A look into the recent Guggenheim Fellowship winners

Tuesday Night Painting #4

Barbara Takenaga, Untitled, 2014, Graphite and acrylic on paper

Hello painters, 

Some big art world news has been announced recently. Every year, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awards fellowships to artists, scholars, and scientists across a range of fields. The fellowship is open for all Americans to apply to and every year selects 175 fellows from about 3,000 applicants. 

The full list of Guggenheim fellows in the art field can be found here but I have gone through and selected some works by 2020 Fellows to share with you today. Scroll down to find out more about who the Fellows are and what their work looks like.

Barbara Takenaga, Rust Never Sleeps, 2018, Acrylic on linen, 60 x 70 inches

Barbara Takenaga is an artist and professor at Williams College, living and working in Williamstown MA. Her work is visually busy, with dense arrays of dots and tiny marks expanding across washes of acrylic.

The critic Lilly Wei describes Takenaga's paintings as being full of “shooting stars like the Perseids that rocket across the night skies of August, or cosmic fields radiating incalculable quanta of turbulent energy,”

Click here to explore more works from a previous show where Takenaga is represented in New York, at the gallery DC Moore. 
Barbara Takenaga, Atmosphere L and R, 2017, Acrylic on linen, 72 x 72 inches
Barbara Takenaga, The Edge, 2018, Acrylic on linen, 54 x 45 inches
As you can probably imagine, Takenaga's style is often referred to as "psychedelic." However, in a review for Art in America, the critic Carol Diehl writes, "Takenaga’s work has been described as psychedelic, but that implies a loss of control, where these paintings are the result of acute attention. Takenaga’s repetitive forms, like Ross Bleckner’s, inspire more mystical interpretation. If her idiosyncratic images can be said to resemble anything, it is van Gogh’s The Starry Night, with its swirls of celestial light updated to the computer age."
Barbara Takenaga, Diptych (outset), 2017, Acrylic on wood panels, 20 x 32 inches (overall)
Barbara Takenaga, Too, Acrylic on wood panel, 24 x 20 inches

Katy Schimert is a NYC based, multimedia artist. She is a faculty member at RISD and has had a range of exhibitions across the Northeast. Schimert's work is densely layered and vaguely topographical, and her drawings suggest sequences of cosmic or otherworldly events occasionally populated by ethereal human figures; as Schimert describes it, they create a “space for illusion.”

Katy Schimert, Horseshoe Falls I, 2014, watercolor on paper, 12.5 x 15 in
Katy Schimert, Horseshoe Falls I, 2014, watercolor on paper, 12.5 x 15 in
Similar to Barbara Takenaga's work, Schimert's work uses the natural world as references to draw upon for her abstractions. The reference is clear in Schimert's drawings of Niagara Falls, but her color usage strays into the abstract and you can begin to see where her interests lead her away from the subject matter. There's a clear interest in the way line can describe form, and then how the watercolor allows her to relinquish control of the line to some extent.
Katy Schimert, With Caves, 2014, watercolor on paper, 12.5 x 15 in
Katy Schimert, Moving in a Purple Sea, 2011, Watercolor on paper, 51 x 90 inches
Katy Schimert, Red Edge in Shallow Water, (watercolor) Hiding Octopus in Shallow Water (sculpture)
Installation view of UMass Amherst exhibition
The artist Sanford Biggers uses traditionally patterned quilts as the canvas for his multimedia abstractions. He will often paint, draw, and stitch other fabrics onto these quilts. Biggers' working process is described as such: “Viewing himself as a collaborator with the work of the African and African American artists and artisans who came before him, Biggers borrows, enhances and memorializes their work, as well as their struggles, through his own object-making.”
Sanford Biggers, Sag, Harbor Honeystuckle, 2013, fabric collage, treated acrylic, metallic acrylic and glitter on re-purposed quilt, 70 x 77 inches
Sanford Biggers, QUILT #19 (ROCKSTAR), 2013, fabric collage, treated acrylic, metallic acrylic and glitter on re-purposed quilt, 70 x 77 inches
Sanford Biggers, Untitled, 2013, ink, acrylic, and spray paint on fabric collage, 48 x 48 inches
Sanford Biggers, QC #3, 2013, textiles and fabric treated acrylic on paper 48 x 48 inches
Here I've saved my favorite for last: the artist Ellen Lesperance. Similar to the fabric collage work by Biggers, we have Lesperance working with the language of textiles herself. Her paintings art part artwork and part activism; she takes female activists from around the world as inspiration for her creations.

The working process that she uses is as fascinating as it is rigorous and laborious. Lesperance scours the news for reports of protests and unrest, and then looks to see if there are any female protesters involved in the action. She then copies the outfit of the protester onto a large sheet of paper, translating the colors and patterns into a dense grid. She uses pencil to draw the grids across her papers and then gouache to fill in the colors of her inspiration's clothing.
Ellen Lesperance, Not the Nightmare, Not the Scream, Just the Loving Human Dream—of Peace, the Ever-flowing Stream, Bring the Message Home, 2013, gouache and graphite on tea-stained paper, 22 by 29 1/2 inches
Ellen Lesperance, We Have No Leaders Here, All the Stars are in the Sky, 2015
gouache and graphite on tea-stained paper, 22 x 29 ½ inches 

For example, one recent inspiration for Lersperance was a native Canadian photographed protesting exploration of shale gas on tribal lands. A different painting depicted the sweater worn by a British antinuclear protester from the 1980s. Lesperance's titles evoke the kind of messages activists would exchange with one another to stay motivated and continue fighting the good fight.
Ellen Lesperance, As If The Earth Itself Was Ours By New Covenant, 2018, gouache and graphite on tea-stained paper.
Ellen Lesperance, I Looked Towards Her, She Looked Towards Me, Both Could See the Common Free, 2018, gouache and graphite on tea-stained paper.
Ellen Lesperance, Installation View, Derek Eller Gallery, NYC
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Three links to leave you with for today.

The online learning platform Coursera is teaching a course about Post-war Abstract Painting. You can sign up for it here at this link. The course promises to teach you the history of this era of abstract painting and will provide prompts for how to use each artists work as inspiration for your own creations. I'm going to be following along to see how it all works

A review of the 2019 Clyfford Still documentary covering what I assume will be somewhat of the same territory as the Coursera course. Still was part of the cohort that included the titans of AbEx, like Rothko, Pollock, and de Kooning. This doc recounts how Still's career and legacy was affected by his "cantankerous temperament."

An interview with Rick Steves, everyone's favorite travel companion. This is related to my musical recommendation below, but this article explores how Rick Steves videos on YouTube are the perfect entertainment for this current moment. After I watched the music video I linked to below, I went and watched some Rick Steves travel videos and started daydreaming about my ideal post-corona vacation. Well, Steves' videos are better than daydreaming, they practically take you right there.
And so we reach the end of another Tuesday Night letter. I hope to write to you again next Tuesday to keep the painting vibes going. I only have one link to leave you with today:

Gorillaz - Desole

This video, part animated, part live action, was filmed in pre-pandemic times on Italy's Lake Como. I would definitely not mind being locked down next to this absolutely gorgeous location. When I stare out my apartment window at the neighboring red brick building and dirt alleyway, I'm going to pretend I'm looking at a beautiful 19th century villa, surrounding by wisteria, next to a deep blue lake. Breathe deep everyone! Go get some fresh air.

See you next time!
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