Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blake Ward: ‘Just Beneath the Surface’

Toronto, Canada - Articsok Gallery opens an exhibition of the internationally renowned sculptor Blake Ward: ‘Just Beneath the Surface’. Opening: Thursday, October 9, 2014, 6-9pm at 1697 St. Clair avenue West, Toronto. October 9, 2014 – November 9, 2014. Blake Ward was born in Yellowknife in the North West Territories in Canada, then raised and educated in Edmonton, Alberta where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1979 from the University of Alberta. Having exhausted his repertoire of steel abstract sculptures, he found his true interest lay in classical figurative sculpture. Unable to find a teacher in Canada, Blake moved to Paris in 1985 where he studied with Cyril Heck until 1989. When the opportunity arose to be closer to the foundry of his choice, Foundry Venturi Arte in Bologna, he moved to his current studio in Monte Carlo in 1991.

Blake sculpts live models in clay, then uses the “lost wax method” before the final bronze is cast. For the two decades, the marbles have been hand carved replicas produced at Franco Cervietti in Pietrasanta, Italy. Blake adopts the European convention of limiting his bronze sculptures to twelve copies made up of four “artist’s proofs” and the “main body” of eight models. The difference between the two categories remains in name only, as there is no physical difference between the actual bronze copies. The marble sculptures are made to a maximum of six editions. Blake signs all the sculptures and many of them contain a ”key” to insure against replication.

The early works focus on classical figurative sculpture with traditional techniques used since antiquity. Finding inspiration in the work of Degas and Rodin, Blake presents modern evocations of classical themes based on movement, dance, mythology, feminism and the human spirit. Technical precision and anatomical accuracy are evident in these early sculptures. Then, Blake’s work evidenced a socio-political voice calling out the humanitarian dreams of justice, truth and equality.

Combining art with activism began when Blake was invited to teach at the University of Hanoi in 2003. While traveling throughout Viet Nam, he learned about the tragic effects of landmines in post-conflict countries. His inspiration turned to “intentional art”, where concept and purpose point directly at an issue, while simultaneously proposing aspects of the solution. In his “Fragments” collection, Blake deliberately “de-sculpted” the figures, questioning ancient ideas of beauty relative to the destructive nature of our modern times. There are 19, one-quarter life size sculptures, each named after a landmine. In association with No More Landmines and Adopt A Minefield of the United Nations, the proceeds of the sale of Fragments have aided in education and the clearing of minefields in Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Angola.

 Blake’s activism expanded to another series of work, Rethink, where his love for figurative sculpture was invigorated by a new sense of what art can actually do. Rethink aims for provocation, asking viewers to question their beliefs about truth, law, equality, faith and religion. The Vietnamese Virgin Mary was created in a class in Viet Nam with the intention of reflecting a global religion.

Blake’s installation piece, The Burning Buddha, shows a female Buddha in the act of self-immolation, the ultimate act of political protest. Newer sculptures, such as This is Not Christ, have been repainted and marked with graffiti—a deliberate wake up call to the holders of authoritarian and rigid dogmas.

His latest series, The Spirits, have crossed over into the abstract and ethereal realms where he aims for provocative figures (Angels and Phantoms) that are able to expand the consciousness of our inner realities.

 Holding fast to his love of the human figure, Blake remains true to the representational quality and realistic proportions of traditional sculpture while simultaneously exploring new ways to comment on the trinity of human complexity: mind, body, and spirit. Realizing that our lives flow between our inner world and how we interact with the external world, the idea of opening up an interior to the figurative pieces began to take form.

 Angels and Phantoms are birthed with two intertwining structures. The external structure, with its vulnerable and textured surface, holds the figurative aspect; while an internal framework, which is flowing and bright, continues the aesthetic origins of who we really are. The outer surface is our Physical self, while the inner structure is our Individual, more organic self twisting and turning as we evolve our souls, our character and what we imagine as our spirit. Each of these works is unique and will not be reproduced.

Blake’s art has shown in Monaco, England, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Hong Kong, Delhi, The United States and Canada.

Articsok Gallery,

Monday, October 6, 2014

Degas's famous sculpture Little Dancer celebrated in exhibition at National Gallery of Art

WASHINGTON, DC.- The National Gallery of Art's Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878–1881) takes center stage in Degas's Little Dancer, a focus exhibition on view from October 5, 2014 through January 11, 2015. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' world-premiere musical Little Dancer, which runs from October 25, 2014 through November 30, 2014. The musical is inspired by Edgar Degas's renowned original wax statuette of a young ballerina, which caused a sensation when it was first shown at the 1881 impressionist exhibition in Paris and is one of the most popular works of art in the Gallery of Art's collection.

"Thanks to the generosity of Gallery benefactor Paul Mellon, the Gallery has the largest and most important collection of Degas's original wax sculptures, including the groundbreaking Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, one of the best-loved sculptures of all time," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "Well-known through more than 30 posthumous bronze casts displayed in museums around the world, the Gallery's wax version of Degas's famous sculpture is the only one that was formed by the artist's own hands and the only one he ever showed publicly."

The Gallery has the third largest collection of Degas works in the world, including 12 cast bronzes, one posthumously produced plaster, 19 paintings, 71 works on paper, and 52 original Degas works in wax, clay, and plaster.

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is be presented with 13 additional works that exemplify Degas's fascination with the practice and performance of ballet, including the monumental pastel Ballet Scene (c. 1907) and monotype The Ballet Master (c. 1874) from the Gallery's collection, and oil painting The Dance Class (c. 1873) from the Corcoran Gallery of Art. These works join the smaller statuettes Study in the Nude of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (c. 1878–1881) and Fourth Position Front, on the Left Leg (c. 1885/1890), each about two feet tall.

The exhibition also highlights the experimental, modern approach Degas took to his work. Degas did not carve sculpture but used an additive process. Little Dancer was modeled in wax over a metal armature, bulked with organic materials including wood, rope, and even old paintbrushes in the arms. It was then covered with clay and layers of pigmented wax. Degas further elevated the sculpture's realism by affixing a wig of human hair to the head and outfitting his ballerina in a cotton-and-silk tutu, a real bodice, and linen slippers.

The Ballet Master was likely the artist's first attempt at monotype, made in collaboration with his friend Viscount Ludovic Napoléon Lepic (1839-1889), who taught Degas this challenging printmaking technique, which produced only a single, lush impression of each image. Degas enhanced the print with white to create an effect of both dancer and ballet master emerging eerily from an inky darkness.

The exhibition features three other monotypes which Degas heightened extensively with pastel. Dynamic and vibrantly colored, they perfectly capture the luminous effect of the gas-lit stages. Degas frequently explored the dancers' world off-stage, depicting them at rehearsal or standing in the wings, awaiting the start of the performance. He was a keen observer and a wry but sympathetic chronicler of the daily life of the dancers he studied, even on occasion introducing a black-clad gentleman, an abonné (or subscriber), watching from an opera box or lurking behind the scenes as a potential "protector" of the young dancers.

In addition, the exhibition includes a portrait drawing of Degas by his friend, the artist Paul Mathey (1844–1929). In it Degas stands looking at a work of art in a posture loosely recalling that of his Little Dancer muse, arms behind his back, hands clasped.

Degas's Little Dancer is organized by the National Gallery of Art and curated by Alison Luchs, curator of early European sculpture.

Degas Sculptures: History and Research

Degas made sculpture throughout his life. Contemporaries record that when they visited his studio they were just as likely to find him modeling in wax and clay as they were to find him at the easel. Yet Degas's obsessive tendency to work and rework his sculptures destroyed some in the process and left others unfinished. Even the Little Dancer was subject to his whim. In 1880, though included in an exhibition program, the sculpture's case was left empty. When it was finally exhibited, the sculpture appeared two weeks late.

Many critics dismissed Little Dancer as "repulsive" and "a threat to society." They were accustomed to more traditional female subjects, such as goddesses, allegorical figures, or heroines from literature—not a contemporary, working-class girl in training for a profession with a risky reputation. (These petit rats de l'opéra, or "opera rats," were viewed by many at the time as subject to moral corruption.) Degas's unorthodox process and materials, which included human hair, silk ribbon, linen, rope, cork, cotton muslin, and silk tulle, provoked further objections. But Degas endowed his subject with humanity. Poised between girl and woman, the bony figure of the young ballerina is simultaneously vulnerable and proud. Shoulders back and her head held high, her posture is erect and dignified.

Recent discoveries by National Gallery of Art staff have contributed greatly to the understanding of the unconventional materials Degas used in making his sculptures. Through technical study by Shelley G. Sturman, head of object conservation, and Daphne S. Barbour, senior object conservator, as well as scientific analyses by Barbara H. Berrie, senior conservation scientist, Suzanne Quillen Lomax, organic chemist, and Michael Palmer, conservation scientist, it is now known that the artist formed most of his sculptures from such materials as pigmented beeswax and nondrying modeling clays. Degas usually built his own armatures from brass or galvanized-iron wires, and formed the sculptures over them, filling them with anything at hand—cork, paper, rope, and even discarded objects like the lid of a salt shaker or used paint brushes.

These research findings along with exhaustive art historical information on all Degas sculptures in the National Gallery of Art's collection were published in the landmark systematic catalog Edgar Degas Sculpture by Suzanne G. Lindsay, Shelley G. Sturman, and Daphne S. Barbour, published by the Gallery in 2010 and distributed by Princeton University Press.

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