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Staten Island, New York, United States

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Collaborative Art Process: Inspiration Amid Plodding Work

Bruce Cohn and I are diligently working on our "Embrazo Argentina" project for November at the Tottenville Library.* But it's not all work. We occasionally take some time off for inspiration. It's been a couple of months since I've posted, so I'll have to catch you up a bit.

During the rainy Memorial Day weekend Bruce and I visited the John Singer Sargent watercolor exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. GORGEOUS! We both felt like it was a mini-vacation, enjoying the scenes of boats and Italian tourist sites.

My mother was an accomplished watercolorist, a purist, and she always used the white of the paper for highlights. I was shocked to discover that Sargent had "cheated" by using opaque watercolor to add highlights sometimes.
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). 
White Ships, circa 1908. Translucent and opaque watercolor 
and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 
14 x 19 3/8 in. (35.6 x 49.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum     
In my mind, this is the main reason watercolor is the most challenging paint medium. You really have to think ahead and have a light touch with the paint. My watercolors always look muddy, but my mother put in the time and work to develop her skill. And here was this upstart in a museum cheating!  But, I digress. . . 

For me and Bruce, the Sargent paintings were a great illustration of how to paint light with color, which we both do, although he uses a camera and I use paint.  Sargent also showed us what can be accomplished with a limited palette. 

From June 5 to July 6, Bruce was included in a competitive photography exhibit called Sex/Love http://www.umbrellaarts.com/exhibitions/sex-love at the Umbrella Arts Gallery in Manhattan. The curator was Harvey Stein, the instructor at the workshop that Bruce went to in Argentina. It was a very strong, though crowded, show. Bruce's piece was a black and white pinhole photograph of us in the bathtub. He claims it's a collaboration because the setting was my idea, as well as both of us appearing in it. The whole thing was great fun and I'm so proud of Bruce.

Nelson Stevens, guest of honor
Faith Ringgold,
and Denise Mumm
Denise Mumm, Bruce Cohn
in front of Faith's house with her
"flying over the bridge" mural
We also took the time out to attend Faith Ringgold's annual Garden Party in June, a fundraising event in her New Jersey garden.  I worked as an artist assistant for Faith for many years, stitching up her story quilts before she painted on them. She is a constant inspiration for me, not only in her painting, but also in her generosity of spirit. The way she has stubbornly insisted on telling her own story, in her own way, sets an example for all artists, but especially women. Introducing Bruce to her was very important to me.

The work I am creating for our exhibit is the closest I have ever come to Faith's own work. I'm working on unstretched unprimed canvas, as she does, and at the same scale as Faith. And, most importantly to me, I'm also starting each piece by staining it with a bright color, which gives a liveliness to all the layers on top.

We went to see the Civil War photography exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in July. Neither of us quite realized how key photography was to the public experience of that war.

We also went to the Guggenheim to see the James Turrell exhibit. Once again, it was all about light. The installation in the central atrium was transfixing, the best use of that space I've seen. We were dissappointed that the walls up the spiral ramp were blank, especially when we were waiting to get into the last room for 45(!) minutes. On the other hand, the small Kandinsky exhibit near the cafe was VERY inspiring. We loved the playfulness and whimsy, the color combinations, and the compositions.

So much for inspiration - time to get back to the studio!

*This project is made possible (in part) by an Encore Grant from Staten Island Arts, with public funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.

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