MICHAEL BOOKER’s solo “Veil” highlighted in Washingtonian Magazine

18 Nov

Here’s what you should check out this week:

A one-of-a-kind performance: Ben Folds, multi-platinum selling singer-songwriter and artistic advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra, is bringing his greatest hits to the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall for one night only. He will be performing songs from his time as frontman of the Ben Folds Five, his solo career, and his many collaborative records. Monday 11/15 at 8 PM; $39-$79, buy tickets here.

Makin’ music: Bring the kids downtown for a lunchtime go-go music workshop in Franklin Park. Dante Pope, soul-vocalist and drummer, will teach the young musicians about the role of percussion instruments in creating the funky rhythms. Drumsticks will be provided. Tuesday 11/16 at 11 AM; Free, register here.

Fall vibes: Learn the art of floral design in a fall wreath-making workshop from local women-owned flower shop She Loves Me. While the florists will teach you how to put a variety of fresh seasonal flowers and plants on a brass structure, sip on a complimentary beverage from Denizens Brewing Co. in Riverdale Park, Md. Tuesday 11/16 from 6 PM-8 PM; Free, register here.

Reclaiming herself: Hear from model Emily Ratajkowski as she talks about her new memoir, My Body with New York magazine’s Hanna Rosin. In her book, Ratajkowski describes her personal exploration of feminism, sexuality, and power in a collection of essays that also investigates society’s fetishization of female beauty, the contempt for women’s sexuality, and the gray area between consent and abuse. Tuesday 11/16 at 7 PM; $12-$35, buy tickets here.

Have a laugh: Stand-up comedian Ali Siddiq started his comedy career by telling jokes in prison, which gave him the unique perspective and distinct style that has made thousands of people laugh over the past several years. This week, the Bring the Funny finalist will headline for his fourth time at the DC Improv Comedy Club. Wednesday 11/17 through Saturday 11/20 (times vary); $25-$30, buy tickets here.

Wine down: Relax after work with a watercolor painting session at Shop Made in DC’s Georgetown location. The self-guided DIY event comes with two prints to paint and two glasses of wine. Bring a friend, or come solo to meet some new friends. Wednesday 11/17 from 5 PM-7 PM; $20, buy tickets here.

Indigenous films: The National Museum of the American Indian’s Native Cinema Showcase started last week, and features several movies and panels from filmmakers from Indigenous communities throughout the Western Hemispheres and Arctic. Films include Rez Metal—which tells the story of a Navajo heavy metal band’s rise to fame—and Run Woman Run, about a bereaved single mother who gets her life back on track with the guidance of the ghost of her ancestor. Other programming includes short films that reflect Native storytelling traditions and panels about the hurdles that Indigenous filmmakers face. Through Thursday 11/18; Free, learn more here.

Storytelling through art: “Veil” is a new art exhibition at Morton Fine Art in Truxton Circle that depicts artist Michael Booker’s psychological journey throughout the pandemic and recent moments of social injustices. Booker combines watercolor, pen, and hand stitching to portray the resilience and strength of the Black community through troubling times. Through Saturday 12/4; Free, learn more here.

That’s all for now! Don’t forget to drop me a line at dbaker@washingtonian.com to let me know what you’re up to.

Damare Baker

ASSISTANT EDITOR

Before becoming an assistant editor, Damare Baker started out as an editorial fellow for Washingtonian. She has previously written for Voice of America and The Hill. She is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she studied international relations, Korean, and journalism.

MICHAEL ANDREW BOOKER’s solo exhibition “Veil” at Morton Fine Art

15 Nov

Video credit: Jarrett Hendrix

Morton Fine Art (52 O Street NW #302, Washington, DC) is pleased to present Veil, a solo presentation of new works on paper by artist Michael Booker, on view from November 6 – December 4, 2021.

Rendered on paper and Yupo, Booker’s latest body of work depicts surreal scenes evocative of the artist’s psychological journey through tumult and towards inner peace. In Booker’s compositions, portraits are partially shielded by swaths of color, and views are intercepted by lush organic forms. Joining geometric designs with figuration, Booker’s large-scale drawings are rich in dynamism and detail, the artist acting as a conductor of a broad symphony of colors and tones. Owing to the drawing practice itself as a healing mechanism, Veil documents the emotional terrains crossed by the artist amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and concurrent instances of social injustice. The exhibition’s title gestures towards the strategies of emotional self-protection harnessed by the artist during periods of vulnerability and contemplation, barriers made visible in the layered effects captured by the drawings themselves.

Despite the complexity of Booker’s compositions, each line and brushstroke remains visible, the artist using a wide range of materials and instruments, including fine liner pen, colored pencil, watercolor, and alcohol ink. Booker’s mastery of his tools is evidenced by his ability to create dense fields of light, shadow, and texture through the careful application of fine lines, resulting in superimposed tableaus reminiscent of collage or digital manipulation. Reverberating with the work’s themes, the meticulous process by which such depth and emotion is rendered echoes the strained experiences of self-reflection, growth, and reconciliation experienced by the artist during the course of these drawings’ creations.

“This exhibition chronicles a personal and emotional journey caused by the effects of a prolonged pandemic and moments of social injustice,” said artist Michael Booker. “Volatile social interactions became commonplace in both media and amongst friends. Over time, a realization of resiliency set in, as these drawings became a form of cathartic therapy to search for a nuanced visual reflection of the turmoil that lingered within.”

Though invested with fraught emotions, the cohesion and harmony of the resulting works ultimately foreground hope and optimism. Capturing individuals immersed in solitary contemplation as well as in embrace, Booker’s drawings suggest resilience and reconciliation amidst societal and interpersonal volatility, demonstrating a multiplicity of pathways toward new light.

Available Artwork by MICHAEL ANDREW BOOKER

MICHAEL ANDREW BOOKER speaks to his drawings in his solo exhibition “Veil” at Morton Fine Art

13 Nov

Video credit: Jarrett Hendrix

Morton Fine Art (52 O Street NW #302, Washington, DC) is pleased to present “Veil”, a solo presentation of new works on paper by artist Michael Booker, on view from November 6 – December 4, 2021.

Rendered on paper and Yupo, Booker’s latest body of work depicts surreal scenes evocative of the artist’s psychological journey through tumult and towards inner peace. In Booker’s compositions, portraits are partially shielded by swaths of color, and views are intercepted by lush organic forms. Joining geometric designs with figuration, Booker’s large-scale drawings are rich in dynamism and detail, the artist acting as a conductor of a broad symphony of colors and tones. Owing to the drawing practice itself as a healing mechanism, Veil documents the emotional terrains crossed by the artist amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and concurrent instances of social injustice. The exhibition’s title gestures towards the strategies of emotional self-protection harnessed by the artist during periods of vulnerability and contemplation, barriers made visible in the layered effects captured by the drawings themselves.

Available Artwork by MICHAEL ANDREW BOOKER

MICHAEL BOOKER in Create! Magazine

8 Nov

Create! Mag is pleased to share the announcement of Veil, a solo presentation of new works on paper by artist Michael Booker, on view from November 6 – December 4, 2021, at Morton Fine Art. Rendered on paper and Yupo, Booker’s latest body of work depicts surreal scenes evocative of the artist’s psychological journey through tumult and towards inner peace.

In Booker’s compositions, portraits are partially shielded by swaths of color, and views are intercepted by lush organic forms. Joining geometric designs with figuration, Booker’s large-scale drawings are rich in dynamism and detail, the artist acting as a conductor of a broad symphony of colors and tones. Owing to the drawing practice itself as a healing mechanism, Veil documents the emotional terrains crossed by the artist amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and concurrent instances of social injustice. The exhibition’s title gestures towards the strategies of emotional self-protection harnessed by the artist during periods of vulnerability and contemplation, barriers made visible in the layered effects captured by the drawings themselves.

Michael Booker, I Need a Forest Fire, 2021, 35.5″x35.5″, Fineliner pen, color pencil, watercolor and alcohol ink on paper and Yupo, Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art
Michael Booker, Unwritten, 2020, 34″x25″, Fineliner pen, watercolor and doily on paper and Yupo, Courtesy the artist and Morton Fine Art

Michael Booker is a mixed media artist originally from Jackson, Mississippi who currently resides in Maryland. He received his BFA in Studio Art – Painting from Mississippi State University in 2008, and received his MFA in Studio Art from University of Maryland in 2012. He has exhibited in various galleries across Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Maine, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC. His work has been acquired by the David C. Driskell Center in College Park, MD. He is an Assistant Professor of Art at Montgomery College Takoma Park/Silver Spring. Booker has been represented by Morton Fine Art in Washington, DC since 2019.

Headshot of the artist, Courtesy the artist and Morton Fine Art

Alicia Puig

Available Artwork by Michael Booker.

Wayne Thiebaud | Vonn Cummings Sumner | Manetti Shrem Museum | San Francisco Chronicle’s Datebook

2 Nov

ART & EXHIBITS

Celebrating Wayne Thiebaud’s influence as artist turns 101 at Manetti Shrem Museum

Tony Bravo October 30, 2021Updated: November 1, 2021, 9:07 am

“Three Treats” is one of more than a dozen Thiebaud works on view in “Wayne Thiebaud Influencer: A New Generation” at the Manetti Shrem Museum.Photo: © 2021 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. / Photos by UC Davis/Greg Urquiaga

In his celebrated seven-decade career, painter Wayne Thiebaud has created a body of work that continues to captivate and inspire new viewers.

A pre-Pop Art innovator and figurative artist known for his elevation of everyday objects, Thiebaud has intersected with generations of students, beginning in 1960 when he joined UC Davis’ then-fledgling art department as a professor. Although he officially retired in 1990 (he continued teaching until 2002), he remains a professor emeritus at the school.

His larger reach in the world of painting is the subject of an exhibition at UC Davis’ Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, titled “Wayne Thiebaud Influencer: A New Generation,” on view through Nov. 12 — closing just three days before he turns 101. The Sacramento artist, who still paints every day, will be honored along with the Wayne Thiebaud Foundation, which will receive the Margrit Mondavi Arts Medallion at the museum’s annual gala the weekend of Thiebaud’s birthday.

For the Manetti Shrem Museum’s associate curator, Susie Kantor, there was a desire that the exhibition not just look back at the 100 years of Thiebaud’s life and work, but also “look ahead to the next 100 years” of art inspired by him. Of special interest to Kantor was work by students from his more than 40 years of teaching at Davis.

“He describes himself as a painter and a teacher, and I think they’re equally important to him,” Kantor says. “He gets so much from the teaching and from his students. He talked about it keeping him young, so maybe that’s longevity’s secret.”

“Wayne Thiebaud Influencer” features work by 19 artists, 13 of whom have been his students, who have been inspired by different aspects of Thiebaud’s canon. Their work is presented in conversation with Thiebaud’s own, allowing viewers to make comparisons and connections and see the chain of influence from one generation to the next.

Among the artists presented are Christopher Brown, April Glory Funcke, Grace Munakata, Bruce Nauman, Vonn Cummings Sumner and Patricia Wall, who all studied with Thiebaud, along with Andrea Bowers, Robert Colescott, Alex Israel, Jason Stopa, Jonas Wood and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Many of the artists featured became teachers themselves.

“A lot of the artists who studied with him talked about the idea of a daily practice,” Kantor says. “Many of them still do sketchbooks. That rigor in the daily practice, this idea of process is really key, but the value that they place on it comes from working and studying with Wayne.”

Vonn Sumner, “Shopping,” 2020. Oil on canvas.Photo: © Vonn Sumner

Sumner, who is based in Santa Ana and Palo Alto and has seven paintings in the exhibition, chose to attend Davis because Thiebaud was a member of the faculty. He earned both his bachelor’s degree (in 1998) and his MFA (in 2000) with an emphasis on painting from the school.

“I wanted to study with him because I loved his paintings, and to my surprise and good fortune I discovered that he was a truly great teacher,” Sumner says. In graduate school, he became Thiebaud’s teaching assistant and developed a deeper creative dialogue with the older artist. The two have maintained a “close mentor/mentee relationship” for 20 years.

Among Sumner’s works featured in the show is the 2020 oil “The Elephant in the Room II,” a work in which Sumner sees Thiebaud’s influence. It’s a memory painting created with no photo reference, a practice Thiebaud also employs.

“Wayne teaches his students how to see, essentially,” Sumner says. “This kind of ‘seeing’ includes critical thinking, developing our own questions, setting up tensions and problems to solve with paint.”

Munakata, a mixed-media painter based in Berkeley who has three works in the exhibition, also studied with Thiebaud as both an undergraduate and graduate student in the 1980s and was his teaching assistant for his beginning color class. She still remembers seeing Thiebaud’s painting “Yellow Dress” in 1974 and shows it to her students at Cal State East Bay “to help students see color within a single ‘color,’ and sense the human hand and intelligence in the choices he made.”

Grace Munakata, “Sitka Colonnade,” 2020. Acrylic and wax pastel.Photo: © Grace Munakata

Munakata’s 2019 acrylic painting “Reykjanes,” an abstract inspired by an Icelandic landscape, is one of two works of hers in the exhibition. She notes: “In Thiebaud’s city- and riverscapes, impossible combinations of planes and scale converge, though unlike my work, his devices read as a single, crazily knit landscape.”

Berkeley painter Christopher Brown,  whose 2017 oil “Twice Over” is in the exhibition, says the influence of Thiebaud’s “Cityscape” series depicting San Francisco remains meaningful even 50 years after he first viewed studies for the work in a show at the Davis student union. The tension between organization and chaos represented in the grid-like patterns of the “Cityscape” works is evident in the architectural subject matter of “Twice Over.”

“When you’re a young artist, you see the most obvious, alluring things in any other artist’s work,” says Brown, like technical skills you may not yet have mastered. “But, you learn by just looking at it: ‘Oh, that’s how he put that together, that’s how he made the paint, look at the way he uses color.’ His paintings are about those fundamental things. What’s beautiful about his work is the way that he takes those things, those elements, and he intensifies them.”

Christopher Brown, “Twice Over,” 2017. Oil on linen on panel.Photo: © Christopher Brown / Berggruen Gallery

“Wayne Thiebaud Influencer: A New Generation”: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Through Nov. 12 (closed Nov. 11 for Veterans Day). Free; reservations recommended. UC Davis’s Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, 254 Old Davis Road, Davis. 530-752-9623. manettishremmuseum.ucdavis.edu

Related articles

Getting to know Wayne Thiebaud as the painter turns 100

Wayne Thiebaud, approaching 98, takes stock of the big picture

VONN SUMNER | UC Davis | Wayne Thiebaud

25 Oct

UC Davis alum art exhibition on view in D.C.

Krazy Times, a solo exhibition of new paintings and watercolors by artist and UC Davis alum Vonn Cummings Sumner (MFA 2000), is on view at Morton Fine Art in Washington D.C. through Nov. 3. Reflecting the artist’s longstanding interest in the career of famed American cartoonist George Herriman, Sumner’s recent works render the eponymous protagonist of Herriman’s Krazy Kat comic strip in settings and circumstances evocative of contemporary life. It is also available to view online.

Artwork from exhibit, coral above beige figure
Vonn Cummings Sumner, Krazy Dreams, 2021. Oil on panel. 18 x 18 inches.  Robert Wedemeyer. (Courtesy the artist and Morton Fine Art).

Sumner was first introduced to Krazy Kat by his mentor, painter Wayne Thiebaud, whose love of Krazy Kat was shared by peers such as Philip Guston and Willem de Kooning. Appearing in newsprint from 1913 to 1944, Krazy Kat remains a keystone in the history of American cartooning, owing to its widespread cultural influence. Today, Sumner’s reinvigoration of Krazy Kat highlights its relevance to 21st-century themes — partly created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sumner describes Krazy Kat as an “empathetic effigy” for processing a moment of great global change and loss. 

View the Krazy Times exhibition online here.

Novo Edifício da Embaixada dos Estados Unidos em Moçambique | Maputo | Featuring Lizette Chirrime

21 Oct

About Art in Embassies

Available artwork by LIZETTE CHIRRIME

VONN SUMNER talks music and art in Bomarr Blog

16 Oct

Background Noise, Vol 111: Vonn Sumner

UNCATEGORIZED

BACKGROUND NOISE, VOL 111: VONN SUMNER

MR_ADMIN

Vonn Sumner has had art in his bones for quite some time.

Growing up around art (his father was also an artist), it was no surprise that Vonn would eventually attend art school. It was at this art school, UC Davis, where he discovered artist Wayne Thiebaud was not only still alive, but teaching classes. Unfortunately, it would be another 2 years before Vonn met the criteria for attending one of Wayne’s classes, but that didn’t deter him. Vonn just started showing up. It was through this ambitious approach that he absorbed a lot of Wayne’s teachings. Something that proved invaluable to Vonn’s developing art pursuit.

Vonn’s paintings mix a bit of humor with occasional social commentary. He has a whole series of paintings depicting dumpster fires, which were particularly relevant during the chaotic 2020 we had.

He cites everyone from Guston to Chris Ware to R. Crumb to Buster Keaton as influences, and if you look close enough, you can see all of it in his work.Vonn-Sumner-Neo-Byzantine-UltravioletVonn-Sumner-Dumpster-Fire-lllVonn-Sumner-Bread-and-Circuses-IIVonn-Sumner-1Vonn-Sumner-DGAFVonn-Sumner-ParlanceVonn-Sumner-Watching-a-Dumpster-Fire

First album you bought?
“The Best of Blondie” on cassette tape, I was like 5 years old. I still love Blondie.

Last album you bought?
I just found a vinyl version of the classic underground “Grey Album” by DJ Danger Mouse. It is “unofficial” but still sounds great.

First concert?
My parents took me with them to concerts when I was very little. The earliest one I actually remember was Sha-Na-Na.

Last concert?
The Alabama Shakes

Was there one album that made a significant impression on you?
So many, of course… I think I will choose De La Soul: 3 Feet High and Rising. I was like 13 years old when it came out, and it was unlike anything I had heard before: so creative, so fresh, so funny, so wonderfully weird. I wore that tape out completely. Great cover art too.

Who is your musical hero?
Otis Redding. Talk about an ‘authentic voice’… direct. All heart.

How important is music to your creative process?
Music is extremely important to my creative process. It is almost as necessary as light, sometimes. Music opens me up, gets me out of my head and into my body. It goes directly to our emotional core, which, of course it is endlessly inspiring. I also love music that is able to incorporate multiple moods/styles and music that incorporates humor in various ways.

BONUS: What is your favorite album cover of all time (and why)?
Otis Redding Live in Europe from Stax / Volt in 1967… Because of the combination of that hot pink suit against the black background, plus the font/text.

BONUS #2: Any visual artist(s) you’d like to see answer these questions?
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
Jason Stopa
Loie Hollowell
Amy Sherald
Eleanor Ray

All Blues – Miles Davis
Japan – Pharaoh Sanders
Action Line – Dorothy Ash-
Govinda Jai Jai – Alice Coltrane
Wede Harer Guzo – Hailu Mergia & Dahlak Band
Tezeta – Mulatu Astatke
It Is What It Is – Blood Orange
I Can’t Stand It – The Velvet Underground
Making Time – The Creation
River Euphrates – Pixies
The Beast and Dragon, Adored – Spoon
House of Cards – Radiohead
Digital – Joy Division
That’s All I Need – Magic Sam
La Venia Bendita – Marco Antonio Solis

www.vonnsumner.com

Check out Vonn’s’s playlist below on Spotify. Be sure to like Background Noise on Facebook for updates on future episodes. You can browse ALL the Background Noise episodes right here.

Tune in to LISA MYERS BULMASH’s Visiting Artist Lecture at The North Seattle College of Art on Monday 10/25 from 12-1pm PDT or 3-4pm EST

15 Oct

LISA MYERS BULMASH, The Ingratitude of the Girl, 2021, 36″x48″, mixed media collage on panel
Detail of LISA MYERS BULMASH, The Ingratitude of the Girl, 2021, 36″x48″, mixed media collage on panel

Available Artwork by LISA MYERS BULMASH

KATHERINE TZU-LAN MANN in Bmore Art by Suzy Kopf

7 Oct

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann Isn’t Apologizing for Beauty Anymore

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann Isn’t Apologizing for Beauty Anymore

Mann’s wall-sized collages and installations rework and play with her own life and history, visually summarizing the collision of her upbringing

Collage can be loosely summarized as the coming together of contrasting elements to make a new whole. Bold colors or patterns are pushed up against representational forms to create a world that doesn’t adhere to the laws of gravity or perspective. We recognize this in the 100-year-old canvases of artists like Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris (who currently has a show up at the Baltimore Museum of Art). Perhaps because of these origins of collage, it’s especially notable when a contemporary artist combines elements of themselves in their work, not just material from the world around them. 

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann’s wall-sized collages and installations rework and play with her own life and history, visually summarizing the collision of her upbringing. Moving every two or three years through Asia, the US, and the Middle East as the daughter of an American foreign service officer father and a Taiwanese mother, homemaker, teacher, and graphic designer, Mann first dabbled with traditional Sumi-e ink techniques as a teen but didn’t learn to speak Chinese until college.

In her work, Mann simultaneously combines Eastern and Western influences, using extremely old mediums such as Sumi-e ink, invented in the first century AD in China, and contemporary ones such as Yupo paper, a plastic paper that is popular with water media artists because it repels water instead of absorbing it, allowing ethereal shapes that recall their watery origins to dry slowly.

Installation view of Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann: Water Ribbon at Morton Fine Art

In her practice, Mann creates space for herself to exist as a biracial person, something she says is a “lifelong struggle and burden” of constantly feeling out of place. The traditional Asian painting traditions are not fully hers, she feels, and neither is the thorny history of Western landscape painting, which is inherently tied to imperialism and colonialism. In her studio in the DC studio complex STABLE, Mann has both a well-worn Thomas Moran book and a similarly battered book of the Buddhist Mogao caves at Dunhuang, China, within arm’s reach. A self-identified landscape painter, she draws upon both histories of painting place, relating to her ancestors, who she describes being “destroyed by colonialism,” and the undeniable beauty of the work of the Hudson River School, problematic as they are.

I first saw a solo show of Mann’s work at Goucher College in 2015, and over the six years I’ve been admiring it since, it has become more chaotic, more layered, and, as Mann sees it, “more fragmented.” The pandemic caused great personal loss for the artist: Two of her grandparents passed away, one from COVID-19 and one most likely from pandemic-induced confinement. But it has also caused her to rethink the way she works. She also connects the start of these internal shifts to parenthood (she is the mother of 4-year-old Mae and 6-year-old Calvin), which has caused her to grow more accustomed to taking risks in her art and being less rigid. 

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann, Arch 2 (diptych), 2018, acrylic, sumi ink, silkscreen, and monoprint on paper, 60 x 120 inches
Installation view of Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann: Water Ribbon at Morton Fine Art

Many of the works in her current solo show, Water Ribbon, at DC’s Morton Fine Art (up until October 6), are a record of the last eighteen months, when Mann took care of her children during the day and worked for long chunks of the night in her studio. “I’m going to look back at the pandemic as this time of immense grief and loss,” she says. “But also, I’m going to look back at it as a time where I became much more connected to my kids.”

Before having children, Mann was a regular on the DMV college-adjunct circuit. Since having her son and daughter—and especially since the pandemic forced her to become a “preschool student” of immersion Mandarin (to support her daughter’s education, she says, laughing)—she and her partner have worked out a system where they split childcare and Mann is a full-time artist. Her ability to support herself with art sales and commissions speaks to her talent, but moreover, it is evidence of her work ethic. 

Coming out of MICA’s Hoffberger MFA program in 2009, she knew that there were not going to be galleries knocking down her door to work with her. Instead, she focused on open calls and began what has become a constant practice of sending out applications. The results have basically been a snowball of opportunities over the last twelve years.

“I applied to the Hamiltonian fellowship after grad school and when I got that they brought my work to art fairs,” she says. “A gallery saw a painting at an art fair and picked me up after I was finished with the fellowship. I was lucky that happened, but I did apply to it to begin with.” She also got good at accepting rejection and moving on. 

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann, Crust, Mantle, Core, 2021, acrylic and collage on paper, 60 x 60 inches
Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann, Ley, 2020, acrylic, sumi ink, and collage on paper, 45 x 55 inches

This is not to imply Mann’s career has been without its professional challenges—she began to pursue public commissions because of a bad business deal. When she was pregnant with her son six years ago, she had gallery representation in New York, London, Los Angeles, and Toronto—an enormous professional milestone for many. And then, seemingly without warning, all but the Toronto gallery went out of business, one going bankrupt while owing Mann a substantial amount of money for works that had been sold. “It felt like, oh, you achieved this goal that you’re supposed to have in the art world. And then you ended up worse for it,” Mann says. “It felt like this lack of independence, a lack of freedom on my part to have control over my own destiny because all of these other people were players.”

But Mann isn’t dwelling in the past, and is instead focusing on ways to evolve her studio work alongside the large-scale commissions. For the works in her show at Morton Fine Art, “there was more bold cutting into forms and it’s a little bit more aggressive,” she says. “Whereas before, I was thinking about building these bodies and having these additions onto the bodies.”

Weathering this season of loss, Mann sees a “subtractive element” in her work where there had previously been additions, focusing more on “sharply cutting into forms to take things away and confuse the negative space more. What is negative space is not as apparent now as it was.” Where earlier collages focused on contrast, in the new works made in 2020, collage is becoming camouflage.

A single completed painting contains many “failed paintings,” Mann says, which have been recycled and pasted into new works, creating an overall “hybridity” that she is seeking. She works on paper, first laying it down on the floor and pouring ink onto it, and then pinning it to the wall so she can paint and collage in an immediate manner, responding to previous marks and allowing her plans to change as the work develops. 

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann, Dunhuang 1, 2016, acrylic and sumi ink on paper, 60 x 84 inches

Contrary to the traditional emphasis on sketching in art school, Mann doesn’t create sketches first unless working on a commission for a client. Her process-oriented works begin with an ink pouring, which “provides the rest of the direction of the future of the painting.” The resulting works are layered and confusing to behold because they seem to move constantly between flat and textural areas, a phenomenon that Mann recognizes from her training in traditional Chinese landscape painting, which also emphasizes shifting perspective. Sumi-e painting can be thought of as a kind of meditation that follows an extremely specific order of brush strokes to create such classical natural subjects as bamboo, cherry blossoms, and mountains. The repetition of subject matter and method has found its way into Mann’s work; botanical and decorative themes such as flowers and undulating bows have been motifs since the artist’s graduate school days. Over time, she feels that these symbols “take on a new form, new meaning, or become kind of diffused in their original meaning.” And for this reason, she returns to them, playing with how to make them over again.

Like most of us, it seems Mann is entering the next phase of the pandemic with a new acceptance of herself and her work. She no longer tries to explain away the inherently pleasant nature of much of the patterns, colors, and compositions of her work. “I originally felt like it was a flaw in the work that it was beautiful and therefore not serious,” she says. “I’ve come to not apologize for that.” 

She believes that the concept of beauty as trivial comes from the male and Western tradition of Abstract Expressionism, which she butted up against with Grace Hartigan, then-director of Hoffberger, in her first year of graduate school. Mann recalls Hartigan telling her that “pattern tickles the eye but does not touch the soul,” which was hard for her to move past. Mann began purposefully working with symbols of beauty to address this critique and in “acknowledgment of beauty and girlhood,” she explains. After the pandemic, it’s hard to really see the pursuit of pleasure as a problem.

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann, Water Ribbon, 2021, acrylic and sumi ink on paper, 90 x 60 inches

*****

Featured image: Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann, Understory, 2021, acrylic, collage, and sumi ink on paper, 56 x 56 inches

Installation view of Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann: Water Ribbon at Morton Fine Art
Installation view of Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann: Water Ribbon at Morton Fine Art

All images courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art. Installation views by Jarrett Hendrix

Available artwork by KATHERINE TZU-LAN MANN