Think action painter.
“Who is the first person you think about?” asks Elizabeth Weinstein, curator for the Louisiana Art & Science Museum in Baton Rouge.
Well, there’s the combination of movement and paint of Jackson Pollock.
“That’s right,” Weinstein continues. “Jackson Pollock was the first action painter — the first action artist — where the process was as important, if not more, than the painting.”
Some critics called Pollock a genius. Others chided him not only about his art but his volatile lifestyle.
But the there are only rave reviews for the artists whose processes have resulted in the museum’s show, “Art in Action: Inflate. Draw. Pour.” Maybe they can thank Pollock for taking the early heat as action art was taking form.
Then again, viewers have developed both an understanding for action art since Pollock’s 1947 breakthrough, and they appreciate it more when they’re part of the process.
“We’re letting the public come in and watch while the sculpture go up,” Weinstein says.
She refers to the “Inflate” part of the show, where sculptor Jason Hackenwerth is tying more than 3,000 orange, red and clear balloons together to create a piece he’s titled, “Eye of the Storm.”
The exhibit also highlights work by New Orleans artist Heather Hansen, whose kinetic drawings represent the “Draw” part of the show. The “Pour” part references New York painter Holton Rower’s multi-layered “pour paintings.”
And though Hansen and Rower aren’t creating their work in the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s main galleries, looped videos show how they make their art. In Hansen’s case, it’s her video, “Emptied Geustures,” that gained worldwide attention after going viral on YouTube.
Hansen currently is working on another video and will demonstrate her method in a museum program on Nov. 7.
Hansen is a professional dancer who incorporates her movements into the method she calls “kinetic drawing,” or drawing with the body. Her process is inspired by a form of Japanese dance theater called Butoh, which brings together a mixture of techniques, activities and motivations for dance and movement.
Hansen hated Butoh when first seeing it performed in Seattle, yet she couldn’t stop thinking about it. She eventually studied Butoh in Japan but didn’t use it as a visual art tool until moving from Paris to New Orleans in 2008.
Hansen started her artistic journey by sketching while listening to music. She saw the process as dancing with her hands but didn’t consider making something bigger until playing on the beach with her son.
“I was drawing in the sand with my toes, and I realized I should go bigger and draw with my whole body,” Hansen says.
She speaks from her New Orleans home, which includes the warehouse-like studio where ““Emptied Gestures” was filmed.
It’s also where she created six 111-by-111-inch drawings in her “Harmonic Series, 2014” especially for “Art in Action,” by placing an unstretched canvas on the floor and moved with a stick of charcoal in each hand.
Each drawing in the “Harmonic Series” represents an element — carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur.
“I thought the elements would be a great way to bring together art and science for the Louisiana Art & Science Museum,” Hansen says.
Meanwhile, Holton Rower’s works represent yet another action method. A video of his work process plays downstairs among his finished work, showing Rower as he pours some 50 gallons of paint in hundreds of colors, one cup at a time, onto a single piece of plywood. The paint expands into thick, kaleidoscopic shapes
It would be understandable if visitors, to some degree, compare his work to Pollock’s. Still, Rower’s method is different, more premeditative.
“The name ‘pour painting’ links his work to the fluid ‘stain paintings’ of Morris Lewis and Helen Frankenthaler,” the museum’s gallery label states. “ Rower has staged dynamic demonstrations ... at a special event celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Dior Vernis. Held in 2012 at The Hole in New York where his pour paintings were on view, it was attended to by the likes of Julian Schnabel and featured paint colors to match Dior’s nail enamels.”
Finally, the museum will loop its own video of Hackenwerth, joined by graduate students in the LSU School of Art, creating not only “Eye of the Storm” but a balloon dome called “The Arrival,” for the museum’s lobby.
“I design all of my pieces specifically for the location,” Hackenwerth says.
So, whereas the storm sculpture references Louisiana’s tropical weather and environment, “The Arrival” resembles Louisiana’s Old State Capitol’s stained glass dome a few steps across the street.
“I’ll be inserting transparent balloons in between the colors,” Hackenwerth says. “So when the light shines through this dome, it’s going to look like stained glass.”
Hackenwerth traveled to Baton Rouge from his St. Petersburg, Fla., home to built his pieces. His sculptures have been exhibited everywhere from New York’s Guggenheim to the Abu Dhabi desert, and though he trained as a painter, he changed his medium to biodegradable latex balloons to appeal to a wide audience.
“I wanted to engage more people,” he says. “Balloons are an affordable, colorful and amiable form of art. People are familiar with it, and they don’t have to be afraid of it.”
Hackenworth and his crew wear gloves over taped fingers while twisting balloons together. They also wear ear plugs to protect their hearing from balloons that pop in the process.
Air is pumped into balloons for the “Eye of the Storm,” some of which will seep out without affecting the sculpture’s shape. But balloons in the dome will require a stronger molecule, so Hackenwerth pumps nitrogen in them, allowing the dome to rotate overhead.
It all combines for an experience that even filmmaker Hans Namuth couldn’t offer in his documentary of Jackson Pollock’s process in 1950, because this is happening now.
And as Hackenwerth’s “Eye” and dome float from the ceiling, the action continues.