Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Roman Arches, Vaults and Romanesque Churches

A first century temple to Mars, or possibly Janus, near Autun (ancient
Augustodunum) in Burgundy may have inspired the large churches of this region
in the 11th and 12th centuries. Only a fraction of this building remains today.  Here,
a family from the Netherlands had a picnic while climbing the ruin.

A movement  to dot the landscape of Europe with large churches in the 11th and 12th centuries was fueled by deep Christian faith, but, initially, the important building technologies had inspiration from the remains of ancient, pagan buildings. The population surged at this time and the last invaders, the Vikings and Magyars, had settled down.
A transept of St. Lazare, Autun, built around 1120
has tall arches and a blind arcade like many
late Roman buildings. The rib vaults
vault are an innovation of Romanesque

Romanesque is the name given today to that style of art, reflecting its common traits with Roman architecture: arches, barrel vaults and groin vaults.  Although the library at the monastery of Cluny, in Burgundy, had a copy of the Roman architect Vitruvius' treatise on architecture which described how to make concrete, the medieval builders did not use concrete.  They looked at the stones around them, used their compasses and measures, and created a marvelous revival of monumental building.  It was a time of pilgrimages and Crusades, and stone masons moved from place to place, spreading architectural ideas.
Porte d'Arroux is the best preserved of four gates 
erected in Autun during Roman times.

In the first centuries of Christianity, builders reused Roman columns, which were plentiful in the forums surrounding civic buildings of the ancient cities.  Romanesque sculptors invented their own style of column capitals and used them to tell stories in sculpture.  Even in monastery churches, Romanesque builders needed to allow for pilgrims coming to see relics and they built big.  For the proportion of nave arcades to the upper levels of churches, the gallery and clerestory, they took some cues from Roman buildings, aqueducts and gates and made the upper levels smaller.  At times, late Roman architecture of the 3rd and 4th centuries, which tended to be more organic and experimental than buildings from the Augustan age, probably served as models.
 Porte St-Andre is one of the two Roman gates standing in Autun, Burgundy,
although much of it was restored in the 19th century.

Outside of Autun, the remains of a temple to Mars or Janus, of Gallic fanum design, has magnificent high arches that reminded me of Arches National Park in Utah. Two Roman gates and the remnants of a Roman theater are in Autun, also.  It's surprising so much remains, because the city was sacked by both Saracens in the 8th century and Vikings in the 9th century.   Because of the richness of the ruins, it's not surprising that some of the greatest cathedrals from Romanesque times were built in the Burgundian region of east-central France: St. Lazare in Autun, Ste. Madeleine in Vézelay, St. Philibert at Tournus, and, above all, St. Pierre at Cluny.  The church at Cluny remained the largest Christian church until St. Peter's, Rome, was completed in the 17th century.  Most of it was damaged during the French Revolution.
The Baths of Constantine, Arles
dated to the 4th century

Further south, in Arles, the Baths of Constantine, built in the 4th century, may have inspired medieval builders.  (It's hard to know how much was built over it or covered up at the time.)  It has clusters of bricks which alternate with limestone in forming the arches.  This Roman decorative variation was sometimes imitated. The curved end and semi-dome of the "tepidarium" (warm bath) resembles the apse end of churches from the Middle Ages.  In fact, curved exedrae, which are shaped like semi-circles, were ever present in all types of Roman buildings.   Probably the best example of Roman vaulting techniques were seen in the theatre and an amphitheater in Arles, dating to the early empire.
The curved Roman exedra form of this
bath building was imitated in the curved
east end of Romanesque churches
Nearby was a famous aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, with three rows of superimposed arches harmoniously proportioned like the two or three levels in the naves of Romanesque churches.  In Nîmes, there was also a Roman tower, an amphitheatre, and a theatre that has vanished. The Maison Carrée in Nîmes, a famous Augustan temple, served as inspiration mainly because of its decorative details.  The straight post-and-lintel construction did not offer practical solutions for the large size desired in the Romanesque churches.  (In neoclassical times, Thomas Jefferson used the Maison Carrée as the model Virginia's state capital building.)

Most art historians talk of the relationship between the design of triumphal arches and the facades of churches in Provence.  Certainly the abundant decorative details of churches in Provence, including Saint Trophime in Arles, is in imitation of classical decorative motifs.  This church and others in Provence had continuous bands for narrative sculpture, called friezes, as on classical buildings.
The layout of St.-Gilles-du-Gard near Nîmes, France, is often compared to
the design of Roman triumphal arches.  The frieze is a continuous narrative in sculpture.
Additionally, the shape of the round tympanum and pilasters has parallels with the
 so-called Temple of Diana, below left.
In Nîmes, the remains on the inside of a 3rd 
century Temple to Diana, may have inspired
the design of the tympanum and barrel vault,
standards for Romanesque church design

However, I note the similarity between St.-Gilles-du-Gard, in the Rhone delta, and the building traditionally considered a Temple of Diana in Nîmes, probably from the 3rd or 4th century.  It provides a model for the shape of a tympanum, an important field for sculpture over the doorway of Romanesque churches.  Only portions of the interior remain, with the beginning of a reinforced barrel vault, pediments and pilasters.  It is easy to see how the shapes of Roman buildings determined some shapes in the churches and cathedrals.  Certainly the doorways at St.-Gilles resemble three-part triumphal arches, like the Arch of Constantine or triumphal arch in Orange (see photo on bottom).
At St-Gilles-du-Gard, two heads look like Roman
portraits.  One that grows out of a Corinthian capital
is dressed like a priest. A snake is approaching the
other head. Only an artist of the Middle Ages
could use classicism with so much wit and whimsy!

When Romanesque builders took inspiration from ancient art and architecture, they added much of their own creativity and ingenuity.  They began to make the arches taller, the vaults more elaborate and pointed, reflecting their borrowings  from Islamic architecture during and after the Crusades.  (One such Romanesque Church, which took in so many diverse influences, including sculpture in the style of Provence, is Monreale Cathedral, discussed previously on another page in this blog.)
The Triumphal Arch in Orange, France was a
richly ornamented, a trait carried over in the
Romanesque churches of Provence

When it came to sculpture, they were very imaginative, whimsical and emotionally expressive of the religious zeal of a bygone age.   At times, they re-used classicism in ways that would not have been acceptable at all, as in Sainte-Marie de Nazareth in Vaison-la Romaine.

Romanesque architecture developed very quickly and led to the Gothic style, which began in Paris around 1150 and spread almost everywhere within a century.

The Via Lucis website has the best and most comprehensive photographs and explanations of Romanesque art and architecture.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Velázquez's Allegories of Deception

Diego Velázquez, Joseph's Bloody Coat Brought to Jacob, 1630 oil on canvas, Monastery of San, Lorenzo, El Escorial,  Spain, 87 3/4 x 98 3/8 in.  wikipedia image
Cheating card players and fortune tellers by Caravaggio and Georges de la Tour are among the best-known paintings of deception.   Two extraordinary Velázquez paintings completed in 1630, The Forge of Vulcan and Joseph's Bloody Coat Brought to Jacob, above, are also allegories of deception from the Baroque period of art. 

Although a Biblical painting and a mythological painting would not seem connected, the canvasses match in height, format and the number of figures, six each.  The painting of Jacob and sons has been cut at either end, while the other image has added canvas to the left.  Both paintings have large window openings onto landscapes on their left sides.  There are only male figures, many of them scantily dressed to show the artist's extraordinary ability at depicting muscles of the arms, legs, back and chests with fine nuances of light and shadow.  Joseph's Blood Coat Brought to Jacob also has a barking dog.

Velázquez painted these pictures during his first of two trips to Italy, in 1630.  In Italy, he seems to have been influenced by the frieze-like compositions of classical sarcophagi, which inspired him to spread his figures along the front of the composition, where the figures can be read from right to left or left to right.

In Joseph's Bloody Coat Brought to Jacob,  the lies and deception are still occurring. Joseph's jealous brothers have sold him into slavery in Egypt, keeping his coat.  They smeared blood of a goat on the beautiful coat and then told the father Joseph had been killed.  While two of the brothers who are slightly darkened may evoke the shame, the two holding the coat are without remorse.  They lie so easily, while a brother whose back faces us is feigning horror.  Only five of Joseph's ten older brothers are present.  (More sons would ruin the format of the composition, but this omission also suggests that the other sons had remorse and couldn't continue to carry out the deception in front of their father.)

Velázquez painted a vivid picture of poor Jacob, who favored Joseph among his sons.  He is frightfully upset and disturbed.  Below his foot, Jacob's dog  barks with a recognition of the duplicity taking place.   The viewer can't help but feel the old man's crushing pain.  Jacob is a tragic figure.  Velázquez shows his ability to depict texture, especially in the carpet and the dog.  He's equally adept at showing an awareness of the dramas of human nature.

Diego Velazquez, The Forge of Vulcan, 1630, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 87¾ in × 114 in. Prado images

In The Forge of Vulcan, the deception is announced by the sun god Apollo, who announces to Vulcan that Vulcan's wife Venus, is cheating on him. The helpers at the iron forge show curiosity and shock.  A young worker on the right, mouth ajar, is particularly comical in his spontaneous reactions. The god Vulcan bends vigorously and is upset.  He's all the more foolish because the announcement comes while he's making armor for his wife's lover, Mars, the god of war.  It's comedy more than tragedy, and Apollo, a tattle-tale, looks proud and gossipy.

                   Velázquez shows that he could portray comedy and he could paint real tragedy.  He used his skills to reveal much about human nature, as well as Shakespeare had done writing plays in England two decades earlier.  Velázquez's brushstrokes capture amazingly realistic textures.  The  fire of the smelting iron, as well as the sheen of a vase and of armor, light up Vulcan's blacksmith shop.  Furthermore, he has painted the workmen closest to the fire in warmer skin tones, true to the colors that light from a fireplace would reflect on their flesh.  The colors and sensibility in the entire scene are more earthy than the inside of Jacob's palace.

While we may get a laugh at the gods of Mt. Olympus, we're appalled and saddened by the behavior of Jacob's sons.  For an artist in pious Spain, deception in the Bible is tragic while deception in mythology becomes a comedy. Velazquez painted other mythological subjects, but his Bacchus is debauched and flabby, and Mars, god of war, is out of energy and depleted.  Mythology is good for stories and subject matter but he didn't always respect it as much as Italian artists like Titian, or French artists like Poussin.

Though I've never been to the Prado Museum in Madrid which has 45 Velázquez paintings, I had the good luck to see these beautiful images in a Velázquez exhibition at the Metropolitan in 1989.  These two paintings knocked me the ground, I but didn't understand how they were linked in meaning until reading the catalogue and other literature.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Construction and Destruction: The Stones of the Acropolis

The Erechtheion is an Ionic building, with its porches going in different directions.
It commemorates the founding of Athens, with the contest between Athena and Poseidon
Glistening white marbles which is seem to grow out of the hill form the picture on my mind of the Athens' Acropolis, from what I've seen in textbooks.  The city's highest hill has been a wonder to the world for 2500 years, and a symbol of Greek civilization since ancient times.

One climbs the hill to get to the Propylaia, monumental gateway to the Acropolis.
 A wide opening in the center allowed horse-drawn chariots
to enter.  This view is from inside the hill.
Although the Parthenon is
Doric, this column on the
ground was Ionic

Yet, at any given time, so much on the Acropolis is in the process of restoration, covered up by scaffolds.  I was there on the first day of June, which, unusually, was not a sunny day.

A view of the Acropolis ruins leads to another hill, capped
Athens Tower
I was surprised to see that there are as many stones on the ground as there are against the skies.  It appears that the archaeologists have carefully arranged, catalogued and labelled the stones with numbers to fit them into a puzzle which could locate and determine their placement in the past.   I must confess to be a lover of ruins who finds them very dramatic and sees great beauty in their fallen state.  Close-up views reveal the artfulness that goes into creating fine decorative designs.

Of course, the Parthenon is the best known, most beautiful and most perfectly proportioned of all Greek temples.  Most of the building's west end was hidden from view, while I was there.  From a few angles it's possible to see a good deal of its former glory.
East end of the Parthenon from inside of the Acropolis

The pediment on the left side of the east end, the heads of
 horses pulling the chariot of the sun and a reclining god
are visible.  These plaster casts replace the Elgin marbles. 
Unfortunately, the center of the Parthenon blew up and was lost for good in 1685, when the Ottoman Turks were using it as an arsenal and a Venetian cannon hit it.  In 1804, Lord Elgin, British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, took most of its marble architectural sculpture and brought it to his home in Scotland.  When he financial problems, he sold these originals, called the Elgin Marbles, to the British Museum, where they remain today.  In some accounts, the marbles were being damaged and at risk of more damage under the Ottoman rule of the time.

However, there are plaster casts on the building, including sculpted horses and a reclining god (Dionysos or Heracles) on left side of the east pediment.  These  gives a great impression of how the the sculptures fit in under the roof.  Replicas of the rest of the sculpture are on display at the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, completed in 2009.  The museum's display reveals fairly well how the large sculptural program related to the architecture. 
Above a triglyph is a horse's head on 
the opposite side of the pediment

I was surprised to find out that a few of the
original square relief sculptures, called metopes, are actually in the Acropolis Museum.

One of these reliefs is particularly beautiful: Hebe and Hera, mother and daughter who sat among the gods and goddesses deciding the outcome of the Trojan War.  Despite all the damage, the panel was recently restored.  The drapery of the seated goddess, Hera, is so beautiful that we can sense the distinct folds of an undergarment as well as the outer clothing.  Experts think that the Parthenon's chief sculptor, Phidias, did this panel. 
The Metope of goddesses Hebe and Hera
are among 4 metopes still in Athens

There's so much more history of construction and destruction.  The classical building of 442-432 is actually a replacement for the earlier temple to Athena which was burned by the Persians in 480 BC. Many fine statues of young women (kore, called korai, plural) and young men (kouros, called kouroi, plural), which were buried after the Persian pillage, are on display at the museum.  Besides the elegant Peplos Kore, there are many other less famous votive statues of women from the Archaic period.  Despite the archaic stiffness of many of these sculptures, they are extremely beautiful.  I also appreciated the beauty of the relief statues of Nike (victory) figures from the balustrade which had surrounded the Temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis, built after the Parthenon.

 The modern, recently-built Acropolis Museum, is set on an angle, but in an axis facing the Parthenon.  The Theater of Dionysos, from the 4th century BC covers the hill, between the Parthenon and Acropolis Museum. 

We can see more of the Erechtheion, an unusual temple formed with slender porches reaching out on three different sides.   Because of its tall, Ionic columns and the Porch of the Maidens, I found the Erechtheion the most impressive of all buildings on the Acropolis.   The caryatids are replacements for the original statues.
The Erechtheion is an Ionic temple.  Its decorative
details contrast with the simple Doric columns of the other structures
The original statues can be seen from all sides in the new Acropolis Museum.  A trip to that museum is a must for understanding the many stages of construction and destruction on the Acropolis, and for understanding the many building programs of the Acropolis.  The Athenians had begun building their temple around 490 BC, before the Persians destroyed it.  However, there are sculptures reflecting at least two even earlier temples to Athena, one from about 570 BC, and another dating around 520 BC.  The stones of one of these temples are beneath the Erectheoion.  Construction and destruction were constants in the lives of the ancient Greeks.
A view behind the Porch of the Maidens over to the long side of the Parthenon
reminds me that the Erechtheion stands over the stones of a giant Archaic temple,
an earlier templet to Athena, 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Splendor of Knossos and the Minoans

This summer I finally had the opportunity to go to Greece and see the sprawling Palace at Knossos.  Actually, it's not certain if this site was a palace, administrative center, giant apartment building, religious/ceremonial building, or all of the above.  Yet it is so huge that, when discovered in 1900, archeologist Arthur Evans certainly thought he had found a true labyrinth where the legendary King Minos lived and kept his minotaur.  The name Minoan for the Bronze Age people who lived in Crete from about 2000-1300 BC has stuck.

Covering 6 acres, the palace of Knossos and the surrounding city may have
had a population of 100,000 in the Bronze Age
According to legend, the king of Athens paid tribute to King Minos by sending him 7 young men and young women who were in turn fed and sacrificed to the half-man, half-bull minotaur. Eventually, with the aid of Minos' daughter and the inventor Daedalus, Theseus carried a ball of thread to find his way out and to slay the beast.

Although the art at Knossos doesn't play out the precise myth, carvings and paintings found there involve imagery of bulls.  Acrobats jumped and did flips over the animals' horns, perhaps part religious ritual.  It must have been an exciting but highly dangerous sport, and it's easy to understand that as the story changed over time, later generations would envision a bull-headed monster in a spooky maze.

The palace at Knossos is on the hillside, about 5 kilometers from the sea.  It was never fortified
Other,  smaller palaces have been uncovered on the island.
Could a prisoner escape without Theseus' clever trick?  Three or possibly four entrances to the palace are off-axis and may have appeared entirely hidden.   The building also had windows, light wells, air shafts and ventilation.  It was an engineering marvel. No wonder its architect Daedalus became a god to the Greeks. When I was there, it not only felt like a "labyrinth," but also like "babel."  Its the only place I'd ever been where so many different, unfamiliar languages were being spoken at once.  Despite the number of people, it never felt too crowded, because the palace covers six acres.

The downward taper of Minoan
columns is unusual but may have
religious significance.  The capital
resembles the cushions of Doric
columns of Greece 1000 years later
The building runs over 5 levels of twists and turns, on the hillside, not on top of a hill.  It had 1300 rooms at one time and could have housed as many 5,000 people.  There's a large central courtyard, perhaps where crowds observed the bull-leaping sports. At least four other ancient maze-like palaces have been excavated on other parts of the island, but none as large as Knossos.  It is thought that only 10% of Minoan Crete has been excavated and that bronze age Crete had 90 cities.  I remember reading that Knossos had a population of at least 100,000 people around 1500 BC.  Minoans traded with Egypt and Mesopotamia.   Archaeologists have uncovered a Minoan colony in Egypt, Tel-el D'aba, and at Miletus in Turkey.

The North Entrance has a restored
fresco of a bull.  Minoans were probably
the first to paint in fresco, on wet plaster
Evans spent 35 years digging, researching and restoring the Palace of Knossos.  The restoration reveals the Minoans' unusual, downward-facing columns, with the narrowest parts on bottom.  The earliest builders used the cypress tree and turned it over, so it wouldn't grow.

There were both small frescoes and life-size frescoes, most of them now in the Archeological Museum in Heraklion, including the bull-leaping fresco.  Since Egyptians painted in secco, on dry plaster, it's believed that Minoans invented the fresco technique of painting on wet plaster. Colors such as blue, red and yellow ochre are very vivid.  Generally Minoans painted with a freer and more organic style than the artists of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and often had more naturalistic depictions.  However, whenever men or women are found marching with erect stiff postures, it's conjectured that they functioned as priests and priestesses partaking in the religious rituals.  There's a famous bull-leaping fresco in the local museum.

La Parisienne from Knossos

Archeologists of today would not take as much liberty and restore as extensively as he did.  While Evans  pieced together restorations of the palace based on the remnants and shards, he also used his knowledge to restore what is missing.  Personally I appreciate that his reconstruction fills in the blanks for us, giving an idea of the size and grandeur of the palace.  Also, there's a great deal to speculate as to what it may have been like to live there.  It seems that grains, wine and olive oil may have been milled and pressed at the palace, and also stored in huge pithoi (giant vases) under the floor.

The word labyrinth originates from the labrys, a double-axe related to the double horns of the bull.   The language used at the time the first palace was built, around the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, has not yet been deciphered.  A second language which appeared at Knossos after mainland Greeks took over the palace after 1500 BC has been translated and is related to the classical Greek language
The life-size Prince of Lilies was thought by
Archeologist Arthur Evans to be a priest.
Lilies are common in Minoan imagery.

All the inscriptions on cylinder seals are commercial records and inventories.  Besides myth, the art and artifacts are the best way to figure out the story of these people.  Only about 10 percent of the ancient Minoan sites have been excavated.  Although the contents of the Archeological Museum of Heraklion, near Knossos, is well known and published, the beautiful pottery and artifacts from the museum of Chania, Crete's next largest city, have not been published.  Getting outside of the cities and into the countryside leaves the impression that the rural life really hasn't changed too much in 1000 years.

The grand staircase at Knossos spans 5 levels.  The layout of rooms is organic around a
central courtyard.  What seems to be a haphazard arrangement may reflect
building and rebuilding after earthquakes.
Certain things that date to the Mycenaean takeover of the palace include the Throne Room.  Amazing, when the room was discovered, the gypsum throne was intact.  Evidence points to the suggestion that the palace had to be abandoned all of a sudden, because of a fire, natural disaster or invasion.   Even if this culture eventually went into oblivion for a few hundred years, when the Greek culture re-emerged around the 8th century BC, the Greeks culture retained so much of the Minoan heritage in its art and myth.  The myths of the minotaur, Minos, Europa, Theseus, Daedelus and Icarus involve Crete, but so does the story of Zeus who was said to be born in Crete. 

The Throne Room was found with oldest throne in
Europe, dating to Mycenaean occupation of Crete, around
1450-1400 BC.  Evidence shows people had fled suddenly.
Knossos has a theatre right outside the palace. Performances took place at the bottom of two seating areas set perpendicular to each other, rather than at the end of curved seating area as in later Greek theaters.  The ancient Minoans also gave the world two important inventions, indoor plumbing and the potter's wheel.  Wouldn't it be something if some of the first great Greek literary masterpieces also had an origin here, 1000 years earlier?

Occupation of the palace ended sometime between 1400 and 1100 BC.  In the classical era Crete was never as important as Athens, though it is clear that much of what formed later Greek culture came from Crete.  A settlement re-emerged in Knossos during Roman times, but during the Middle Ages the population shifted to the city of Heraklion, about 4-5 miles away.

An area outside of the palace has two sets of seats set at a perpendicular angle. Acoustics indicate it was a theater.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wood, Mud and Scraps in Eco-Art Today

William Alburger, Forest, 2013, 65" x 108" x 9"  rescued spalted birch, in an solo exhibition at GRACE

      Eco-friendly art is meeting the world of high art, if we're to take a cue from what's showing at local art centers and galleries.  It can be stated that the earliest environmental art started with the artists' visions and applied those visions to the environment, with little interest in sustainability.
       Quite the opposite trend is developing now.  Several emerging  artists, the “environmental artists” of the 21st century put nature in the center--not the artist or the idea.  Nature is the subject and the artist is nature's follower. The following artists' creations are about the land and earth; other artists interested in the environment have been more concerned with a world under the sea.
William Alburger, Non-traditional Backwards
One-Door, 2012, 
27" x. 13.5" x 5.25
reclaimed Pennsylvania barn wood, specialty
glass and fabric
       William Alburger  lives in rural Pennsylvania, where he picks up scraps of wood from fallen trees and mixes them with discarded barn doors.  He is a passionate conservationist with an addiction to collecting what otherwise would be burned, decayed or discarded in landfills. Largely self-taught, Alburger formerly worked as a painting contractor. His art is both pictorial and practical.  Some sculptures almost look like two-dimensional works, while others function as shelves or furniture.  Hidden doors, cubbyholes and cabinets create surprises, making the natural world his starting point for expression.  Intrusions of man-made items are minor. The knots, whirls, colors and textures of wood speak for themselves, revealing rustic beauty.
William Alburger, Synapse, 2013,
 65" x 23" x 5.25"  rescued spalted
poplar and Pennsylvania barn wood


Currently the Greater Reston Area Arts Center (GRACE) is hosting a solo exhibition of Alburger's works.  In Synapse, Alburger cut into the interesting grain and patterns of fallen poplar. He framed top and bottom with old barn wood and reconfigured the form to suggest the space where two forms meet and form connection.  Allburger finds what is already there in nature, but, through presentation, teaches us how to see it in a new way.  Otherwise, we might not notice what nature can evoke and teach us.

Pam Rogers,  Tertiary Education, 2012, handmade
soil, mineral and plant pigments, ink, watercolor 
and graphite on paper.  Courtesy Greater
Reston Area Art Association

       Dedication to the natural world is second nature to Pam Rogers, whose day job is as an illustrator in the Natural History Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.  “I’m inclined to see environment as shaping all of us,” Rogers explains, noting the importance of where we come from, and how our natural surroundings mark our stories and connections.  While drawing natural specimens, she sees as much beauty in decay is as in birth, growth and development.  We’re reminded that everything that comes alive, by nature or made by man, will turn to dust.  Rogers' drawings combine plants, animals and occasional pieces of hardware.  Some of the pigments spring from nature, the red soil of North Georgia and plant pigments.

      As in Alburger's Synapse, above, Rogers seeks to form connections between man and the environment. She inserts nails and other links into the drawings from nature for this purpose, as in Stolen Mythology, below. At the moment, Pam Rogers' art is in the show, {Agri Interior} in the Wyatt Gallery at the Arlington Arts Center. One of her paintings is now in a group exhibition, Strictly Painting, at McLean Project for the Arts.  
Pam Rogers, Stolen Mythology, 2009 mixed media

      Rogers mixes traditional art techniques with abstraction, natural with man-made, sticks and strings, and does both delicate two-dimensional works and vigorous three-dimensional art.   Her sculptures and installations explore some of the same themes.  At the end of last year, she had an exhibition at GRACE called Cairns.  Cairns refer to a Gaelic term to describe a man-made pile of stones that function as markers.  Her work, whether two-dimensional or three-dimensional, is also about the markers signifying the connections in her journey.

Pam Rogers, SCAD Installation (detail), plants, wire, metal fabric, 2009

         "There are landmarks and guides that permeate my continuing journey and my exploration of the relationship between people, plants and place.  I continually try to weave the strings of agriculture, myth and magic, healing and hurting."  Several of her paintings have titles referring to myths, including Stolen Mythology, above, and another one called Potomac Myths.  Originally from Colorado, Rogers also lived in Massachusetts and studied in Savannah for her Masters in Fine Art.  It's not surprising that, in college, she had a double major in Anthropology and Art History.

Henrique Oliveira, Bololô, Wood, hardware, pigment
Site-specific installation, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
Photograph by Franko Khoury, National Museum of African Art
         Artists cite the spiritual and mythic connection we have to environment.  As a student, Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira noted the beauty of wood fences which screened construction sites in São Paolo.  Observing these strips being taken down, he collected them and re-used the weathered, deteriorating sheets of woods for some of his most interesting  sculpture.  Oliveira was asked to do an installation in dialogue with Sandile Zulu for the Museum of African Art in Washington, DC.  His project, Bololô, refers to a Brazilian term for life’s twists and tangles, bololô. The weathered strips can act like strokes of the paint brush, with organic and painterly expression, reaching from ceiling to wall and around a pole but usually not touching the ground.   Oliveira's installation is a reflection of the difficulty in staying grounded in life, in this tangle of confusion.

Danielle Riede, Tropical Ring, 2012, temporary installation in the Museum of Merida, Mexico
photo courtesy of artist

       Environmental concerns played a part in the collaboration of Colombian artist Alberto Baraya and Danielle Riede, at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, shown in 2011. Expedition Bogotá-Indianapolis was "an examination of the aesthetics of place and its plants" in central Indiana.  For two years, the artists collected artificial plants from second-hand stores, yard sales and neighborhoods in around Indianapolis.  Last year Riede did an installation for the City Museum of Merida, Mexico, Tropical Ring.  It's made of artificial plants garnered from second-hand crafts in from Indiana and Mexico. The plants were cut and reconfigured to evoke the pattern of an ecosystem, indoors.  Currently, the artist is looking for a community partner to participate in Sustainable Growths, an art installation of crafts and other re-used objects destined for abandoned homes in Indianapolis.
Danielle Riede, My Favorite Colors, 2006, photo courtesy

        Originally, Riede's primary medium was discarded paint, which she gathered from the unused waste of other artists or the pealing pigments of dilapidated structures.  My Favorite Colors, right, follows several paths of recycled paint along the wall of the Regional Museum of Contemporary art Serignan, France. Beauty comes from the color, light, pattern, and even from the shadows cast on walls to deliberate effect. The memory landscape is uniquely described in the eco-jardin-culture website.  The installation is permanent, although much of what we consider environmental art is temporary.

Sustainable Growths: Painting with Recycled Materials is Riede's
project to bring meaning to abandoned homes in Indianapolis. Artist's photo
      Fallen trees, branches and other wastes of nature are tools of drawing to artist R L Croft.  Some artists feel they have no choice but to re-use and re-claim discarded goods or fallen debris, as many folk artists and untrained artists have always been doing. The need to draw or create is innate and a constant in one's identity as an artist, but it's not easy to get commissions, jobs or sell art. Art materials are very expensive, so there is a practical objective to using environmental objects which do not need to be stored.

R L Croft, Portal, 2011, Oregon Inlet, North Carolina
To Croft, using the environment is a means of drawing, but on a very large scale.  His outdoor, impromptu drawings-in-the-wild are images grounded in his style of painting and sculpture Croft has made a number of sculptures called "portals" and/or "fences," most of which have been carried away by rising tides or decay.  He makes these assemblages out of debris found along the beaches, particularly those of the Outer Banks, in North Carolina.  Portal at Oregon Inlet, NC, left, was constructed of found lumber, nails, driftwood, plastic, rope, bottles, netting, etc. 

Environmentalism is not the primary content of his art. Croft says: "Making art for the purpose of being an environmentalist doesn’t interest me. Making art whose process is environmentally friendly does interest me."  He works in rivers, woods and on beaches.  In the aftermath of one natural disaster, Hurricane Irene, he brought meaning to the incident--both personal and anthropological. 

R.L. Croft, Shipwreck Irene, in Rocky Mount, N.C. Built in October, 2012, it's still there but
 less recognizable as a ship form.  The location is in Battle Park 
off of Falls Road near the Route 64 overpass. Photo courtesy of artist.
      Croft made Shipwreck Irene in Rocky Mountain, NC, when the Maria V. Howard Art Center held a sculpture competition and allowed him the use of fallen debris after Hurricane Irene, which left as much physical devastation as his sculptures allude to metaphorically.  The shipwreck is a very old icon in the history of art, usually associated with 17th century Dutch seascapes.  But to Croft, who in childhood found healing in the Outer Banks after the death of his mother, the meaning is deep. The area known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" fed his early sense of adventure and aesthetic appreciation for texture, decay and the abrasive effects of wind, sand and water. 
       Hurricane Irene "is much like the resilient community frequently raked over by severe hurricanes, yet plunging forward.  The current art center is world class and it is the replacement for an earlier one destroyed when still new. " Croft said. Shipwreck Irene is still there, but decay renders it increasingly unrecognizable as a ship form.  The temporary aspect is expected.  "People of the region know grit and impermanence," the artist explained. "I'm told that Shipwreck Irene became a habitat for small animals and small birds but that is a happy accident."
R L Croft, Sower, 2013, 22 x 14 courtesy artist
        Croft has also said:  “Nothing can be taken for granted. Constant change proves to be the only reliable point of reference. Equilibrium being as fleeting as life itself, one fuses an array of thought fragments retrieved from memories into a drawing of graphite, metal or wood. By doing so, the artist builds a fragile mental world of metaphor that lends meaning to his largely unnoticed visit among the general population."   Croft did an installation in the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a drawing in the wild entitled Sower, in homage to Van Gogh   He worked in wattle to make a large drawing that, in a metaphorical, abstracted way, resembles a striding farmer sowing his seed.  The farmer is the winged maple seed and it references Vincent's wonderful ink line drawings.
        Nature has been the subject of art by definition and a curiosity about the natural world has defined a majority of artists since the Renaissance.  The first wave of Environmental Artists applied their vision to the environment by directly making changes to the environment--permanent (Robert Smithson, James Turrell) or temporary (Christo and Jeanne-Claude)  Turrell ,whose most famous work is the Roden Crator in Arizona, is the subject of a major retrospective now in New York, at the Guggenheim.
        It is one thing for art to alter the environment, as the earliest environmental artists did. It is another thing to make art to call attention to the problems of waste and depletion of the earth's resources. Yet, it's an even stronger statement when professional artists exclusively make art that re-uses discarded items and turns them into art.  Environmental Art today addresses waste reduction and stands up against the problems caused by environmental damage to our rapidly changing world.  Designers are getting into this process, as explained in the previous blog. For example, Nani Marquina and Ariadna Miguel design and sell a rug made of discarded bicycle tubes, Bicicleta.
         In the future, I hope to blog on how artists address sustainable agriculture.  Currently, the main exhibition at Arlington Arts Center, Green Acres: Artists Farming Fields, Greenhouses and Abandoned Lots.