Roland Bernier – Lifetime Artist

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“Man is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Who’s to say that a circle is more significant than a square or a triangle…shapes are shapes.  Letters are shapes too – if you can divorce the symbolic connotations from letters grouped together to form words and just begin to admire the individual letters for their shapes, you can begin to understand the world of Roland Bernier.  For Roland, words are compositions of form, worthy of admiration.

There are many text-based artists whose works are really focused on the meaning of words or phrases – I immediately think of Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, and Lawrence Weiner. Not all of Bernier’s work is devoid of reference, but that is not the main focus of his work.

It’s so rare to see anything truly new, but Bernier has been a pioneer; he started working with text-as-form some 50+ years ago. Since then, any number of artists have followed suit – consider Nancy Holt’s photograph “Concrete Poem” and Mel Bochner’s “Blah Blah Blah” paintings and even more recently of Thomas Müller’s ceramic forms in his show “Nothing Rhymes with Orange”, Fionna Banner’s “Concrete Poetry” and Jaume Plensa’s “Figurative Sculptures.”

I have visited Bernier’s studio a number of times to check out his archives (some is missing, but he has inventory dating back to 1965) and have seen eight or so shows at the Denver Art Museum, Spark Gallery and Walker Fine Art; I love his stacked words, the words on wheels, the cross words, his hysterical “What a Dump” series, “Talking in Circles” and his hands series.

My all-time favorite pieces are his more recent signature series.  After seeing some of his other shows, I went to see this body several years ago and initially tried to dismiss them. I found myself going back – the second time I saw his empty frames with nothing more than his signature, I recognized he was onto something. The third time I visited that show I understood: so much of art is about the signature – people rush up to look for the name.

Roland is now in his 80’s and for the past 5-6 years he has been acutely aware of his own mortality. His introspection leads him to explore the merger of art with artist. He now prefers the use of his own name in favor of more randomly selected text, covering literally anything and everything with his signature over and over and over …and over again, the latest pieces only with his last name. He is not morose, “This might be my last show, so I am only using my last name,” Roland says smiling, happy with his clever use of words.

Roland Bernier is represented by Walker Fine Art where “The Last Picture Show” is on view June 7-July 12. www.walkerfineart.com

Roland Bernier, "The Last Picture Show" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, “The Last Picture Show” at Walker Fine Art

Bernier at Denver Art Museum, 2007

Bernier at Denver Art Museum, 2007

Roland Bernier "Talking in Circles" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier “Talking in Circles” at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier's Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier’s Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, "What  A Dump" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, “What A Dump” at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier "HI" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier “HI” at Walker Fine Art

Some other artists using text as compositional form:

Nancy Holt Concrete Poem at CAG

Nancy Holt Concrete Poem at CAG

Mel Blochner Blah, Blah, Blah

Mel Bochner Blah, Blah, Blah

thomas-muller-at-project-4

thomas-muller-at-project-4

Fiona Banner at Frith Street Gallery

Fiona Banner at Frith Street Gallery

Some artists using messaging in text-based artwork:

Barbara Kruger at the Hirshhorn

Barbara Kruger at the Hirshhorn

Glenn Ligon at the Whitney

Glenn Ligon at the Whitney

Lawrence Weiner at the Guggenheim

Lawrence Weiner at the Guggenheim

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Color/Pattern Studies

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This gallery contains 7 photos.

I am excited to share these two new series I began this the past year. They are hand-painted pyrographs on wood; the images on the longer strips are based on patterns I have created over the past 12 years and … Continue reading

Rita Blitt

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This gallery contains 20 photos.

Rita has been painting for over 70 years and has been making sculpture for nearly 50 years. When I look at her work, I can hear the music and feel the dance. It is a real treat to get to know … Continue reading

The MUST-SEE Show in Denver.

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If you only get to see one show in Denver, you really should check out the David B. Smith Gallery.

Michael Theodore fills the main gallery with an installation called “endo/exo.” At first glance (and I think probably in most of the image shots) it looks like industrial scaffolding; the lighting effects on the complex web of fibrous knots hint at stage design. It takes up the entire space and ultimately, he’d like to make it even bigger – like hundreds of feet bigger!

Take your time with it because it has so much to offer.  I got the chance to chat with Michael the other day and he explained a bit about his fascination with rhythms – both organic and mechanic (this makes total sense – he is a music professor); he envisions an increased interdependency…a symbiosis of man and machine.  It’s more than just man and machine, but really an exploration of the increased layering of complex systems and how they interact.

It’s easy to infer an influence of other artists who are working with light – Olafur Eliasson, James Turrell, Leo Villareal, and perhaps that’s right, but the work is more than that. It actually reminds me a bit of the installation in the Fuse Box at the Denver Art Museum; coincidentally, Annica Cuppetelli and Cristobal Mendoza have installed an interactive light display on rope. Their imagery responds with movements and sounds that draw the viewer’s attention away from the actual rope and into the digitized realm of human/computer interaction.

Micheal’s ropes never leave his story, they are held captive by the confines of the machine – there is a human/computer interaction here too:  lights change, the tick, tick, ticking of the clocks (okay, not actual clocks, but motorized ticking rods that could be clocks) speeds up and slows down, pausing for effect.  I find the narrative to be compelling – spellbinding, a bit sinister, and absolutely of the moment.

The rest of the show includes gorgeous generative loops on paper, delicately engraved scratchboards, and a series of video works and printed stills on view in the loft space.

There are a lot of shows in Denver right now that I have already written about – many of which are closing soon, but this one is up for a couple more weeks (June 15th). If you haven’t seen it already it is the one to rush out and see.

www.davidbsmithgallery.com

"endo/exo" by Michael Theodore, Courtesy the artist and David B. Smith Gallery; Photo: Melinda Kern

“endo/exo” by Michael Theodore, Courtesy the artist and David B. Smith Gallery; Photo: Melinda Kern

"endo/exo" by Michael Theodore, Courtesy the artist and David B. Smith Gallery; Photo: Brian Birlauf

“endo/exo” by Michael Theodore, Courtesy the artist and David B. Smith Gallery; Photo: Brian Birlauf

Vancouver 2013

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We just got back from Vancouver; it really was a perfect week.  My partner was running the Marathon and I was up there to offer support and to enjoy spending time in one of our favorite cities. It was our fourth visit up there and we find ourselves loving it more each time.  This time we made our first visit to Victoria, which was a treat.  In Vancouver, we spent almost all of our time downtown managing to check out Mount Pleasant, Granville Island, Kits Beach, English Bay, Davie Street, Stanley Park, Yaletown, Gas Town and a little bit of China Town. Outside the city it makes sense to have a car, but downtown it is easy to use public transit and mostly to walk to just about anywhere.  Although the city is very cosmopolitan, it is compact: a population similar to Denver is crammed into less than a third of the space.

My sense is that there is real energy around the growing art scene – it was just announced that the museum just brokered a deal to build a new facility from the ground up, the area’s art schools are strong, nascent art districts are becoming more defined with galleries and studios and more & more public works dot the city.

I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery and saw a fun retrospective of Art Spiegelman’s comics, and to the Contemporary Art Gallery and saw a great Nancy Holt photo exhibit. I checked out the totem poles at the Royal BC Museum; there were more in Stanley Park (one of the most spectacular things we saw were the nests of the great blue herons). I found a lot of craft stores and design/home-furnishing stores were practically everywhere. There were not so many great galleries for contemporary art, but I found a few of them, with Jennifer Kostuik, Trench Gallery and Madrona (Victoria) being my favorites.

The tribal art of the Northwest really peaked my interest. Of course, The Bill Reid Gallery (check out his massive relief “Mythic Messengers”) is at the top of the heap; Coastal Peoples had “Haida Masterworks II” which showcased generational continuance of aboriginal art; the Douglas Reynolds Gallery has a gorgeous array of works including prints, masks, totem poles, bronze and stone sculptures, bentwood boxes and jewelry.  It was a treat to meet Elaine Monds over at the Alcheringa Gallery in Victoria; she was happy to talk me through some of history of First Nations art and basics of formline design and the significance of different spirit animals.

Public works are easy to find in Vancouver, thanks in large part to Vancouver Bienniale – it has established a unique program of installing works throughout the city every two years. Because the works stay up for 11-18 months or so, millions of people get to enjoy them. The foundation typically acquires a couple of the sculptures from each Bienniale, increasing the city’s inventory of public works.

My Top 10:

  1. “Traces of Time” by David Burdeny at Jennifer Kostuik Gallery
  2. “Stenten: The Resilience of Line, Locale and Intuition” at Trench Gallery
  3. “Selected Photo and Film Works” by Nancy Holt at Contemporary Art Gallery
  4. Galleries on South Granville, esp. Bau-Xi, Ian Tan & Marion Scott
  5. “Amazing Laughter” by Yue Minjun
  6. “The Drop” by Inges Idee
  7. Totem Poles at Thunderbird Park in Victoria
  8. “Walking Figures” by Magdalena Abakanowicz
  9. Norval Morriseau at Eagle Spirit Gallery
  10.  “Pictures” by Erin Shirreff at Contemporary Art Gallery
Gabriel Dubois at Trench

Gabriel Dubois at Trench

November Sky - David Burdeny at Jennifer Kostuik

November Sky – David Burdeny at Jennifer Kostuik

Warren - running the Vancouver Marathon

Warren – running the Vancouver Marathon

Parliament in Victoria

Parliament in Victoria

Walking Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Walking Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Spring - Alan Chung Hung

Spring – Alan Chung Hung

White Raven (articulated dance mask) at Eagle Spirit Gallery

White Raven (articulated dance mask) by Jordon Seward at Eagle Spirit Gallery

Primary #9 - Mike Banwell

Primary #9 – Mike Banwell

The Drop - Inges Idee

The Drop – Inges Idee

Norval Morrisseau

Norval Morrisseau

Komagata Maru Monument

Komagata Maru Monument

Grand Hotel at Vancouver Art Gallery

Grand Hotel at Vancouver Art Gallery

Amazing Laughter  - Yue Minjun

Amazing Laughter – Yue Minjun

Vancouver - BC Stadium

Vancouver – BC Stadium

Nam June Paik at the Smithsonian

I have long been mesmerized by the frenetic visual displays of Nam June Paik’s video installations, but taking a look at the Smithsonian’s current show, “Nam June Paik, Global Visionary” takes it all to another level.  I love seeing retrospectives, and this viewing of his archives, is definitely that – and I do love it!

The thing that I have mentioned with other artists is that it is so helpful to see their work in the context of what was going on in the world at the time. What really sets Paik’s work apart is that he changed the context. He coined the term “Super (Electronic) Highway” 40 years ago and his work foresees the availability of information and unlimited access to media through electronics…at a time when people were still using typewriters, telegrams and postage stamps. His work clearly shows an eye to the editorial – synthesizing historical imagery with news media, cultural commentary and futuristic fantasy in a collage of (at the time) groundbreaking technology.

Check out the show – it is at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through August 11, 2013.

Merce-Digital, 1988

Merce-Digital, 1988

Electronic Superhighway Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii (1995)

Electronic Superhighway Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii (1995)

Megatron/Matrix, 1995

Megatron/Matrix, 1995

TV Buddha (1974)

TV Buddha (1974)

Boston July 2012

Earlier this month we took a week and a half to go to Boston and then up the coast of Maine. We got to visit dear friends in both areas and we got to unwind while checking out New England.

In Boston, we did our normal walkathon tour of the city, winding our way up the Harborwalk , heading into the North End, wrapping around to Beacon Hill, Back Bay over to the South End and back by Tufts and into Downtown. We went jogging through Boston Common and shopping over on Newbury Street. While we never miss Faneuil Hall or Mike’s Pastry Shop over on Hanover Street, this time we also made the effort to branch out and we were glad we did. We enjoyed our meals down on newly-trendy Tremont Street and in Chinatown and we tried out the food trucks on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

On our fifth day we headed up the coast of Maine toward Portland and stayed the rest of the week with friends in Yarmouth. We slowed our pace way down – we hiked a little and checked out a nearby beach, one evening we took a water taxi to one of the islands for dinner. We took a drive up to Christmas Cove, and spent a little time shopping in Freeport. We drank wine and gorged ourselves on lobster … actually having lobster for breakfast, lunch and dinner!  Most of the time we simply sat out on the veranda and enjoyed letting ourselves do nothing.

I couldn’t help myself – I tried, but I just couldn’t. We managed to skip the art galleries altogether (I looked longingly into a few windows), but still wound up visiting three art museums in Boston: The Museum of Fine Arts, The Isabella Gardner and the Institute of Contemporary Art.  We were impressed with the new architecture at each of the museums and we enjoyed the exhibits – two of my favorites:

Josiah McElheny’s exhibit at the ICA, Some Pictures of the Infinite, takes a conceptual look at time and space continuums.   McElheny is the kind of artist that makes me wish I was smarter – each display challenged me  to try to grasp a concept of infinity that, by definition, is unattainable.  His blown-glass works break down barriers between craft and art – the mirrored spirals of suspended orbs combine scientific theories of the cosmos with iconic mid-century modernism.

At the MFA, the highlight was Alex Katz Prints – the show includes 125 pieces on display that together emphasize Katz’s artistic clarity of voice over the past 60 years.  He creates arresting images using as few elements and details as possible. He reduces form and color to produce images of graphic quality that are immediately recognizable and the subjects – his beloved Ada, his family & friends and the Maine landscape retell his story of a life well-lived.

Orange Hat by Alex Katz

Endlessly Repeating detail by Josiah McElheny