Thursday, April 22, 2010

Curating: an art and a science

One of the most exciting aspects about the museum's upcoming exhibition, Landscapes in Counterpoint, is the dual role played by the artist Tula Telfair. Nine new landscapes by the artist form the centerpiece of the exhibit, but she also acted as curator for the remaining gallery displays. Relying on her extensive formal training, and inspired by a modern grouping of works in an installation she saw at the National Museum of Denmark, Telfair selected nearly three dozen paintings from the Florence Griswold Museum's permanent collection. These works inform and augment the exhibit's examination of the nature of landscape painting in its' historical and modern forms. Above, a glimpse of some of the works curated by Telfair for the exhibit. You can read more about her selection process on the museum's official webpage.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bringing an exhibit to life

{Tula Telfair and museum staff prepare to hang one of Telfair's landscapes in the Smith Gallery}.

A certain hushed formality is a given in most museums. Such an atmosphere seems fitting for spaces devoted to the display of meaningful works of art. However, as these photos prove, the last days leading up to a well-curated exhibit are anything but hushed or formal!

Yesterday, artist/curator Tula Telfair and the rest of the museum staff got down to work installing paintings in preparation for this weekend's opening, Landscapes in Counterpoint. Gallery walls are often repainted to complement a new exhibit. In this case, Telfair elected to re-use the soft gray hues that provided the backdrop for the previous installation, Sewell Sillman's Pushing Limits. After the walls dry, the art is hung with painstaking care, and finally, text labels are added next to each piece.

These images also give viewers an idea of the true scale of Telfair's dramatic landscapes.  Below, a glimpse of Curators Amy Kurtz Lansing and Amanda Burdan, and Museum Director Jeff Anderson, working with Telfair's Most Approaches Suffer from the Predictable Isolation of Schools.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Landscape painting, under the microscope

Tula Telfair, Pleasure Was Considered Decadent, 2010.  Oil on canvas, 70h x 80w inches. Courtesy of Forum Gallery.

Although Tula Telfair's landscape paintings occupy monumental canvases that seem to encourage distanced observation, she urges her viewers to step close to each work. Imagine looking at a painting under a microscope. On Telfair's canvas, you'll see the traces of three to seven different painting techniques, for the way that paint sits on the surface varies depending on the terrain that's represented. This style of seeing invites the viewer to imagine her style of working on the canvas by examining the brushstrokes themselves.

Telfair's actions are preserved forever on the surface of her paintings, and are a direct response to the imagined landscape. As physical terrains shift, so does her method of painting each subject, with a towering expanse of cloud depicted intentionally differently from, for example, an expanse of field. Her technique speaks to a rigorous art education and deeply thought-out creative process. As Telfair puts it, in her landscapes, paint is a subject in itself.

So be sure to lean in closely to examine Telfair's landscapes when you visit the exhibit. A scientist is rewarded with a new display when peering through the microscope, and you'll be rewarded with an entirely different view of Telfair's paintings by examining them thoroughly!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Exploring the modern landscape

Tula Telfair, Most Approaches suffer from the Predictable Isolation of Schools, 2010.  Oil on canvas, 72h x 108w inches. Courtesy of Forum Gallery.

Tula Telfair's powerful landscapes reflect memories of her own experiences in nature. At a young age, she witnessed the vast terrain, varied weather systems, and changing color palettes of landscapes around the world. But unlike the traditional works of the American Impressionists or Hudson River Valley School, the images on her canvases don't represent real locales.

Instead, Telfair's landscapes are imagined - vividly imagined. When I spoke to her last week about her work, she emphasized how important it is that her dramatic paintings provoke strong emotional responses or memories in viewers. As a thoroughly modern landscape painter, she creates image-based work that treats both the landscape, and its' viewer, as subject. 

As viewers, we're on the right path if we feel on edge or overwhelmed, or if a painting triggers powerful physical sensations from our own remembered experiences of the natural world.

Certain landscapes have the power to remind us how ephemeral our lives are, in the context of our existence in a mysterious universe. Many of us have experienced universal moments of awe and wonder as we have looked across a mountain range or craned our necks to see a night sky full of stars.  It's this sometimes unsettling, but essential aspect of the human experience, that Telfair's work evokes. Which landscapes have had that effect on you?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Behind the scenes with Tula Telfair

{In her Manhattan studio, Tula Telfair works on the landscape paintings that will be the centerpiece of the museum's upcoming exhibit.} 

There's an unmistakable relaxation response in our bodies that heralds the spring season, isn't there? Longer sunny days, warm breezes, and blooming flowers inevitably inspire easier smiles and sighs of contentment as everyone thaws out from the long, cold winter. 

It's exactly that kind of powerful, sensual physical response to nature that inspires Tula Telfair's dramatic landscape paintings, and she seeks to evoke a similar reaction in her viewers. Last week I had the pleasure of going behind the scenes with her to talk about her upcoming exhibit at the Florence Griswold Museum, Landscapes in Counterpoint.

As with any body of creative work, Telfair's landscapes have evolved over time. They began as quick color studies meant to inform the narrative, figurative pieces she was creating at the time. But one morning, an art dealer walked into her studio to find a grouping of these luminous, colorful landscapes scattered across the floor, "like little jewels", she remembers. 

From that dealer's initial interest in showing similar pieces, a body of large, dramatic landscapes has emerged. Now, she spends the days in her Manhattan studio absorbed in large canvases like the ones pictured above, working on as many as eleven at one time. In the weeks leading up to the opening of her exhibit on April 24th,  I'll be posting more from behind the scenes, sharing pieces about her creative process, and recommendations for the upcoming exhibit. 

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Sillman snapshots

Throughout the exhibition Pushing Limits, we've been incredibly lucky to hear from Sewell Sillman's students. The anecdotes that they've shared about their teacher have ranged from colorful and amusing to moving and inspirational. Read on for some of our favorite snippets from former students who are now designers, art professors, and award-winning painters.