Artists Who Bring Design Elements/Principles Front and Center

In this weeks’ blog post let’s take a look at some artists whose use of design elements and principles have recently captured my attention

The first images are by a photographer from Glasgow named John Gribben. Gribben has done commercial photography for high end clients such as Manolo Blahnik and Qatar Airlines. As a result, he often works with other creative talents. The image below is from a series titled “Flux” that was part of a collaboration with Spanish photographer Ignasi Casas.

John Gribben and Ignasi Casas staged photograph

Flux is a delightful play of design components that demonstrates how the simplest elements can create intriguing compositions with personality and humor. Color, shape, line, light and shadow are all featured here.

The next image by Gribben is from a series titled “Flitting.” It is part of a collaboration with set designer Amy Friend. In these photos found forms and created forms – each with their own textures – are combined with photographs of different textures brought into the scene from a totally different time and space. Juxtaposing real and representational textures causes the viewer to look at both elements in new ways.

John Gribben and Amy Friend staged photograph

The next two images are by Guillaume Amat, a photographer based in Paris. His work has appeared in prestigious publications such as Le Monde, The Guardian and Esquire.

In his photo series “Open Fields” Amat placed a mirror in the landscape and then photographed the scene giving us simultaneous views from in front and behind the camera. The camera represented a point in space midway between the two perspectives.

Besides Amat’s play with space and location, juxtaposition of different textures and scale are major design factors at work here.

Guillaume Amat photograph in landscape with mirror

Guillaume Amat photograph in landscape with mirror

Julien Vallée and Eve Duhamel have a small design group headquartered in Montreal. They do some graphic design and installations but mostly focus on videos. Their clients include international companies such as Apple, Google, Samsung, Coca-Cola and Swatch.

The first video below is titled “A (very) short film.” The design element of time is inherent with all video and is a major element here. In addition to time this video is awash with inventive color combinations, spacial relationships, shapes and textures.

(If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.)

The second video is titled “Strangers.” It is a delightful exploration of repetition, sequence and pattern (with some scale thrown in as well) all playing out over time.

(If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.)

As you can see the Vallée Duhamel team is strongly influenced by the Memphis Group of designers we discussed in this blog post.

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Sophie Calle At Fort Mason – Part 2

Last week I wrote about the French artist Sophie Calle and her exhibition Missing at Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture. I discussed two of the four works shown. Today’s post looks at the other two components of that multi-part exhibition, Rachel Monique and Take Care of Yourself. All four parts of Missing were produced and curated by the organization Ars Citizen.

Sophie Calle art installation at Fort Mason in a chapel

Rachel Monique

Disclaimer: The photographs in this post were found online. Some of them show the projects installed in sites other than Fort Mason.

Rachel Monique was exhibited at Fort Mason in the old U.S. Army Chapel. It is clear that the installation was designed specifically for a chapel setting with a soaring ceiling, a pew lined room, and religious symbols and images embedded in the architecture.

Calle’s mother, Rachel Monique, is the subject of the installation. Upon her death Monique left her daughter a lifetime’s worth of her diaries. Where some might see this installation as an invasion of her mother’s privacy the act of gifting the diaries, combined with the years Calle was hounded by her mother to include her in one of Calle’s projects, is clear permission to use her life and death as the basis for a work of art.

The centerpiece of the exhibition was a large video projection of the last nine minutes of Rachel Monique’s life. In the video, Couldn’t Capture Death, we see Monique lying on her deathbed, surrounded by relatives who we glimpse as they lean in trying to see if she is dead or still breathing. This is such a private moment and I felt uncomfortable, as if I had violated a sacred space. At the same time, I was reminded of the death of my own loved ones and I felt comforted in the familiarity of the experience.

Sophie Calle Rachel Monique installation detail of books

Sophie Calle Rachel Monique installation detail of large photographs on floor

Scattered in the backs of the pews that faced the video were white bound journals, mimicking prayer books, that contained photographs and excerpts from her mother’s numerous diaries. On the floor were oversized photographs of inscribed tombstones, their horizontal position referencing their graveyard locations.

The installation was a celebration of life and death, both highly specific and personal, and yet universal.

Sophie Calle Take Care of Yourself installation view

Take Care of Yourself

For me the knockout exhibition in this quartet was the project Take Care of Yourself. Here is Calle’s description of the piece:

I received an email telling me it was over.

I didn’t know how to respond 

It was almost as if it hadn’t been meant for me.

It ended with the words, Take care of yourself.

I followed this advice to the letter 

I asked 104 women (as well as two handpuppets and a parrot), chosen for their profession or skills, to interpret the letter.

To analyse it, comment on it, dance it, sing it. Dissect it. Exhaust it.

Understand it for me. Answer for me.

It was a way of taking the time to break up

A way to take care of myself.

Sophie Calle Take Care of Yourself installation view

Take Care of Yourself was actually the first of the four exhibitions that I saw, although I’m discussing it last. The room was huge. There was a lot of text. Standing at the entrance and glancing in I didn’t know if I was up for so much reading, so much involvement in a type of detachment often found in text-based art. I couldn’t have been more wrong about what I would find once I stepped into the room.

Sophie Calle Take Care of Yourself photos and video of parrot

(Click on the above photo. It will link to a site where you can view a video of the parrot’s response to the breakup note.)

For a piece about the loss of love it was pretty hilarious. And captivating. And over the top. Like wandering in a mirrored funhouse – with the same sense of vertigo.

The piece is about Calle’s breakup and yet she is remarkably absent. By asking other women to use their professional expertise to dissect the letter, and also instructing them to remain objective – no venting – Calle has distanced herself from her own life.

Sophie Calle Take Care of Yourself installation detail

Part of the humor comes from the objective stance of the writers combined with the presentation methodology used by Calle. A lawyer draws up what looks like a legal letter, a copy editor marks up the original email missive with editing marks, a children’s book writer re-contextualizes the letter as a fairytale which is then beautifully bound and printed.

Sophie Calle Take Care of Yourself installation view

One of the things that struck me about all 107 pieces in the exhibit was how carefully they were designed and fabricated. Each of the printed pieces juxtaposed a large photograph of the writer/interpreter with their evaluation of the breakup letter. The layout, graphics, and materials used were sophisticated and showed a concern for form and presentation. In other pieces of Calle that I’ve viewed I’d say that the conceptual took precedence over the formal. Here, the “perfect” and “professional” presentation actually added to the objectivity, and thus the disconnect between the personal anguish of a breakup and it’s brutal evaluation (which as I said earlier, is somehow, very funny).

Sophie Calle Take Care of Yourself grid of video screens

In addition to the printed works a number of the “evaluators” responded with dance, song, dramatized recitations, etc. that were presented in a long grid of videos.

Here is just a small list of some of the letter evaluators: a talmudic scholar, a translator, a markswoman, a cartoonist, a criminal prosecutor, a clown, a child, an etiquette advisor, a chess player, a crossword puzzle creator, a forensic psychiatrist, and of course, a parrot.

This is really a great work of the imagination. Each time I moved to a new analysis of the letter I found myself amazed by the variety of possibilities. What a wondrous world we live in, even when it’s painful.

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Sophie Calle At Fort Mason – Part 1

Last weekend I found myself at Fort Mason in San Francisco. An old military base, Fort Mason is now home to an assortment of arts and cultural organizations housed in its historic buildings. It’s a beautiful site fronting on the bay, with clear views to the island of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Blind a photo series by Sophie Calle that includes text and image

The Blind

I’d come to see a four part exhibition by the French photographer/conceptual artist Sophie Calle. I first encountered Calle’s work years ago at a gallery in New York. That project, The Blind, had stayed in my memory. The work was straight forward and yet incredibly moving. Calle asked people who were born blind what was their image of beauty. She paired two photos, one of the blind person and one an image of the beautiful thing they imagined, with written text quoting the description they’d provided. For one person the most beautiful thing was the child they’d never seen, for another the ocean.

The Last Image a photo series by Sophie Calle that includes text and image

The Last Image

Here it was years later. As an echo of that experience, I found myself walking into a small room by the ocean to view Calle’s series The Last Image. Once again, a pairing of a set of photos and text but this time she found people in Turkey who had lost their sight. She asked them to relate their memory of the last thing they saw before their sight disappeared. Some loses were dramatic, blinded in a fight, others a slow darkening until it was all gone.

The small scale of the room in which the work was displayed worked well with both the size of the works and the intimacy revealed in the private stories of loss. The gallery is in the far reaches of the art center, removed from the larger buildings and easy to overlook. For me, this isolation added to the poignancy of the piece.

"Voir la mer" a video installation by Sophie Calle

Voir la mer

An adjoining room contained five large video projections, part of the project Voir la mer. The translation is See the sea but Calle has intentionally played on the homophones mer (sea) and mère (mother), thus the sea as the mother. For this reason this was the only project that did not contain a title in English.

Both series, The Last Image and Voir la mer, were exhibited in the old Firehouse directly adjacent to the water. From it’s windows waves could be seen stretching out to Alcatraz Island. This location was particularly apt for Voir la mer.

On each screen was a lone individual with their back to the audience, facing the ocean. One at a time they turned to the viewer, speechless, and then the screen faded to white. At any time the viewer might find a screen displaying an individual facing away from the ocean, thus looking at the viewer, while other screens still showed individuals gazing out to sea. The timing among the five screens served as a type of orchestration that connected the separate images. The screens turned to white individually so that there was a movement from five visible images, to four, to three, until there were no images left.

Voir la mer was shot in Istanbul. A city surrounded by water the irony is that many people living in poor neighborhoods have never seen the sea. Like the blind in the room next door they have not seen what surrounds them.

Calle brought these residents to the ocean and filmed the experience, trying to invade their privacy as little as possible. They all seem a little stunned, as if language has escaped them.

So much of Calle’s work is about what is absent or has disappeared, in fact the series of four exhibitions at Fort Mason is titled Missing.

Calle starts each of her projects with a rule or a game-like strategy. What interests me about much of her work is that what could easily be a cold and clinical conceptual investigation manages to evoke powerful emotions.

Next week I’ll discuss the other two projects, Rachel Monique and Take Care of Yourself, that are part of Missing.

The exhibition “Missing” was produced and curated by Ars Citizen.

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How To: Michael Bierut Discusses His Creative Process

Earlier this year I added a book to my library. It’s by the graphic designer Michael Bierut and it’s title is How to. The complete title is How to use graphic design to sell things, explain things, make things look better, make people laugh, make people cry, and (every once in a while) change the world.

Book cover for Michael Beirut How To

Even though the book is about graphic design, it is a valuable read for anyone interested in any field of the visual arts. It briefly describes Bierut’s education and work history and then goes into detail about aspects of one design project after another.

The book is a very personal examination of Bierut’s creative process. He describes how he got involved with a number of challenging projects and how he and his team problem solved their way to completion. Bierut has been a professional designer for over 35 years – first with Massimo Vignelli and then with the international design firm Pentagram – so there are many projects to look at and lots of examples.

One of the qualities I particularly like about this book is the writing style. It is unassuming and unpretentious from start to finish. This is not the writing of an ivory tower professor or a theory driven art critic. It reads, instead, like a conversation you might have with a knowledgeable friend or co-worker who just happens to be sharing stories with you over dinner.

Time and again, Bierut confesses to being at a loss for ideas and direction when presented with a new project. But then, through trial and error or brainstorming or maybe just dumb luck, there is a breakthrough and the solution begins to present itself. To Bierut’s credit he seems to embrace this recurring process and optimistically says, “…your best chance to grow is to do something you don’t know how to do.

Here are a few examples from the book that will give you a sense of Bierut’s creative process and writing style…

Saks logos by Michael Bierut

The head of marketing at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City approached Bierut asking for a new graphics marketing program that would be distinctive and instantly recognizable. He gave Bierut total control of the project.

The store is a traditional landmark of high quality retail merchandising. It also offers the most current fashions. Bierut’s challenge was to combine “…timelessness and trendiness.”

Bierut continues, “We tried everything. We set the name in dozens of different typefaces: they looked inauthentic. We tried images of their flagship building: too old. We invented patterns: frustratingly arbitrary. Finally, sensing our exhaustion, Terron made a suggestion: a lot of people, he said, still liked a cursive logo from the 1970s by lettering artist Tom Carnase. A florid bit of Spencerian script, it looked dated to me, but I asked our designer Kerrie Powell to see if it could be refined. Later that afternoon, I glanced at Kerrie’s computer screen from across the room. On it was a small fragment of that dated 1970s logo. The enlarged detail looked as fresh and dramatic as the Nike swoosh. I realized this was it.

Designs by Michael Bierut Minnesota Children’s Museum

In 1995 the Minnesota Children’s Museum moved to a new building and Bierut was asked to develop signage to be used throughout the new space. He describes the early stages of the design process, “Inevitably, the clichés poured out. Crayon markings. Bright primary colors. Building blocks, balloons, smiley faces.”

After considerable discussion Bierut and his team of designers came to a conclusion… “Sometimes avoiding the obvious means embracing it – and wrestling it to the ground. Children’s hands, with their invitation to touch and their sense of scale, provided the key. Instead of trying to draw them (silhouettes? crayon scribbles?) we recruited local kids to serve as hand models and photographed them pointing, counting, playing. Today, at the Minnesota Children’s Museum, these hands – of children that are now in their twenties – continue to point the way, and pick out that delicate path between what’s expected and what surprises.

Signage by Micheal Bierut

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is an historic landmark on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In addition to its religious significance and historical architecture it hosts concerts and art exhibits as well as serving over 25,000 soup kitchen meals a year.

Bierut describes the challenge of rebranding this landmark… “What is the best way to signal that a stone monument over 120 years old is a vibrant, indispensable part of 21st-century life?

We were mesmerized by this combination of old stones and modern life, and sought a way to replicate the surprise that visitors experience when they step through its great west doors. We started with a frankly contemporary, even humorous, tone of voice. But then we took that voice and set it in a new version of an old typeface: Divine, a redrawn, digitized version of a 1928 blackletter by Frederic Goudy, who in turn had based his designs on the type in Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible. This contrast between historical form and contemporary content became our way to echo the contrasting but symbiotic relationship of the container and the thing it contains.

The challenges Bierut faced in each of these projects (and all the others in the book), the process he and his team used to solve those challenges, and the solutions they came up with are totally relevant to artists and designers across the full spectrum of visual arts. How to is a valuable resource and an enjoyable read. It would be a great addition to any artist’s library.

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Design Exercise: The Grid and Found Objects

Last week I wrote about the artist Leonardo Drew. During the process of researching him I came across an interview conducted by Desa Beslic of the Denver Museum of Art. Among other things she asked him to talk about a “significant success” or “noteworthy failure.” His response centered around his experience as a resident artist in Brazil where he was involved with the organization Quiet in The Land.

Drew was brought to Brazil to interact with 250 street children, introducing them to the arts. He almost left shortly after his arrival when he found himself housed in a large penthouse. He felt it was inappropriate to be living in such luxury while working with children who had so little. The organization agreed to move him into a house in the surrounding poor community.

Drew’s idea was to introduce the children to art by having them find the value in their own neighborhood. Each child was handed a large plastic garbage bag and told to go and collect found objects. The children discussed why they had selected the particular items they brought back. Using a grid as an underlying structure for a communal artwork, Drew placed a large net on the floor to which the students attached the items they had found. The project was then suspended in a courtyard.

My first reaction when reading about this project was that it would be a great assignment for introducing the design elements and principles of texture, scale and the grid. So, here is a design exercise for you.

To begin I suggest you reread our book Design: A Beginner’s Handbook. Next, begin your collection of found things. These may be totally random or you may decide to employ an organizing theme such as color, size, function, etc. Perhaps you want to have your items represent a particular place or maybe an important memory.

Your next decision will be a technical one. What type of grid structure will be able to support the items? If they are lightweight you could use plastic deer netting, found at hardware and garden supply stores, or even make your own net out of thin thread. Heavier items will require either a thicker net or possibly a grid made from lengths of wood or metal.

Once it’s time to attach the found objects to the net what other type of organizing principles will you use? Will the items be placed any which way or will you create rhythms and shapes through the use of the organizing principle of unity and variety? Is color an important consideration, and if so, how will you use it? How will the size of the individual objects relate to the overall scale of the finished piece?

Consider creating two of these gridded projects, one as described above and the other using a two-dimensional grid combined with drawing or photographic cutouts. The point? To compare the two grid artworks and see how the materials and processes used influence the work. What are their similarities and what are their differences?

We’d love to see what you create. Please take a photo and share it with us on our Facebook page.

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A Simple Map Of Life: Leonardo Drew

Last week I went with some friends to see an exhibition at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. On the drive over I sat in the back seat and tried to come up with a topic for this week’s blog. My blogging colleague had just completed two posts about art and materials and I was contemplating an addition to that thread. The show I was going to see didn’t seem like an appropriate topic and so I was at a loss.

After viewing an exhibition about the Summer of Love on the lower floor of the museum I walked up to the entry level where I was confronted with an immense installation that covered three walls surrounding an atrium.

Art installation at the DeYoung Museum by Leonardo Drew

To say the piece took my breath away is an understatement. The scale and material presence of the installation overwhelmed me. Here was my answer, a perfect topic for today’s post.

The above photographs don’t do justice to the installation, Number 197, by the artist Leonardo Drew. Lost is the physical sensation of interacting with the art – the body in relationship to the scale of the space, the feeling of looking up to see a large and complex cantilevered wood construction protruding from a corner forty feet in the air, the surprise in discovering the complexity and detail hidden in the larger forms.

Large wall art installation by Leonardo Drew

The most striking aspect of Leonardo Drew’s work is the inventiveness found in his use of materials. His art pieces appear to be composed of the detritus of a crumbling civilization. Rotting, rusted, burned, jumbled, torn, splintered. Wood, rope, metal, cotton, tree roots, lost (and found) objects. A history of the world found in seemingly discarded materials.

Wall sculpture by Leonardo Drew

In the case of Drew’s work, what you see is not entirely what you get. The aged and charred lengths of wood were purchased new, the “history” added in the studio by Drew who builds up layers of washes to create a patina of age. If the materials carry a history it is a more personal one. Drew adds vestiges of his own life into the work, tearing apart old projects for reuse in later pieces, discovering hidden art in the discarded scraps on his studio floor. Much of the meaning in his work arises from the interaction between material and process.

Leonardo Drew with art project

In attempting to interpret Drew’s work much has been made of his early life living in a public housing project next door to a large municipal dump. As a child he played with the discards from other people’s lives. Of this time Drew has said, “I remember all of it, the seagulls, the summer smells, the underground fires that could not be put out… and over time I came to realize this place as ‘God’s mouth’…the beginning and the end…and the beginning again [sic]…what has remained from my early explorations are the echoes of evolution…life, death, regeneration.”

Wall sculpture by Leonardo Drew

Life. Death. Regeneration. Those three words are at the core of Drew’s work. Cities grow and then decay. Organic life sprouts and then dies. It’s all part of a cyclical process that unites opposing forces. This pull between opposites is found in the form of Drew’s work. The apparent chaos in the layered surfaces is tamed by an underlying grid. Method and madness. Form and meaning cannot be separated. “The grid is my basis of sanity. Otherwise it would just be noise. I mean, these things are loud, but if you know what to listen for, they’ll speak to you.

Surface details of works by Leonardo Drew

The metaphorical time implied in the work is underscored by the real time involved in the making of the work. When I saw the piece at the DeYoung I was struck by the density and intricacy of the surfaces, by the repetitive motions involved in their creation. I imagined the hours of labor that the work recorded, and it is this real time that lends the work it’s authority.

“…I think that’s the cyclical nature of just being, like birth, like death, and regeneration. It’s a very simple map of life. I think that I follow that naturally and organically, without actually ever claiming it, it was just there. I started making work, and it’s like, yes you are calling out all of these things that are part of your memory, your body’s memory, things that have gone through your pores, what you’ve seen, what you’ve experienced, and you spill them out without thinking. I don’t think so much about, “Okay, I’m going to make work, and it’s going to be about this. It’s just going to come out.”

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Art And The Importance Of Materials: Part 2

In our previous post we discussed the artwork of the Italian based Arte Povera movement – how they used raw and cast off industrial materials to bring a new urgency to their sculptures. You can read that post here.

Today let’s look at the work of another group of artists from the same time who used a totally different set of materials as their primary means of expressing form and content.

These were artists working in Los Angeles in the 1960s and early 1970s. They used cutting edge materials and technical processes to create work that was immaculate – clean and pristine. Art critics referred to their obsession with ideal forms and perfect surfaces by using the term Finish Fetish.

Like the Arte Povera artists in Italy the Finish Fetish artists in Los Angeles were responding to the prevailing art of the time (including Minimalism) but with a unique LA twist.

These young LA artists looked at the physical and cultural world directly around them and saw a beautiful landscape and a world bursting with possibilities.

Unlike urban centers back east, the west side of Los Angeles (where most of these artists lived and worked) was a short walk from postcard perfect beaches bathed in sunlight. It was a laid back culture of Hawaiian shirts, customized cars and surfboards.

By the 1960s Los Angeles had also become a new super city ready to give New York and Chicago a serious challenge. LAs population was enormous. Its entertainment and aerospace industries were among the most important in the world. And its real estate developers and deal makers were defining what the world would look like far into the future.

It was in this forward looking, beach world context that these artists began creating a uniquely West Coast style of minimalism – art that captured the spirit of Southern California. Let’s look at a few examples…

art by Billy Al Bengston

Billy Al Bengston, who once raced motorcycles on the competitive circuit, used automotive lacquer and a spray gun to create this image on an aluminum panel. You can see in the reflective surface that the metal has been distressed with hammer blows. Bengston has long been fascinated by shimmering reflections inspired by his own interest in surfing and observing how sunlight bounces off the water’s surface. Describing his other inspirations Bengston says, “My earlier work took off from things I saw in the streets: cars, signs etc… and Los Angeles of course, was, and is, a car culture…”

art by Larry Bell

Another artist interested in reflective surfaces is Larry Bell. He uses a hi-tech process of depositing micron thin layers of metallic film on sheets of glass suspended in a vacuum chamber. The density and gradation of the filmy layer is controlled by the angle of the glass in the chamber and the number of times it goes through the process. He also uses stencils to mask out areas. Talking about the importance of his immaculate process Bell says, “I don’t want you to see stains on the glass. I don’t want you to see fingerprints on the glass… I don’t want you to see anything except the light that’s reflected, absorbed, or transmitted.”

Resin sculpture by DeWain Valentine

DeWain Valentine had a history of using polyester resins and fiberglass in industry before becoming a visual artist. He worked with chemists from PPG to modify existing formulas and eventually develop a new resin that would allow him to fabricate large scale forms in a single pouring. His large forms have weighed as much as two tons. Valentine says of his art, “all the work is about the sea and the sky. And I would like to have some way, a magic saw, to cut out large chunks of ocean or sky and say ‘here it is’.”

Resin sculpture by Helen Pashgian

Helen Pashgian works on a much smaller scale but her pieces are equally complex to fabricate. For this artwork she first cast a solid resin sphere that was carefully sanded and polished. It was then dipped in multiple baths of resin – each slightly tinted with different colors. After more sanding and polishing the globe is a jewel-like finished object. Talking about her inspiration Pashgian says, “Light and water, those two things sealed my fate… and you could only experience it in that way in California.”

Looking at the artwork of both the Arte Povera and Finish Fetish artists you can see how important materials are for conveying an artistic vision. Young artists and designers should not settle for what they have at hand, but should insist on materials that are appropriate for what they want to express.

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Art And The Importance Of Materials: Part 1

One of the most fundamental and practical aspects of art is the importance of materials.

The stuff that artists use when they make a work of art influences both form and content. Every material brings something special to the creative process and the finished work. Materials influence how artists make their work and how viewers perceive it.

In today’s blog post and the next post I’ll share some examples of artists who use materials as a primary vehicle for expressing their artistic visions.

Let’s start by looking at a group of Italian artists who were part of a movement known as Arte Povera. That title translates into English as “poor art” and refers to the everyday, common materials the artists used to create their work.

Arte Povera as a defined movement lasted from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. It was born in response to the elitist modernism that dominated the art world at the time, particularly the newly emerging Minimalism with its clean lines and anonymous surfaces.

This was also a time of major demonstrations and political protests around the world.

Without sacrificing elegance, the Arte Povera artists wanted to bring confrontation, raw materials and primal processes into mainstream art. To accomplish this goal they used the most basic materials they could find, often working with industrial leftovers such as construction grade steel, unfinished wood, glass, stone and dirt.

Their poetic combinations of undisguised raw materials and industrial elements made very powerful visual statements, particularly when they were exhibited in pristine galleries and museums.

Let’s look at a few examples…

large sculpture using a split tree by artist Giuseppe Penone

The first image is by Giuseppe Penone. It consists of two mature pine trees that have been stripped of their bark, sliced in half down their full length and then hollowed out. Resting in the middle of one tree is a cast metal form representing a section of another tree trunk. The scale of this piece, and the ambitious cutting and carving give the work a compelling visual presence.

sculpture made of mounded rags by Michelangelo Pistolleto

In this sculpture Michelangelo Pistolleto arranged two piles of rags on either side of a vertical sheet of glass. One pile is multi-colored and the other is all white. The two piles have been carefully formed to create mirror images of each other, giving the appearance of one large pile.

sculpture by Jannis Kounellis

Here we see a found wooden structure supporting four rows of dyed but unspun wool. The artist Jannis Kounellis often used his work to bridge the gap between static art and live performance. This sculpture looks somewhat like a grill, a shuttered window, or even a large painting. It also suggests just one step in a long industrial process.

sculpture by Mario Merz

Mario Merz was interested in architectural forms his entire career and often made dome shaped sculptures that suggest igloos or tribal huts. Here we see one of those forms built from sheets of stone, glass and metal held together by industrial clamps. At various points around the floor there are neon lights that spell out words.

As you can see from these examples it’s nearly impossible to look at the work of Arte Povera artists and not be aware of the materials they used.

In the next blog post we’ll look at the work of another group of artists who were active at the same time but who used radically different materials and ended up with, predictably, very different results.

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Design Exercise: Imaginary Places

The weather is beautiful here in California. Perfect blue skies and just the right amount of heat. It’s hard to sit inside and get work done. I’d rather be anywhere but at my desk. Perhaps you feel this way too. Where would you be if you had no responsibilities and anything was possible? Does such a place even exist?

The greatest vacation may occur in your imagination, where there are no limits, not even those imposed by gravity. My proposal is that you create your perfect vacation spot, one that you can revisit no matter where your body resides physically, and regardless of the time of year.

I suggest you begin by deciding what type of vacation you’d want – adventure, natural beauty, exposure to foreign cultures, extreme relaxation, sensory indulgence, adrenaline inducing exploits, educational pursuits, out-of-body experiences, a dystopian nightmare (a weird vacation indeed), etc.

I’m one of those people who loves lists and that’s what I’m going to suggest you make next – a list of what that ideal vacation would contain. If you want a vacation of adrenaline inducing exploits ask yourself where this would occur (remember, anything is possible, forget about the laws of physics), who would be there, what would you do, how would you get there, even what would be your emotional state of mind.

If you need help generating ideas try searching online for images. You can start with obvious search categories but see what you can find by following link upon link – in other words, let yourself get a little lost, thus discovering what you didn’t know existed. Move past the easy answers.

What visual form will best represent this fantasy vacation? A map? A collage? A diorama? A sculptural installation? A film? An ad campaign? A board game? A video game? A garment? A series of souvenirs?

The effectiveness of your response to this exercise is dependent on your successful use of the elements and principles of design, the inventiveness of your idea, and your handling and crafting of materials. Use our book, “Design: A Beginner’s Handbook” as a resource. In addition Youtube offers many how-to videos that can help you with the pragmatics of fabrication.

Please share your projects with us on our Facebook page.

Here are a few images I found online that I thought fit with this theme.

manipulated photograph of boats floating in the air

bpkelsey, manipulated photograph

antique map Bartholomaeus Anglicus

Bartholomaeus Anglicus, antique map

three illustrations by Whooli Chen of imaginary places

Whooli Chen, three illustrations

outdoor installation by London Fieldworks

London Fieldworks, outdoor installation

Boat art installation by Yudi Sulistyo


Bonsai treehouse sculptures by Takanori Aiba

Takanori Aiba, bonsai treehouses

Painting by Suad Al Attar

Suad Al Attar, “A Thousand And One Nights”

Painting by Rae Hicks

Rae Hicks, “Sometimes I Forget That You’re Gone”

Urban Dreaming installation by the Bouroullec Brothers

Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, “Urban Daydreaming”

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July 4th 2017

We will be on vacation for the next two weeks, celebrating the American 4th of July holiday. During this difficult time living with the Trump Administration we are trying to remain positive by remembering the freedoms on which our country was founded. We will not go backwards and we encourage all of you to fight for equal rights, strong environmental protections, and a world in which you would want your children to live.

Our next post will be on Thursday, July 13. We’ve been writing this blog for several years and we suggest you use this brief break to browse through the hundreds of prior posts we’ve written and to check out our book “Design: A Beginner’s Handbook.”

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