I was surprised and pleased to receive notice that I've been included in a show at Art Center College of Design about my teacher Tony Zepeda's printmaking class legacy. If any of you are in Pasadena in the next few months, I hope you'll take the chance to go see the show.
I loved the time I spent learning from Tony and listening to his stories about his time working as a master printer maker at Gemini G.E.L. I have a lot of fond memories of his class even though the printmaking process was often stressful and I cried in class once (not because of his brusqueness though---but rather because I was having a hard time keeping up. Printmaking class was 7 hours long and had a second studio session of another 2-3 hours every week and I had a 7 class schedule the term that I took it. After I finished crying in his office, he was so kind that he gave me a little copper plate and let me borrow his diamond-tipped stylus and gifted me with one of his beautiful seashells from his collection at home, which I still have, and told me to go make a drypoint; I would feel much better. And so I did). He was so kind to me and Gia, and often told the class that Gia the guide-dog-in-training was his favorite student out of the lot of us. I hope that someday I will have access to a press again and get to put the intaglio skills he taught me to good use again. Until then, there's always homemade monoprints. . .
Dog in the Garden pen and ink on paper 2011
While visiting my parents in Los Angeles this past week I had the opportunity to meet with one of my good artist-friends. We had a nice conversation over lunch, and he suggested it was time that I join the social world and start putting my artwork on Instagram. After looking at his account and thinking it over, I decided it would be a good thing to turn outward a little more and share my artwork with a wider audience than this website may be able to reach. While I have added some images of older artwork to my new account (like the drawing above), this website is still much more comprehensive. And even this website is missing photos of quite a few of my pieces! I hope to fix that over time. But now that I have an Instagram account, I mean to update it along with this website whenever I have new work to share.
In case any of you want to follow along, you can click the camera icon in the right-hand toolbar of this page, or you can find me at: https://www.instagram.com/eowynwilcoxmccomb/
The Smallest Life colored pencil and graphite on bristol 2017
I finished a new colored pencil drawing, which I call "The Smallest Life." It is going to the framers to get ready to be donated to the annual Art Division art auction this summer. It is a small drawing, about 8 by 10 inches, and to me it has a lingering, wistful atmosphere of dust.
For those who have not heard of Art Division, it is a non-profit program founded and run by the artist Dan McCleary. Its purpose is to make art more available to inner-city young adults in Los Angeles. Dan used to volunteer often at HOLA, a non-profit arts organization serving the youth of Los Angeles. He was saddened by how when the children turned eighteen so much of the support and opportunities HOLA and other non-profits offered dropped away, even though their lives were not any easier than before. Dan started Art Division to fill that gap and give young adults training in order to go on to college or arts-related jobs. I used to work there as a volunteer tutor and as a drawing instructor, and I am proud to continue to support Art Division in any small way that I can, even though I now live far away.
Rembrandt van Rijn Jan Asselyn, Painter 1647 etching, drypoint, and engraving
A strange series of events including a laboratory fire (which thankfully did not affect my husband’s work, as it was not in his building but instead the one adjacent to it) led Ryan to need to go back to Stanford last Saturday afternoon when we had planned to go out on some errands together. He invited me to go with him on the train so I could visit the Cantor museum while he worked and we could do our errands on the way home. I so rarely get to go to museums anymore that I was happy for the chance, and felt extra lucky that one of the current exhibits at the Cantor museum is of Dutch golden age intaglio prints. The show is loosely grouped around the theme of daily life and the selection was large and impressive, including some very beautiful Rembrandts, mostly portraits and self-portraits and one landscape. The prints are all very small, very intricate, and very intimate, since you have to stand very close to them to study them well, so that they feel very dear.
While all of the artists were accomplished, the Rembrandts stood out for their exquisite range of tone. No other artist mastered the velvet blacks that Rembrandt used so well to make even the tiniest figures feel real, dimensional, physically and emotionally genuine.
The other part of the show that was most intriguing to me was a set of twelve prints representing the twelve seasons of the year. They were all distant views of Dutch landscapes with very tiny figures going about their seasonal business and pleasure: ice-skating, buying and selling food, plowing fields, harvesting, talking, playing music. The way the landscapes were laid out for the eye to roam and travel reminded me of Van Gogh’s large fields. The trees felt more important than the people, larger and more detailed and slower. The whole series had a feeling of slowness—the very gradual shifts of bare branches to small leaves to large leaves--- the people ice-skating in January and ice-skating again at the end of the series in December. It made me reflect on time and how over three hundred years have passed between then and now with each gradual shift in the seasons subtly shading one month into another and another and another and the tiny people living and dying and the artist living and dying until here they are on another wall in another part of the world and I am one of the people living and looking at these tiny people who lived so long ago and someday I will die and someone else will be looking at them, and maybe at artwork of my own, if I am lucky.
When we were visiting our parents for Christmas my family was very kind and took me to the museum. I wrote about it in my journal: “I did get to see Van Gogh’s bedroom painting, visiting from Chicago to the Norton Simon, which was so beautiful in person—a dream of serenity---a dream of home that Van Gogh painted when he was at the asylum in Saint-Remy, having already lost that bedroom and everything it represented to him. It was very poignant for me to see it, struggling as I am with not having a home of my own, no space, no room, no decent studio to work in.”
It is the main reason I haven’t been writing as much here. Since we moved to the bottom of the Silicon Valley in September 2015, I have done nothing but struggle and miss my home. Like Van Gogh, I too, have been painting from memory, using painting to cross boundaries of time and space and re-inhabit the place I miss most. One of the paintings I am working on now is of Mimi, who died last year on one of my visits home, sitting in the long green grass in the backyard of my parents’ house. I can’t pet Mimi anymore, I can’t even sit in the grass that I love and miss so much, but I can paint them, here, in this tiny, dark, cold place hundreds of miles away. It is one of the gifts painting gives the painter.
I am trying so hard to capture some images of life. One of my new year’s goals is to try to write more here, to keep updates on the progress of my artwork and the spirals of my thoughts. Since I rarely get to go out to art shows any more, I’ll try to write more this year about the art books that I am reading, and paintings that I am looking at in my memory, or through my post-card collection, which is its own tiny museum of art.
The Sea of Deep Blue Dreams oil on canvas 2016
If you happen to be in Pasadena before mid-December, my painting 'The Sea of Deep Blue Dreams' is part of a group show of alumni called "The Long Game" at Art Center College of Design in the Fine Arts gallery at the old post-office portion of the South Campus.
At the end of May I had the pleasure of going to visit my Mom and Dad. My dad had two days off, so we all went together to the Getty museum where I saw all of my old and favorite painting-friends (dear Van Gogh, dear Cezanne, dear Munch), as well as some new ones (Sisley and Monet’s beautiful little pastels---I didn’t even know they made pastels), and one painting that I felt very suspicious of (Orazio Genteleschi’s benign-looking rape of Danae by Zeus in the guise of a shower of golden coins and ribbons---was this painted before or after his daughter was raped by her painting teacher?) We walked through the model cave temples of Dunhuang and marveled at the delicately reproduced wall paintings: their bright malachite greens and calligraphic lines, the angelic presences darting around the ceilings, the pattern that envelops you as you turn around and around, looking.
After my dad was back at work, my mom still had time off, so we took a train adventure into Los Angeles and went to visit Hauser, Wirth, and Schimmel in their new white palace just east of Little Tokyo. The gallery is enormous, and very elegant. It is also strange: the blend of pristine whiteness with the neatly preserved rusted doors and broken tilework from its previous life as a factory; the extension of the commercial art space into the commercial marketplace of food and books with the addition of a restaurant, a food truck and a full-size bookstore to the four plus rooms devoted to showing art. The inaugural show was also curious for several reasons, one of which the LA Times already pointed out in that most of the work is borrowed from museums and is not in fact for sale. The show, ‘Revolution in the Making’ has a narrow focus on abstract sculpture made by women during the years 1947 to 2016, which had me questioning: was this a good thing, to put together a show that should be in a museum but considering the way museums neglect female artists in general (you can look up the Guerilla Girls for some interesting statistics) was unlikely to happen? Is it progressive for such a large gallery to focus its first show entirely on women when the general statistics for women in galleries is little better than the statistics for women in museums (see Michol Hebron’s gallery tally)? But why all women? As I went through gallery after gallery, noticing that while many of the artworks referenced the body or feminine experience they by no means all had those themes in common-----and I wondered, is it good for all these women to be shown together outside of the context of their male peers? While women certainly do have a lot to say to each other, they don’t work in a world outside of the world---it makes little sense to separate them from the full conversations of the time and place that they were working. Were these women all grouped together because their artwork had a great deal in common beyond working in the vague and broad field of ‘abstract sculpture’, or was the only other commonality the gender of the maker? If, as the gallery press release said, all these artists “reject[ed] the precedent of a monolithic masterwork on a pedestal” then why not show them with the artwork they were responding to? Why separate them? And were only women making that change? I seem to recall that most sculpture after the 1960s jumped off the pedestal onto the floor and walls and anywhere else, and that strangely enough, in this show there were some heavy pieces of concrete on pedestals, who only barely miss being termed “monolithic” because there were quite a few of them shown together.
I found myself dwelling on Louise Nevelson’s sculpture. It wasn’t displayed very prominently; it was in fact off to one side in the first gallery, tucked almost into a corner, although well lit. But it was also covered in a deep layer of dust, which gently covered the flat, matte black surfaces of the wood, growing deeper as they recessed into crevasses of shadow. I looked at it with my mother for a long time, and asked her whether she thought sculptures should be dusted? Every one of Nevelson’s sculptures that I have ever seen has been covered deeply in dust, and this made me wonder---was it intentional? Did Nevelson leave any instructions that her pieces should not be dusted, or is this an instance of neglect that would make her very sad were she alive and did she know that no one had cleaned her sculptures in many years? Perhaps the issue of dust seems small, but to me it is a vital one, because it changes the perception and meaning of the piece. When I see such deep dust, I think of many things: the passage of time, of disuse, neglect, of the living rooms of strangers, of the hidden depths of cupboards, I think of the poetic makeup of dust---the particles it is made of, the bits of skin and flakes of things sloughing off their outer layers as the fatigue of time grows heavy on them, and how they gather on other things to make a new outer layer, a skin of other skins. How can the materiality of dust help but affect the sculpture that it sits on, and the thoughts of the person looking at it? Perhaps someday I will write a more full meditation upon the transfiguring power of dust.
When my mother and I stood in front of Louise Nevelson’s sculpture, pondering, was what I was looking at an intended layer of meaning, a poetic meditation on time, or was it a visible sign of the neglect that so many women artists suffer at the hands of an art history made primarily by male collectors, male curators, male historians? Would a man think of dust in the same way as a woman used to dusting the many wooden surfaces of her home?
This question led me to other questions about the relationship between women-artists and domesticity when we entered the last gallery room of what the gallery termed “a Post-Modernist generation of increasingly global figures who are far more expansive in their use of space, and whose works signal a foundational shift from discreet sculptural objects toward more installation-based practices.” What struck Mom and I the most about this room was the shift in content, construction methods, and most of all atmosphere from the previous rooms. While previous pieces had referenced the female body, fairy tales, the earth---they all had in common great beauty and delicacy of creation and presentation. They were elegant, thoughtful, and for the most part, austere. The last room was crowded, claustrophobic, purposely sloppy, adolescent (one sculpture incorporated kitty-emblazoned t-shirts), aggressive, and had a pervasive undercurrent of what I noted to my mom felt like a deep loathing towards domesticity and craft. Certainly the detritus that the sculptures were made of was the detritus of home, fabric stores, craft stores, thrift stores. Certainly also the way the sculptures were made did not seem to intend to transcend those materials, or to treat them kindly or respectfully – the fabrics, furniture, cleaning and craft supplies were torn, wound, stuffed, dangled, smashed, deformed, and made to push into the viewers’ space to make them/me feel faintly threatened. In some cases even worry that it might fall on me and I would be caught and smothered under a pile of dirty laundry or distorted filthy couches that looked like they came from the back of a high school drama room. It felt like an adolescent nightmare: the cellophane, the nail polish, the nylons, the t-shirts and dirty bedding and bits of old Christmas trees and the strangely shrouded piano turned over on its side. Without knowing the artists, I couldn’t know why. Did they dislike the domestic for personal reasons? Did they all share a common childhood that left a similar psychological impression of distrust? Was this satire of the homely a way to define themselves as artists: yes, I am female, but I am not domestic? Was it based in the fear that to be a ‘real’ artist, a woman must discard the traditionally feminine, or make it strange, other, disown it the way a troubled teenage girl might disown her mother? Saying, I won’t be like you. But why? Why a whole room of artwork with that same feeling and the same family of materials made grotesque? Was it the curator’s choice, a selection which does not show the full range of interests in current abstract sculpture made by women, or does it reflect the general impulse of women’s sculptures, in which case, I am left with the same question of why all these women/artists are so negatively ambivalent about femininity, domesticity, and craft? There is some part of me that wonders---were they rewarded (by men, by other similarly ambivalent women) for this attitude? To laugh at what troubles, at the things that cling to their minds and hearts despite themselves. The clutches of duty and childhood and the question of how to be a woman, to be an artist, when the invisible, fragile, vulnerable, and omnipresent world of the home, overlooked and underappreciated, is all one has ever seen or known.
The women of previous generations found ways to be artists and women both, incorporating their special knowledge of femininity into their art rather than disowning or satirizing it. Ruth Asawa’s elegantly knitted wire forms, for instance—taking the ephemeral action of knitting and giving it the permanence and flexibility of wire, and the lightness of seedpods floating through the air. Or Lee Bontecou’s relief sculptures that under their frightening facades have the orderly purpose of mending, repurposing. Or Claire Falkenstein’s jeweled nests-nets, with their rich ambiguity of form and reference. Or Bourgeois, or Nevelson, who take discards and paint and assemble and change them, and allow them to transcend the meaning placed upon them by other people, even their own makers. They give them form, and identity, and freedom to be different than what they were intended to be. And yet they are what they are, still, the same wood under the paint. But they can be both discarded wood, no longer needed, and artwork, very much needed, at the same time. What I admired most about the earliest artists in the show was the way they held ambiguity in the air, and let it stay there.
Pierre Bonnard The Demanding Cat oil on canvas 1912
Several Saturdays ago my husband and I drove up early to San Francisco to the Legion of Honor Museum and its view of the gloomy, rain and wind-swept bay. We’d been planning our trip since we heard about the Pierre Bonnard show 'Painting Arcadia' in a letter from my friend Tom. Bonnard has always been one of my favorite painters, but my experiences seeing his artwork have always been scattered: a beautiful big painting in a group exhibition here, a small and fascinating painting from a permanent collection there. I’ve never seen a whole show of his work before, and my hopes were not disappointed.
While the title ‘Painting Arcadia,’ seemed slightly misleading to me, given that the show had as many interiors, still lifes and nudes as landscapes, I was very happy that all those paintings were there. The show covers Bonnard’s whole life, from his earliest ‘Japoniste’ paintings on cardboard painted during his early and mid-twenties all the way to the very last painting he made before he died in 1947, the blossoming almond tree he could see from his window. It was remarkable to see that painting, as small and intimate as his first paintings, but shimmering with a lifetime of experience and looking. It was the same painting that he asked his nephew to bring to him on his deathbed so he could retouch it, never satisfied that it or any other painting he made was truly finished.
I noticed several new things about his paintings, things you can barely see in reproductions, if at all: the shimmer of his colors, which is almost opalescent at times. Looking closely in person, you can see that it is achieved by layering pale warm colors against pale cool colors, sometimes over each other, other times dappled side by side, which causes a vibration and a shimmer, especially as one steps back from the painting. I noticed that most of the paintings looked most vibrantly alive from a slight distance. While they were beautiful up close, and his touch with the brush is a delicate and sensitive one, the paintings felt most coherent when standing a few feet away. Many of the paintings are painted from the standing perspective anyway---the gaze of the viewer/painter is generally high, sometimes looking across a room, other times looking down on a table that slants towards the picture plane. Also hard to see except in person is how Bonnard uses a vast range of colors: rarely in the same painting is a large patch of color the same color---he makes it shimmer by shifting the tones and hues slightly as it moves across the surface of the canvas. He stipples and dapples with his brush, and contrasts opaque color with transparent color with great poetry and expressiveness.
My husband was most puzzled and intrigued with the lack of faces. In most of the paintings the faces were obscured, turned away, blurred and vague. I believe it is because very few paintings Bonnard made were meant as portraits. Faces always steal the focus of the painting they are in---it is difficult to turn your attention to anything else. But in a painting by Bonnard, your eye is kept roaming, roaming across the veils of color and mysterious brightly colored shapes. Objects dissolve and transform, bodies are both recognizable and anonymous, feeling is diffused into the whole surface of the canvas, and not focused in any one place or form. Ryan felt that Bonnard’s paintings were akin to Van Gogh’s. I overheard many other museum-goers speaking of a resemblance to Matisse. I thought both were good references: neither painter was afraid of beauty. Bonnard certainly wasn’t. Beauty was his primary subject, more than anything else: the beauty of being, and the pleasure of looking.
Looking at so many Bonnards, I also realized how well he knew animals: there were cats and dogs in almost every room of paintings, writhing, leaping, curled, sleeping, being rubbed, playing, rubbing, gazing. His early 1894 painting of ‘the White Cat’ was especially notable for the way it did not look naturalistically like a cat, but it described the movement and mood of a self-satisfied cat exactly. There was also a trembling graphite line visible around the cat’s legs that reappeared in one of Bonnard’s last self-portraits, also in the show, drawn in repeated thin lines of graphite covered in thin washes of watercolor and gouache, a very lonely painting.
We spent all of our time at the museum in the show, but it still didn’t feel long enough, even after walking through slowly, twice. You could spend a lifetime with those paintings and still be noticing their subtleties, such is the scope of Bonnard’s achievement. My two thoughts leaving the show were that Bonnard was quite right that a painting is first an arrangement of lines and colors on a surface before it is an image or anything else, and my other thought was that the world was so colorful, so beautiful, that his paintings had shown me how to see again.
Andrea Del Sarto Study of the Head of a Young Woman (detail) about 1523 red chalk on paper
My husband and I were lucky enough to go see the Getty Center's new show Andrea Del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action. It is a beautiful show, full of wonders of the hand and spirit. His drawings are small, confidant yet delicate, and astonishingly full of feeling. What struck me most, walking through the show twice trying to absorb all the beauty, was his tenderness and respect for his subjects, something I usually associate most with Rembrandt. Yet his paintings were more DaVinci like, with soft sfumato edges and gentle chiaroscuro, but far more vibrantly colored. Unusually, there is an unfinished painting on display, a heavily worked, half-done, very large painting of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. The angel is a cherub, a symbol of innocence in a moment that takes away Isaac's innocence forever. Isaac's face is ambiguous, maybe even ambivalent, as he kneels below his father's outstretched hand. The image is agitated, violence barely averted. My husband remarked that Catholic painters had to be interpreters of the scriptures, theologians as well as painters.
While it was interesting to see Del Sarto's working drawings and how they were used, sometimes repeatedly, in his paintings, I enjoyed his portraits most of all. The drawings of a woman which the writer of the wall-texts speculated was likely his wife Lucrezia had such tenderness, respect, and thoughtfulness that they almost glowed. You had the sense looking at them that here was a woman respected and loved. The oil portrait of a young man with lavender-grey sleeves was similarly remarkable for the directness of his gaze, the beauty of his expression and the mutual regard the viewer gets to share with the painting, looking and being looked at, a glimpse forever shared. There was also an exquisite and moody drawing of a young boy with ruffled hair in the same room, a study for a painting of a youthful Saint John the baptist, also on display. Del Sarto's use of chalk is really wonderful, how he could vary between softly blended shadows, hatchwork, and all kinds of varied lines to describe the contours of the face, the tendrils of hair. His range of emotion is wonderful, too, from astonishment to wariness to introspection to warmth and liveliness. He often didn't draw pupils in the eyes of his subjects, which gave them a dreamy other-worldliness, a look of reflection.
Speaking now of a different kind of reflection, on the state of art today, this morning I read Ben Davis' 'Why are There Still so Few Successful Female Artists?' and Mira Schor's response 'Just a Short Message From Venus.' It made me think of the recent headlines about Meryl Streep sending a letter and a book about equality to each member of Congress encouraging them to revive the Equal Rights Amendment. It shocked me a year ago to read a book on feminism and realize that there is no language in our constitution ensuring the equality of women in this nation. This despite Abigail Adams' passionate letter in March of 1776 to her husband to "remember the ladies" as he helped write the constitution. She warned him "all men would be tyrants if they could." After the initial shock began to pass into wonder, I found myself thinking how could half of America not count enough to have a few words added on their behalf? But somehow women are still overlooked, living a half-invisible life. How sad that it is not in our history books that while the Equal Rights Amendment was first written in the 1920s and passed in 1972, progress was halted in 1982 because it was three states short of the minimum needed to add it to the constitution. And here we are in 2015, still missing those crucial few words that recognize a self evident fact that all humans are created equal, all men, all women, all children, no matter what gender, age, race, sexual orientation, or belief, everyone is equal before God and should be equal before the law. Perhaps we need to re-read Abigail Adams' letter, and again warn the world that if "particular care and attention are not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion."
Perhaps we also need to look at more humanist art, to learn to look at others with respect and tenderness, alive to the nuances of individuality that Andrea Del Sarto so beautifully recorded in his drawings and paintings. I sincerely believe that art teaches us how to look, and that to look at the world (and other people) with more attention leads to greater appreciation and care for what we regard.
JSW Turner The Blue Rigi, Sunrise watercolor on paper 1842
My husband and I were lucky enough to go to the opening of the new Getty exhibition: 'Turner: Painting Set Free.' It was more lovely than I had expected, given I have only seen his two paintings at the Huntington Gardens previously. To see his work, row upon row, showed his strength in repetition and variation upon a theme: the watery, steamy, moist atmosphere carried from painting to painting, some calm, some tumultuous, some finished, some barely started. His paint was simultaneously remarkably transparent and remarkably thick. He seems to have been a precursor to Bonnard in his practice of placing an empty space or a void at the center of the canvas. The paintings glowed.
But it was his watercolors that were most revelatory to me. I have never seen watercolor used so deftly, not even by Sargent or Winslow Homer. His watercolors were fresh and light and luminous. Some were as detailed as his oil paintings, but with even greater transparency and movingly delicate brushwork. But the quickest and lightest of his watercolors on display, a set of paintings made on the spot of the tower of London burning at night, were also among the most vivid. They felt so immediate still, as though you were watching the flames reflected across the water across more than a hundred years of time. The sparks still falling, the colors still bright.
JMW Turner Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London watercolor on paper 1841