Details — what we see when we slow down and look closely

I always find it a thrill to see art of many types on visits to museums, galleries, and performances (both near home and when I travel). Happily, my senses have been rewarded in amazing ways the last few months. Culture in Boston is so exciting these days that it’s hard to get to seeing everything one hears about before an exhibition closes or a performance is sold out. But I see as much as I can, and on recent travels the opportunities for enrichment and inspiration have been similarly abundant.

What has been especially interesting to me has been noticing details. When I enter a large gallery and taken in the vista of work on view, I then move to observe the individual pieces. Finally, I take a close look at the surfaces and forms of the art. It’s then that I realize how much there is to see and consider about the creation. These are details we typically miss unless we take the time to slow down and observe closely. And those observations can reveal so much more than our impressions from a few feet back.

What might appear at first to be a simple, solid field of color on a canvas delivers intriguing texture and thoughtfulness about what the artist intended, when you take that close look and think about what you are seeing. A busy field of splattered paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas reveals pattern and color interplay that would be missed without a closer look.

The examples are many. In every case, a closer inspection adds to my insights and responses to the art. Similarly, when I saw the Mark Morris Dance Company perform last week, and carefully pondered the selections of music as well as the dance forms, I had a deeper response to the works. The sweep of impressions can be wonderful, and still, focusing in on details enriches us in new ways.

In our day-to-day lives there are also great insights and things to be seen and felt deeply, when we slow down and observe details with care. Think about driving down a street. We never see as much as when we walk that street. The forms of flowers in a garden, the architectural moments on the edge of a roofline, the way the colors of the facade look in a slant of light, are all part of a blur if we only drive and never take a thoughtful walk, with stops along the way to observe and consider small details.

To be observant in that way, we must take a look at how much we rush through our lives. For many people, the days are so over-scheduled that going slow is hard to imagine. Yet when we do slow down and look closely, what we observe can inspire us in surprising and wonderful ways. It can open our eyes to possibilities or suggest ideas for completely unrelated projects. We are stimulated deeply and can connect that energy to any aspect of our lives.

In our work, and in all of our relationships, the principles can be applied. Much as in a gallery, it takes a bit more time to look for and take in the details and to apply the observations. But when you do the results can be profound. Having deeper, more thoughtful conversations can reap amazing rewards. The details that emerge can be the most valuable when formulating decisions for our next steps. At the office, you might find yourself incorporating more insights into a report or proposal that can elevate your work to new heights.

In our ever-rushed world, there are fabulous opportunities for us when we make a habit of taking the time to take in the details all around us. We can use those observations, those "aha" insights, to enrich our lives — and our world.

What will you see today, when you slow down and take a closer look?

THIS REMARKABLE LARGE TAPESTRY THAT I SAW IN THE COOPER HEWITT MUSEUM IN NEW YORK WAS DESIGNED BY DANISH ARTIST GRETHE SORENSON. WHEN SEEN UP CLOSE, YOU CAN APPRECIATE THE AMAZING WEAVING TECHNIQUE THAT CAPTURES FILM IMAGES SHOT AT NIGHT BY HER HUSBAND, BO HOGVAARD. THE GRADATIONS OF COLOR ARE CREATED USING THREAD "PIXELS" OF RED, GREEN, BLUE, CYAN, MAGENTA, YELLOW, BLACK AND WHITE. THE RESULT IS AN ALMOST PHOTO-REALISTIC REPRODUCTION OF THE IMAGE. 

THIS REMARKABLE LARGE TAPESTRY THAT I SAW IN THE COOPER HEWITT MUSEUM IN NEW YORK WAS DESIGNED BY DANISH ARTIST GRETHE SORENSON. WHEN SEEN UP CLOSE, YOU CAN APPRECIATE THE AMAZING WEAVING TECHNIQUE THAT CAPTURES FILM IMAGES SHOT AT NIGHT BY HER HUSBAND, BO HOGVAARD. THE GRADATIONS OF COLOR ARE CREATED USING THREAD "PIXELS" OF RED, GREEN, BLUE, CYAN, MAGENTA, YELLOW, BLACK AND WHITE. THE RESULT IS AN ALMOST PHOTO-REALISTIC REPRODUCTION OF THE IMAGE. 

JASPER JOHNS' "FLAG", AT MOMA NEW YORK IS AN ICONIC WORK, BUT HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE LOOKED CLOSELY TO SEE THE AMAZING TEXTURES AND DETAILS OF NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS EMBEDDED IN THICK ENCAUSTIC PAINT THAT WERE LAYERED ONTO PLYWOOD — OR CONSIDERED THE MEANING IN JOHNS' APPROACH TO CREATING THIS WORK?

JASPER JOHNS' "FLAG", AT MOMA NEW YORK IS AN ICONIC WORK, BUT HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE LOOKED CLOSELY TO SEE THE AMAZING TEXTURES AND DETAILS OF NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS EMBEDDED IN THICK ENCAUSTIC PAINT THAT WERE LAYERED ONTO PLYWOOD — OR CONSIDERED THE MEANING IN JOHNS' APPROACH TO CREATING THIS WORK?

SHANIQUE SMITH HAS A REMARKABLE BODY OF WORK ON EXHIBIT AT THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS IN BOSTON, TITLED "BRIGHT MATTER". THIS MIXED MEDIA WORK, "SPLENDID", WAS DONE WITH INK, ACRYLIC, FABRIC AND PAPER COLLAGE, RIBBON, YARN AND FOUND OBJECTS, MOUNTED ON A WOOD PANEL. THE IMAPCT IS FANTASTIC WHEN YOU FIRST APPROACH THE WORK, BUT BECOMES EVER MORE FASCINATING WHEN YOU LOOK CLOSELY AT THE DETAILS AND DIMENSIONAL LAYERED ELEMENTS.

SHANIQUE SMITH HAS A REMARKABLE BODY OF WORK ON EXHIBIT AT THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS IN BOSTON, TITLED "BRIGHT MATTER". THIS MIXED MEDIA WORK, "SPLENDID", WAS DONE WITH INK, ACRYLIC, FABRIC AND PAPER COLLAGE, RIBBON, YARN AND FOUND OBJECTS, MOUNTED ON A WOOD PANEL. THE IMAPCT IS FANTASTIC WHEN YOU FIRST APPROACH THE WORK, BUT BECOMES EVER MORE FASCINATING WHEN YOU LOOK CLOSELY AT THE DETAILS AND DIMENSIONAL LAYERED ELEMENTS.

THIS PAINTING, BY ROBERT RYNAM AT MOMA IN NEW YORK, AT FIRST APPEARS TO BE A SOLID WHITE CANVAS. WHEN THE OIL ON COTTON SURFACE IS OBSERVED CLOSELY, YOU CAN SEE THE ATTENTION TO TEXTURE AND EDGE THAT THE ARTIST EXPLORED. HE PAINTED "TWIN" WITH THICK PAINT AND STOPPED BEFORE REACHING THE EDGE OF THE CANVAS ON EACH SIDE. THE RAW CANVAS AND EDGE QUALITY TO THE PAINT GIVES THE IMPRESSION OF IT BEING A PIECE OF ROUGH-EDGED CLOTH GLUED ONTO THE SURFACE. RYMAN WAS FASCINATED BY THE TACTILE SURFACE OF PAINT AND RIGOROUSLY EXPLORE MANY EFFECTS BY USING ONLY WHITE PIGMENT ON SQUARE CANVASES.

THIS PAINTING, BY ROBERT RYNAM AT MOMA IN NEW YORK, AT FIRST APPEARS TO BE A SOLID WHITE CANVAS. WHEN THE OIL ON COTTON SURFACE IS OBSERVED CLOSELY, YOU CAN SEE THE ATTENTION TO TEXTURE AND EDGE THAT THE ARTIST EXPLORED. HE PAINTED "TWIN" WITH THICK PAINT AND STOPPED BEFORE REACHING THE EDGE OF THE CANVAS ON EACH SIDE. THE RAW CANVAS AND EDGE QUALITY TO THE PAINT GIVES THE IMPRESSION OF IT BEING A PIECE OF ROUGH-EDGED CLOTH GLUED ONTO THE SURFACE. RYMAN WAS FASCINATED BY THE TACTILE SURFACE OF PAINT AND RIGOROUSLY EXPLORE MANY EFFECTS BY USING ONLY WHITE PIGMENT ON SQUARE CANVASES.

A summer of superb art and surprises

It’s hard to believe that the spring melted into summer, and now summer is coming to an end. As I have been busy coaching, conducting workshops and revamping my studio space for lots of new fall events, I have also visited museums and found inspiration of many kinds that has excited and propelled me all season.

Boston museums have hosted many marvelous exhibitions in the last months. Among my favorites was the Quilt and Color exhibition at the MFA. Having entered the gallery with the idea that I'd take a quick look at the Pilgrim/Roy quilt collection and move on to seeing other works in the museum, I was astonished at what I found. The exhibition was organized brilliantly by color and captivated me. I felt as though I was reliving color theory as I’d learned it in college — but this time in a delightful and unique way. The color lessons were provided by groupings of work done by brilliant artists, women who worked in isolated rural communities over a century ago. Their work was never appreciated as fine art or lauded for its brilliance of design, color, imagination and fabulous craft. I loved the variety and the beauty of the fantastic collection, and loved that this art was being seen and appreciated in a major museum exhibition.

quilt strip.jpg

 

The work of a young, contemporary woman artist, also working with textiles, resonated for me this summer, too. I was taken by surprise at The Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum when I saw the exhibition, Carla Fernández: The Barefoot Designer: A Passion for Radical Design and Community. Fernández is a Mexican artist and fashion designer who has documented indigenous Mexican textile making techniques and has honored that heritage by incorporating the materials into striking contemporary fashion designs and accessories. The exhibition also included drawings, photographs, videos, performance and source materials, all of which were fascinating and marvelous.

 

It was a delight and yet another surprise to discover the work of Lesley Dill at the Decordova Sculpture Park and Museum. The 20-year survey of Dill's work was a revelation for me. Her materials, concepts and integration of text in her drawings, sculptures and mixed media pieces were marvelous to explore.

dill-strip.jpg


On a visit to Maine we made two trips to the Portland Museum of Art because there was so much to see and enjoy. The retrospective of Richard Estes’ Realism was fantastic, and the museum's extensive permanent collection was wonderful. 


Of all the work that inspired me recently, one exhibition I loved will be on view until November 2. If you can get to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston this fall, I recommend you spend 64 minutes experiencing the video performance, The Visitors. The film, on multiple screens in a large space, documents a durational performance by Ragnar Kjartansson and musician friends. It transfixed me, both with beautiful and moving music and with visuals that are quietly compelling.

 

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to see such marvelous and brilliantly varied work at great museums in my area. I hope that wherever you live, or wherever your travels take you, you too have the opportunity to experience creativity that opens your senses and fills your heart.

 

New discoveries at two very different museums

In the last 2 weeks I’ve been turned on by amazing art at the ICA in Boston and at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire. I am happy to share some of the memorable pieces I enjoyed.

The ICA’s current special exhibitions are outstanding. Nick Cave’s sound suits and his newer sculptural works knocked me out. The inventiveness of materials and forms, his colors and concepts, were delightful and exciting.

I also discovered the incredible work of South African artist, William Kentridge at the ICA. His pulsing Refusal of Time installation was fascinating and mesmerizing. If you get to the ICA, plan on spending at least 20 minutes taking it in. Equally exciting for me was seeing his monochromatic and varied works on paper. Imagine my delight when I visited the Barbara Krakow Gallery a few days later and saw another group of wonderful pieces by Kentridge. I intend to continue to explore the work of this marvelous artist.

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of taking a day trip to New Hampshire to spend time with a dear friend. She told me the Currier Museum would be a treat but I was surprised by their eclectic and impressive collection. My favorite discoveries included paintings done in the middle ages, including one portrait that looked amazingly modern. I loved walking through the gallery of modern art that included stunning works by Picasso, Matisse and O’Keeffe. And, we spent a lot of time in a contemporary gallery that included a standing mobile by Alexander Calder, a large Joan Mitchell painting and intriguing sculptures by Louise Nevelson and Marisol. Savoring a cup of tea was especially enjoyable because the dramatic cafe space was framed by a pair of enormous, colorful paintings by Sol Lewitt. 

I hope you can plan an excursion to a great museum or gallery soon. When you soak in the beauty I predict that you’ll start to notice and enjoy more of what is in your every day surroundings. And, your emotions can become fuel for your own creative expression.

Let me know if you come across wonderful new art and where you’ve found it.