painting

Collection Feature: Richard Estes, Food City

by Associate Curator, Theresa Bembnister

Food City verges on abstraction, as colors, shapes and brushstrokes intermingle. Cars, taxis and vans flatten into the same space as the cashier’s pink uniform, the checkout counters and stacks of cigarette packs. The facades of multistory buildings merge with hand-lettered signs advertising chuck steaks at 39 cents a pound. Richard Estes crops his painting so the grocery store’s glass windows fill the entire composition. Exterior and interior elements dissolve into a single plane. This energetic visual potpourri mimics the vitality of the surrounding New York City.

Richard Estes, Food City, 1967, Oil, acrylic and graphite on fiberboard 48 in. x 68 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Purchased, by exchange, with funds raised by the Masked Ball 1955-1963

Richard Estes, Food City, 1967, Oil, acrylic and graphite on fiberboard, 48 in. x 68 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Purchased, by exchange, with funds raised by the Masked Ball 1955-1963

Richard Estes is known as one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated photorealist painters. In his case, however, that credit is a bit of misnomer. Estes’ paintings do not actually have the same level of veracity that viewers associate with photographic images. That’s not to say that the camera isn’t central to the artist’s process. He photographs his subjects, collaging multiple prints together to achieve his desired composition. Estes then subtly tweaks his imagery, removing some elements that appeared in the photographs and adding others. Nowadays, the 85-year-old artist accomplishes this with the help of Photoshop. Unlike other artists active in the photorealist movement, Estes never used a grid or a projector to transfer his photographs to canvas or board. Instead, the artist drew and painted freehand.

When Estes made Food City in 1967, the young artist primarily focused on his immediate urban surroundings as subject matter. This painting of a busy grocery store in New York City’s Upper West Side neighborhood provided him the opportunity to show off the lettering skills he picked up as a freelance illustrator. These gigs paid Estes’ bills until he was able to focus his attention on painting full time in 1966. The artist credits his commercial work, and not his earlier training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, with forcing him to master his craft. That work required him to translate photographs into painted illustrations for reproduction.

View more photorealistic artworks in the Akron Art Museum collection.

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NEO Geo Studio Visits

By Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

If philosopher Alan Watts is right, and museums are the places art goes to die, then the artist’s studio must surely be the birthplace of a work of art.

For the record: I disagree with Watts. But I do relish the opportunity to see art in its native studio environment, before it’s displayed on the museum’s pristine walls. The context of an artist’s workspace offers clues as to how or why a particular artwork was made.

Studio visits made up a large part of the efforts required to organize NEO Geo. After scoping out an artist’s website, I would set up a studio visit to observe the work and ask questions. Not only did these observations and conversations guide my selections of works to include in the exhibition, but they were integral to gathering key information I could then convey to museum visitors through labels, tours, the brochure and this blog post.

NEO Geo artist Erik Neff

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

I visited Erik Neff’s studio in Newbury in rural Geauga County in early April and mid-May of last year. A prolific artist, Neff creates pastel drawings on paper in addition to the oil paintings and wooden sculptures selected for NEO Geo.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Neff’s studio serves a dual role of a place to make and store artwork. His flat file drawer holds examples of the modestly scaled paintings the artist made when his children were younger. Now that they spend their days at school, Neff has more time to devote to larger canvases like the ones you see in NEO Geo.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

During my visits, Neff displayed his larger and mid-sized canvases propped up on aluminum cans, leaning against the wall. Neff’s painting Between, which is included in NEO Geo, is on the right of this photograph; the edge of Breakwater is barely visible on the far right.

The studio mascots in the studio.

The studio mascots in the studio.

Neff places his small wooden sculptures, or studio mascots, as he likes to call them, on a wooden bench. Here you see a set of Neff’s pastels in the background, and the wooden stove that heats his studio is visible on the far right. The wooden blocks Neff uses to construct his sculptures would have ended up in the stove if they hadn’t had a visual appeal to the artist, who sets them near his palette and brushes paint on their surfaces from time to time.

NEO Geo artist Paul O’Keeffe

I visited Paul O’Keeffe’s studio, which was specifically designed and constructed for the backyard of his Cleveland Heights home, in mid-March and late June of last year. A beautiful natural light fills his workspace.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

O’Keeffe purchases colored acrylic pieces that are rejects from improperly cut commercial orders. He layers the translucent sheets atop one another, creating new hues in the process.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

When I visited O’Keeffe in June, he had begun work on his two newest sculptures in the exhibition, a distant silence XXX and XXXI. You can see the skeletons of those two works, which were constructed in part with materials from a botched job for a Victoria’s Secret store.

O’Keeffe’s method of combining individual components comes from an example set by sculptor David Smith. “Years ago, as a student, I came across photos of him laying out individual found metal elements on the floor prior to welding (and also composing with cardboard). My acrylic pieces are generated in a similar fashion although the sensibility is considerably different.”

NEO Geo artist Janice Lessman-Moss

I first visited Janice Lessman-Moss’ Kent studio in mid-March of last year, with a follow up visit at the end of May.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Pinned to the wall above her flat file are print-outs of digital sketches for the artist’s Random Walk series. The random walk theory, which is used to explain the unpredictability of the stock market’s rise and fall, serves as inspiration for the patterns that appear in works in this series, which Lessman-Moss weaves on a digital jacquard loom in her studio. None of the Random Walk weavings are on display in NEO Geo, but the work visible on the right in the above photograph, #420, is part of the series of tapestries created at the same industrial mill in North Carolina where the textiles in NEO Geo were woven.

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

On the opposite wall hangs what Lessman-Moss refers to as her “crayon box,” a tapestry that doubles as a palette for the colors the artist creates by instructing the industrial digital loom to weave threads in a particular order. She set up a corresponding digital palette in Photoshop, the program she uses to create her designs before transferring them into files for the digital loom using software called Pointcarre.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the "crayon-box" during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the “crayon box” during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Each of the many, many colors featured in the complex designs of the weavings on display in NEO Geo corresponds to a square on the crayon box. This tool, which hangs on the wall directly above the desk where the artist sits to design her tapestries, provides valuable insight into the work’s creation—insights best obtained through visits to the artist’s studio, the birthplace of the works of art.

Find out more about NEO Geo, on view at the Akron Art Museum through April 24, 2016. • View the NEO Geo exhibition catalog online.

Inscribed Books at the Akron Art Museum

by Stefanie Hilles, Education Assistant

Imagine this. You visit the Akron Art Museum and fall in love under the “roof cloud” (the museum’s 327 foot long steel cantilever that joins the old 1899 post office building with the new 2007 Coop Himmelb(l)au structure). No, not with some beautiful stranger you exchange eye contact with across the museum’s lobby (although that would be pretty exciting too). Instead, you fall in love with a beautiful artwork. Maybe you’re a fan of American Impressionism and succumb to the charms of Abel G. Warshawsky’s pure color technique in The Seine at Andelys showing in the McDowell Galleries (and also installed as a reproduction at the International Institute in North Hill as part of the Inside|Out project). Perhaps you prefer your artists a bit more surrealistically inclined and become entranced by Art Green’s Delicate Situation in the Haslinger Galleries. Or possibly, landscape photography is more to your liking and you discover Robert Glenn Ketchum’s CVNRA #866 (from the Federal Lands Series), on view in the Arnstein Galleries as part of Proof: Photographs from the Collection.

Abel G. Warshawsky (Sharon, Pennsylvania, 1883 - 1962, Monterey, California) The Seine at Andelys, 1923 Oil on canvas 32 in. x 39 1/4 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum. Gift of Miss Malvyn Wachner in memory of her brother, Charles B. Wachner.

Abel G. Warshawsky, The Seine at Andelys, 1923. Oil on canvas. 32 in. x 39 1/4 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum. Gift of Miss Malvyn Wachner in memory of her brother, Charles B. Wachner.

Like the start of any epic love affair, you are captivated. You have to know more. So, you head in to the museum’s Martha Stecher Reed Library to do some research. The librarian hands you your desired books and you dive right in. Much to your delight, the books are autographed.  The Akron Art Museum is full of surprises.

Inscribed copy of Abel G. Warshawsky: Master-Painter, Humanist

Inscribed copy of Abel G. Warshawsky: Master-Painter, Humanist

Abel G. Warshawsky: Master-Painter, Humanist by Louis Gay Balsam came into the library’s collection in 1959 at the bequest of Mrs. Minna Wachner, whose generous gifts to the museum also include two oil paintings: Le Pont de la Cité, Martigues by Warsharsky and Landscape by William John Edmondson. The book, which is mostly dedicated to fifty black and white lithographs reproducing the artist’s work, was published by the Carmel Valley Art Gallery that, while no longer in existence, was once near to the artist’s Monterey, California home where he lived after his return from Paris in 1939. Dedicated to Billie Wachner, “Who is a dear sweet and wonderful friend [sic],” Abel signed with his nickname, Buck, as well as the longer A.G. Warshawsky.

Art Green, Delicate Situation,  1968

Art Green, Delicate Situation, 1968. Oil on canvas. 69 in. x 45 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum. Gift of William and Deborah Struve.

Autographed copy of Art Green: Tell Tale Signs accompanied an exhibition of the same name at the Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery in Chicago, held from December 9th 2011 through January 21st 2012.

Autographed copy of Art Green: Tell Tale Signs accompanied an exhibition of the same name at the Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery in Chicago, held from December 9th 2011 through January 21st 2012.

Art Green: Tell Tale Signs accompanied an exhibition of the same name at the Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery in Chicago, held from December 9th 2011 through January 21st 2012. While the exhibition focused on work created years after Delicate Situation, the interview at the beginning of the text explains some of Green’s recurring  images, namely, the ice-cream cone and the flame that are found in Delicate Situation. Green states, “The image of the ice cream cone interested me because it is so idealized, not because of any specific symbolism. I like opposition and the flame offers that here” (p. 5). Another autograph can be found in Art Green, published by the CUE Art Foundation in 2009 to accompany the first solo exhibition of the artist’s work in New York since 1981. This exhibition was curated by Jim Nutt, who, along with Green, was a member of the Chicago artist group, “The Hairy Who,” that consisted of five recent graduates from the Art Institute of Chicago known for their grotesque subject matter and carefully finished style.

Robert Glenn Ketchum, CVNRA #866, from the Federal Lands series, 1988 Cibachrome print 24 in. x 30 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum. Purchased with funds from Kathleen and Gordon Ewers.

Robert Glenn Ketchum, CVNRA #866, from the Federal Lands series, 1988. Cibachrome print. 24 in. x 30 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum. Purchased with funds from Kathleen and Gordon Ewers.

In 1986, the Akron Art Museum commissioned Robert Glenn Ketchum to photograph the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area (CVNRA). Many of these images, taken over the course of several years and throughout different seasons, were later published in Overlooked in America: Photographs by Robert Glenn Ketchum. Compared to the understated signatures contributed by Warshawsky and Green, Robert Glenn Ketchum’s autograph takes on an almost landscape-like quality, with sweeping, flowing organic lines. Ketchum’s book uses the CVNRA as an example of national parks in general, exploring how man and nature interact and how the government manages its federal lands. The CVNRA series can be read in conjunction with another museum commission. In 1979, Lee Friedlander (whose work is also included in Proof) was contracted to photograph the industrial landscape around the Akron/Cleveland area, popularly known as the rust belt. In comparison to Friedlander’s bleak emphasis on desolate factories and the urban landscape, Ketchum’s landscape photographs demonstrate the natural beauty of the Akron area.

autographed copy of Overlooked in America: Photographs by Robert Glenn Ketchum

autographed copy of Overlooked in America: Photographs by Robert Glenn Ketchum

What is it about an autograph that seems to impart some extra knowledge about a person? Sometimes it’s what the person says in an inscription, as in the case of Abel G. Warshaswsky, that gives some insight into the artist’s life. Other times, it’s the style of the handwriting. Whatever the case, it’s an interesting and delightful surprise to discover these autographed works because you seem to get just a bit more information about the artist, something more human than what is captured in the descriptions and analysis of their work.

How To: Have your own Messy Playdate at Home

By Amanda Crowe, Assistant Educator

Follow-up to Creative Playdate: Messy Playdate, December 5, 2013.


Kids love to feed their curiosity by making a mess and using their senses in the creative process. Research for the education of the young child shows that more mess-making leads to higher forms of learning.

Homemade Peppermint Playdough:
Supplies:
1 cup flour
1/4 cup salt
1 tsp cream of tartar (for smooth texture)
1 cup water
1 tbsp oil food coloring (cake decorators paste or liquid makes great colors)
1 tbsp peppermint extract (easily found at craft stores in candy-making section or grocery store in baking section)

Extras:
Glitter
Ziploc bag or airtight container

Directions:

  1. Mix together flour, salt and cream of tartar.
  2. Add water and food coloring, whisk until smooth.
  3. Cook over medium heat until playdough is nearly set (not sticking to the sides of the pan).
  4. Add peppermint extract and stir until blended. Remove.
  5. Knead when cool, add glitter and continue to knead.
  6. Store in Ziploc bag or airtight container for up to three weeks.

Extension activities: Fill an ice cube tray with small trinkets (buttons, coins, beads) and hide the trinkets in the playdough for your child to discover.  Older children may enjoy using tweezers to “dissect” the dough.  This is a great way to develop fine-motor skills.

Dinosaur Stamping:

If your child likes the idea of painting, but the concept of using brushes or fingers is not so appealing, then incorporate the objects he/she loves into a lesson not soon forgotten.  Try using an assortment of dinosaurs, animal figures and even Little People to trample through the paint and make “footprints” on paper.  Use cars and trucks to roll through red and right into yellow to engage your child in a mini color-mixing lesson. Have a warm soapy dishpan full of water or shaving cream nearby – and watch your children’s eyes light up as they give their painted toys a color “bath.”

Coffee filter painting:

A great way to use up old food coloring on a rainy day is to experiment with drip painting and color saturation on a porous coffee filter.  Be prepared to use a large stack of filters, as your kids will be entranced by the way the colors appear to “crawl” and “stretch” across the filter, creating beautiful tie-dye masterpieces when dry.

Rolling prints:

Old spouting, PVC tubing and roof edging (with safe edges for children) cut in half length-wise make wonderful ramps for rolling balls, cars and marbles.  Line your ramp with paper, dip your ball in paint – and, voila, you’ve made a rolling print!

Check out all our fun kids classes and playdates at http://akronartmuseum.org/calendar/list/kids-families/16/.