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As everything around us seems to be getting bigger, we are feeling the pinch and reminded of the inherent virtues of smallness.  Doing more with less continues to be a powerful idea–and an admirable choice for those who can well afford to have more.  Artists from far and wide and then and now have shown us, over and over, the magic of small productions.

Alexander Calder, best known for very large sculptures in front of very large buildings in very large cities, never lost sight of the special charm of small work you could hold in your hand intended for a small audience.

calder small pieces gift414-1024x803This set was made by Mr Calder as a gift for a friend.

Glass is a perfect medium for making hold-n-your-hand-sized sculpture.Glass figures Amsterdam thumb_IMGP2868_1024These little creatures made of glass are on display in a gin joint in Amsterdam.

The glass menagerie below was dreamed up by Kiki Smith and the critters were made by Venetian Pino Signoretto.  It is at home at the Corning Museum of Glass in NY.   Glass KikiSmithFull

But this devotion to smallness is not an invention of our time. We humans–all over the world– from our earliest days have dedicated time and talent to making small versions of ourselves.

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terra cotta 2 Denmark thumb_2017-08-05 05.09.14_1024Each just a few inches tall (the wall behind them is made of standard sized bricks), these ancient little men are captivating to modern eyes.  Conceived long before the electric light or glass shelving, they are now at home in a Danish museum.  Meanwhile, in Canada, visitors to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts can have their mood swiftly elevated by the little man below.

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Small scale also works wonderfully for two dimensional art.  In 16th century England, the Kings, Princes, and their pals, who could afford just about anything, any size, found they had a deep attraction to the smallest of paintings–miniature portraits.holbein jane small v & AMiniatures7That’s the eighth king named Henry, no Tiny Tim he, and a woman fittingly named Jane Small.  North Americans in the 18th century took to the same notion, not just Kings and their social circle this time, but plain proud people wanting a keepsake. This is Lottie Hills aged 15 painted by Rufus Porter, “inventor”.

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Stamps!  Engravers, mostly anonymously, spend their working lives and eyes to give us this to put on our envelopes for delivery near and far.  From the 20th century, however, the artists were more frequently acknowledged.

Stamp LacaqueMonaco-1119-LittleRed-Perrault-MG-11-8-78-PLambertStamp LarriviereMonaco-1116-PussBoots-Perrault-MG-11-8-78-PLambertStamp JumeletMonaco-1121-TomThumb-Perrault-MG-11-8-78-PLambertThese three above were all issued in 1978 by Monaco to celebrate Conte de Perrault who collected and published versions of these famous ‘children’s stories.  Artists top to bottom are Eugène Lacaque. Jacky Larrivière. and Claude Jumelet depicting tiny boy Tom Thumb.  Stunning images found here.

Wow, this love song to small is getting more than a little long.  Out of respect for the theme, we’ll stop here for now and pick it again after a small break.

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2017-08-06 09.48.26Look, up in the sky…

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Look, there’s people.  Up in the sky.  Walking around and round inside a coloured ring2017-08-06 06.04.41Don’t worry, it is only–ONLY!–a work of art from Olafur Eliasson, this time in Denmark where where was born, this time in the city of Aarhus.  It is called Your Rainbow Panorama.

This is the same artist who put a waterfall under the Brooklyn Bridgeolafur waterfalls01

And managed to get another one to fall out of the sky at Versaiilesolafur-eliasson-waterfall-versailles-designboom-10

So maybe creating a rainbow you can walk inside on top of an art museum wasn’t such a stretch for him.  But he seems all alone (to us, anyway) in his capacity to astonish so many people from all over the place, time after time, with ‘public works’–open, visible, engaging to anyone.  Water, light, colour, always unexpected, always accepted.

Will we ever see another like him?  Is that even worth thinking about?

Olafur E Model for a Timeless Garden IMG_MDA107810_1600pxAbove Moments from a Timeless Garden, water fountains, made to freeze in mid splash.

Truth is, maybe, some things only come along once.  So get used to it and make sure you don’t miss any part of it.  Wherever you go next, Mr O, we’ll be watching.

With thanks.

colleen H Wellof Exaggeration

When you first come across a painting that turns out not to be a painting, but rather an arrangement of pieces of fabric sewn together, you might feel tricked.  But never mind how it’s done, your eyes are right: it’s got everything a painting should have, except paint.

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Canada is not known for boasting, but there’s no getting around the fact that it boasts one of today’s finest practitioners of the stitched fabric picture.  Her name is Colleen Heslin.  Two Images above and four below from her website and that of Monte Clarke Gallery in Vancouver.

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You can’t help but think there is a connection between what Ms Heslin is doing and what tailors and seamstresses and emergency room doctors attending to flesh wounds do on a daily basis.  But whatever the connection, you won’t be able to hold it in your head very long once you see these pictures live and up close.  There’s only room for swooning.

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Ms Heslin is one of a kind, through and through.  Still, curiosity got the better of us and a little searching revealed that a few other contemporary artists have put down the brush and taken up the needle.  One is from Denmark and he is Sergej Jensen.

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You can find out more about him from this report on a show in Denver 

And to see these and more images in context, just put Mr Jensen’s name into mother google’s magic window.

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People bent on explaining Art are trying their polysyllabic damnedest to claim this stuff for themselves by naming it, for example here. But we’ll have none of that.  Let your eyes do all the work, see where they take you.

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We landed here, and our last word on the subject is boro.  Apparently Japanese patchwork from quite a while ago.  Crazy boro.

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Pieter Bruegel, Flemish, born almost 500 years ago, was a miracle of a painter who gave us images we can still understand and delight in without a thick book or an expert.

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Most of his pictures have their origin in the Christian Bible, but if you never saw a Bible in your life you would see and feel the humanity of what is staring you in the eye.

And you would see the children, somewhere in the frame.

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You need to look, sometimes, for the children.  But they are almost always there, busy, preoccupied, stocky/stubby, lovely.

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This is a detail of the Census of Bethlehem

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Wherever you find them, these, Bruegel’s children are identifiable as today’s children, even if so much around them is bizarre.

Bruegel children

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Above, The Hunters in the Snow also known as The Return of the Hunters, is a 1565 oil-on-wood painting.

It is a quiet cold wonder in the palace of great art–thanks in part to those small boys and girls.

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Sometimes the best discoveries don’t require meticulous planning, a long journey, or special shoes.  Sometimes you just have to see what’s in front of you.

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This is some of what Belgian photographer Harry Gruyaert has been seeing and recording for the rest of us over the last 40 years.

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He is credited with helping to prove the point that European photographs could be in colour and still be taken seriously.  Not that there is anything wrong with black and white.

ITALY. Sardinia. Near the town of Cagliari. Poetto beach. 1998.

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SOUTH KOREA. Seoul. 2007.

Mr Gruyaert claims that he doesn’t think much about all this, and he avoids talking about it if at all possible.

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The British Journal of Photography did manage to get a few words out of him, which can be read here

All images © 2015 Harry Gruyaert / Magnum Photos

 

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