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  • 03 Mar 2016 2:13 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic

    Michael Jackson looks down at us from his seat on a magnificent stallion in the first gallery of the Seattle Art Museum’s stunning exhibition “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic.” Looking closer we see subtle references to Jackson’s famously changing color: from rear to head, the horse actually changes color from brown to white and, in the sky, a white and a brown putto place a garland on his head. Wiley actually met with Jackson and the singer chose the Rubens equestrian portrait of Philip II of Spain as the basis for his portrait (in the original the horse is brown and includes voluptuous women with a globe in the sky). Wiley titled his painting “Equestrian Portrait of King Phillip II of Spain (Michael Jackson),” making his provocative purpose clear.  The 16th -17th centuries were the height of colonization and the slave trade, so placing Michael Jackson in the seat of power of that time  provides an intense contradiction and brilliant upending of history.

    Kehinde Wiley characterizes black masculinity in our contemporary media culture as “structured, manufactured and consumed” to create a “conspicuous fraud.” He repositions black men and women from their traditional role in “grand manner” paintings as slaves or servants or in our media as victims or perpetrators of violence. In Kehinde Wiley’s paintings black people become heroes and saints. Most of his models are ordinary people, rather than celebrities, making the transformation all the more dramatic and pointed.

    He embeds this driving purpose in painting and sculpture that overwhelms us with beauty, scale, and technical virtuosity. As he acknowledges the risk of aesthetics obscuring meaning, he encourages us to look beyond our first glance to the many understated jokes and surprises in the details of the work.

    The artist jump shifts from one historical format to another, keeping us dazzled by his references, but disrupted by his reinterpretations.

    Among the portraits, “Mugshot Study” 2006, based on a wanted poster the artist found in the street, stands out as a point of departure and foundation for the more elaborate works. Wiley here simply enhances a traditional mugshot, humanizing the young man with classical chiaroscuro. Under the portrait we see the assigned criminal number of the young man, almost invisible in white on white—a reference to who gave him the number and his status in a society that incarcerates millions of black men. 

    A roomful of “Religious Subjects” glow with gold leaf on small private altars, echoing the format of Hans Memling’s fifteenth century portraits of Flemish merchants. Here contemporary young black men hold emblems of power, their names declaring their identity.

    Wiley began his project by finding volunteers in the streets of Harlem, what he calls “street casting,” although he presents only beautiful people (he also found models at a casting studio). Unlike for example, John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres’s plaster portraits of ordinary people in the barrio, Wiley’s focus is on physical beauty, even perfection, set in precisely quoted historical formats.  If we are going to consume black men, he suggests, let us consume them as a supremely special experience based on elite status, rather than as criminals or victims or sports stars. 

    As we are bathed in the transparent colors of a room full of stained glass windows, beautiful black men as saints interrupt our expectations of religious clichés.  These windows were created by skilled German artisans who have inherited the secrets of the centuries—old techniques of medieval stained glass windows, a format normally reserved for dead white saints.

    Nearby, an alcove of small bronze portraits in the classical Jean Houdon style of idealized head truncated on a pedestal, features African and African Americans. Again interrupting an easy identification with an historical reference, the model for “Cameroon Study” had a shoe on his head. According to the artist, he based it on a shoe seller who balanced a shoe on his head as a way to advertise his wares. Such a surprise is vintage Wiley: a classical format tilts in a new direction.

    Michael Jackson’s equestrian portrait belongs to the theme “Symbols of Power.” As a partner to that, Wiley created “An Economy of Grace,” portraits of women. Again he found random women to participate, but in this case they were elaborately adorned in Givenchy gowns, with sensational hair arrangements by the celebrity hair stylist Dee Trannybear. By far my favorite of the women’s portraits was “Judith and Holofernes” in which an imposing black Judith holds the white head of Holofernes (also a women) against a lush flower background. Wiley’s flower backgrounds have a way of wending their way in front of the figure, and most of them have metaphorical significance.

    Aside from the triple bronze portrait “Bound,” of three women with huge braided hair intertwined, most of these portraits of women do not critique colonialism and its grand manner presumptions. Black women do not carry the same position as black men in our public media—we have Oprah for example. We think of black women as powerful, rather than as victims, as bearers of culture and home, as resistors to oppression, as fighters. Celebrity black fashion models date back several decades and Wiley’s insistence on lavish designer gowns and hair seemed to sit in that tradition, although perhaps the exaggeration of the hair and dress was itself a type of critique because it endowed these women as royalty not just objects of beauty.

    Wiley’s painting and sculpture overwhelm us with their scale and meticulous detail (he works with a team in China these days). He floods us with sensory overload, then provokes us with the unexpected at every turn.  

    Susan Noye Platt, Ph.D
    .
    Susan Noyes Platt, Ph.D., art historian, art critic, curator, activist, published “Art and Politics Now, Cultural Activism in a Time of Crisis” in 2011 emphasizing activist artists in the first ten years of the 21st century. She continues to address politically engaged art on her blog www.artandpoliticsnow.com. As a curator, her focus is art about immigration, migration, and detention.

    “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic” is on view until May 8, Wednesday through Sunday at the Seattle Art Museum, located at 1300 First Avenue in Seattle, Washington. For more information, visit www.seattleartmuseum.org.

  • 03 Mar 2016 1:42 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Close


    Six years ago, I did a lot of research for a book I was writing about friendship. I wrote down things in one of those tiny notebooks I carry around, things like: “You don’t need a thick skin to have friends. You need a porous one.”


    And there was a moment last night when I thought I was about to share this quote with someone. I was giving a talk at a Unitarian Women’s Retreat. During the Q & A, almost everyone likes to tell a story about their own experience.


    One woman shared that according to an article she’d read, as many as fifteen percent of American adults don’t have a single close friend. “This means,” she said, whipping out her phone to do the math, except she couldn’t figure how to use her calculator, “well, anyway, a lot of people are friendless.”


    “Sad, considering how well connected we are,” I said, very much facetiously, pointing at her phone.


    “The author said she interviewed people who are turning to Siri for contact, but that’s not contact. Why should I care if a machine knows I’m lonely?”


    And then the question went around the room: What do we mean by close?


    “Someone who will offer to pick me up at the airport.”


    “Someone who will sit with you when your mother dies and let you cry for hours.”


    “I called my friend Lynette when my pressure cooker exploded,” I said. “Split pea soup everywhere. I couldn’t cope.”


    “I don’t have a friend who would clean up split pea soup,” another said. “Close, but not that close.”


    I had to think. Let’s see, I have at least three friends I can call when crises strikes. And a few more recent ones that I hope will be as long-lasting. But I’ve lost enough to understand that the closer friendships are, the more fragile they can become. Which reminds me of another truth I wrote in my notebook, “tread carefully.”


    Another said she found it difficult to keep friends, that she tends to wind up disappointed. And because so many other women at so many other Q & As have expressed the same problem, I assumed, wrongly, that she was struggling with friendship in the long run because of an unrealistic perfection quest. I think of all the pain I could have saved if I’d just brought my expectations down a notch or two over the years.


    I was about to say as much. And that in each of my closest friendships there has been at least one moment when we could have broken up, but we came through, stronger than ever. I nearly shared another quote, too: “Friendships are like marriages. We love each other, but we have to be able to hate each other sometimes, too. Even be bored by each other.”


    Luckily, before I said any of this, I asked, “What do you mean by disappointed?”


    She stared at me.


    “What disappoints you?” I repeated.


    And this was her honest, unabashed, and totally unexpected reply:


    “You mean, like, when she slept with my husband?”


    The room went silent. Then, oh, how we laughed! Her reply was so real, yet so unassertive, I’ve never forgotten it. The whole evening was intimate and special like that. That’s the most interesting part about the work I do: No matter how well I plan ahead — going over my notes, knowing my material—it’s usually something totally unplanned that makes the whole evening one of the more satisfying.


    And the most interesting part of writing is that it’s like having those evenings back.


    Marylou Sanelli

    Marylou Sanelli works as a writer and literary speaker. Her latest book is A Woman Writing. For more information visit www.marylousanelli.com.

  • 06 Jan 2016 4:19 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    Crustaceans in a Bucket

    It’s Sunday, and I’m in my office, which is really just a little nook in my living room that doesn’t do justice to the word office. But it’s enough space for me.

    My famous-writer-friend calls my office “cute.” And when she phones to ask if I’ll look in on her cat while she’s teaching at a writer’s conference in Prague, something I ordinarily would have felt perfectly justified hanging up on her for, I am happy to do it. My husband is on a business trip and I’m a cat person.

    “Sure,” I say, trying hard to keep the jealousy out of my voice. “I could use the company.”

    I slip into a silent funk. In a word, I am green.

    But I like her. I’ve always liked her. When I think about her, I’m glad we’re friends, and as the years go by, I am more and more certain we will remain so. On the subject of friendship, it’s a pretty simple question I ask myself lately: Does the thought of her bring a genuine smile to my face or a wince?

    A smile!

    Unless I think of her in Prague.

    Or her trust fund status.

    Then, dang, it can feel as though the envy is never going to turn around.

    But it does. Eventually. It seems I have this large capacity for spending half of my emotional energy in a state of self-doubt, and the other half in a burst of confidence, with a dancer’s flexibility for balancing between the two. Until I wonder what on earth I was so jealous of until I want to kick myself.

    Have you ever seen sand crabs in a bucket? I’ll never forget the time I was walking the beach by the ferry terminal in Kingston and I came across a fisherman who stuck his hand into a white 5-gallon bucket full of crabs he said he used for bait. “Why don’t they escape?” I asked.

    “They’re crabs,” he said. “They ain’t too smart.”

    I watched as they scratched and scratched against the plastic, clawing over each other to get to the top, then as soon as one almost made it over the lip, the others pulled it back down.

    If they were smarter, I thought, they’d work together to make a kind of crustacean chain, like actors leaving stage hand-in-hand. Claw-to-claw, they’d file up and out over the rim until the last remaining crab is safely on the other side.

    I know why those crabs popped into mind just now. I’ve been caught in the scum of that bucket. I don’t want to spend one more minute feeling jealous of my friend. I’m glad there is no mirror in my nook. I would have hated to see myself scratching like that.

    And sure, I’ve written before about how jealousy can work as a beacon, too, steering us toward something we desire. But, like gossip, a little of it is fine, but too much and you’re one schlep away from embitterment.

    After a good long talking with myself, I gain control over my envies. The writer Daniel Gilbert calls this “babysitting our own happiness.” I just had to remind myself of the golden rule of a satisfied life, or “Comparing Leads to Unhappiness,” words that, ever since they flashed across my screen in the film, “Hector and the Search for Happiness,” I try to apply whenever I feel the sides of the bucket closing in.

    Like my friend’s cat, I just like it better when the woman who babysits me is happy.

    Plus, my friend always takes the time to write a real thank you note. With a stamp and an envelope! And you know how much I love that.

    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Mary Lou Sanelli’s newest book is A Woman Writing: A Memoir in Essays, What writing about writing taught me about determination, persistence, and the ups and downs of choosing a writing life. For more information and her author reading schedule, visit www.marylousanelli.com.

  • 29 Sep 2015 11:49 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    The Alaskan Way Viaduct sings a roaring in our ears,

    her hoary freight bears down—rebarred and quaking 

    to crush—we stop our ears at stria screeching to break 

    something.


    Sing a glacial aria. Picture her—she once rode 

    a surfboard ice floe ripping through solid water slipping 

    the firn, making breccia wakes, scraping 

    all matter of chattermarks.


    Harmonize a glacier-blue blush—she was whole mother of forward 

    surge for half an eon, could not be stopped, 

    shadowed the glacier that swept this same Sound. 

    Now we cannot hoist her out of her chair.


    Aphasia—she forgets the second verse.

    Words freeze midbrain, coda becomes hum. She falls 

    in a crevasse, off-ramps sequestering carbon—so much 

    concrete we recant, we can’t watch icebergs calving fast ice.


    She slows—cowers shifts direction like a white wind rose, 

    her petals shrivel in frazil. 

    She lies—this is not the full story. 

    Her tongue muddles in slush. Albedo lost, all reflection dulls.


    Once their song clamored.

    Now 99, glacier dwindle in cirques, caught in arête, 

    retreat since the last ice age, since the last 

    carbon storm.


    Janet Norman Knox

    Janet Norman Knox is a poet/playwright/performance artist who 

    bikes via the viaduct twice a day and shudders beneath its mass. 

    Her play, “9 Gs and the Red Telephone,” is forthcoming in 

    Feminist Studies, the first scholarly journal in women’s studies.

    Visit the online journal at www.feministstudies.org.

  • 30 Jun 2015 9:49 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Used to be what you’d see


    from back roads was random  


    bits of whatall going on




    pig lot wood lot cattle grazing


    whitewashed fences hay barns


    corn cathedrals looping on and on




    but now an open swath of road


    ravels away in the moonlight


    slow curves mown through the land 




    with ditches to gather the runoff


    country in its baffled emptiness 


    lain open to invaders




    with tumbleweed piling high


    against barbed wire till one 


    windblown survivor spills over




    Paul Hunter


    Paul Hunter is a Seattle poet and letterpress publisher who carves hardwood blocks to go with his lead type.  He won the Washington State Book Award for “Breaking Ground,” his first book of farming poems.

  • 30 Jun 2015 9:46 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Ode to the Seattle Viaduct


    She's lying

    on her side draped in Greek linen the color of concrete. 

    She flanks the waterfront, tides lapping her toes.

     

    She lounges her cold

    stone stare - not grin, not grimace - 

    the curve of cheekbone propped on elbow,


    no hint of heat welling

    from a pelvic floor - in fact, we're pretty sure 

    those pretty thighs are carved as one solid slab.


    We're not clear what she desires, 

    but we've got a hunch

    she'll get anything she orders.

     

    She lunches on mussels dredged 

    from pilings, steamed or bristling, 

    canned in cars careening


    up and down her spine craving 

    internal combustion engines

    to vibrate her cement skin 


    exhaust dusting the spots 

    where she shines - because horses once sweated, 

    men once perspired to build this highway,


    so she might glow with such gravitas 

    so elevated her position that she tests 

    the very fate she seals 


    as we dispense with all caution

    and come hither. 


    Janet Norman Knox

    Janet Norman Knox is a poet/playwright/performance artist who 

    bikes via the viaduct twice a day and shudders beneath its mass. 

    Her play, "9 Gs and the Red Telephone," is forthcoming in 

    Feminist Studies, the first scholarly journal in women's studies.

    Visit the online journal at www.feministstudies.org.

  • 08 Apr 2015 3:37 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    Grace Weston’s gorgeous, ironic, and often darkly funny photographs give the viewer both sensual and intellectual delights. Using miniature props, she creates vignettes of metaphorical psychological narratives, which she then photographs with vivid color and evocative lighting. The result is as alluring and hypnotic as a lucid dream, and as revealing of our subconscious fears and desires.  

    Weston is an award-winning artist whose work had been exhibited and collected widely in private and public collections in the United States, Europe, Scandinavia, and Japan. Her editorial clients include O, the Oprah Magazine; More Magazine; Discover Magazine; and several regional magazines.

    Your artwork has so much story and depth. What are you exploring? 

    Grace Weston: I started to realize a number of years ago that my pieces are psychological. Like most people, or maybe I do it more than most people, I’ve got voices in my head. So much ties back to my being a kid—I was pretty isolated as a kid, and we lived in the woods. I’d run around the woods and have these out-loud conversations. It wasn’t imaginary friends, but just scenarios in my head of something 

    I would say to somebody. I had an active imagination. 

    In our society, there are so many contradictions, things that don’t make sense, or assumptions we make about one another or ourselves that are only assumptions. I love questioning that kind of thing or getting that out in a picture. An older, really straightforward example is the “Nitey Nite” picture where that little girl is in bed and she’s got three devils floating around her head. We’ve all had nights like that, haven’t we? I have. Where we’ve woken up, not being able to sleep because of anxiety, things I’m concerned about or worried about.

    What are some themes you are interested in?

    Grace Weston: I think making art is a lot about learning about yourself, and not in a selfish way, but in a conscious way. It’s a way to reveal things to yourself through the work. I think that helps the viewer discover things about themselves, too.

    I know what the message is to me in my pictures, but I don’t like to spell it out all the way because the viewer can bring different things to it. Lots of times there are multilayers of meanings. 

    It’s almost as if we live on these two planes. We’re out in the world, interacting with people, doing our banking, doing our grocery shopping, keeping our lives together, having everything going, but I feel that we’re all walking around with our inner lives, too. It would be so interesting if we could really hear what everybody was thinking about in their soul. Not just their grocery list, but their questions about life, meaning, and connection, all of that. That’s what really interests me. And the fact that it is covered over with all the mundane things we do is fascinating to me, too.

    Some of my pictures have an almost nostalgic, vintage look—the housewife, the 1950s father. It’s iconic. It represents a certain way things are supposed to look. I like when it’s the way things are supposed to look—but not. I like the idea that there’s this whole underground of feelings and thoughts and questions.

    How do you get your ideas?

    Grace Weston: Sometimes I find a prop that inspires me. Or sometimes I find a prop that I feel one day I’ll use, and I put it in a drawer of my props. It can be years later that it shows up. Sometimes I have an idea first and I keep a little sketchbook where I’ll jot it down. Sometimes I’ll get a title first, and I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I’ll write it down because it sings to me somehow. Sometimes I’ll sketch a little idea, and then I’ll have to find the props or make the set and prop that will support the idea. Things change when I’m putting it together. Sometimes it’s spot on to how I imagined it, but usually it evolves.

    When I first started the vignette work, my first shot was human scale. It was a bird cage on a stand and a curtain. That set me in the direction of the narrative vignette, but that was the last time I did human scale. I have more control over smaller props—there’s less storage involved, I don’t have to have an assistant, and sometimes I can move things and reach them as I look through the camera.

    What sustains you as an artist?

    Grace Weston: Having a supportive partner has made all the difference in the world to me. I feel that I have an art career because I have somebody who believes in my work. As an artist, you have to risk and do things and approach things in your art, where, when you’re right in the middle of it, you think, my God, this is awful, or stupid, or doesn’t everybody already know this? Or it’s obvious or redundant. But I don’t think you’re working your edge at all if you don’t have doubts. It’s great to have someone who says, “You know what you’re doing, keep going.” That makes a world of difference.

    Christine Waresak

    Christine Waresak is Seattle freelance writer and the founder of the website Constellation617.

    This interview is excerpted and edited from an interview that appeared on the website Constellation617: Interviews with Creative People. To read the entire interview and other artist interviews, visit www.constellation617.com.

    Portland-based artist Grace Weston’s artwork is in a group show at The Shed Studio and Guest Shed Gallery located at 739 South Homer Street in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. The Shed Studio and Shed Guest Gallery holds its Grand Opening on Saturday, May 9, from 6-9 P.M., during the Georgetown Art Attack. 

    For more information about The Shed Studio and teh Shed Guest Gallery, visit https://www.facebook.com/shedstudioandguestshedgallery.

    To view more of Weston’s work, visit her website at www.GraceWeston.com or Wall Space Gallery in Santa Barbara, California’s website at www.wall-spacegallery.com.


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