All work and no play makes for a very unbalanced life! So, this summer, after work, I spent my evenings enjoying local art shows, and visiting the ROM and AGO. This made for a very rejuvenating summer. And, according to the Department of Health and Arts Council England publication, ‘A Prospectus for Arts and Health‘ the arts have an important part to play in improving health and well-being (2016). For me, that was endorsement enough, to continue on my local art excursions. And, this fueled my effort to encourage almost everyone I know to enjoy more art. And, of course, I often suggest that they start by exploring the works of two of my favourite artists: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Carl Beam.
I have recently fallen in love with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s work. I do not have a favourite piece from this artist – I think that I love them all. Her work feels really fresh, and I can get lost in each piece for hours. I love her use of colours and the mood and personalities that she captures on paper. If you have not been introduced to her work, please remedy that soon. The Jack Shainman Gallery (2012) noted the following about Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and her work :
- Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s oil paintings focus on fictional figures that exist outside of specific times and places. In a 2010 interview with Nadine Rubin Nathan in the New York Times Magazine, Yiadom-Boakye described her compositions as “suggestions of people…They don’t share our concerns or anxieties. They are somewhere else altogether.” This lack of fixed narrative leaves her work open to the projected imagination of the viewer.
- Her paintings are rooted in traditional formal considerations such as line, color, and scale, and can be self-reflexive about the medium itself, but the subjects and the way in which the paint is handled is decidedly contemporary. Yiadom- Boakye’s paintings are typically completed in a day to best capture a single moment or stream of consciousness.
- Her predominantly black cast of characters often attracts attention. In a recent interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist in Kaleidoscope, she explained, “Race is something that I can completely manipulate, or reinvent, or use as I want to. Also, they’re all black because…I’m not white.” However Yiadom-Boakye maintains, “People are tempted to politicize the fact that I paint black figures, and the complexity of this is an essential part of the work. But my starting point is always the language of painting itself and how that relates to the subject matter.”
- Yiadom-Boakye was born in 1977 in London, where she is currently based. She attended Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Falmouth College of Arts and the Royal Academy Schools. She is also included in many institutional collections including the Tate Collection, London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Miami Art Museum, Florida, the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, the Arts Council Collection, London, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Nasher Museum of Art, North Carolina, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
I have long appreciated Carl Beams work. From his amazing – and deeply thoughtful – body of work Burying the Ruler #1 (pictured below) resonates the most with me. If you have not seen his work, it is very much worth exploring. The Canadian Art Foundation (2016) noted the following about Carl Beam and his work:
- Carl Beam was honoured with a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts for his innovative work and persistent will, both of which contributed to the reclaiming of space for Aboriginal artists within the mainstream of contemporary Canadian art practice. In the course of researching and locating his work for the 2005 exhibition “Flying Still: Carl Beam 1943–2005” (co-curated with Diana Nemiroff) at Carleton University Art Gallery, I was surprised to discover how accessible Beam’s work has been to both the general public and art institutions across Canada. I spoke with many people who collected his work: some had found Beam’s Anasazi-influenced pottery, works on paper, prints and paintings in places such as Victoria Henry’s now defunct Ufundi Gallery in Ottawa, the vendor booth Beam set up at Manitoulin Island powwows or through the Internet on eBay. The works tended to come with a profound personal account of Beam, who left a lasting impression on those who met him. People described him as kind and intense, an embodiment of the intellectually stimulating, thought-provoking traits of his artwork, which he claimed was made for thinking people. Beam situated his work to expose the disparities, blemishes and realities of our world, and he did it in a manner that was triumphant and hopeful, ever conscious of the moral fibre of humanity. His themes were local and global, aimed at both Old and New World sensibilities.
- Throughout his 40-year career as an artist (he died at age 62 of complications from diabetes), Beam aimed to expose the age-old Anishinabe oral traditions, belief systems and world views among which he was raised, at M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island. The Western perspectives and attitudes Beam encountered at the Garnier Residential School in Spanish, Ontario, made him conscious of the implications—for himself, his community and society—of a colonial history that ignored the “other.”
- In his work, Beam unravels the complex mechanism of colonialism, acknowledging it as a process of conquest and discovery but framing it from an affirmative position of “survivance,” an idea based on the postmodern, post-colonial theories of the Chippewa writer and cultural critic Gerald Vizenor. For Beam, survivance took into account resilience, adaptability and tradition. His expression of resistance to imperialism, dominance and oppression takes the shape of a counter-discourse that is inclusive, diverse and vigorously indigenous.
- Beam’s accomplishments speak louder than words. Consider Burying the Ruler, a series of works depicting a shirtless Beam holding a ruler that the artist realized on paper, on canvas and in performances. Of white and Ojibwa ancestry, Beam makes the ruler—a Western tool for measurement—into a metaphor for power, control and supremacy. It is a linear system in which there is no place for spirituality, traditional knowledge or oral traditions. The symbolic act of “burying the ruler” enables all who have faced the oppression of linear thinking to imagine a freedom from confined perspectives and the marginal conditions that have been built around them.
- Beam’s drive to level out a global playing field that suppresses indigenous culture, language and values catapulted him into a proactive position. He juxtaposed Anishinabe principles with Western ideologies: the Anishinabe world view, which is distinguished by a concept of interconnectedness that recognizes all living things as equal, is consistent in Beam’s work. He acknowledges that the natural world and human behaviour malfunction when faith is questioned in a theoretical, rational fashion. When it comes to nature, hostility, tragedy, spirituality and oppression, scientific formulas do not compute. However, Beam includes science in his art by drawing and overlaying mathematical grids onto his works. They point toward Gregorian time, scientific formulas and numerical systems: the theoretical knowledge that lies behind myriad human achievements, from the ancient Egyptian monuments to walking on the moon. Beam’s admiration for wisdom of all kinds comes through in his imagery, which includes both Albert Einstein and the raven, the trickster figure central to Native North American teachings. He respected all sources of knowledge and sought to obtain a balance from all directions.
- Recurring images within Beam’s prolific oeuvre include a bird’s anatomy, a running elk, the turtle, whales, Christian iconography, family photos and portraits of freedom fighters and warriors such as Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Geronimo and Sitting Bull. Johnny Cash, turn-of-the-century anthropologists, even Jennifer Lopez also appear. The images are devices that gauge society; they act as semiotic or mnemonic codes to identify core human values and concerns with power, spirituality and the environment. Mathematical formulas, natural wonders, celebrities and violent imagery sum up our connectedness to one another, speaking to progress, hostility, survival and fragility. As Beam pondered peaceful resolutions, he remapped familiar images into a global and historical context. Synthesizing time, space and cultural elements, Beam salvaged a worldwide intellectual and emotional vision to learn from, believe in and come to terms with.
- Some of Beam’s most powerful work took up a prominent historical milestone—the quincentennial of the 1492 “discovery” of America—and addressed the resulting 500 years of historical convergence between the Old and New Worlds. In his stunning series The Columbus Suite, which consists of 12 large etchings, Beam went face to face with half a millennium of colonialism, reclaiming and examining notions of destiny, discovery and identity to counter a public celebration that followed a storyline of occupation and surrender. The images appeal for justice amid misunderstanding and address issues of authority, prejudice, exploration and peace. The Columbus Boat(1992), a sculptural representation of one of Columbus’s ships, landed at the National Gallery of Canada in November, 2005, as a memorial to Beam.