June 7, 2019
Meet the Artists in State Your Intentions: New Works in the WAM Collection
In expanding the permanent collection, WAM aims to accession new works wisely and with the utmost intention. To our Senior Curator Diane Mullin, this means attentively developing our collections of work by Black and women–identifying contemporary artists, and works considered international art, Minnesota art, and video and other moving-image art. Opening in mid-July, a number of these newly collected works will appear in State Your Intentions: New Works in the WAM Collection, including those by the following artists.
A dominant motif across his work, Israeli artist Tsibi Geva uses the keffiyeh as a reference to Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Blue Keffiyeh. Often made of a square piece of cotton, the keffiyeh is a Middle Eastern headdress traditionally worn by Arab men and thought to have originated amongst the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, worn by priests to denote high social status. Later adopted by laborers to protect the head and neck from the sun and sand, today the keffiyeh is a powerful symbol of resistance in support of a free Palestine.
Geva’s paintings are situated in an array of social, political, and cultural contexts. Among them are the restrictive and fence-like fashion in which he chooses to depict the keffiyeh. Painted with thick black lines that mimic a chain-link fence, a symbol of solidarity becomes a blockade. What does it mean to paint a textile, unwrapped and stretched out across a canvas? A contested piece of political iconography that, when worn, acts as an identifying marker of friend or foe, Blue Keffiyeh raises questions while referencing multiple points in Palestinian history.
Artist Sam Gilliam’s career is as extensive as it is acclaimed. Born in Tupelo, MS in 1933, Gilliam began painting in elementary school and went on to receive his BFA and MFA from the University of Louisville. After serving from 1956–1958 in the U.S. Army, he taught art classes in Louisville public schools while continuing to develop his own personal work in contemporary Color Field painting. Working during the emergence of abstract expressionism and largely influenced by Nathan Oliveira, Paul Klee, and German expressionist group Die Brücke, Gilliam shook the art world in 1965 when he was the first to introduce the unstretched draped canvas. Inspired by hanging clothes on clotheslines, he suspended his canvases from ceilings, walls, and floors, sometimes accompanied by pieces of metal, rocks, wood, and sculptural elements. This new form of exhibiting work earned him the title, “father of the draped canvas.”
During the 1980s, Gilliam again flexed his experimental and improvisatory nature when he changed his paint process from staining and saturating his canvas to instead applying thick layers of acrylic paint, cutting up, and rearranging pieces of canvas. Reminiscent of African American quilts, Gilliam’s work adorns metro stations and airports in addition to being preserved in a number of the most highly esteemed international art museums. The relief monoprints in his Marathon series illustrate the movement, layering of colors, and other abstract elements that are so distinctly Gilliam’s.
Drawing on earlier historical art periods including those of Russian Constructivism, abstract expressionism, and Neo-Dada, painter and sculptor Iva Gueorguieva redefines abstractionism in her contemporary large-scale paintings. Gueorguieva’s collage-like compositions utilize strategic application of line, shape, and color to create illusions of space and movement, as seen in Silver Quintillion. The result of these compositional choices evoke incredibly strong emotions—energetic, anxious, adrenaline-fused, and even grotesque. In doing so, Gueorguieva pushes the boundaries and planes of her paintings, in turn, begging the viewer to look, and feel, more deeply. Inspired by the Californian landscape, Gueorguieva currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.
Portia Zvavahera is a Zimbabwean painter who lives and works in Harare, Zimbabwe. Take Me Deeper II depicts a life-size female figure adorned in gleaming and patterned fabrics who appears to float aimlessly against the dark burgundy hues of the background. All elements of the painting, its subject, body configuration, and strategic use of colors, patterns, and fabrics are consistent characteristics of Zvavahera’s compositions. Her work—often consisting of themes such as femininity, fertility, motherhood, trauma and hardship, religion, and Zimbabwean beliefs and culture—juxtaposes painful concepts with bright colors and joyful moments with gloomy backgrounds. As a viewer, it can be hard to determine whether subjects are celebrating or mourning. Inspired by her personal life, as well as by music and rhythm, Zvavahera likens creating and painting to a “a healing process.”
Read more about the exhibition in this essay by Senior Curator Diane Mullin>>
Images: (1) Tsibi Geva, Courtesy of The New School, Parsons. (2) Sam Gilliam, Courtesy of The Block Museum of Art. (3) Iva Gueorguieva, Courtesy of Iva Gueorguieva. (4) Portia Zvahera, Courtesy of Omenka.
KATE DRAKULIC | Communications Intern