25 January 2019

Now They Tell Us: Fede Galizia's Delicious Still Life






















At this remove, I don't remember the name of the painter was who was credited with creating the modern still life in my art history studies.  What I do know is that it wasn't Fede Galizia (1578-c.1630) or any other woman because that was an all but unthinkable idea four decades ago.  Now we know better thanks to the researches of many pioineering women, including Judy Chicago who memorialized Galizia in her magnum opus  The Dinner Party and  historian Linda Nochlin.  What Nochlin wrote about the  photographic clarity of Galizia's portraits is equally true of her still lifes, that they are "unfiltered by idealizing conventions or the artist's own personality."

Until the Renaissance, paintings were usually based on religious or allegorical themes with inanimate objects playing a subsidiary role as symbols underlining its themes.  With the introduction of mathematical perspective by Leon Battista Alberti, objects were seen as enticing subjects in themselves.  It was not that objects changed their appearance but rather that  artists changed their minds about what verisimilitude looked like.  

What keeps this gorgeous picture from looking stiff is the trajectory created by the placement of the jasmine, drawing the eye on diagonal paths across the canvas.   With an indeterminate background and a light source that emanates from slightly above the level of the table, the eye needs direction and Galizia provides it subtly and surely.  The velvety texture of  peach skin and its tactile roundness seems to swell with a sensuous tumescence in contrast to the sheerness and hardness of glass The enameled skin of the pears and the porousness of the cut half pear contributes to this image of the pleasures of the sensuous world. 

A glass compote remained unknown until the late 20th century when the art critic and Galizia biographer Flavio Caroli authenticated it.   Since then the painting has been exhibited publicly, for the first time in 1994.

"It is a small panel..
Image:, 
Fede Galizia - A glass compote with peaches, jasmine flowers, quinces, and a grasshopper, 12 x 17 in., private collection, U.S., courtesy of Sotheby's, NYC.

21 January 2019

Landscape with Farmstead


A fence running along a road beside a farm, a small mill in the distance; it doesn't sound unusual in any way.  Take a drive in the country and you will pass similar scenes.  But this rendition is peculiarly satisfying and you do not need to know that it was  painted by the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn in the 17th century to be enjoy it.

So much gets conveyed with a minimum number of strokes.  Take the fence beginning in the foreground  and curving back toward the farm house: with thick brush strokes the artist outlines it in rich strokes but then changes his instrument to wispy pen scratches.  By this means, he creates an impression of depth and perspective that your eye, once persuaded, follows into (rather than say, upward on the paper) the distance where the farm house sits.   

The soft rose wash that covers the entire scene gives it a soft effect that has led to the longstanding alternative title Winter Landscape.  Ant yet - the row of trees that forms a windbreak in the flat landscape is full of foliage.  Those blank roofs may not be covered with snow after all.  They may be rendered featureless by the daylight.

Rembrandt is known to have made a series of pen and ink drawings of rural scenes around the time he executed Landscape With Farmstead (1650).  Their spontaneity underlines rather than undercuts his mastery of the medium.  They also foretell the artist's increasing use of detail in painting, but that is another story.   Minor works in Rembrandt's catalog, their retain a freshness and immediacy, these mementos of his rambles through the countryside  around Amsterdam.  

A poem of plural rural seasons seems an apt accompaniment to Landscape With Farmstead.  British poet Philip Larkin grew up in Shropshire, a county of flat lands and fertile soils in the English Midlands, not so far removed from the maritime climate of the west Netherlands.

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly tumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too
Earth's immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

  -  "First Sight" by Philip Larkin from The Whitsun Weddings, London, Faber & Faber: 1964

Image: 
Rembrandt - Landscape With Farmstead,  brown ink, brown wash, black chalk on laid paper, prepared with light rose-brown wash,  2 5/8 inches by 6 5/16 inches, Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.

17 January 2019

Kay Walkingstick: Face of Stars


"I can hear the sizzle of newborn stars,
and know anything of meaning,
of the fierce magic emerging here.
I am witness to flexible eternity, the evolving past,
and I know we will live forever, as dust or breath in the face of stars,
in the shifting pattern of winds."
 - Joy Harjo from Secrets From the Center of the World, Tucson, University of Arizona Press: 1989.

Creation stories are all about beginnings but the reverse is not necessarily the case.  For millennia, the peoples of Europe, Asia, and Africa knew about each other's existence but not about the Americas, and vice versa.  They believed they were the whole world and their creation stories were based on the information they had,inaccurate though it often was.  All that changed in 1492; thanks to a ship colliding with an island that wasn't supposed to be an island,  the known world doubled as its two halves met and were forced to acknowledge the other's existence.

Metaphysical reflections are the stuff of Kay Walkingstick's art.  What might seem a decorative fresco-style painting becomes an Edenic garden because of the presence of two unexpectedly cropped human figures who appear to be dancing. The orange and blue colors recall an early Walkingstick piece Hudson Reflection VI (1973) where the colors appear as patterns reflected in water, suggesting the appearance of camouflage. Walkingstick knows we associate camouflage with subterranean military maneuvers but she likes to me remind us that camouflage is an invention of natural genius, rather than the sole property of humans.  On trips to Italy, she noted similarities between Greco-Roman frescoes, with their flat surfaces made of natural materials and her native heritage.  She borrowed ftom them a new material: gold leaf.  As she assimilated new techniques into her work, the core elements  would remain history, the body, the natural landscape.

Born in 1935, she grew up in Syracuse,NY, the daughter of S. Ralph Walkingstick, and Emma McKaig. Her father was a Cherokee from Oklahoma and her was descended from Scots-Irish immigrants.   Art was a family affair; two of Kay's uncles were artists.  Her older  brother Charles became a commercial artist and her sister, a ceramicist.  As for Kay,  "I've grown up thinking this [art] was a viable thing to do.  I've always drawn."

When Walkingstick arrived in New York City in the late 1960s, abstract expressionism was being challenged by new forms of representation and performance in the arts.  Although most of them were men, Walkingstick was undeterred in her determination to work and have that work be seen.  It was not what the public expected from a native American, namely postcard images of southwestern deserts.   Again, unexpectedly, it was the gorges near Ithaca, NY, where Walkingstick was teaching at Cornell University when her husband died suddenly in 1989, that spurred her to explore new forms she had seen abroad.  She put diptychs and triptychs to use in novel ways,  sometimes combining sculpture and painting in a single work.  Included in a recent exhibition  at the Munson-Williams- Proctor Art Institute in Utica,, NY  titled "Mythology in Contemporary Art" was a diptych by Walkingstick from their permanent collection,  Danae in Arizona Variation II (2001).

Image:
Kay Walkingstick -  ACEA V, 2003, gouache and gold acrylic on paper,  collection of the artist, courtesy of American Federation of Arts.

11 January 2019

A Romance of Ferrara


A small city of some 100,000 in northeastern Italy, Ferrara is one of the unforgettable places on the map of 20th century literature thanks to Giorgio Bassani. His works, known collectively as Il Romanza di Ferrara (The Novel of Ferrara), were published between 1958 and 1972, and just recently reissued in one handsome and newly translated volume.

"A relevant character, and by no means a minor one .... Ferrara, the city within whose bounds the events of those lives unfolded...." - excerpt from "Down There, at the End of the Corridor" by Giorgio Bassani, translated from the Italian by Jamie McKendrick

Ferrara, the settlement of a restless region, whose ancient origins are uncertain, possibly Roman, or Etruscan, or Byzantine.    Located in the Passa Badana, a low-lying delta of the Po River,  the climate is humid and the river has regularly delivered disastrous floods along with fertile soil to the region.  The old city walls survive, making an almost unbroken circuit around the city, topped by a broad tree-lined way that is popular with walkers and bicyclists.    The walls protected the residents from invaders for centuries but served to imprison the Jews of Ferrara in the interwar world.  Indeed, the walls and the riverine mists are prominent features in the lives of Bassani's characters.  

An important city during the Renaissance, its center was dominated by a cathedral and a castle.   The Ducs d'Estes were pioneers of enlightened town planning and the local cardinal was a patron of the great poet Torquato Tasso  Although its political power and influence declined over centuries, Ferrara remained prosperous.

The Jewish population of Ferrara, 700 out of 120,000 inhabitants, were prominent in civic life and politically engaged, like Bassani's father, a doctor.  Early on the Jews, like their Catholic neighbors, supported Fascism but, by the latter half of the 1930s, that position had become untenable as the movement's racist tenets marked their community as undesirable, leaving them isolated and completely alone.  Almost imperceptibly, their beloved city had become a redoubt of the Blackshirts.  The dislocation and involuntary solitude of Bassani's Ferrarese characters turned out to be the singular experience of personal life in the 20th century.

Bassani co-wrote Anontioni's 1953 film I Vinti (The Vanquished0.
Vittorio de Sica filmed Bassani's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis in 1970.
Giuliano Montaldo filmed Gli ochialli d'oro (The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles) in 1987.

For further reading:
The Novel of Ferrara by Giorgio Bassani, translated from the Italisn by Jamie McKendrick, New York, W.W. Norton: 2018,

Image:  Luigi Ghirri -  "Palazzina Marfina d'Este - Ferrara, De Primi Fine Art, Lugano.

For more about Luigi Ghirri go here and here.

05 January 2019

A Dream of the Open Road


"Cosmonauts of the autoroute, like interplanetary travellers (sic) who observe from afar the rapid aging of those who remain subject  to the laws of terrestrial time, what are we going to discover at camel speed after so many trips in airplanes, subways, and trains?"

They decided to call themselves "freeway-istas."  Their mission was simple, to load up their Volkswagen camper van (nicknamed Fafner after the dragon in Norse mythology) and take a trip from Paris to Marseilles on the AutoRoute du Sud, a limited access highway with tollbooths.  They had done this before, achieving a travel time of about ten hours.  Now, they proposed to stop at each rest stop (sixty-five of them in all, at a rate of two per day) making the trip in thirty-three days, all the while without leaving the freeway.  It was an experiment in reversing the speed that is the purpose and attraction of the modern highway.

"Parkingland is beautiful: it is ours, we are free within it, and we love it," they reported in their journal. Yet it was separated from private properties by fences. When Fafner's water pump broke they resorted to tarot cards for automotive advice.  Their dual solitude seemed to positively attract visitors.  Their only constant connection with the world at large was their dashboard radio.

They were Julio Cortazar and Carol Dunlop, two writers who had married in 1981 and their slightly surreal expedition began in May of 1982.  They knew they would write a book about their adventures so they took tongue-in-cheek scientific notes as they went.

Cortazar was born in a suburb of Brussels in 1914 while Belgium was occupied by the German army.  His mother moved with him to her native Argentina when Julio was six.  Cortazar emigrated to France in 1951 where he wrote most of his books and lived until his death in 1984.  He is best known experimental novel was Hopscotch (1963) whose chapters can read either in the order they are presented or in any other order the reader chooses.  His story Blow-Up was made into a sensational  film by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1966,  His story "The Southern Thruway", also about the AutoRoute du Sud,  influenced Jean-Luc Godard's 1967 film Week End.

Carol Dunlop was born in Quincy, Massachusetts  in 1946; she moved to Montreal where she married and gave birth to a son, Stephane Hebert, who illustrated Autonauts of the Cosmoroute.  In the 1970s Dunlop's  published  books included both fiction and nonfiction,  La solitude inachevee (1976) and Melanie dans le miroir (1980). Dunlop and Cortazar shared a strong commitment to political action, traveling to various countries, including Poland and Nicaragua.  Six months after completing  Autunauts of the Cosmoroute  Dunlop died: Cortazar died in February 1984.  This charming memento of a happy marriage is their memorial.


Pavel Pepperstein (b.1966) is a Russian artist and writer who was born in Moscow where he founded a group he called Inspection Medical Hermeneutics in 1987 with two other artists.  If the idea of storytelling  through of blend of semiotics and psychedelia sounds indigestible, not to worry.  As you can see,  Ppperstein's auto-dream El Lissitzky's Autosttrada in the Alps shows his admiration for the Russian avant-garde of the 1920s, the self-styled Suprematists. His work has been compared to that of Saul Steinberg for its use of the line style of handwriting in images as well as in words. As for the elusive Pepperstein, he salls himself a "psychedelic realist" - whatever that may be.  Only a brilliant draughtsman can pull this off.    In 2014 Pepperstein was awarded the Kandinsky Prize, Russia's highest award for contemporary art.

For further reading:
Autonauts of the Cosmoroute: a timeless voyage from Paris to Marseilles by Julio Cortazar & Carol Dunlop, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean, with drawings by Stephane Hebert (1983), Brooklyn, NY, Archipelago Books: 2007.

Image:
Pavel Pepperstein - El Lissitzky's Autosttrada in the Alps, 2017, Nahodka, London.

Read more about Pavel Pepperstein - Calvert Journal