Olga de Amaral

OLGA DE AMARAL

I have been mesmerized by the artwork by Olga de Amaral for over 30 years. I first encountered this Columbian artist at Bella Artes Gallery in Santa Fe.  I wandered in was instantly captivated by Olga’s work, which like El Anatsui, is a fusion of painting, sculpture and fiber.

Her work has evolved from wall hung weaving to installation and more recently, painting with gold leaf that she calls “golden surfaces of light”. Her abstract pieces are often monochromatic leaving viewers to focus on her magnificent surfaces and the range of emotions they inspire.

A wonderful video on her website allows us into both her process and sources of inspiration, mostly in nature and centered in Latin American culture. I love seeing some of the behind the scenes work in her studio, the environment where she works and her team of artisans.

Her work in the last ten years is the most exciting of her career making her a fantastic role model of what an art practice can look like in ones 80s. Olga’s ability to transform the humble craft of weaving into glorious abstract works with dazzling surfaces is thrilling. Her work is profound and brave and spiritual; what we all reach for.

 

Additional resources about Olga de Amaral:

http://www.olgadeamaral.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olga_de_Amaral

http://www.olgadeamaral.com/video.html

Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga

Long before I met Naomi, I followed her work because she has an uncanny ability to meld the unforgiving hardness of metal with the lyrical softness of thread.

Naomi’s work using weathered sheet metal and crocheted wire thread are autobiographical in the sense that they reflect all of Naomi’s personal history. She grew up in a rural Kenyan village where the rusted sheet metal roofs were made women’s collectives trying to collect water.

Much of her childhood was spent with her grandmother, a traditional basketmaker. Her African and fiber art roots are always in evidence. In addition to her powerful, abstract sculptures, Naomi’s work reverberates with imagery referring to quilts, baskets and the flowing skirts of dancers.

At a time when the threats to climate and water are part of our global dialogue, Naomi’s work addresses both, especially the profound impact of water on women’s lives.

We met at an opening where both of us had artwork in Flight Patterns, an exhibition curated by Dorothy Moye, on view for a year at the Atlanta International Airport followed by an exhibition at Georgia State University. Her growing international recognition and her enthusiasm for my work fill me with courage and possibility.

 

Additional Resources about Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga

https://naomiwanjiku.com/

http://www.octobergallery.co.uk/artists/gakunga/index.shtml

https://youtu.be/AkX1llLHuUg  recent video from her show in London

https://soundcloud.com/naomi-wanjiku-gakunga/naomi-at-bbc-world-service#t=0:00

https://wsimag.com/art/4727-naomi-wanjiku-gakunga#.UlbTWlCsiSo

http://video.klrn.org/video/2365006616/

 

El Anatsui

I will be blogging periodically about artists whose work influences mine and why. I’m starting with the Ghanian artist El Anatsui who works in Nsukka, Nigeria. Now internationally reknown, he creates massive wall hung pieces and installations from thousands of bits of recycled metal tied together with copper wire.

His work defies categorization and lives somewhere between painting, sculpture and fiber. Like many artists working on a large scale, he employs dozens of studio helpers to fabricate the work. While there are some who question artists who use the labor of others in the construction of their work, this is now a common studio practice, especially for artists working on a massive scale. Here in Mexico, I employ six local Mexican women in the fabrication of my feathers and in the silk-screening process.

I am very intrigued with the concept of making something from nothing and in this way, I see a relationship between his work and mine. We both share a passion for patterning and also elevating recycled materials (metal bottle caps for him; plastic bags for me), by forging them into work that is both visually complex and brimming with meaning and cultural references.

 

I am deeply inspired by the scale, beauty, inventiveness, construction and originality of El Anatsui.

 

Additional resources about El Anatsui:

http://el-anatsui.com/

http://www.jackshainman.com/artists/el-anatsui/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Anatsui

 

Chakaia Booker

Chakaia Booker is the ultimate recycler. Her monumental abstract sculptures using discarded tires embody the ‘making something from nothing’ ethic. Encountering her work is overwhelming. It’s huge. It smells. It’s hard to imagine the physicality required in building with this unforgiving material. Looking at it is exhausting.

It’s also thrilling. That she has dared to transform ubiquitous detritus into  spectacular work challenges me to forge ahead. I admire her strength and unique vision. Chakaia is an African American artist whose studio is necessarily in an industrial area outside of New York City where she has space to organize her oversize and unwieldy materials.

Being made from tires, her work is primarily black. But like the black paintings by Ad Rheinhart, the more you look, the more you see. I bet you never thought that black could come in so many different variations. Kind of like skin. And in this way, issues of race and consumption and ecology thread their ways through her work.

Although a football player couldn’t pierce this work, it reads as fiber and while not fragile, it is entirely textured, layered, complex and perfectly woven together. When I stand in front her work, I sigh, wish I had made it, and feel deeply grateful that Chakaia did.

 

 

Additional resources about Chakaia Booker:

https://nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/chakaia-booker

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakaia_Booker

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/artist-chakaia-booker-gives-tires-powerful-retread-180957362/

https://youtu.be/2Y5URcb1QCE