail)
Robert Indiana, The Figure 5

“I had seen a large retrospective of Demuth’s work and was mightily impressed. So I got off on that subject. I used the Demuth painting as a theme and, not liking to do those kinds of things, I decided to make the painting an homage to Demuth because I’m very fond of his work. There were five paintings all related to that particular theme, and those words simply came from earlier works. Some of my first word paintings were, for instance, just “EAT” “DIE”. And “EAT” “DIE” of course stem from the fact that the last word that my mother said before she died was “Eat.” But it relates to other aspects of the American scene. To complement “EAT” “DIE”– one really couldn’t go on doing that forever – I thought of the supplementary idea of “HUG” “ERR.” “HUG” was a family word for giving affection and so forth, and so it began to suggest covering some of the more formal aspects of life — existence and love and survival and sin and what have you.” — Robert Indiana
Sedation Pill HPM is a Hand Painted Multiple. This means that the entire paper that the work is printed on is all made of collaged elements of newspaper, torn stenciled patterns on paper, that Fairey is so well known for. Once the collaged paper is created, the image is then silkscreened on top of the paper. The torn elements of paper create a raw or rough look, as if this work was pasted on a wall on top of other previous works that had been there and have a worn or weathered look. After the silkscreen is placed on top Fairey then goes back and hand paints on top of the silkscreen, and margins.

 

WOW! – Work of the Week – Josef Albers, Variant II



Josef Albers
Variant II, from 10 Variants
1966
Screenprint on Rives BKF paper
17 x 17 in.
Edition of 200
Initialed in pencil signed, dated, numbered and titled


About the work:
Josef Albers, who was a founding member of the Bauhaus, played a pivotal role in the development of the modernist aesthetic. He experimented vastly with form, line and color to explore visual perception, and paved the way for the minimalist, optical and hard-edge movements that would follow him.
While widely known for his Homage to the Square portfolio, which he spent decades exploring, Albers also spent significant time and energy on his Variant/Adobe works.
The mention of “adobe” might evoke, at first, a computer software giant. The word originates from Spanish, meaning mud-brick and is among the earliest of building materials. It is also used to refer to an earth-based construction. These traditional structures were a source of great inspiration for the modern artist and color theoretician Josef Albers.
Beginning in 1935, the artist traveled to Mexico over a dozen times. He would visit and document in black-and-white photographs pre-Columbian ruins. “Mexico is truly the promised land of abstract art,” he once wrote to his former Bauhaus colleague Vasily Kandinsky. The art and architecture of Mesoamerica were the driving forces behind his most important works and series.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Variant II, from 10 Variants inspired by Adobe constructs.
Albers 10 Variants are a suite of 10 distinct screenprints, each varying in size and color, all based on similar geometric properties, which is true to its origin of the abode constructs.
The adobe buildings are typically unadorned with vertical, rectangular openings, which allowed Albers to easily strip the form down to its basic geometric elements. The work imitates these structures, composed of multiple, interlocking and overlapping rectangles, reflecting the facades of Adobe houses, with two windows on either side of a doorway.
Josef Albers sees shape, form, space, color, and geometry, in nature, and in the accent civilizations, and brings them to the forefront in modern art. His works reset the tone of the modern era, while paying its respects to a historical context, that can not be ignored.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Robert Indiana, American Dream #2



Robert Indiana
American Dream #2
1982
Screenprint on four separate sheets
26 3/4 x 26 3/4 each
77 1/2 x 77 1/2 overall
Edition of 100
Pencil signed, dated and numbered


About the work:
On Saturday, May 19, 2018 Robert Indiana passed away due to respiratory failure. He will be missed but his art and legacy will live on
“There have been many American SIGN painters, but there never were any American sign PAINTERS”. This sums up Robert Indiana’s position in the world of contemporary art. He has taken the everyday symbols of roadside America and made them into brilliantly colored geometric pop art. In his work he has been an ironic commentator on the American scene. Both his graphics and his paintings have made cultural statements on life and, during the rebellious 1960’s, pointed political statements as well.
Born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana, in 1928, he adopted the name of his native state as a pseudonymous surname early in his career. What Indiana calls “sculptural poems”, his work often consists of bold, simple, iconic images, especially numbers and short words like “EAT”, “HUG”, and “LOVE”. Rather than using symbols from the mass media, Indiana makes images of words that focus on identity. Using them in bold block letters in vivid colors, he has enticed his viewers to look at the commonplace from a new perspective.
Despite his unique methods, several important aspects of Indiana’s works clearly identify him as a Pop artist. He manages to give a direct and honest description of American culture while appearing cool and uninvolved, much as Warhol did by simply reproducing images of superstars and soup can labels.
However, what distinguishes Indiana from his “Pop” colleagues is the depth of his personal engagement with his subject matter. Indiana’s works all speak to the vital forces that have shaped American culture in the late half of the 20th century: personal and national identity, political and social upheaval and stasis, the rise of consumer culture, and the pressures of history. He uses his art it to both celebrate and criticize the national way of life.
In 1961, Indiana began a series titled the American Dream, a recurring theme in his work, which along with his other famous stenciled-text images—most notably LOVE—he has used to both celebrate and criticize American life.
The American Dream is the cornerstone of Indiana’s mature work. The roots of this powerful concept pervaded the artist’s Depression-era childhood, as well as the social and political aspirations of the United States during his formative years as an artist (1940s-1960s). It was the theme of his first major painting sold to The Museum of Modern Art in 1961. He recalls, “The first two or three dreams (there were 9 American Dream paintings in total), I would say were cynical. I was really being very critical of certain aspects of the American experience. “Dream” was used in an ironic sense.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Robert Indiana’s American Dream #2, a 4 piece set of screenprints each hung in a diamond shape, to form a 1 piece larger diamond shape.
Indiana saw the American Dream as “broken. . .no longer in effect for us and for lots of others.” In 1960, Indiana began applying highly saturated color to his geometric paintings. By the end of the year, he was adding words to them. Three of the four panels in American Dream #2 have the words EAT, JACK, and JUKE. Despite how simple Indiana’s verbal-visual amalgams seem, they contain multiple layers of meaning; deciphering them is akin to unraveling a conceptually complex puzzle.
In this work, the words suggest multiple references—for example, the word JUKE is associated with the greed of gambling and the fraud of “tilting” or cheating the pinball machine. Thus the imagery of casino tokens which gives a false promise and fantasy of American prosperity while also acknowledging the
failures of American ethics.
JACK may refer to John F. Kennedy, the great hope for America at the time, but very flawed in deed.“I think 1962 was the last year that Jack Kennedy lived, so that usually Jack refers to the president. However, if we want to keep consistent, in ’52 I met someone named Jack Curtis, who became an important friend in my life, and so it has a dual meaning.”
By presenting familiar words in new ways, he asks the viewer to reevaluate assumptions and emotions associated with those words. For example, no longer does the word “EAT” simply describe an act, but a whole set of social conditions and practices associated with that act. Viewers might see the intimacy of eating and its central role in family, community, and romantic rituals or they might understand the negative aspects of eating in a society where high-fat and gluttonous diets are the norm.
The word EAT also goes back much further and fills a large part of his life, EAT was the last word that Robert Indiana’s mother said before she died. She told him to be sure to eat.
As a child during the Depression, Indiana’s father left his mother, and in order to support him, and herself, his mother opened a restaurant, and so for several years things like eat signs also were a prominent part of Indiana’s life. The EAT aspect of this work is also a personal thing. It’s autobiographical.
What this work demonstrates, once again, is Indiana’s considerable style as a graphic designer whose manipulation of words, symbols, colors and spaces, can be pleasing and provocative. His designs reverberate, their elements bouncing off one other in dynamic relationships as they comment on the ups and downs of American life, his own included.
Robert Indiana provided an example of how to create work that was both deeply personal and universal, work with a clear message that could also be open to interpretation, work that spoke of its own time and reflected on contemporary events, but also carried a message to future generations.
The “painter of signs”, paints “signs of the times.”

WOW! – Work of the Week – Ed Ruscha, Main Street



 

Ed Ruscha
Main Street
1990
Lithograph
8 1/2 x 10 1/4 in.
Edition of 250
Pencil signed, dated and numbered



About the work:

Ed Ruscha can be called the Jack Kerouac of art. Since his first road trip from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles in 1956, West coast Pop artist Ed Ruscha has been influenced by themes and icons surrounding America. The drive, which he took with his life long friend, classical guitarist and composer Mason Williams took about three days in a 1950 Ford sedan.

At the time, Ruscha, who has since become an avid photographer, did not own a camera and the only record of the trip is a log that the artist has kept over the years. The two friends, who were still teenagers at the time, used the log to keep track of their expenses as they were trying to stick to a budget. The log tells the story of their journey. Ruscha has said: “My art, really my life, evolved out of that trip. […] The log took the place of photographs. I got a camera soon after arriving in L.A.” American landscapes and text are what the artist is best known for, both of which emerged from from his cross country experience.

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Main Street, by Ed Ruscha.

“Main Street” is part of the iconography of American life.
The “Main Street of America” branding was used to promote U.S. Route 66 in its heyday. Main Street is a generic phrase used to denote a primary retail street of a village, town or small city.

In small towns across the United States, Main Street is not only the major road running through town but the site of all street life, a place where townspeople hang out and watch the annual parades go by. In the general sense, the term “Main Street” refers to a place of traditional values. However, in the America of later decades, “Main Street” represents the interests of everyday people and small business owners, in contrast with “Wall Street”, symbolizing the interests of large national corporations.

Ruscha treats words as visual compositions which are typically categorized between pop and conceptual art. Works feature a word with strong connotations and a powerful visual impact. Ruscha uses the multiplicity of meaning to encourage the viewer to consider all the subconscious connotations of the word. This could be expanded to an exploration of the subconscious meanings hidden in all forms of language. The words elicits a mixed response within the viewer in which preconceived ideas about the subject are confronted and either validated or challenged.

Noting the transformation of Main Streets in American cities from small “mom and pop” businesses, ice cream parlours, and public square gatherings, to big box stores, chain restaurants, and consumers jay walking across the street, while burying their heads in their cell phones, the words Main Street takes on a much diff erent meaning than it once did. Ruscha’s Main Street, not only takes us back to the days of nostalgia, but also to modern times where Main Street meets and flirts with Wall Street. Innocence and American values are overshadowed by greed and technology. Overshadowed is the key word, because not only is Ruscha’s Main Street a sign of modernism replacing the past, but it also implies a sense of hope, that one day the traces of the past will lead to a happy memory, and a wanting to inject the future with the values of the days of old.

Rather than simply painting a word, Ruscha considered the particular font that might add an elevated emotion to the meaning much like the way a poet considers a phrase. By painting a word as a visual, he felt he was marking it as offi cial, glorifying it as an object rather than a mere piece of text.

The typography of the words in Main Street sets this piece apart from the majority of his work because it is not done in “Boy Scout Utility Modern.” Inspired by the Hollywood sign, the artist invented “Boy Scout Utility Modern” in 1980, and uses it regularly in his works. In this case, rather, the font seems closer in nature to “Times.” “Times” is a classic font, designed for its legibility so it is an obvious choice for a representation of the most famous street name in America: Main Street. Main Street is an ode and textual portrait of an American symbol.

Ed Ruscha is fascinated with the streetscape as a subject matter, and over the span of his six-decade career, Ed Ruscha has shaped the way we see it – depicting gas stations, signs or continuous photographs of Hollywood Boulevard. His works convey a distinct and bold brand of Americana. Ruscha explains. “I take things as I find them. A lot of these things come from the noise of everyday life.”

WOW! – Work of the Week – Keith Haring – Untitled C & D



Keith Haring
Untitled C
1987
Lithograph
11 x 14 3/4 in.
Edition of 100
Pencil signed, dated and numbered
Keith Haring
Untitled D
1987
Lithograph
11 x 14 3/4 in.
Edition of 100
Pencil signed, dated and numbered

About the work:
1987
The nation of South Africa was in a state of emergency. Serious political violence had arisen over Apartheid and the National Party had won an election, yet again.
41,027 people had died of AIDS complications in America, and another 71,176 people were diagnosed with the disease. After 6 years of silence, then-president Ronald Reagan finally used the word “AIDS” in public for the first time.
Crack-cocaine incidents in the US had increased to 94,000 from 23,500 only 2 years prior – a 300% jump.
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Keith Haring’s work sums up New York cool. He was friends with Madonna, Andy Warhol, David Bowie, among many others who represented the 80’s culture boom. By the start of the decade, the artist had developed a fresh aesthetic, with roots in punk, hip-hop and graffiti. His strong lexicon of caricature-like images in flat, bold colors, are so deceivingly simple and joyful that it is easy to be blinded to its political and activist content.
Keith Haring was a fierce and tireless socio-political activist throughout his life, and had a rational of intervention and standing up for oppressed communities. He was opposed to the institutionalized racial segregation in South Africa, fought for increased sexual education for the gay population in the face of the AIDS epidemic and was determined to raise awareness of the effects of crack-cocaine which ravaged the disenfranchised black society of the US.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Untitled C & D, from the untitled suite of 4 lithographs created in 1987. This suite was purposely done as a lithograph and not a silkscreen, the dimensions of the works are slightly smaller, and the edition size is smaller. It is limited to only 100 pieces. This was done so as not to be confused with the Pop Shop series, which were released on a more commercialized level. As with the vast majority of Haring’s work, this 4 piece suite of lithograph references deep commentary on societal unease.
Throughout Keith Haring’s work, the image of a television represents the mass media. The character depicted in Untitled C is on TV covering his eyes. At first, the saying “See no evil,” comes to mind. This is quite the opposite. Haring wants us to open our eyes and speak out against these evil atrocities, and not to cover our eyes, or turn a blind eye to it. Thanks to Haring’s repetitive use of symbols referencing different ailments of society, we know what he is critiquing.
In Untitled D, the yellow character seems to be tossing, or pushing away, another figure in blue that bears an X on his belly. The X is symbolic of the crack-cocaine epidemic that ravaged mostly impoverished segments of the country. Today, it is widely accepted that this particular pandemic was ignored by the media, at the time, in light of the people it was affecting. This is something that Haring was acutely aware of, and through this work, he gently provides a humanizing context that not only speaks to the situation, but also to his position.
Despite being one of the most influential and sought after artists of the 20th century, Keith Haring always remained true to his beliefs and humanity. He used his voice and platform for those who needed a supporter and champion. Untitled C & D are a clear wake-up call to the public to be aware of the problems society at large. This is what Haring’s art was about, it is not only colorful, whimsical characters that makes people smile. His entire body of work spoke volumes of the socio-political issues plaguing the world at the time.