Mikhail Larionov’s words to Natalia Goncharova in 1900: “Open your eyes to your eyes” is a sentiment that mirrors the beginning of an artistic collaboration and exquisite love story between what would one day become a husband and wife creative entity. Each with their own road to follow yet passing through all the stages of love that culminate in the lyrical. This is the story of Blake Ward and Boky Hackel-Ward.
Three years ago my gallery had a wonderful exhibition of sculptures by internationally recognized artist, Blake Ward. During that time, I met his partner in life, German-born Boky Hackel. She was not only stunningly beautiful, but a brilliant poet, writer, artist and all around gorgeous soul. After the opening, Blake and Boky told me the story of how they began working together and how Blake's publicist at the time was opposed to Blake giving Boky any credit for the work she had done on the creation of his sculptures. It was too late to change the direction of our exhibition as we had already sent out press releases and BMO Harris was the sponsor of the exhibition along with the Canadian Consulate. In the end, the exhibition was a resounding success.
Now, three years later, we have invited Blake to return for a second exhibition in our gallery. But this time he comes with his partner, co-creator and new wife, Boky Hackel Ward. We are thrilled to feature Boky as Blake's collaborator and artistic partner of this beautiful collection of inspiring angels, phantoms, ushabtis and modern sculptures. Below is some history on how Blake and Boky came to be.
German-born Boky Hackel began life as a conceptual artist, restorer of Old Master paintings, photographer, musician, writer and poet. As a conceptualist and a polyglot, language had always been extremely important in her work. Although Blake Ward's name is well known in the art world, it was not known that Boky Hackel-Ward was in the shadows as Blake's artistic partner. In 2015, when Blake made an announcement that he and Boky were co-creators, his publicist relentlessly convinced him that Boky's name be kept out of the press and public because "it would hurt Blake's career."
In 2015 Blake and Boky exhibited in Monaco at the Grimaldi Forum when the Monaco Matin ran a story featuring their love story and their work. It was an artistic collaboration made in heaven, they wrote. On Valentine’s Day 2015, at the vernissage of Blake’s exhibition at the Canadian Sculpture Society, Blake publicly announced that the new work presented was not his alone but a result of his collaboration with Boky.
Immediately, the publicist called an urgent meeting where he strongly discouraged Blake from telling anyone about the collaboration. There were many arguments while their representative in Canada backed the publicist 100%. They relentlessly tried to dissuade Blake from following his instinct and ethics. Boky’s contribution they said should be to continue ghost writing his blogs every three days, but no mention or credit should be given to her artistic collaboration with Blake.
In short time, Blake fired the publicist. He gave Boky credit not only for her writing but also for her creative contributions. Although the damage to their artistic synergy was serious, their love, respect and devotion to one another ran deeper.
Canadian-born Blake Ward was born in Yellowknife in the North West Territories in Canada, In 1985 Blake moved to Paris to study under Cyril Heck with whom he learned traditional techniques of modeling figurative sculpture. When the opportunity arose for Blake to move closer to both his foundry and marble quarry in France and Italy, he opened his current studio in Monte Carlo in 1990.
It was Blake who introduced Boky to sculpture. He asked her to do some gold leafing on some bronze pieces because of her mastery in restoring old master paintings in Italy. This assignment became the catalyst to her development as a sculptor.
“I suppose our collaboration is a result of the love that we have for one another. From the very beginning we have always tried to teach one another and share our knowledge. We each bring different things to the table; the sculpture techniques, the conceptual, the wax and the clay, we share this beautiful life together. Without the art we would be lost!” states Boky.
In March 2013, Blake & Boky began offically working together. Blake taught Boky the techniques he used in building his sculpture and Boky shared with Blake her knowledge and experience as a conceptual artist. The synergy was evident as they began to create together. It quickly turned into an incredible love story.
One day, as Boky returned to the studio after an orchestra rehearsal, she found Blake holding up a sculpture that the she had built in the style of his work. He looked at her and said, “Sign it….there is nothing I can do to make it better.” The sculpture was an Ushabti (a funerary figurine used in ancient Egypt) Boky had named “Hathor - Goddess of Love." In ancient Egyptian mythology, Hathor is also the goddess of beauty, music, dance, joy, motherhood but best known as the goddess of love. She was also considered the protective goddess of women. Perhaps Boky created Hathor as a way of protecting herself after she was negated so strongly by the "good ole boy" publicist.
Blake created an inner structure for it, built a dream catcher and ultimately, they both signed the piece. From that point on, they worked incessantly, creating well over 20 sculptures per year. "Hathor" along with her sister sculpture "Hetheru" will be on display.
After much soul searching, today Blake and Boky are married and working together in perfect synergy. They work in harmony in the studio and in their foundries in Italy, France and Canada. His work, her work, and their work… They are two separate artists but sometimes one plus one makes for an even stronger one.
Blake has thrown himself into the digital world of Z-brush and 3D printing, mixing the digital with the analogue, the state of the art with the ancient lost wax techniques. Boky's collection of Figurative Poetry is about making the hurt subside. It is what Blake calls Intentional Art, art with a purpose; it is about healing.
While building on the techniques of figurative sculpture lost in antiquity, Blake remains true to their representational qualities, yet his sculptures are a transgression of the rules, crossing over into the abstract and ethereal realms of our inner worlds. His 1/4 life-size, partial figures materialize before us. Both seductive and tragic, their perfect proportions reflect the hidden perspectives of our human condition. The textured exterior surface alludes to the complexity of our individuality. The open, exposed interior elicits introspection. Holding fast to his love of the human figure, Ward leads us toward self-discovery.
Ward received his Fine Arts Degree from the University of Alberta in 1979 and went on to study classical figurative sculpture in Paris until 1990, when he moved to his current studio in Monte Carlo. When he was invited to teach at the University of Hanoi in 2003, Ward began a journey combining art and activism. His work evolved a bold socio-political voice calling out to our humanitarian dreams of justice, truth, and equality and he has been a positive force raising funds and awareness for the eradication of landmines. Blake's works have shown in Monaco, England, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, The United States, and Canada including many public installations in the principality of Monaco, where he and Boky currently reside, including Princess Grace’s Rose Garden. The work is in the private collections of Prince Albert of Monaco, Herb Alpert, Gerry Moss among others.
"Somewhere Within" will be the first time that Blake Ward and Boky Hackel-Ward will be showing together in the United States as co-creators.
“SOMEWHERE WITHIN” runs from Thursday, May 23, 2019 thru June 12, 2019.
HILTON ASMUS CONTEMPORARY • 716 N. Wells Chicago • 312.852.8200 or email@example.com
We, at Hilton | Asmus, are committed to making a difference in the world by supporting artists, entrepreneurs, visionaries and organizations that are doing the work to make our planet a safer and healthier place to live. Whether it is bringing awareness about issues affecting our environment, human rights or animal rights, we are there!
On Friday, June 29th, we are excited to host a fundraiser in our gallery to help a dynamic, young millennial to kick off the first year of her not-for-profit called Blue Ring. Alex Rose is not only an entrepreneur, but also the Science Editor for Ocean Geographic Magazine, a professional violinist, a fellow member of the Explorer's Club and a Master Diver with over 700 dives under her belt! She is the quintessential AQUANAUT!
Alex created Blue Ring to offset the damage that we, the inhabitants of our planet, have inadvertently caused. I recently interviewed her for our video series on WomanScape and learned a great deal about what we are doing to our oceans and life on earth.
First, let me begin with something many of you may already know. WITHOUT THE OCEANS, THERE IS NO LIFE. The oceans provide more than half of the oxygen we breathe, the water we drink, food and jobs for billions of people and regulates our climate. Did you know that because 97% of the water on our planet is held by the oceans, almost all the rain that drops on land comes from the ocean? According to the American Museum of Natural History, "The ocean acts as a global climate control system: it regulates the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by absorbing, storing and releasing the greenhouse gas in a variety of ways and places, thereby affecting Earth's climate. In fact, the ocean is an enormous storehouse for carbon, containing 50 times more than the atmosphere."
Not only that, but did you know that in the last 50 years we have decimated nearly 90% of all the large fish in our oceans? Scientists estimate that the remaining 10% will disappear by the year 2049 because of overfishing and plastic pollution. If we don't change the way we live, eat, fish and discard our refuse, that gives us about 30 more years to enjoy the taste of Bluefin Tuna, not to mention the declining numbers of blue whales, various species of sea turtles, sea lions, hammerhead sharks, dolphins and other beautiful aquatic sea creatures. On a side note, over 100 million sharks are killed each year for shark fin soup alone that people in Asian countries like to use as a symbol of their wealth (similar to killing elephants or rhinos for their tusks.) I don't necessarily want to be face to face with Jaws, but seriously, this horrible "shark finning" industry catches sharks, cuts off their fins and throws them back in the water to die. Who is better? The sharks or evolved humans?
And then we come to dire issue of single use plastics which have decimated our oceans and our health, and I'm not even talking about the sea animals that are affected by consuming plastic bottle caps, straws, and micro-plastics. National Geographic Magazine recently dedicated an entire issue to the problem. There are many different types of plastic, but in all, most plastics will take 500 to 1000 years to decompose. Then there are photo-degradable plastics.
Photo-degradable means that the chemicals, when exposed to sunlight, will break down into smaller and smaller pieces and turn into micro-plastics. This is great, except that even the plankton are now eating micro-plastics. And we are eating the fish that are eating the plankton. Now, nearly every time we eat fish, WE ARE EATING PLASTIC! When these photo-degradable products eventually decompose, they release toxins such as the BPA that we don't want in our canned foods. And that's another problem we have to deal with. People often confuse Photodegradable with Biodegradable. When biodegradable products break down, they CAN be ingested by small organisms in the metabolic cycle - which means it's healthy for them AND for us. When photo-degradable products break down, they are toxic!
Below are a few staggering statistics courtesy of National Geographic:
• 18 billions pounds of plastic end up in our oceans each year- that's the equivalent of five grocery bags of plastic trash sitting on every foot of coastline
• In the U.S. alone, 500 millions straws are used and discarded a day
• 40 percent of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded.
• Shoppers in the United States use almost one plastic bag per resident per day. Shoppers in Denmark use an average of four plastic bags a year.
• Plastic recycling rates are highest in Europe at 30 percent
• China’s rate is 25 percent
• The United States recycles just 9 percent of its plastic trash
• Nearly a million plastic beverage bottles
are sold every minute around the world.
• In 2015, Americans purchased about 346 bottles
per person—111 billion plastic beverage bottles in all.
• About 8 percent of the world’s oil production is used to make plastic
and power the manufacturing of it. That figure is projected to rise to 20 percent by 2050
So what is the solution to this ever growing problem we created?
There are many wonderful people all over the world doing the work that we should all be doing as a team. THE HUMAN TEAM. So where do we begin? Below are a few things you can do as an individual:
1. When you got to a restaurant or takeout place, refuse the straw they put into your plastic cup or your glass. Learn to drink without a straw. OR, buy a stainless steel straw courtesy of BLUE RING that you can carry in your purse or your pocket. Be vocal of the reason why you refused the straw.
2. Don't throw out your plastic bags from the grocery store or plastic containers from the take takeout place or your doggy bag. Re-use them . And when you can't anymore, make sure they are in a recycling bin.
3. Be conscious of your trash! Make sure you recycle anything that is recyclable.
4. Be vocal with your politicians about recycling services in your cities. Require them to care and vote on ecologically sustainable issues.
5. Support your ocean conservation organizations.
Blue Ring is a "Benefit Corporation" that allows people to “marry” the ocean (spelled Mery - as in La Mer) for a membership fee of $25 annually in return for a ring, or other items, made of recycled ocean plastic. These products are geared towards making it easier to #SayNoToPlastics. Each time you choose reusable instead of single-use, you reduce your footprint while helping to keep our waterways clean and our wildlife safe. Blue Rings are hand-crafted out of a lightweight silicone that’s hypo-allergenic, non-toxic, and durable. They also have a variety of products such as stainless steel straws, bamboo cutlery and stainless steel water bottles.
Blue Ring supports, via many small-scale purchases, the funding of globally significant ocean exploration and conservation projects that will positively shape the future.
The first project to be funded are two 1,000-meter, dual classed submersibles. As Alex Rose states, "The reason behind this choice boils down to a single quote: 'In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.' These submersibles will exist solely for ocean exploration."
We know more about distant planets than we know about our oceans. The grass is not greener somewhere else. It's actually blue. As legendary oceanographer and Time Magazine's "Hero for the Planet" Dr. Sylvia Earle states, "NO BLUE NO GREEN."
We will be doing a Skype call with Dr. Earle to discuss the state of the oceans and what we can do to make a difference on Friday, June 29 at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary. Join us to be part of THE HUMAN TEAM!!!
Thank you all for your support!
Please join us on Friday, June 29 at 7:30 pm and MERY THE OCEAN with us!
BUY YOUR TICKET: SEA CHANGE TICKET
For more information: www.bluering.blue
Listen to my live interview with Alex at www.womanscape.com
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The last few weeks have been a race in preparation for the biggest show in the history of our gallery. Legendary wildlife photographer David Yarrow is heading to Chicago for a solo exhibition of his works at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary on the heels of two of the most successful shows in the history of wildlife photography. David sent me a letter a few weeks ago exclaiming the virtues of his London and Oslo shows. It appeared that these two top notch galleries sold over $2.7 million of his photographs within a period of two weeks! David wrote, "Chicago is next, Arica. Are you ready for me?"
Wow! That was a a message to aspire to. Are we ready? I think in the 30 years I have been in the art world, I have seen a lot of artistic success and a lot of failure. I have met the artists who ooze success and those who call themselves starving artists. Personally, I have a propensity to gravitate toward the former. I admire people who earn their stripes through hard work and pushing themselves beyond the boundaries of what is possible. I like the people who are willing to do the impossible.
David has been a photographer for over three decades. He was named Young Scottish Photographer of the Year at the age of 20 while he was still attending Edinburgh University. That same year, he was sent to cover the World Cup in Mexico for The Times and captured the iconic shot of Argentine footballer, Diego Maradonna, holding up the winning trophy (over Germany) in a crowd. That one photograph earned him worldwide recognition.
After university, he went into finance, became a stockbroker, and eventually founded his own London-based hedge fund. David knows about success. He knows how to leverage his talent with his idealism and pragmatism. He has an insatiable appetite for accomplishment and has been using his brilliant abilities to capture the spirit of our times. Unfortunately, it has not been a happy spirit. But then again, which times really have been?
For millennia, human beings have lived without thought or consideration for the other inhabitants of this planet. They have lived by superstitions, artificial beliefs and lack of respect and genuine selfishness. We humans have a tendency to believe that we have a right to decide the fate of other sentients beings, forests, oceans and mountains. Whether it is through carelessness or intention, we have decimated a large population of magnificent creatures for various parts of their anatomies. Somehow, somewhere, someone decided that the horn of a rhinoceros would instill magical benefits from curing a common cough to cancer and increasing sexual prowess. Over the years, the population of the rhino has plummeted. Most likely, that someone would have been a brilliant marketer who was looking for a way to increase their income.
We just opened a magnificent show by legendary photographer David Yarrow. Who was to know that this exhibition was so timely with the events of the last few weeks with the reversal and re-reversal of the ivory ban?
Hilton | Asmus Contemporary is dedicated to make our work in the Arts benefit our earth and all of the living beings entrusted to our care. From elephants to lions to tigers to children to refugees to our oceans and plastics, we care about life on this earth. We support any individuals or businesses who support human beings in their endeavor to make our earth a more compassionate and humane dwelling place.
As we wrap up the month of October, we want to reflect on the journey of our current exhibition, “The History of the Chess Queen – or the Advent of Feminine Power.” For us, the employees and interns at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary, it’s been a great experience being able to work closely with artists who create in many different kinds of mediums and come from countries all over the world such as Australia, England, Scotland, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Denmark, Germany, Canada, Cuba and the United States
The opening of the show was a great success. We had hundreds of people walking in and out of our doors to admire the work of many talented artists who came together to celebrate the importance of women throughout history. As we get closer to the end of the show (which will come down October 27th) we wanted to honor the author of the book who inspired our exhibition: Marilyn Yalom's Birth of the Chess Queen.
Marilyn Yalom, author and historian who serves as senior scholar at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, came to Hilton | Asmus Contemporary on October 10th to give a talk about her book Birth of the Chess Queen and what inspired her to write it. Yalom also talked about her research which took her all over the world as she tried to trace the complicated history of chess in different countries and cultures. Books were signed, photos were taken, and it was a very inspiring evening with many of the artists who participated in the show coming to meet Yalom. We’re hoping to have Marilyn back at the gallery in January for the release of her newest book The Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love!
While we have been busy at the gallery with the Chess Queen show, Arica Hilton, president and curator of Hilton | Asmus Contemporary, has had many exciting successes of her own. On October 5th she had a show at the Union League Club of Chicago where she displayed paintings from her series “I Flow Like Water.” Hundreds of people showed up to see the exhibition, which was hung in the presence of works by Monet and Cezanne among many other iconic artists in history. The event was incredible and Arica talked about artists who inspire her and what painting means to her. Congratulations, Arica!
As October is quickly coming to a close we are starting to prepare for another big upcoming event: David Yarrow. David Yarrow has spent his career capturing the beauty of our planet’s remote landscapes, cultures, and endangered animals. Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1966, he is an internationally acclaimed fine art photographer and currently the world’s best-selling wildlife photographer. His exhibition “Wild Encounters” will be open to the public at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary on November 10th so stay tuned for more news and events regarding the show!
It has been an exciting couple of months at the gallery and we look forward for much more to come!
Ivana Gatica, Intern at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary
I learned how to play chess when I was 13 years old. My best friend's cousin from California came to visit for the summer and not having much to do in rural Michigan, spent his time trying to teach his cousin and her an awkward friend how to play the board game. Jonny was my first real crush. All of 14 years old, he was tall and handsome with piercing blue eyes. How I wanted to learn the game to have Jonny's attention. It was one of the happiest and most heartbreaking summers of my life, as I don't think he even noticed my existence. I think he was just trying to while away the time as there was nothing else to do. But by the end of the summer, I was able to play chess with Jonny and I may have actually beaten him once or twice.
Years later, I came across a book called Birth of the Chess Queen, by Marilyn Yalom, the author of History of the Wife. Once I picked up the book, I was hooked. A avid lover of history, I loved the stories of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Blanche of Castile, the Cult of the Virgin Mary and Queen Isabella of Spain.
Most historians agree that the game of Chess was invented in India around the 6th century as a war game, with a king, a vizier, elephants, chariots, horses and pawns, which were the foot soldiers. There was no queen on the board of what we know in modern times as "Queen's Chess." The vizier was the advisor to the king. And like the king, could only move one square and had very little power. As the board game developed, it traveled along the Silk Road through Persia, the Arab lands, North Africa and eventually, Spain. Around the 11th century, a female figure of a queen was discovered, yet she, too, had very little power and could only move one square. It's vast and sumptuous history reveals an incredible timeline of rules, restrictions and freedoms that revolved around the game.
Before there were cel phones, texting and all manner of technological devices to gain instant gratification, people played a board game that required skill, critical thinking, strategy and intuition to amuse themselves and each other. Chess was a game played at court and considered a "courting" game. It was the the only time a man and a woman could be alone – to flirt, to fall in love, to make love. Chess was integral to the idea of “winning” someone’s heart through competition and strategy. The 14th century poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, wrote in chess metaphors in THE BOOK OF THE DUCHESS, inspired by the death of Blanche, the Duchess of Lancaster and beloved wife of my favorite chivalrous character of the 14th century, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
The history of the chess queen is fascinating in how she emerged at a time when women's status was rising. The chess game was a witness and participant in the lives of men and women trying to find love, fun and pass their time. So different from how we while away our time on Facebook or Instagram, numbing our minds and our hearts with the click of a button, while our ancestors were busy using their minds and hearts trying to connect and communicate through a series of moves on a board. Chess was sometimes an erotic game, a game of love or a game of power.
Marilyn Yalom explains In a New York Times article, "Also crucial was the example of medieval warrior queens, who made a chessboard without a queen seem as incomplete as a Ferrari without an engine."
Before Wonder Woman, there was Toda of Navarre, in the 10th century, who went to battle to install her grandson on the throne (and won); Urraca of Galicia, who divorced her husband, King Alfonso I of Aragón and Navarre, waged war on him, retook Portugal and then a lover. (Alfonso married into her family's crown. I think she didn't like him very much.) And when the Chess Queen became the dominant piece on the board, it was Queen Isabella of Castile, who united her country, financed Christopher Columbus' expeditions to found a new world, exiled Spain's Jews, expelled the Moors and in her spare time ran the Spanish Inquisition. She was quite the powerful one. There were other queens whom we would consider "badass" today. Adelaide of Burgundy (later a Holy Roman empress), Matilda of Tuscany (she led her troops into battle on horseback) and Catherine the Great. And one of my favorites was Eleanor of Aquitaine in France, whose court was the epitome of courtly love.
Over the years, I wanted to create an art exhibition in honor of the this magnificent powerhouse of a queen. And here we are, two days away from opening night, preparing my gallery for the first group show we have had in years. We have pulled together a collection of over thirty painters, sculptors and multi-media artists from around the world to present their interpretation of the History of the Chess Queen or the Advent of Feminine Power.
This story of the chess queen and the experience of preparing this exhibition made me think about how women's resilience to their environment, their cultures and their place in life have evolved over the centuries. Although women have had to fight for the right to stand alongside men as equals, the exhibition could easily be construed as a political commentary, especially with events happening today to women all over the world. However, this exhibition attempts to display the evolution of a simple board game that originated with an all male cast to how the most powerful character evolved to become the only female member of game.
I look forward to presenting the beauty and power of the messages these artists wish to share. We will be planning artist forums throughout September and October so you can meet the artists one on one. Oh, and Marilyn Yalom has kindly agreed to fly to Chicago to do a talk about her book, BIRTH OF THE CHESS QUEEN, and to visit our show! Stay tuned to the calendar of events.
I am very grateful for the efforts of my wonderful staff. My gallery assistant, Kate Maddox has graduated to Gallery Director! Congratulate her when you come by this Friday. My intern, Sid Sidani, has worked tirelessly in preparing the exhibition catalog. And my former intern, Ivana Gatica, came back to help with designing the posters and preparing the exhibition. And we could not do without my gallery assistant, Dan Corwith, who has been working tirelessly hanging the gallery, lifting heavy (seriously heavy) sculptures, moving walls and preparing the exhibition for all to see this Friday on the opening night of the River North Art District fall season. And much gratitude and love to my co-curator and fellow artist, Rashelle Roos, who has brought new vision and wonderful aesthetic to this show. And a big thank you to all of the participating artists:
SANTINA AMATO - HUGH ARNOLD - SUSAN AURINKO - SHARON BLADHOLM - PATTY CARROLL
RICK GARCIA - PETER GRAY - JULIE GARDNER - KOSTIS GEORGIOU - ROBERT FLEISCHMAN
ARICA HILTON - TAMMY KOHL - DOUGLAS KIRKLAND - SUZANNE COHAN-LANGE - JEFFREY LEVING
TERRY O'NEILL - EVE OZER - PAUL NELSON - MICHAEL PARKES - JACK PERNO - TERRY POULOS
CHRIS REEVES - RASHELLE ROOS - MARCO NEREO ROTELLI - LAUREN SUDBRINK
TAN TAŞPOLATOĞLU – SOREN THIELEMANN - JULIAN WASSER – DAVID YARROW
If you feel like stopping by to play a game of chess, my son gave me a replica of the 12th century Lewis Chess pieces, one of the few complete sets discovered in Scotland. It's been a long time since I played, so I need to brush up on my critical thinking and strategy skills! I have read that playing chess increases IQ, exercises both parts of the brain, increases concentration (for those of us who are ADD, maybe good to try) enhances memory and increases creativity. So let's play chess!
See you Friday, September 8th from 5:30 to 9 pm for the opening.
It's been a while since we had a rock n' roll celebrity in the gallery for an exhibition. As a matter of fact, although we have had shows for photographers/artists who have taken photos of rock stars, we have not actually featured the rock star as artist! As of August 2nd, that is about to change. And what better time to kick off one of the most important music festivals in the country than Lollapalooza!
We are excited to introduce the paintings and collages of a former member of one of my favorite rock groups of the 70's and 80's, JOURNEY. Robert Fleischman, lead singer and songwriter, penned the lyrics for some of the most recognizable songs of the 70's, "Wheel in the Sky" along with "Anytime" and "Winds of March" on the multi-platinum Infinity album.
The best part of showing Robert's work is that he was actually an artist before he became a rock star. We often find that artists are multi-dimensional in their talents to express, create and take our breath away in ways we don't expect. "World in My Eyes" is just that, a poetic vision of the world that takes a journey into a myriad of places, from sun, sky, stars and constellations to figures that are flying into space or falling out of space; to the symbolism of fruit, birds, dancers and whatnot all reaching for something. My favorite part is the reaching. What is there in life but to continue to stretch ourselves, to aspire to, to jump or fall into our lives. Robert's characters are all going or returning from somewhere. Past, present, future? Who is to tell?
With a gentle and introspective presence, his work shows a strength that makes me want to write odes to the oranges and apples in his artfully composed images created on his smartphone. Yes, I said SMARTPHONE! Many of the images were fashioned on that magical, mystical communication device that many of us have become addicted to. How? Don't ask me. You can ask Robert on Wednesday evening when he debuts his works at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary.
Until then, I will be listening to "Wheel in the Sky" and "Winds of March" looking forward to hearing more about his voyage from Chicago (yes, that is where they found him) to the world. And what a world he lays before us. It's all in the music of his eyes...
WORLD IN MY EYES
Opening Wednesday, August 2nd
David Yarrow's 'MANKIND' just sold at Sotheby's annual photographic auction for a record breaking $78,000.
READ HIS INTERVIEW WITH SOTHEBY'S MAGAZINE BELOW.
David Yarrow has a photographic career spanning more than thirty years. From his origins in sports photography, in recent years he has travelled the globe documenting the most remarkable aspects of human nature and the animal kingdom with his distinctive eye. Famous for his 'close-up' approach, Yarrow has explored some of the most dangerous environments on earth. One of his monumental landscape works, Mankind, is offered for sale in the upcoming Photographs sale at Sotheby's in London on 19 May. We sat down with him to discuss nature, pushing boundaries and North Korea.
MF: How did you first get into photography?
DY: I started when I was about 15 or 16, I started photographing one or two little small amateur horse events in Scotland, and what I'd do is I'd take pictures of all the competitors, get their addresses, and send out proofs of the prints to them all. Then I would develop them in my own dark room. I’d just be photographing any sport and trying to find ways of monetising it by selling it to the competitors. I then started doing a bit more professional sport, and in 1986 I got invited to photograph the World Cup Finals in Mexico. I ended up working for the Times there, which was a great thrill. I wasn't very good, but I managed to get a very big picture of Maradona in the final, which saved my bacon. Throughout this I was studying economics at university, where there was a bit of parental pressure, so I ended up getting a job in banking rather than going to work for Allsport, but I always kept it going, in a non-professional capacity. Landscapes, people, wildlife – anything I found to be of interest. It's been an integral part of my life for 35 years.
MF: You're very well-known for your images of animals in their natural habitat, and also your conservation and charity work. However, you've spoken about your frustration at being described as merely a wildlife photographer. Is that term is too limiting?
DY: It's a combination of several things: firstly, the picture going up for auction at Sotheby's is about humanity. That's what fascinates me. I'm about to head to North Korea to start a project there, again, photographing people. I remember once speaking to Dennis Stephenson when he was on the board of Tate, he said to me of all the forms of art in the world, the one that least engaged him was wildlife photography. When I asked him why, he said: "it can be a little bit too literal". But I think my approach to wildlife photography is to see it very much as art rather than recording a moment
MF: You have a very distinctive style that is reminiscent of classical modernist photography, with images ranging from the purest white to the deepest black – and a strong emphasis on composition. Are there particular photographers throughout history that have resonate with you?
DY: There are many photographers that have inspired me, and cinematographers as well. I've – always been a big fan of Ridley Scott, and Emmanuel 'Chivo' Lubezki who shot The Revenant recently. One reason I made a bit of a name for myself is getting very close to the animals and making sure I'm working with wide angle lenses rather than telephoto lenses. Robert Capa told us: "if your picture is not good enough, you're not close enough". That's obviously a line that resonates greatly with me. I think in terms of composition it's so important. I've just got back from Africa actually and I think it's now something that becomes reasonably naturally to me, but I try and get as close as possible.
MF: Why do you always work in black and white?
DY: There are three reasons: Firstly, it's timeless. Secondly, it's art rather than reality. We live our lives in colour and sometimes I think it clashes with the colours in real life. I just feel this is aesthetically stronger. Sometimes I find that working in Africa, the expanses of brown don’t come across as well in a colour photograph. The black and white is more arresting. Thirdly, a photograph's like a piano. You should be able to use all 88 keys on the piano and go from the rich blacks to the full whites.
MF: Let's talk a bit about your work Mankind — a highlight of the forthcoming Photographs sale. How did this image come about?
DY: I often say if I can take three or four big pictures a year, that's my goal. The big pictures are ones you can look at for a long time. Photography is not about the camera, it's about access, it's about being in the position to take the picture. I wanted somewhere biblical in scale. I do a lot of research before arriving somewhere, and in doing my homework I realised the topography of the cattle camp in South Sudan is very flat. Therefore, to get a sense of scale I had to have a point of raised elevation, which the landscape was not going to afford me. It's quite dangerous and complicated to get there anyway, but I knew I had to take a ladder with me. Wading it across the Nile in three feet of water was certainly an interesting experience! I was the first white photographer there for many years, and I was helped by a Norwegian aid organisation and the police to secure my safety. Once I'd gifted the locals with cow medicine for their cattle then I was greeted warmly. You can't just turn up – if you do you can find yourself in a lot of trouble. I knew I wanted to work on a large scale image, and lots of things changed for me after I made Mankind. There are a lot of cameo stories within it so you can look at it for hours and still see new narratives.
MF: You've seen some incredible scenes during the course of your career. Has there ever been anything you've found difficult to photograph, whether thematically or logistically?
DY: I don't photograph war. I don’t want to enter into that debate as to whether a photographer should put his camera down and help a wounded person, or whether he should continue to do his job. I work with animals that sometimes have been injured through poaching, and there have been experiences where I have seen rhinos hacked to within an inch of their lives. But I think it's really important to document that as well, to raise awareness. I have been to some tough places, but I get an additional thrill from going to a place I know no other photographer has been. We live in a time of content overload, but to be able to offer new perspectives on a place is exciting.
MF: What do you think about 'fast photography'? Everyone has a camera in their pocket these days on their smartphone. What has technology done to traditional photography?
DY: I wrote a paper on this a few years ago, because I could see that reportage, editorial photography was going to lose its value purely because there was so much content around. There will be more pictures taken this week than in the whole history of film photography. If you're an affiliated photographer for an agency, you're going to earn less and less money a year, unless you're taking exceptional content. The upside of the digital era is that you can do retrospective feedback immediately. It's a process which film couldn't do because you would be away for three weeks and wouldn't know what you'd taken. So there are clear advantages on digital. I think the debate on whether film is more purist than digital is a little bit handbags at dawn! A camera's a camera and it's about what you see and what your heart and soul feels, rather than worrying about the technical merits of film against digital.
MF: What is next for David Yarrow?
DY: I have numerous shows coming up this year; in Oslo, Amsterdam, Chicago and Toronto – but it's also very important for me to make time to actually take the pictures. I will be going to North Korea, and also travelling to arctic to work with polar bears again. North Korea interests me greatly because it’s so hard to get in to. I think they are very pleased that they can invite someone who is not going to do reportage, documentary photography – but art photography. I don’t have any preconceptions, but I won’t be trying to make a statement. I will be visiting factories and traditional places of work, all very much under the close supervision of the officials, and making images a little bit like LS Lowry's matchstick men; small people against the vast grandeur of the buildings. Ultimately, my work is about telling the human story.
MAIN IMAGE: DAVID YARROW, MANKIND, 2014. ESTIMATE: £15,000—20,000.
Two years ago a man walked into my gallery and told me that I had not seen photography until I saw the works of someone named David Yarrow. He pulled out his iPhone and said, "THIS IS REAL PHOTOGRAPHY." I have to say, it was one of the most moving images of human beings and animals I had ever seen. The image was called "MANKIND." It was a photograph taken in "the rawest place on earth" as David Yarrow puts it, South Sudan. Yarrow had written, "I had a preconception of the image that I wanted to return home with – something that conveyed the raw enormity of a Dinka cattle camp in an elemental and biblical setting. Something timeless and vast. Like a Rembrandt, I wanted people to be able to look at the picture for hours and find new stories each time. I was indeed the first photographer to visit this 25,000 strong cattle camp, which was close to the heart of the civil war last year, and I felt a responsibility to get it right."
It was not until I saw Yarrow's work on Instagram two years later, when I thought, what the heck, I am going to send him a note and tell him what a fan I am and would he consider showing his work in my gallery? Not ten minutes later, I received a call from my friend, James Ashcroft, in London (who introduced me to Terry O'Neill), asking if I had had heard of a wildlife photographer named David Yarrow. He told me he was on his way to David's studio to visit and wondered if I would be interested in his work! Seriously, I cannot make this up. I nearly dropped my phone and the rest is history.
Soon after, David sent me a note from Africa where he was shooting in a fishing village in Nigeria called Makoko, a slum neighborhood in the capital city of Lagos. It was called the Venice of Africa, except that it was one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in the world.
In his note, David shared his experiences in Makoko. "Last December, inspired by some aerial footage taken by the renowned Canadian photographer Ed Burtynsky, I first started exploring the ground level creative possibilities in Makoko, the largely inaccessible floating slum town aside Lagos. Ground level is actually an oxymoron as there is no ground to speak of in what Burtynsky himself called the “hyper-crucible of globalisation.” (note the spelling is the British, not American English)
"To enter Makoko is emphatically “the road less travelled ” and even the Nigerian Government doesn’t seemingly have the answer as to how many people live there - it could be 100,000 , but it could be 200,000. It maybe dubbed the “Venice of Africa” - but with huge irony - there is no wealth or sophistication here, ostensibly just poverty, crime, sewage and waste.
Makoko is not safe - it is effectively a no go zone for the “Yevo” or white man. On Saturday, I had my audience with Makoko’s Chief Aladaton and my team’s safety was personally guaranteed. It was one of most surreal and humbling hours of my life.
And late yesterday afternoon - we got what we came for. This is an image that can be looked at for a long time - like my Mankind shot from 2014 there is so much going on. Just with that Dinka community, smoke is integral to the way of life in Makoko, but for different reasons. In the slum, they cook on coal and my preconception was that the resultant smoke had to play an integral role in the image. The end result is better than I could conceivably have imagined when we embarked on the planning in December,
But then again what of the aforementioned relevance ? At a time when globalisation is being overun by nationalism and regional eliticism, I think this split second image showcases both the beauty and dignity of black Africa. Of course, I homed in on the 2 central characters in the lead boat - they may have 30 years between them, but both could walk into a Hollywood blockbuster tomorrow."
David further writes, "The world may see Makoko as marginalised and irrelevant, but the inhabitants do not appear to see it that way - I saw no sense of self pity - just pride. Globalisation has not helped the slum, so its faltering premise has no consequence. Of course, family life goes on for both the rich and the poor in Lagos irrespective of changible ideologies within G7 countries. There is an uncomfortably patronising undertone to much of today’s politics of nationalism and Makoko is a gentle reminder that human dignity is not exclusive to international communities of affluence."
I was chest deep in some of the dirtiest water in the world - with unimaginable things floating past my face. With no one of our skin colour ( other than my dry assistant) probably within a radius of 5 miles of our location (and this is the second biggest city in the world) it would be excusable to be tense. That never works. But throughout the day, we kept our dignity and manners and mostly just smiled. It was then that we probably earnt Makoko’s respect - after that, all was good. We were even clapped. I will leave others to decide whether this picture has that “Holy Trinity” but it’s the best I can do. My hunch is that it will stand the test of time."
A few weeks later, David made his way to Chicago with his lovely assistant, Milly, to meet me on a rainy day (I think they brought London weather with them!) He signed the first piece we sold in our gallery called, "THE CROSSING," an image of a magnificent elephant tribe walking through the dry lake of Amboseli in Kenya. He later told me this is his favorite place in Africa.
To say that I am over the moon about representing one of my favorite photographers, not only because he IS A GREAT ARTIST, but because he has compassion and empathy for both human beings and animals is an understatement. David is a conservationist, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for THE TUSK TRUST. I don't know about you, but I am constantly signing petitions to stop the poaching and killing of elephants, rhinoceros and other animals for their tusks, their skins, their bones and whatever else desperate people will do to make money and survive. But petitions are not enough. Last week, two of his photographs sold for $50,000 each at auction, a record breaking price. In all, David donated $163,000 to the Tusk Trust last week alone. And for this act of generosity, I say BRAVO!
When it comes to his photography, David writes, "Great photographs should implicitly be rare - they tend to be moments in time that can never be repeated. I have said - on occasion - that an affirming year for me would be 3 or more cracking images, but I recognise that this is actually still a demanding target because for an image to transcend at every level requires a material amount of luck as well as creative courage and technical fluency. I cannot judge my own work, but equally I always know what is mundane and I will always remain my greatest critic. Many photographers find a reluctance to recognise how boring much of their work can be, but this is an area where I have learnt."
"In my mind, if a photograph is sufficiently powerful in content and evocative in light and line to be looked at for a long time. there is a chance that it has something which is art - not reportage. But there is a third variable that is often needed to elevate an image to a higher pantheon - the dynamic of relevance. This is the most elusive of this “Holy Trinity” of factors I strive to attain. Wildlife portraits for instance - no matter how threatened the animal in question is to extinction, often fall down on this criteria. Such images maybe immersive and visually compelling on the one hand - but lacking in a broader contemporary narrative on the other."
I know one thing. Anything is possible. As an artist, it is important that I work with other artists whose work is relevant, powerful, and rare. It is a selfish thing, actually. I want my life to be meaningful. I want to make the world a better place for having been here. And by surrounding myself with people who give meaning to their own lives and to the lives of others, people who live life to the fullest, how can I not be in awe? Maybe one day David Yarrow will invite me to join him on one of his adventures in Africa, Asia, the Arctic or the Gobi Desert. Who knows what's in store? In the meantime, I will passionately share with you some of the finest photographs of lions and tigers and bears and bison I have ever seen. And I will share images of indigenous peoples and their cultures, a way of life that is ticking away quickly, being swallowed up by technology and modernization. Soon, you will have the chance to meet David Yarrow in my gallery right here in Chicago. How fun will that be?
Some of my favorite books were written in 1920's:
I can imagine what Hemingway would think if he read today's fast-paced best selling novels with no character developement, no emotion, no plot, just the nonstop action of robotic characters unable to speak in full sentences uttering a plethora of expletives. The 1920's was a magical time after the First World War. A time called "The Roaring Twenties" and the "Jazz Age, it was a time of economic prosperity, of creativity and social and cultural dynamism. Coco Chanel introduced the "Little Black Dress" and women were at last granted the right to vote.
All of these thoughts come to mind when I look at the the old typewriters of the 1920's: the Corona 4, Underwood and Remington typewriters. Ernest Hemingway preferred to write standing up on his Royal Quiet de Luxe typewriter. I could go on and on about these machines which brings back the nostalgia of my great grandparents time. For me, I think of it as a time of innocence. Today, we know so much. We hear so much. Our brains are polluted by the technology of sounds, of nonstop information. There is no time to think. The news media thinks for us. We rarely have time to create a thought of our own. We don't exercise our brains the way our grandparents did. How many Millennials can do basic addition and subtraction, multiplication and division in their heads without the use of a calculator? To me, the typewriter is a like a peak into a time of simplicity. It reminds me of WIlliam Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, a time of childhood versus adulthood.
Yes, there are still those of us alive who learned how to type on these archaic keybords that did not need to be plugged into an electrical outlet. Sometimes the keys would stick and the ribbon would have to be changed (quite a nightmare) but the fun of inserting the paper into the roller (there was no paper tray to just lay the paper in - each page had to be inserted one by one), pushing the carriage handle from left to right to go to the next line (the carriage is what moves the roller across the page) gave one a deep connection to their words and their thoughts. After all, your words were not just on a glowing screen, they were stamped onto a live piece of paper. As the stack of typed paper became taller, one's sense of accomplishment grew.
A bell would ring at the end of each line at the place you set your margins to remind you to push the carriage handle to the right so that you could go to the next line. It was quite ingenius. The best part was the sound of the little keys hitting the paper. The keys were instrumental in causing that little stamp to strike the paper. And you had to hit the keys hard so that the letters could transfer onto the paper. And if you made a typo, there was no backspace or delete button. You had to roll the paper back in the exact same spot and use whiteout or sticky correction paper and then strike the key to make its fontmark on the page. Otherwise, if you are clumsy, like I was back in those days, you would have to start all over again! And I won't even go into how to change the ribbon. It was complicated. Once you got the hang of it, the sheer physicality of the act of typing gave one a sweet sense of pouring your thoughts into reality.