Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Ever since I read The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone when I was a teenager, I have been in awe of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). I re-read the book before we ventured to Italy last month and it ignited my admiration all over again. It is possible (I suppose) for another artist in history to have burned with such single minded devotion to art, but I can’t imagine that they have done so with as much success as Michelangelo during his long and often tortured life.

Two of his earliest works are housed in the Casa Buonarroti Museum in Florence. These are the Madonna of the Stairs (1490-92) and the Battle of the Centaurs (1491-92) Michelangelo was thus about 16 at the time. They are very different.  The Madonna is almost tentative.  The bas relief does not reach far into the marble. But the young artist’s natural ability to draw is seen clearly

Madonna of the Stairs Michelangelo 1490-92

In the Battle of the Centaurs Michelangelo bursts forth with all his love of sweaty male bodies, bone and muscle already well defined.

battle-of-the-centaurs MA 1492

David, 17 feet high, is one of his clear masterpieces, sculpted when Michelangelo was  29 years old. David, the shepherd boy who slew the giant Goliath in Judeo-Christian lore, is caught at the moment when hope hardened into dead determination in David’s mind. Yes his right hand is over sized, the penis uncircumcised (according to Renaissance artistic custom, not Jewish practice), the sling resting on his left shoulder of uncertain function. But you can feel the tension in his neck muscles, the focus in his eyes, the strong muscles of his calves and abdomen. There is feeling here as well as mastery of the human form.

David 1

Consider the story of this large, misshapen marble block.  It had been worked on previously and gouged (front to back) to such a great extent that sculptors feared to try to work with it. But Michaelangelo saw a way.  By throwing David’s weight onto his right leg, the forward knee of the left leg (which also slides to the left, allowing the knee to protrude forward less) and the raised left arm (note they are on the same plane — not far from the body) gave the illusion of movement while working within the narrowness of the block.

David from side.jpg

 

I  want to touch on one more, the Deposition, started when Michelangelo was 72.  It was an un-commissioned piece that he meant for his own tomb, but never completed it. Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus are supporting the dead Christ, with his mother Mary to the right, and Mary Magdalene to the left. The face of latter was worked on by a pupil after Michelangelo’s death, basically turning it into a saccharine mask. It is understood that the face of  Joseph (or Nicodemus) belongs to Michelangelo himself.

It is not of particular interest to me that this scene is not depicted in the Bible. It is, rather, the raw emotion and conflict in it that gets to me.  The body of Christ is too large, very awkward, and undoubtedly a dead weight. The head lolls, the legs are in rigor mortise or broken.  The Virgin has not the sweet teenager’s face that Michelangelo used in the famous Pieta that resides in St. Peters in Rome. It is instead grief drawn with a few blows of the chisel,as she  holds the body of her dead son.

 

Deposition Michelangelo

I’m going to switch to Art History mode for a few posts.  Although at one point I earned an MA in the subject from the University of Michigan, I never pursued a career in it, and thus lost a lot of the knowledge I’d gained. But I never really lost my interest.

In preparation for a recent trip to Rome, Florence and Venice, I read the following books (in addition to 5 guide books): The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone, Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon, The Medici: Power, Money and Ambition in the Italian Renaissance by Paul Strathern, The Venetians: A New History from Marco Polo to Casanova by Paul Strathern, Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World, Adrian Goldsworthy, How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower by Adrian Goldsworthy, and The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World by Paul Robert Walker. I used Audible.com for all of them, so I could continue with my art work while listening.  I loved the performances by the readers almost as much as I enjoyed the books.

Although the Renaissance is definitely the star of the show in a tour of Italy, I want to highlight a couple of pieces from the Middle Ages today.

Andrea Pisano, a sculptor and architect (c. 1290-1348) executed panels for the Campanile (bell tower) of the Duomo (Cathedral) in Florence.  These included artisans and workers at work, such as ploughing, building, weaving, painting and forging metal. I loved these little panels.  The originals have been removed from the Companile and installed in the Cathedral Museum. They are thus being preserved, and also are easier to see.

A second thing that fascinated me were the inlaid marble floors, especially in the Duomo (Cathedral) in Siena. Although the cathedral itself was completed 1215 – 1263, the work on the floors continued in the 14th through 16th Century.  About 40 artists worked on the 56 floor panels.

The earliest method they used was “graffito,” scratching lines in the marble that were filled with pitch. (yes the term graffiti comes from this word.) The effect is of drawing.

Later they used the “intarsia” method, which had been perfected in Islamic North Africa. It was use to create intricately fitted different colored stones into elaborate pictures.  Actually “intarsia” mostly refers to wood inlay.  For stone it is called “pietra dura.”

Even though I sort of understand how this was done, I can’t imagine how the accuracy in fitting together the stone was achieved.  Today it is carried on in Agra, India.  And a workshop still exists in Florence.  I want to follow up on this in the future.

Just as I head off to Italy (today!) for vacation #2, I finished my first piece based on our trip to South Africa last month.

I made the linoleum blocks based on my quick sketches in the back of the open “safari-mobile” in which we traversed the bushvelt, on the lookout for the “Big 5.” This is a term widely used in Africa.  It’s origin was in hunting.  The “Big 5” were the hardest and most dangerous animals to hunt: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and Cape Buffalo. Now their images grace the South African currency (with Nelson Mandela on the obverse.) And seeing them is a benchmark of success for your photo safari.

We didn’t get to see a Leopard.  They are the one animal which has the ability to cross in and out of the huge, fenced reserve.  Nor the Cape Buffalo.  It is nocturnal, and our brief 3 day visit did not include night time drives.

The Rhino here is a White Rhinoceros. They feed on grass, and their heads are always down.  The Black Rhino feeds on leaves of trees, and their heads are up.  They are more dangerous, as they can charge any time for virtually no reason.  Both are endangered. They are killed for their horn which is mistakenly said to have aphrodisiac powers.

This little piece will be a donation to the “Spotlight” Auction which is an annual tradition at the SAQA (Studio Art Quilts Associates) conference. This year it is in Lincoln, NE, and I will be attending.

my-first-safari-6-x-8

I haven’t blogged for a few weeks as we took a fabulous trip to South Africa.  Beforehand I was immersed in preparation, and afterwards I’ve been catching up with myself. More on the artistic inspirations from that trip at another time!

Today I’m getting ready for my first ever Hand Embroidery class, which commences Saturday.

I made a PowerPoint presentation to get students’ creative juices flowing.  Thank you Pinterest and the artists who posted these wonderful images, and many more.

I bought supplies: markers (air and water disappearing and heat transfer markers), thread –6 strand and Perle (5 and 8 weights) — cloth, fusible tear away stabilizer and of course, needles! I’m sticking with embroidery needles size 5-10.

materials

After the presentation, and I explain the tools and materials, we’ll start right in with the stitches.  I’m going to limit it to running stitch, back stitch, blanket stitch and French Knot. If there’s time I’ll add chain stitch, seed stitch and couching.  You can create a world out of those, with their multiple variations.

 

I’m fortunate that my artist friend Cristina Saucedo has allowed me to use her delightful pen and ink drawings as embroidery templates for my students.

I hope someone decides to use them.

Wish me luck. Meanwhile I’m doing a lot more embroidery myself.  More on that later!

My art quilt friend Jenny Lyons, in her blog yesterday, mentioned a technique of using a large print in the center of a piece, and building the composition around it.

Jenny Lyons

She said she’d gotten the inspiration from Linda Waddle years ago:

Jenny on Linda Waddle

I was pleased to know this is actually “a thing,” because I just finished a piece using this technique.  In my head I was calling it using a “Photo starter.”  Jenny called it “Print Starter.”  Same difference! My photo print on cloth was 8.5 x 11,” and of course I wanted my quilt to be larger than that.

About a year ago I had taken a photo of one of my neighbor’s bone pile of rusty cars that he uses to cannibalize for parts. I’d printed the image on cloth, meaning to get back to it.  Which, finally I did.

First I backed it with just one piece of cloth, put it in my embroidery hoop, and started stitching on it.  I used simple stitches: French knots, big wonky cross stitches, and running stitches.

Then I designed “the surround” and cut and put that together using raw edge applique. I used fabrics that complemented the central photo. I included photos printed on silk that I’d taken at the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum while on a recent visit. You can see them peeking through here and there.

Now I had the entire composition, so I made my quilt sandwich and kept hand stitching.  Now each stitch served the function of both embroidering and quilting. The finished size is 23 x 17.5.”

rusty-musty-fusty-small

I won’t lie.  This took at least 2 weeks.

The part I like best is where I painstakingly combined individual strands of embroidery floss to get just the right mixture of colors. Here is a detail of that area.

rusty-musty-fusty-detail-2

I’m calling the piece Rusty Musty Fusty, and submitting it to a show called Muse at Studio B in Boyertown, PA. Curator Jane Stahl encourages literary submissions as well, so I made up this poem.  Though I’m not so sure it gets many “literary” kudos!

Rusty Musty Fusty

By Martha Ressler

 

Yo!  I like ‘em rusty and musty

Old city factories all scruffy

And in the country so crusty

They were cars or trains, all them parts so fusty

Lying around — almost art — a little fuzzy

The sun makes you just

Lovely though scruffy

That’s OK I’m not fussy

I’ll take you thusly

Beauty all rusty.

I just learned from my friend and fellow art quilter Sara Mika that there is a project called 1 Year of Stitches.  It is a thing! Gather your hoop, your needles, some cloth and all of that beautiful embroidery thread and join in.

1 Year of Stitches is the brainchild of Hannah Claire Somerville, who has invited anyone interested to join in this impressive endeavor.

Here is what I’ve been working on for a week or so.  Mine is an art quilt in becoming.  This is the part with most of the embroidery.  A photo of a rusty old car. (see it?  turn it clockwise: that’s a front headlight.)

This piece was inspired by a rusty old car at the end of our road, and a trip to a railroad museum yard.

rusty-musty-fusty

You can stitch on plain cloth, print cloth, linen — whatever makes you happy. Make abstract designs with stitches, or make a little picture — just be yourself.

Look at this densely embroidered beauty by Michelle Anais Beaulieu-Morgan.

Brown paper bag

Join the fun! Get your hoops on.

I tried something different. Starting with an old map (with which I am well supplied!), I created a mono print using gelatin printing and stamping. Then I covered both sides with Misty Fuse to preserve and stabilize the paper, added some fabric pieces, made a quilt sandwich, and quilted the piece. Finally, I added some found objects. The piece is called “Gulf Coast Pastimes,” after some of the wording on the map of Mississippi and Louisiana that is still visible. Plus I was thinking about some of the Gulf Coast pastimes of my younger years while working on it!

I am inclined to try more of these, but would appreciate some feedback.

gulf-coast-pastimes-smaller