Forensic artists give faces to the faceless

Updated January 31, 2018 08:21:36

Some art students hone their craft using life models or pieces of fruit, but at one New York school they’re using the skulls of eight men who died trying to cross the US-Mexico border.

The skulls, found in Arizona and presumed to be the remains of undocumented migrants, date back to 2000, and have never been formally identified.

A forensic art class now offers the opportunity to reconstruct the faces of the faceless, and hopefully bring closure to their families.

The unique class is taught by Joe Mullins, a forensic artist from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia.

“What I do is combine art and science to help identify the deceased, find the missing and help catch the bad guys … with the power of art,” he says.

He began this kind of work 18 years ago, working with law enforcement to put together missing persons flyers.

Mr Mullins believes there are “probably around 20,000 skulls” in the US alone that are in need of identification.

“I’m on a mission to clear the shelves in medical examiners’ offices across the globe if I can,” he says.

And he believes that “we have the technology, the resources and the talent” in sculpting students and artists to do just that — and provide answers to “those families that have been frozen in uncertainty”.

Putting a puzzle together

Mr Mullins believes a skull can tell his students at the New York Academy of Art everything about a face.

Alongside the skulls, which are actually 3D prints of the originals, the students are provided with basic details about their subjects — including age range, distinguishing characteristics and any hair or clothing found with the remains.

They use oil-based clay and sculpt it onto the surface of the 3D-printed skulls. The eyes of the sculptures are white marbles.

A skull and basic physical descriptions doesn’t sound like much to go off, but Mr Mullins says there’s a lot of information you can get just from a human cranium.

“A skull tells you everything about the face — the projection of the nose, whether you have attached or detached earlobes, placement of your eyebrows, your hairline, the thickness of your lips,” he says.

There’s no one feature that’s the most important to nail — instead it’s about getting the proportions, locations and combinations of features right.

“It’s like putting together a puzzle and using the skull as a landmark to put the right pieces in the right spot,” Mr Mullins says.

The stakes are high. Misplaced ears could lead to a family failing to recognise their lost loved one.

Follow all the clues

The forensic art course is what attracted Antonia Barolini to the New York Academy of Art.

She says Mr Mullins’ class is completely unlike her other classes, which are all about artistic license and self-expression.

At first, she says it “felt like an anatomical exercise”, but after she developed the features and built the face from the skull, it began to dawn on her that “this is an unidentified person”.

“And then it really became something else … it’s definitely very powerful,” she says.

Forensic artists have long worked to help identify the lost, but recent developments in US politics that have seen President Donald Trump continue his call for a border wall with Mexico, make the work more urgent and timely than ever.

“Trump’s whole immigration thing dehumanises these people,” Ms Barolini says.

“I want to be able to give them their identity. These are people and no matter where they’re from, they have to be treated like people.”

On completion the reconstructed faces are photographed and submitted to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System in the US.

Ultimately Mr Mullins hopes to get them back to the medical examiner in Arizona.

But for now, they’re being exhibited at the New York Academy of Art, “like a portrait gallery, but a portrait gallery for a purpose”.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, sculpture, visual-art, contemporary-art, law-crime-and-justice, united-states

First posted January 31, 2018 08:00:00

Trump asks museum for Van Gogh painting, is instead offered gold toilet

Updated January 26, 2018 13:56:33

Donald and Melania Trump wanted to borrow a Van Gogh painting from New York’s Guggenheim Museum, but have instead been offered a working solid-gold toilet made by an Italian artist, a report says.

Key points:

  • Toilet is valued at about $US1 million
  • Curator says museum could provide instructions on using toilet
  • White House has not commented on reported offer

According to The Washington Post, the first couple had asked for Van Gogh’s Landscape With Snow painting, featuring a man and his dog.

But the Guggenheim’s chief curator came up with a pointedly satirical counter-offer, emailing the White House Office of the Curator in September to say that the Trumps could instead borrow the toilet installation used by tens of thousands of visitors in a museum restroom.

Nancy Spector included a photograph in her email, saying: “We are sorry not to be able to accommodate your original request, but remain hopeful that this special offer may be of interest.”

The 18-karat toilet, titled America, is Maurizio Cattelan’s jab at the nation’s greedier instincts.

It is fully functional and was used by more than 100,000 people, according to the museum, and has an estimated value topping $US1 million.

The toilet could be “a long-term loan”, Ms Spector wrote.

“It is, of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care.”

The Post said the White House has stayed silent on the subject, while a Guggenheim spokeswoman declined to immediately comment.

Ms Spector has been openly critical of Trump on social media.

In a 2017 blog post she wrote that the “Trump reference” inherent in the gold toilet resonated with people “during the sculpture’s time at the Guggenheim”.

“When the sculpture came off view on September 15, Trump had been in office for 238 days, a term marked by scandal and defined by the deliberate rollback of countless civil liberties, in addition to climate-change denial that puts our planet in peril,” Ms Spector wrote.

The President favours the colour gold, plating bathroom fixtures in his various homes with the precious metal and redecorating the Oval Office with gold-hued drapes.

AP/Reuters

Topics: donald-trump, world-politics, arts-and-entertainment, contemporary-art, visual-art, united-states

First posted January 26, 2018 13:12:21

This artist created a massive valley of colour for audiences to walk through

Updated January 12, 2018 17:55:21

A massive rainbow-hued installation of trussed-and-hung spray-painted fabric has taken over the foyer of Sydney’s Carriageworks this month, an act of peaceful resistance to an late-Victorian industrial aesthetic that’s all brick, cast iron and steel.

The walk-in sculpture has been created by German artist Katharina Grosse.

Paint by numbers:

  • More than 8,250 square metres of fabric were used
  • It took seven days to rig the fabric within the space
  • More than 400 litres of paint were applied via a large spray-paint ‘gun’
  • Thirty shades of paint were used
  • It took eight days for the artist to complete the painting

Free and open to the public until April 8, the installation is striking from the outside, but visitors can also enter the work via one of three ‘slits’ in the perimeter of the fabric. Inside lies a vibrant valley of colour where walking on the artwork is not just allowed it’s unavoidable.

Grosse is known these days for large-scale colourful spray-painted works, created either directly onto the landscape and built environment, or onto fabric layered on top of those surfaces.

Her previous installation in Australia, a ‘wall painting’ for the 1998 Biennale of Sydney, represented a turning point at which she was moving from paint-on-canvas to larger, site specific works.

The power of colour

Grosse says she’s always been obsessed with colour.

“It stirs up a lot of emotions and sensations in people, memories. It’s something that we register in our thought before our language kicks in,” she says.

The mutability of colour is also part of its appeal for Grosse and she notes that her installation looks quite different in the day time, under natural light, compared to night-time, when a rig of spotlights is deployed to dramatic effect.

“This work looks so different every day,” the artist says.

The Carriageworks installation is the largest fabric work Grosse has created, and a first in terms of its form.

“I’ve never done a work like this before,” she says. “I’ve worked with fabric, but never with only folds and only fabric. I previously used fabric in relation to soil or trees or other materials.”

Grosse wanted “to do something that’s very different from the architectural situation here”, creating something “soft and folded” to contrast against the hard surfaces and lines.

Meticulous planning then spontaneity

As one might expect, the preparation of the canvas for the work was highly planned.

Grosse and her team work with models of three different sizes to trial configurations for how the fabric is hung, draped and knotted.

“The smallest model shows me the overall relationship of my work to the space [the Carriageworks foyer],” Grosse explains.

“The next size up helps me understand how large the fabric should be because it’s far bigger than the surface area [of the foyer]; it’s crammed so that I get these rich folds and all of the texture. The large model is the one that I needed to figure out which points I was going to use in the roof construction, and what the different knots are going to look like.”

What happens afterwards is more spontaneous and intuitive.

“I started with a light colour, because I wanted to see how I moved in the space,” she says.

“[The colours I use] really has to do with the situation I’m in — the light.”

Grosse had to cast aside her initial fear of making mistakes on a large scale.

“I had an experience when I started making these large site works, maybe 18 or 20 years ago: I had a small mock-up model that I was looking at constantly as I worked; I was so afraid that I might do something wrong that the end result was frighteningly close to my model — I realised, that’s not worth my effort, to just produce something that I already know,” she says.

“I decided that going forward, I had to absolutely believe that nothing can go wrong. When you feel open, and don’t limit yourself by fear, you’re more likely to create something you would not have envisioned.”

Keeping things open-ended

Grosse often gives her artworks enigmatic names that sound more like stage directions than titles — in this case: The Horse Trotted Another Couple of Metres, Then It Stopped.

“It doesn’t mean anything, but it conveys an atmosphere,” she has said of this title.

For Grosse, keeping her work ambiguous and open-ended is important for a simple reason: she doesn’t want to exclude anyone.

“People can bring their own thoughts to it. If the work isn’t open-ended, then the viewer would only be looking at it from the outside — and feel quite excluded, I think. You would start to think ‘Do I need to read the text before I can understand this?’ Whereas I think there are many things that come from your own experience that can help you understand the work,” she says.

As an example, she points to a strip of golden-brown paint, ostensibly dribbled down the canvas, and speculates: “It’s like honey coming off toast, perhaps.”

Topics: contemporary-art, arts-and-entertainment, eveleigh-2015, nsw, australia, germany

First posted January 12, 2018 17:42:00

Ron Tandberg, The Age cartoonist who ‘stood for the little man’, dead at 74

Posted January 08, 2018 18:56:30

Decorated Fairfax cartoonist Ron Tandberg has been remembered for his keen sense of justice after he died from cancer aged 74.

Tandberg won 11 Walkley awards for his illustrations, including two Gold Walkleys, and was known for his succinct style and cutting wit.

Friend and associate editor of The Age Tony Wright said Tandberg made a career out of drawing minimalist pocket cartoons which “cut through everything” and stood up to the big end of town.

“Just about every political figure that you could name of the last four decades has found themselves the brunt of that ‘simplistic little line’ as he used to call it, the abstract little line that he created,” he said.

“He was a fellow who stood for the little man, he considered himself that little man who often appeared in his cartoons.”

“He was actually a wonderful artist, very skilled at drawing and all the rest of it, but he decided that he would concentrate on just the tiniest, most minimalist cartoons possible with just a few lines that would say a great deal.

“And he did, he said a great deal, every single day.”

Tributes flow, cartoons shared

On Twitter, politicians, journalists and public figures and organisations shared their favourite works.

Editor of The Age Alex Lavelle paid tribute to Tandberg, describing him as a “great friend and inspiration” to countless members of staff, and a talent adored by readers.

“Not only was he a world-class cartoonist, he was a world-class human being,” he said.

“You couldn’t help but feel better about life after a conversation with Ron.

“Even during these impossibly hard few months while he was battling cancer, he maintained his extraordinary sense of humour and was still drawing a few days ago.”

Fellow Fairfax cartoonist Cathy Wilcox tweeted “if brevity is the soul of wit, then Ron Tandberg was its embodiment”.

Tandberg was inducted into the Melbourne Press Club’s Hall of Fame in 2014, which described his cartoons as a “unique combination of portraiture and graphic art to provide compelling insight and humour”.

The club paid tribute to his work illustrating a 1980s anti-AIDS campaign, saying it “underscored a remarkable capacity to impact public consciousness”.

In an interview with the National Portrait Gallery, Tandberg said inspiration for his daily cartoons did not always come easily.

“A cartoonist has more freedom because you can interpret the news and actually give it a slant, or interpretation,” he said.

“Sometimes the ideas come quickly and easily, other times, there’s a lot of torture and often how you present it is the difference between a good cartoon and a bad cartoon.

“I think my education was pretty ordinary and I think it helped because you didn’t have the structured way of looking at things, you actually had your own little way of looking [at] things.

“I think that’s what a cartoonist has to have, is a very individual view and individual experiences.”

Topics: community-and-society, print-media, contemporary-art, melbourne-3000, vic

Why this summer feels like a win for women artists

Posted December 17, 2017 08:00:00

The major galleries of Melbourne are filled with the work of women artists this summer.

Out of the five solo exhibitions by leading Australian artists on at NGV Australia, four are by women. The Heide Museum of Modern Art is featuring a retrospective of Jenny Watson’s work, and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s (ACCA) Big Picture Exhibition brings together over 50 women and non-binary artists to explore the legacy of feminism.

Elvis Richardson, one of the curators of the ACCA exhibition, has reported on women in the art world on her blog since 2008.

Her 2014 research found that while women make up 74 per cent of visual art graduates, they represented only 34 per cent of state museum exhibitions.

So while this shouldn’t even be cause for remark, this much art by women feels like a win.

The positive energy of rage

When you enter The Highway Is A Disco, Del Kathryn Barton’s exhibition at NGV Australia, you step straight into Kathryn Barton’s sensuous, hyper-colour world.

From her volcanic women and multi-breasted fluoro goddesses to her textural collages, humans, animals and plants intertwine.

Barton wasn’t all that interested in identifying “in a gender-specific way” at the start of her career 20 years ago. But, Barton says, she’s been fed up with the progress of women’s rights.

“I’m 44 now and we’re just not far enough along and I am just so ready … to advocate more for equality,” she says.

Barton’s first short film, RED, is a result of this frustration.

In the film, Barton cast Cate Blanchett as a red-back spider who disposes of her mate post-coitus. It’s a fiercely unapologetic gesture about the potential and positive energy of women’s rage.

But despite the rage and the bite of her latest work, Barton still resists throwing in her lot with women artists.

“I think on one level it’s a mistake to make the celebration of the shows [at NGV Australia] too gender specific,” she says.

“But in saying that, I am so excited to have my show opening alongside three other very important Australian artists across diverse generations … I feel that’s very timely.”

‘They’re doing all sorts of amazing things’

This is Barton’s first solo exhibition at a major gallery and she shares a level with three other solo exhibitions by women artists: Louise Paramor, Mel O’Callaghan and Helen Maudsley.

Paramor’s exhibition features three-metre-tall collapsible paper structures, built using a unique “honeycomb” technique. The sculptures are simultaneously delicate and impressively solid — and are, frankly, delightful.

O’Callaghan’s film installation Ensemble makes its Australian debut at the NGV. The short film fills a 20-metre-wide space and depicts a man resisting an intense jet of water. There’s no sound to the film, but the pressure of the jet seems to make a sound through the silence.

As with Del Kathryn Barton’s work, stepping into Maudsley’s exhibition, Our Knowing and Not Knowing, feels quietly immersive.

Now in her seventh decade as an artist, this is also 90-year-old Maudsley’s first solo show at the NGV. It features 30 recent paintings and drawings, done in very on-trend pastels, which blend into a room wallpapered with her art, which she describes as “visual essays”.

Maudsley, like Barton, doesn’t see herself as a woman artist.

“I just think of us as just artists … I would never think of a man as being a man artist,” she says.

While she admits that women might not be that visible in larger commercial galleries, she says you just need to do some digging.

“They’re doing all sorts of amazing things, all the time, but nobody takes any notice of them … but they are there,” she says.

Maudsley recalls that for a time nobody was very interested in her work. She believes that in the past women artists who succeeded, “tend to be accepted if they were in line with something” who emulated artists like George Bell and Max Meldrum, who both happen to be men.

“Men are accepted as doing something on their own … women are taken seriously only if they are doing what somebody else has already done,” Maudsley says.

And if the works of Barton, Paramor, Maudsley and O’Callaghan aren’t enough, visitors can also check out the work of Claudia Moodoonuthi at the NGV.

The exhibition includes found objects from Brisbane, painted with vivid imagery inspired by Moodoonuthi’s childhood on Queensland’s Bentinck Island.

Moodoonuthi’s work was also featured in an exhibition on at NGV Australia last year, Who’s Afraid of Colour, which featured the works of 118 Indigenous women artists.

It was curated in part as a response to the NGV’s 1981 major exhibition of Indigenous art — Aboriginal Australia. Of the 328 works in the 1981 exhibition, not even one was by a woman.

Whether or not you chose to view these artists through a prism of gender, it still feels like a cause of celebration that visitors can walk through an entire floor of NGV Australia and see only art by women.

Here’s to more summers like this.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, contemporary-art, visual-art, feminism, melbourne-3000

Aboriginal artists return to renowned workshop in Mittagong

Posted December 14, 2017 16:52:04

It was the early 1970s when five young women from the remote Ernabella community in South Australia travelled from the deep desert to the lush Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

There they undertook a ground-breaking weaving residency at the Sturt Workshop in Mittagong.

Now, nearly 50 years later, a group of Ernabella artists, including one of the original women, has returned to the Sturt Workshop to showcase their vibrant art.

The exhibition, In These Hands, also marks the 70-year anniversary of Ernabella Arts, the oldest Indigenous art centre in Australia.

No time to be homesick

Wandering through the grounds of the Sturt Gallery, Atipalku Intjalku recalls her experience as a wide-eyed teenage girl out of her community for the first time to attend the 1972 residency.

“I’m remembering all the people that helped me, and the good times that we had here at Sturt,” Intjalku said.

“Was I homesick? Simply put, no.

“There was so much to learn, everything was new and exciting, everything was different — the trees, the food, the weather, the people and even what we wore!

“I was here for a long time, a few months, learning to weave on a new kind of loom, and a different kind of coloured wool, not the plain white and grey fleece wool that we used from the shearers in Ernabella.”

Historic connection

The sister relationship between Ernabella and Sturt was forged from a chance meeting at the Spinners and Weavers Association in Sydney in the mid to late 1960s.

Winifred Hilliard, Ernabella’s craft room advisor, and artist Nyukama (Daisy) Baker were in town attending an Association workshop.

Sturt’s master weaver Elisabeth Nagel, who was also present, was intrigued by the pair and by Baker’s art.

Their initial conversations sparked a lifelong friendship between the three women and forged the unique relationship between the two art centres.

In 1968, at Ms Hilliard’s invitation, Nagel travelled by mail plane from Alice Springs to the missionary community of Ernabella, on APY Lands, surrounded by stunning desert country.

Nagel was impressed by the work coming out of the art centre, and by the spirit of the community, and hatched a plan to have some of the young Ernabella women come to the Sturt workshop to extend their knowledge and skills in weaving.

Creativity blossomed with confidence

Slavica Zivkovic, co-curator of the In These Hands exhibition, spoke with a now elderly Nagel to gain an insight into the residencies that took place in 1971 and 1972.

“Elisabeth Nagel recalled that the young Ernabella women were immediately delighted by the great skeins of colourful commercial wool hanging in the studio,” Ms Zivkovic said.

“At first, Nagel’s weaving instructions were purely about technique — such as warping that required accurate counting methods — and the young women needed constant support.

“But as the young artists slowly grew with quiet confidence, their creativity blossomed.

“In the evening, the artists would do their coloured-pencil Walka drawings — patterns based on their surroundings.

“These would be translated into tapestries and floor rugs, incorporating a thread palette selected by the artists.

“The young artists became very much a part of the Sturt family and for Nagel, the residencies were not just about teaching techniques, but encouraging self-development and acceptance of culture.”

Intjalka has her own fond memories of Nagel from the 1972 residency.

“Miss Nagel looked after us the whole time,” she said.

“She taught us weaving and we taught her a little of our own language, Pitjantjara.

“On the weekends, sometimes we travelled by train to Sydney, we went to the harbour and caught a boat to the zoo.”

Australia’s oldest Indigenous arts centre

The skills and life experience the young artists gained at Sturt helped to shape the direction of Ernabella Arts, and continue to have influence as their knowledge is passed onto the next generation.

Original Sturt residency weaver Atipalku Intjalka has been accompanied on her return trip by several Ernabella artists who are visiting their sister arts centre for the first time.

They include ceramicist and exhibition co-curator Alison Milyika Carroll, ceramicist Lynette Lewis, and current chair of Ernabella Arts Tjunkaya Tapaya.

Tapaya is quietly proud of Ernabella Arts’ achievements.

“The Ernabella craft room started in 1948, the year before I was born, and it was the first art centre of its kind in Australia,” she said.

“When it first started it was only for women, and they were spinning sheep wool and making rugs and as I watched on as a little girl, I decided that would be the work I would do when I grew up.

“Then a new craft room was built, and then the young girls, young boys, and men started coming in to learn art and learning from the old people.

“Over the years, Ernabella artists have created work using many different materials and methods, including weaving, fibre arts, ceramics, and now painting as well.”

Art carries stories for next generation

As they move the through the Sturt Gallery, getting a sneak preview of the exhibition, the visiting Ernabella artists reflect on their art works.

Both Intjalka and Tapaya practice Tjanpi weaving, using natural desert grasses, seeds and feathers, together with commercially-bought raffia, string, and wool to create dioramas and large-scale installation sculptures.

“In the missionary time, we’d all go to church so I’m remembering this time from when I was a kid,” Tapaya said of a beautiful little church she has crafted.

Carroll said she feels it is all about the stories contained within the art.

“Telling stories, you know, stories, Tjukurpa,” she said.

“When we paint, and weave, and make art, we talk to the young people about Tjukurpa, dreamtime stories, and the stories are in the canvas and ceramics.

“Now it’s getting big for young people to work and learn about arts.

“When we’re gone, the art centre will be still there for our young people to make beautiful things for our future — the young people.”

In These Hands, Celebrating 70 Years of Ernabella Arts, runs at the Sturt Gallery in Mittagong until February 11, 2018.

Topics: contemporary-art, visual-art, arts-and-entertainment, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, indigenous-culture, community-and-society, library-museum-and-gallery, art-history, women, ernabella-0872, mittagong-2575, alice-springs-0870, sydney-2000

‘I am shaking with horror’: Council accidentally removes disability pride mural

Updated December 05, 2017 19:25:56

A council in Melbourne’s inner-west has been forced to apologise, after graffiti contractors removed a newly installed mural which it partly funded to pay tribute to the area’s disabled community.

The disability pride mural was installed about a week ago on the Footscray Exchange building and took hundreds of hours to complete.

But on Monday night the artwork’s coordinator, Larissa MacFarlane, discovered the mural had been removed.

“This blatant act of contempt, epitomises the way that people with disabilities are treated in this country,” Ms MacFarlane wrote on her Facebook page.

“Many people involved in this artwork, shared that this was the first time they had felt pride in themselves.

“For some people it was their first time identifying as disabled, because they already know the deeply entrenched and discriminating ableism in this country.

“I am appalled. I am devastated. I am shaking with horror.”

Her post has gained traction on social media and was shared 150 times.

“The days’ theme was ‘leave no-one behind’ and I guess that’s already been disregarded,” wrote one user.

“That’s a bloody outrage,” wrote another. “I was going to go and have a look this weekend, guess that won’t be happening. What disgusting behaviour.”

On Tuesday night, the chief executive of Maribyrnong City Council, Stephen Wall, owned up.

“We sincerely apologise to Ms McFarlane and all the artists involved in the installation,” he said.

“We fully support their work and all that it represented, and are embarrassed by this unfortunate mistake.

“Our graffiti contractors removed the installation and we will be meeting with them to review the current procedures.”

Ms McFarlane said she was looking at ways to replace the artwork.

Topics: contemporary-art, community-organisations, local-government, maribyrnong-3032, melbourne-3000, vic

First posted December 05, 2017 18:59:56