Archive mensuelle de avril 2009

Happy Birthday Blog!

This May Talleen Hacikyan’s Art Blog turns one year old. I recently received a gift in the mail, thanks to a blog I wrote in August 2008, Ode to the Aubergine. According to the detailed statistics at, this is the most popular posting on my blog. In it I speak about the Stray Eggplant project by Laura Gentry. For this ongoing endeavor, the artist creates one- of-a-kind ceramic eggplants with whimsical messages and distributes them through refurbished cigarette machines. Eggplant owners are invited to send an original photo of their purple ceramic plants to a website for posting in the owner’s gallery.


When I wrote about the Stray Eggplant project I never imagined that Laura Gentry would track down the blog! Not only did she read it, she posted an excerpt of Ode to the Aubergine on her blog, Gentry Joint, and last but not least she sent me an eggplant! She explained that she composed the message on my eggplant after reading my artist’s statement on my website. My personalized eggplant reads, “Forces beyond their control.”

These days I’m always on the lookout for little projects for a quick creativity fix. The eggplant photo turned out to be a fun activity that I managed to work on while supper was simmering on the stovetop, which may explain why I photographed my eggplant against the kitchen cupboard.


Although the photo was staged and shot within twenty minutes, the creative process took place mentally beforehand. Over the days preceding the photo, my family and I were watching the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments. I say days because the film lasts three and a half hours. This movie is filmed in Technicolor, and features mise en scènes that cry, “Studio scene!” and others that are obviously filmed in the great outdoors of Egypt and the Sinai. I love the studio scenes. When Moses’ birth mother sends him in his basket down the Nile I could practically feel the plastic reeds and smell the chlorinated water. The quality of light in these artificially staged scenes is unique. The actors are drenched in floodlights–there isn’t a shadow in sight. It’s always high noon in these scenes! What I like best about this film is its theatrical quality and this is the atmosphere I wanted to create in my photo.

I suspended my eggplant with nylon thread from a branch. It kept twirling and capturing the writing proved to be a challenge. To deal with these forces beyond my control, I used a trick my son taught me. This consisted of depressing the shutter button halfway and keeping it that way until I want to snap the photo, at which point I pressed it all the way down.

Instead of marking my blog’s birthday with a cake, I am celebrating with my eggplant. I am keeping it in my studio as a reminder that sometimes the forces beyond our control bring unexpected, wonderful surprises, in the mail and otherwise!

Talleen Hacikyan

Thank you Laura Gentry.

Photo #1 from Stray Eggplant website
Photo #2 Talleen Hacikyan

Read Laura Gentry’s blog about this blog…and see my « Technicolor eggplant » photo in her eggplant gallery.

Van Dongen: Painting the Town Fauve

After seeing the retrospective of Kees Van Dongen (1877-1968) at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I am convinced that the title of this exhibit is very apropos. Strolling through the first rooms of his early drawings I was struck by Van Dongen’s special relationship with the cities where he lived and worked. Nathalie Bondil, one of the curators of the show, writes that Van Dongen depicts the psychological portrait of a ferocious, futile and factice society. Places of pleasure, Paris, Venice, Deauville and Monte Carlo are the backdrops for this theatre of mores.


The Fauves were a short-lived loose grouping of early 20th century Modern artists whose work emphasized painterly qualities and strong color. While most of the artists associated with the movement were mainly painters of nature, Van Dongen was interested in depicting human nature. With the exception of Matisse the human figure is a marginal element in Fauve painting. In Van Dongen’s case the opposite is true. In this exhibition the human condition is painted with a tone that often oscillates between sarcasm and denunciation.


The exhibition takes us into the world of the demimonde, of prostitutes, of single mothers, of people who lived on the fringe of society. We get to know Van Dongen the illustrator. His masterful drawing together with his swift brushwork, lend themselves to powerful illustrations. There is a book on display, described as a story for the young and old, about a single mother who turns to the streets to support her daughter. The book ends with the daughter following her mother’s footsteps.

The show is impeccably presented and I enjoyed the quotes printed on the walls above the paintings:

“Moi je suis comme une vache. Je regarde: je peins ce que je vois.”

“Paris m’attirait comme un phare.”

“Pour vivre, je dessinais dans les squares le portrait des promeneurs qui le voulaient bien et avec Picasso on étalaient nos toiles par terre près de Médrano. Prix unique à cent sous.”

“J’aime les belles femmes qui inspirent le désir charnel et la peinture m’en donne la posession la plus complète.”

“…comme je n’avais pas d’argent pour me payer des modèles professionnels, j’allais dans les bistrots ramasser les filles, qui pour un café crème, acceptaient de poser quelques heures.”


These snippets of writing, together with the paintings, illustrations, and photos of the artist, contain information that let us reconstruct Van Dongen’s life. I liked imagining the artist frequenting the nocturnal haunts that became the stages for his subjects. I could picture him devouring cities with his bestial appetite, getting to know the town from the fringes, painting the town Fauve.

Talleen Hacikyan

Virtual tour of the exhibition

Van Dongen: Painting the Town Fauve
Juanuary 22 to Aril 19, 2009
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

April’s Fish

In France April Fool’s is called Poisson d’avril, April’s fish. The French fool their friends by taping a paper fish onto their friends’ backs. This year for April Fool’s day I made myself a silver fish– a 925 sterling silver fish.


This was my first venture into jewelry making. For my birthday, my artsy friend Johanne (see my blog Johanne Weibrenner an Artist of All Trades) gave me a gift certificate that entitled me to go to her house and make a piece of silver jewelry, private lesson, materials, and jovial conversation included.

Johanne suggested that I begin practicing my cutting, soldering and filing skills by making a copper ring. I worked with some etched copper scraps that she had recuperated from Atelier Circulaire, our printmaking studio. I worked away until I fashioned what to my surprise actually looked like a ring.


My coach graduated me to silver. I decided to make a fish pendant. Johanne taught me how to shape silver wire, how to hammer it flat, how to cut pieces out of a silver sheet, and how to saw pieces. Sawing without breaking the thin blade is an art I have yet to master. Johanne guided me, “You’re applying too much pressure, ease up, always remember less is more!” She was very precise with instructions, “Saw like you’re playing violin…no, the cello!” I have never played either instrument but somehow this piece of advice worked because at one point it really felt as if I was cutting through butter.


Soldering was a challenge to say the least. During our first session, (my one session became two) we used a torch that shot a mighty dragon flame. For my second session Johanne had equipped herself with an ultra sophisticated jeweler’s torch with two valves, one for regulating oxygen, the other for propane. I loved using this device. Johanne was thrilled that the old one had now been relegated to the role of burning crème flambé. My fish turned out to be a complex project with many pieces so I got plenty of practice using the new torch.


This winter in New York I saw a fabulous Calder jewelry exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. Most of the pieces featured a hammered surface. I tried my hand at pounding the middle strips of my fish with a ball pein hammer, to mock a scale texture.


By far my very favorite step was polishing my finished piece. As I child I used to love polishing our household silverware with Twinkle silver polish. Polishing with a mechanical polisher, with special paste, turned out to be double the fun. It didn’t get done in one shot; it happened in three progressive stages, with electrolyte baths in between (for my fish, not for me.)


At one point, as I was polishing I remembered visiting a silver mine in Potosi, Bolivia in 1992. A guide led my husband and I into the mine. Wearing a helmet and clutching my propane lamp I followed them into the obscure depths of that underground universe. We stopped at an altar where offerings of flowers had been made to protect the miners. The silver miners, who sometimes work up to ten hours a day, chew coca leaves to help alleviate the harsh conditions. Potosi is teaming with palliris, miner’s widows, and when we saw a man and a young boy crouched into the crooks and crannies of this previously silver- infested Cerro Rico, rich mountain, I understood how lives can end fast here. It was hard to see, hard to move, hard to breathe, hard to imagine a world beyond this dank dungeon situated at 4090 meters above sea level.

As the rotary wire brush polished my silver pendant it became warm in my hand, and oh so soft, and started shining like the moon. So strange that at the moment when my piece finally transformed into an object of beauty I remembered the Quechua Indians who mine this precious metal.

Back at the worktable for the final touch, Johanne handed me a 925 swan neck stamp, “You have to stamp 925 on your fish!” I placed the end of the stamp on the back of the fishtail and gave the other end a good whack with the hammer. “One more time, a little harder.” After this nerve-wracking yet satisfying step, my teacher inspected the punched numbers. “C’est bon!”

Talleen Hacikyan

Photos 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 by Johanne Weilbrenner, who did not want to be photographed because she was having a bad hair day!

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