Artist a Day Challenge 2016-2: Alma Thomas

“The Eclipse”, 1970, Alma Thomas.  Photo c/o the Smithsonian American Art Museum


Alma Thomas is the first African American woman to have her work displayed within public spaces in the White House.  The 2015 addition of her painting, “Resurrection”, (1966) represents the Obamas aesthetic preference for contemporary and injected modern works into the otherwise traditional permanent collection.  Thomas’ work joined those of Mark Rothko, Sam Francis and Robert Rauschenberg which were all selected to grace the Obama’s White House collection.

The artist’s work was inspired by New York School Abstract Expressionism which emphasized dynamic, energetic gestures, however Alma Thomas’ paintings also have an objective, cerebral focus on movement, light, color and sound characteristic of Impressionism.  Because her work fused the two schools of painting, Thomas’ work could easily be described as “Abstract Impressionism”, a term coined by Elaine de Kooning that represents a method that evokes an artist’s emotion and expresses “lyrical and thoughtful qualities in paintings.”

“Spring Grass”, 1973, Alma Thomas.  Photo c/o Smithsonian American Art Museum 

Thomas’ career was prolific in the 1960s, a period that posed many challenges for her as a black woman artist.  Rather than focus on identity, she chose to paint musical representations of harmonies found in nature. The inspiration for many of Alma Thomas’ paintings was found in the garden of her Washington D.C. home where she spent time “watching the leaves and flowers tossing in the wind as though they were singing and dancing.”

“Atmospheric Effects”1970, Alma Thomas. Photo c/o Smithsonian American Art Museum

The “Artist a Day Challenge” celebrates Black History Month by highlighting Black artists and diverse forms of cultural expression across the African diaspora.  






Artist a Day Challenge No. 24: Beauford Delaney x Ella Fitzgerald

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Beauford Delaney. Photo Credit, SCAD
Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Beauford Delaney. Photo Credit, SCAD

This painting by Beauford Delaney out of all his portraits of fellow artists really stuck out to me, not just because it is a beautiful piece, but I wonder why he chose to obscure the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald amongst this colorful palate of brushstrokes.  Delaney’s work transitioned from figurative to abstract upon his move to Paris to flee the persecution and isolation he felt in New York as a gay black man in the 1940’s. This piece seems to demonstrate the artists transition.

One thing I did not know about Ella Fitzgerald was that she was horribly shy and extremely meek when it came to recognizing her own talent.  This is so shocking to me for someone who is so universally cherished for their talent.  Perhaps what was more shocking to me was a comment I heard in an NPR interview featuring a singer from the Manhattan Transfer that said, “I never listen to Ella for emotional depth”….

… and she proceeded to laud Fitzgerald for her technical prowess and the precision of her voice.  WHAT?  Without question Fitzgerald has one of the most dynamic, precise voices but to dismiss it as lacking emotional depth was strange to me.

That blew me away.  I look at this painting of Beauford Delaney and listen to Ella Fitzgerald with this new knowledge of her shyness and hear something very different in her music.  Taken together, I hear so much more than Janice Siegal manages to distill and I have a deeper, more profound appreciation for what Delaney conveys in this portrait of her.

Artist a Day Challenge No.4: Elizabeth Catlett

Sharecropper, 1952 by Elizabeth Catlett

In November I saw “Sharecropper” by Elizabeth Catlett at LACMA.  I loved the depiction of the duality of strength and despair shown as byproducts of exploitation in this piece.  As a graphic designer and sculptor in the 30’s and 40’s, much of Catlett’s art highlighted African-American and Mexican women as caretakers, patriarchs, workers and nurturers; her work was used as a platform for social commentary.  In the 40’s the artist moved to Mexico City where she continued to express her activism by working with with the mural and graphic artist collective, El Taller de Gráfica Popular. During this time she was arrested during a railroad workers strike and she was declared an undesirable alien by the State Department in 1949.  She subsequently became a Mexican citizen and remained in Mexico until her retirement in the 70’s and her death in 2012.  Her sculpture work is reminiscent of Brancusi or Henry Moore but the strength of her conviction and the power of her subjects reflect a style and technique that stands on it’s own.

Beneath the Bronze- “Little Dancer” Comes to Life at the Kennedy Center


Edgar Degas’ love for the ballet is prominently featured in his body of work and one of his most iconic works is “The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer”.  This piece has been reproduced in all mediums and has served as an artistic inspiration for artists and dancers around the world.

Edgar Degas, Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen at the Norton Simon in Pasadena

The Kennedy Center will bring the story behind Little Dancer to life in a musical directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman.  The piece will be performed by Tony award-winning performers and a principal dancer from the NYC Ballet.  Tonight the Guggenheim features a panel discussion about the musical and inspiration behind it.

Degas’ Little Dancer is one of my favorite bronzes.  I simply liked the piece, and never knew its history.  My initial reaction to his work was that I remember being struck by the way Degas captured the fluidity of movement.  In Little Dancer however, the rawness of her facial expression juxtaposed with the strength of her carriage was always so striking.

No Pressure, No Diamonds. ~Thomas Carlyle

No Grit, No Pearl ~ Anon

I want to peel back a few layers of the Little Dancer that I found interesting. The first is not too surprising: When Degas’ originally showed the wax mold of Little Dancer in 1881 it was met with the extreme, unrelenting criticism at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition.  Critics found Degas’ use of clothing and hair to adorn the sculpture cast “ugly and degenerate” ; many derided the physical features of the subject, calling her a “flower of the gutter”.

Edgar Degas, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen
Edgar Degas, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

I find this critique interesting because it sits square at the center of the dichotomy of the cultural zeitgeist at the time.  Degas’ chose to feature all aspects of Parisian life during the Belle Époque, including the economic underclass necessary to maintain the affluence of the wealthy elite.  The Paris Opera Ballet was a mirror reflecting both of these worlds.  Many dancers were plucked from underprivileged families who saw ballet as a gateway to a better life.  The career track for these dancers was quite limited.  They performed and frequently became mistresses to wealthy male benefactors.

Degas’ muse for Little Dancer was Marie von Goethem, a 14-year-old daughter of a deceased father and a laundress.  Her mother sent her to the Paris Opera Ballet at 13 in hopes that she would find a better life and escape a life of poverty.  The act of artistically revealing this very unseemly aspect of the Belle Époque in lieu of the gilded, pristine facade of the ruling class, was viewed as an anathema to critics.

Tonight’s panel discussion along with excerpts of the musical will be live streamed on the Guggenheim’s website. The museum will also host extended hours to view some of Degas’ works exhibited in the Thannhauser Gallery.  I’m looking forward to learning more through this musical and discussion!





Shadowplay: Behind Andy Warhol’s Shadows


I didn’t know what direction I should go into to describe Andy Warhol’s Shadows series.  This single work composed between 1978-1979 is comprised of 102 paintings designed to take the viewer on a journey of light and space.  While it is easy to simply write off this ambitious work as a single image painted 102 times, I found it to be an interesting self referential piece that shines a light on the man behind the artist.

When I look at things, I always see the space they occupy. I always want the space to reappear, to make a comeback, because it’s lost space when there’s something in it.”

Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol from A to B and Back Again

IMG 8317 from CultureShockArt on Vimeo.

In Shadows, Warhol took photos of two images in his studio at varying light levels.  From those pictures Warhol painted 102 panels representing how light and shadow distinctly influenced each painting.  It’s a moody piece that reads as a pictorial diary of the factory studio.  If these walls could have talked they would regale us with tales on the legendary “happenings” that took place among the bevy of artists, musicians, drag queens, drug users, socialites, shady hanger-ons, bankers and bums that were a part of the Warhol Superstars;  instead, we have an abstract work that invites us to imagine the circumstances that inspired the individual works.




Looking at the intricate differences among the panels it became easier to see how physical and emotional environments could have shaped their artistic variance. In some the acrylic paint forming the base of each piece is the focal point, in others the silkscreened process is dominant, and in many there is a harmonious balance.  Similarly, the colorways, brush strokes and paint layering assume an energy that appeared to be either influenced by or reflective of the psyche of the artist and his environment.  There were distinctly Warholian pops of saturated color amidst muted tones and grey/black paintings.  One panel shows the hazy diffused light reminscient of an overcast day but the next panel featured the same haze but the brush strokes were decidedly more manic.  The three categories of color wove their way through the entire work in a decidedly un-patterned pattern.

The work is considered an important bridge between the two poles of his career in pop art transitioning into the abstract.

That’s why I think this work is probably more important than it’s surface view suggests. As Warhol’s work pivoted to abstraction during this time, the meaning behind the piece is veiled leading many to distill this work into a study of light, but to me the shadows hide more than they reveal.

Leo Castelli (w/ Warhol in the background) at the opening of Shadows in 1979. Photo Credit: Archives of American Art

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

Warhol carefully curated his public persona as the free wheeling ring leader of his own circus, and I think his foray into abstraction was a way to harmonize his public persona with his inner self.  By turning a light onto his figurative and personal shadows, he breathed life and emotion into them.  Whether or not that served as catharsis to the artist is completely unknown.

Andy Warhol’s Shadows are on view through February 2, 2015 at MOCA Grand in Los Angeles.

Album Challenge: When Instinct is Your Guide


As thousands of people made the trek home from SXSW armed with a cadre of musical experiences designed to put them on the cutting edge of what the masses won’t be taking about musically for another 6 months from now, I took a trek back into time.  A couple of weeks ago I was record shopping with my favorite producer, who gave me a challenge.  He asked me to pick one album from an artist I had never heard of before based solely on the album cover.  No advance listening, no Googling of the album or artist.  We would take the album home and find out what we’ve got.

Many of our vinyl excursions end up like this and always we’re surprised by what we get.



The album I picked stuck out to me for a few reasons.  First off there was so much going on here with the Chairmen of the Board with the Flute, Maracas, blue polyester suits and hexagonal glasses.  Then I looked at the back cover and the graphics reminded me of Ellsworth Kelly.  So I had a musical hodgepodge featured on the front and cool color blocking on the back.  It spoke to all of my creative sensibilities!

Ellsworth Kelly, “Red, Green, Blue”. Photo Credit: Walker Art Center

“In Session” was produced on Invictus Records in 1970 and was the second album by Chairmen of the Board.  Invictus was the first label to first spin-off of Motown and their sound was heavily prominent in this album.  The Chairmen of the Board was the label’s marquee group, who had their first album hit with “Give Me Just a Little More Time”, (which was tragically resurrected in a Swiffer ad).  “In Session” fused bluesy gritty guitar riffs with classic Motown R&B strings and psychedelic baselines. Turns out this second album produced 4 chart topping singles, but none of them eclipsed the popularity of their first hit single.

I think my favorite song was the “Everything is Tuesday”, with “Hanging On to a Memory” being a close second.  I learned much more about Motown and Invictus Records than I had known before, and got an interesting peek into the record industry in the 70’s. There’s a Documentary called “Band of Gold” that gives a deep dive into the industry that spawned Invictus.  Interesting stuff.  So this album took me on a musical journey that I would never have embarked upon.  Trust your creative instincts and take a chance on something you might not normally listen to, you just might be surprised at what you learn.

2013 “Rewind”

IMG_5165Whew!  Before I look forward to 2014 (and I must say, it cannot come soon enough), I thought I’d take a quick look back on my digital footprints and share my favorite CultureShockArt moments of 2013.  So I picked 5 posts from Twitter, Instagram, WordPress and Pinterest that were either popular, or made me squeal, “Eep eep! Such and so acknowledged my existence!”  Yes, I find that these situations render me as a 12 year old girl wearing 3 Swatch watches and L.A. Gears but hey, such is the magic that is the internet.

#5- HuffPo and my MOCA musings

For the most part on Twitter I feel like that one crazy aunt or uncle who sits in the corner at family gatherings shouting bizarre non-sequiturs to nobody in particular.  Once in a while a random post will illicit a response from someone, and I go completely starstruck when it is a celebrity, museum or a blogger I admire (yes, I get starstruck over museums and bloggers too).  So back in March when I wrote this post about some Los Angeles MOCA drama (and we had our fair share of it this year), little did I know HuffPo Arts would post it in their “Twitter reactions” gallery at the end of one of their articles.  The Art Girl geek in me came out when I saw my snark displayed amongst some of my favorite arts writers.



#4  Orange Crush

I was extremely late to the Instagram party, but once I dove in I took to it like a fish to water.  Strange enough, IG has taught me to keep my eyes open, not for photo ops, but to be more observant of my surroundings.  I now find my head in the clouds…appreciating them more than daydreaming.  At one point I had color phases when I would be obsessed with certain hues that would dominate my wardrobe, nail polish, handbag selection, you name it.  First orange, then lilac, then red… On this particular day in April I was laughing at the budding collection of all things “Orange” on my desk and snapped a pic of it.  Well, when Caroline Issa, editor of Tank magazine (and one of my style ICONS), emoji’ed her reactions to some of my pics, I was thrilled beyond belief!  I still really love this photo, but not as much as the oodles of shots I take of my napping dogs who deserve their own Instagram account.



#3  My 15 Minutes Seconds of Fame


The Warhol Museum is responsible for driving the most traffic on a single day to my humble little blog.  In August when I posted a reaction to an op ed piece about how a writer hates museums, the Warhol Museum noticed and linked my article to their website and Tweeted it to their followers.  I was forever grateful for pub and encouragement.  There are so many museums out there that are using social media to engage with their audiences in smart ways and the Warhol is near the top of the list.  THANK YOU Warhol Museum for taking the time to notice and show some blogger love.


#2 “What’s Your Bag?”

If I had a nickel for every time I got this question this year, I’d be able to afford 3 more of her bags!  This by far was the most talked about handbag in my collection this year.  It started many a random conversation in stores, restaurants, airport security screening lines, meetings, and an awkardly funny encounter with actor, writer and producer Issa Rae (we have the same bag).  So I wrote a post about bag obsession–not necessarily the bag itself, but what’s inside it.

When the designer pinned this picture on their Pinterest site, it drove crazy amounts of traffic to my blog.  Nice!  It’s also one of the most pinned photos on their site. (Really nice). Everybody wins, right?!


#1 The Sphinx and the Cronut


Of all my posts this year, this one cracks me up the most!  The Banksy mania that overtook NYC in August was slightly outdone by the city’s obsession with the Cronut.  I had to find a way to mash these two phenomena together.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one who got the connection.


Pulitzer Prize winning food writer Jonathan Gold sent me a message on Twitter saying he loved my Banksy post!  I have to say it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Despite all this name dropping and validation seeking, what I find most rewarding are the new experiences this blog has shown me.  I saw some wonderful exhibits and met some amazing artists, writers, designers and bloggers this year who took me on an inspirational journey beyond the keyboard.  For that I am truly grateful, and I am especially thankful for all of my readers who have shown their support and encouragement to me in 2013.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  I wish you all the best in the New Year.