New MOCRA exhibition features Irish painter Patrick Graham

MOCRA’s latest exhibition opened this past Sunday. Patrick Graham: Thirty Years – The Silence Becomes the Painting offers a survey of work by Patrick Graham, frequently cited as Ireland’s most important contemporary artist. Through paintings, collages, and drawings, this retrospective curated by distinguished art historian Peter Selz offers an extraordinary view of the continuum that marks Graham’s psychologically charged explorations into revelation and transcendence.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 - December 16, 2012.
Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 – December 16, 2012.

There is no doubt that this is work that challenges viewers. As we note in the text accompanying the exhibition,  Graham’s art may be hard to like, but it is impossible to disrespect it. Patrick Graham has been credited by critics and art historians with changing the face of painting in Ireland. Art historian, writer and curator Peter Selz, who curated this exhibition, says that Graham “confronts the viewer with drawings and paintings of shattering force … [he] makes us aware that great painting has a presence and a future.”

Graham is a thoughtful and articulate man, as interviews with him make clear. His own words provide the title to the exhibition. He muses, “The silence becomes the painting, the painting comes from silence. It is the moment when painting is no longer an act of doing or making but of receiving.”

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 - December 16, 2012.
Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 – December 16, 2012.

Graham’s inspiration is deeply rooted in the Irish landscape, in vistas and places that hold deep meaning for him. The Irish affinity for nature, combined with profound experience of the pain which comes from both oppression and repression, has led to extraordinary artistic expressions in poetry, music, and dance. This cultural and artistic milieu formed Graham’s visual expression. His work incorporates ambiguous symbolic forms and scripted phrases that resonate like fragments of traditional song and lyrical poetry which spring from a unique historical consciousness; through them he explores the elemental processes of life and the existential journey. Among the realities he acknowledges in a sensitive voice is the Irish religious experience, particularly of the Catholic faith, yet his work has universal appeal to those who struggle with issues of identity, freedom, or faith.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 - December 16, 2012.
Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 – December 16, 2012.

Patrick Graham is widely regarded as Ireland’s most important contemporary artist, and has been recognized by Ireland as a “living national treasure” through his induction into Aosdána (a society that honors outstanding work in the arts) since 1986. Graham was born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland in 1943, and studied at the National College of Art in Dublin. He has exhibited in Ireland and internationally since 1966, and is represented in major public and private collections at home and abroad. Graham’s work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions and symposia internationally, at venues including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Trinity College Dublin, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England, the Hokkaido Museum in Hokkaido, Japan, the University of Michigan, Northeastern University in Boston, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years – The Silence Becomes the Painting was organized by Meridian Gallery/Society for Art Publications with the support of Jack Rutberg Fine Arts in Los Angeles, international agent for Patrick Graham. The exhibition at MOCRA follows showings in San Francisco at the Meridian Gallery of the Society for Art Publications of the Americas and in Washington, D.C., at the Katzen Arts Center of American University. The exhibition is supported by Culture Ireland, the Irish national body for the promotion of Irish arts worldwide.

The exhibition will be on display at MOCRA through December 16, 2012. Learn more here.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

Other contemporary takes on haggadot and Jewish papercut art

I often find that, as I become deeply immersed in an exhibition at MOCRA, I become highly attuned to news and cultural items that relate to the exhibition. (More prosaically, it’s like the experience of buying a new car and suddenly seeing that model everywhere, on the road, in parking lots. The cars have been there all along, of course; it’s a matter of opening one’s eyes to see them.)  Here on the fourth day of this year’s Passover, I thought I would share a few of the Papercut Haggadah-related  items I’ve come across.

We recently added a new link to the “Art, Religion, & Spirituality” page on the MOCRA website. “Jewish Art Now” states that its mission is “to build an appreciation for contemporary art in Jewish communities and build respect for Jewish art in the contemporary art world. ” The organization’s website showcases Jewish artists from around the world, along with news, reviews, upcoming events and resources for artists and art appreciators. The organization also has a presence in social media and print.

As I was browsing the site recently, my eye was caught by an exhibition titled The Paper Tefillah. The work is by artist Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik and is being shown at a reform synagogue in Memphis, Tennessee. The catalogue is available online here, and here is the artist talking about his work.

Paper Tefillah from Temple Israel on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, at Jewish Art Salon I came across an interview with artist and author Mark Podwal on PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly website. He discusses his recently published haggadah Sharing the Journey. In the interview he connects his approach to expressing the text in his paintings, as well as how his work relates to historic haggadot such as the Prague Haggadah (1526) and the Venice Haggadah (1609). The website also has several pertinent related links about the haggadah, the Passover seder, and more.

Watch Passover Haggadah on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Sitting here in front of me on my desk is a copy of the New American Haggadah, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and translated by Nathan Englander. I heard about this via an interview with these two authors on NPR’s Weekend edition and was intrigued by their project. I’m looking forward to delving into this new haggadah, but just paging through it, it’s clear that the text has been translated not just by Englander, but by book designer Oded Ezer, an Israeli graphic designer and typographer. Myriad variations and transformations of Hebrew letters flow across the pages, congregating in one spot here or tracing graceful arabesques across a spread there. In other instances they splinter like fractals or disintegrate and dissolve. These letters are purposeful, alive. Ezer talks about his approach to this volume in an interview with Ellen Shapiro of Print magazine. He  says,

Here is what I really want people to know: If I touch the letters I think and I hope that people will be touched by them. I’m a secular Jew and I know this story almost by heart because I’ve heard it every year since I was born, 39 years ago. If we designers are involved with what we do, it’s likely that our audiences will get involved with it too. For years I have been claiming that the real question about typography is not ‘how does it look?’ but ‘how does it behave?’

The interview includes Ezer’s commentary on specific pages in the New American Haggadah.

All of these works are quite distinct from Archie Granot’s approach to the visual interpretation of traditional prayers and texts as embodied in The Papercut Haggadah, but they are all examples of the vitality and variety of contemporary Jewish art and belief.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

Assembling Adrian Kellard

Saint Louis University’s Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) Fall 2011 exhibition will be a presentation of selected works by American artist Adrian Kellard (1959–91). Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion opens September 24 and continues through December 11, 2011.

This installation process has been more involved than most at MOCRA. As happened with many visual artists who were struck down by AIDS in the first decade of the pandemic, the long-term disposition of his estate and works was somewhat ad hoc. Several of his works found their way into museum collections (including MOCRA’s), but many others have been safeguarded in the homes of various friends and family members. So, a certain amount of effort has been involved in locating and securing the loan of works in the exhibition.

Components of an artwork by Adrian Kellard
Components of Adrian Kellard's "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion" wait to be fitted into place.

Additionally, a number of the works are built up of multiple component pieces. In some cases, we’ve only had photos of previous installations or of the works set up in Kellard’s gallery to go on in reconstructing the works. It’s like assembling a large IKEA dining room set without the step-by-step instructions . . . that is, if IKEA’s wood products came carved in bold lines and painted in arresting yellows, reds, and teals. Kellard’s best-known work is in the stylistic tradition of German Expressionism. Household paint on pine panels was his primary medium, and his principal tool was an X-ACTO knife.

Installing work by Adrian Kellard at MOCRA
MOCRA's installation team considers their next move assembling Adrian Kellard's "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion"

MOCRA’s installation team was recently assembling Kellard’s major altarpiece titled Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion. This large-scale work has an architectural quality, with a number of smaller components that come together in one grand statement. Each element, from the bold portrait of Christ to the decorative wooden fringe hanging from the canopy, contributes to the overall effect.

Adrian Kellard's "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion"
Adrian Kellard, "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion" (1985-86) -- assembled, but not yet properly lit.

This work brings together many of Kellard’s common themes and sources, including visual quotes from works of religious art of the past, portraiture, Biblical references, personal biography, and an affinity to the work of the German Expressionists. Kellard’s work reflects his deep faith and a complicated set of identities: Irish-Italian ancestry, Catholic, gay. He brought all of these realities, and later on his struggle with AIDS, into his work.

MOCRA is fortunate to have the largest collection of Kellard’s work in any single art institution. Several works have been shown in MOCRA group exhibitions over the years, but now, 30 years after the identification of HIV and 20 years after Kellard’s death, we are pleased to present this solo exhibition in­cluding a number of Kellard’s most important works.

If you will be in the St. Louis region on Saturday, September 24, we hope you will join us for a free public opening reception from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Learn more about the exhibition on MOCRA’s website.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

Summer’s over, time for art

I imagine that everyone has his or her own threshold demarcating the end of summer: Labor Day, the first day of classes, the first leaves falling from the trees. For me, it’s the opening reception of our Fall exhibition, in the moments after the last of our guests leave. I finally have a chance to sit down and register for the first time the new exhibition in its totality. All of the transitional clutter of the installation process has vanished (well, not entirely…oftentimes it has just been tucked behind closet doors waiting to be sorted in the coming days), and, much like a theater set, the space has been transformed yet again.

Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears at MOCRA, Fall 2009.
"Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears" at MOCRA, Fall 2009.

This was the case Sunday after the pleasantly successful opening reception for Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears. Fr. Dempsey and I sat down after the rest of the staff left, and compared notes about the opening — notable guests, friends old and new, and the responses to the art both overheard and observed.

One of the more interesting questions I fielded was whether we had timed the opening of the exhibition to coincide with the release of the latest images from the recently refurbished Hubble Space telescope. Of course, it’s sheer coincidence, but it’s an intriguing connection. The Hubble images only begin to suggest what creation and destruction on a cosmic scale encompass.

Hubble Space Telescope image of Eta Carinae.
Hubble Space Telescope image of Eta Carinae.

Michael Byron’s Cosmic Tears works do not overwhelm with the magnitude of the Hubble images — they are intimate, contemplative works. But they do pose the questions of whether an artist can tap into the same sort of creative forces that birth and rend galaxies, and whether art can serve as a means of engaging such mind-blowing realities.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

Cosmic Tears opens September 13

Michael Byron, Cosmic Tears No. 12, 2003.
Michael Byron, Cosmic Tears No. 12, 2003.

MOCRA’s next exhibition, Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears, opens on September 13, 2009. See the end of the post for opening reception particulars.

In the evocative paintings of the Cosmic Tears series, Mr. Byron explores the relationship of the individual to the universal. The works are based on a text by the artist that meditates on the inevitable mix of emotions that accompanies the act of creation; pain and joy together elicit a “cosmic tear” that is the “womb of our psyche.” Yet the paintings themselves attest to the potential of art to “shape that tear into Meaning.” (The full text on which the works are based will be on view along with the paintings.)

The abstract works simultaneously suggest both microcosmic and macrocosmic perspectives, with forms that suggest continents or constellations. In a number of works, the artist introduces trompe l’oeil images of water droplets; this effect recalled for MOCRA Director Terrence Dempsey, S.J., the opening lines of William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence“:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

Michael Byron, Cosmic Tears "C", 2009.
Michael Byron, Cosmic Tears "C", 2009.

While several of the Cosmic Tears works have been exhibited previously, this is the first exhibition focusing just on this series, and it includes a number of recently completed works. You can read reviews of Mr. Byron’s work, including the Cosmic Tears series, here (scroll almost to the bottom of the page and look for the heading “The Outlaw Printmakers and Michael Byron”).

Mr. Byron is Professor of Painting at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. In his distinguished career he has exhibited throughout the United States, as well as in the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, and Mexico. He was selected for the 1989 Whitney Biennial. His work is included in many public collections including the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen (Rotterdam), and the Tamayo Museum (Mexico City). See his resume and a sampling of his work from the Philip Slein Gallery.

Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears
September 13 – December 13, 2009

opening reception Sunday, September 13, 2009, 1:30 – 3:30 p.m.*

If you’re in the St. Louis region on September 13, please stop by and see the exhibition.

* the artist is unable to be present at this event, but he will be giving a talk on November 15, 2009, followed by a reception.

— David  Brinker, Assistant Director