Monday, March 9, 2015

Artist of the Week: Laylah Ali

Depicting characters that negate both race and gender, Laylah Ali’s paintings and drawings often infer the moment before and after acts of violence. In her initial series, Greenheads, Ali references not only comic books and 60s animations but also images of historical unrest and uprisings. (from: Black-Visual-Archive)

Laylah is best known for her Greenheads series (1996-2005), made of more than sixty paintings and characters that are brown skinned, androgynous characters that she used for her dark subject matter.  She also has a fascination with weak superheroes, regimentation, alliance and betrayals, tense environments, and oddly dodgeball.   Laylah has even admitted that “I’m not sure that my personal rage or anger needs to resonate in the work.  It does fuel my need to make the work, to engage, to destroy, rebuild, keep at it.” She goes on saying that she’s trying to see what happens when that becomes part of the process, a meticulous one at that where strains and ideas and questions pop up about the world.  The anger is an important part of her process, but not necessarily the final goal.  She has to deal with the stress of working on the paintings, especially since she’s not too fond of using gouache, a technique using opaque pigments ground in water and thickened with a glue-like substance, since the slightest mistake immediately makes her start over. (from Cleveland State Art)

Ali creates images which are as simple as comic books and as complex and hieroglyphics. Their flat, cartoonish aesthetic sharply contrasts their aggressive and ambiguous subject matter, creating an ambiguously violent viewing experience. (from Huffington Post)

Ali approaches race in a rare and fascinating manner, by confronting it directly but avoiding the usual narratives. In the video below she ruminates about the possibility of racism stemming from the literal visual experience of seeing a darker face, a color that absorbs more light and looks more mysterious. She asks: could racism be attributed to bizarre visual phenomena? (from Huffington Post)

While Ali’s work has been described as ambiguous and confounding, she welcomes discussion about her art—even differences of opinion about it. “You don’t have to paint, or even like my style of painting, to have a conversation,” she says. “A mistake often made about artists is that we assume their style is their substance. And that’s not necessarily true.” (from BU Today)

Solid colors and everyday objects—sneakers, Band-aids, dodgeballs—appear frequently in Ali’s work and are often juxtaposed with themes of political resistance and betrayal. Her carefully plotted gouache on paper paintings often result in scenes saturated with tension. (from BU Today)


"I love how traditional portraiture is so restrictive and that it seems to rely on the discomfort of the sitter. I liked working within such restrictions and trying to elicit as much as possible."  
--Laylah Ali

Ali has created intimate drawings in ink on paper, inviting viewers to draw meaning from the figures she creates. They are beings that share some similarities with humans but whose clothing, facial expressions, postures and movements are confounding and disorienting. By playing with the figures’ hairstyle, body type, dress and physical limitations, she opens up a litany of questions into how all humans create and interpret identity.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Artist of the Week: Erté

b. November 23, 1892, St. Petersburg, Russia
d. April 21 1990, Paris, France

Erté was born Romain de Tirtoff in St. Petersburg Russia in 1892. The only son of an admiral in the Imperial Fleet, he was raised amidst Russia's social elite. As a young boy, he was fascinated by the Persian miniatures he found in his father's library. These exotic, brightly patterned designs continued to be important to him and influenced the development of his style.

Persian Miniature Paintings:

He moved to Paris at the age of eighteen and took the name Erté, from the French pronunciation of his initials, R and T. In 1915 he began his long relationship with Harper's Bazaar, during which time he created over 240 covers for the magazine. 

Harper's Bazaar Magazine Covers:

To see more Harper's Bazaar covers by Erté, click here

His fashion designs also appeared in many other publications, making him one of the most widely recognized artists of the 1920s. 

He also designed costumes and sets for the theater. In 1976 the French government awarded Erté the title of Officer of Arts and Letters, and in 1982 the Medaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris was bestowed upon him.


“The Arctic Sea”, 1925

Wedding costume for Aladin , 1929

Costume for the wife of a Russian boyar; The Woman and the Devil at the Théâtre Apollo, 1921    

Costume for Pelléas et Mélisande, 1927 

Set Designs:

Design for Stage Set, City Skyline Seen Beyond Terrace, for Manhattan Mary, 1927    

To see more theater set designs, click here

Erté and the Ziegfeld Follies

The Ziegfeld Follies were famous for many beautiful chorus girls commonly known as Ziegfeld girls.  

Florenz Ziegfeld's theatrical spectaculars known as the Ziegfeld Follies, were based on the Folies Bergère of Paris.... Erte costumes and sets were featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923.

 Erté's theatrical innovations were countless, including "living curtains" (showgirls with plumes and pearls, festooned by embroidered trains. The Ziegfeld girls paraded up and down flights of stairs semi-nude, as anything from birds to battleships.

 These beauties, of similar size, decked out in Erté designs, gained many young male admirers and they became objects of popular adoration.

Prints and More Work (costumes, sets, apparel, etc.)

The alphabet and numeral suite:

For the complete alphabet and numeral suite, click here

Work from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

To see images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, click here

Erté continued working throughout his life, designing revues, ballets, and operas. He had a major rejuvenation and much lauded interest in his career during the 1960s with the Art Deco revival. He branched out into the realm of limited edition prints, bronzes, and wearable art.

Erté's work has exhibited in prominent museums around the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum in California, The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and more. Erté is credited as being the originator of the Art Deco Movement and is the style for which he is identified.

To see more of Erte's work, click here