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 These rooms allowed Cardinal de' Medici to withdrawn from the everyday into a place devoted to quiet contemplation.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