Pop artist makes treasures for Americans, using their trash
By Jessica Farrish For The Fayette Tribune
A premier New York "cerealist" artist is in West Virginia, and he's talking to Mountain State kids.
Michael Albert is like most artists: his art started in an unconventional way. However, Albert's artistic epiphany and his pioneer leap into pop art was really, really original — even for an artist's.
He shared his story Wednesday with a group of moms and kids at the Shady Spring Public Library.
In the 1980s, Albert was a business major at the Stern School of Business of New York University in Manhattan. He liked to visit the many museums in the city. He appreciated that some museum visits were free.
One day, as he toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he was struck by a new urge.
"That's when I had a dream to try to be an artist myself," Albert recalled Wednesday. "I just had this crazy dream that maybe 100 years from now, when I'm not around anymore, maybe something that I created could be in a museum, and, maybe 50 years from now, say, some of you could come with your own children and grandchildren and look at my work and remember that we met at the library at Shady Spring."
He went back to his room, he said, and started a self-portrait, drawing himself as composed by items that appeared in his dorm room. His showed his first self-portrait, finished 27 years ago, to those at the workshop.
Over the years, he said, he began focusing on collage art.
In Albert's own words, he's a "cerealist" artist. He creates collages from cereal boxes.
Kids and adults at the workshop showed enthusiasm for Albert's work. Although he inspires kids, Albert uses whimsy and throw-away materials to construct visual representations of different concepts. Some of his pieces, like "The 23rd Psalm" and "The Lord's Prayer," visualize faith. He "cereal-ized" history with the collages "The Preamble to the Constitution" and "The Gettysburg Address."
In 2014, he made "Chemical Spill," a collage that was inspired by the Elk River chemical spill in Charleston.
In "Chemical Spill," a slightly forbidding collage, Albert twists culturally reassuring fonts like the Kellog's "ll" and Lipton "Li" into an artistic warning.
"Mostly, I make art by cutting up cereal boxes and recycling different materials with my art," he said. He added that he wants people to look at his art and ask, "Who is Michael Albert? Why did he cut up cereal boxes?"
"Maybe that's a crazy dream," Albert noted. "But it was my dream."
A father and businessman who owns Sir Real Juice in New York City, Albert keenly markets his art, offering his prints in a book ("An Artist's America"), puzzles ("Map of the USA," "The Number Pi") and postcards and greeting cards.
His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and smaller newspapers around the United States.
Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority Education Director Sherrie Hunter said Wednesday that her organization brought Albert back to West Virginia after she'd seen Albert's workshop at the Youth Museum in Beckley last year.
Hunter is the organizer of a school recycling program that's heading into its 15th year in Raleigh County schools, and helped to organize school recycling in Fayette County. This past school year, Raleigh County students turned in 432 tons of recyclable items, Hunter reported.
"We thought, what a perfect opportunity because students in Raleigh County have been recycling through elementary, middle and high schools for 14 years," Hunter said. "What's a more perfect place to have Michael Albert visit than our county, which has been promoting 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' for the last 14 years?"
She said that Albert's eye-popping collages are a perfect fit with her program message that "old things" can be turned into something new.
"He shows students that, yes, it's in a recycling bin, but you can reuse it," Hunter said. "You can put your own spin on it and create your own masterpiece."
Albert is touring and will be at the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority in Lanark today from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, he'll visit the Lively Family Amphitheater in Oak Hill at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. On Saturday, Albert will appear at the Heritage Festival in Fayetteville from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tour information and views of Albert's artwork is available on his website, www.michaelalbert.com.
A rendering of the 30-story tall baseball player projection and All-Star Game signage that will be featured on Carew Tower. Installation has already begun. Also visible here is Mr. Redlegs’ trademark pillbox hat and mustache on the Scripps Center.(Photo: Provided)
Cincinnati is welcoming the biggest figure in baseball even before the 86th MLB All-Star Game festivities come to town.
Like 20-stories-tall big.
Starting tonight, a massive image of a 19th century Cincinnati Red Stockings player will be projected on Carew Tower and continue from 9:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. each night through July 15. It represents a bit of one-upmanship over All-Star Game promotion elsewhere.
"We wanted to brand this city and do something that hadn't been done in other cities ... to really give people something fun and festive," said Chip Thompson, vice president at Prestige Audio Visual. The installation is a project of Prestige and the Reds organization.
The Reds will host a lighting celebration at 9:30 p.m. today at Fountain Square, said Michael Anderson, the team's public relations manager.
The player, with bat in hand, will be in good company: His neighbor is Mr. Redlegs himself. The top of nearby Scripps Center sports a vinyl version of the mascot's pillbox hat and mustache.
All-Star related art has been transforming Greater Cincinnati for weeks. Area businesses display All-Star Game signage. Even the sidewalks have sprouted facial hair: Large handlebar mustache statues are now on display throughout the region.
The design for all of these elements are centered on one thing: Tradition. The throwback aesthetic references the styles of 1869, the year Cincinnati became home to America's first professional baseball team.
The look isn't the only old-school element of the Carew Tower project.
Thompson uses technology that was cutting edge some 60 years ago. Two large-format slide Pani projectors from the 1950s will produce the Red Stocking player.
These type of projectors were originally used to light operas, Thompson said. Artists would paint scenes on slides as a set design replacement. The only place that this technology is used regularly today is at theme parks such as Disney.
The main reason to rent the Pani projectors? To save money, Thompson said. Modern projection technology such as that used for Lumenocity would cost five times as much, he said.
The equipment will be installed about 400 feet away from Carew Tower on the roof of the Westin Cincinnati. An operator will monitor the machines while they are running.
That's because these powerful projectors require, well, a lot of power. "Each projector is pulling enough power to light about two homes," Thompson said.
And the 12,000-watt bulbs each uses is so strong that Thompson commissioned the artist to create 14 slides for the two-week run.
"The heat from the projectors will degrade the medium itself," he said.
Carew Tower as a canvas also presented challenges. The 574-foot-tall icon's brown color is not an ideal, crisp white, Thompson said. There is a lot of ambient light downtown that will interfere with the image, he added.
And another type of light would send the Red Stockings player packing.
"If there is lightning, we will shut it down," he said. That's because the projectors are set up next to the Westin's lightning rod.
Sister Corita Kent fought for food justice with visuals
Sister Corita Kent was ahead of her time. A radical nun, activist and artist, her printmaking skills and artistic sensibilities were cutting edge. Despite having groovy famous creative friends and being part of a powerful institution— the Catholic church—Frances Elizabeth Corita Kent’s feminist, pro-civil rights, and pacifist politics made her a highly visible figure, yet kept her marginalized. Beginning in 1946, Iowa-born, L.A.-raised Kent taught in the art department at Immaculate Heart College (her alma mater, and now Immaculate Heart High School) in Los Feliz, until she left the order Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and moved to Boston in 1968. She died from cancer in 1986 at the age of 67.
Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent is the first formalized public effort to review the sweep of her life and career. The exhibition originated at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and has finally arrived on Kent’s home turf in Southern California at the Pasadena Museum of California Art.
In this survey, audiences can see how Kent shed light on a particular issue that’s become a larger part of the cultural dialogue in recent years: food justice. Kent knew how important it was for everyone to have access to nourishing meals. Following is a selection of Sister Corita’s incredible own Pop Art brand of food-related imagery from the exhibition, which is on view at PMCA through November 1st.
— Jessica Ritz
Sister Corita wound send her students from IHC across the street to the Market Basket grocery store at the southwest corner of Franklin and Western (where a Rite Aid now stands), where she found inspiration in items ranging from iconic American processed foods packaging to fresh produce signage. In crafting her own Pop Art approach, she mastered serigraphy printmaking techniques to deconstruct imagery and text in ways previously unseen.
In contrast to a certain influential artist of the time with whom Kent’s work is inevitably compared, her sensibility had “a more literate quality” than Andy Warhol, said Sasha Carrera, the Creative Consultant (and former director) of the Corita Art Center in Los Feliz. Sister Corita would “juxtapose bold graphics with intimate text,” quoting her favorite writers such as E.E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, and Gertrude Stein, in addition to making pop culture references.
She appropriated “Madison Avenue signage for her own ecumenical purposes,” explained independent curator Michael Duncan, who co-curated the exhibition with Ian Berry of Skidmore College in collaboration with the Corita Art Center. In this case, borrowing General Mills’ “The Big G stands for goodness” logo and ad slogan works as satire and a call to action, speaking to multiple aspects of physical and spiritual nourishment.
“The slogans of Wonder Bread were perfect for her” and provided “an early way of commenting on consumerism” when contrasted with a quote from Albert Camus, Duncan said. This period in her career dovetailed with LBJ’s War on Poverty and the introduction of the Great Society programs, too.
“There’s always humor, and always sophisticated formal qualities” in Sister Carita’s output, Carrera observed.
Want to take some bread and toast and other Sister Carita souvenirs home? Then pick up the Bauer Pottery mugs available in the museum’s gift shop.
Ahead of two important solo exhibitions in Hong Kong, the Japanese artist with a global cult following is dismissive of the way others interpret his work, saying: 'This is just what comes out.'
Like the trademark childlike characters in his work, neo-pop artist Yoshitomo Nara seems both vulnerable and prickly. Although famously reserved, he was once arrested for drawing graffiti in New York's Union Square underground. He generally shuns face-to-face interviews and dislikes questions probing his art. "People who see my works are free to understand them in any way they want," he says via email. "But I think that one of art's good points is that you can ambiguously perceive and feel based on the viewer's personal experiences and living environment."
Fusing anime, pop art and punk rock, Nara has been sculpting, painting and drawing his nightmarish children and animals for more than two decades. His gallery of alluringly sinister characters, racing from the mad dreams of a childish imagination, has a worldwide cult following, making him one of Japan's few globally known art celebrities. Hong Kong gets its first close-up look at what all the fuss is about this month, with the opening of two exhibitions running almost simultaneously at Pace Hong Kong and the Asia Society.
For Nara, the Hong Kong exhibitions bring his relationship with China full circle. He first visited the Chinese countryside in 1983, when Japanese tourists were as rare as sparrows in winter.
"I communicated by writing kanji [Chinese characters] on a piece of paper," he recalls. "With people in the countryside who couldn't read kanji, I drew pictures on paper. Everyone was very kind, and I think we understood each other." Despite the intervening years and China's enormous leap forward, he believes his drawings can still connect on an instinctual level. "If my feelings are conveyed to those who have a heart, then I think that is a good thing."
Nara's work has been seen both as a detached commentary on the pressures of Japanese adolescence and a symptom of it. He once explained he started drawing during his latchkey childhood because "it was an emotional landscape that I could understand". The youngest of three boys, he had workaholic parents during the rapid-growth era of the 1960s and '70s, taking refuge, like many Japanese boys, in the cartoon world of Astro Boy and Speed Racer.
His flat, two-dimensional pictures have the clear lines of manga cartoons and are often populated by sulky, bulbous-headed children sporting knives, saws, clenched fists or cigarettes. The pictures draw on the rebellious motifs of punk rock, a point reinforced by references throughout Nara's work to New York rockers The Ramones and other musical icons.
He plays "deafeningly loud" music while painting and once designed a CD cover for Japanese punk girl band Shonen Knife. Canadian rock veteran Neil Young, however, is his all-time favourite artist. "He [Young] has a spirit of equality and freedom, bravely singing his songs that make us think what's around us," Nara says.
The darker undertone of alienation, anxiety and impotent anger in his art, however, inevitably reminds Japanese viewers of the murderous children who pop up from time to time in the nation. The most infamous of these, a 14-year-old known as "Boy A", killed two pre-teens in 1997. More recently, a Nagasaki teenager bludgeoned her classmate to death last year, then hacked off her head with a hacksaw. Are the girls in Nara's pictures similarly angry, dangerous, helpless or isolated?
"I don't know myself," says Nara. "If I can explain it in words, then I don't think there's any need to make it into a picture."
Nara invariably rejects simple categorisations of his work as a "commentary" on this or that, and bristles at the suggestion that he himself is someone who has not grown up. He says he was raised "to not draw a line on things".
"I don't understand the definition of 'adult' that questioners use," he continues, declaring that he dislikes simple binaries such as "child" and "adult" or even "Japanese" and "Chinese". "Humans might have a common personality based on the town and environment they were raised in, to some extent, but you shouldn't be able to judge people under the same standard. I think the same goes for categorising people as adults or as children."
Critics praise that dismissive approach to cultural, political and even generational boundaries. American art critic Roberta Smith calls Nara "one of the most egalitarian visual artists since Keith Haring".
Nara with his Wall Painting for Nara’s Cabin. Photo: AFP
"He seems never to have met a culture or generation gap, a divide between art mediums or modes of consumption that he couldn't bridge or simply ignore," she said. His art bridges "high, low and kitsch; East and West; grown-up, adolescent and infantile", and is "so seamless as to render such distinctions almost moot".
It also clearly resonates with his fans. In Japan, Nara has become something of a franchise, lending his images to T-shirts, picture books, key chains and alarm clocks. That popularity speaks volumes, say some, about the emotional dislocation of many Japanese youth. But if so, it is a dislocation that travels well: American TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek have also borrowed his menacing shtick as shorthand for teenage passive aggression.
The artist is also a favourite among international art collectors; last September auction house Sotheby's Hong Kong held a three-week-long solo selling exhibition titled "The World According to Nara", showcasing more than 15 works covering paintings, drawings and sculptures dated between 1988 and 2010.
Nara's art has been praised for empowering adults by "inducing self-reflection and promoting self-discovery", in the words of one critic. Typically, the artist himself waves away highbrow interpretations of what he does. "I don't think too hard about it," he says. "This is just what comes out."
Some have detected a softening of the adolescent angst in his later work, resulting in less confrontational art. Instead of green-eyed malevolence, his children appear to be dreaming, or to have their eyes closed. One of the newer pieces shows a typically saucer-eyed adolescent holding flowers. Is that a peace offering? Nara reluctantly admits that reflects his own changing relationship with the world: "I think that being able to see things from a broader perspective as I aged and gained more life experience has had an influence."
Several prints in his Pace Hong Kong exhibition, part of Art Basel, shows his figures interacting with golden four-point stars. The motif suggests typically ambiguous Nara concerns: are the gold stars a reward for schoolwork or a cynical nod to "the optimism of childish bromides such as 'shoot for the stars' and 'wish upon a star'" asks the blurb for the Pace show. "The many facial expressions of Nara's figures suggest these meanings, be it the hopefulness of a child gazing up at the stars or a more adolescent cynicism, chary of any sense of hope."
The Hong Kong shows will widen the debate on Nara's work. The artist says he is "not unhappy" at his growing popularity with Western collectors, but says he hopes his work "will be spread not only among Westerners and not only among art collectors but naturally among those who have a good heart". He insists he gives little thought to his place within contemporary art, Western or Japanese.
"What I should be doing is, first of all, producing art that I think is good," he says. "I think what made me the person that I am now is creating works of art that I want to see myself and not being concerned about who will acquire my works or presenting my works."