Sunday, December 30, 2018

Femmes Noires - Mickalene Thomas at the AGO

Hello!  Hope you had a nice "whatever you do or don't celebrate".  I am in the camp of the non-celebrators so I look forward to having time off work over the holidays so I can do a day trip or two and lie around on my couch with my cat, a book and Netflix.   After a few days of my own company I went to Toronto to the Art Gallery of Ontario with the intention to see the exhibit Anthropocene.  I arrived earlier than my designated ticket time, so I went upstairs to see the Mickalene Thomas exhibit, Femmes Noires.  I was not familiar with her, or her work, but the photos on the AGO website looked interesting, and as it turns out, I enjoyed her exhibit much more than the one I came to see.

*Warning - for those who are offended by the sight of women's naked breasts, you might want to stop now*

Le dejeuner sur l'herbe: Les trois femmes noires, 2010  - Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas is a contemporary African-American artist based in New York, who is known for her elaborate paintings that incorporate rhinestones, acrylic and enamel.   The exhibit at the AGO is her first large scale solo exhibit to be held in Canada.  The wall-sized painting in the above photo, which greets visitors to the exhibit, is Thomas' re-imagining of French artist Edouard Manet's painting Le dejeuner sur l'herbe (1863).  

From the exhibit:

"Mickalene Thomas puts Black women at the centre of her practice.  Her work celebrates the complexity and diversity of Black female identities as she tackles issues of equality and representation, filtered through a queer feminist lens....Thomas deliberately challenges the Western art-historical canon and creates new possibilities for seeing a range of Black bodies."

 Portrait of Maya #2, 2010 by Mickalene Thomas

The women in Thomas' work are beautiful, lush, and exude confidence and self-assurance.  Some, like the subject in the painting above, call to mind characters in the blaxploitation films of the 1970's.   The pieces in the exhibit incorporate painting, collage and photography and are incredibly decorative, visually accosting the viewer with colour, pattern and sparkling rhinestones.

 Living Room Tableaux - Do I Look Like a Lady (Comedians and Singers), 2016

The exhibit has three living room spaces Thomas refers to as "Tableaux" that contains colourful furniture and floor coverings where the viewer can sit and experience the art, read a book (each room contains a selection of books by black authors), or engage with other viewers.   Each room features a large scale video installation; "Do I Look Like a Lady" (above) features a split screen with comedians such as Wanda Sykes, Whoopi Goldberg and Moms Mabley on one side, and singers (including Josephine Baker, Nina Simone and Whitney Houston) on the other.   Another room is dedicated to images from the film The Color Purple which was adapted from the book of the same name by Alice Walker.  According to Thomas, "the book ignited a strength and spirit in me that have stayed until this day".

Diana Ross, 2016 by Mickalene Thomas.  Silkscreen ink and acrylic on acrylic mirror

While Thomas was growing up she admired Black women who defied racism and oppression to become cultural icons.  She and many other Black women were inspired by performers such as Josephine Baker, Nina Simone and Diana Ross, and Thomas has created powerful images of the iconic women who challenged the cultural norms of art history.  The mirror-based works (see above and in previous photo) begin with a polaroid from her collection which she then bleaches, scans and then photographs as it appears on her computer screen.  This is followed by further post-processing and the final image is then silk-screened onto a mirror.
Portrait of Kalena, 2017

The collaged work above directly references the cubist style of Picasso, who was partly inspired by highly stylized African masks which featured non-natural, but identifiable human faces.  By Thomas incorporating these geometric and mask-like shapes into her own work, she is owning the influence that her ancestors had on Western art. 

Me as Muse, 2016   Mickalene Thomas

In the video installation above, the artist's own nude body stretches across the multiple video screens, challenging our historical notions of beauty.  Other images that appear on the screens include those of 1970's textiles and famous works of Western Art that prominently feature female nudes.

Courbet #4, Courbet #5 and Courbet #2, all from 2011

The series of polaroid images above have many art-world references, included the titles, which refer to French painter Gustave Courbet.

Shinique: Now I Know, 2015, by Mickalene Thomas

Shinique, the woman in the collage/painting above, reclines on a colourful mix of fabrics.  She looks directly at the viewer with a confident stare that dares you to not find her strong but also vulnerable. 

Los Angelitos Negros, 2016

"Los Angelitos Negros" (little black angels) is centred on Eartha Kitt's performance of the song of the same name. One video screen features Kitt singing, while the other three feature Thomas and two other performers, styled like Kitt, lip-syncing the lyrics along with her.
Qusuquzah, Une Tres Belle Negresse #3, 2012

Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires runs until March 24th at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto

As this is my last blog post of 2018, I want to thank all of you who still visit, even though the frequency of posts has dropped considerably.  Your loyalty is much appreciated, and Sylvester and I wish all of you Peace, good health, and joy in 2019.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Power of Pink

The mission of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is to advance knowledge of fashion through exhibitions, programs and publications.  It is best known for its award-winning exhibitions, and I've been fortunate to see several over the last 6 years.  The Museum at FIT is always on my list of places to go when I visit New York in the fall.

The current exhibit in the Special Exhibitions Gallery is called Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Colour.  The exhibit features approximately 80 outfits from the 18th Century to the present, and places men's, women's and children's pink clothing from Western and non-Western cultures in a historical context.   

Many languages do not have a word for "pink", or have only developed one in the last few centuries.  "Rose" as an adjective of colour entered French language in the 18th century, and pink as a noun became part of the English language at the end of the 17th century. 

Man's metallic silk brocade banyan circa 1748 - 1760

In the 18th century in Europe it was considered perfectly masculine for men to wear the colour pink. It was also considered a colour to be worn by the young as it symbolized good health and vitality ("in the pink"). Pink and blue were considered interchangeable colours to be worn by children.  By the late 19th century some parents were starting to favour pink for girls.

 left to right:  silk velvet, metallic lace and silk crepe chiffon evening gown (1912-1914), Paquin silk chiffon evening cape, two-piece silk taffeta dress circa 1857

As Euro-American men increasingly preferred dark, sober colours like black and navy for their clothing, bright and pastel colours were left to women.  This feminization of colour was a significant development of the 19th Century.

 (l) Elsa Schiaparelli silk taffeta embroidered evening jacket (1947), (r) silk chiffon gown in Shocking Pink from Schiaparelli Paris (2015)

In 1936, Italian-born fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli launched the colour "Shocking Pink".  In her memoirs, Schiaparelli recalled, "the colour flashed in front of my eyes.  Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving.....a colour of China and Peru but not of the West - a shocking colour, pure and undiluted."

By the 1950's, pink was strongly associated with femininity.  The decade had a strong focus on gender conformity, and fashions of the era were extremely age and gender specific.  The social turmoil of the late 60's lead to a "unisex" movement in fashion in the 1970's which temporarily quashed the appeal of pink for women's and children's clothing.  Feminists considered it a "childish" colour.  Then in the 1980's,  pink for little girls became popular again.  In the mid-1980's, the company Luvs introduced colour-coded diapers for babies - pink for girls and blue for boys.

In women's clothing, the pastel pinks of the 50's and 60's evolved into neon pink in the 1970's.   On the left is a Fiorucci cotton sateen flight suite, circa 1976.  The 60's and 70's brought the return of bright colours back into men's clothing as seen in the acetate satin and cotton velveteen man's suit on  from Granny Takes a Trip, circa 1971, on the right.

Yves Saint Laurent, who designed the dress in the above photo, was said to have loved the colour pink. This velvet dress with giant satin bow is among his most famous creations.

Pink is also associated with parts of the body related to sexuality - the title of Carrie Fisher's romance novel, "Surrender the Pink" is a colloquialism referring to male sexual advances on the female.

Actor/singer Janelle Monae wore a duplicate pair of the "Vagina Pants" above in the video for her song "Pynk" which celebrates female sexuality and the "pink parts of the body".  The pants were made by Duran Lantink.

Lips, another "pink part" of the body are represented by a vinyl hat by Stephen Jones for John Galliano, 2005

The leather dress on the left by Ghana-born designer, Mimi Plange, was inspired by African scarification.  According to the designer, "the light 'fleshy' pink was chosen to represent fresh open wounds, and the beauty they represent in traditional African scarification."  The faux ostrich coat on the right is by South African designer Thebe Magugu.

Pink can also be fierce and powerful, as seen in this floral print "body armor" for a woman warrior, designed by Rei Kawakubo for the Comme des Garcons "18th-Century Punk" collection from 2016

Two more of Kawakubo's designs from her "18th-Century Punk" collection can be seen in this photo.  In the foreground, a coat that played off of the punk's love of bad taste with its combination of hot pink and leopard print.  Behind it is a modern version of pre-revolutionary French fashion with ultra-wide shoulders and sleeves made of faux leather echoing the shape of the panniers that were worn under dresses from that era to extend the hips.

Cotton, nylon, wool, polyester, rayon and linen ensemble from 2018 by Comme des Garcons
Pink has long played an important role in Japanese culture but its greatest impact came during the late 20th century with the rise of Japanese girl culture and Lolita style with its emphasis on childish femininity.  Red, white and pink are Japan's favourite colours.   Traditionally in Western culture, the combination of red and pink is considered "clashing" but wearing colours that "clash" is now often encouraged in fashion. 

A beautiful silk chiffon, georgette and tulle dress with glass beads from Pierpaolo Piccioli's Spring 2017 collection for Valentino

A hot pink men's suit by Raf Simons for Jil Sander from Spring 2011, next to a draped dress by Phoebe Philo for Celine from Spring 2017.

This diorama of pink girls' toys was inspired by JeongMee Yoon's photograph, "Jeeyoo and Her Pink Things" (2007) which is used as a background.
In the 1990's, pink began to "toughen up" so to speak, when the Susan G. Komen Foundation gave pink ribbons to runners in its New York Breast Cancer Survivors' race.  In 1992 the pink ribbon became the official symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Other appropriations of the colour pink as fierce and powerful appeared in the last decade, most recently as the pink "Pussy Hats" worn by protesters in the Women's March in 2017.

Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Colour continues at the Museum at FIT in New York until January 5th, 2019

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Party of One

I've been wanting to collaborate with someone on a creative photo essay for ages but the elements never seemed to come together at the same time.   Then I mentioned to a woman who has one of the booth spaces at The Baker's Dozen (the subject of my next post) that I had some vintage dresses that never get worn that I would like to photograph.  She offered to take the photos, and suggested a location that sounded perfect.  We decided to do it this weekend, but unfortunately, in the rush to get her booth open yesterday, her camera was left at home.   Instead of rescheduling, we decided to try using the camera on my Huawei P20 Pro smart phone instead.  We were both really happy with the results and I am so excited to share them with you.  This is the kind of thing that makes my soul sing.

The Party's Over......



Or is It?

Maybe it's only just beginning?
The photographer, Emilia Wilson (photo by me)

The details:

Concept and styling by Forest City Fashionista
Photos taken by Emilia Wilson using the Huawei P20 Pro
Location:  I'm not telling
dress - a gift from another creative soul, Krista; boots - Goodwill thrift store; leggings - Value Village; denim jacket from Silk Road Store

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Pieced Together - Two Exhibits at the Canadian Textile Museum

I was recently in Toronto for a few hours for an event (see my previous post), and had some free time beforehand so I decided to take in the latest exhibits at the Canadian Textile Museum.  The museum has many things to recommend it: it's centrally located (two blocks from the Greyhound Bus station), it's small enough that you can see everything in about an hour, and if you are interested in textiles (contemporary and historical), their exhibits are informative and often visually stunning.

There are two exhibits currently on display:  Crosscurrents: Canada in the Making, and Colour Improvisations 2: An International Exhibition of Contemporary Quilts.  While I was initially more interested in seeing the second, I found myself equally engaged by both.

Crosscurrents tells the story of the cultural interaction between early settlers, indigenous peoples and immigrants in Canada over the last two centuries through textiles.  Items such as hooked rugs, quilts, blankets, and beadwork illustrate the exchange of knowledge, skills and traditions between the various groups.  The exhibit incorporates artifacts from the Textile Museum's Canadian collection of historical artifacts, loans from public and private collections, and pieces created by contemporary artists.

Quilts figure prominently in the exhibit.  Settlers brought the craft of quilting to Ontario from the UK and Europe.  The first two in the photo above are from the late 19th century, the far right one from the early 20th century.  The quilts were often pieced together from scraps of fabric from worn out clothing, most often wool.   The fabric was cut into precisely measured pieces and assembled following overall patterns, which as shown in the quilts above, were usually repeating blocks.

Above is a Jacquard-woven coverlet made in Southwestern Ontario between 1847 and 1885.  This particular one was woven by John Campbell, a hand loom weaver from Scotland who had been displaced from his home country through industrialization, and found a local market for hia work in Ontario.  It was fascinating to note that the Jacquard loom, which required tremendous skill to operate, used punched cards (much like the early computers) to make the design.

The "Block of Honour" quilt, above, is from Buxton, Ontario, a black settlement founded in 1849.  It was used as a sort of fund-raiser, as the creator, Hattie Rhue Hatchett, and the local quilting circle, accepted donations in exchange for names embroidered on quilt squares.  The money raised went towards supporting black congregations who did not have a full-time minister.

Above left is a man's woven shawl, from Markham, ON.  In the mid to late 19th century, these were worn by men as a top layer in the winter.  The shawls were hand-woven and expected to last a lifetime.  On the right is a child's coat from the same time period that incorporated wool, cotton, satin, hand and machine sewing, and embroidery.  The amount of work that must have gone into the making of this coat, which was outgrown before being worn out, would be unthinkable today.

lacemaking pillow from Quebec, circa 1920

I had never seen a lacemaking pillow before.  They were used to produce lace shawls, collars, dresses, fans, and fancy trim for undergarments.  The pillow consists of a wood frame covered in cotton fabric and the one above shows a sample of bobbin lace in progress.  Each thread is kept in order by a wooden bobbin, which acts as a weight,  and the work is pinned to a pillow while the threads are twisted, plaited and interwoven to make the lace.  Given that I have no talent for knitting, crochet, weaving, etc. the idea of working with all those bobbins at the same time boggles my mind.

page from a commercial crochet and tatting sample book, late 19th century

When I saw the pink crocheted cross in the display above, I was immediately reminded of Christmases when I was a child, and each year would receive a pink crocheted bookmark almost identical to the one above from one of my great aunts.

Moving From the Historical to the Contemporary......

Colour Improvisations 2:  An International Exhibition of Contemporary Quilts is the other exhibit at the Museum, and it was particularly interesting to see these quilts after viewing the ones from 100 - 200 years ago.  The first difference you see is the colours!

Left:  "Flight Plan" by Elizabeth Brandt (USA), Right:  "Vibrant Colour Bars" by Ruth Bosshart-Rohrbach (Switzerland)

This is the only Canadian venue for this exhibit of bold, asymetrical quilts made in 2014 and 2015.   The 25 quilts (made specifically for this exhibit) were created by 25 artists from Canada, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland and the United States.  What unites the artists is that they all studied with American artist, quilt-maker and teacher, Nancy Crow, who curated the exhibit.   

"Riff #4: Calm" by Nancy Crow

"I believe that those of us who love working with fabric were originally drawn to this medium by its large, forceful presence and the freedom to use colour joyously"
                                                                      Nancy Crow

Clockwise from top left: detail of "Vibrant Colour Bars", "Flight Plan" detail, detail of "Moby Dick 3" by Kit Vincent (Canada), and "Precaria #6:Flux by Sandra Palmer Ciolino (USA)

I am in the process of learning to sew, which has made me more aware of the skill and detail that goes into the making of a garment or other piece of textile art.  I was fascinated by the variety of intricate machine quilting used by the artists in the exhibit.   Closely-spaced straight lines faced off against seemingly random loops and curves. 

All the quilts in the exhibit are bold in pattern and colour and I would have happily hung severaly of them on a wall in my home.   Below are a few of my favourites:

"Madness", Brigitte Ammann (Germany)

I was drawn to the mix of colours and abstract shapes in Ammann's quilt which gave it a whimsical, cartoon feel.

"Shapes and Lines 19/20/21", Heide Stoll-Weber (Germany)

I was fascinated by this particular quilt because the finely spaced stitching (see below) and mottled colouring of the fabric made it appear to be a painting instead of a piece of fabric.

detail of the incredibly fine quilting stitching on Shapes and Lines

"To cut parts, shapes and lines by eye and manage colour and value demands hours of practice.  It takes obsessiveness, intensity, and a great eye."
                                                                        Nancy Crow

"Interactions #10", Gerri Spilka (USA)

The large shapes and bold colours in Gerri Spilka's quilt made a strong visual statement

"Repetition #3: Expectant", Louise Harris (USA)

There is something about the colours and shapes in Louise Harris' piece that for me, recalls graphics from the 50's and 60's.

Colour Improvisations 2: An International Exhibit of Contemporary Quilts is at the Canadian Textile Museum until September 23rd

Crosscurrents: Canada in the Making can be viewed until March 31, 2019