Sunday, February 5, 2012
Natalka Husar talked at the opening to the OKWA Library show on February 4th and followed that with a visual talk at Agnes Etherington the next day. OKWA is honoured by Natalka's generosity with her time. She also donated her honorarium back to OKWA to be used in the highschool scholarship fund.
Both talks are transcribed here:
Natalka's response to this posting: "What i said at the show reception was really what i meant. What isn't clear was that i really feel you can't judge for "the best" when you have apples and oranges-- it's not fair to put paintings up against photos up against prints and bookworks and ceramic works and assemblages etc etc... because all have their merit and there is something honest and pure something artificial and forced in every single work of art. I tried to look at the latter only as a method of elimination. So my only suggestion to OKWA would be to reconsider the reason for having 'prizes' in the first place. Maybe simply somebody to give a 'crit' if indeed artists want some outside feedback. But again-- the most important thing is FOLLOW YOUR HEART --even though that sounds like such a cliche. So i chose work mainly whereI felt that was most evident."
Natalka Husar, Juror for 2012 OKWA Library Show:
" I am happy that I didn't know you before I started judging. I have met some of you since and you know you, and I love you. It is different when you look at work and you know the person.
I am an artist like you. When I looked around, I saw problems everywhere. I saw the same problems I see in my own work. I have a hard time making a decision, I really do. So what I did, with Michele as a sounding board, I put on my teaching persona and I gave a tough crit to every single work, eg. this is too genteel, this is too easy, this is too much blue, too much wax, too saleable, this is too cliche, this lies, this jokes, (you can't joke) this one is clever but only for a minute…I can see right through it, this one my mother-in-law would like, this one looks like it is painted by a guy--no woman could actually paint like that. So that is what I did only because every work has merit.
What I choose and what any juror or anybody in the art world would choose, that they would want whether it is to buy, to show, to sell, to curate is only a matter of opinion for that particular event. What I reject, someone else in another situation will embrace. That is very important to keep in mind. Every work here has merit; it has good and bad. I have looked at a lot of art, a lot of mediocre art, a lot of good art and a lot of bad art. I have a huge appetite for bad art. I am very open to share that opinion with you individually if you like and it is just my opinion. It is nothing; its just one person's opinion.
The paintings that survived this sort of whipping: I must say that "Chick and Two Chicks by Mary Peppard--I was attracted to that painting as soon as I walked in here before I even looked at anything else. Because I couldn't believe it. And then when I saw the title, I said "this cannot be serious." The title is a joke, but despite that I loved the painting. I loved that painting because the composition is cool and warm. There is all that blue--the blue pants, the blue sky and there is the ochre top and pants and the warm chicks. Even though it looks naive, it is naive in a way, it felt very much like the artist did not care what I thought or anyone thought but just wanted to do this.
The second one that I had a hard time dismissing: I had a hard time saying "you are trying to fool me". I kept looking at all the work and looking at it as if I was talking to the artist saying, " I know what you are doing, you are trying to make it look good, you are trying to make it sell, you are trying to make it pleasant." When I looked at Erika Olson's Studio Painting, it is what it is and that honesty in it is what I couldn't criticize. What I liked about it-- first of all the juxtaposition of this strange, soft nest-the robin's egg nest, and that same shape but hard and cold porcelain and that badly painted cup, but that didn't matter. And in the space that doesn't really exist and the cast shadows that are illogical but the simplicity of that works despite all those faults. It works as an abstract and works with that simplicity of a Giorgio Morandi. So I chose that. I could be totally wrong. I say that the cup is badly painted but you might have intended that.
It is beautifully hung. I think of both of these works as one. If they were hung separately maybe I would see it differently. It does capture in a very fresh way, that soggy landscape. It bounces off in a voice that feels private and not cliche somehow. Normally I am very weary of things attached to paintings, ie. if you can't paint a log, attach it idea. But despite that I thought that the painting felt very fresh.
I could have given 11 awards probably. There are 2 honourable mentions.
Really a painting of this pond by Su Sheedy is like that. It is beautiful. That isn't always what I would look for in art. But despite that, it is seductive. It is a beautiful abstract and its wet. I like that.
The other that I was attracted to is TRACES #30 by Michele LaRose. From a distance it looks like a landscape with this fence and shed but when you get up close its not about that at all.
I think it is fantastic that you do this. It is very important that you not take what anyone says to heart and you continue doing what you want to do regardless because there is no formula and there are no rules in making art.
NATALKA HUSAR AT AGNES ETHERINGTON February 2012
I couldn't decide whether we would play THEATRE or AIRPLANE. (2 titles up on the screen). But because the talk was billed BON VOYAGE we will do it kind of like a trip. Artist talks can be so flat and for a Sunday afternoon I appreciate you taking the time to come here. So we are going to try to have a little fun.
I am going to talk to you about my two obsessions. The first one is being an artist, the second one is the muse that I have picked--my parent's homeland, Ukraine.
We will do it like a trip: (image of stewardess) This is my alter ego but I actually was a flight attendant in another lifetime. I used the character of a stewardess not at all biographically but just (like an artist) as someone who transports people from one reality to another and leaving them jet-lagged. In a way this is the public persona of an artist, you have a show and this is what you do, you are a cultural guide.
I do these kind of confessional paintings which are small where I try to place myself with my work. This image is my persona as stewardess by night and a surgical nurse by day. In the private persona of the artist I see myself very much as a surgeon. By this I mean that I really like to be specific. I like to get to the very heart of a wound. I like art that isn't on the periphery. I like to be exact.
I have used these 2 characters in these little confessional works. In this image the stewardess is doing the waltz out of step, country music in another country, here dancing with the dead (Elvis head). Like painting they say is dead but it isn't, Elvis is alive and so is painting. Here the nurse and Stew are playing old world music.
Painting really is like scrubbing the floor.
In this image I painted myself as this "has been". Matinee Midwife has old work and new work juxtaposed. (the young girl is wearing different shoes) Here specifically you could say is a composition in grey black white. Its also a memory and a shoe like this growing up, and the other contemporary for its time. I don't know exactly what it means but if it feels right I go with that. When I use different shoes it also connotes not being able to run, a kind of bondage of sorts. I understood that after I painted it .
A painting like this that still makes me kind of cringe, "Self Portrait of an Old Artist" still wanting to be turned on by your muse.
It takes us to a painting about being too confident as a painter. The last thing you can do as a painter is say 'Oh this is a masterpiece, I can just relax .' When you think like that all of a sudden the wings fall off. It is a constant anxiety that everyone as an artist can feel.
We are going to time travel. I am going to give you a reader's digest version of my upbringing. That will inform you about why I do the work that I do. We are going to go all the way back to 1955 New Jersey. I am four years old. Kids are painting/drawing hearts, flowers, birds, bees, trees. My parents see some promise in me and save the portfolio of the drawings I did at age four. (images of christ on the cross, the black devil). Somehow early on the die was cast, I realized that art can have a very emotional power on the artist and the viewer. I remember hearing stories of the crucifixion, being the most horrific stories i could imagine. Also, even in this age I realized you could use art to show good and evil. In a way in essence my work has stayed like that.
1965 is the year that the Beatles came to New York and though I was an immigrant kid I was fortunate enough to go to Shea stadium and see them. Basically I show this to say to you that I felt very comfortable in both those worlds. From that time I possessed the key to both those houses. I spoke the language and I felt totally American. I knew where the medicine cabinet was in both houses.
I did a few bodies of work 20 years later using this kind of imagery in my work (Ukrainian and American content) I realized as a young artist that this was a secret that I had, a gold mine, that I had information that other people didn't have. As I started doing more work in this vein, the theme of the identity of displacement and dislocation became dominant in my work. I didn't even know what the word 'identity' meant at that time, it was 1985. But my parents' obliterated homeland and the face of the people that were left behind became a sado-masochistic obsession for the last 20 years.
A seminal piece from that time was Pandora's parcel from the Ukraine now at the National Art Gallery. It was with this work that I took a character like this to be emblematic of this country in the beginning of change. That character has been growing with my work. When I was in the Ukraine in 1992 I saw this girl sucking her thumb, who had a look as if her wings had been clipped. She was too shy, coyness. She was from the Chernobyl area. I changed her throughout my paintings, (image) Here she is sucking her thumb attempting to be luring and missing the mark. (image) Here I don't know where I am going with her, she is sort of an obstacle in my painting. (Natalka shows the evolution of the painting of the figure). If I have a plan of where I am going, I don't want to go there. (Seed Spitter).
Getting a grant to go to Ukraine to do research with poet Janice. We thought this was fantastic. I got paid to do what I want to do. I really hit a wall when I got there. What happened is that I started to question what it is that I, as an artist, can actually say or do or contribute to a conversation that was already universal ie. everyone was already talking about what was happening in Ukraine. It wasn't my own playground anymore, it was public.
I am not really a photographer. I didn't want to be documenting what was there, that's for photographers. I am a painter. I didn't want to write because all these journalists were writing. At the same time it was hyper stimulating. (images of contemporary Ukraine) Even though the images were very exciting they weren't anything that I could use in art. You would think that for someone like me who loves grotesquery and bad taste this would be very inspiraring. But it wasn't, it was art already on its own. It didn't need my intervention. Even candy looked like eye candy with titles like 'Masterpiece'. Playboy billboards on the street in 2005. Women in public half dressed. I had never seen anything like this so absurd. It is usually stimulating but for me it was very frustrating.
I went to the country and found more interesting subjects for me. Like this look of ennui, a desire for something better, for another life. I took all photos of men squatting. People hung around in this position all the time, making deals with a kind of innocence. I didn't know what anything meant.
What I was looking for is what I call the "indescribable". This is what you want as an artist to be able to speak about that which cannot be articulated, not spoken. I found a sense of that in this little anecdote: a couple of months before I went with Janice (the poet she collaborated with) to Ukraine, I went with my mother and my cousin for one week. We went to this castle. My mother says ' I am a ruin already, I don't want to look at ruins. I am going to go to the coffeehouse.' So I go to the castle. The castle has tons of tourists, none speaking Ukrainian. And then I hear a child's voice, it was beautiful Ukrainian. And they turn around and the woman is blind. And something happens where the artist in me takes over the human in me and I have to have a photo of this. I reach into my pocket and whatever I pull out which happens to be a twenty dollar bill, and the ugly American in me gives the kid the twenty dollar bill and asks to take a photo of him. I took only one photo. (image). And that photo was what I was looking for. I wanted to do work that felt like what that woman was doing (the blind companion of the boy).
I filled up a couple of sketchbooks in Ukraine and I started to collect old Leningrad oils, dead artist paints. I heard from word of mouth that these are extremely good paints. Paints no longer available anywhere (from the 60's,70's) they are lead tubes and toxic with pure cadmium etc. toxic metals. Can only get these through conservators because they collect them or old Babas who sell them from dead relatives.
We are in TURBULENCE now. Things are starting to move. This is a study I did in Ukraine. I became obsessed with this look, vicious circle. Kind of passive, bored, bruised but beautiful bruised look, a wound covered with make-up look. A kind of aggressive and depraved look still lingering from the Soviets but no one spoke about. And I started doing these composite portraits where I would instil these looks. I did maybe 30 portraits but 9 of them ended up in the show. Portraits of people that wouldn't normally come to my studio and let me paint them. Shifty personalities. Its about portraiture and about that depravity. I don't know where I am going with this. This is how I work. I don't know what I am going to do with these guys and they are lining up in my studio. I am thinking about everything that I saw.
One of the things I perceived in Ukraine is what I call this code of silence. There were things that were unspoken. This country went from a Soviet state, a third world, to a first world without skipping a beat. There was no accountability for all that baggage I was raised with. There was never any trial. It seemed like everyone had this cultural amnesia. Money and physical pleasures immediately took over.
So I thought I would paint a trial. Old women weigh you on the street in Ukraine.
You see it a lot. For 12 cents you could get weighed. It is sort of archaic and quaint. It is a way for pensioners to make money. I photograph it because I don't know what it means. Then I get this idea that I am going to use that old woman as the judge. As I work developing this judgement painting I take that old woman as the one with the longest memory and the least voice, she is weighing the sins of these thugs. And the artist is in the form of nurse/stewardess. And here is the young boy I gave the twenty dollars to. JUDGEMENT NIGHT
I have a tradition of painting on book covers. I collect all these trashy books. There is one book I found that was written by a journalist in 1949. It has a very racy title, Why They Behave Like Russians. I thought that I would paint on that title. Then I started painting on other book covers and they formed a poem.
After a Trial you need a BANQUET. My plot continues. I take the Seed Spitter girl going to a banquet. At the banquet the has/been shows off, the nurse is her social conscience, the stewardess looks on.
Natalka then shows us her 2 books, the catalogue from the touring show and the book she herself made and had printed in Ukraine.
Posted by OKWA at 9:34 PM