Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Effects of Place

I spent the last week of February with Kathan in Boston for three events in honor of the book’s launch: the annual College Art Association conference, a reception at the Miller Block Gallery, and a series of events at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. It was a great week. Not knowing Boston well, in my time off some nights and over the weekend I had a blast exploring the freezing cold city and visiting with friends and family who came up from my hometown of Brooklyn, NY. But there wasn’t much down time. The first day, Kathan and I set ourselves up at the Prestel Publishing booth at the College Art Association book and trade fair, which was in a massive, windowless exhibit hall in the Hynes Convention Center. here we sold advance copies of Magical Secrets to printmakers and teachers who’d come from all over the country. It was our first time introducing people to the book who hadn’t previously known of it, and it was a lot of fun to gauge their reactions and talk with them about some of these ideas.

That Friday night, we had a very nice reception at the Miller Block Gallery on Newberry Street. Kathan gave an informal talk over wine and cheese, and we showed some Crown Point prints that we’d shipped out there for the occasion. The company seemed especially taken with Local Calm, a beautiful print by Julie Mehretu that watched over the evening from its place of honor on the gallery wall. Warm in the gallery as frost bit the windows outside, I couldn’t help but think of the print’s title, and the title of Mehretu’s whole series (Heavy Weather), in a new light.

Julie Mehretu, Local Calm, 2005
Sugar lift aquatint with color aquatint, spit bite aquatint, soft and hard ground etching and engraving on gampi paper chine colle
. 35-1/2 x 46-3/4", edition 35

The staff of the SMFA were truly thoughtful. One of the teachers lent me a cozy pair of purple fleece gloves for my treks back and forthfrom my digs at the Sheraton to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, which came in handy as, packing my suitcase in California the week before, I hadn’t really remembered how cold winter on the East Coast could get. The first night, they all welcomed us with a pot luck dinner. Being new to Crown Point, I enjoyed listening to the printmakers in the room, many of them former Crown Point printers, reminisce with Kathan and Tom over bowls of homemade chili. All of the events at the school were well-attended, and the visit went off without a hitch. I left Boston pleased with the whole week, and almost entirely out of books.

All of this travel is a lot of fun, but it’s also a reminder to me of how glad I am to really be putting some roots down in this city. I’ve still only been in San Francisco a few months, but as I get more settled at Crown Point it’s feeling more and more like home. Appropriately enough, we are in the midst of hanging a new exhibition: the new show of Mary Heilmann’s etchings will be opening on April 6. A native Californian who returned here after many years in New York, Heilmann’s work is distinctly West Coast. In her memoir/catalogue “The All Night Movie,” Heilmann wrote that early in her career her artwork’s style became its content. I think that says it all: the stuff is straightforward and engaging without being reductive; it’s colorful and tasteful and a lot of fun. Heilmann grew up all over California, in San Francisco, LA and Santa Barbara. She swam often, was on the high dive team, and on family vacations in Catalina, she surfed. In this winter’s Overview, our director Valerie Wade writes about Heilmann’s love of surfing: a youth spent half in water kindled her bright, open style. This is art that speaks clearly of a deeply local connection to a place that I am just beginning to call home.

Mary Heilmann, Weather Report, 2006.
Color spit bite and sugar lift aquatints on gampi paper chine colle. 21 1/2 x 17", edition 10.

A month ago, spending a snowy Boston evening with Julie Mehretu’s Local Calm changed the work for me. It didn’t change anything fundamental; it certainly didn’t change what was already there. It was a subtle yet irreversible unlocking of a door I had never seen. I’d gotten to know that print in its place of origin, here in San Francisco. Coincidentally, the opening of Heavy Weather had taken place just after Hurricane Katrina. Because of this timing, our cultural climate made the sense of wind and catastrophe pivotal in our understanding of the work. But to me, the environmental climate had little relevance to the work’s meaning until I experienced it in a new place.

Like Mehretu’s, Heilmann’s prints Clear Day and Weather Report are not landscapes, but their titles do refer to our local setting, and as Valerie wrote, they are “like neat rows of waves breaking in succession.” After re-settling on the other side of the country, I have been thinking a lot about the role of site and atmosphere in our understanding not just of art, but of ourselves. What would it mean, for example, for Clear Day, a silvery aquatint inspired by San Francisco in February, ‘06, to be kept year from now on a living room wall in Hancock, Pennsylvania? (What does it mean for a girl born in Chicago and raised in New York to understand something as Californian?)

There can be any number of answers to these questions; one that I’m settling on for now was inspired by the words of Joanna Burton in her 2005 Artforum review of Heilmann’s show Heaven & Hell. “Heilmann,” she wrote, “has consistently leaned on notions of the self-contained, reduced object, coaxing siren songs from rectangles, circles and squares.” How much does an artwork’s environment add to its meaning? (And how much does a person’s home define her?) Maybe one answer is: it all depends on how self-contained it is, and on how clearly it stings.

- Rachel Lyon


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's funny how the weather changes your perception of art. I have a landscape in my bedroom next to the window, and every time I look at it in the rain it is different then the next time next to a sunny day. Thanks for all your insite on thinking creatively, Margaret P., Alaska

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just heard that Mary will be having a major traveling exhibition that is being organized by the Orange County Museum of Art.
Marjorie Greene Fine Arts Instructor SP

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was fortunate to be at CAA this February and buy a copy of this wonderful book. I have spent the last month sharing it with my printmaking students. Surprising to me, my son-in-law was visiting Crown Press 2 weeks ago and bought a second copy. I was delighted. Now more people can share this wonderful selection of artist"s ideas, print development and clearly defined techniques. Thank you for a beautiful publication.

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