21 May 2023

Flowers Under a Tree: Paul Georges & Gustav Klimt

The American painter Paul Georges (1923-2002) studied with Fernand Leger in Paris from 1949 to 1952 While there he met his future wife Lisette Blumenfeld at the studio of Constantine Brancusi.

Before that, in 1947, he was one of a stellar class that studied with Hans Hoffmann at Provincetown. Jane Frielicher, Wolf Kahn, and Larry Rivers all became fast friends that summer.

Georges is better known for his allegories and self-portraits but I was taken with Calla Lilies by its echoes (deliberate or by chance) to a famous landscape by the Austrian Gustav Klimt. The composition is similar and so are the colors; here Georges has chosen more angular, spiky or, if you look aslant, abstract forms. 

Before that, in 1947, he was one of a stellar class that studied with Hans Hoffmann at Provincetown. That summer Jane Freilicher, Wolf Kahn, Larry Rivers, and Georges all became fast friends at the Cape Code summer school.

His paintings are in the collections of numerous major museums are color and sound the United States. Georges died at his home in Isigny-sur-Mer, Normandy. 

In Rose Bushes Under the Trees (1904-1905),  the focus is also on color and simplified forms, vibrant greens and flattened forms that mesmerize the viewer's eye with repeating decorative patterns. Klimt's brush work is fluid and circular, suggesting the invisible presence of a passing breeze. 

I like to think that Georges may have seen Klimt's painting, in reproduction if not in person.


1. Paul Georges - Calla Lilies, 1987-1989, oil on linen, Simon Lee Gallery, London.

2. Gustav Klimt - Rose Bushed Under the Trees, circa 1904-1905, oil on canvas, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

13 May 2023

Albert Gleizes: Lazy Afternoon

"It's a lazy afternoon

And the beetle bugs are zooming

And the tulip tress are blooming

And there's not  another human in view"

    - Jerome Moross & John La Touche, lyrics for "Lazy Afternoon," a song written for the 1954 musical The Golden Apple.

Everything in Man in a Hammock means something, so there's a lot to decipher. Like every Cubist worthy of the name, Albert Gleizes plays fast and loose with traditional linear perspective - and it works brilliantly. The mobile perspective mimics the back and forth of a swinging hammock. A strong series of diagonals anchor the man to the moving hammock while, at the same time, merging him with the landscape. His right foot rests on a typical Parisian park chair. The eye is drawn to a small still life near his right hand -  a table holds a spoon, some lemons, and a glass. As he holds a book in that hand by Gleizes's friend Alexandre Mercereau, this may be a portrait of his fellow artist; so, we can intuit the town in the  background as Cretail. .

Albert  Gleizes (1881-1953) always insisted that he was the founder of Cubism. Unlike Braques and Picasso who used subdued colors in their Cubist works, Gleizes preferred to work in bright colors. Gleizes was inspired by the paintings of Alexandre Mercereau who exhibited his paintings in Moscow and Prague. The two men would collaborate in founding a utopian community a Abbaye de Cretail, a suburb of Paris.

Image: Albert Gleizes - L'homme au hamac (Man in a Hammock) 1913, oil on canvas, 56 x 67.75 inches, Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo.

01 May 2023

Winslow Homer and Working Girls

"He has chosen of the least pictorial features of the least pictorial range of scenery and civilization; he has resolutely treated them as if they were pictorial, as if they were every inch as good as Capri or Tangiers; and to reward his audacity, he has incontestably succeeded." - Henry James on Winslow Homer, from "Some Pictures Lately Exhibited." in Galaxy (July 1875)

I was taken with this farm girl's dress, its orderly rows of white dots dominating the center of the picture. The tools on the wall and the baskets and barrel form a pleasing diagonal line that opens the image out from the young girl at its center. And with what deftness the artist delineates the rooster in the lower right corner.  Fresh Eggs nicely illustrates the decorative quality that appeared in Homer's pictures in the 1870s.

Young girls, usually outdoors, working as shepherdesses or dreaming under sheltering trees. Young women, often school teachers, making their way in the post-Civil War world as it slowly opened its doors to female education and independence. Winslow Homer possessed an instinctive sympathy for them all, perhaps influenced by his close relationship with his mother, Henrietta Benson Homer, herself an amateur watercolorist and Homer's first teacher.

Image: Winslow Homer - Fresh Eggs, 1874, watercolor, gouache, and graphite on wove paper, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. 

23 April 2023

Overhead at Villa Medici: Jacopo Zucchi

"How does he know
that spring has come to the world?

         within the cage
where he wakes from sleep at daybreak -
the sound of a warbler's call."

 - Shotetsu (1381-1459), translated from the Japanese by Stephen D. Carter, from Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, New York, Columbia University Press: 2010

Look up. Overhead is a garland of intertwined circles where a parliament of birds convenes. The artist Jacopo Zucchi designed a garden room for his patron Ferdinando de' Medici, crowning it with a frescoe above.  The ceiling is a delicate and charming vision of harmonious nature, a green and pleasant place inhabited by green birds, no less. Jacopo Zucchi (c. 1541 - c.  1590) was a Florentine painter who received his training in the studio of Giorgio Vasari, a author of Lives of the Painters

Renovations to the ancient villa began in 1576, the year that Ferdinando de' Medici, a Cardinal in the Church, purchased the property which is adjacent to the Borghese Gardens.  The palaces were  known as the Collus Hortulorum (the hill of gardens). The Cardinal was a scholar of the sciences and a collector of antiquities and cultivated a garden of rare botanical specimens.

Informally known as the bird room, at some point in  subsequent years the exquisite fresco was white  washed, only to be revealed when Geraldine Albers, a student of the French Academy at Rome, became curious about the vast white space, knowing that two other studios on the grounds were adorned with frescoes. These rooms allowed Cardinal de' Medici to withdrawn from the everyday into a place devoted to quiet contemplation.

Emily Dickinson famously described Hope as the thing with feathers but the metaphor could apply as well to poetry.  From the time of the Bayeux Tapestries and medieval bestiaries, down to contemporary poetry, birds have been a continuing object of human wonder. Shotetsu was a Japanese poet of the Muromachi period.

Image; Jacopo Zucchi  - photo by Florizel, Painted ceiling  frescoe of the garden room at Villa Medici in Rome, c.1576  - 1577, in situ, Rome, Italy

16 April 2023

Marjorie Hellman: Extinction Quartet

"(C)olor juxtapositions provide the illusion that shapes and forms appear transparent or translucent, creating ambiguous readings of space, structure, light and atmosphere." - Marjorie Hellman

Why Marjorie Hellman choose a short-lived ornamental tree as the material for Extinction Quartet is a curiosity. The birch tree thrives in cool, temperate climates and moist soils. It is not much of a stretch to think that the birch may become an endangered species. Before the 16th century, painting in Europe was typically executed on wooden panels or applied to frescoes; canvas was introduced in Venice and then was adopted in northern countries. 

Marjorie Hellman received an MFA from Syracuse University; she remained in Central New York for more than twenty-five years, teaching studio arts at the Munson-Williams- Proctor School of the Arts in nearby Utica.

Image: Marjorie Hellman, Extinction Quartet, oil on birch, 1989, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica.

09 April 2023

Dennis Ashbaugh: A Moving Picture

"I live in seems interesting
as if I were on vacation here
and feeling indulgent
towards the human race; its way of
living in cities and
tearing us so the traffic has to be
re-routed around a  collapsing white mesh barrier
as on this intersection here."  
    -  excerpt from "Suddenly the City" by Linda Bamber in Metropolitan Tang, published by David R. Godine, Jaffrey, New Hampshire: 2008

Who knows where the mind goes when we look at paintings?

These are the colors of modernity, bright and unexpected. What I see in this painting is transportation mapping.  Like the internet, transportation analysis was born of military necessity. During WWII, it was vitally important for intelligence agencies to map the movements of vehicles by the other side.  Embodied in this image are new ways of envisioning information.

Dennis Ashbaugh is an American painter who is preoccupied with all things scientific. Computers, DNA,and even science fiction are like progrms running in the back of his mind.

Image - Dennis Ashbaugh - Grape Pumpkins,2002, acrylic on canvas, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC.

01 April 2023

Dorothea Tanning's Late Flowers

"smoke veil tissuing         in my thin
sugar, spread-veined and still
           so green-legged      for jumping through

Echo's silver glass to this
                                         temple of birdrush
                       crushed, edges smudged to blur

the violetly-loved body   There

           you would          hear me."

         - "Convolotus alchemelia (Quiet-willow window)" by Brenda Shaughnessy, 1998, from Interior with Sudden Joy , New York, Farrar Straus, and Giroux: 1999.

A few years after Dorothea Tanning had stopped  making art, she began a series of flower paintings. She was not the first artist to turn to flower art in old age.  The last flowers of the Frenchman Edouard Manet had recently been memorialized in an revelatory book by Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge.

While the bloom is rendered impressionistically, there is an air of malevolence to the sinuous stem, like something out of a surrealistic dream.  But then Tanning had been known previously for her forays into surrealism - from a distinctively feminine point of view in this aggressively male genre. Added to this, the size of the painting - 55 x 66 inches - is unexpectedly large and possibly intimidating.

If the poem by Brenda Shaughnessy strikes an apposite note, that's because  Tanning herself had invited the poet to name the flower (hence "Quiet-willow window" as well as contribute a verse.

When she died in 2012, Tanning was one hundred and one, twice the age of Manet.

Image: Dorothea Tanning -  Convolotus Alchemelia, 1998, oil on canvas + Whitney Museum of American rt,  NYC

21 March 2023

Georgianna Houghton: Things of the Spirit

She called them "spirit drawings" but they were also abstract or else couched in a vocabulary to which she along held the secret decoder. It is tantalizing to wonder whether Houghton and Klint ever met on Klint's visits to London. Overlapping layers of swirls and circles in vibrant colors are dynamic features in the works of both artists. They are hardly the type of art expected from women at the time.

Born in Spain, Georgianna Houghton lived for most of her life in London.  Like Hilma af Klint after her, Houghton took part in séances and averred that she painted at the direction of the spirit world.  Male artists like Kandinsky and Malevich who were long credited as the creators of the non-objective style were also involved in exploring the things of the spirit.

Image: Georgianna Houghton (1814-1884) - The Eye of God, 09/25/182, watercolor and gouache on paper, laid on board, Courtauld Institute, London

17 March 2023

Hilma af Klint: A Cartography of the Spirit

"Land lies in water; it is shaded green.

Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges

showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges

where weeds hang from the simple blue to green.

Or does the land lean down to lift from under.

drawing it unperturbed from itself?

Along the fine tan sandy shelf

is the land tugging at the sea from under?"

   - excerpt from "The Map" by Elizabeth Bishop, from North and South (1934)f

To me, Seven-Pointed Star looks like nothing so much as a map. Knowing that Hilma af Klint was born into a family of naval officers and cartographers, the comparison seems spot on. She spent her entire life pondering  in monumental paintings. the spiritual dimensions of science.

She was a member of the second generation  of women who were allowed to study at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm where she was able to sketch male nudes in life class. What were considered unseemly activities for a woman interested af Klint not at all. She traveled far and wide, visiting Norway, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and London. Not everyone was accepting of those female students.

"It takes a man to create a Parthenon  frieze or paint the Sistine Chapel." 

"Woman must go. Immediately. Has a single one of these weak women at the Academy become an artist? For me there is not one who has any value at all." - 1889

These misogynistic comments came from fellow Swede Carl Larsson, an artist known for idyllic scenes of family life. 

Klinr spent her entire life pondering the fundamental conditions of existence in monumental paintings. Her ideal building was a spiral; she would have been thrilled with the Guggenheim Museum's retrospective of her work and that the exhibition single-handedly changed the shape of art history. 

Image: Hilma af Klint - Group V, Series, Seven-Pointed Star, Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

08 March 2023

Sylvia Sleigh: The Group

"A.I.R. does not sell art; it changes attitudes about art by women. A.I.R. offers women a space to show art as innovative, transitory and free of market trends as the artists' conceptions demand."

The group that called itself A.I.R. first met on Match 17, 1972 in a SoHo storefront. The  women founded a cooperative gallery to show art by women at a time when commercial galleries showed mostly work by men. There had been a demonstration at the Whitney Museum in 1970 brought attention to its paltry representation of women artists (five per cent). It was the painter Howardena Pindall who suggested the name A.I.R.

Who were they?  Susan Williams and Barbara Zucker were joined by Dottie Attie, Rachel bas-Cohain, Judith Bernstein, Blythe Bohnen, Maude Boltz, Agnes Denes, Daria Dorosh, Loretta Dunkelman, Harmony Hammond,  Ann Healy, Laurace James, Nancy Kitchell, Louise Kramer, Pat Lasch,, Rosemary Mayer, Patsy Norvell, and Howardena Pindell.

A.I.R. Gallery went on to curate groundbreaking exhibitions of art by women from Japan, Israel, Sweden, and the Third World in its first decade. 

Sylvia Sleigh (1916-2010) was a Welsh painter who lived and worked in New York City.

For more about A.I.R. go here.: A.I.R. Gallery.

Image: Sylvia Sleigh - A.I. R. Group Portrait, 1977-1978, oil on canvas, Whitney Museum, NYC

03 March 2023

Winter Trees: Gandy Brody


"Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain
would be."
 -  excerpt from "Choices" by Tess Gallagher

"Even Gandy's clothes seemed to have opinions." - Elaine de Kooning

"What sort of an age is this/ When to talk about trees/ Is almost a crime/" - Bertold Brecht, translated from the German by C. Salvesen

One of Brody's last paintings from 1975 bears the title I am a Tree. Trees bear an oblique symbolism in Brody's work, as does this tortuous looking specimen in The End of Winter; gnarled  branches caught on the diagonal, presented in unexpected shades of red and orange. Nature aslant, abstract but still evocative of nature. In  this typical Brody landscape there is no horizon, just a space that has no beginning and no end. Although working at the fringes of Abstratct Expressionism, Brody had a style of his own.

Here sooty remnants of snow show no trace of their former pristine whiteness, an in between moment when green struggles to reassert its presence in a dun-colored earth

Brody (1924-1975) knew he wanted to create something but what?  On his way to painting (he studied in New York with Hans Hoffmann,) he studied modern dance with Martha Graham and hung around New York clubs in the early days of  bebop. He had met and befriended the vocalist Billie Holiday in the early 1940s, rescuing her runaway dog Moochie He had already been painting for a decade when he realized he was an artist. 
Brody divided his time between New York City and rural Vermont for much of his career and died too soon at age fifty-one.

Image: Gandy Brodie - End of Wi nter, 1956, oil on composition board, Whitney Museum, NYC.

12 February 2023

Jane Piper: A Feeling For Color

"I didn't know such paintings existed. I had seen some things that were involved with color abstraction, some Picassos and Braques, but then when I saw the Matisses I didn't know what hit me. The experience threw me into a whole new emotional world of color and feeling." - Jane Piper on first seeing Matisse at the Barnes Collection.

Albert C. Barnes was Matisse's most ardent patron in America; the Barnes Collection eventually included about five dozen of his paintings. In 1930 when Barnes met the painter, he commissioned a three panel mural that would eventually span the Main Gallery at the Barnes. 
Jane Piper (1916-1991) grew up in Philadelphia and spent a year in France before studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.  She studied privately with Arthur B. Carles, another neglected modernists, whom she regarded as her most important teacher.  The influence of Matisse was noticed early on in her career; Piper, like Matisse, created a sense of space through her use of color. She said that she finally captured the sense of space that she wanted on the canvas through the liberal use of white, that this color corresponded to what she felt about the space.  She preferred still life painting above all because it fit easily into her way of life, allowing her to organize and control the placement of the objects.  That Piper was able to achieve this through white, turning  an absence into a presence, is comparable to Matisse's use of black but more subtle and mysterious.

Image: Jane Piper, Almost A Cross - 1988, oil on canvas, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica.

20 January 2023

Orangerie: A Moveable Garden

"I peeled my orange
That was bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands." 
                        -"Oranges" by Gary Soto

The most popular fruit in the world is the orange.  Its association with winter holidays makes perfect sense, a fruit that looks like the sun is fit  for purpose in the darkest time of year.

When Charles VIII invaded the Italian peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century he was smitten by a love for oranges. The orange trees were shipped in their root balls; on arrival the French gardeners bathed the roots in milk and honey. When Charles returned home to his chateau at Amboise he built France's first orangerie.  His wife, Anne of Bretagne, not to be outdone, built an orangerie for herself at Blois.

Henry II built one for his wife Catherine de Medici in 1533 and one for his mistress Diane de Poitiers. 

This competitive one-upmanship continued for centuries; each successive monarch felt the need to create a bigger, more elaborate hothouse for their precious citrus fruit.

Known as the Sun King, Louis XIV could just as well have been called the Orange King. He commanded a twelve hundred foot orangerie in the shape of a half moon to be built as a setting for masked balls and garden parties. His gardeners invented an ingenious method to make the trees  bloom year-round. This was also when the French began to pour hot orange juice over roasted chestnuts. C'est si bon!

The Musee de l'Orangerie was built in 1852 to shelter the orange trees from the Tuileries gardens. A typical orangerie, its glazed windows faced south to capture as much heat as possible. These hothouses evolved into the prototype for the modern greenhouse. At the turn of the century it was converted to a warehouse.  Claude Monet donated his panoramic water lily canvases to the nation; the paintings were installed in 1927 after the painter's death.

Image: Sergio-Gonzalez-Tornero - Orangerie, color intaglio print, 1966, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica,

10 January 2023

Scarab-Like: Mark Innerst

"Seers can see, for instance, the light of the scarabs, emanations expanding to great size." - Carlos Castenada, from The Fire From Within

Mark Innerst is known for  paintings of luminous landscapes so it is possible to see in Scarab-Like a portal to another time and place. He has used the beetle  shape as a frame for a star-flecked night sky through a scrim of trees. The gem-like tints are true to history; blue was the most common color for glazes. A divine manifestation of the early morning sky.

In Egypt by about 2055 BCE an impression of a beetle, called a scarab was a sought-after amulet that was believed to bring good luck to its  owner. It was often worn in the form of a ring. The term scarab comes from Scarabaeus sacer, the family name for ding beetles. Rolling a ball of dung was likened to the heavenly cycle of regeneration.

Image: Mark Innerst - Scarab-Like, 1992, oil and acrylic on panel, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica.

03 January 2023

A Predilection For Onions: Mary Ann Currier

"How easily happiness begins by

dicing onions. A lump of sweet butter

slithers and swirls across the floor

of the saute pan, especially if its

errant path crosses a tiny slick

of olive oil. Then a tumble of onions."

 - an excerpt from "Onions" by William Matthews which first appeared in Poetry in August 1989

Something about a still life painting turns its subjects into objects of desire. That is what happens in Mary Ann Currier's Onions and Tomato.  I want to chop them into small pieces and make soup. Three onions and a tomato, round, shiny, and luscious, guarded by a utility knife and a pot that functions as a mirror as well as a receptacle

Mary Ann Curries (1927-2017) had a predilection for onions. Currier chose onions as a favorite subject for their humble origins in fields of muck, the subtle variations in their color, and because they maintained their freshness while she finished painting them. She painted only from real fruit and vegetables, never from photographs although the realism of her paintings is breathtaking. 

Currier was born in Louisville.  Her parents emigrated to the United States from  Germany after World War II.  She studied art with many GIs, often being the only female in her classes.  She did advertising spreads, stationery, and then moved on to portraiture, finally finding her niche as a still life painter.  She had her first exhibition at the relatively late age of fifty.

Image : Mary Ann Currier - Onions and Tomato,1984, oil pastel on mat board, Metropolitan Museum, NYC

04 December 2022

Stephen Mueller: Orpheus the Enchanter

Everyone is smitten with the half-man half-god that was Orpheus.  Even the skeptical Carol Ann Duffy sounds sneakily admiring about: 

"the kind of a man
who follows her round
writing poems,
hovering about
while she reads them,
calls her his Muse,
and once sulked for a night and a day
because she remarked on his weakness for abstract nouns."
 -  Carol Ann Duffy, from The World's Wife Vancouver, Anvil Press: 1999.

Is he  a charlatan?  Who cares when he is such an enchanter?

Here we are light years away from the nightmarish vision of the Jan Brueghel the Elder, a  world inhabited by lizards in red nightcaps, moths with owls' heads and a couple marooned in a boat in the branches of a tree. Monteverdi in 16th century Mantua emphasized the tragic undertones in Orpheus' music. There is a deliciously comic aspect to Mueller's Orpheus.  His multicolored lyre entrances humans and animals alike, its notes float in the air like so many joyous balloons.

Stephen Mueller (1947-2011) was an American painter whose work was never completely abstract; he incorporated spiritual motifs from Persian miniatures to Mexican ceramics.

Image: Stephen Mueller, Orpheo 2, 2010, acrylic on canvas, Munson Williams Proctor  Arts Institute, 

16 November 2022

Jane Freilicher: Dark Afternoon

"Light is like oxygen in a painting;  without it a painting is dead. It doesn't breathe. " - Jane Freilicher

As we change our clocks, the effect of seasonal light is on our minds. 

Dark Afternoon was painted from Freilicher's lower Manhattan apartment in late autumn. Gray light coming in through the window gives no explanation for the concentrated liveliness of the plants on the yellow tablecloth or its source. It's  focus is on  the light  in retreat.  Freilicher used her  home as her studio. Her still lifes are not posed; they just are. She never strayed far from home, dividing her time between the city and Water Mill, Long Island.   
Unlike, say,  artists beginning with  Chardin, Freilicher did not isolate her subjects against a neutral background. This tradition in still life painting began in 17th century Europe. Then in the 19th century the still life began to appear in landscapes.

Freilicher does not seem preoccupied with composition, the resulting effect is one of freshness. Her paintings are filled with specific details but the artist withholds narrative cues.  Rather, she integrates them into a natural backdrop - landscape becomes part of the still life. The two elements remain separate but share a common ambience. Domestic and natural settings have a relaxed relationship as they do in life.  For her objects become events to be regarded with curiosity. 

Image; Jane Freilicher - Dark Afternoon, 2001, oil on linen, Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica

06 November 2022

Ruby Sky Stiler

"Let's not shame our eyes for seeing. Instead, thank them for their bravery."
  - Joy Harjo, from Conflict Resolution For Holy Beings, W.W. Norton, New York: 2015

The place of the occupational self portrait in the history of painting stretches back more than five centuries. Catharina van Hemessen at her easel, painted in 1548, may be the first self portrait by an artist.  A painter of the Flemish Renaissance, van Hemessen was born in Antwerp 

Ruby Sky Stiler joins the estimable company of such painters as Judith Leyster, Sofonisba Anguissola, and Elisabeth Vigge le  brun. Self Portrait with Blue Palette demonstrates the artist's familiarity with both ancient and modern techniques, making for a stimulating blend of Native American pottery  and weaving with flattening elements borrowed from cubism. I even detect  hints of the black and white chairs designed by Koloman Moser  for the Purkersdorf Sanitorium in 1903. You can have fun with Ruby Sky Stiler's work, spotting various combinations of elements.

Born in Portland, Maine in 1979 Ruby Sky Stiler studied art at the Rhode Island School of Design and the School of Art at Yale University.  She lives in New York City.

November is Native American Heritage Month.

For further reading:
Everything You Think you Know About Indians Is Wrong by Paul Chait Smith University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis: 2009
We Had A Little Real Estate Problem by Klipf Nesteroff, Simon & Schuster, New York: 2021.

Image: Ruby Sky Stiler -  Self Portrait with Blue Palette - 2018, acrylic paint, acrylic resin, paper, glue, graphite on panel, Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, NYC.

26 October 2022

Hilary Mantel: Stories Of Her Youth

Learning to Talk, originally published in Great Britain in 2003, is likely to be  the last book we will ever have from Hilary Mantel. Mantel died suddenly in September of 2022. Her publisher described her, accurately I think, as one of Britain's greatest novelists.

In her introduction to this new edition, Mantel gives us to understand  that the stories  sprung from her memories if her own childhood in a northern England "scoured by bitter winds and rough gossips tongues. "All the tales arose out of questions I asked myself about my early years. I cannot say that by sliding my life into a fictional form I was solving puzzles - but at least I was pushing the pieces about"

The rigid class structure  that governed  postwar Britain makes itself felt early and often, The little girl is sent to elocution lessons because " I hadn't learned to talk proper."  "(E)veryone was policed by gossip," she remembered.

"Curved is the Line of Beauty" concerns her mother's new boyfriend Jack Mantel who comes to live with the family is "your definition of a man, if a man was what caused alarm and shattered the peace."
Her mother defied the conservatives mores of that time and place by living  for a time with two men, two more than her Catholic religion would approve. "Mercy was a theory I had not seen in operation. I had only seen how those who wielded power extracted maximum advantage from every situation."Then when Hilary was eleven the family, except for her father, moved away to escape the local gossip and Hilary never saw her father again.
Mantel's descriptive powers are deceptively simple. She describes a neighbor girl as "meager like a nameless cut in a butcher's window;" a missing pet is "only my stepdog." Or this, "(W)e continued to live in one of those houses where there was never any money, and doors were slammed hard." Words that stay with the reader.
Image: Milton Avery - Poetry Reading, 1957, oil o canvas, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica

18 October 2022

Raymond Han: The Many Shades of White


"Look how white everything is," Sylvia Plath marveled in her poem "Tulips." That's what I think when I look at paintings by Raymond Han. Of course these shades of white contain colors as you will know if you have ever watched white paint being mixed in a store. 

An embroidered cloth  gives structure to the china arranged on the table. A cream pitcher is the focus of the picture. A blue and white teapot is decorated with japonisme; opposite is a Japanese cup. Greenery in a small cup is a touch of unruly nature in the midst of order. A spoon, a fork, a desert plate, and a few other small items complete the tea table. Why does that teapot seem subservient to the cream pitcher?

I have looked at Still Life with Rose Geranium in person several times. Fittingly, a print of it hangs  in the Terrace Cafe at  the museum. It was my introduction to Raymond Han whose bravura handling of shades of white is the signature of his still work. A gentle version of photorealism, in contrast to the sharp edges in the work of Janet Fish or Richard Estes.

The term still life appeared in late 16th century Netherlands; in French it is nature morte or 'dead nature'.  Intriguingly, the objects in a still life often appear to have individual personalities.

Raymond Han was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and lived near Oneonta in upstate New York for several years before his death in 2017. Han was one of seven children born to Korean immigrants. First he earned a scholarship to the Honolulu Museum of Art; then he moved to New York City where he studied  at the Arts Students League.

Image: Raymond Han - Still Life with Rose Geranium Sprig,  1980, oil on canvas, Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica