|Woman with Bird in Her Hair
by Betye Saar, 2010, mixed media collage
on paperboard,13 1/2 x 12. All works courtesy
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY.
When I see an artwork behind glass or
on a pedestal in the hushed atmosphere of a museum or gallery, I try always to
remember that the object--a sculpture, collage, drawing, or painting-started
from two hands, humble tools toiling in the hopes that something vital and
powerful would come out of all their labor. Artist Betye Saar's "toil" has
resulted in truly significant and multifaceted works over the course of her
career. Her latest mixed-media assemblages and collages, on view at Michael
Rosenfeld Gallery, in New York City, until December 23, 2010, show the
capabilities of an artist who has no compunction with making works that are as
incisively crafted as they are artistically fine.
The daughter of a seamstress and
granddaughter of a quilter, Saar uses flea-market finds, recycled objects, old
photos, paper, fabric, needle, and thread to delve into metaphorically deep
waters. Issues of race, politics, and gender; spirituality and metaphysics;
marginalization and repression; and, of late, psychological and literal
imprisonment have all found their way into her work.
||Birds of a Feather by Betye Saar,
2010, mixed media collage on paperboard,
12 3/4 x 12.
Saar's recent collages feature women
in domestic roles. They are for the most part historical images of young black
women, seemingly with their whole lives ahead of them. But Birds of a Feather tells a different story. All of the birds
surrounding the women in the collage are grounded, perching, none of them shown
in flight. It's the same with Woman With
Bird in Her Hair. The bird--an indication of possibility, hope, and
change--is moored to a woman we can't identify, its talons tangled in her hair.
The lower half of the woman's face has been cut away. Her mouth is gone, her
voice is muted, and the expression of her thoughts and ideas are snuffed out as
well. Her bird can't fly. The implication in both artworks being that the roles
that have been assigned or taken up by these women--or any of us for that matter--can
box us in and limit us more than set us free.
But despite the weightiness of her
concepts, Saar makes beautiful artworks. They say complex things eloquently,
but above all they are carefully constructed so that your eye wants to engage
with them. Like Childe Hassam's paintings of New York during winter or the
bold, artistic geometry of a Gee's Bend quilt, I could spend hours looking at
Saar's work and still find new and intriguing aspects to explore the next time
it crosses my path.
Art behind glass or on a podium is
perfectly fine, but actively engaging in the creative process is much more exciting
and rewarding, most of all because there are few boundaries or hierarchies to
making art. Paintings, sculptures, art quilts, or collages--all are made by
transforming raw materials and bringing disparate parts together. Quilting Arts magazine is strongly
aligned with this same understanding and can give you a creative outlet to
pursue your work with different materials or inspire you to set off in a new artistic
direction. So whether you work with fabric and thread, paper and pen, paint and
brush, or a combination of them all, be inspired by the fact that it's your two
hands creating art, however you choose to do it.