Tag Archives: art

Vast Austerity of Landscape: Speaking of (New) Mexico and Georgia O’Keeffe

I’m in New Mexico and hour north of Santa Fe in the village of Abiquiu, where painter Georgia O’Keeffe reconstructed a dilapidated adobe, converting it into a winter home of extraordinary minimalism. She would have been at home in the living simply movement of modernity. One could also say she shaped it.

View from O’Keeffe’s bedroom window

Here in Nuevo Mexico, thinking of Mexico is unavoidable. The vast, expansive, unending landscape of desert, scrub oak, sage and cactus always brings me back to the root of native Americans, of indigenous First Nation peoples, to New Spain and the conquest, to the land that was once an integral part of Mexico. Place names call out original Hispanic settlers, land grants. Tribal communities draw parallels to Mexican pueblos where creativity thrives and hardship is an undercurrent.

Hollyhock seed dispersal, random regeneration against adobe wall

The land stretches out in folds, crevices, upheavals, arroyos, twelve thousand foot mountain ranges. It is dry and hot in July. It is getting drier and hotter. Afternoon thunder clouds build up and in the distant purple hills, I see rods of lightening and the softening horizon of rain. Along the green ribbon Rio Grande River Valley ancient peoples who migrated south from Mesa Verde continue their traditions.

An iconic O’Keeffe image

We are not permitted to photograph the interior of the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiu. We are not permitted to take photos of the interior through the glass picture windows while standing outside. The home is as it was when she left it, each particular and well-chosen item in its particular place. Each item a sculptural statement, most created by icons of modern furniture design.

Weathered and dry, reminding me of parched skin

The walls are pale mushroom or cream or beige or faded salmon. They are thick adobe. Deep and cool. Through the window is a living painting. The walls are barren. Bare. Empty only to the imagination of what might lay beyond. The vast changing of the sky, the season, the chill or warmth of air. One can imagine the isolation and solitude of living there amidst the expansiveness of the hills, mountains, a ribbon of road, eagles soaring on the thermals, a garden to feed and nurture belly and soul.

Hollyhocks, fruit trees, vegetable gardens at Abiquiu
Beware of Dog

The palette at the O’Keeffe house in Abiquiu is neutral. White cotton covers the kitchen sofa. The kitchen faces north, the light preferred by painters, the guide tells us. The windows are huge. Standard Sears metal cabinets disappear recessed into deep adobe walls. The table is simple whitewashed plywood that sits atop sawhorses, worn smooth with use and age. Nature and living space merge.

She painted this doorway and wall … multiple times
Passages connecting patios, studio and home

Throughout the house the naked walls speak — nothing is necessary. A painter’s easel served as coat rack when she turned from painting to making ceramic vessels.

Unmarked in the La Fonda lobby, I recognize this as O’Keeffe
Weathered to a patina

Details complicate things, she said. To become acquainted with an idea, one must revisit the same subject over and over. Her paintings took on the austere minimalist life she lived. Seeing this, hearing this, reminded me of the traveling exhibit Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, I saw in Winston-Salem, NC, at Reynolda House, that included a dress that she designed and sewed into multiple versions using different fabrics and colors.

St. Thomas the Apostle Church, built atop pre-Puebloan Tewa Indian village

Being there also challenges one to revisit lifestyle and think about how we are acculturated to consume, compete and communicate. I am always grateful for these moments of self-reflection to ask the essential question: Who am I? What is the meaning of my life? Being with O’Keeffe in Abiquiu helps in the continuing process of self-reflection.

Adobe ruins, Abiquiu, around the corner from O’Keeffe home
Inside the Spanish colonial church, Abiquiu

Flores y Cantos Mixed Media Art Exhibition at Museo Rufino Tamayo

The opening was last night. The food was amazing. The exhibition ethereal and dramatic. The premise: in the language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, when the two glyphs flower and song are joined, the new meaning is art and poetry.  This concept was essential to the Aztec worldview, according to exhibition creator Carolyn Kallenborn, professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And what do I take with me when I go?

Will I leave nothing here of me on this earth?

Do we only rise up and grow to then die in the ground?

At least let us leave flowers.

At least let us leave song.

Nezahualcoyotl, Aztec Poet

Flores y Cantos invites you to lose yourself in a surreal world of past and future, light, shadow and projected imagery of the ever-present and on-going cycles of nature. As you step into and move throughout the space, you add your own shadow and become immersed in the thoughts of life’s meaning and what is left behind by those who came before you. The artist asks, What will you leave behind?

Tree of life embroidery by Miriam Campos, San Antonino Castillo Velasco

For me, that leads to the ultimate and essential question, What is the meaning of life?

Tito Mendoza’s tapestry illuminated by a visual lake, you are on the beach

The exhibition has as its backdrop the pre-Columbian ceramic figures collected by Oaxaca artist Rufino Tamayo. While the individuals who created these sacred pieces, often deities that also refer to animals, plants, people and customs, are unnamed, we consider their legacy and that of their culture. They who believed in the eternal and the life cycle of birth, death and back again.

Enter into this other-worldly space, reflections

I sit on shallow steps, examining the tapestry of indigenous maize woven by textile artist Erasto “Tito” Mendoza, appreciating the fine embroidery stitches of a tree of life by Miriam Campos, I watch the movement of light, color, sky, water, nature projected. Sound conveys birdsong, waves, thunder-clap, peace, and I am immersed in another world, or is it my own, here and now?

Food for thought

At the buffet table, a visual feast

Carolyn asks us: Think about the following questions —

  1. What do you value that your ancestors passed on to you?
  2. What would you want others to remember about you when you are gone?

In the frenzy of Guelaguetza, the Oaxaca event that attracts thousands to the city, this is a respite that offers calm and consideration.

Carolyn, Miriam and Tito joined by family and friends

I am grateful to be writing about this after the almost two-hour trip from the city back to Teotitlan last night. The city celebration brings much-needed tourism and also Los Angeles-style gridlock. I’m going to be here on the hammock for a while as I think about what Carolyn asks me to re-examine.

Nicuatole pre-Hispanic corn pudding with Teotitlan mole negro tamales

Is life a blur or is there a kernel of meaning in this picture?

Feet up, swinging in the hammock, a meditation on blue skies

 

 

 

 

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico at the Skirball Center, Los Angeles

Once the dust of Mexico settles on your heart,

you will have no rest in any other land.

On September 13, I joined Patrice Wynne and Gloria Orenstein at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles for a curator-led preview tour of this landmark exhibition, Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico.

The exhibition runs through February 25, 2018.

The term promised land is rooted in a vision of freedom and liberation.  Emotionally, it has meaning for peoples seeking release from oppression who want a secure life where one can become fully realized without restraint. Jewish identity is intertwined with Israel as the promised land. African-American slaves looked to the north as a promised land. Oppressed peoples throughout the world continue to seek asylum in America, their hope of the promised land where opportunity and justice prevail. (We must be vigilant.)

Tina Modotti captures Anita Brenner in black and white

Anita Brenner (1905-1974), a Mexican-born Jewish writer who lived and worked during the Mexican Renaissance, saw the country adopted by her Latvian parents as a promised land for intellectual and artistic expression. Her own experience with prejudice and discrimination helped give her voice to bridge understanding.

Mexico was a haven for immigrants escaping Europe throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Even today, Mexico has a welcoming immigration policy. Her people are a blend of indigenous, Spanish, African, Filipino, Chinese, German, and French — representing waves of conquest and immigration. Jews sought haven in Mexico when the gates were closed to the United States of America. (Thank you, Mexico!)

Diego Rivera, Dance in Tehuantepec, watercolor

Brenner was an integral part of the circle of Mexican modernists in the 1920s and played an important role in promoting and translating Mexican art, culture, and history for audiences in the U.S.

Jean Charlot, The Massacre in the Main Temple, fresco, Collegio San Ildefonso

Born during the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), Brenner was close to the leading intellectuals and artists active in Mexico at the time. These are names we know well: painters José Clemente Orozco, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jean Charlot, and photographer Tina Modotti. There were others whose name we do not widely know in the USA, including Rivera’s second wife, Guadalupe Marin, Frances Toor, Nahui Olin, Luz Jimenez and Concha Michel.   

Abraham Angel, La India

Art historian Karen Cordero says they would meet at Sanborn’s Casa de los Azulejos to talk about politics, social injustices, women’s rights, feminism, and other issues.

The exhibition introduces us to Brenner as an important figure who has been heretofore obscured by the more illustrious in her circle.  An influential and prolific writer on Mexican culture, Brenner is best known for her book Idols Behind Altars: Modern Mexican Art and Its Cultural Roots (1929). 

Cover of Mexico this month, February 1956

Her work is rooted in the shaping of post-Revolution Mexico, when a new identity for a new nation needed to be reassessed to reflect the persistent indigenous culture behind the Spanish conquest. The Revolution brought with it the need to create political, social and cultural change and artists turned to folk art as inspiration to re-imagine past with future.

Mathias Goeritz, Satellite Tower. He was close to Luis Barragan, architect.

She was also instrumental in creating cultural tourism for Mexico — promoting cultural exploration as a vacation activity by publishing the cultural travel magazine, Mexico this month. We can consider her a pioneer in learning about the people who live where you visit.

The Skirball’s exhibition includes a narrative of Brenner’s life. It features pre-Columbian art, paintings, prints, photographs and drawings by Miguel Covarrubias, Jean Charlot, Edward Weston, Leonora Cunningham, Maximo Pacheco, Lola Cueto, Abraham Angel, plus those we are more familiar with: Kahlo, Rivera, Orozco.

Lithograph by Orozco

Charlot was a disciple of Rivera who contributed to the murals at the Secretariat de Publica Education (SEP). He was in love with Brenner; they could never reconcile religious differences and did not marry, though they remained lifelong friends.

Cultural map of Oaxaca, Mexico/this month

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty.

Gloria Orenstein, Norma Schafer and Patrice Wynne at the exhibition

Footnote: Los Angeles County has the second largest Jewish population and the largest Latino population in the United States.

Thank you to the Skirball Cultural Center for background information and photographs.

Blue Hands Special — Oaxaca Day of the Dead 2-Day Natural Dye Workshop

So, you are coming to Oaxaca for Day of the Dead!

Here is a chance to get beyond the sugar skulls and cemeteries, the masks and parades, and go deeper into the natural dye traditions of our wonderful region without leaving the city of Oaxaca.

Put your hands into the indigo dye bath. Watch them turn blue: A Day of the Dead Badge of Distinction.  (OK, you can wash it off with soap and water, if you want.)

Blue hands, mark of distinction!

Natural dyes have been used by indigenous people of Oaxaca to color wool, cotton and silk for centuries. It thrives today among a small group of local artisans dedicated to preserving cultural history.

Blue Hands Special:

2-Day Day of the Dead Natural Dye Workshop

Sunday and Monday, October 28-29, 2017  OR

Friday and Saturday, November 3-4, 2017

10 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

$250* per person, 4 participants maximum each session

*Bring a friend, get a discount, pay $225 for each

We are based in a Centro Historico neighborhood within walking distance (about six city blocks) from Oaxaca’s Zocalo — downtown plaza.

Plant materials and cochineal for making dyes, wool dye sampler

The hands-on workshop includes 10 hours of instruction to learn about Oaxaca´s natural dye traditions, materials and techniques used in the Central Valley of Oaxaca.

Natural dye sampler, another version

The workshop focuses on understanding how the chemistry of  natural dyes act on the protein fibers (we use wool), and how this can be reproduced in your home or studio using local materials.

Pomegranate, great dye source

The workshop includes cochineal, indigo, pomegranate, marigolds, and brazilwood to create 16 different colors. Participant will receive recipes and put together a sampler of each natural dye color created on hand-spun 100% churro sheep wool. 

Overdyeing wild marigold with indigo

Topics:

Sourcing local materials

Discussing Oaxaca natural dye traditions 

Understanding fibers and how they react to dye

Mordanting, and how it works

Extracting color — sampling for intensity

Preparing the natural indigo vat

Dyeing and over-dyeing to get color range

Limited availability: 4 participants for each workshop

To register, contact: Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC 

We will send you an invoice to pre-pay with PayPal. When we receive funds, we will confirm your registration and send you instructor contact information, and a map.

Natural dyes on cotton

The workshop includes instruction, all materials, recipes and the sampler. It does not include beverages, snacks or lunch. We suggest you bring your own if you get thirsty or hungry.

Blue hands in the dye bath

About the Dye Studio

We hold the dye workshops on the rooftop terrace of a home located in the City of Oaxaca, only 10 minutes walking from the main square of the capital. The studio was founded by two artisans, wife and husband, who are committed to preserving natural dye traditions. The wife is a native of Oaxaca City. The husband is a fourth generation member of a family of weavers and dyers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. Both are bilingual, speaking Spanish and English.

Acid and base chemistry for color changes in cochineal

For the last 12 years, the couple has focused on natural dyeing processes and traditions. Their experience includes researching local indigo and cochineal, collaborating with local and international dyers, experimenting with recipes and testing fastness of the colors on both protein (wool, silk) and cellulose fibers (cotton, linen, hemp).

Both have taught dye workshops in universities, cultural centers and museums in Mexico, the United States and Europe. Currently, the studio provides the service of dyeing fibers for local artisan weavers and teaching workshops.

Washing, mordanting the wool

Wild marigold skein, and cochineal with indigo over-dye

From Mexico City: Under the Cathedral, An Aztec Empire

Far below Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest in the Americas, lies the archeological treasure trove that was once Tenochtitlan, the City of the Aztecs. It is known as Templo Mayor.

Archeological discovery continues in Mexico City under the Cathedral

First discovered and excavated in 1978, archeologists believe there are seven pyramid levels beneath what is now visible at the site next to the great Catholic church.

Only a fraction has been excavated under the Cathedral

It was the Spanish practice throughout New Spain, in Mesoamerica and South America, to destroy indigenous religious/cultural edifices and use the building materials to construct churches and administrative centers on top of the toppled.

Braziers used for sacrifice in Templo Mayor Museum

Each layer, filled in with silt by a succession of Moctezuma‘s, who built taller and grander edifices to mark their ascendency to lead the Aztec empire, now sinks into the swamp that underlies the great North American city.

Stucco and painted friezes in the Eagle Temple, Templo de las Aguilas, Tenochtitlan

Most of the buildings in the historic center of Mexico City are sinking, leaning and are at risk of toppling. The entire Zocalo area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for this reason.

Entry to Carmelite Ex-convent Santa Teresa, circa 1616, Mexico City

Next to the Templo Mayor is a contemporary art exhibition space that was once home to Carmelite Ex-Convento de Santa Teresa, built in 1616. You will pass by as you exit the archeological site onto Moneda Street that borders the Palacio Nacional.  Click here for a printable Map.

My camera is square; the floor isn’t. Extreme slant!

The Ex-Convento is leaning dramatically. Its front gates have always been closed. Over the New Years holiday weekend, when Jacob and I visited the Templo Mayor, lo and behold, the gates were open and I wanted to explore. As I stepped over the threshold, we entered a dizzying space — stepping onto a steeply tilting floor. My instincts were to grab the walls.

Sistine Chapel-esque, Ex Convento Santa Teresa ceiling

When I stay in Mexico City, I usually choose the Hotel Catedral, just two blocks from the Zocalo at Donceles 95. Nothing fancy. Good customer service, basic rooms, clean, and a delicious breakfast.

Torment of Cuauhtemoc, by David Alfaro Siquieros, at Museo Bellas Artes

There is so much to revisit, see and do, within eight square blocks. I never tire of repeating visits to the Rivera, Orozco and Siquieras murals. I never tire of eating at Azul Historico or Los Girasoles or El Mayor. I never tire of people watching.

I’ve watched this dig develop over the last two years

I always ask for a room at the back of the hotel facing the Cathedral. For the last several years, I have watched a vacant colonial house being transformed into an archeological dig from my hotel window.

On the walking street, Francisco I. Madero, Mexico City

All around the area there is transformation related to restoration and archeological discovery. Beneath Argentina Street you can see newly exposed Aztec carved stone covered by plexiglas pyramids. It gives perspective about where we walk and what came before us.

Black Christ, Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City

Mexico City is now one of the world’s most important travel destinations. It is safe and filled with amazing art, culture, food and shopping. I hope it’s on your bucket list.