July 22, 2020


The Palette is available to all interested with an e-Subscription



In this issue:

With demolition of Oslo's Picasso-Nesjar murals imminent, Norwegian sculptor’s daughter speaks out
5 Art Therapy Exercises to Add to Your Self-Care Routine
PANDEMIC PAINTINGS
The Enduring Allure of Pencils

 

 


 

With demolition of Oslo's Picasso-Nesjar murals imminent, Norwegian sculptor’s daughter speaks out
Carl Nesjar’s daughter talks about the Norwegian sculptor’s long collaboration with the Modern master and shares exclusive images of the pair

In Oslo, the campaign to save the Picasso-Nesjar murals on the Y Block Government building has reached a critical moment. Pablo Picasso’s murals, sandblasted into a concrete skin in collaboration with the Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, are integral to the Erling Viksjø-designed brutalist structure, which is due for demolition at the end of July. As scaffolding goes up around the murals, and the legal battle escalates, Gro Nesjar talks about her father’s 17-year collaboration with Picasso and why the murals’ preservation is such an urgent issue. She has also given The Art Newspaper permission to present previously unpublished photos connected with this largely forgotten period of art history.

The Art Newspaper: What is the latest situation with the murals?

Gro Nesjar: Well, as you know, the grandchildren of the Y Block architect [Erling Viksjø] and I are threatening to sue the Norwegian government if they attempt to take down the murals. [In June] I was made aware of an email from Jean-Louis Andral, the head of the Picasso Museum in Antibes, saying that he had written to [Nikolai] Astrup, the relevant Norwegian minister, expressing his disappointment that the demolition was still going ahead, and asking him to review it one more time.

And what is the public reaction?

It’s really taken off during this lockdown period. With all the art museums and galleries closed, the public are rediscovering these art works. I think people are moved by our campaign to save the murals because it represents a less materialistic, more cooperative Norway, a Norway before all the oil money and different values came in. The Picasso murals were a monument to the resilience of the Norwegian people, to freedom, to building a new nation after such a trauma. These themes resonate powerfully with the public at this moment.

A lot of artists have been activating the site, which is now fenced off because of the proposed demolition. They put posters, projections, drawings and flowers up on the fences. And then the authorities tear them down. So it’s become like a fight of putting up posters, then having them taken away again. The whole conflict is linked to the global Covid-19 moment where people are publicly expressing the future they want and how it is connected to the past. The campaign has become about something bigger than the site, bigger even than the story of my father’s collaboration with Picasso.

So what is this new legal angle that you are exploring?

Well, we now have an attorney and have found the right legal grounds to contest the government’s decision. It turns out that because under Norwegian law the Y Block mural is considered a co-authored art work by Picasso and my father and the architect, we do have what are called “moral rights”, as long as we can prove that the murals are a collaboration—that my father was not just a fabricator for Picasso but part of the artistic process. And Erling Viksjø also has the rights, because the industrial and artistic techniques that made these murals possible, and which made my dad and then Picasso interested in doing this project in the first place, is something he developed with his engineer, Sverre Jystad.

What makes it a collaboration is the fact that my father actually adapted the drawings of The Fishermen and several of the murals as part of the process to fit them to the wall. My father was perhaps the only person Picasso ever let modify his drawings. And Picasso allowed that because he saw the production of these concrete works with my father as an artistic collaboration.

How did they start collaborating?

When they first met in 1957, my father explained the new concrete technique being used for the Oslo government buildings, and Picasso got so excited when he saw the plans that he started to run around the house, showing them to his cook, to his chauffeur, to everybody, because he had finally found a material that would allow him to scale his drawings up as monumental and permanent public art work. So that was the start of tha

What exactly is the Naturbetong technique?

I think the only difference between Naturbetong and regular concrete is that you mix it with pebbles. It is finished with a smooth, even surface of concrete which can be blasted away to reveal the dark stones beneath. So you actually draw in the concrete by sandblasting a line through the “skin”.

So what was their collaborative process from, let’s say, the idea to execution?

Well, that seemed to vary. For the murals, my father would sometimes suggest an existing Picasso drawing, like the faun drawing in the Picasso Museum in Antibes, which he felt would adapt well to the concrete. Other times Picasso would make a new drawing, like for the Y Block, which he chose as a symbol of Norway as a country of fishermen. My father would adapt the drawings to the dimensions of the wall, and then they would work with the Naturbetong technique. At one of the other two mural sites, the Château de Castille in southern France, Picasso made an incredible drawing of a kind of war horse as a direct response to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. From the outset, my father made a deal with Picasso saying, “I will make it. And if you don’t like it, we’ll just erase them and start again.” So they moved forward with this experimental approach based on trust.

What was their business relationship?

I don’t think there was ever any kind of exchange of money between Picasso and my father. And there were never any contracts between Picasso and the people or organisations that commissioned these public works, including Barcelona and Oslo. It is important to note that for the public art, Picasso was never paid. He never wanted to have any money for those works, because he saw it as a public service, a contribution to society. So the only ones that got paid were the workers. This is one of the arguments that I’ve put forward around the Save the Y Block Campaign: that the murals were actually a gift from one of the world’s greatest artists to the Norwegian state… and what a way to treat a gift!

Picasso didn’t trust many people. What was it in your father that inspired his trust?

I think that Picasso would never have trusted my father if he hadn’t respected him as an artist in his own right. Picasso knew the subject matter, but he didn’t know the material, so he didn’t know which lines would actually translate best to the concrete. My father understood the translation of the drawings onto the material.

Despite the age gap—I think my father was 35 and Picasso was 70 when they met—they shared political as well as artistic views. Picasso was a communist, and although I don’t think my father was a communist, he was probably very close! I think they also developed a really close friendship. The tone of their letters from 1960 through to ’63 shows this in a way I hadn’t fully grasped before.

Picasso didn’t like writing letters, so Jacqueline [his second wife] wrote most of the letters to my father. He preferred to meet my father in person and invited us to stay with him in France a lot. Our family kind of became part of his family. My dad would travel with Picasso to see other artists, go out for a meal, spend days on the beach. They laughed a lot. I think Picasso felt very safe with my father and our family.

What memories do you have of being with your father and Picasso at that time?

Well, I remember in 1962 he made two masks that I could play with in his studio at La Californie [in Cannes]. I thought he had a most wonderful car. I had never seen a car like that. I had never seen anybody who had a cook or chauffeur, or lived in a huge house like he did. And I was terrified of his dogs. He liked kids and he was a very funny, wonderful person with me. He taught me to swim. He even wanted me to come and live with him and Jacqueline for a while because he wanted to paint me. But my parents didn’t allow that because they thought that it was too much being dragged back and forth between France and Norway. So that never happened, unfortunately.

But Picasso was a huge presence in our life up until he died in 1973. I remember my father was in the south of France at the time. They were working on what was to be the world’s largest concrete sculpture, and my father was down there to show him the plans and discuss where to put it. They were supposed to meet on Monday morning. On the Sunday my father was sitting in a coffee bar in Cannes and heard that Picasso was dead. That last sculpture was never made. The Art Newspaper

 

5 Art Therapy Exercises to Add to Your Self-Care Routine
Art is healing.

Creativity can be a wonderful way to support your mental health, and with everything going on in the world, it might be an especially healing and underrated mode of self-care right now. If the news cycle has you feeling stressed, hopeless, overwhelmed, angry, depressed, or any number of emotions, allowing yourself to get messy through art could be the outlet you’re looking for.

“Creativity is a wellspring, and you can always tap into it,” Leah Guzman, board-certified art therapist and author of Essential Art Therapy Exercises, tells SELF. “With guided support, such as art therapy, you can learn to cope with traumatizing events that are happening now or have happened in the past.”

To help you take your creative expression to a therapeutic level, we talked to two art therapists for a few exercises that can be done on your own to boost mental health. Before we get to those, though, let’s talk a bit more about art therapy.

What is art therapy?
There are a lot of misconceptions about art therapy, Deborah Farber, chair of the MPS Art Therapy Department of New Yorl City’s School of Visual Arts and a member of the Art Therapy Practice advisory board, tells SELF. People assume it’s only for kids, that it’s the same as taking an art class, or that it’s not “real” therapy. In reality, art therapy is often very similar to talk therapy—a space to explore psychological and emotional challenges with a therapist—but with the addition of creative techniques such as drawing, painting, collage, coloring, or sculpting.

“It provides you with another form of language and helps you express the things you don’t have words for,” says Farber. “Art tells you things about yourself—unexpected things burst forth, not just in the art but in the process of creating it.”

Many people assume art therapy isn’t “for them” for a variety of reasons, with a lack of artistic skill being among chief worries. But art therapists will be quick to tell you that you needn’t worry about that. Many art therapy exercises can be done with basic supplies (or even a computer) and don’t require any skill. “The focus of art therapy is on the process of creating art, not the art product,” says Guzman. “You don’t need to be an artist, just open to having new experiences.”

While seeking out an art therapist who can guide you in the long-term is the best way to reap the benefits of art therapy, there are ways to tap into art therapy in your own life, much the way you can apply tools from talk therapy after you leave your therapist’s office. Even if you’re not interested in full-blown art therapy, art-therapy-inspired exercises still have the potential to help you relax, express your emotions, and learn new things about yourself. The following exercises are wonderful places to start.

1. Create a safe space.
Farber suggests building or drawing a physical manifestation of a safe space or a sanctuary, whatever that means to you. “Consider things like your emotional needs, physical boundaries, and things that inspire safety and comfort,” she says, noting that with her clients, she typically uses fabric, cardboard, wire, wood, and other 3D materials to make the space as physical as possible. If you don’t have the supplies you need to be that crafty, consider drawing or creating a Pinterest mood board of photos and art you find.

Art therapy exercises extend beyond creation, so make sure to engage in self-reflection during and after. “What’s going on in your body as you make it?” asks Farber. “Why do you associate safety with the colors, materials, and symbols you choose? What does your safe space defend against?”

2. Color a feeling wheel.
Even when we’re dealing with a lot of emotions, it’s not always easy to recognize them specifically. Identifying and naming a feeling is often the first step in dealing with it, so Guzman recommends a feeling wheel as an effective beginner exercise for anyone who wants to check in with themselves and become more aware of their emotions.

To do the exercise (which can also be found in Guzman’s book), start by drawing a circle and dividing it into eighths, like a pie. Then write one emotion (like sadness, rage, frustration, shock, joy, or anxiety) in each section. Lastly, using whatever materials you have available, pick a color that resonates with that feeling and fill it in.

Pay attention to: “Which feelings did you write down first? Which feelings are you currently experiencing? Did you color any two emotions the same color? If you did, what does this mean to you? Are there more positive emotions or negative ones on your feeling wheel?” writes Guzman in Essential Art Therapy Exercises.

3. Make response art.
Chances are you have a song lyric, poem, prose passage, or quote that you connect with in some way. Farber suggests choosing one and using it as a basis to create art. Respond to it however feels right, whether through scribbling with a pencil, coloring with crayons or colored pencils, or whipping out some watercolors or clay. The point is to make physical your emotional response to the words.

As you work, ask yourself, “Why did you pick the particular prompt? What do the words bring up for you? How do you feel as you create the art? What are you trying to capture?” says Farber.

4. Get into some craft-ivism.
There is a long history of people using crafted handmade objects—such as quilting and embroidery—as a way to advocate for positive change, to protest, and to express their values. Since community, advocacy, and connecting with meaning are so often good for mental health and self-care, Farber suggests an exercise based in craftivism for healing, especially during these times. “By slowly working through a craft, it allows us to slow down and think about what matters to us,” she says.

Farber suggests starting simple, perhaps making a small pillow by sewing two pieces of felt together with some filling and hand-stitching a message of your choice onto it. “As you choose your words carefully, think about what you stand for,” says Farber. “What matters to you, and how can you express it right now? Make it a declaration.”

Beyond sewing and embroidery, there are many ways to mix art therapy and activism (making a really beautiful protest sign, for example). To take a deeper dive into this gentle form of activism, check out Craftivism: The Art and Craft of Activism, edited by Betsy Greer, or read these ideas for craftivism action to support the Black Lives Matter movement by the Craftivist Collective.

5. Use a nature walk as inspiration.
Incorporating nature into your art therapy practice is pretty much a two-for-one deal. Farber suggests going for a walk (safely with a mask and keeping distanced from others!) and collecting things you find that are interesting to you. That could be leaves, sticks, pine cones, rocks, or other found objects. When you return home, use your bounty to create a sculpture or an altar while concentrating on your senses. What does each material feel like? What drew you to it?

If you’d like to stick to more digital art therapy, Guzman recommends taking a nature photo walk, which you can do in her book or even by poking around on the internet. Instead of collecting materials to make something, create art as you go by taking or saving pictures of anything that is beautiful to you or evokes an emotion. As you do, pay attention to what comes up and consider what you’d name each photo. Then do whatever comes naturally with the photos, whether that’s pulling them up when you need a moment of calm or printing them out to create a lush collage that helps bring the outdoors into your home. Self

 

PANDEMIC PAINTINGS
Philadelphia artists to take part in The Great American Paint-In

Art has come out of some of the darkest times in human history, acting as a beacon of hope. The 2020 pandemic is no different.

The Great American Paint In is now documenting the works of hope America’s greatest artists have produced during their COVID-19 isolation and as the country begins to reopen. The juried collection, which continues to grow by the day, is available for viewing at thegreatpaint-in.com.

The event aims to capture this unique moment in history through art. Pieces can be any form, medium or size but must convey the emotions and viewpoints of the artists from their corners of the world during this experience.

The project currently has pieces from artists in Florida, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and beyond. Participants include Eleinne Basa, Garin J Baker, Hillary Scott and more. There are three artists from the Philadelphia area (Joseph Daily, Gelena Pavlenko and Megan Lawlor).

Collectors can purchase works from the website. The organizers will collect the works in a tabletop art history book when the project is complete. The Great American Paint In is the project of Bill and Mary Weinaug, art collectors and owners of Gallery CERO, an art gallery under development at their riverside property north of Orlando, Florida.

“We have always been huge supporters of the arts,” Bill Weinaug said. “Seeing the pieces these artists are producing during this time of isolation is incredible. Each piece we add to the collection is a new facet in the story of this pandemic. That’s what we hope to document.”

PW recently caught up with Daily to talk about the event and his work.

How have the pandemic and all of the ensuing closures impacted your painting and the artist community as a whole? Did you lose commissioned works and ways to get your paintings to the public?

The effect of the pandemic has been strangely paradoxical for me. On one hand, my day-to-day life is tailor-made for “social distancing,” since I spend long hours painting alone in my studio, and I can routinely go a couple of weeks without ever leaving the property. On the other hand, I do need to travel to conduct photo and sketching sessions for portrait commissions, and all the commissions I had lined up for spring needed to be postponed. I also had to postpone a couple of painting workshops, but luckily I only teach a few of these per year. Some artists rely on teaching workshops and classes for a significant portion of their income, and the pandemic hit this field hard. But I have seen many artists find new ways forward using online streaming platforms, and I expect that this trend will continue even after the pandemic has passed.

Why did you choose to get involved with The Great American Paint In? Why was it important to have this event during these times?

I heard about The Great American Paint In online, from fellow artist Mikel Wintermantel. The timing was perfect for me since the lockdown had just set in and I was suddenly faced with a calendar cleared of all commissions, workshops, and events. I was grateful to see this initiative help fill the void left by the pandemic, and I was happy to participate.

The Great American Paint In documents the works of hope America’s greatest artists have produced during their COVID-19 isolation. The piece I saw on the site from you was “Called Away,” a still life tribute to Schnappi, a duck who brightened up your property for almost nine years before recently disappearing. How did you settle on Schnappi as the focus of your painting?

Schnappi was a beloved pet duck, and when I heard about the Paint-In, she had only recently disappeared (we assume she was snatched up by a coyote or fox). Because her loss was still fresh, the Paint-In gave me a welcome opportunity to process it through painting. I designed the composition around several of her feathers that my wife saved from when Schnappi molted. Finding personal significance in a still life – as opposed to just setting up random objects to paint – can be a real challenge for me, and so I was grateful to have something meaningful to capture in this painting.

Will you be adding more pieces to the Paint-In?

I may not have time to create more pieces for the Paint-In, but we’ll see. I am currently putting all my energy into preparing for a solo exhibition, which opens this August at Anthony Brunelli Fine Arts in Binghamton, New York.

It looks like life is starting to return – a little – to what it was like before the pandemic. What are your plans for the remainder of 2020 and the future?

In addition to preparing for my upcoming gallery exhibition, I have started lining up portrait commissions again and fielding new inquiries. I am cautiously optimistic about having weathered the storm financially, but I will be very interested to see what the long-term effect on the art market is, given the pandemic’s economic impact. Philadelphia Weekly

 

The Enduring Allure of Pencils
Sometimes affection sprouts up in unexpected forms. Sometimes a core of graphite mixed with clay and encased in a tube of wood can surprise you. It hooked me, anyway.

I hadn’t thought of pencils as objects to be obsessed over or really noticed at all, even though I’d found refuge in writing and drawing since childhood. My parents were teachers and pencils were just always there, like air. I certainly never expected to have a crush on a pencil or to ardently seek out specific models on eBay. But sometimes affection sprouts up in unexpected forms. Sometimes a core of graphite mixed with clay and encased in a tube of wood can surprise you. It hooked me, anyway.

My gateway pencil was dark and mysterious, with a cult following: the storied Blackwing 602. “A kind of unicorn of pencils” is how pencil shop owner Caroline Weaver describes it in her new book, Pencils You Should Know: A History of the Ultimate Writing Utensil in 75 Anecdotes, where she dishes on the origin story of Blackwing 602, among many other pencils. This particular pencil legend was invented during the Great Depression at the Eberhard Faber pencil factory. In 1934, despite cutbacks, the company produced this new and notable writing utensil. With distinctive style — flat ferrule, replaceable rectangular erasers — and a dark, “feathery smooth” graphite core specially formulated for gliding across the page with “half the pressure, twice the speed,” the Blackwing 602 would draw fans for generations to come, including John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov, and Walt Disney. It eventually went out of production in the ’80s when Faber-Castell bought the company.

Blackwings entered my life decades after their initial heyday. In 2012, I read the sort of breathless review touting the reissue of this pencil by Palomino, a California-based brand, that left me thinking, “All this praise is for a pencil?” And, in quick succession: “I’ve gotta try one for myself.” From there, it was love.

I made my first drawings with Blackwings in a Brooklyn art studio, located in a former rope factory. After rising rents shuttered the space in 2015, I relocated to a spot in a former pencil factory. My favorite feature of the building? The giant yellow terracotta pencil sculptures that ring its upper level. Soon, I realized, with great delight, that this was not just any old pencil factory, but the site of the Eberhard Faber pencil factory! This was where the original Blackwings were conceived and produced — and where I scribble with their successors today.

After my first foray into Blackwings, one pencil led to another. I began to frequent Caroline Weaver’s charming New York City pencil shop, C.W. Pencil Enterprise, where I’ve spent many happy afternoons perusing the curated collection. Weaver opened the shop in March of 2015, inspired by her longtime love of these writing implements.

“I’ve always been drawn to the pencil as an object,” she writes. “As a kid, I was fascinated by their compactness and simplicity. I love that this affordable little commodity is also highly collectible. After traveling the world and studying the pencils of places near and far, I can glean meaningful information about a culture through each unique object. What is easy to forget sometimes is that the pencil, as seemingly simple as it is, took hundreds of people and hundreds of years to come into being.” Through the shop’s Pencil Box, a quarterly subscription boasting 1,200 subscribers, I’ve met many new and vintage pencils I’m glad I now know.

Weaver’s book, Pencils You Should Know, is shaped like a palm-sized pencil box. Each spread highlights the story of a notable pencil, which is photographed school-portrait style on bright backdrops. “The pencil is a curious object,” Weaver writes in the introduction. “Everyone is familiar with it, yet most people don’t actually know much about it.”

The book is an amble through four centuries of global pencil history, and Weaver is our captivating tour guide. She showcases specialized pencils developed for secretaries, editors, voting booths, test scoring, stenography, and scoring games. Pencils whose shavings unspool to form rainbows or sakura flowers, and pencils made of unexpected materials, like denim. These writing utensils embody the trends, styles, and technical innovations of bygone eras. Taking care to point out the quirks and distinctions of each of the 75 featured pencils, Weaver blends unabashed nostalgia with historical fun facts. She gives color to an often overlooked tool while adeptly making the case that the humble pencil is, in fact, a cultural icon. Hyperallergic