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Something a bit different – Picasso’s Guernica, made out of Lego blocks.
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Have you ever experienced the feeling of being stuck in a rut, artistically speaking? If you’re comfortable with and proud of your skills – but somehow they don’t seem to be opening new vistas for you in the way that they once did, or you’re feeling frustrated by your inability to break through the communicative wall in your work, then you’re not alone. One of the best ways to get over this creative block is to experiment with new methods and materials. Whether you end up using them in your daily work or not, the experience will reignite your enthusiasm and give you a new way of looking at your art – and the world around you.
Karen Greville-Smith is one of Agora Gallery‘s talented artists, and her work is appearing in Divergent Realities, at Agora October 10-30. In addition to creating art herself, she also teaches others – children who seize enthusiastically on new forms of creativity, elderly people who find reawakening interest in life through the skills she shares, and people suffering from a variety of mental health disorders who value her workshops as providing a fulfilling expressive outlet.
In both her own art and her teaching, she has found that working with unusual techniques – breaking into new creative ground, as it were – can be a powerful way to develop new ideas and gain fresh perspectives which feed into art. In this interview, she discusses some fun and innovative artistic techniques which have benefited her development and that of her students – and tells you how to do it, so you can try it, too!
Where do you get inspiration/ideas for your art workshops?
I go and see exhibitions at various galleries and museums around the UK, looking at fine art, textiles, fashion, ceramics and printmaking shows. Shops, including their window displays such as those in Anthropologie, can be very inspirational as well. I pick up ideas from chats with fellow artists, from magazines, books and postcards, visiting gardens, travels, going on courses and workshops as well as looking and playing with new materials in my local art shop. Getting emails from art manufacturers such as Derwent announcing new materials can also be very informative. Don’t overlook even the mundane; be alive to the fact that inspiration can come from anywhere, as you deal with your letters or walk down the street.
Do you have any general pieces of advice for artists looking for something ‘new’ to inspire them?
Exploring the work of famous artists is always worthwhile for me, and I often introduce well-known works to my students at the start of a class. You can encourage yourself, or others, to look for either the obvious or for details which you might sometimes overlook. For instance, I’ve brought to past classes the works of Emil Nolde (watery splashes of colour), Jasper Johns (splashes of colour with letters and words), Helen Frankenthaler (colour staining on unprimed canvas), Paul Klee (textures & patterns), Klimt (patterns in the backgrounds of his work), Jim Dine (hearts), Basquiat (buildings & graffiti), Jessica Cooper (UK artist with minimal use of line in her paintings).
I would also say that recording information can be invaluable. I encourage everyone to use a sketchbook, even young school children. I think of sketchbooks as visual notebooks so that they can include drawings, painting ideas, tear sheets from magazines or drawings or patterned/textured papers etc – it can become a very personal journal. I think that these books can contain a variety of different types of information and don’t have to be all on one subject unless it is intended to have a theme – a specific holiday journal, for example.
I encourage people to get creative with their pages – stain pages using tea or coffee, or pre-paint some pages, or stick in coloured paper (e.g. brown postal paper) to offer an alternative to the white or off-white paper pages in sketchbooks.
I suggest that they have a variety of sizes of sketchbook – portrait, landscape, large and small – including little ones which are easy to carry about. I personally like a square sketchbook as I love this format.
A camera is another handy tool for recording information as sometimes there isn’t an opportunity to sketch when you are out and about. But remember to go through the images and save the good ones afterward!
In fact, it’s important to make a habit of going through your sketches, photos and so on from time to time, and especially, turning to them when you’re looking for new ideas. You’ve created a treasure trove of inspiration, but you have to remember to use it!
What techniques have you used for your workshops?
There are so many great options! I’ll share some of the techniques I’ve found best for adding new life and inspiration to art, both for myself and my students.
I learnt this technique from a very talented UK textile artist, Cas Holmes, when I went on one of her weekend workshops at West Dean College.
* Tear pages from magazines. Don’t use glossies like Vogue as the paper mustn’t be too thick. Sunday newspaper colour supplements are ideal. Experiment with other types of papers.
* Scrunch up magazine page. Pour a little ordinary cooking oil into the palm of your hand and place the scrunched up magazine paper into the oil in your hand.
* Open up the page and scrunch it up again then open it up and scrunch it up again and keep repeating this so that all of the magazine page starts to absorb the oil. After a while the paper takes on a fabric-like quality. (Don’t use too much oil otherwise the paper will be too greasy.)
* The resulting momigami paper can be used in various ways – collage, surface for stencilling, it can be stitched into either by hand or by sewing machine. I’ve stuck momigami paper onto a page in a sketchbook and then machine stitched into it – ‘drawing’ using a sewing machine thread.
Collage, white gesso and carbon pencil
The idea with this technique is to create a background then add an image only after that. You are working in reverse from the usual starting point of planning the composition of a picture first by plotting in elements. It might sound counter-intuitive, but it can really get you thinking from a fresh perspective.
* Place pieces of torn patterned and plain papers randomly onto a piece of mount board (or similar thickness of card such as back of a sketch book or ‘beg’ for off cuts from your local framer from his mount cutting).
* Stick papers down in position.
* Brush over the whole surface with diluted white gesso to ‘knock back’ the patterns/colours of the papers.
* When gesso is dry, draw an image/composition using a carbon pencil e.g. a simple still life or landscape suggested by the stuck down papers.
* This will result in a black drawing over a textured background.
Creating patterns using Indian fabric printing blocks and other textured surfaces
* Place tissue papers (coloured, white or white painted using coloured inks) on top of the little wooden Indian Fabric printing blocks which have images of animals, flowers, leaves, patterns etc on them.
* Rub over the surface of the tissue paper using coloured and metallic coloured pastels such as Caran D’ache Neocolor I, Neopastels or Neocolor II to create a series of patterns.
* Create collaged pictures, sticking the tissue paper down using a glue stick. The resulting collages can then be stuck down onto black card for display.
* Other effective surfaces to use are the patterned soft rubber plates used in ceramics to create decorative surfaces in clay. Textured wallpaper can be used as well as the backs of leaves and tree bark. (Look at Max Ernst and his frottage works!)
* Cut squares or rectangles from a sheet of ‘Funky Foam’ (available from Hobbycraft)
* Draw shape or image into the ‘Funky Foam’ using an HB pencil and then stick the ‘Funky Foam’ onto a piece of mounting board (or thick card) which is the same size as the ‘Funky Foam’ using PVA glue to create a little printing plate.
* Roll printing ink (water based) out onto a sheet of Rhenalon (transparent acrylic sheet) and then, using an inked up roller, ink up the surface of the printing plate.
* Place the inked printing block onto a flat surface, inked side upwards, and place a sheet of paper (110gsm) on top, pressing it gently down with your fingers. Roll over the surface of the paper with a clean roller or use the back of a dessert spoon to rub over the back of the paper.
* Peel back the paper from the printing plate to reveal the image (print).
* Shapes can be cut out of the ‘Funky Foam’ using scissors or a craft knife and stuck down to create patterns.
(You can also use the polystyrene base of a pizza in place of ‘Funky Foam’.)
* Create a printing plate using ‘Funky Foam’ and thick card as above.
* Spray the surface of the plate with water.
* Use inktense blocks (Derwent) to add areas of colour to the surface of the plate.
* Place a sheet of paper (110gsm) on top of the plate and rub gently over the back of the paper using fingers, then roll over the paper using a clean roller or the back of a dessert spoon.
* Peel back the paper to reveal the print.
* The wetter the printing plate is, the more the print will have a sort of watercolour quality to it.
* Place a simple line drawing under a sheet of Rhenalon (transparent acrylic sheet).
* Dip a wet brush into some squeezed out printing ink (water based) and ‘paint’ the outline of a drawing onto the Rhenalon sheet.
* Use other printing inks to add colours to this image. Work relatively quickly while the printing ink is ‘open’.
* Place paper (110gsm) on top of this ‘painted’ image and rub over the back of the paper gently using fingers then roll over the paper using a clean roller or the back of a spoon.
* Peel back the paper to reveal the print.
* Using a pencil, draw an image onto the back of some white tissue paper which has been placed onto the surface of a very thinly rolled out layer of black printing ink on a sheet of Rhenalon.
* Very gently rub over the back of the tissue and peel back to reveal a monoprint.
* The ink must be very thinly rolled out. Pressure marks from your fingers can appear on the print but it all adds to the ‘printerly’ look of the final result.
* You can also use 90lb (190 gsm) smooth hot or soft press light weight watercolour paper and once the printing ink is dry watercolours can be used on the print.
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It was an extraordinarily exciting week for the staff and the artists represented by Agora Gallery, as we opened the doors to our new street-level gallery, inaugurating the space with a reception for the renowned Chinese painter Zhang Baohua. The artist paints without a brush, using only his palms and fingers to lay ink on rice paper. In the collective space on the second floor, we are happy to present the work of three group shows, Modalities of Expression, Divergent Realities, and Beyond Borders: An Exhibition of Fine Art from Canada, as well as a solo exhibition for the Greek artist George Tsatsos: EU-TOPIAS.
The series that George Tsatsos has unveiled at Agora Gallery depicts what the artist calls “a suggested possibility” for a community, a vision of peaceful interconnectedness. However, Tsatsos’s primary interest is in expansive geometry, and he applies a background in engineering to create unity between many different shapes and colors, between symmetries and non-symmetries. “I’m not really depicting anything,” he told me, “I create a geometry and I fill it with content.” Many of George’s landscapes conform to the golden ratio (1:1.6), and he decorates peach-colored skies with amoebic clouds and chicken-wire birds that he calls “techno-ducks.” Tsatsos has exhibited his works in Athens, London, Paris, and New York.
Zaineb Shaban spoke about the historical, social, and philosophical principles of her painting, which is directly influenced by her profession as an architect. The artist’s ancestral origins are found in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), and the conventions of Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian architecture have inspired the works that are currently featured at Agora Gallery, the Revelations series. Through preparatory plans, Shaban adapts the mud-brick construction, conglomerate complexes, and low-relief ornamentation of this ancient city planning. She uses modeling paste like a dough, Shaban uses stamps of Sumerian motifs to adorn her visionary palaces, and renders texture with materials like sand, stone, and gravel. “Every person wishes to seduce with their individuality,” she said, citing inventions in design as a symptom of cultural progress. Shaban experiences architecture as a transformative adaptation to nature, and states that “Architecture is by evolution.”
“Ideas exist and physical things that float in the air,” said Nigerian-Canadian artist and award-winning slam poet Komi Olaf, “It is the job of the artist to collect these ideas and make them visible.” Olaf received his master’s degree from Carelton University’s School of Architecture, and during his studies he developed a critical passion for painting, poetry, and strategic spatial planning. Now, Olaf uses this knowledge to conceive a singularized concept of multifarious ideas, something that he can express in the visual arts as well as in poetry. The painting Cross Section of the Afro-Puff is part of a new series that observes the deep complexity of cultural identity for descendants of the Diaspora. “African history has been taken and erased,” he said. In architectural terms, a ‘cross section’ refers to an imaginary cut through a building, exposing in detail the multiple internal structures of a building’s plan. In this painting, “The machinery stands for the idea of work, and the power of our minds and energy.”
It was a special privilege to speak with Evelyn, the wife of artist Robert Paul Saphier. Robert passed away in June, after living with Multiple sclerosis for forty years. I noticed that many of his works were depicted through a window. “This helped him organize his composition,” his wife told me, “As a musician, structure was very important to him.” This is not to say that he abides by the traditional rules of composition. The painting Willing Subject offers no visible vanishing point and instead depicts multiple planes of tilted, slanted, and direct perspective. Nonetheless, the visual elements of the composition are impeccably unified. Other compositions, such as Branching Windows, are framed by the golden ratio and are proportionate to the geometric order of the Mandela. In reference to Willing Subject, I noticed that Robert adapted the Dutch fascination with decay in still life. “Yes, he was waiting for it to die,” Evelyn responded. She told me that in many ways MS was a blessing to Robert: “He wasn’t restless,” she said, “He was in a chair a lot of the time, and it focused him. He became more and more focused in his work.”
Our current exhibitions, Modalities of Expression, Divergent Realities, Beyond Borders: An Exhibition of Fine Art from Canada, George Tsatsos: EU-TOPIAS, and Brushless: The Finger and Palm Paintings of Master Zhang Baohua will be open in our street-level and second floor galleries through October 30th. We encourage you to come see the new space! All of these artists and more have their artwork for sale on Art-Mine.com. Keep yourself updated with the happenings at the gallery by subscribing to our blog, and by joining our mailing list.
Agora Gallery is expanding! We’re all very excited to announce that Agora will be opening a brand new ground floor gallery space, right below our original second floor location. The gallery space that regular visitors know and love will be staying as and where it is – but, in addition, there will be an elegant, spacious gallery downstairs as well.
We are thrilled to announce this development, which will enable us to develop the ways in which we can offer artists and collectors our trademark professional, friendly service. Just like our second floor location, the new gallery will have plentiful natural and artificial lighting, as well as high ceilings which add to the feeling of space and make it easy to display any kind of art – from paintings, to sculptures, to photography – to best advantage.
The very first exhibition to take place in the ground floor exhibition space will be Brushless: The Finger and Palm Paintings of Master Zhang Baohua, which will take place October 16 – October 30, 2014. The opening reception will be on the evening of October 16, 6pm-8pm, at the same time as the reception for the exhibitions in the gallery upstairs, making it a wonderful time to view inspiring and memorable art and experience the lively atmosphere of a reception in the gallery, both upstairs and downstairs.
To make the evening even more special, Zhang Baohua will be giving a live demonstration of the unusual method he uses to create his exceptional artworks. He is a renowned Chinese fingerprint artist who creates his pieces using only his fingers and his palms as tools, and watching him work, seeing shapes and forms emerge from under his busy yet gentle hands, is a fascinating and even mesmerizing experience.
Zhang Baohua is inspired by all the expressions of life and the natural world, from animals, to plants, to landscapes, to portraits, and his choice of subject matter reflects the energy that infuses his process of creation and the impression of vitality conveyed by each finished work. He feels a particular affinity to the subject of dogs, earning him the title “the dog dealer” in the Chinese media, because of the loyalty that these animals show. His canine pictures encourage the audience to consider their own attitude to loyalty, and the loyalties they feel to the many individuals, institutions and ideas that make up our lives.
The artist adopted his characteristic technique in 1989, and since then has risen to worldwide fame, with images of his work appearing in hundreds of newspapers and magazines across the globe. Zhang Baohua has also appeared on television, and has toured the world as part of the Shandong Chinese Culture Promotion Society. He is a tenured professor of the China International Calligraphy and Painting Institute and his artworks are widely collected, and can be seen hanging in a number of museums.
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Agora Gallery is proud to represent Jennifer Gough, who creates works that exist in the playground between order and chaos, making a compelling case for self-evolution. The way Jennifer came to art reflects this idea, and her story is an inspiration to anyone who would love to spend more time on their art – and just needs a bit more self-belief!
Could you tell us how you initially decided to move into art and what influenced your decision?
When I decided to become an artist, it was almost like a switch flipped in my brain. I was happily living my life, (for the most part) and then one day I just wasn’t. It was like all of a sudden a light went on and I started to question where I was headed and what I really wanted to do. I began to think more about being fulfilled as a person and less about fulfilling other’s views of who/what I should be. I asked myself “If you could be or do ANYTHING, what would it be?” The answer was immediate and unarguably clear: Be an artist. Just like that, be an artist. And so I did.
Would you say that you try to share your story in the hope of inspiring others to do likewise?
Absolutely. I find so many people have big dreams of being or doing something amazing, and while some are making it happen, many are not and feel they aren’t able or their dream is unattainable. I’ve had many conversations with people asking “how” I managed to create a life and successful career out of being an artist, and I hope that sharing my story helps open people up to the possibilities in their own lives and careers.
[Tweet “Art has opened up my life to the realization that anything is possible.”]
Do you think the way that you entered art, and the reasons you became an artist, have had an impact on the work you create?
Without a doubt, art has opened up my life to the realization that anything is possible. My work reflects that and helps shape the person I am and the person I will become. Art is my way of navigating that process. Art allows me to explore and grow as an individual and my work is always changing and evolving through those experiences.
Personal growth and the pursuit of happiness are key factors in understanding your art. Is this something that you pursue through art, or a part of the rest of your life that you reflect on artistically? Would you consider this a message for your viewers?
When I think about my work and my life now, it’s almost impossible to separate the two. Each day that I approach the easel I am thankful for the blessing of being able to create for a living. This is definitely evident in the work I produce. I try to channel that feeling of joy and freedom into my work and by doing so it becomes a representation of my life’s direction and the message I hope people take away from what I create.
You host a weekly arts and culture radio show. Would you say that this experience, or the show’s emphasis on local art and artists, have influenced your work?
I don’t know that doing the radio show has really influenced my work per se, but I do know that interviewing artists and hearing about their personal struggles and successes continues to inspire me to keep reaching for my own goals and aspirations. In fact, that’s the whole idea behind the New Art Radio show. There’s no manual on how to go about becoming an artist, but by sharing the stories and experiences of people who have created their lives around their passion for art, music, dance, writing, etc., we can all learn and feel more connected to our own purpose and possibilities within.
What would your message be for someone who was considering devoting more time to their art?
Do it! There’s no time like the present to add inspiration and enjoyment to your life. Do a little or do a lot, it’s up to you, but if you’re driven to create, allow yourself that freedom, that pleasure. Without the arts the world would be a pretty dull place. Someone has to create incredible symphonies, paint the Sistine Chapel, write epic novels and perform The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House. Why shouldn’t it be you?!
[Tweet “Someone has to create incredible symphonies, paint the Sistine Chapel. Why shouldn’t it be you?”]
Agora Gallery is really making the most of October with exhibitions featuring beautiful artworks sure to excite, interest and even illuminate. The shows open on October 10 and continue until October 30, with an opening reception on the evening of Thursday October 16. All art lovers are warmly welcomed to attend!
In Beyond Borders: an Exhibition of Fine Art From Canada, New Yorkers are given the chance to appreciate the complex, balanced and gorgeous works that take form over the border. Many of the artists are inspired by the stunning landscapes of their homeland, and this plays a role, either directly or indirectly, in many of the artworks on display.
Divergent Realities presents the work of artists who are aware of the distinctions between their own perspective and those of others around them, and are able to appreciate and explore this difference visually in a way that never distances the viewer from the piece. We are made aware of the fascinating variety in vision and point of view while being encouraged to accept that diverse conceptions of reality can be equally valid.
The artworks in Modalities of Expression investigate the many ways that artists can give physical form to an idea, and use materials to create pieces which not only convey the concept but also communicate vividly and profoundly with the audience. It is impossible to remain unengaged when faced with these passionate and powerful works – and given their energy and inspirational appeal, there is no reason to want to.
You can continue viewing remarkable and memorable art in George Tsatsos: EU-TOPIAS, which presents the art of a lifelong artist who only recently began to share his works with others. The skill and flair which he has developed over the years leaves the viewer in no doubt that the time was well spent, with native talent developing into compelling ability.
In addition, in Agora Gallery’s brand new gallery space which will be opening on the ground floor underneath the second floor location, you can see Brushless: The Finger and Palm Paintings of Master Zhang Baohua which features the work of a renowned Chinese artist who paints only with his fingers and his palms. There will even be a painting demonstration by the artist on the reception night! This exhibition runs October 16-30, 2014.
Exhibition: October 10, 2014 – October 30, 2014
Reception: Thursday, October 16, 2014, 6-8 p.m.
Gallery Location: 530 West 25th St, New York City
Gallery Hours: Tues – Sat, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Beyond Borders: an Exhibition of Fine Art From Canada: Edward Bahoric, Lina Faroussi, Donna Giraud, Jennifer Gough, Marianne Meyer, NEEOCO, Komi Olaf, Zaineb Shaban, Carole St-Germain
Divergent Realities: Maryhelen Ewing, Kristina Garon, Karen Greville-Smith, Debbie Grossman, Kenji Inoue, Giorgio Linda, Brenda Ness-Cooper, Nobuko Ogawa, Claudia Pombo, Thomas Raoult, Robert Paul Saphier
Modalities of Expression: Angélique Droessaert, Ricky Montilla, SAHBA, Frederik Kløve Jacobsen, Joëlle Kem Lika, Susan Marx, Val d’Off, Stephan Schoeppler, David Utermann, Pauline Walsh
George Tsatsos: EU-TOPIAS
Brushless: The Finger and Palm Paintings of Master Zhang Baohua
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