Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

I am part of Cloth in Common, a group of international artists who respond to bi-monthly prompts. The current prompt is “Spring.”

Here the crocuses have sprung, only to emerge into a cold and still brown yard.

crocusesAnd, again today, it is snowing. It’s hard for me to think “Spring!” However, I just returned from a trip to Eastern Europe (actually a little bit warmer!) where I was inspired by “rebuilding” and “renewal.” Do they count for “spring?”

Many of the drab so-called “communist condos” have been painted, and they still house a large population. (Some, it was explained, are even better built than today. But not all.)

painted communist condo

Dresden was firebombed by the Allies in Feb 1945, killing as many as 135,000 people in the single most deadly bombing of the war, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was reduced to rubble but has been painstakingly rebuilt.

We visited Zwinger Palace, and have the before and after photos to show the rebuild. It is now a museum housing priceless art.

zwinger Palace bombedZwinger Palace rebuilt

 

I made small art quilts while I was traveling. I was especially intrigued by Berlin. First it was one city, then two cities, now one city again –and still stitching itself back together. These are pieces inspired by the art on the wall, torn down in 1989.

We visited just as the US President wants to build a wall on the US border with Mexico. For future generations to tear down!

How I am going to respond to “Spring” is still the Great Unknown in my studio. Rebirth? Rebuild? Traveling to Eastern Europe in the Spring? Stay tuned.

Besides Spring will surely emerge. Any day now.

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I am excited that my art quilt “Celebrating the Destruction of Apartheid” has been selected for inclusion in a show at Visions Art Museum in San Diego, CA. The opening is April 21, which I plan to attend.

This lighthearted moment on our trip to South Africa belies the tragedy embedded in this place. The two figures are seated in front of the High Court Annex in Cape Town, where South Africans had to report annually to be classified as members of one of seven “races.” Our guide, seated on the right, relayed how his own family had been split up by this cruel, subjective process. He is joined on the left by one of our tour group members, a young doctor from Atlanta.

In the past, as persons of color, they would have been violating the South African laws of Apartheid, a system of rigid segregation and oppression of the non-white population. Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, and the Apartheid laws were abolished in mid-1991, pending the historical first multiracial election in 1994, when Mandela was elected President of South Africa. Today the “whites only” bench remains as a historical reminder that Apartheid has been tossed into the ashcan of history.

I was involved in the international fight to free Nelson Mandela and end apartheid in the late 1980’s, and incorporated my collection of political buttons from that time into the quilt.

Today, though Apartheid has been destroyed, South Africa is one of the most economically unequal country in the world. The fight for equality continues as it does elsewhere, including the United States.

The rest of the piece tells the story of our visit to South Africa. The Bushveld, at the top, is where we enjoyed a safari. Nelson Mandela’s prison cell and the quarry where he and other political prisoners toiled, fabrics I bought there, South African money and Jackass Penguins and other animals we saw are among the other items in the design.

celebrating the destruction of apartheid small

Martha Ressler, Celebrating the Destruction of Apartheid, Art Quilt, 60 x 37.5″

The smiling figures in this lighthearted moment on our trip to South Africa belie the tragedy embedded in this place. They are seated in front of the High Court Annex in Cape Town, where South Africans had to report annually to be classified as members of one of seven “races.” Our guide, seated on the right, relayed how his own family had been split up by this cruel, subjective process. He is joined on the left by one of our tour group members, a young doctor from Atlanta.

In the past, as persons of color, they would have been violating the South African laws of Apartheid, a system of rigid segregation and oppression of the non-white population. African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, and the Apartheid laws were abolished in mid-1991, pending the historical first multiracial election in 1994, when Mandela was elected President of South Africa. Today the “whites only” bench remains as a historical reminder that Apartheid has been tossed into the ashcan of history.

I was involved in the international fight to free Nelson Mandela and end apartheid in the late 1980’s, and sewed my collection of political buttons from that time into the quilt.

Today, though Apartheid has been destroyed, South Africa is one of the most economically unequal country in the world. The fight for equality continues as it does elsewhere, including the United States.

The rest of the piece tells the story of our visit to South Africa. The Bushveld, at the top, is where we enjoyed a safari. Nelson Mandela’s prison cell and the quarry where he and other political prisoners toiled, fabrics I bought there, South African money and Jackass Penguins and other animals we saw are among the other items in the design.

This piece was created for an invitational show of art quilts called “Things That Matter,” which will preview next year.  It is 60″ wide by 37.5″ tall.

The photo of the figures was provided by Jay Ressler.

 

There is a piece that I am still thinking about from our recent trip to Italy.

It is the Penitent Magdalene by Donatello (Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi 1386-1466), a late work into which he poured his anguish.

Donatello was trained as a goldsmith, but has achieved his fame for his full size sculptures.A defining moment was the trip he took to Rome with Filippo Brunelleschi around 1404-1407.  Filippo studied buildings, especially the Pantheon, the domed Roman building which still today is the best preserved example of Roman architecture. It was later to serve him well in coming up with his original design for how to finish the dome on the giant cathedral in Florence.

Donatello studied Roman sculpture, thus helping to ignite the Renaissance sculptural masterpieces of the following two centuries.He himself then made masterpieces such as his David, St. Mark and many others.

He carved his Penitent Magdalene out of wood in his 60’s. Although it seems at first that wood would be easier than stone to carve, in fact it is very difficult as it can splinter at any time. Donatello’s vision is uncompromising. Mary is aged and gaunt. She has spent decades fasting in the desert. The bloom of youth is long gone, to say the least.

Donatello’s life-long friend Brunelleschi died in 1446. The two had quarreled and not reconciled before Filippo’s death. I believe he poured his grief into this work. The date of the work  is not known precisely, but are roughly 1453-1455.

It is currently housed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence.

Mary magdalene by Donatello

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