Poet of Movement
Herbert Migdoll, the director of design and photographer for the Joffrey Ballet, has created a visual identity for the company by finding ingenious ways to suggest movement in photographs. An example is his image of Joffrey dancer Calvin Kitten in Parade, the famous 1917 Diaghilev ballet with sets and costumes by Picasso. Migdoll photographed the dancer, digitized the print, cut it into five vertical segments, and printed these slightly out of sync to create the illusion of movement.
Migdoll has also segmented his independent mixed media work. Between June and October of 2002, he exhibited Swimmers, a four-panel, eight-foot-tall, 275-foot-long photo/painting that depicts four Joffrey dancers swimming. Swimmers hung outdoors on a concrete wall along the north bank of the Chicago River where it passes beneath Michigan Avenue. To create Swimmers, Migdoll stood in one place, photographed the swimmers rapid-fire as they passed him in the water, and printed the resulting images as segments, adding oil enamel at the base.
Migdolls most recent work, on view this fall at Flatfile Galleries, consists of mixed-media photo-based murals that he made in Chicagos Chinatown, where he has his studio. Over the past 15 years, Chinatown has grown explosively as both people and capital left Hong Kong for Chicago. In 1999, the city of Chicago created Ping Tom Memorial Park to serve this community. On five acres along the Chicago River, the city planted shrubbery, installed benches and constructed a pagoda-styled pavilion.
One day, while Migdoll was admiring the long, decorative grass in this park, it waved in the breeze, caught the sun and turned silver for a moment. To photograph this long planting, Migdoll took 29 shots, digitized and enlarged them and spray-painted them onto 29 canvases, each measuring 19 inches wide by 38 inches high. Since Migdoll knew that his camera could not register metallic colors, he poured long streaks of silver metallic and oil enamel on each canvas to suggest what he had seen. He installed the canvases as a continuous 45-foot-long work, Ping Tom Park Grasses, on two walls at Flatfile Gallery.
Migdoll also showed the mural-like Red Dragonboat #1, a picture of dragonboat races on the Chicago River where it flows past Ping Tom Memorial Park. Dragonboats, which look like giant canoes with fanciful figureheads, are propelled by crews of paddlers.
To make Red Dragonboat #1, Migdoll stood in one place, used a rapid-fire automatic advance to photograph the boats as they approached and passed him, digitized the resulting full-color image and sprayed it onto a baked enamel aluminum surface. In Blue Dragonboat #2, he eliminated black in the sprayed paint process to get a striking design of arms and paddles.
A Painters Painter
Melinda Stickney-Gibson showed 16 oils at Thomas Masters Gallery in September. This modern-day Abstract Expressionist glories in paint and its possibilities -- color, layering, brushwork, impasto and more.
The artist spends most of her time in her upstate New York studio, which has a view of the Catskill Mountains. From her studio window, she sees a body of water, wildlife and the change of seasons. Roughly once a week, she drives two hours to New York City and does art business. Shes one of the envied few who earn her entire living from her work.
Stickney-Gibsons imagery alludes mostly to landscape and vegetation. We see occasional architectural elements, such as cavities and towers. The artist rarely combines more than two or three colors in a painting and may cover broad areas with one tone, activating the surface with loose brushwork. Her paintings are the products of a disciplined mind and hand -- she knows when to stop. This is straightforward, unpretentious work by an artist whos completely in command of her craft.
An Olivia Parker Survey
"Olivia Parker, Fact or Fiction: A 25 Year Journey" was on view at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in September and October. This major retrospective exhibition included seven black-and-white prints that were published in Parkers book Signs of Life (1978); ten color prints published in Under the Looking Glass (1983); 15 black-and-whites published in Weighing the Planet (1987); and eight prints produced between 1993 and 2002. Parkers photographs are generally not much larger than a page in a book.
Trained as a painter, Parker began to teach herself photography about 1970 when she was housebound with small children. Assembling objects in her studio, she photographed them in natural light. Simple and intense, these early works are among her most rewarding.
In Moon Snails (1977), we see softly illuminated snail shells arranged in groups of three or four inside eight rectangular compartments in a shallow wooden box. To activate this image, Parker has arranged the dark tips of the shells (they resemble eyes) such that each grouping seems to revolve in its small space. The box is dark red inside, which softens the contrast between its interior and the hard white shells. Eggshells (1977), another deceptively simple image, shows four open shells on a white table. Natural lighting and whispers of shadow soften the contrast in this photograph to underscore the fragility of the shells.
The next group of works, taken from Under the Looking Glass, consists of color still-lives with antique wallpaper, 19th century photographs and engravings, old dolls, bones, shells and the like in the background. The artist devised soft-hard contrasts by placing fresh flowers on top of such backgrounds. She tightly controls light, color and shadow, creating simple photographic statements that bespeak memory without sentiment or nostalgia. By never tugging at our heartstrings or sending us a message, Parker makes this familiar genre new.
The perspective in many of Parkers still-lives makes us feel that we are looking down from above into shallow spaces. Framing devices intensify this feeling. Chambers (1981), for example, shows a nautilus shell sawed in half and placed inside a square wooden funnel. Darkness around the funnel frames it and the funnel encloses the shell, which is a series of chambers. Three railroad spikes add visual life to the bottom third of this photograph. The spikes lie on a dark surface with their heads touching the bottom of the funnel, an arrangement that is only possible if the objects are lying on a flat surface.
Four Pears (1979) is a gorgeous painterly image of fruit thats lit like a Dutch painting. Faint bands behind the pears hint at a wall. Parker suspends four red strings and ties them to the stems of the pears to hold them up. The visually witty strings divide up the space and draw our attention to the foreground.
The black and white photographs from Weighing the Planetshave simple backgrounds with shadows of animals and humans projected on them. These works, with their conventional perspective and suggestions of narrative, are challenging to read and sometimes overdone. We liked Blackbird Aviary (1981), which is probably a transitional work.
Parkers recent pieces include still-lives and other scenes. Book (2002) shows an Ethiopian Bible placed on a table with its gazelle skin cover open so we can see stitching on the inside. This tactile image made us want to own that Bible and read it!
"Olivia Parker" was one of the best shows of the new season in Chicago. Thanks to Catherine Edelman for bringing it to us and congratulations (of course!) to the artist.