It had been awhile since I’d gotten out of town to do something fun, so I took a day trip this month to the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, because who can say no to free inspiration? In addition to an array of art from centuries past with an especially robust Asian art section, there were some more recent pieces that really impacted mem resulting in some new favorite artists – all with amazing stories.
I am a mask enthusiast as well as a fan of anything inspired by surreal or dreamlike imagery, and the composition and color in this piece propelled me over to it like a magnet the moment I walked into the first room.
Meza is known for fantastical landscapes and distorted figures. He grew up in Mexico City, the son of tailors. His family was not wealthy and he himself only completed school through 9th grade, but they were a family that valued arts, music, and culture, and he started drawing as a child and never stopped. He helped support his family by illustrating for magazines. Other working artists took notice, and he was recommended to Galeria de Arte Mexicana by none other than Diego Rivera. I love his story because it shows that yes opportunity helps, but what more so determines success or failure is an artist’s skill and devotion to creative practice.
Marcus Jansen is originally from South Bronx and now resides in Florida. He was always interested in art, but chose to enlist in the military as a career. He is a veteran of Desert Storm who upon returning to civilian life in 1999 found he had trouble adjusting, and struggled to find work. He started selling his paintings on the street, and garnered recognition for his unique, abstracted landscapes that often include social and political metaphor. He is the founder of the Marcus Jansen Foundation Fund, which assists low-income community organizations in South West Florida by bringing them arts, music, and cultural awareness. His foundation also supports organizations that help veterans diagnosed with PTSD, bringing them art as a form of expressive therapy. This is another artist who I liked even more after not only just seeing their physical creations but researching their personal story. His work for me created a dynamic new world that I couldn’t step away from, with a unique blend of realism and abstract and a specific style that is completely new, a hard thing to achieve in this time when it sometimes seems everything has been done.
The above piece was part of the Peace Art Project of Cambodia. PAPC is a project sponsored by the European Union as well as some celebrity donors in which students at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh worked on projects turning weapons technology into peace time vocations by using them as an art material for beautiful sculptures. This particular piece depicts Asapara, a female Buddhist figure whose traditional dance holds an important place in Cambodia’s culture and history. The juxtaposition of the elegant, peaceful figure with what she is created out of is a strong image conveying the end of violence.
I had already been a fan of this artist, so in this case it was a very special moment for me to see one of her installations in person. I hadn’t even checked out the website for the museum beforehand, just decided to go, so I didn’t know she would even be showing. I love random life surprises like this! Mari Katayama is a Japanese artist who was born with a rare developmental condition. She had to have both her legs amputated at age 9, and has only 2 fingers on her right hand. She began photographing herself at first to understand her own identity beyond society’s simplistic, “one size fits all” view of individuals with disabilities. She says that she doesn’t view her images as self portraits though, more that she uses her body as an art material to communicate messages about body image that she feels speak to both individuals with disabilities and able bodied individuals. It’s no secret I’m big into mixed media, and I love the idea of someone using their own body as an art medium. I also am interested in her use of recreated fiber art limbs, and the mix of indoor and outdoor environments used in her overall installation. There is not near enough disability visibility in arts and entertainment, and Katayama’s work is incredibly important.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my favorite finds! As always, if you have a favorite artist feel free to leave their name in a comment. I love discovering new sources of inspiration!