Saturday, November 15, 2008

Two Exhibitions

Thanks to Abby for calling me up and reminding me that I live in New York and that there are tons of things happening here that I need to see. For example, she told me about an exhibit of African textiles at the Met. I went and saw it last night, and loved it. It's a small exhibition, situated in the middle of the Met's African section, but it has an amazing group of woven, tie-dyed, hand-painted, and other types of African textiles, both old and new. The show also features contemporary artworks that play on the themes of African textiles, such as a work made from foil wine labels, and a sculpture of a woman whose elaborately patterned dress has become the metal web that is the structure of the sculpture. I was happy to see some Dutch Wax fabric, incorporated into an installation of small square paintings which featured the wax prints both plain and embellished by the artist with layers of painted pattern. Also, I was drawn to this photograph:
The car (an old Puegeot) is amazing, for one thing, but I am also fascinated by the patterns of the women's fabric clothing and the shape created by their combined forms. This is exactly the type of thing that I always try to create in my own woodblock prints. There is just something so appealing to me about a group of figures that become one shape, embellished by vibrant color and pattern. (Man, I miss my printing press!) And it's the same thing that artist Barkley Hendricks tries to capture in his paintings, especially his work from the 1970s. I saw a retrospective of his work in July at the Nasher Museum at Duke, and was utterly blown away. So when I found out that the exhibit is now on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem, just down the street from me, I went to see it as soon as I could. Henkricks' paintings capture the free-spirited fashion of he and his friends and family during the disco era. He creates a pure shape with his forms, situating them on a flat plane of color with no shadows to anchor them in space. The floating figures become icons, larger than life.
There are paintings of both men and women with brightly patterned clothing too, all amazing. Hendricks was inspired by African textiles, but indirectly as they were interpreted in fashion by the people around him. He was also inspired by Dutch, Flemish, and German old master paintings and their emphasis on the human form with exquisitely rendered facial features, against a flat backdrop. Think Hals or Holbein. When you realize that Hendricks is a classically trained artist, who studied at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy, his man in a bell-bottomed track suit takes on a greater significance, albeit with a humorous touch. I'm completely inspired now. Where are my paints?

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