A Short Art History Lesson Explores the Realistic Impressionism of John Singer Sargent
A new video from Evan Puschak, the creator behind the Nerdwriter YouTube channel, delves into the uniquely blended style of the American painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Described by Kottke as “realism through impressionism,” Sargent’s approach centers on accurately capturing the tonal value of a scene, the spectrum of light to dark, rather than on faithful depictions of objects, figures, or shapes. “Everywhere you look,” Puschak says, “you see his supremely confident looseness, a kind of painting you maybe wouldn’t think to associate with a realistic representation of the world. And yet that’s exactly the final effect—a realism that is somehow more true than finely detailed painting.” Watch the short art history lesson above to learn more about Sargent’s training, work, and process and how “the impressions of light and color were his subjects.”
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Casey Curran’s Gilded Skeletal Sculptures and Kinetic Blooms Explore Bodily Degeneration
How does the connection between our bodies and memories change as we age? Artist Casey Curran (previously) attends to this question in a new series of kinetic sculptures. Titled Carrion Blooms, the works reference degeneration and decay and how the body’s stamina wanes. “We can all recall those days when our energy seemed endless, twenty-four-hour benders where we somehow managed to cram everything in; work, school, hobbies, friends, and family. The time felt limitless with possibilities,” Curran says.
Hand-cranks animate laser-cut insects and flowers made of mylar, which flutter, blossom, and retreat to their static positions. Emphasizing inevitable transformation and the fleeting nature of life, the artist likens the gilded skeletal structures to scaffolding, a prized foundation “to place the future on…Carrion Blooms is about how we change over time, how we use our days differently with age, and what it means to let go of the past,” he says. “What will be left when we are gone, and who will remember the arrangement we made?”
Carrion Blooms is on view from April 1 to May 6 at Heron Arts in San Francisco, and you can find more from Curran on his site and Instagram.
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Kongkee Resurrects an Ancient Chinese Poet in an Energetic Cyberpunk Vision of Asian Futurism
The story of the legendary Chinese poet Qu Yuan ends in tragedy. Living during the destructive Warring States period that ran from 481 to 221 BCE, Qu Yuan was an influential writer and politician who was banished by King Huai of Chu and subsequently spent much of his time traveling the country and working on verse. The life of exile didn’t suit the poet, though, leading him into a deep depression and toward his eventual suicide in the Miluo River. Created as a hunt to retrieve Qu Yuan’s body, the annual Dragon Boat Festival continues to this day in celebration of his legacy.
A forthcoming exhibition at Chicago’s Wrightwood 659 imagines the poet’s afterlife “as his soul journeys from the ancient Chu Kingdom to a retro-futuristic Asia where he is reborn as an android in a psychedelic cyberpunk landscape.” Melding history with a distinctive sci-fi vision, Kongkee: Warring States of Cyberpunk features works in several mediums by the London-based Chinese animator and artist Kong Khong-chang, known as Kongkee. Using videos, projections, installations, ancient objects, and graphic pieces, the artist explores Asian Futurism through the energetic and luminously rendered narrative of a Chinese icon.
An extension of a comic series Kongkee created back in 2013, the show considers existential questions of immortality, how the body and soul interact, and the tenuous relationship between humanity and machine. Bold, saturated colors emphasize the role of the digital in the visionary realm, while mountain ranges, clouds, and vast starry skies incorporate more natural and classical motifs that have existed for millennia. Rippled waves and water feature prominently, referencing Qu Yuan’s drowning in 278 BCE.
Although based on a life of immense suffering, Kongkee’s works are optimistic as he envisions a universe where redemption and reconciliation are possible. The artist shares in a statement:
I asked myself, what happens when a soul emerges after 2,000 years from underwater—does it seek out something new? Does it return to familiar places? Qu Yuan’s poetry has a psychedelic, wandering quality that I tried to reflect in my art, but I also wanted him to reflect the disorientation, as well as the hope, of our era.
Following its U.S. debut at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, Kongkee: Warring States of Cyberpunk opens in Chicago on April 14 and will be on view until July 15. Find more from the artist on Instagram.
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Art Craft Documentary
A Book and New Documentary Explore the Possibilities of Ink-Making in Urban Environments
Jason Logan’s entry into ink-making started with a black walnut tree he encountered while biking through a local Toronto park. After gathering the fallen seeds and bringing them home, he boiled the green nuts until they produced a rich brown pigment. Now nearly ten years ago, this moment became the catalyst for what’s grown into an expansive network of projects exploring the possibilities of color and foraging in the most unlikely spaces.
Logan founded The Toronto Ink Company in 2014 and began to create pigments from materials gathered around the Canadian city, including the aforementioned black walnut but also street detritus like cigarette butts, soot, and rust. The idea was to create more environmentally conscious products and extend foraging into urban environments. “You start seeking out hopeful green spaces under a highway overpass or in a back alley,” Logan said in an interview. “A rusty nail becomes a possible ink or a penny with greenish oxidation on it.”
These discoveries led to Make Ink, his 2018 guidebook for scavenging with recipes and tips on creating pigments at home. Organized by color, the 192-page volume encompasses history and science and focuses on the alchemy behind his work. The book is also the predecessor to the artist’s latest project, a feature-length documentary that delves into his harvesting and production process.
Currently screening in Canada, The Colour of Ink follows Logan as he gathers organic and human-made substances and transforms them into usable goods. Featuring artists and writers like Margaret Atwood, Kōji Kakinuma, and Heidi Gustafson (previously), the film highlights the connection to the earth and emphasizes the lively qualities of the material. “The ink I make is unpredictable. It’s fugitive. It’s on the run,” Logan says in the trailer.” “What I’m hoping to do is draw people’s attention to minute differences.”
Pick up a copy of Make Ink on Bookshop, and follow Logan on Instagram for updates on additional documentary screenings, which are likely to happen in Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, and throughout the U.S. in the coming months.
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Explore the Ancient Art of Kumihimo, a Traditional Japanese Braiding Technique
The ancient Japanese art of kumihimo encompasses 1,300 years of braiding and cord-making history. Translating to “gathered threads,” the weaving technique has been practiced for centuries, with the completed creations used for binding historical samurai armor and creating ties for modern kimonos. Many kumihimo are made of hand-dyed silk interlaced using special looms as demonstrated in a short film released by Japan House London.
Accompanying the Kumihimo: Japanese Silk Braiding exhibition, the video captures the meditative and methodical process of the labor-intensive art form. One weaver seated at a takadai loom manually passes bobbins through the upper and lower threads and then uses a bamboo tool, or hera, to hit and tighten the braid. Later, a craftsperson is shown at the round murudai, which involves passing the strands from front to back in a rhythmic sequence.
Watch the video above for a glimpse into the process, and if you’re in London, see Kumihimo: Japanese Silk Braiding, which features installations, looms, and dozens of examples of the braids, through June 11.
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Animation Art Illustration
Everyday Objects Swirl in the Dizzying Choreography of Alain Biet’s Elaborate Animation
Items you might find on a shelf in the garage or packed away in the basement—like wrenches, your old MP3 player, key fobs, or spare light bulbs—become stars in their own right in Alain Biet’s mesmerizing animation. “Grands Canons,” which translates from French to “Big Guns,” opens with a close-up of the artist drafting a realistic, green pencil in watercolor. Once the rendering is complete, we meet another pencil, and another, as a “visual symphony” of thousands of precise drawings unfolds.
Biet’s intricately detailed illustrations highlight everyday objects we might find in a junk drawer, a closet, or even destined for the trash, emphasizing a variety of styles and how items have evolved over time. His survey of technology and tools stokes a tinge of nostalgia, too. Remember that old Discman, SLR camera, or Nokia brick? The gang’s all here in a dizzyingly choreographed sequence, accompanied by an original score that responds to the rhythms and movements of the drawings as they skitter and whirl across the surface.
Find more of the artist’s work his website and Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: Animation
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.