10 October 2021

Emma Amos: The Artist As A Young Woman

"All the little children loved the things that I drew and I did masses if paper dolls and things. And then it got rally serious and people thought 'oh, she can really draw. So, they gave me things to copy ... they gave me everything that was going, coloring books and things to copy."                                          
 - Emma Amos to Al Murray in an interview for the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, October, 1968.

When she was twenty-three Amos moved to New York from Atlanta, having found the southern city's art scene too sleepy for what she aspired to do with her art. As it would turn out, sleep was not something Amos would be getting for the next several years.  By day, Amos worked as a textile designer, by night she studied full-time for her Master's Degree at New York University, and on the weekends she painted. 

While she was at it, Amos became the youngest an sole female member of the African-American art collective Spiral, a group that had been founded in 1963 by Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis. to name but two of the fifteen members. In the 1970s  Amos became involved in the production of the feminist arts journal Heresies  and was an original Guerilla Girl in 1985.

If thinking about this makes you tired, I know the feeling. Because I spent my twenties working full-time during the day, going to school full-time at night, spending my spare time engaged in feminist and other political activities. Up at 6:30 each morning and returning from classes at 11;15 at night.

First Avenue Window comes from this early period in Amos's career.  Spiral had rented a downtown space on Christopher Street in 1965  for its first and only exhibition in May of 1965.  Shortly after, the group disbanded.  Although the artists conformed to no one style, we can see in this painting by Amos an eclectic and even irreverent approach to abstraction. 

Amos had been resistant to being categorized as a black artist, as bell hooks would  note in 1993, "[That] little girl who was dreaming of being an artist wasn't thinking, 'I'll grow up and be a Black woman artists,' but "I'll grow up and be an artist." And yet, in New York Amos was rebuffed by the (male)art scene as a woman; a rude shock for a young artist who had grown up in a middle-class family in Atlanta where people like W.E.B. Dubois and Zora Neale Hurston were frequent guests. 

Amos died from complications of Alzheimer's disease in 2020 at the age of eighty-three.

Image: Emma Amos - First Avenue Window, 1966, oil on cnavs with handmade, hand-painted frame, courtesy of Ryan Lee Gallery, NYC.

28 September 2021

Hans Memling: The Naughty Priest

Something to think about when you look at old portraits is that they were usually the product of several sittings, providing the artist ample time to consider the nature of his subject. The conventions of Renaissance portraiture were naturalistic in some respects but truth-to-life watts-and-all was not what either sitters or patrons waned.  In Hans Memling's portrait of the cleric Gilles Joye there is no hint of Joye's worldliness and vanity. The artist gives us a conventional priestly  image: hands clasped piously as if in prayer, a face full of solemnity above a modest clerical robe. 

The Canon Gilles Joye lived in what is now Belgium but he is usually described as  Franco-Flemish, having been born in the city of Kortrijk in West Flanders and then migrating to Bruges.   

Gilles Joye was appointed a singer at the Burgundian court chapel in Bruges in 1462. Unsurprisingly for one so irreverent, his vocal compositions were secular,. How this man became a rector is curious; his hobbies were street brawling, patronizing brothels, and even making a prostitute named Rosabella his mistress. \He was notorious for skipping out on his singing duties but was apparently forgiven because his music was so melodic and lyrical. Admonished to renounce his girlfriend, teh wag wrote her a Mass. (O rosa bella). Notwithstanding his transgressions, when Joye died he was buried in the church of St. Donation.

Hans Memling painted in the style known as Flemish Primitive; his portraits  simplified versions of his sitters' features. Born in the Rhine region he moved around northern Europe in search of commissions. After a stint in the Brussels workshop of Rogier van der Weyden he arrived in Bruges where he  was made a citizen in 1465. There he  became a leading painter with his own workshop. and it was there he met the cleric Gilles Joye. 

Image: Hans Memling (circa 1430-1494) - The Canon Gilles Joye, no date given but probably after 1465, tempura and oil on wood panel, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

21 September 2021

Fred Wilson: The Museum Is The Message

"I trust the visual to communicate my ideas. I try to unlock the meaning of objects and eliciting a conversation by juxtaposing between them that creates an unexpected, but essential, thought." - Fred Wilson

"I get everything that satisfies my soul from bringing together objects in the world, manipulating them, working with spatial arrangements, and having them presented in the way I want to see them." - Fred Wilson

Five busts of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti that question what we think we know about the ancient world. The original bust by an anonymous artist has long been a  staple of art history texts. Grey Area (above) by the American artist Fred Wilson makes visible our changing understanding of who historical figures actually were.

Born in the Bronx in 1954, Fred Wilson describes himself as African, Native American, Amerindian, and European, a background ....While studying for his Fine Arts degree at SUNY Purchase, he worked as a guard at the Neuberger Museum on campus.  As I know from talking with museum guards, they spend enough time with works of art to make astute comments about how art is presented and how that shapes the viewer's reception.  From that experience Wilson drew a lesson: change the context and you change the meaning.  So it was that he made a version of the mythological character Atlas weighed down by art history books with a book on black artists at the bottom of the pile.

After stints at the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Natural History (on opposite sides of Central Park) Wilson realized that the two institutions presented similar objects in widely divergent ways. He has come to  specialize in presenting objects based on considerations that may be unimportant to most curators or that have gone unnoticed until Wilson put things together.  Mining the Museum he called it when he restaged galleries at the Maryland Historical Society in 1991. In a technique he has often used, Wilson renamed a painting Country Life that showed a plantation family at leisured Frederick Serving Fruit  for a young black slave boy in the picture. This  In a nearby vitrine, Wilson paired a stark set of slave shackles surrounded by  an .... adorned silver tea service, the embodiment of wealth produced by slave labor.

Fred Wilson was the first black artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2003. with  the exhibit Speak Of Me As I Am (a reference to Shakespeare's character Othello, the Moor of Venice). So popular was Wilson's exhibition thatt there were waiting lins outside the American pavilion.  For Venice, a city where black people had been present for centuries, Wilson created a project that included an awareness of the city surroundings.

A last minute addition, Wanderer was a black-face courtier figure Wilson saw in the lobby of the hotel he was staying at. He replaced the face with a globe whose black oceans were crisscrossed by by white dotted lines that trace the routes of ships used in the slave trade.

Simone Leigh will be the first black American woman to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale in 2022.

For more about Fred Wilson

Images:

 1. Fred Wilson - Grey Area - pant, plaster, and wood, 1998, Brooklyn Museum.  2. Fred Wilson - Atlas, 1992, paint, plaster, and wood, Denver Museum of Art.  3. Fred Wilson - Wanderer, 2003, painted wood and printed paper, Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA.

10 September 2021

For Eighty Cents!: Angelo Morbelli



 "Italy is made.  We have still to make the Italians."

     -  Massimo D'Azeglio (1798-1866).  D'Azeglio did not live to see Rome designated as the capitol of new Italian state in 1871 but the Risorgimento (Resurgence) was almost complete when  the statesman/ novelist/painter died.

Look at these women cultivating rice: they are the 'essential workers' of 19th century Italy. Just for clarification, the title For Eighty Cents! indicates the anger of the painter Angelo Morbelli at the wage paid to rice farmers in the Po Valley circa 1890.  Indeed, working conditions for the women who worked the fields of the Piedmont region were so shameful that a name was coined for them - the mondine. We know there is a sky above from its reflection in the water the women stand in but the artist allows us no more respite from the prospect of their back-breaking toil than their overlords permitted. By using the broad horizontal canvas typical of landscape painting, we can almost feel the weight pressing down on the hunched figures.

The path fir Italian artists in the 19th century was not the triumphal march that historians ascribe to the French Impressionists. Stylistically, the Italians were all over the place and, on this account, art historians have not been kind to their works. Yet these artists made lively and daring experiments, more so than the Italian peninsula had witnessed in a long time. Together painters as varied as Silevstro Lega, Emilio Longoni, Plinio Nominelli, an Aneglo Morbelli were dubbed I Macchiaiolli (meaning painters of patches of light). 

Morbelli and his fellow artists were berated from all sides, for choosing ugly and unpleasant subjects rather pleasing ones that the bourgeoisie could hang in their parlors and, at the same time, for imbuing ugly realities with dignity and even nobility.  The Roman poet Horace had that art's purpose was to "instruct and delight" but the Macchiaioli would have none of that.

Full of idealism, they found their inspiration in the economic upheavals that accompanied political unification. Like their painterly styles, their politics were all over the  ran a gamut from progressivism to anarchy. The early 1890s were a period of strikes and protests in  northern cities where workers labored for impoverishing wages, under poor working conditions, if they could find work at all. Conditions were no better for the poor in rural areas where new industrial workers had migrated from.

Image - Angelo Morbelli- For Eighty Cents!, 1895, oil on canvas, Civico Museo, Borgogna.

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01 September 2021

Kiki Kogelnik: "The Cyborgs Are Irreverent"

"The Cyborgs are irreverent." - Donna Harraway, The Cyborg Manifesto, 1985.

"Art comes from artificial." - Kiki Kogelnik

Kogelnik's figures are often bent, broken, or damaged in some way but not Superwoman.


It is an oversight  that smacks of injustice as well as forgetfulness that Kiki Kogelnik is not better known in North America.  Although Kogelnik was born in Bleiburg, Austria and studied art the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, after a visit to New York City in 1961, she determined to move there, settling in downtown Manhattan, two blocks from the Chelsea Hotel, a favorite haunt of writers and artists.   She could not but compare the lively and vivid art world of New York with te drabness of post-War Europe. The middle child and only girl of an accountant and a teacher, Kogelnik's given name was Sigrid but her older brother Herwig nicknamed her and it stuck. 

Downtwn Manhattan was home to emerging Pop artists Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenberg, and Larry Rivers; as a European Kogelnik was more skeptical of  mechanization's impact on culture. Yet the idea of cyborgs, beings both organic and biomechanic hovers around many of Kogelnik's works, rendering them sui generis.  In Americans' infatuation with space exploration she perceived an adolescent phallic fixation and with all things commercial. "I'm not involved with Coca Cola.

Her big, bright canvases were made at a time when Kogelnik was also tracing human figures on paper and then transferring the cutouts to colored vinyl.  Her yellow Robert Rauschenberg, for example, was exhibited on a gallery wall neatly folded on a metal hanger. She re-purposed the Pop Art vocabulary throughout her career. Kogelnik reasoned that identity is constructed from fragments through her experience of a female body in a world of images in the fashion press, leading for her to the question and meaning of masks, returning at last to an original fragmented identity. 

Kogelnik made her first ceramic pieces in 1974 at the urging of Renate Fuhry, a potter she knew in Vienna. With her initial training in applied arts, Kogelnik had no prejudice against ceramics, a common view at that time. Although she never learned to turn pottery on the wheel, she  put stencils to use in making slab ceramics, a technique by which the potter uses a rolling pin to flatten a mound of clay - hence the term slab pottery. Using a knife to cut around her stenciled shapes, Kogelnik would coat them with a variety of colorful glazes. the resulting pieces are more like masks than portraits. 

A few thoughts on cyborgs and Donna Harraway: The term cyborg originated in science fiction as  a paradigm for the confusion of boundaries between the organic and the mechanical.  It has been used in the domain of science for storytelling rather than with the usual claims of rigor and objectivity.

Visit Kiki Kogelnik Foundation, New York & Los Angeles.

Images:
1. Kiki Kogelnik - Superwoman, 1973, oil and acrylic on canvas, national museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.
2. - 3. - 4. - Kiki Kogelnik - slab ceramic pieces, photographs courtesy of Mostyn Galley, Llandono, Wales.

26 August 2021

Gino Severini Sees The Muses

"Of course I saw the Muses
on the hill
roosting in the leaves
Well then, I saw the Muses
in the liberal oak leaves
eating acorns and berries
I saw the Muses on an ancient
oak, where they kept cawing.
My heart marveling
I asked my marveling heart
and told my heart the marvel."

 - Vidi le Muse (I Saw the Muses), by Leonardo Sinisgalli, 1943, translated from the Italian by Sonia Raiziss & Alfredo de Palchi, reprinted from The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2012.

As Italo Calvino famously pointed out there are no birds in the paintings of the Florentine painter Paolo Uccello, whose surname means 'bird' in Italian. But in the 20th century, a painter named  Gino Severini made an entire series of color drawings around the theme of birds.

But where, exactly, are we in Flowers And Masks? Dynamism of the modern urban city, fractured perspective and overlapping picture plans abound.  The hallmarks of  Futurism, an art practiced by a loose band  of Italian artists in the early decades of the 20th century.

From Tuscany (well, Cortona, actually) to Paris sounds  like the itinerary for a vacation and although it wasn't a vacation for the twenty-three year old Gino Severini it was an adventure.  The son of a small town dressmaker, the aspiring artist was mesmerized  by the frenetic merriment of Parisian night life.  Futurists celebrated the industrialization that was late to arrive in their native country, but Severini preferred to portray the dynamism of living beings instead of manufactured objects,

We see that fascination in his series  Flowers And Masks. A dove flutters to the music of the spheres (behind it a violin and  pages of a musical score). The mask is an emblem of an earlier era, the commedia dell' arte that flourished during the 18th century.  

After a brief flirtation with  Cubism, Severini came to regard it as usually static and boring., a view he shared with his fellow Futurists. The charge had legs;  especially in their early experiments, Picasso and Braque copied the muted tones of the silent films they were so enamored of. Severini, ever restless would go on to experiment with the Golden Ratio, a Renaissance emblem  of perfection  This return to classicism led to an unholy alliance with Benito Mussolini for whom he designed murals and mosaics to decorate the dictator's halls. To atone for his sins, Severini returned to the Catholic Church in his later years; the mosaics he produced for the church were of exquisite delicacy, earning him the soubriquet of  "Father of Modern Mosaics."

Leonardo Sinisgalli (1908-1981) was an engineer who became the art director for Olivetti. He is best known for his poetry. While at university, Sinisgalli turned down an invitation to join the Institute of Physics at the University of Rome by Enrico Fermi himself.

Image:
Gino Severini (1883-1966) -  Flowers And Masks Number 13, 1930, color stencils on paper, Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica.

10 August 2021

Valerie Jaudon: Expansive Possibilities


"(W)e came to realize that the prejudice against the decorative has a long history and is based on hierarchies: fine art above decorative art, Western art above non-Western art, men's art above women's art." - Valerie Jaudon & Joyce Kozloff, 1978

Jaudon and Kozloff came to that moment as they realized that the woven textiles and painted pottery they admired that had been produced anonymously had been made by women. The two began to collaborate in the mid 1970s in search of ways to create expansive surfaces by taking patterns out of their usual context. Soon they were joined by Miriam Schapiro, Robert Zakanitch, and others to establish the Pattern and Decoration Movement, sometimes referred to as P & D, that began meeting as a group in 1976

The P & D artists embrace of feminism was in defiance of art critical orthodoxy as decreed by Clement Greenberg in the 1950s. At the same time there was an active studio crafts movement making a case for clay and fiber as suitable media for abstract art. In hindsight, the use of art forms from many cultures crossed  with  Western abstraction was prescient for our own moment.

And Solomon's faith was not misplaced. The artworks were received as a breath of fresh air, praised and collected but when the 1980s dawned, there was a backlash, firstly because the artists were unabashed feminists and then because the concept of beauty was in disrepute. But Jaudon and Kozloff struck preemptively at the detractors, publishing their manifesto Art Hysterical Notions of Progress and Culture in 1978.

At more than six feet tall, Ingmar is an emphatic statement of intent: there is nothing delicate or dainty about it. Ingomar by Valerlie Jaudon evokes visions of Celtic and Islamic designs. Metallic paint is applied with bold brushstrokes, creating an impression that is at the same time a visual puzzle that tantalizes the viewer. Islamic tile work from Spain and North Africa, and mosaics from Mexico, ancient Roman, and Byzantium, all these influences are held in equilibrium in this resonant, suggestive painting. The longer I look the more I experience a sense of depth

Valerie Jaudon was born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1945 and studied art at several academies, including the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. In 2011, Jaudon was elected to the National Academy of Design.

The exhibition With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art, 1972-1985,, on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles from October 27, 2019-May 11, 2020 and at Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY from June26-November 28, 2021, is the first full-scale survey of a groundbreaking movement.

And in addition, Emma Amos: Color Odyssey is on view from June 19-September 12, 2021 at Munson-Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica NY. It will then travel t the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it will beon view from October 11, 2021-January 17, 2022.

Image: Valerie Jaudon - Ingomar, 1979, oil and metallic paint, 80 x72 inches, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.

03 August 2021

Madelaine de Scudery: A Map Of The Affections



"and it's something that everybody needs...." - Lowman Pauling & Ralph Bass, Dedicated To The One I Love, 1961

If there were a reliable map for affairs of the heart, its cartographer would become wealthy, and rightly so. According to the French novelist Madelaine de Scudery, the road to love begins at Nouvelle amitie (New Friendship), located at the bottom of the map above on the River of Love.  The River has three tributaries: Respect, Esteem, an Affection. Along the right bank, various waystations with names like Fresh Eyes, Love Letters, Constancy, and Generosity invite the traveler rest and reflect. On the opposite shore, Complacence, Inequality, Treacherousness, and Perfidiousness tell a much different story. Scudery created her Carte du tendre (A Map of the Affections) as a game to amuse her friends during the winter of 1553-1664.

Marriage is absent from Scudery's map, likely because emancipation from matrimony was the only route to freedom in the 17th century. Not only did Scudery not marry, she eventually managed to free herself from the burdensome guardianship of her brother George. a typical feature of the life of a femme couverte of the minor nobility in France. Previously she had been forced to her beloved Paris for three years from 1644-1647 when Georges served as the Governor of the Fort-Notre-Dane-e-la-Garde At Marseilles.

It may be an oblique nod to this difficult time with terre inconnu (the Perilous Sea). And deviating from New Friendship could lead a woman to Indiscretion.  Caught between the Sea of Enmity and the Lake of Indifference, a woman might easily feel trapped. To add a bit of historical perspective, consider the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, drawn up by John Adams in 1780.  It included a provision providing that a widow should not be forced to remarry if she preferred to live alone.

In France, la querelle des femmes already had a history, dating back to the 15th century when Christine de Pizan had also been an official author at the French court, publishing The Book of the City of Ladies in 1405.

Madelaine de Scudery (1607-1701) was born just nine years after Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598, ending four decades of devastating violence over religious doctrine between Protestants and Catholics. With hindsight, the French  Reformation was one of history's great failures. Born in Le Havre where her father was the captain of the port, she was orphaned at the age of six, her care was then entrusted to the care of an uncle who was a cleric. An estimable and farsighted gentleman, he provided the girl with an excellent education: her studies included reading, writing, drawing, music, Spanish, and Italian. There is even some evidence that she studied Latin and Greek. She also applied herself to the study of agriculture and medicine.  A voracious reader, Madelaine began her philosophical studies with Montaigne (hence her skepticism) and Plutarch (hence her stoicism).

After the death of their uncle in 1637, the siblings moved to Paris where Madelaine was introduced to the salon chambre bleu (Blue Room) at the Hotel Rambouillet where she became a regular attendee. From there she launched her literary career, publishing a defense of education for woman in Illustrious Women in 1642. Scudery also published numerous highly successful novels including Artamene, s two million words it holds the record as the longest novel ever (yet) published.

The pair then moved to the Marais where Madame de Scudery established her own weekly salon Samedis (Saturdays). During the 17th century, women were once again attempting to make their way as authors in the (male) literary world. 

The Precieuses, as the women were called, were repeatedly subjected to ridicule, notably by Moliere in his first play Les precieuses ridicules (1659). It is also worth noting that the King, Louis XIV, also scorned learned women and that Moliere was a favorite of the King. 

As if this were not enough to discourage the women, Moliere took another swipe in 1672 with Les femmes savants or The Clever Women. Make no mistake, thee stakes were high for all concerned. Reputation is a form of gold in the republic of letters. Not only did these women, whether at Royal court or in the salons of Paris, mean to attain the status of authors, they intended to replace the male concept of love - wherein it is the man who gets to choose and the woman can only assent or refuse (if she is lucky).  One reason that Scudery made the Lake of Indifference so large was that, then as even today, we women keep watering it with our tears.

Scudery was honored by the Academie Francaise in 1691. Madelaine de Scudery survived her brother Georges by three decades, dying at the ripe age of ninety-three.

For further reading: Precious Women by Dorothy Ann Liot Baker, New York, Basic Books:1973

Image: Madelaine de Scudery - Carte du tendre (A Map of the Affections), 1654, Francois Chaveau, engraving, Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris.

26 July 2021

A Sign Of Summer: The Breton Stripe

"The body of the shirt will count twenty-one white stripes, each twice as wide as the twenty to twenty-one indigo blue stripes." -  Admiral Ferdinand-Alphonse Hamelin, Minister of the Marine for Brittany1858

How French, you may say, to be so precise about specifications. The French are proud of their navy and  its many victories over the British. The rivalry is apparent in their dueling names for the body of water that separates the two countries: Pas de Calais or English Cannel.

So the design of a new uniform was also a matter of symbolic import. The colors blue and white were chosen for their nautical associations; the three-quarter length sleeves were practical for physical tasks and sailors soon realized that it was easier to spot a man overboard in  a striped shirt. Although the French like to boast that the stripes represent Napoleon's naval victories, the truth is more prosaic; technical innovations in the production of cloth made it possible to knit a continuous, precisely striped shirt on one piece. Once the mariniere or rayure bretonne became the official sailor's uniform it was quickly adopted by fishermen and onion sellers along France's northern coast.

Stripes have a long history among the marginalized, from wandering minstrels and jesters to lepers and madmen. They were worn by men who existed on the fringes of society. 

At the time stripes were considered suitable male attire. Guy de Maupassant always wore a striped jersey when he was aboard his boat or when was was onshore mixing with the tough guys who hun around the docks.

However the young woman pictured in La voyageuse au bateau painted by Marcel Gromaire in 1930 owes her 'garconne' look to Coco Chanel. The young Chanel had had some success as a hat maker in Deauville where she  opened a shop in 1913.  Being a woman, Chanel recognized that women were looking for a simpler style that would be chic but afford them greater freedom of movement. She introduced her striped jerseys in her couture collection in 1917.

Marcel Gromaire (1892-1971) was a painter of the modern pursuit of leisure,  golf, tennis, swimming, and sunbathing.

For further reading: The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes &  Striped Clothing by Michel Pastoureau, translated from the French by Jody Gladding, New York, Columbia University Press: 2001.\

Image: Marcel Gromaire - La voyageuse au bateau, 1930, oil on canvas, Musee d'Art moderne de la ville de Paris.

19 July 2021

"Voce et intellecto" Barbara Hoogeweegen

"Voce et intellecto." These were the qualities the poet Dante admired in art and when I look at  Barbara Hoogeweegen's portraits of women, voce et intelletco are what comes to mind. Representation is the process of re-presenting something so it is no accident that Hoogeweegen portrays her  contemporary women as self-possessed, and much more than the sum of  their lineage, pace portraits of wealthy and aristocratic women of  the Italian Renaissance .

For each one Hoogeweegen chooses a  color palette; the one she chose for Jeepers Creepers Where'd you Get Them Peepers is made up of the three primary colors with small daubs of the complementary colors on the neck  Applied in broad strokes that often overlap, the paint gets maximal effect without looking labored.
 
And what is natural about a portrait?  Until Leonardo da Vinci posed his female sitters facing the viewer, Renaissance painters presented women in profile, eyes chastely turned away from the viewer. And although da Vinci influenced younger artists like Giorgione, Raphael, and Titian, museums are filled with paintings of vacant, mask-like faces. If that brings Picasso to mind, then everything that is old can be made new. A few years ago Britain's National Portrait Gallery held an exhibition of portraits from its collection that are rarely seen because the sitters have not been identified.

We know that painting dates back to the time of the cave painters at Lascaux and Altamira. They depicted the natural world around but is painting something more than natural when it hang on the walls of a museum?  As recent events have reminded us, paintings hang against a background of social and political issues.

Barbara Hoogeweegen is truly an international artist.  Born in the Netherlands, she studied art in France and Great Britain and she now lives in London.

Image: Barbara Hoogeweegen - Jeepers Creepers Where'd you Get Them Peepers, 2017, oil on canvas, collection of the artist.

12 July 2021

The Blue Lantern Turns Fourteen

The Blue Lantern first appeared on July 12, 2007. In the beginning, I posted frequently to discover if there was an audience for what I wanted to do when I wasn't writing to order. Since the early days I have deleted a majority of posts (hundreds, actually) because I was dissatisfied with them. Also there was a website that copied my articles verbatim and then used them to solicit advertising, a clear violation of fair use of images. After taking a hard look at those articles, I either rewrote them or deleted them. 

I would like to thank very much the people who have devoted Pinterest boards to images published on The Blue Lantern. To celebrate the 14th anniversary of The Blue Lantern I decided to share some  comments that warmed my heart and kept me writing
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Wednesday, 15 July 2009 - The Edinburgh Scotsman

Subtitles "Arts Journalism for the Love of It," this devastatingly beautiful blog covers a wide range of topics and mediums from known artists such as Marc Chagall, to unknown discoveries, (well, unknown to us) such as Kathleen Dustin who makes exquisite handbags in the shapes of seed pods from a special type of colored polymer clay. The site is named for the blue-shaded lamp that French writer Colette used as a guiding light for her imaginary journeys, after she became too frail to leave home. "Her invitation, extended to all, was 'Regarde!' Look, see, wonder, accept, live." It is written by Jane Librizzi, an American broadcaster blessed with great intelligence and an eye for the rare and marvellous."

Sunday 22 August 2010 - The Linosaurus

"I have done a good deal of rainy-day back-reading on Jane's blog (it should be a book really)..."


Friday 16 September 2011 - Wuthering Expectations

Librizzi is a master of pairing text and image, whether the text is a famous poem or her own essay.  This piece on Mariana Griswold von Rensselaer is a good example.  She also understands how literature and images interpenetrate – see this expert review of Theodor Fontane  and this little biography of Djuna Barnes.

...www.wutheringexpectations.blogspot.com

 Wednesday 11 Janaury 2012 at Just A False Alarm

EVERY now and then you stumble across a very impressive blog or two whilst trawling the internet during  moments in which you experience rare solitude and freedom. Tonight I have been absorbed for a good hour or two by this blog: ... The writer is Jane Librizzi, a New Yorker, apparently a freelance journalist and a radio broadcaster, who I wouldn't know from a bar of soap- and yet, becoming absorbed in her thought-provoking blog, you can't help but feel you know her a little. She covers a wide range of subjects, mostly Art and Literature, and she does so comprehensively and professionally with acknowledgement of sources and detailed bibliographies. And you learn so much from her blog- or at least I did- because she covers some really interesting and esoteric subjects. At the moment, in 2012, she seems to be absorbed with Belgian art and Belgian photography. Then there is poetry by an Austrian, Ingeborg Bachmann, a fascinating study of the construction of stairs under the lovely heading 'Evanescence', a discussion of a Paul Signac painting under the equally beguiling heading, 'Luminance', and the professional relationship between Duncan Phillips (patron) and Augustus Vincent Tack (painter). Now I have only gone back in my discussion here to December 3, 2011, and Librizzi has been blogging since September 2005. So she has an incredible wealth of interesting blog entries over a number of years. She also includes a library of books read under a link called 'Library Thing.' Here once again I was introduced to the names of many writers and their books totally new to me."
...www.justafalsealarm.blogspot.com

The Human Flower Project, Julie Ardrey, editor, Austin, TX. 

Dear Jane - The Blue Lantern is a masterpiece.  I have been a dazzled reader for awhile and am preparing to wind down my own site, The Human Flower Project.  Having attempted to make something beautiful and thoughtful online, I deeply admire the ambition and generosity of your work!  - Julie Ardrey 

2009, The Curated Object, Joanne Molina, editor, Chicago

It's my absolute delight to introduce Jane Librizzi to our readers, Her intellectually stimulating and aesthetically astute blog, The Blue Lantern, has captivated me for more long  mornings, afternoons, and evenings than I would care to admit. Originally from northern New Jersey, she lived in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and now lives in upstate New York. She studied piano for several years and began writing stories at age nine. Aside from freelance writing, she has worked in music broadcasting on her local Public Broadcasting station for the past nine years. The place in the world she woud most like to visit is the Wolong Panda Center in China.

04 July 2021

The Immigrants: Theresa Bernstein

One of the ideas running like Javascript behind this blog is that the history of the arts is more than a reductive mythology of large personalities. Like the writer who pens one or two good books but gets overshadowed by the colorful character who attracts academic acolytes, there are artists who produce a handful of memorable images but not enough to launch ancillary careers.  Theresa Bernstein is one (1890-2002) despite a very long career. 

Bernstein was known for her portrayals of the bustling crowds of New York City.  The Immigrants is  something quite different, a maritime picture of a kind, people huddled together on an ocean-going ship,  waiting hopefully for the sight of land. They are heroic in a way we are not accustomed to think of as heroic, voyagers into an uncertain future.  Anchoring the picture at center front is a young woman holding a baby; around her head an envelope of air that draws the viewer to the tiered decks receding behind her. A deft way to suggest the depth of space with sparse shadowing.

Before she painted The Immgrants, Bernstein's work was exhibited alongside that of Edward Hopper.  Bernstein pretended that she had been born in America but her compassion for the trials of her fellow immigrants shines clearly in The Immigrants (1923).  The group stands on the deck of the Cunard R.M.S. Aquitania. Although the immigrations numbers were falling during the 1920s, nativism was rising and  Congress passed two laws to restrict immigration and set ne birthplace quotas.

Born in Kracow in 1890, Theresa Bernstein was brought to the United States by her parents and  raised in Philadelphia.  The Bernsteins were a well-educated., cultured family.  When the Bernstein family moved to New York City in 1912, Theresa established a studio of her own near Bryant Park. She enrolled at the Arts Students League where she studied with William Merritt Chase and attended the earthshaking Armory Show in 1913 where ordinary Americans were introduced to all manner of non-representational painting.  Bernstein had already been impressed by the works of Manet, Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso on two trips to Europe in 1905 and again in 1911. Bernstein continued to produce art during every decade of her life, dying in 2002 at the age of one hundred eleven.

Image: Theresa Bernstein - The Immigrants 1923, oil on canvas, private collection.

30 June 2021

A Lazy Afternoon: Raoul Dufy

"One must meditate abut pleasure. Raoul Dufy is pleasure." - Gertrude Stein

Luxe, calme et volupte.  Luxury, calm, an voluptuousness are the characteristics we associate with the French artist Raoul Dufy (1877-1953). Although Dufy worked in ceramics and textiles he is best known - and loved - for his later paintings with their foreshortened perspectives, suggestive shapes, and thin washes of color quickly applied, resulting in a style dubbed 'stenographic painting."

Born in Le Havre on the Pas de Calais, Dufy took refuge in the Midi during the Nazi Occupation. Driven out of his home at Saint-Denis-sur-Sarthon by the invading Germans in early 1940, he settled in unoccupied southern France.  Already suffering from the rheumatoid arthritis that eventually led to his death, the artist coped by strapping the paintbrush to his hand so as to continue working.  "The period of my illness and the cataclysms of the world should not be apparent in my ... work," he said and they are not. 

The  farms, farmyards, and granaries and granaries of the little village of Lestelle are the subject of numerous paintings and sketches from the late 1940s. Spare little pictures painted with an economy of means portray the rhythms of a rustic life.

Unlike Jean-Francois Millet's humbly religious peasants, Dufy's farmers are an altogether more pantheistic lot.  Around a table before a granary, a trumpeter and an accordionist entertain their mates on a break from haying. A table is there an the effect is so perfect that we do not question its being there. In the background a farmhand is working atop a combine.  A summer storm cloud passes casually by, only temporarily quelling the golden dust that rises from the threshing. machine. 

In Musicians In The Country  the chromatic intensity of golds alternates with swaths of verdant green.  The horizontal lines impart a sense of calm to the scene. An intensely blue stream leads  up at right   to a scalloped aqueduct, a survivor of Roman times, reminding us of Virgil's Georgics, a manual of agricultural things that Dufy's near contemporary Aristide Maillol illustrated in a series of prints and drawings between 1937-1944. Perhaps both sought comfort in seeming eternal verities and who could blame them.

Image: Raoul Dufy - Musicians In The Country, 1948-49, oil on cardboard, Centre Pompidou, Paris.

24 June 2021

Maria Zieu Chino: The Potter As Archeologist

Bolts of lightning zigzag toward earth against a backdrop of driving rains. These are, in turn, overlaid by a crisscrossing  network of leaves and flowers.  The lines are so sharp and precise because they are traced with the pointed end of a yucca plant. This is an art of the southwestern desert and its indigenous peoples, an art that celebrates a precious and scarce resource - water.

After incising designs in the clay the potter would tap the pot; if its thin sturdy walls did not ring when held to the ear that indicated that the pot would crack in firing and was defective. Eventually  after wood firing was completed, seed would be stored in the pot until needed for planting. Then the seed pot would be broken and the shards could be reused to make more pots. 

The same clay that made seed pots made pots to carry precious water home from nearby streams.  The same clay was used to build the pueblo towns of the southwest. Dried clay is given additional strength through the incorporation of potsherds. Geometric patterns seem suited to the harsh light of the desert, sharply defined. Fire is implicit in the dry lands, waiting only to be tapped.  Pottery is the art form and the tool maker ready to hand.

Maria Zieu Chino (1907-1982) was born at Acoma Pueblo in northwestern New Mexico. The making of pottery there dates back more than a millennium. She won the first award  for her pottery when she was fifteen years old at the Santa Fe Indian Fair in 1922. Together with her friends Jessica Garcia, Juana Leo, and  Lucy M. Lewis, the quartet became known as the "Four Matriarchs" of Acoma pottery for their revival of an ancient art, beginning in the 1950s.  While gathering potsherds to temper their vessels the women unearthed pieces with long unseen designs, becoming archeologists in service to  their own ancestors. Yet Chino was no mere copyist; she adapted traditional motifs to her own ends, achieving results that were fresh and compelling. Among her peers, Chin's work is admired for the fitness between its form and decoration.

Robert Patricio is the nephew of Maria Zieu Chin.

Image: Maria Zieu Chino - Seed Jar,  1982, clay, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.

14 June 2021

Watching For Summer With Edie Harper

A white clapboard house with a swing on the porch.  Just a few colors, with a sunny yellow that suggests the title of this serigraph - Summer Watch.  And if you follow the white paw hanging down over the edge o the porch and turn right you will see a sleeping cat with a smile on its face. Like Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat, Harper's cat slips in and out off view.

Harper was a prodigious experimenter in media.  Beyond photography, she excelled in painting and lithography.   Not content with two dimensions, she made pottery, sculpture, and jewelry, too.  For Harper eploring each new technology must have been thrilling.

Except for a ix month cross country honeymoon with her husband, Edie McKee Harper (1922-2010 never strayed far from her Midwestern roots.  She was born in Kansas City, Kansas and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, after studying at the Art Academy there.  During World War II she worked as a photographer for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Edie Harper - Summer Watch, serigraph (silkscreen) on paper, Springfield Museum of Art, Springfield, OH.

09 June 2021

Brazil The Bittersweet: Patricia Leite


From Gertrudes Altschul, a German immigrant to Patricia Leite, a living Brazilian artist (this site last week) images of nature in art.

These paintings shown here are from a series on the Barra do Una, a beach on the Brazilian coast near Sao Paolo, a region that is home to an abundance of biodiverse flora and fauna and rivers and waterfalls along with the littoral.  They are at once a celebration and a reminder of this fragile ecosystem   In recent years there has been profound  damage to its environment through the Barra's growing number of visitors and  the detritus they discard as well as that which washes ashore.

Patricia Leite was born in 1955 in Belo Horizonte, a large city in southern Brazil, and now lives in Sao Paolo, the nation's largest city.  It would seem t academic argument to debate where figuration in her work ends and abstraction begins because blending is seamless. She often works on wooden panels, the better to layer her pigments.   striking contrasts of color 

Images: 

1. Patricia Leite  - Saudade do Brasil, 2021, oil on wood, Thomas Dane Gallery, London.

2. Patricia Leite - Vagalumas, 2021, oil on woo, Thomas Dane Gallery, London.

03 June 2021

Gertrudes Altschul & Fotoclubsmo

"(F)or women, whether artists or writers ... the conditions of exile have especially ambiguous or even ambivalent implications." - Linda Nochlin

That Gertrudes Altschul (1904-1962) would become an internationally famous photographer came about because of what Linda Nochlin called "conditions of exile."

Altschul and her husband Leon were Jewish. When  Leon was forced to sell his hat-making business in 1939 under increasing anti-Semitic legislation by the Nazi regime, the couple left Berlin in haste and piecemeal,  evacuating their son Ernst to relatives in Great Britain, the parents arriving separately in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Finally, in 1941 the family were reunited with their son.  Another version of this story of families being buffeted by World War II is Lore Segal's 1964 affecting fictionalized memoir Other People's Houses.

As in the United States, the many professional people who emigrated from Germany constituted a critical mass that influenced the art scene in Sao Paulo. In photography, to name one medium, Brazilians  began to move away from pictorialism and toward experimental modernist methods that often highlighted form and geometry. 

Gertrudes Altshul  found work making artificial flowers; as part of her new life,  Altschul began photographing and joined the Foto Cline Club in 1952. Her ambitious experiments rivaled those of any make photographer.  She aimed to create images that  could resonate  universally  As subjects she frequently chose stairs, ladders, and construction materials. Filigree represents another of Altshcul's continuing interests, botanical subjects. Soon Altschul earned an international reputation for her work.During the 1950s, club members won prizes on six continents.  Though her pphotogrpahic career was short, it was memorable.

With Filigree Altschul has used the camera to convey an intimate relationship; without wanting to overstate my claim, I see it as a portrait.  This leaf is like no other.
 
The Foto Cine Club Bandeirante was a group of inventive amateur photographers that began in Sao Paulo in 1939. Unusually for the time, the club specifically encouraged women to become members. In These were no ordinary hobbyists. Their photo salons won admiration around the world for originality,  They launched a magazine Boletim foto-cine that appeared on a quixotic schedule and was free to  members and for sale to the public. The magazine fostered an esprit de corps by including information about members' doing,: birthdays, weddings, and club excursions.  Those club excursions were joint learning experiences in the field. There was even an annual visit from Santa Claus.
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 Image: Gertrudes Altschul  - Filigree, 1953, gelatin silver print, Estate of Gertrudes Altshcul

23 May 2021

Landscape Into Art: The Light In Switzerland

Eighteen forty-eight is usually remembered as a year of revolution in Europe; not so in Switzerland.  That year the Swiss Confederation was formed and, with three official languages taken from neighboring countries of France, Italy, and Germany, Switzerland seemed to inoculate itself against the excesses of 19th century nationalisms. In the event, the arts would provide the country its genius loci. A remarkable generation of painters emerged in the decades immediately before World War I  who remade the alpine landscape through  radical stylistic inventions. Most would complete their art studies away from home.


Giovanni Giacometti (1868-1933), the son of a baker in Stampa,  managed to enroll at the Munich  School of Arts and Crafts. There he became friends with Cuno Amiet (1868-1961), from the German-speaking canton of Solothurn where Amiet's father was the chancellor of the canton. The two friends decided to go to Paris where they enrolled at the Academie Julian but financial difficulties forced Giacometti to return home. Meanwhile Amiet joined the artist colony around Paul Gauguin in Pont-Aven; the experience convinced him of the primacy of color in painting.  At first his work was not well-received in Basel but he won a silver medal the Universal Exposition in 1900;  his work would remain grounded in French traditions, sometimes evoking the style of the Nabis, heavily influenced as they were by Japanese wood block prints. The Yellow Girls could have been a wood  block print as easily as a painting but as a painting it is completely modern.

After Paris, Giacometti found the isolation of life in Stampa unbearable and traveled south to Rome in 1893 where he had the good fortune to find a mentor  in Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899). Under the more experienced painter's influence he came to appreciate the  beauty inherent in the mountainous Swiss landscape.  During his lifetime Segantini was one of Europe's most famous painters. 

Felix Vallotton (1865-1925) was born into a conservative middle class family in French-speaking Lasuanne. He arrived in Paris at the beginning of 1882, working as an art restorer and an art critic for a newspaper back in Lausanne. His paintings began to attract Swiss patrons at  he same he was experimenting with printing techniques. In 1892 he joined  the Nabis,  a Vallotton's landscapes are always spectacular,  their extreme simplification  through bands of bright colors curving and bending, expressive of movement in nature although not strictly representational. His painting style was influenced by his experiments with prints where line is a primary means of communication. 

All three artists share an interest in the effects of light on a landscape of theatrical proportions, intensified by their imaginative use of bold colors.  These works are currently on view at the Musee d'Orsay in Paros as part of Swiss Modernities (1890-1914) from 19 May - 25 July 2021.

You can access the Swiss art database here in four languages (English, French, German, Italian).

Images:

1. Giovanni Giacometti - Primavera, 1905, tempura on canvas, Bundner Kunstmuseum, Chur.

2. Cuno Amiet - The Yellow Girls, 1905, oil on fiberboard, private collection.

3. Felix Vallatton - Effect of Evening Light on Lac Leman, 1900, Tempura on cardboard.

05 May 2021

Portrait Of A Vespertine Flower: Amy Lamb

 "the narcotic breath of beauty and bane" - Linda Marie Van Tassell

Datura goes by many names: thornapple, jimsonweed moonflower, devil's trumpet, hells bells

Lamb thinks of her flower paintings as portraits. "I often print my images very large to allow the viewer to delve into the 'soul' of the flower." Here she creates an image rich in chiaroscuro; the purple bloom has, as if by magic, soaked up all the available light.  The bundled strands of the neck erupt into a flamboyant flurry or ruffles, like old-fashioned crinolines. Purple Datura, typically of Lamb's work, examines the distinctive forms and colors of plants, "the amazing engineering that goes into plants." Inspired to train as a molecular biologist by her fascination with biodiversity, Lamb only began to study photography after her children had grown up.

Lamb grows most of the plants she photographs in her home garden in Bethesda, Maryland.  She relishes the opportunity it gives her to observe the life cycles of plants and to choose the perfect photographic moment. "I like the fact that there's a lot of nature that's not under my control, that in order to do what I do, I have to conform to the plant."

As an artist-scientist, Lamb is heir to a tradition that stretches  back to Maria Sibiyla Merian (1647-1717) who was an early, significant contributor to entomology as well as a scientific illustrator through the Canadian Mary Vaux Walcott  (1860-1940) who meet her geologist husband in 1913 while she was hiking the Canadian Rockies in search of flowers to paint.

Image: Amy Lamb - Purple Datura, 2015, digital print of a photograph, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.

25 April 2021

Snoopy Sees The Earth From Sunrise To Sunset


 











In Snoopy Sees The World Wrapped In Sunset  the world, in the shape and color of the sun, is surrounded by its own color.  The yellow stripes represent the color that we associate with the sun while the reds and oranges represent the heat that emanates from it. Like several other paintings from this time, Snoopy Sees The World Wrapped In Sunset shares some visual similarities with pointillism but not its enervated reliance on a color formula that 19th century European artists mistook for science.

Awed by the Apollo landing on the moon in 1969, Thomas conceived a series of "Space' paintings.  Her take on space also had a light-hearted side. "When Apollo was put into orbit, Peanuts' Charlie Brown left Snoopy spinning around to enjoy the unbelievable," she said in 1972. Snoopy got his own series of seven pictures.   

Then, in Snoopy Sees A Sunrise, the sun is shown in the cool colors -  blue, purple, and mauve,  - that characterize the Earth Shadow that appears above the pink anti-twilight, visible in the eastern sky at sunset. Stretching for nearly 180 degrees it curves, showing us the shadow we cannot see, an astronomical iteration of the parable of Plato's cave. 

Alma Thomas (1891-1978) was African-American artist who began painting in a representational style but, under the influence of Lois Maillou Jones, her style became more abstract. Although she painted throughout her life, Thomas did n ot become a full-time artist until she was sixty-nine. At the age of eighty in 1972 Thomas became the first female African-American artist to receive a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum. "Who would ever have dreamed that somebody like me would make it to the Whitney in New York?" Thomas said at the time.  But some activist groups accused the museum of tkenism, of using a few token black artists to camouflage a general lack of progress. Although she taught junior high school art for thirty-five years, Thomas was active in the local art scene and pushed back against discrimination wherever she encumbered it. 

Something else to know about Thomas is that she liked to give fanciful and suggestive titles to her abstraction such as Winds Dancing With Spring Flowers and Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers.

For more about Alma Thomas go here.

Images: 

1. Alma Thomas - Snoopy Sees The Earth Wrapped In Sunset, 1970,  acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC.

2, Alma Thomas - Snoopy Sees A Sunrise, 1970, acrylic on canvas, Smithsinian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC.