26 July 2012

Seeing Spots

With the whole world turning their eyes toward the sun earlier this summer for the once-in-a-lifetime transit of Venus, you'd think that the outcome would be that we're all seeing spots. But even after rubbing my eyes, I have noticed spots and dots trending practically everywhere! Coming to a head with the opening of Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective earlier this summer.

As a bona fide art lover, and Chicago native, dots don't shock or surprise as a new trend - given that the Art Institute of Chicago holds one of the most important works of "dotty" art - George Seurat's (pronounced Sir-rah) A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884-1886).

Gifted to the museum in 1926, and one of Seurat's largest and best-known works of art, this massive painting is composed of hundreds of thousands of little dots of paint, created using a technique known as Pointillism. This technique is based upon the idea that light is not merely white, but comprised of many different colors. By building colors one upon another using the system of complementary colors, Seurat activates the canvas by using simple laws of optics to move the viewer's eyes from dot to dot to dot, creating light, color, volume, and movement. And Seurat wasn't alone - his experiments with light and color through Pointillist paintings were hugely influential on the Impressionist movement. You can see that artists like Monet, Renoir, and Cassatt all played with pure color to activate the way the eye works through the canvas.

While Seurat was one of the firsts to see the wonderful qualities of dots - he's certainly not the last! And in 2012, it seems as though the dot trend has come full circle. Ahem, pun intended.

At the start of 2012, contemporary artist, Damien Hirst, had a series of landmark exhibitions scattered around the globe at eleven Gagosian Gallery locations. And the theme of the work was - you guessed it - spots. Between 1986 and 2011, Hirst has supplemented his artistic career with this famous body of work depicting hundreds dot paintings composed of a random color patterns. Some paintings are big, while others are tiny and intricate. Hiring a staff of many workers to help compose and complete these works, it's hard not to walk away from one of these shows with dots on the brain.

Cupric Nitratre, 2007 via Gagosian Gallery

Artist Yayoi Kusama is another lover of dots - shes made an entire career on the theme, and has yet to tire of it. Kusama was even quoted as having said "Polka dots are a way to infinity", and clearly there is a sense of the infinite in her work. The repetition of pattern within an architectural space is disorienting and infinite. It's hard to perceive of space and volume when the planes are interrupted by dot after dot.

Kusama in one of her polka dot spaces via Sleekmag

Kusama so loves polka dots, that in a recent show at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, she created a space in which visitors could enter and partake in "dottifying" the room! The end result of the aptly named Obliteratation Room is overwhelmingly stunning. Yayoi Kusama also recently teamed up with Louis Vuitton and the Whitney Museum to release a collection based on her work titled Infinitely Kusama. Her show at the Whitney opened earlier this month.

Still from Kusama's Obliteration Room via Colossal Art & Design

While not all of us consumers could readily pick up a Kusama or Hirst original work of art - it is relatively easy to walk out of the door and find dots of our own to partake in. Trends in fashion point to the dot - and it is hot hot hot! And how about food? Macarons and doughnuts are all the rage, with three specialty donut shops opening in Chicago in the last year - Doughnut Vault, Do-Rite Donuts, and Glazed and Infused.

Doughnuts via Doughnut Vault

And now, dear reader, you might be wondering where this involved dot study is headed... and for those of you living in Chicago, you are certainly in for a treat, because the master of dots, Roy Lichtenstein has arrived.

With the opening of Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective at the Art Institute came my own realization of just how hot dots are right now. So hot in fact, that there is currently an entire exhibition focused on the career of an artist who spent five decades of his life perfecting the art of the dot - or to be more specific, the Benday dot. In utilizing the Benday dot, Lichtenstein asks of the viewer to think about the reference of the all powerful print media, composed of, many tiny little dots. He used dots to flatten his image while simultaneously, and quite ingeniously, creating volume. And better yet, Lichtenstein did it all by hand. That's right, he took something that we as viewers and consumers took to be automatic and mechanical, and slowed it down painstakenly painting each and every dot by hand. Playing with themes from art history and pop culture, Lichtenstein effectively birthed the Pop Art movement on a foundation of dotty paintings.

Ohhh... Alright... (1964) via the Art Institute of Chicago 

So without further delay, if you live in the Chicagoland area, or are visiting between now and September 3, I urge you to hop in line at the Doughnut Vault and then head on over to the Art Institute of Chicago to partake in a wonderful artistic movement - the tradition of dots and spots!


  1. Sandy this is an absolutely awesome post! Thanks!

  2. Love love love this post, Sandy. It ties together so nicely (and with awesome background) so many things that I adore: Seurat, Lichtenstein & doughtnuts...oh my!

    <3 Mary