21 March 2023
Georgianna Houghton: Things of the Spirit
17 March 2023
Hilma af Klint: A Cartography of the Spirit
"Land lies in water; it is shaded green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang from the simple blue to green.
Or does the land lean down to lift from under.
drawing it unperturbed from itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?"
- excerpt from "The Map" by Elizabeth Bishop, from North and South (1934)f
To me, Seven-Pointed Star looks like nothing so much as a map. Knowing that Hilma af Klint was born into a family of naval officers and cartographers, the comparison seems spot on. She spent her entire life pondering in monumental paintings. the spiritual dimensions of science.
She was a member of the second generation of women who were allowed to study at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm where she was able to sketch male nudes in life class. What were considered unseemly activities for a woman interested af Klint not at all. She traveled far and wide, visiting Norway, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and London. Not everyone was accepting of those female students.
"It takes a man to create a Parthenon frieze or paint the Sistine Chapel."
"Woman must go. Immediately. Has a single one of these weak women at the Academy become an artist? For me there is not one who has any value at all." - 1889
These misogynistic comments came from fellow Swede Carl Larsson, an artist known for idyllic scenes of family life.
Klinr spent her entire life pondering the fundamental conditions of existence in monumental paintings. Her ideal building was a spiral; she would have been thrilled with the Guggenheim Museum's retrospective of her work and that the exhibition single-handedly changed the shape of art history.
Image: Hilma af Klint - Group V, Series, Seven-Pointed Star, Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
08 March 2023
Sylvia Sleigh: The Group
Image: Sylvia Sleigh - A.I. R. Group Portrait, 1977-1978, oil on canvas, Whitney Museum, NYC
03 March 2023
Winter Trees: Gandy Brody
"Even Gandy's clothes seemed to have opinions." - Elaine de Kooning
"What sort of an age is this/ When to talk about trees/ Is almost a crime/" - Bertold Brecht, translated from the German by C. Salvesen
One of Brody's last paintings from 1975 bears the title I am a Tree. Trees bear an oblique symbolism in Brody's work, as does this tortuous looking specimen in The End of Winter; gnarled branches caught on the diagonal, presented in unexpected shades of red and orange. Nature aslant, abstract but still evocative of nature. In this typical Brody landscape there is no horizon, just a space that has no beginning and no end. Although working at the fringes of Abstratct Expressionism, Brody had a style of his own.
Here sooty remnants of snow show no trace of their former pristine whiteness, an in between moment when green struggles to reassert its presence in a dun-colored earth
Brody (1924-1975) knew he wanted to create something but what? On his way to painting (he studied in New York with Hans Hoffmann,) he studied modern dance with Martha Graham and hung around New York clubs in the early days of bebop. He had met and befriended the vocalist Billie Holiday in the early 1940s, rescuing her runaway dog Moochie He had already been painting for a decade when he realized he was an artist.
Brody divided his time between New York City and rural Vermont for much of his career and died too soon at age fifty-one.
Image: Gandy Brodie - End of Wi nter, 1956, oil on composition board, Whitney Museum, NYC.
12 February 2023
Jane Piper: A Feeling For Color
20 January 2023
Orangerie: A Moveable Garden
The most popular fruit in the world is the orange. Its association with winter holidays makes perfect sense, a fruit that looks like the sun is fit for purpose in the darkest time of year.
When Charles VIII invaded the Italian peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century he was smitten by a love for oranges. The orange trees were shipped in their root balls; on arrival the French gardeners bathed the roots in milk and honey. When Charles returned home to his chateau at Amboise he built France's first orangerie. His wife, Anne of Bretagne, not to be outdone, built an orangerie for herself at Blois.
Henry II built one for his wife Catherine de Medici in 1533 and one for his mistress Diane de Poitiers.
This competitive one-upmanship continued for centuries; each successive monarch felt the need to create a bigger, more elaborate hothouse for their precious citrus fruit.
Known as the Sun King, Louis XIV could just as well have been called the Orange King. He commanded a twelve hundred foot orangerie in the shape of a half moon to be built as a setting for masked balls and garden parties. His gardeners invented an ingenious method to make the trees bloom year-round. This was also when the French began to pour hot orange juice over roasted chestnuts. C'est si bon!
The Musee de l'Orangerie was built in 1852 to shelter the orange trees from the Tuileries gardens. A typical orangerie, its glazed windows faced south to capture as much heat as possible. These hothouses evolved into the prototype for the modern greenhouse. At the turn of the century it was converted to a warehouse. Claude Monet donated his panoramic water lily canvases to the nation; the paintings were installed in 1927 after the painter's death.
Image: Sergio-Gonzalez-Tornero - Orangerie, color intaglio print, 1966, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica,
10 January 2023
Scarab-Like: Mark Innerst
03 January 2023
A Predilection For Onions: Mary Ann Currier
"How easily happiness begins by
dicing onions. A lump of sweet butter
slithers and swirls across the floor
of the saute pan, especially if its
errant path crosses a tiny slick
of olive oil. Then a tumble of onions."
- an excerpt from "Onions" by William Matthews which first appeared in Poetry in August 1989
Something about a still life painting turns its subjects into objects of desire. That is what happens in Mary Ann Currier's Onions and Tomato. I want to chop them into small pieces and make soup. Three onions and a tomato, round, shiny, and luscious, guarded by a utility knife and a pot that functions as a mirror as well as a receptacle
Mary Ann Curries (1927-2017) had a predilection for onions. Currier chose onions as a favorite subject for their humble origins in fields of muck, the subtle variations in their color, and because they maintained their freshness while she finished painting them. She painted only from real fruit and vegetables, never from photographs although the realism of her paintings is breathtaking.
Currier was born in Louisville. Her parents emigrated to the United States from Germany after World War II. She studied art with many GIs, often being the only female in her classes. She did advertising spreads, stationery, and then moved on to portraiture, finally finding her niche as a still life painter. She had her first exhibition at the relatively late age of fifty.
04 December 2022
Stephen Mueller: Orpheus the Enchanter
16 November 2022
Jane Freilicher: Dark Afternoon
06 November 2022
Ruby Sky Stiler
26 October 2022
Hilary Mantel: Stories Of Her Youth
Learning to Talk, originally published in Great Britain in 2003, is likely to be the last book we will ever have from Hilary Mantel. Mantel died suddenly in September of 2022. Her publisher described her, accurately I think, as one of Britain's greatest novelists.
18 October 2022
Raymond Han: The Many Shades of White
"Look how white everything is," Sylvia Plath marveled in her poem "Tulips." That's what I think when I look at paintings by Raymond Han. Of course these shades of white contain colors as you will know if you have ever watched white paint being mixed in a store.
An embroidered cloth gives structure to the china arranged on the table. A cream pitcher is the focus of the picture. A blue and white teapot is decorated with japonisme; opposite is a Japanese cup. Greenery in a small cup is a touch of unruly nature in the midst of order. A spoon, a fork, a desert plate, and a few other small items complete the tea table. Why does that teapot seem subservient to the cream pitcher?
I have looked at Still Life with Rose Geranium in person several times. Fittingly, a print of it hangs in the Terrace Cafe at the museum. It was my introduction to Raymond Han whose bravura handling of shades of white is the signature of his still work. A gentle version of photorealism, in contrast to the sharp edges in the work of Janet Fish or Richard Estes.
The term still life appeared in late 16th century Netherlands; in French it is nature morte or 'dead nature'. Intriguingly, the objects in a still life often appear to have individual personalities.
Raymond Han was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and lived near Oneonta in upstate New York for several years before his death in 2017. Han was one of seven children born to Korean immigrants. First he earned a scholarship to the Honolulu Museum of Art; then he moved to New York City where he studied at the Arts Students League.
Image: Raymond Han - Still Life with Rose Geranium Sprig, 1980, oil on canvas, Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica
08 October 2022
"Where we lived, the settlers built their houses. Where
When she was a little girl her father would draw small pictures of animals for her to carry with in her pockets. It was so enchanting that she decided to become an artist when she grew up. But when she got to college, a professor told her that women could not be artists. Fortunately, she ignored his advice.
For Smith, painting is a meditative process. Satire is a tool she uses to highlight stereotypes about American Indians. "My art, my life experience, and my tribal ties are totally enmeshed. I go from one community with messages to the other, and I try to enlighten people." As an example, in one painting of the country she removed the names of states except those American names - 27 of them when translated into English.
Jaune-Quick -to-See Smith (b.1940) grew up on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. She is a member of the Salish and Kootenah Nation. She earned an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of New Mexico. Her work has received numerous awards over the years,
Image: Jaune-Quick-to-See Smith, 2021 acrylic and collage on canvas, courtesy of Garth Greenan Gallery, NYC.
27 September 2022
Pablo Picasso: Boisgeloup In The Rain
Boisgeloup is an old stronghold dating from the Middle Ages. The town is located in the French region of Haute-Normandie. It became the home of Pablo Picasso in 1930. He Made a studio where he built sculptures in plaster, iron, and bronze. On the property there was a large outbuilding where he installed a press for engraving. He lived there for six years with his mistress Marie Therese Walter while his wife Olga stayed in Paris. There is a small museum L'Atelier du sculpteur that displays his works.
Image - Pablo Picasso - Boisgeloup in the Rain, 30 March 1932, oil on canvas, Musee Picasso, Paris.
18 September 2022
Stella Polaris: Helen Frankenthaler
30 August 2022
Bob Thompson's Antique Figures
16 August 2022
Raoul Dufy: The Case For Beauty
"A well painted turnip is more significant than a poorly painted Madonna." - Max Liebermann
Not many artists are so distinctive that an adjective is coined in their honor but here is one: "Dufyesque."
Early on, Raoul Dufy (187-1953) became adroit at effacing the ugly, a talent that came in handy for someone born in Le Havre. Guidebooks agree the port city is one of the least attractive cities in France. With its hustle and bustle, Le Havre provided the animation that was a characteristic of his work. But give Le Havre credit for its municipal art school where young Dufy began his art education.
Raoul Dufy had seen a retrospective devoted to Vincent van Gogh two years before he painted La Dame en Rose. Until then Dufy had shown little interest in painting human figures. Van Gogh's influence is obvious in the use of black outlining and the halo of broken lines that makes the green room vibrate with energy. The uninterrupted line of nose and eye brow is an elegant gesture. No chair is visible although she appears to be sitting. The pink dress barely suggests her figure; it is her face that is the center of attraction. A sliver of a gray door at left and an orange triangle. are the only hints of a location. At first the identity of La Dame en Rose (The Woman in Pink) was something of a mystery. She is thought to be Eugenie Brisson, his future wife.
After his mandatory military service Dufy won a scholarship to L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. During its brief heyday, bracketed by the Autumn Salons of 1905 and 1906, Fauvism was an experiment in color for its own sake that shook the staid French Academy to its boots. Dufy soaked it all up as he worked on improving his drawing skills.
By the late 1940s Dufy's ability to paint was so severely limited by rheumatoid arthritis that he had to fasten the brush to his hand. He died in 1953; the cause was intestinal bleeding, likely caused by his treatment with cortisone
Toward the end of his life Dufy saw himself dismissed as little more than an illustrator. Accused of lacking seriousness, his brilliant performance has been overlooked by his critics. In recent years though Dufy's star has been on the rise because so much contemporary art is cold and impersonal. Indeed, Dufy has been called a modern-day Watteau for his depictions of the divertissements of the bourgeoisie and their charming impermanence. "If Fragonard could be so gay about the life of his time, why can't I be just as gay about mine?" he retorted.
Image: Raoul Dufy - La Dame en Rose, oil on canvas, 1908, Pompidou Center, Paris.
05 August 2022
Jennifer Bartlett: Five In The Evening
27 July 2022
Fairfield Porter: The French Connection
What matter is that it is a wave.
What matters is that wave will return.
What matters is that it will always be different.
What matters the most of all: however different the returning wave,
It will always return as a wave of the sea.
What is a wave? Composition and muscle. The same goes for
- Marina Tsvetayeva
By what alchemy do flat patches of color look like the waves of an incoming tide? A non-realistic painterly style characterized by flat patches of color is how, and that wave rolled in from France. I see the whitecaps as decorations on the blue/green breakers. Fairfield Porter's interest in decorative motifs was inspired by his admiration for the French artists known collectively as Les Nabis, in particular Pierre Bonnard. In his paintings Porter combined realism with flat abstraction; among his friends was fellow artist and abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. Porter was a figurative painter in the post-war years when American abstract expressionism was triumphant. While at the Parsons School of Design, he studied with Jacques Maroger, a French art restorer.
During the Christmas holidays of 1938, Porter attended an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago of works by Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. The exhibition came as a "revelation of the obvious" as Porter would recall to interviewer Paul Cummings in the 1960s. Why, he wondered, would he paint any other when way "it's so natural to do this." He also told Cummings, "I think that Ingres's remark that 'I leave it to time to finish my paintings' is true in a very wide and profound way."
Image: Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) - The Wave , 1971, oil on canvas, private collection