Saturday, June 20, 2009

Artist Profile: Yoko Ono

There is so much to be said on legendary avant-garde artist Yoko Ono and her fascinating life. She entered the public eye as the wife of Beatle John Lennon, but was a successful visual and performance artist in her own right before meeting him. She had her first solo gallery show in 1961, a rarity for a woman artist during that era. Also a classically trained musician, Yoko recorded albums on her own as well as with Lennon.
One of the wonderful things about Yoko Ono's art is its inclusiveness. She urges her audience out of passive viewing and encourages them to participate in the creative process. For example in her book grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings by Yoko Ono the artist asks us to do such things as breathe, imagine ourselves as rubber, or cut a piece of paper. Her work really shifts the way one thinks about art. Ono's work ranges from minimalist text pieces to elaborate sculptures and outdoor installations.
Ono is also known for her performance pieces, one of the best known being Cut Piece where the artist sat on an empty stage fully clothed and invited members of the audience to cut her clothes off with scissors.

Yoko Ono lives and works in New York, and exhibits in museums and galleries worldwide. She still records music, and some of her earlier songs have been remixed and given new life as club anthems. She also rerecorded some of her songs with musicians such as Cat Power and The Flaming Lips for her recent album Yes, I'm a Witch . She's an art icon who constantly reinvents herself and pushes the envelope.

Learn more about Yoko Ono and her life's work:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Marissa's Latest: Miz Lucille

Her name is Miz Lucille, and she's the first in a series of outdoor pieces I'm creating. The cutout is watercolor and gouache on paper, and the train is yarn and ribbons. It was made to hang from a tree, and is part of some work I've been doing for the past few years around healing images of Blacks being lynched. It's a part of our history, and I can remember seeing these disturbing images repeatedly from a very young age, in documentaries, posters sold up in Harlem, or history books.
I felt many intense emotions when seeing an image of a lynched person, one of the main ones being helplessness. There was nothing I could do. This person had been murdered in cold blood and ripped away from their family decades ago. For years, I've been collecting these images and finding different ways to view them (Considering who this person was before their death, the beauty of the scenery in these photographs, the time of day the incident occurs), and now I'm finding new ways to recreate them. Miz Lucille represents a different kind of "strange fruit": she hangs from a tree, but is very much alive and in vibrant color. I wanted this image of a Black person hanging from a tree to project happiness. I wanted her to represent not the ugliness of that moment, but the beautiful spirit that left that lynched person's body and is at peace, watching over us.
My plan is to make a whole set of these figures, and do outdoor installations where trees are filled with them.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Now Showing: Kerry James Marshall

Have you ever read a book covering the history of a particular time or place, and begun to contemplate parts of the story that were left out? What was omitted to make a certain figure appear heroic, or to make a certain era seem romantic? African American artist Kerry James Marshall's mural at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the visual equivalent of reading between the lines.
Most people know that George Washington, America's much revered first president, owned slaves. This is a fact that is acknowledged, but often quickly glossed over in history books and documentaries. Marshall, in collaboration with San Francisco's own Precita Eyes muralists, has created his own documentation of this reality, writ larger than life, making it virtually impossible to look away. The two murals, conceived by Kerry James Marshall and painted by Precita Eyes, place Black people in every part of the seemingly happy and colorful landscape. They are in the trees, the ocean, the land, and Black faces create connect-the-dots puzzles throughout the two murals, positioned high overhead in the main lobby of the MoMA.
The murals depict the sprawling estates of our country's "founding fathers," and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson each tower over their plantation homes. Thomas Jefferson is positioned in such a way that when one walks directly under the mural, his eyes appear to shift and he looks to the right. Both murals are a Where's Waldo of stories, maps, and clues.
If you're in the Bay Area, this captivating mural is a must-see. For more information, log onto the SF MoMA's website:

And for more information on the amazing Precita Eyes muralists: