Lee’s film yields a “complex and multilayered” account which she hopes will instruct her daughter, and future generations of girls, about the struggle that preceded them.
Direct about the fact that the party of environmentalist Teddy Roosevelt has become entrenched in refuting the findings of the larger scientific community, Brainard said, “You have to trust 97 percent of scientists.”
The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) recently met in Dallas to discuss how to move their cities forward in order to meet the challenges before them. Topics included energy related issues, the impact of pollution, and climate change. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy was on hand to take part in a panel, where she expressed how leaders could avoid the animosity surrounding climate change by stressing the related concerns of health, safety, and economics.
One of the leaders focusing on the environment and sustainability was Jim Brainard, the five-term mayor of Carmel, Indiana.
Brainard was tapped to be on President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. He won first place honors from the 2008 Mayor’s Climate Protection Awards Program. The most exciting news in his bio…he is a Republican!
I interviewed Brainard by telephone upon his return from USCM to learn more about the programs he has implemented, and to inquire about his response to the overwhelming number of Republicans who push back on environmental regulations while hoisting the banner of climate change denial.
Direct about the fact that the party of environmentalist Teddy Roosevelt has become entrenched in refuting the findings of the larger scientific community, Brainard said, “You have to trust 97 percent of scientists. There’s no question that the earth is warming. The numbers are what the numbers are.”
When I mentioned Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-OK) branch of the party, Brainard suggested that he was “out-shouting” more moderate Republicans. He emphasized, “The Republican party needs to recognize that people in the United States want a clean environment for themselves and their descendants.”
Underscoring the non-partisan attitude that he saw prevailing in Dallas, Brainard informed me, “Everyone’s concerned about their city.”
Currently, Brainard serves as the co-chair of the Energy Independence and Climate Protection Task Force for the USCM. He has also signed their Climate Protection Agreement, which sets goals to “meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets in their own [respective] communities.”
Brainard told me, “We need to start at the local level, cleaning up pollution, planting trees, making every city a better place to live. It originates locally. Everybody wants progress.”
Carmel, with a population of 85,000, has received the Indiana Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence. Perhaps the reason Brainard has been repeatedly re-elected is because his constituency likes his sustainable initiatives. They include a long laundry list of efforts. In 2005, Brainard put forth an executive order for the city to purchase hybrid and bio-fuel vehicles. He spoke at length about installing roundabouts and their benefits, which eschews the usual traffic light intersection model. They conserve electricity and gasoline, while reducing air pollution. Tied in with this approach to traffic is Brainard’s commitment to an emphasis on more walkable areas and less “sprawl.”
In an effort to get on board with cutting edge technology, the city’s wastewater treatment plant adopted a process that yields high quality Biosolids, which is then utilized by local farmers as fertilizer. Simultaneously, it reduces “the amount of byproducts that end up in landfills.”
Indiana is number two in the country in terms of coal power generation; it also “leads the nation in coal ash ponds.” Brainard believes that alternative fuel sources must be cultivated “moving forward.” When questioned about the “jobs card” and “war on coal” that is inevitably referenced by Republicans such as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Brainard stated that Indiana has 2,800 coal workers who he believes can be transitioned to new employment. “The point is,” he said, “this is not a major source of jobs. There is no reason to be polluting the air. We have to take into account lung disease and asthma.” Brainard pointed out how the coal-fired plant in Indianapolis affects Carmel—due to the “northeast wind.” He added, “The entire region is impacted.
When we conversed about President Obama’s task force and the efforts of the White House, he responded, “I think he’s making progress.” After a short pause he noted, “I wish this had happened years ago.”
Before we concluded, Brainard again revisited the actions of Republicans in the 1970s, and President Nixon’s part in creating environmental safeguards and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. He highlighted, “There are a lot of Republicans around who care about the environment. Clean air and clean water should be non-partisan.”
Brainard’s final thought was clear: “We need to do what’s best for the people.”
Photo: Courtesy of the US Conference of Mayors
This interview originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force
When I first walked into Starting Out: 9 Abstract Painters 1958-1971, I didn’t immediately remember that the pristine space on Fifth Avenue was the site of a raucous opening I had attended decades ago for a 40th Anniversary Exhibition— where Larry Rivers was present. Without the hecticness of a large crowd, there was a serenity that enabled me to see and be enveloped by the large-scale paintings (in addition to framed works on paper) in solitude, and with the advantage that an empty gallery allows.
The premise of the show, as outlined in the press release, is to highlight a different time not currently prominent in the art public’s mind—“the late 1950s into the 1960s.” It was the period when the gallery championed the work of a new group of abstract painters, referenced as “the second-generation New York School.”
Most of the exhibited artists continued to explore abstraction for the duration of their careers in one form or another. Others, such as Jane Freilicher (b. 1924), evolved to a place where she expressed her vision through representational images. The gallery states that for Freilicher abstraction was “a resting point.” Ironically, it is her oil on canvas that is the first painting that greets the visitor upon arrival.
Untitled Abstraction can be read as a precursor to her future landscape paintings. Areas of blue at the top of the canvas and bottom sections of scumbled green—that evidence the drip marks of thinned paint—act as points of enclosure for a sandy colored swath which is punctuated by accents of red. Freilicher studied with Hans Hofmann, absorbing his lessons about non-objective painting. By 1963, in her watercolor on paper, Freilicher titles the piece Abstract Landscape. She is on the road to the imagery that would be clearly defined two years later.
Edward Avedisian (b. 1936), in his painting as well as his gouache on paper, makes use of strategically placed concentric circles placed in a larger field of opaque color. Their pictographic quality, combined with the ochre field it is placed upon, call to mind symbolic markings on the African masks of Burkina Faso.
Strategically placed on a wall by itself is Many Parts by Friedel Dzubas (b. 1915). Large floating forms resembling landmasses exist as individual islands of color. Although that are separate, they appear interactive. The shapes are static, yet there is a sense of movement. There are what appear to be shadows behind the colors of gunmetal grey, ultramarine blue, yellow, and sherbet green. Rather, they are stains from the medium mixed with the paint—which is flat and without texture. Dzubas emigrated from Nazi Germany in 1939. Thirteen years later, he would share a studio with Helen Frankenthaler (b. 1928).
There are numerous connections between the different artists in the show—such as friendships or student-teacher relationships. Part of the history of the Tibor de Nagy gallery is embedded in the camaraderie that grew within a community of artists, poets, and writers.
Frankenthaler’s Two Live as One on a Crocodile Isle is hung opposite the work of Dzubas. She studied at Bennington with Paul Feeley (b. 1910). Frankenthaler was included in two shows at Tibor de Nagy in 1951. In the spring, she was featured in The New Generation exhibit. At the end of that year, she had a solo show. Here, she uses oil washes to achieve both a spontaneous and a lyrical character. Combining color, fluidity, and spontaneous markings, there is the suggestion that the movement within the canvas can only be temporarily contained.
Adjacent to the Frankenthaler is a narrow painting by Kenneth Noland (b. 1924). His output, frequently divided into categories reflecting the geometric impetuses of his work—circles, chevrons, diamonds, stripes, and plaids, were examined and reexamined. Space of Red falls into the “plaid” period. Muted tones of reds and purples stain the surface while combining tonalities with vertical and horizontal lines.
Represented by both works on paper and a painting, Feely’s canvas challenges the observer to gravitate between perceiving the work through the prism of either positive or negative space. His blue expanse can easily read as a body of water between two earthly regions. Then again, while focusing on the yellow vastness, his blue transmits the symbolism of an hourglass.
In his watercolor, executed two years earlier, Feeley investigates interlocking shapes that mimic each other. Here he uses three colors with an intermediary band establishing a neutral no-man’s-land, thereby alleviating the conundrum of an either/or resolution. The interlocking shapes suggest both male and female manifestations, simultaneously thrusting and receiving.
Also engaged in the use of positive and negative space is Kendall Shaw (b. 1924), who had three one-person shows at the gallery in the mid-Sixties. Shaw uses form and color as a meditation on the energy of space, placement, and connection. Of the six panels, all colors claim a wide band and a narrow band. It is how they interface with the wall and to each other that is crucial. Like Feely, Shaw challenges participants to the witnessing process to resolve their own determination as to where the borders and frontiers lie. For Shaw, color is feeling, and here every unit operates both individually and as part of a whole.
The large, seemingly monochromatic work of Ralph Humphrey (b. 1932) invites a prolonged examination of his tactile and velvety black surface. The conscious application of paint is evident in his use of texture as hints of blue and evidence of brick red reveal themselves as part of the underpainting. There is a feeling of planetary “other worldliness,” as if one is viewing part of something that fell to earth. The canvas yields a hint of Humphrey’s work to come, which would explore subtle modulations of color on wood—as well as his witty and spirited “window paintings.”
While Humphrey’s image struck me as lunar, the Darbary Bannard (b. 1943) gouache and pencil on paper (1962) and his alkyd on canvas resonated as solar. Executed during a period of minimalism, Bannard’s pencil drawn circle, surrounded by a halo of yellow paint, almost looks as if it were achieved through the use of a protractor. There is a slight element of shading that gives the circle a three-dimensionality, yielding the potential of a sphere. Perhaps Bannard was working out ideas he would explore the following year, when he placed a half-circle of saturated yellow at the bottom of his canvas.
Many of these artists veered in totally different directions as time passed and they continued to challenge themselves with questions about how they were painting and what they were trying to express. Bannard, in a recent article in the Miami press in conjunction with a 2012 exhibition, spoke about finding himself “at loggerheads with the art world’s tastemakers.” He stated, “I don’t change for any reason except that I want to keep myself interested.”
This exhibit gives gallery goers the opportunity to see how that path started for him and his contemporaries.
Photos: Courtesy of Tibor de Nagy Gallery
Tibor de Nagy Gallery
June 5, 2014 – August 1, 2014
724 Fifth Avenue
New York City
Every life has events of consequence. Those happenings impact and direct the future flow of consciousness. Sometimes, the ramifications remain beneath the surface. In other circumstances, the thread is easy to recognize. If you are an artist, such as Freddy Rodríguez, it manifests in your work.
Rodríguez was born in the Dominican Republic in 1945. He came from a family of artists. His granduncle was Yoryi Morel, one of the founders of Dominican modernism. Creating art as a child, Rodríguez made masks for carnival from paper and starch. While attending a private elementary school, Rodríguez began drawing maps, where he won competitions for his efforts. By 14, he was regularly acknowledged in his geography class for his “best” achievements. One such example was his “octopus in an ocean.” Even then, Rodríguez didn’t want art to “imitate reality.” Rather, he aspired to have the viewing be magical. He told me, “I make art to have people experience something new.”
Yet there was nothing magical about living under the rule of a dictator, and the history of Rodríguez’s country of birth permeates his oeuvre.
The Dominican Republic was discovered by Columbus, which led the way to waves of European imperialism that would follow. In the first decade of the 1500s, slaves were imported. By 1522, the first slave uprising in the Americas occurred. The island was subject to various power brokers. The Catholic Church sought influence among the populace. The United States occupied the country for eight years commencing in 1916. In 1930, strongman Rafael Trujillo took the reins of power. Known globally for his brutality, his mark on the island was obliterated in 1961 when he was ambushed and killed.
In the immediate post-Trujillo years, Rodríguez was part of an “improvised” political student movement for freedom in the Dominican Republic. “The kind of freedom that is denied in a dictatorship,” he said. Word got to him— through channels from those in government—that he “needed to leave.” As he related, “Friends were tortured and killed. Things were very bad.”
Rodríguez came to the United States in 1963 at the age of 18. Though totally alone, he completed his high school degree. A teacher gave him free passes to the Museum of Modern Art. It was an experience that he was unused to—as there were no museums in his country. He frequented the Museum of Natural History, calling it “a revelation.” He sketched at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and went to galleries “religiously.”
The loss of Rodríguez’s mother in 1964, while he was in the United States, was compounded by the fact that he was “very close to her.” He said, “I never saw her again and that changed my life.” As a new legal resident of the country facing the draft in 1966, Rodríguez headed back to the Dominican Republic. He then lived briefly in Puerto Rico, where he worked for a steamship company before returning to New York City.
Discussing his early years with me, Rodríguez’s narrative was laced with the realities of the challenges he faced as a person of color. “I lived here because I had no choice—but I was not treated well in the 1960s. When I came to this country, a label was put on me—and it wasn’t positive.”
When Rodríguez resettled in Manhattan, he enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the New School for Social Research. “At that time,” Rodríguez said, ”you didn’t need money to be an artist.” In 1969, he reconnected with artist pal Ed Taylor, who was making textiles. Rodríguez saw that it would be “great training.” He said, “It was very rigorous. There were perimeters. It taught me how to work with limitations. Color theory was vital.” At the New School, Rodríguez studied with Carmen Cicero, who at the time was doing geometric painting. Beyond the technicalities of art-making, they conversed about art history, literature, and the works of other artists. It was in Cicero’s class that Rodríguez executed his first hard-edged painting, using the process of laying down tape.
While describing the trajectory of his work, Rodríguez segued into a commentary on the gallery scene and the “business of art.” He said, “The art market is so segregated it is unbelievable. How can a Dominican enter that world?” He continued, “A lot of critics are ignorant of culture and content. Carmen Herrera was doing geometric painting in the 1940s. Criticism is from the European perspective. It’s also who you are and who you know.” Yet Rodríguez maintained that despite the obstacles, he was his only competition. “I compete with myself, and hope that the next one [painting] is better,” he stated.
As an artist who prides himself on continual exploration, Rodríguez also pointed to the galleries and critics who had a problem with the fluidity with which he changed techniques and stylistic approaches. “I don’t like to repeat myself,” he emphasized. His output is prodigious, and his method of creating is rapid. As an aside to potential detractors he noted, “A person is constantly growing and changing, which is influenced by their life…unless they’re one-dimensional.”
Rodríguez’s attraction to abstract art began with his appreciation of the discipline and primary colors of Piet Mondrian. In Mark Rothko, he connected with the emotional qualities inherent in the canvases. Rodríguez saw Frank Stella as a “kindred spirit, an artist constantly challenging himself to do new things.”
With a touch of irony, Rodríguez pointed out how “those in the art world were somewhat surprised by his works that dealt purely with abstraction. They don’t associate abstraction with Caribbean art.” He observed wryly, “We can’t think in the abstract?”
This very point was addressed in the exhibit, Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A multi-themed presentation, Rodríguez is represented with the group of artists, “Defying Categories.” He has three works from 1974 included. Each acrylic on canvas is a narrow vertical, measuring 96″ x 32″. They exemplify Rodríguez’s use of geometry and color to animate the picture plane.
Despite barriers, Rodríguez racked up numerous solo exhibits, nationally and globally, and has been the recipient of many fellowships and awards. He received a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, was a Gregory Millard Fellow in Painting, and served as a New York State Council for the Arts Artist in Residence at El Museo del Barrio—an experience he reflected on with great satisfaction. Rodríguez has work owned by the Bronx Museum, the Queens Museum, el Museo del Barrio, the Newark Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Museo de Las Casas Reales in Santo Domingo. Corporations such as American Express and Smith Barney have included him in their collections. Recently, he was selected to be in the pilot phase of the CALL program (Creating a Living Legacy), which helps artists to properly document and archive their work and career.
Rodríguez was chosen to design the prestigious memorial to Flight 587. Speaking about his approach to the project, he said, “I used my knowledge of art and my minimalist background. My memorial is filled with all kinds of symbols and metaphors. It also deals with the immigrant experience, religious life, and the occurrence of death. There is a gate. People go back and forth—like the gates of paradise. The openings in the memorial, the cut-outs, they allow light to come through. It is for remembrance. The souls of the dead are captured by the light. For those who are visiting, the memorial functions on many levels. In its simplicity, there is spirituality.”
After speaking with Rodríguez extensively in the living room of his home in Queens, New York (not far from where assemblage master Joseph Cornell lived), we went to his studio. Housed in a separate structure on his property, it held racks of paintings, works in progress, a table Rodríguez uses to work horizontally when pouring paint, and sculptures propped against the walls. There was plenty to look at, and Rodríguez spoke enthusiastically about each piece.
“You have to be so alert for the kind of work I do,” Rodríguez said. “All my work has some kind of a conceptual meaning behind it. I do think a lot.” When we first connected, Rodríguez immediately discussed his affinity and admiration for the renowned Argentine writer Julio Cortázar—who was also a political activist. Words as imagery and as contextual material are integral to much of Rodríguez’s output. This is evident in his collage on canvas series, where phrases are juxtaposed with symbolic icons on a backdrop of surfaces that include newspaper, fabric, and found materials. In Paradise for a Tourist Brochure, Rodríguez implements one of his visual stand-ins, butterflies, for the people and country of the Dominican Republic. With the word “paraíso,” which translates to paradise or heaven, he presents viewers with a different side of the lush island culture that tourists expect to experience.
More accurately, the tiny red circles with drip marks read as bullet holes, and the handprints serve as bloody reminders of those who have died from political violence under the iron hand of repression.
In Rodríguez’s most recent project, finished in late 2013, he has combined text and painting in the form of a one-of-a-kind book. He has given it the appellation, Mi Joda, which he translates as, To Upset the System. Here, he has incorporated his own words in a relationship with his painting.
Rodríguez said, “I think it’s my job to keep exploring and learning new things. This was overtly apparent in his studio as I viewed sculptures; images that encompassed responses to the tsunami that destroyed Japan; his endeavor to “transform baseball stats to the visual realm; folding screens.
Included in the blockbuster show Caribbean: Crossroads of the World, termed “the big art event of the summer season in New York” by Holland Cotter in his New York Times review, Rodríguez’s piece Homage to Tony Peña is also featured in the companion book. The show will be viewed at a series of museums and in conjunction with a full schedule of programs. It’s currently on view at the Pérez Art Museum Miami.
Through the wide range of work that Rodríguez shared with me, and the personal history that he had narrated, his final statement summed up the whole visit:
“My truth is in my art.”
This article is from the series “Evolution of an Artist”
Photos courtesy of the artist
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