Archives for posts with tag: Art History

On March 31, three artists from the current exhibition Art and Architecture graced our podium and ears with their insights into Architecture and Art, citing artistic inspiration as diverse as book gilding, Bauhaus textiles, dreams, and beyond.

Today (April 14) at 3pm the exhibition’s remaining three artists will inspire us with talks about their works. Please join us if you can! I will share videos from their talks here, too… but in person you can participate in lively discussions following the presentations.

Thank you Marc Chabot, Naomi Frangos, and Keivan Khademi Shamami for taking your time the other week in sharing your thoughts with us.

Today we will hear what Denise Buisman Pilger, Kimberley Mok, and Jennifer Himilton have to say!

Naomi Frangos:

Marc Chabot:

Keivan Khademi Shamami:

Natasha Henderson


An early show, after I'd recovered from school.

This morning I found myself reminiscing a little about things that art instructors have said to me that stuck in my memory. I was probably doing this for a few reasons:

I taught a class last night in which a student (who is also a teacher) mentioned “you are a good teacher”.

there was a lot of strong light pouring in through my closed blinds.

I was thinking about character and strength of it.

I recall a drawing instructor who went over the idea of Chiaroscuro. This method of modelling, using dark and light to create form, was invented or at least defined as we know it during the Italian Renaissance. My instructor truly “went over it” in that we didn’t practice or learn anything about this technique. Well, he did make this (paraphrased) statement: “This was important for artists in Italy to learn, but it’s not important for us. We have different light. It’s not as harsh, it is a soft light.” Then we went back to drawing leaves and stuff.

At least he mentioned that Chiaroscuro existed, so that I could read about it later. One thing I gleaned from the thirty-second lesson on Chiaroscuro, is to pay attention to different kinds of light. I’d not really thought about it before, only simply accepted while observing. It was true that where I lived then had a hazy, blue light that meandered over objects and made them sort of softly glow from within. Beyond artificial light, there were normally no harsh shadows or light effects.

However, when learning the fundamental basics of drawing, one should learn all that one can. It is unrealistic to expect one’s college-aged students to stay in their small city for their entire lives, painting outdoor landscapes and nothing else. At least not all of them.

I got an A+ in that class.

Chiaroscuro actually works well in any type of lighting, in that you can form the object, and simultaneously (or after the fact) paint the shadows and light effects too. So, for example, say you have a sphere. It is round. The middle comes towards you, and the edges recede. By this theory, the edges are darker than the middle. However, if there is any sort of light source, that would have a highlight/shadow effect on the sphere. Ambient and atmospheric lighting play a part, as do reflections on the sphere. Try painting an egg. You’ll see what I mean. Actually, an egg will be one of the things we will paint in the “How To Paint: Stuff” series.

Painting is what I love to do best.

Another memorable moment during my time as an Art College Attendee was when a painting instructor (who I admired greatly) reduced me to tears when I dared to critique an exhibition of paintings. A famous artist was showing in a major gallery, and I was finally able to see her work in the flesh. My instructor and I talked briefly about it. Paraphrasing:

She: “Did you see the So-And-So exhibition?”

Moi: “Yes I did. I found her brushwork to be too careful. It looked un-natural and laboured over.”

She: “You and I have VERY DIFFERENT IDEAS about painting… ”

Conversation stopped. Closed door.

What did I learn from this experience? Students will take what a teacher says seriously, and students sometimes don’t express themselves as clearly as they would like. If you are a teacher, and one of your students says something you disagree with, or even find offensive, ask them a question about it rather than making a statement and closing the door to communication. Also, sometimes people we look up to have bad days and say nasty things too. Don’t always take them to heart, if you can help it.

I managed to get a B+ in that class.

Cast Over, a painting from way back in '99.

An Art History instructor told me (in front of his equally well-known and somewhat famed friend) that I would “need to learn and memorize names and dates of paintings so that I would be impressive and knowledgable at parties”. Paraphrased. He nailed directly on the head one of my biggest combo-insecurities.

I am terrible with names and dates, and I don’t like looking dumb at parties. I learned from this that I should not care so much what others think.

I got a C- in that class. 

2157 Trees. In 1999 I painted an imagined tree pattern on the imagined drapery and then used a rough calculation to describe how many trees there would be here. I also counted the ones depicted "outside".

I’ll finish with a really good thing that my Book Arts instructor told me. Paraphrasing: “Be ready for success. Don’t get stuck and depressed. People will simultaneously want you to produce what you’re well-known for, and be disappointed that your work isn’t developing.” She thought I would be famous, knew some people who were famous, and famous famous famous.  Famous etc famous. Basically, I had to stay true and genuine to what I needed to make, to my forms of expression. My muse is a changing thing.

Should I stumble upon a super-successful trick, I shan’t remain a one-trick pony! Oh, and I got an A+ in that class.

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

Self and slightly-larger-than-life portraits of some Great Canadian Artists

Last week, I worked with two sets of students to paint the portraits of eight Canadian Women Artists. The artists I chose for this project were relatively current artists, and most are living still. If they weren’t living and contemporary, I had good reason to select them (strong influence on other artists, international artistic influence, and influence in the realm of policy change.) 

As Women artists, these trailblazers have pushed their way forward to make pertinent, strong art. They are all women of their time, whose actions and freedoms reflect the reality of being a woman artist. They are all Canadian.

Lisa Steele, Janet Cardiff, Jin-me Yoon, and Anne Savage on the right side of the mural.

For most of these artists, the medium carries the message. The medium alone isn’t the message anymore. One could say that the work tends towards the more narrative/story-telling genres (eg video, film) that are content-laden by nature. However, even the most well-known of these artists in the field of film (arguably Joyce Wieland) worked masterfully in other media too. She worked in textile art, in public art, in installation, and more. The media had to suit her expression, she took control of the content and the implicit meanings of the formats.

As for this specific project, I chose portraiture to pay homage to these women. It’s a reflection on them, a reflection on the mind behind the visage we see. It’s a reflection of ourselves as we look at these faces and relate to them.

There were a total of 14 students who worked on this; none of them Art students. I was very impressed with them all.

The students used a technique called grisaille, in which one paints in shades of grey. Traditionally, a painter would then glaze translucent colours on top of this greyness, in order to achieve naturalistic colouring. We also talked a little about how this is related to chiaroscuro, the Rennaissance-invented method of modelling shapes through the use of dark and light. In a best-case scenario, a painter would use both aspects to create a likeness.

Before finding a permanent home, Joyce Wieland, Rebecca Belmore, Gathie Falk, and Betty Goodwin were celebrated in a hallway display-case.

I am proud of what the students and I did this last week. I am glad that the paintings have a home in Vanier College, in the Women’s Studies department. It was interesting to me that there were no Art students amongst the bunch of students who came to the workshops; perhaps they felt that they painted and drew a lot already, and wanted a break. It is sad that they missed this opportunity to not only connect with a live, professional artist from outside of their school system but inside their community (me), but they missed learning about these contemporary artists who, if the students continue to work in the arts, they will eventually hear about. In any event, it was an invigorating experience to not only guide the students in painting, but to introduce them to these artists and their ideas. 

Natasha Henderson, Montreal  

Portrait of Mademoiselle Charlotte du Val d'Ognes (c. 1801)

When you look at the History of Art, you might wonder why there aren’t as many women in the books as there are men. Why is it that the grand, romantic notion of the solo artist, imparting brilliance and genius upon the sorry masses, is always associated with a male figure? Who says that this is really what an artist is?

It is a complex and intertwined mix of reasons why we often make these assumptions about art and artists. Societal power structures, misogyny, the fact that women and their works have been regarded as “lesser” than equal compared to the works of their male counterparts… all this and much more has kept women out of the books.

Much like what happened to my Grandmother in the early/mid 1900’s (when she married she was forced to leave her job as a teacher to stay at home), European women artists, upon marriage, would normally have to leave their careers behind. Those who didn’t and continued to paint were not only exceptions, but they were unable to maintain a decent amount of work.

You might think “well, yes, society has made it difficult for women artists to develop, to become great artists” and you would be correct. However, there have been absolutely outstanding female artists throughout Western Art History who have been respected as Masters (Mistresses?) in their time. However, when it comes to reading modern and mainstream texts about their work, words such as delicate, gentle, light, and feminine are used.

Even paintings that were once regarded as Master works are re-described once it is discovered that a woman actually painted it. A former Master Piece is now a Fraudulent Disappointment… but it’s the same painting! An anecdotal example is of a Jacques-Louis David that was purchased in the early 20th Century by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1951, Charlotte du Val d’Ognes was attributed to possibly Constance Marie Charpentier, another female artist who was David’s student. What was once described using words like austere, perfect, unforgettable, tasteful, and exemplary was re-described as gentle, lacking correctness and concealing weaknesses, subtle artifices and feminine spirit. It should be noted that women artists were finally allowed to enter the Salon after the French Revolution. Jacques-Louis David accepted many female students, encouraging them to not only enter the Salon, but to paint both historical and portrait works. Essentially, he treated them as equals.

When people ask “who wrote the text” with regard to power structures, it’s about more than the textbooks. This is about society and its structures, how we exist in our time in relation to history and what we know about it. Which philosophers guided us, what art do we value and think is important, what defines people, what defines a family, how does one identify themselves within their time and place and how one survives. A big question in the midst of all this is: How Can We Change? Through persistent, hard work, we can change. This is why I truly admire artists who have forged ahead and made strides for female artists and equality.

I recommend the book Women, Art, and Society by Whitney Chadwick.

Over the next few days, in celebration of International Women’s Day this week, I will highlight a few Canadian artists who I feel have made some strides for an improved society, and whose work I admire.

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

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