05 May 2021
25 April 2021
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.
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 nt 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. Although she taught junior high school art for thirty-five years Thomas was avtive in the local art scene and pushed back against discrimination wherever she encumbered it.
For more about Alma Thomas go here.
Image: Alma Thomas - Snoopy Sees The Earth Wrapped In Sunset, 1970, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC.
15 April 2021
"If life is a game of cards, we are born without knowledge of the rules yet we must play our own hand." - Niki de Saint Phalle
I. Like the Guggenheim Musuem's Hilma af Klint exhibition in 2019, two exhibitions of works by Niki de Saint Phalle, one at MoMA PS1 and the other at the National Academy of Design, are revelatory, at least for Americans. The French-American Saint Phalle 's reputation has continued to grow since her death in 2002.
The term Nana is French slang equivalent calling women chicks. The Nanas that Saint Phalle created are playful and ambiguous at the same time. Voluptuous and triumphant, they embody the woman who conquers through her fertility, as opposed the aggressive and warlike behavior of men. Saint Phalle often said she liked to see men smaller than women, as portrayed by her sculpture The Blind Man and the Cow. Saint Phalle had been transfixed in horror by the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The seeds of her fighting feminism had been planted in childhood.
At first Saint Phalle's Nanas were interior pieces of a small scale but they grew bigger and more imposing as time went on. Saint Phalle intended them to command the public spaces they inhabited. This required a change from papier mache and wool to materials that could withstand the elements, so she began to work with hard resins. When she placed three Nanas on a public square in Hannover, Germany in 1974, there was grumbling from the city fathers who felt encroached upon by the exuberant figures.
How the Tarot Garden came to be built in Garavicchio. Members of the Agnelli family, wealthy industrialists, donated land for the project, the site of an abandoned quarry, Saint Phalle hired local laborers to help her and work began in 1979. The Tarot Garden would take up two decades of the artist's life. She did not want to be supported by a patron as her hero, Gaudi, had been by Eusebi Guell who got to have the Parc named for himself. Saint Phalle needed to raise millions to fund her garden so, to that end, she developed and marketed an eponymous perfume in a flask she designed adorned with entwined serpents.
The Empress Nane was completed in 1983; Saint Phalle into its interior, a comfortable womb-like curivilinear space with no sharp corners. Like all the figures in the Tarot Garden, this one was decorated with mosaic tiles in designs as artful as lacework and although Saint Phalle had been hostile to organized religion since childhood, the Tarot Garden expressed her understanding of the spiritual aspect of life.
Weakened from decades of breathing the toxin dust of the fiberglass and polyester resins she had worked with, Niki de Saint Phalle died on May 21, 200 in La Jolla, California.
II. When Niki de Saint Phalle was born in Paris in 1930, her father Andre, was in New York trying to salvage his family's bank and having affairs. A member of an aristocratic family whose lineage was traced back to the Crusades, Andre was married to an extremely religious American woman, Jeanne.Harper. She often told the little girl that she had cried all the way through her pregnancy. Jeanne had a cold temperament that warmed to violence directed at her five children. Mere months after Niki was born, her parents left her in the care of her grandparents while they moved to New York City. Living in a chateau, surrounded by servants and governesses, Niki felt abandoned and lonely. At the age of ten she was sent to a convent school; the anger she felt at being denied the education offered to her younger brother planted the seed of her feminism
Saint Phalle looked back her on eleventh year as the year of enfer (hell). First she was frightened by a snake and then her father began to abuse her sexually, "like a dirty old man in a cinema." As an adult, she would exorcise her demons through art. A legacy of her troubled childhood was the pairing of opposing forces, creation with destruction and joy with fear. "I've learned through my art to tame the things that scare me."
Saint Phalle married the writer Harry Mathews when she was eighteen. They had a daughter, Laura, and moved to Paris in 1952 but the next year Saint Phalle had a nervous breakdown. Hospitalized for six weeks she began to paint. Her discovery of Antoni Gaudi's architecture in Barcelona captivated her and she soon began to incorporate shards of colored glass and china into her paintings.
Saint Phalle left her husband and two children in 1960 to devote herself to her work. Searching for an outlet for her aggressions, the next year she hit on the novel idea of plastering bags of paint to canvas and then shooting them with a rifle. She described it as "murder with no victims." To Saint Phalle the choice was either art or terrorism. Public demonstrations in four countries made her an international sensation of the avant-garde art world. With that, the first artist of the 21st century was launched.
Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures For Life is on view at MoMA PS1 in New York City until September 6, 2021.
Images: Niki de Saint Phalle, courtesy of The Tarot Garden, Garavicchio, Italy, except as noted.
1. Moon sculpture, Tarot Garden. 2. The Blind Man on the Prairie, courtesy of the Pompidou Center, Paris. 2. Interior room in The Empress sculpture, Tarot Garden. 4. The Tarot Garden at Garavcchio, Italy.
07 April 2021
She willed her works to her nephew who offered them to the Moderna Musset in Stockholm; the gift was declined.
26 March 2021
To medieval thinkers, everything on earth was a sign, what was visible was only worth what it could extract from the invisible. The waning of religion left a vacuum that nostalgia filled. The Saint John's Hospital was one of the oldest buildings in Bruges, a 12th century palace of healing. Painted by Fernand Khnopff in 1904, its reflection in the water reveals more of the building than the artist showed.
According to Pol de Mont, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Khnopff described to him in 1901 the many hours he spent playing with his younger brother Georges in the cellar of the family's home in Bruges. His vivid memories of staring out windows that were just above the waterline of the canal ,may have been the source of his later idiosyncratically cropped images.
Fernand Khnopff was fascinated by the mysteries religion, from the orthodox to the occult. He was attracted to the Salon de la Rose + Croix that ...art as a religion. His pictures are meditations on transience, often done in grisaille. He was inspired by Georges Rodenbach's comment on pastels as a metaphor for memory, images "half erased ... fading like a pastel drawing that has not been kept under glass, allowing the chalk to disperse." What Rodenbach made of Bruges was a metaphor for death. The publication of his novel Bruges-la-Morte in 1892 made his reputation. By the late 19th century the canals had become polluted carriers of disease. For both men Bruges functioned as a 'soulscape." In symbolic iconography, reflections signal the differences between perception and reality.
Khnopff''s adroit ways of keeping the curious at a distance were themselves works of art; he cooperated with interviewers throughout his career but only on his terms. His description of his only known return to Bruges in 1904 never varied: he told his friend Leon Tombu that h had donned dark glasses before leaving the train and he never removed them while outdoors, True or not, this story had a similar antecedent in Khoppff's hometown: after his grandfather died in 1868 he never went there again. Rodenbach, who never returned to his birthplace in Ghent, spoke of it constantly, according to his children.
Khnopff's father was a royal magistrate in Bruges where the family had lived since 1726. Originally from Austria, the family had been elevated to the nobility by the Holy Roman Emperor in 1621. Several generations has served as lawyers and judges in the Austrian Netherlands. Belgium had only become an independent nation in 1830. The family home was located a 1 Langestraat with a view of the Quai vert (Green Quay).
"Where life was concentrated in two or three rooms and where the salons were only used once a year for official receptions, only afterward to be closed once again for the length of the long silent winter nut also in the desolation of the summers. Grandiose dwellings, palaces of oblivion and solemnity..." _ Hippolyte Fierens-Gevaert.
Khnopff's Memling Plaatz is a surreal island, threatened with inundation..by a rising tide. The plaza and the base of the memorial to Hans Memling are realistically rendered but where is the statue commemorating the 15th century painter. When he was asked, Khnopff claimed he had never seen the statue. The painter may have been channeling the history of how Bruges hd been left for dead. Miraculously, it had become an accidental port by virtue of a tidal wave tht swept inland in 1134. In response, the citizens of Bruges had constructed a web of canals to take advantage of their good fortune. Gradually as they continued to dredge eventually the River Zwijn silted in leaving the city marooned at permanent low tide. By the 15th century Bruges had entered a twilight world. The glorious art and architecture remained, confirming its irrelevance in an industrial age. Perhaps this was what Arthur Rimbaud had in mind when he opined that the French would have been second rate Symbolists without the Belgians.
Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921) - Abandoned City (Memling Plaatz - Bruges), 1904, pastel and pencil on paper mounted on canvas, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.
Fernand Khnopff - In Bruges. Saint Jan's Hospital (circa 1904) pastel on paper, Hearn Family Trust, NYC
Fernand Khnopff - Memories of Bruges, 1889, pastel on paper mounted on canvas, Royal Museum of Fine arts, Brussels
22 March 2021
Henri Le Sidaner (1862-1939) was born just as the Impressionists were preparing to overturn realism in painting and he died just as abstraction was peeking its nose under the art tent like some mischievous camel. To our eyes he may look like a particularly sweet Impressionist but Le Sidaner was, rather, an adherent of Symbolism, another reaction to realistic art. The potted version is that Symbolists expressed truths through metaphorical images (works as well in literature as in art). His friend Gabriel Moury described Le Sidaner as "a mystic who has no faith."
His contemporaries compared Le Sidaner to the great novelists and playwrights of the movement: "The Rodenbach of Painting" and "The Maeterlinck of Painting." Both men were Belgians. Georges Rodenbach was the author of Bruges-la-Morte (1892), said to be the first novel illustrated by photographs and Maurice Maeterlinck was a Flemish poet who wrote in French and was awarded the Nobel Literature Prize in 1911. His paintings get a mention in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time
Le Sidaner, the child of Breton parents, was born on the island of Mauritius. He was a contemporary of the Post-Impressionists and studied art in Paris with an academic artist but for his own painting, he looked to the Symbolist movement in turn of the century Belgium. He moved to the village of Gerboroy in 1898 where he could paint in solitude and cultivate his gardens but that did not mean that he set his easel outdoors. Le Sidaner preferred to paint from memory which pulled a scrim between the painting and the viewer.
Like Whistler, Le Sidaner saw potential in liminal times of the day, those moments when the sensory threshold is about to be crossed. The white garden, that Le Sidaner designed, was surrounded by sandy walkways, rows of white pinks (Dianthus plumairius) formed its border, the trees were white weeping roses and a white bench provided a resting place for contemplation. Its design harked back to a medieval hortus conclusis, an enclosed garden with roots in the Song of Solomon: "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up." The eye is invited to enter the painting through an expanse of empty lawn, follows back to the balustrades and the steps to arrive at the barely visible red dot of the setting sun. With or without the symbolic elements, Le Sidaner's paintings reach out to the viewer.
Image: Heniri Le Sidaner - Le Jardin blanc au crepuscule (The White Garden at Twilight), 1912, oil on canvas, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.
15 March 2021
"One takes, moreover, an acute satisfaction in seeing America stretch out her long arm and rake in, across the green cloth of the wide Atlantic, the highest prizes of the game of civilization." - Henry James, from "The American Purchase of Meisssonier's 'Friedland,"
When Henry James wrote this in 1876 he was a young man. By the time he came to write the short novel The Outcry in 1911 he was in is sixties and had been living in England for decades. In The Outcry James took the opposite position. Times had changed for the British aristocracy. In the wake of the collapse in grain prices they had been rendered land poor, reduced to selling their old master paintings to culture climbing American millionaires like J.P. Morgan and Henry Clay Frick.
Mechanized steamships had caused the collapse of grain prices as trans-Atlantic trade enabled the United States to export its grain to Europe. Over a period of just nine years the price of wheat dropped from twenty cents a ton down to two cents. The British and Russian land barons were hit especially hard by this; the famines on the Russian steppes would not be forgotten by the peasants; their descendants flocked to support the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917.
A similar upheaval but a much worse one took place in Norway, an entirely different society from its European neighbors. Norway in the 19th century was a poor country in an undeveloped state, its people subsisted mostly off nature as farmers and fishermen with a small class of carpenters and cobblers.
However hygiene was improving by mid-century so people were living longer but the soil could not support the larger population and agriculture collapsed, forcing people to migrate to the cities. Industrialization came late to Norway and when it did it was sudden and brutal. Kristiana, as Oslo was then known, grew from 17,000 in 1800 to 230,000 in 1901.
From tiny farm communities where everyone knew everyone going back generations and the pace of life was slow, Norwegians were thrust onto an urban treadmill where undreamt-of speed became the pace of their days, where they might see hundreds of strangers in a single day. The wonder was that even neighbors could be strangers in the city. The need to constantly defend oneself from over-stimulation led to the use of coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol ...
Edvard Munch (1863-1944), painter of emotional extremes lived through these disorienting times. Located on the outer edge of Europe, a third of Norway was above the Artic Circle. How desolate was this place? The novelist Mary Shelley had sent her Frankenstein off to die in its Arctic wastes. From notes he left behind we know that this jittery atmosphere inspired The Scream (the best-known pastel version was created in 1893).
A brief historical note on the term "old masters." The term first came into use after the French Revolution to distinguish pre-revolutionary artists from then contemporary artists who were held to be 'modem masters.'
1. unidentified artist - Countryside Around Dixton Manor- Gloucester, England, 19th century, reprinted from The Observer, 4 November 1979.
2. Edvard Munch - The Scream, 1893, oil, tempura, and pastel on cardboard, National Gallery of Norway/ Munch Museum, Oslo.
07 March 2021
Though he knew the time the pentimenti rise - / half-visible, half brine-swept fish, their plunged shapes/ picking the mind - toward the end, only revision mattered:/ to look again, more deeply, harder, clearer,/ the one redemption granted us to ask." - excerpt from "History As The Painter Bonnard" by Jane Hirshfield, from The October Palace, New York, HarperCollins: 1994
There is a story that may or may not be true, that Pierre Bonnard was arrested in the Louvre, paintbrush and palette in hand, standing in front of one of his own paintings, reconsidering and retouching it. That it has come down to us ...suggests how plausible it seemed to the artist's friends, whether or not true.
The dog on the terrace may gave this painting its title but could be the last thing you notice about the picture. The view from the terrace draws the eye first. What a pleasant and varied vista, a landscape with trees and fields and a brook running by. Then the cloth laid on the diagonal in the lower right corner opposite the stairs catches the eye; a cup and saucer, a spoon, and a pot are at the ready for a petit dejeuner en plein air. Only then de we notice the little dog curled up by the garden wall. This too is bonnarding, painting as an adventure. The process is the point.
Bonnard has been claimed as the first abstract expressionist for the immediacy of his brushwork, full of flexibility and improvisation. Looking at a Bonnard painting, especially later ones, we sense his pleasure at moving paint around on the canvas. He simplified his subject matter the better to concentrate on formal elements, color, shape, etc.
Unlike the Impressionists, contemporaries of his youth, Bonnard was uninterested in painting en plein air. He was perfectly content to paint the view from his window or terrace. Instead of paining at an easel, Bonnard tacked his canvas to a wall. A restless spirit, he usually had several canvases in progress at a time. Sometimes he even painted several subjects on a single canvas, to cut up later when they were finished. His eccentricities extended to mixing his paints. Rather than use a palette, Bonnard mixed his colors on plates, walking back and forth from the wall to a table where he haad arranged the plates to his liking.
It was in 1904 that Bonnard discovered the Midi when he visited his friends from the days of the Nabis, Ker-Xavier Roussel Edouard Vuillard ,at Saint-Tropez. The light and the vegetation came as a revelation to the Parisian. "I had a thousand and one nights...The sea, the yellow walls, the reflections as colourful (sic) as the lights." From then on Bonnard spent his winters in a succession of rented houses until, in 1922, he purchased :a house in Le Cannet. Le Bosquet, the pink house became, along with his companion Marthe and a series of little dachshunds, all the inspiration he needed.
Image: Pierre Bonnard - Chien sur la terrasse (Dog on the ..The sea, the yellowwTerrace), 1917, oil on canvas, Musee d'Orsay, Patis.
28 February 2021
Dusty Springfield that's a pretty name
It even sounds like a game
In a green field hobby horses play the game when it's May
Pink and paisley skies shining n green eyes
A magic pin wheel
Flowers in her hair
Silver star shine over crystal waters
Petal pretty as a pearl
What a pretty girl.
s fall from her glance
With a dew of morning, feathers float from her dance
Suddenly the song's the thing
Fill your cup, come to the spring
And you'll stand so still
You'll feel the thrill
- "Dusty Springfield" words & music by Jim Council, Blossom Dearie, & Norma Tanega
On March 2 it will be twenty-two years since Dusty Springfield died. Widely regarded as the greatest British pop singer of the 20th century, but still underrated according to her peers. Elvis Costello: "(I)t's one of the greatest voices in pop music, without doubt. And I don't really think she's ever got credit for that because people concentrate on the icon aspect of it. You know, the hair and the eyelashes and the hand gestures."
Springfield's career still inspires: she was a woman who made the life she wanted from the life she was given. At the beginning of her solo career in 1963 Springfield hid that she produced her records, fearing the public would react negatively to a female singer who took the credit. The music business seemed agreed that female singers did not know what was best for them, that there needed to be a man in charge. An interesting footnote is that Brian Epstein, a manager who would have had his hands full even if the Beatles were his only clients - and they were not - said he wished he could have managed Springfield's career. Soon after the Springfields group split up in 1963, Vic Billings became her manager; their association is still regarded as one of the best manager/artist relationships of the 1960s.
Born Mary O'Brien in suburban London, she attended a Catholic girls' school where she played field hockey in spite of severe nearsightedness. The sisters at St. Anne's didn't see much of a future for the plump redheaded tomboy but Mary was determined: "I just decided, in one afternoon, to be this other person who was going to make it." She bleached her hair and developed a unique style of makeup, believing that looking like a different person would help her become that person. Her teenage nickname Dusty ,combined with Springfield, the name of a vocal group founded by her older brother, completed the transformation.
Finding her voice apart from the Springfields began in 1962 while the group was en route to Nashville to record an album. During a stopover in New York City Dusty took a late night walk when she became transfixed by a song piped over a loudspeaker at the famous (motto: "I found it at the Colony") Record Store on Broadway at 52nd Street. The song was "Tell Him" by the girl group the Exciters. Springfield later described the experience: "The Exciters sort of got you by the throat ... out of the blue comes blasting at you "I know something about love" and that's it." You can trace a direct line to Dusty's first solo hit "I Only Want To Be With You" in November 1963
Soon she was meeting the songwriters who would contribute so much to the Springfield songbook. Dusty met Carole King at the Brill Building where King and her husband Gerry Goffin wrote their hits in a small studio. "(S)he was this little thing with lots of hair and I thought "my God, all this music comes out of you." On another song-hunting trip to New York, Dusty flew over for a day to have dinner with Burt Bacharach: from that trip she brought back "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself."
Since her death in 1999, it has become known that Dusty Springfield's romantic relationships were with other women, a subject she avoided discussing publicly during her lifetime for fear it would destroy her career.
Norma Tanega (1939-2019) was a Native American singer-songwriter who came to England in 1966, where shea met Dusty Springfield. The two lived together in Kensington for five years. During that time Tanega wrote several evocative songs for Dusty - No Stranger Am I, The Colour of Your Eyes English lyrics for Nana Caymmi's Bom Dia (Morning), Midnight Sounds, Earthbound Gypsy, Go My Love (released posthumously, with melody taken from J.S. Bach), and English lyrics for Antonio Carlos Jobim's La Strada do sol (Come For A Dream).
Springfield's affinity for black American music ran deep. She described her June 1964 stint performing with Martha & the Vandellas at the Brooklyn Fox Theater as "the biggest thrill of my life," To have persuaded her British label to allow her first two albums to consist of mostly cover version of black songs was a daring move at the time. Springfield had embarked on a tour of South Africa in December 1964 that...After performing before an integrated audience in Capetown the singer was reprimanded and deported. The affair caused a scandal back home where artists who had enjoyed lucrative tours of South Africa condemned her refusal to perform for segregated audiences because it made them look unprincipled, which they were.
Madeleine Bell (b.1942) appeared in Black Nativity: A Gopel Song Play by Langston Hughes when it debuted off- Broadway in 1961. Although the initial run was not long its impact and influence was ... Bell came to England with the review and at a New Year's Eve party in 1963 she met Dusty Springfield. The musical relationship that developed between the two was one of several such between church-trained African American vocalists including Gloria Jones and Doris Troy who, along with Bell would work as Springfield's backing vocalists beginning with In the Middle of Nowhere, recorded in March, 1965. The call and response between the lead singer and the backup singers made for a close interaction that was energizing to the material in a way British audiences were not accustomed to.
Blossom Dearie (1924-2009) composed song tributes to artists she admitted - Hey John about her excitement on meeting John Lennon, Sweet Georgie Fame for the British jazz singer and Dusty Springfield. Dearie had often mentioned Springfield as bein one of her favorite singers.
And yes, that was her real name. Dearie is a name that goes back to 13th century Britain; her father was of Scots-Irish descent and her Norwegian mother called the girl Blossom. Dearie was born in East Durham, Albany County, New York. She moved to Paris in 1952 where she formed a successful jazz vocal group, the Blue Stars.
In the early 1960s, Dearie began to appear in London jazz clubs like Ronnie Scott's, where she recorded two popular live albums. It's possible that Springfield heard Dearie perform there: Springfield's tastes were eclectic stretching from rhythm and blues to jazz to Brazilian music and even standards and folk music. Both singers performed songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Springfield recorded a song associated with Dearie - Sweet Lover No More. Their voices were as dissimilar as chalk and cheese; Dearie's a light, girlish soprano and Springfield's a dusky contralto.
For more: Let's Talk Dusty
1. Dezo Hoffmann - Dusty Springfield at San Remo Song Festival in front of Savoy Hotel, January 1965.
2. unidentified photographer - Dusty Springfield in the late 1970s.
21 February 2021
13 February 2021
Words don't adequately express my delight in the figure of the little in the striped dress playing the trombone, the trombone that is longer than she is tall. Part of the fun of lookin at Jenkins Street Band is in picking out the musicians and their instruments. I see a cornet player, a trumpeter, and a saxophone player wearing a wild checked jacket. That could be another musician wearing the polka dotted bow tie or it could someone holding a collection box.
During the 1940s the painter Norman Lewis was moving from the social realism he had practiced in the 1930s toward the new thing: abstraction. Doubtful that overt commentary would bring about change and believing that "The goal of the artist must be aesthetic development," Lewis used gestural drawing (seen here in Jenkins Street Band from 1946) to make the transition. You can almost hear the improvisational playing of these street musicians through the ease and freedom of line in Lewis's drawing.
Street bands were a common sight in Harlem where Norman Lewis grew up. The child of immigrants from Bermuda, Lewis (b.1909) was always keen on art but the family's resources went to Norman's older brother's music lessons. Saul Lewis would eventually play with the Count Basie and Chick Webb bands. Harlem in the 1920s was a mecca for the well-to-do (white) downtown crowd lured by the hot new jazz. that played in storied venues like the Cotton Club and Small's Paradise. But there was no shortage of music on the street, of locals who wanted to play and those who wanted to listen. You didn't need to have money to hear music in Harlem.
To read more about Norman Lewis
Hear more Street Music here.
Image: Norman Lewis - Jenkins Street Band, 1944, oil on canvas, Smithsonian Museum of Art, Washington, DC.
06 February 2021
We think of assemblage as an art form of the 1960s but Object by the French artist Claude Cahun dates from 1936. Typically her assemblages were ephemeral and made only to last long enough for her partner Marcel Moore (given name Suzanne Malherbe) to photograph them. Object is the only three dimensional work that still exists as Cahun created it.
Nothing Cahun used in the making of Object was left in its original form. A painted tennis ball became the tilted eye. For the surrealists the eye symbolized inward-looking, made popular by psychoanalysis. Cloud-shaped white wood hovers behind someone's real brown hair that Cahun glued on. A hand that originally belonged on a department store mannequin appears to have written the words on the yellow board.
The words written on the yellow base are their own an assemblage. "The Marseillaise is a revolutionary song, the law punishes counterfeiters with forced labor." (English translation) The first is a slogan used by the anit-Fcsist Popular Front, winners of France's 1936 legislative elections, the second is warning that appears on Belgian currency. The references are ambiguous; Cahun was dissatisfied with the Surrealists for their lack of political involvement and questioned the commitment of the Popular Front groups
Cahun (1894-1954), whose given name was Lucy Schwob, took part in two Surrealist exhibitions the year of Object, one in Paris and the other in London. She was also one of many who attracted the ire of the irascible Surrealist Andre Breton. She created her works for herself and had no interest in fame. Lost from view after her untimely death, Cahun's work was only rediscovered in the 1990s by a generation who found simpatico in her fluid identity. "Shuffle the cards. Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me."
Image: Claude Cahun - Object, 1936, wood, paint, tennis ball, hair and found objects, Art Institute of Chicago.
27 January 2021
20 January 2021
13 January 2021
Image: Pierre-Auguste Renoir - The Luncheon, 1875, oil on canvas, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia
06 January 2021
05 January 2021
these guys are: I'm bored.
It's been raining like hell all day long
and there's nothing to do."
- "At the California Institute of Technology" by Richard Brautigan, January 1967
Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) is remembered today as a novelist, and an experimental one at that, but he began his writing career as a poet in the 1960s. Brautigan was appointed Poet in Residence for the spring semester in 1967 at the California Institute of Technology. As you can tell by reading this poem, he was not favorably by impressed by the weather in Pasadena. An odd sentiment for someone who came from Tacoma, Washington. But rain in winter seems more depressing somehow than spring rain; the earth stays inert and dull looking. The palette Richard Haines uses for Winter Rain is drab, with only touches of blue and yellow to underline the vertical displacement that figures seen through rain take on.
Rain is one of several subjects Vincent van Gogh painted over and over, as though the subject was inexhaustible, as it was for him. There are van Gogh rain paintings that I would do without. His shoes were another favorite subject and I have linked to my earlier post about Vincent's love of books and the ways he included them in paintings.
The arrangement of the figures in Winter Rain comes from the years Richard Haines worked on W.P.A. mural projects during the 1930s.
Richard Haines (1906-1984) was born on a farm in Iowa and began working as an illustrator for greeting cards and calendars before formally studying art at the Minneapolis School of Art. While there Haines became interested in painting murals ( a popular medium in early 20th century America), winning a scholarship that took him to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1933. Moving to Los Angeles in 1941 to work in an aircraft factory, he stayed after the was ended to teach at the Chouinard Institute of Art and later headed the painting department at the Otis Institute. His work itself as well as influence on his students.is evident all around the city.
Image: Richard Haines - Winter Rain, before 1948, watercolor and charcoal, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
01 January 2021
In 1878 van Gogh came to the Borinage, a coal mining region in southern Belgium, where he had been assigned to minister to the people of the village of Cuesmes. At twenty-five, Vincent's trajectory in life seemed to be heading determinedly downward. The eighteen year old who had shown such promise as an art dealer at the prestigious firm of Goupil et Cie in Paris erred by revealing his wealthy clients his candid opinions of the works he was selling. He liked to read so he tried his hand at bookselling in Amsterdam but ignored potential customers. Then, thinking he could follow in his father's footsteps by becoming a minister, Vincent only succeeded in putting his parishioners to sleep. And so he was consigned to the lowest work the church offered, as a missionary to the poor coal miners of Cuesmes.
Persuading an elderly miner to take him down into the mines, van Gogh entered a living hell, a bee hive of cramped chambers where entire families labored because women and children were smaller than the men, and could navigate the narrow passages more efficiently. Emile Zola's masterpiece Germinal, published in 1885,describes their plight in harrowing detail while Misere au Borinage, a famous documentary made in 1933, showed how little had changed since van Gogh's time.
While conducting bible studies in the homes of the miners, van Gogh was stricken by their squalid living conditions. He became obsessed with the desire to share their plight, giving away his clothes and food and even going so far as to give up bathing so that his skin would be permeated by the grime that the miners could never seem to wash off. Vincent's identification with the suffering of others lacked boundaries and so it would be, sometimes, with ruthlessness. The same Vincent was capable of killing a butterfly the better to paint it.
When a church official named Rochedieu (means Rock of God - a name fit for Pilgrim's Progress!) came from Brussels on an inspection tour, he was horrified by van Gogh's condition and sacked him on the spot. Losing yet another job when he yearned to give of himself to others devastated Vincent. (It was the inability of his French-speaking superiors to spell van Gogh correctly that led the artist to refer to himself as Vincent.
Van Gogh had been living in a little miner's house where he retreated in despair for a year. It took another year of struggle for him to assemble a group of drawings to take with him to Brussels; his letters to his brother Theo describe how, through his anguish, Vincent found his vocation.
Vincent took his drawings to Brussels in 1880 where he showed them to his mentor, Reverend Peterson, who saw something in them that transcended Vincent's lack of formal training and so Vincent persevered.
1. Jean-Paul Grandmont - The house where Vincent van Gogh lived in Cuesmes, photograph, 2005. (Note: the Miason van Gogh is now a museum)
2. Vincent van Gogh - Coal Miners, September, 1880, pencil on paper, Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterloo, Netherlands.
22 December 2020
"Somehow, not only for Christmas,