Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘artist’

Art: Vincent van Gogh.
“Memory of the Garden at Etten” (1888), oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

From the quasi-animated film Loving Vincent to revelations in old postcards, Vincent van Gogh has been making a lot of headlines in the last few years. I’ve covered a few of the stories myself: for example here, here, and here.

Now there’s a book aiming to shine a light on the artist’s three sisters. Eva Recinos reviewed it for Hyperallergic.

“We might sometimes forget that major artists have had to exist as people, too, with all the trials and tribulations that might come before they reach fame. Take, for example, family dynamics. And in the van Gogh family, there were many of them. 

“Vincent van Gogh’s three sisters — Willemien (Wil), Elisabeth (Lies), and Anna van Gogh — are highlighted in the historical biography The Van Gogh Sisters by Willem-Jan Verlinden (Thames & Hudson). The book was originally published in Dutch in 2016; the English version, translated by Yvette Rosenberg and Brendan Monaghan, includes previously unpublished letters, largely the result of research completed after the Dutch version was first released.

“Through letters between the siblings, we read that Lies was frustrated that women didn’t have more professional options that were socially acceptable. We learn about how Wil often copied Vincent’s drawings and was his favorite model, and that the two wrote to each other about art and literature and inquired about one another’s mental health. …

“But about 100 pages in, there’s still a lot of focus on Vincent and his two brothers, Theodorus (Theo) and Cornelis (Cor) van Gogh, as well as their father. … While we do get more insight into the sisters’ lives, quite a few pages are dedicated to Vincent.

“The reproductions of art are largely his works. That’s clearly because there’s more of his art to share, yet it takes the reader out of the narrative about the sisters. (The book does include a watercolor piece by his mother, Anna Carbentus, also known as Moe van Gogh. She was an avid gardener and created pieces to capture the beauty of nature.) …

“We learn that Wil has an interest in making her own art and writing. She explored flower arranging and wrote an article for the journal ‘The Dutch Lily’ that was ‘an unconventional guide to flower arranging,’ Verlinden writes (one line speaks of her love for ‘more loosely arranged flowers’). Vincent, for his part, wrote to Theo that maybe Wil could marry an artist; as much as he did love discussing the arts with her, it can be deduced that he didn’t exactly see her being a professional artist herself.

“She eventually focused her efforts on the National Exhibition of Women’s Labour, which was organized to shed light on women’s contributions to the economy, particularly through the production of goods. But Wil would also end up struggling with mental health. She spent more than three decades of her life at a psychiatric institution, where she passed away.

“Lies wrote poetry and would go on to publish multiple books — including one centered on the life and work of Vincent. There’s also a fourth sister, of sorts, in the text. Johanna Gezina Bonger (Jo), Vincent’s sister-in-law, who helped organize exhibitions of his work after he died in 1890.  

“Ultimately, if you approach the book as a fan of Vincent van Gogh’s work, it will feel like a deeper dive into his place within the family, such as his struggles to prove himself as an artist to his parents and his complicated relationship with his sisters — an argument with Anna likely drove him from the family home in 1885 and he was disappointed that his other sisters, especially Wil, didn’t come to his defense. … But as with any under-highlighted history, we can only hope future research will tell us even more.”

The Van Gogh Sisters, by Willem-Jan Verlinden (2021), is published by Thames & Hudson and is available at Bookshop.org.

More at Hyperallergic, here.

Read Full Post »

Art: Jacob Lawrence, via PEM.
Missing Panel 28 from the “American Struggle” series as shown at PEM, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. This panel and one other were recently found in New York City.

Have you been following the story of the missing panels of a major work by African American master Jacob Lawrence? It was exciting enough when one missing panel was discovered in New York in the past year, but two? In different homes?

Hilarie M. Sheets at the New York Times reported on the latest developments.

“When a nurse living on the Upper West Side checked an app for neighborhood bulletins last fall, she learned about the recent discovery of a Jacob Lawrence painting in an apartment a few blocks away. It had turned out to be one of five panels long missing from the artist’s groundbreaking 30-panel series “Struggle: From the History of the American People,” which was on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, right across Central Park.

“The name Jacob Lawrence rang a bell. She walked over to look more closely at a small figurative painting on her dining room wall, where it had hung for two decades, its signature barely legible. It was a gift from her mother-in-law, who had taped a 1996 New York Times profile on Lawrence to the back. The nurse, who had only glanced at the back while dusting, learned from the app that Lawrence was a leading modernist painter of the 20th century — and one of the few Black artists of his time to gain broad recognition in the art world.

“Could lightning strike twice in just two weeks’ time? The woman told the story to her 20-year-old son, who had studied art in college and quickly Googled the Met’s exhibition. He found a murky black-and-white photograph of their very painting being used as a place holder for Panel 28. It was titled ‘Immigrants admitted from all countries: 1820 to 1840—115,773,’ and the wall label read: ‘location unknown.’

“ ‘It didn’t look like anything special, honestly,’ said the owner. … ‘I didn’t know I had a masterpiece.’ …

“After she had connected the dots, she called the Met, but her messages went unreturned. By day three, her son suggested they just head over on his motorbike. His mother recalled:

‘I grabbed a young kid at the information desk in the lobby and said, “Listen, nobody calls me back. I have this painting. Who do I need to talk to?” ‘

“Eventually, an administrator from the modern and contemporary art department met them downstairs and asked the owner to email her photos of the work — which she did on the spot, from her phone.

“By that evening, Randall Griffey and Sylvia Yount, the co-curators of the Met’s Lawrence show, and Isabelle Duvernois, the Met’s paintings conservator, were making their second trip to an Upper West Side apartment in the space of two weeks to verify the authenticity of a Lawrence painting that had not been seen publicly since 1960.

“The nurse, who has agreed to lend her painting for the last two stops of the traveling exhibition, was granted anonymity because she said she was concerned for her family’s security living with a now-valuable artwork. The panel will debut March 5 at the Seattle Art Museum in ‘Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle’ and remain on view through May 23.

“Before the discovery of Panel 16, first reported by The New York Times on Oct. 21, the Met’s team had known only the work’s title and subject matter — Shays’ Rebellion — but had no image to help authenticate it. … With Panel 28, they had a low-quality photograph of the work, which had been exhibited in the late 1950s at the gallery of Lawrence’s dealer Charles Alan.

“The painting, in vivid red, gold and brown tempera on hardboard, shows two women draped in shawls flanking a man in a broad-brimmed hat, their heads bowed and oversized hands clasped toward the center of the image. The panel, evoking old-world travelers, was inspired by immigration statistics in Richard B. Morris’s 1953 ‘Encyclopedia of American History,’ part of Lawrence’s exhaustive research on the foundational contributions of immigrants, Blacks and Native Americans to the building of the nation. (He refers specifically in the title to the number of immigrants who came to the United States during the early years of the 19th century.) …

“The owner of Panel 28 doesn’t know how her mother-in-law — who was an immigrant herself and raised her family on the Upper West Side while amassing an eclectic array of inexpensive artworks — acquired the painting. ‘I have a feeling my mother-in-law didn’t pay much more than $100,’ she said.”

More at the New York Times, here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Photoquest/Getty Images.
American scientist and educator George Washington Carver (1864 – 1943) was also an artist. Above, he works on his painting “The Yucca.”

It’s reasonable to ask, Why celebrate women or Black Americans only one month a year each? But one advantage is that there’s an incentive for the media to dig out stories about interesting people we either wouldn’t know about at all or wouldn’t know about in detail. For example, most Americans know that a Black scientist called George Washington Carver did research on peanuts that helped farmers in the South. But I, for one, didn’t know anything about his paintings.

Eva Amsen reports at Forbes, “Last month, the Getty Foundation announced the grant recipients for the 2024 exhibit series ‘Pacific Standard Time 2024: Art x Science x LA.’ This event will include different galleries and institutes in California, which will each focus on the theme of science and art. While some of the planned exhibits focus on current and future science, one grant recipient is featuring an artist from science history. The California African American Museum received $120,000 for their exhibit ‘World Without End: The George Washington Carver Project.’

“Although George Washington Carver is best known for his research on new uses for peanuts, he was also an artist. In 1941, two years before his death, Time Magazine featured a piece about Carver in which they mentioned that 71 of his paintings were being shown at Tuskegee at the time.

“Carver spent most of his career as an agricultural researcher at Tuskegee, but he didn’t start his university career in science. When he initially enrolled in college (after searching for a place that would accept Black students in the 19th century) he studied art and piano at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. He’d always loved plants and particularly excelled at painting them. …

His art teacher, Etta Budd, encouraged him to enter one of his paintings to a local art exhibit, where it was selected as one of the artworks to represent Iowa at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Carver’s painting, ‘Yucca and Cactus,’ got an honorable mention at the fair.

“Despite his talents, Budd worried that Carver wouldn’t be able to make a living as an artist, so she suggested that he take his plant illustration skills to the botany department at Iowa State Agricultural College. After receiving his bachelor’s degree here in 1894 and his master’s in 1896, Carver took on a research position at Tuskegee Institute. 

“One of his initial interests was to help farmers increase the yield of their crops. Besides doing research, he invested a lot of time in talking to farmers and explaining the benefits of fertilization and crop rotation to restore nutrients to the soil.

“Partly thanks to Carver, crop production in the South did indeed increase, but this led to a new problem. Now farmers were stuck with an agricultural surplus of crops they had harvested but could not sell. … Carver invented more than a hundred new uses for sweet potatoes and over three hundred different ways to use peanuts. …

“Unsurprisingly, considering his art background, one of the new uses he found for peanuts was to develop paints.  He didn’t just use peanuts to make dyes, but other natural resources as well. Carver even created a line of household paints using pigments from Alabama soil that he envisioned would be more affordable for poor families.

“Carver used some of his self-created paints for his art as well. In the 1941 profile about his art, Time Magazine noted that he used a series of plant-based earth tones created by his assistant A. W. Curtis Jr.”

Using Alabama soil to make dyes caught my attention because I love the work of natural-dye scarf artist Jamie Bourgeois. Sometimes she augments nature to document the polluted waters of Cancer Alley in order to help the Louisiana cleanup efforts. It’s amazing to see how pollution changes the colors. Read about that work here. And support the pollution cleanup here.

More at Forbes on George Washington Carver, here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Invaluable
“Summer Farm Scene,” oil on canvas painting by self-taught artist Helen LaFrance of Kentucky.

Whatever kind of art you make, I have a question for you. What matters most to you: being in the moment of making? Or the aftermath? And if you feel satisfaction in pleasing someone else with your art or joy in selling it, are those experiences all part of the making or entirely separate things?

See what the late folk artist Helen LaFrance had to say about the relative importance to her.

Penelope Green wrote the New York Times obit on the artist. “Helen LaFrance, a self-taught artist whose vibrant and intimate ‘memory paintings’ of scenes from her childhood in rural Kentucky brought her renown late in life, died on Nov. 22 at a nursing home in Mayfield, Ky. She was 101. …

“In glowing colors and sharp brush strokes, Ms. LaFrance painted church picnics and river baptisms; tobacco barns; backyard gardens with geese and children racing through them; kitchens with bushels of apples and jars of preserves shining like stained-glass windows. Her exuberant scenes of rural life invited comparisons to the work of Grandma Moses, Horace Pippin and other regional painters who drew from their memories to tell stories about a vanished time and place.

‘It’s just a way of reliving it all again,’ Ms. LaFrance told a television interviewer in 2010. The next year she told another interviewer, ‘If I do something somebody likes, well, I’m satisfied because somebody liked what I did, but I don’t think it’s important.’

“The author Kathy Moses Shelton, who, with the gallerist Bruce Shelton wrote ‘Helen LaFrance: Folk Art Memories’ (2011), called Ms. LaFrance ‘an American treasure.’ …

“Ms. Moses Shelton said in a phone interview. ‘She grew up under Jim Crow. She was 10 when the Great Depression hit. Her art doesn’t reflect the pain of that era. … Instead what comes through is joy, and the values of family and work. Her family owned and farmed their own land when sharecropping was the norm, and they were self-sufficient and lived in dignity. Her blend of personal experience, Black American culture and heritage, and her skill all come into play to make her work unlike anybody else’s.’ …

“Helen LaFrance Orr was born on Nov. 2, 1919, in Graves County, Ky., the second of four daughters. Her parents, James Franklin Orr and Lillie May (Ligon) Orr, known as Bud and Hon, grew tobacco and corn.

“Helen did not attend much school. Her parents instructed her in reading and math, and her mother taught her to paint, guiding her hand and helping her mix colors from dandelions, berries and Bluette laundry detergent. She and her sisters worked in the family fields; Helen drew after her chores were done. She recalled loving the smell of the crayons her mother would bring her.

“Ms. LaFrance spent most of her life no more than 10 miles from her birthplace. She worked in a tobacco barn and in a hospital as a cook. She made custom whiskey decanters for a local ceramics company and worked as a retoucher in a photography studio. She owned property, commercial spaces and land.” To read more of the story and to see more art by LaFrance, click here.

And speaking of outstanding, self-taught artists, I never lose an opportunity to point people to a special children’s book about WWI soldier Horace Pippin, here. You will love it.

Read Full Post »

A dripping icicle.

Although officially it’s still fall, there are many days it feels like winter where I live. We are not yet at the point that the dogs are sticking to the sidewalks, but some days it’s pretty cold. Even the chickens at Codman Farm in Lincoln seem to shiver.

The snow we had a week ago froze into a hard and slippery crust, and we put on cleats to take walks. But what is going on with that yard? you ask. The pattern is the result of my husband’s wish never to use a leaf blower. He puts out a net, rolls up the leaves, and carts them to the town’s composting site.

I took a couple red and green photos on warm days, but they made me think of the holiday to come.

Hellabore uses any break in the weather to flower. So welcome.

In another picture, you see where someone made a child’s game with chalk. It was actually quite intricate, featuring a variety of tasks and awards for getting to certain squares. A more elaborate version of hopscotch.

Most of the other photos speak for themselves, but the lovely dove design is by artist Kristina Joyce, a commission for one of her clients. That photo is followed by a painted door from one of the Umbrella artists.

The last two pictures were sent by Stuga40 and were taken on walks in Stockholm.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Shanna Lewis for KRCC
Muralist Valrie Eisemann is among the first four artists to work on the new levee wall in Pueblo, Colorado. She’s creating a mandala, KRCC reports.

Last month, I pondered the challenges presented over time by public art in the form of statues of historical figures. In the past, art that could last through the ages — Michelangelo’s “David,” for example, and the stone lions on the Greek island of Delos — was highly valued. Even painted frescoes were made to last, with pigments worked into plaster.

Nowadays, murals on buildings are proliferating, and I’m thinking that transitory art like that is a good idea. It’s OK for them to be painted over, worn out, or recreated with a new vision.

Today’s story is about a group of artists in Colorado doing just that.

Shanna Lewis reports for KRCC, “Bright colors have blossomed once again on the concrete face of Pueblo’s Arkansas River levee. Paintings are going up in an effort to reclaim a lost public art space and the title of the world’s largest outdoor mural.

“Muralist Valrie Eisemann of LaVeta is among the first of four artists to work on the new levee wall. Using paint donated by a local recycling company, as well as some that she bought herself, she’s creating a colorful mandala. …

“Muralists have to rope up for safety to work on the steeply sloped concrete. But that isn’t slowing any of them down.

“Each artist will bring their own unique vision and ideas to the project. Celeste Velazquez of Pueblo said her imagery is of a native woman that references the Azteca community, as well as Toltec and Olmec cultures.

“ ‘She’s going to have like four arms, almost like a shaman and there’s going to be the spirit Quetzalcoatl in the back of her in her native tent,’ Velazquez said.

“Puebloan Thomas Garbiso’s piece is a mountain view along I-70. … Aurora artist Kalyn Connolly’s design is of a deer with Colorado flora and fauna on its antlers, including columbines, crows and white butterflies.

“All the artists are excited to be among the first brush paint on the levee since construction to repair it started six years ago. … According to [artist and levee mural coordinator Cynthia Ramu], since the 1970s, hundreds of people helped create the murals that once lined the levee.

“ ‘Eventually, it became like a storybook for a lot of people,’ Ramu said. … Some of [the story] is literally underfoot because the concrete with the old murals was torn off during the repair project and then ground up and used to create a walking trail for the top of the levee. …

“She said, ‘I feel so excited at the possibility. It’s kind of like moving forward. It’s just endless possibility.’

Pueblo Arts Alliance director Karen Fogelsong agreed. … ‘One of my favorite things is to see beautiful art go on yucky cement,’ Fogelsong said. ‘So let’s put beauty on top of it. On viaducts on levees, on the sides of buildings, wherever we can make it beautiful.’

“Fogelsong thinks if Pueblo can regain the world record, it’ll draw tourists to the area to see it. The current record is held by a mural in South Korea that’s more than 254,000 square feet — so a lot of art is needed again to beat that.

“It could happen though. More applications for new murals are rolling in and creative energy is flowing along this part of the Arkansas River.”

More here.

Read Full Post »

Maria Popova at the blog Brain Pickings is an endless source of inspiration. Whether she is posting about art, nature, philosophy, or children’s books, she’s a treasure. 

Today I want to dip into her report on an out-of-print book featuring an artistic rendering of the wonders of the Great Barrier reef. Considering how fast the optimal conditions for the reef are being lost to global warming and the ocean’s higher carbon levels, it might be a good idea to think about how it looked in 1893.

Popova begins, “While the German marine biologist Ernst Haeckel was salving his fathomless personal tragedy with the transcendent beauty of jellyfish, having enraptured Darwin with his drawings, his English colleague William Saville-Kent (July 10, 1845–October 11, 1908) was transcending his own darkness on the other side of the globe with the vibrant, irrepressible aliveness of the Great Barrier Reef and its astonishing creatures. 

“By the end of his adolescence, William had survived the unsurvivable. The youngest of ten children, he lost his mother when he was seven.”

Suzanne’s Mom pauses here to let you read what else was “unsurvivable,” including murder most foul.

“William was shaken by the inordinate share of loss, violence, and public shame he had accrued in so young a life. Taking refuge in the impartial world of science, he came to study under the great biologist and comparative anatomist T.H. Huxley, who had coined the term agnosticism and who had so boldly defended Darwin’s evolutionary ideas against the reactionary tide of opposition a decade earlier.

“Upon completing his studies, Saville-Kent received an appointment in the Natural History department of the British Museum as curator of coral. He grew enchanted with these beguiling, poorly understood creatures; he also grew bored with the museum position — he longed to do research, to contribute to the evolving understanding of these living marvels. …

“As Saville-Kent approached forty, his old mentor T.H. Huxley — by then the most prominent British life-scientist after Darwin’s death a year earlier — recommended him as inspector of fisheries in Tasmania. Saville-Kent left England and the dark specter of his youth for the bright open seas of the South Pacific, where he grew newly enchanted with the lush underwater wonderland of strange-shaped corals and echinoderms, frilly anemones and tentacled mollusks, fishes in colors that belong in a Kandinsky painting, creatures he had marveled at only as dead and disjointed museum specimens or segregated aquarium captives, creatures he had never imagined. 

“Determined to bring public awareness and awe to this otherworldly ecosystem — an ecosystem that in the century since his time has grown so gravely endangered by human activity that it might not survive another century — he authored the first popular science book on that irreplaceable underwater world. In 1893, several years before the German oceanographer published the gorgeously illustrated first encyclopedia of deep-sea cephalopods, Saville-Kent published The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: Its Products and Potentialities — a pioneering encyclopedia of one of Earth’s most luscious and delicate ecosystems, illustrated with a number of Saville-Kent’s black-and-white photographs and several stunning color lithographs by two artists, a Mr. Couchman and a Mr. Riddle, based on Saville-Kent’s original watercolors.” More at Brain Pickings, here.

One thing I love about Brain Pickings is the way Maria Popova’s own brain makes such interesting connections. At the end of almost every post she links to other posts on topics that may seem unrelated on the surface but play off each other in an interesting way. Her approach is a bit like suggesting an unusual cheese to go with your wine.

Illustration from William Saville-Kent’s book Fishes from The Great Barrier Reef of Australia, 1893. (Maria Popova at Brain Pickings makes it available as a print and as a face mask!)

Read Full Post »

herrera-3-624x543402x

Art: Diana Beltrán Herrera
The artist makes birds and other wildlife from paper and in recent years has started to use her art to support nonprofits fighting for the environment.

Although it is not new for artists to celebrate nature — a compulsion dating at least to prehistoric cave paintings — there’s a new sense of urgency in the era of global warming.

In a 2018 article in the New York Times, for example, 12 artists described how the crisis is influencing their work.

Here artist Xavier Cortada explains to the Times why he made a work showing residential street numbers underwater. “In response to South Florida’s vulnerability to rising sea levels, the village of Pinecrest, Florida will encourage its 6,000 households to install an ‘Underwater HOA [Homeowner Association]’ yard sign (similar to the 18- by 24-inch ‘Home for Sale’ yard signs used by realtors) on their front lawns during the first week of December. I numbered each yard sign from 0 to 17 feet (the municipality’s land elevation range) to show how many feet of melted glacial water must rise before a particular property is underwater.” Oy.

860_climate_change_and_artArt: Xavier Cortada
This painted sign is a marker that someone can plant in their yard showing that the property would be underwater with a sea-level rise of five feet.

Meanwhile, the fascinating website This Is Colossal has for some years been following the amazing paper creations of Diana Beltrán Herrera as she expands from birds she knows to environments she has never seen to helping nonprofits battle climate change.

Grace Ebert writes, “In 2012, Bristol-based artist Diana Beltrán Herrera [began] sculpting impeccably layered paper birds and other wildlife as a way to record her surroundings. Her lifelike pieces continuously have captured nature’s finely detailed and minuscule elements, like the fibrous texture of feathers and the veins running through leaves.

“Today, the artist has expanded the practice to include exotic species and environments she’s never seen up close, developing her paper techniques to express the more nuanced details of the shapes and textures she studies in biology books. Now focusing on the structural elements of fungi, fruit, and florals, Beltrán Herrera shares with Colossal:

‘Paper as a medium for documentation allows me to register and create notions and ideas of subjects that I have not experienced in real life but that I can experience when a sculpture is completed. I like this approach because it is not harmful, and through my work, I can show and tell my viewers about the things I have been learning, of the importance of nature just by researching and making it myself.’

“Much of her work centers on conservation efforts and environmental justice. For example, a recent commission by Greenpeace UK bolstered the organization’s Plastic Free Rivers campaign. ‘I am constantly looking for more subjects that are relevant to the times we are living in, so that through my work I can communicate important information that can educate or just make things more visible.’ …

“Her hope is to merge graphic and digital design with her paper pieces, potentially adding in animation, as well. Ultimately, her goal is to dive into larger projects. ‘I don’t see my work as something I want to know how to make and stay safe, but as a challenge, that will always allow me to wonder how to execute and create things that were never made with paper,’ she says.” More.

Other Colossal articles on the artist’s work can be found here. Follow her on Instagram, @dianabeltranherrera.

A musical composition created from climate-change data is another example of using an art to raise consciousness about the current state of the natural world.  From the website Science News for Students.

Read Full Post »

xiao200012_001-1080x720-1

Art: Liu Xiaodong
“Thank you 2020.4.9” (2020), watercolor on paper, at New York City’s Lisson Gallery.

People from around the world often perceive New Yorkers as brash, rude. But if you have spent any time in the city, you know there’s another side, a side that is helpful and kind, that will drop everything to give a stranger detailed directions to the Empire State Building or a place to buy the freshest lychee nuts.

During the height of the pandemic, artist Liu Xiaodong seems to have seen the generosity, humanity, and vulnerability of New Yorkers and to have captured it in his watercolors.

John Yau writes at Hyperallergic, “Charles Baudelaire said in his 1863 essay that the ‘painter of modern life’ is the ‘passionate observer’ who can be ‘away from home and yet […] feel at home anywhere.’

“Among contemporary artists, the Chinese observational painter Liu Xiaodong is the closest embodiment of Baudelaire’s ideal that I know. For years, he has been, in the words of Baudelaire, an ‘independent, intense, and impartial spirit’ who observes the ‘ebb and flow’ of the world around him. This has led him to set up a temporary studio near an orphanage in Greenland and one among Uyghur jade miners in China’s harsh northwest. …

“In 1978, when Liu was 15, his family sent him to live with his uncle, who had studied Western painting at the Jilin Academy of Fine Arts and had gone on to become the art editor of a magazine. His uncle taught him watercolor, and showed him the books he had about English watercolors, European oil painting, and the Peredvizhniki, a group of late 19th-century Russian realists who believed that Russia and its people possessed an inner beauty.

“The date of 1978 is significant: it is two years after the death of Mao Zedong, the end of the Cultural Revolution, and the Tangshan earthquake, which devastated the region where he and his family lived. Born in 1963, Liu belongs to a generation that has both witnessed and been directly affected by the convulsive social, political, and economic changes that China has undergone during Mao’s lifetime, and since his death. …

“His instinct to respond to what is directly in front of him with whatever medium he has on hand endows his views with an unrivaled propinquity. He is, to cite Baudelaire, at the very center of the world he is depicting, and unseen by it. …

“[A recent exhibition provided] a visual and written record of a specific area of Manhattan, determined by what he can walk to.

Liu made his watercolors during an extreme period in New York’s history, starting with the empty streets during the first months of the COVID-19 quarantine, and including the Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations in response to the video-recorded murder of George Floyd.

“Even in this acute moment in our history, he is able to slow down his looking to find and celebrate the beauty of human determination, as well as recognize feelings of wariness and displacement. …

“The watercolor ‘Kitchen Paper cannot be flushed down the Toilet, right, 2020’ [is] a wonderful tonal view of a roll of paper towels resting on a toilet tank, a quick yet careful placing of pale yellows, blues, off whites, and grays. …

“[But] the range of subjects and views underscores a person who is remarkably open to the world, from a blooming tree, to children’s toys left at a park, to an evening view of the top of the Empire State Building, seen between two buildings, to a homeless man’s legs sticking out of a doorway. … You never get the feeling that he is looking for something; there is no hierarchy to what he chooses. …

“As Manhattan transitioned from the largely empty streets of the quarantine to demonstrations and large groups of police, Liu kept looking, kept going out, and kept making watercolors and taking photographs, to work on later.  His attention to detail, to the color and light, is masterful and precise. … The merging of mark and color, and his sensitivity to light and dark, feel effortless, though we know they are not. This is Liu’s genius; there are no signs of hesitation in his work.

“In Liu’s watercolors and painted-over photographs, the viewer encounters scenes in which hand, eye, and intelligence work in astonishing tandem. … We are the lucky beneficiaries of a vision at once candid and sophisticated, open and sincere, witty and compassionate — an unlikely combination in this dark, nerve-fraying, and isolating period in history.”

To see an array of Liu Xiaodong’s New York paintings, go to Hyperallergic, here. And fall in love with that city all over again.

Read Full Post »

marta-grossi-sink-paintings-large-thumbnail-2

Photo: Marta Grossi at My Modern Met

I love recent stories in which the discomfort of quarantine has spurred the isolated to adapt in interesting ways. Today’s article features an artist who found herself looking at her sink much more than usual.

Darcy Schild writes at Insider, “Marta Grossi is an artist and creative director who was quarantined in Milan, Italy, when she found an innovative way to make handwashing a magical experience. Grossi was running low on her traditional painting paper, so she started applying watercolors directly to the sink in her bathroom. …

“Grossi recalled the day she first picked up her watercolor brush at the bathroom sink …  after returning home from the grocery store, the one place (aside from pharmacies or to seek medical care) where citygoers in Milan were allowed to go at the beginning of lockdown orders. …

” ‘Everything felt apocalyptic in the city. I was hearing helicopters 24/7,’ said Grossi. ‘The alarm was extreme. I was a bit upset coming back from my errand, and I just wanted to wash everything off,’ she said.

“As she was washing her hands, she noticed her small watercolor tray sitting on the sink ledge, which she had used earlier in the day.

‘Suddenly, I don’t know what happened, but I started to paint,’ she said. ‘I started with branches and then filled in colors of a cherry blossoms. In that moment, I lost all track of time, and all my thoughts about what was going on washed away.’ …

“Grossi’s on-a-whim painting made her smile each time she returned to the sink to wash her hands, she said, so the concept stuck.

” ‘I started leaving the designs in the sink overnight and not washing [my hands] in that sink until the next day,’ Grossi said.

“The sink also became a canvas of sorts for Grossi. [She] began to run low on her supply of traditional drawing and painting paper, which she said she was saving to use for client projects and for pieces that were donated to a hospital. That’s when the apartment’s bathroom sink came into play.

” ‘It was about being able to use my hands to create something that was familiar, but also new to me,’ Grossi said of the sink watercolor method. …

“Grossi said it’s important to start with a dry surface or else the watercolor paints get hard to control, but that the challenge of a unique canvas made her artwork even more enjoyable.

” ‘It became my way to be present,’ she said. ‘These are the instruments I knew how to use to stay in the moment and to not let things that are out of my control affect me.’

“After admiring her designs for a day, Grossi turns on the faucet and rinses out the sink, then starts fresh with a new creation. Grossi said the act of filming her designs wash away has been soothing for her, as well as her growing fanbase.

” ‘The comments I got, even from strangers, were about what my next design would be, or telling me how the art was helping them,’ said Grossi. ‘This started as a necessity in a very bad moment and came therapeutic, not only for me, but for many others.’

Grossi says her sink designs are an example of temporary art, which, to her, reflects the importance of cherishing life in the moment. … By washing the designs away, it marks a new day, Grossi said, and ‘mirrors what’s going on in the real world — that there are beautiful moments even in the scary and unknown.’

“At the very least, the unexpected designs have been one way to make constant handwashing more enjoyable, Grossi said. ‘I translated this into something beautiful. If I wash my hands, I see flowers, I see the sea, I see animals. This changed my perspective on what was becoming so routine.’ …

“Grossi said she hopes to someday create an exhibit full of painted sinks inspired by her quarantine ritual because, in her opinion, sinks and the monotony of handwashing will ‘always be a symbol of what we all went through collectively’ during the pandemic.”

You really have to see these watercolors. Click here. And there’s more at the site My Modern Met, here.

Read Full Post »

spiritofthewoods_yew_s6

This yew watercolor is one of many lovely illustrations by 19th century poet Rebecca Hey for an encyclopedia of trees. The rare book is reviewed by Maria Popova at Brainpickings. More images from Sylvan Musings, or, The Spirit of the Woods, here.

If you are not already following the blog or Twitter feed of Maria Popova at Brainpickings, you’re missing some very thoughtful commentary on the arts and sciences.

One of the many things I appreciate about her is the way she ties in related topics. For example, at the end of her post about 19th century poet/artist Rebecca Hey’s illustrations for an encyclopedia of trees, she suggests complementing the book with “Art Young’s imaginative Rorschach silhouettes of trees from the 1920s, Walt Whitman on the wisdom of trees, modern-day poetic naturalist Robert Macfarlane on what trees teach us about healthy relationships, and the inspiring illustrated story of Wangari Maathai’s tree-planting as resistance and empowerment, which made her the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, then revisit the stunning celestial art of the self-taught 17th-century German astronomer and artist Maria Clara Eimmart.” (Wow, talk about someone with a “catholic” taste!)

In her review, Popova quotes William Blake: ” ‘The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. … As a man is, so he sees.’…

“Perched partway in time between Blake’s time and ours, and partway in sensibility between the poetic and the scientific, Sylvan Musings, or, The Spirit of the Woods (public library | public domain) is, as far as I am aware, the world’s first encyclopedia of wild trees.

“Having resolved to face the new year like a tree, I came upon this forgotten treasure through the joyous gateway of serendipitous discovery — a bygone pleasure of atomic literature rarely accessible in our search-governed digital culture, always corralling us toward what we already know we are looking for.

“In the midst of a research project involving Mary Shelley, I acquired a rare surviving copy of the pioneering 1849 encyclopedia to which Shelley spent five years contributing short biographies of eminent scientists; one advertisement in the front matter of this fragile pocket-sized time travel device caught my eye. …

“Of the very few female authors published in the nineteenth century, many appeared under male pseudonyms or ungendered initials. (This tradition would carry well into the twentieth century, leading the young Rachel Carson to publish her revolutionary marine masterpiece under the byline ‘R.L. Carson.’) …

“ ‘Mrs. William Hey’ is Rebecca Hey — a poet, painter, and amateur naturalist. (Lest we forget, all women of scientific bent had to be ‘amateurs’ by virtue of being excluded from both formal higher education and the scientific societies of the time. …

“Each chapter opens with one of Hey’s handsomely hand-colored engravings of the tree’s leaves at the tip of a branch and closes with one of her original poems celebrating the species. Nestled between is the natural history of the tree, punctuated by thoughtfully chosen quotations from literary classics, both poetry and prose. …

“I have endeavored to restore and digitize a number of them, making them available as prints, with proceeds benefiting the Arbor Day Foundation, whose noble reforestation work and sylvan stewardship are more and more needed as we watch fires consume the ancient forests that have long been the lungs of this irreplaceable planet.”

Don’t you love the way the character of this writer shines through in her review? She does request donations at her site, and I think I have borrowed enough from her today to spur me to go there now and do my duty.

Do check out the wonderful array of tree watercolors at Brainpickings, here.

Read Full Post »

639.1999_2017-detail-7-copy-scaled-e1584113138609

Photos: Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Suida-Manning Collection
Luisia Roldán’s “Education of the Virgin” (1689–1706). Detail, preconservation. Mary is the child reading at her mother’s knee.

I like thinking about the career of this 17th century sculptor and her subject in the terracotta above, whether she chose the topic or it was commissioned. We see Mary’s parents encouraging her reading, and I know that to rise to her official position in the court of the last Habsburg king, Luisa Roldán had support from her parents, too.

Lydia Pyne writes at Hyperallergic, “In 1692, the sculptor Luisa Roldán was invited to take up the post of Escultora de Cámara in the court of Spain’s last Habsburg king, Charles II. A well-established artist long before her court appointment, Roldán’s sculptures were commissioned by Spanish aristocrats and royalty and her works were widely circulated — they were sent to Mexico and England during her lifetime. She was Spain’s first recorded female artist, learning the craft from her father, the sculptor Pedro Roldán.

Luisa Roldán is easily the most famous sculptor you’ve never heard of.

“Roldán’s work is characterized by small-scale terracotta sculptures like ‘Education of the Virgin’ (1689-1706). … Historically, her small, painted polychrome terracotta sculptures would have been used for private devotion in homes or private chapels. …

“ ‘Education of the Virgin’ portrays an encounter between the young Virgin Mary and her parents, Saints Anne and Joachim. Anne holds a book as Mary reads, Mary’s finger carefully keeping her place on the page. In the bottom right corner, a small, cherubic angel presents a woven basket filled with swaddling cloth. The scene emphasizes Anne’s role in actively managing Mary’s education, both spiritual and secular. …

“The sculpture underscores the importance of children’s religious training, for both boys and girls, and originally served as a didactic template for children’s spiritual and secular education — education that would have been facilitated through the household’s matriarch.

“By the 17th century, terracotta had long been an interim medium for sculptors — something used to work out a rough plan or idea, but not for a final piece. This changed with Roldán. …

“Many Roldán sculptures also allowed for audience participation through detached figures that could be moved and arranged by audiences, thus offering a blueprint for the hugely popular Neapolitan crèches and, centuries later, Fontanini Nativity sets. …

“Terracotta is an extremely fragile medium and ‘Education of the Virgin’ is among only 20 or so of Roldán’s sculptures to survive. The Blanton’s conservation efforts have highlighted the complexity of these artworks as well as the intricate multimedia material makeup of the sculpture as it existed in the 1600s. …

“Luisa Roldán’s career emphasizes her familial network and connections. Her father taught her and her sisters to sculpt; her husband, Luis Antonio de los Arcos, was a carver in Pedro’s workshop; and her brother-in-law Tomás de los Arcos painted many of her sculptures. Luis Antonio would eventually manage Roldán’s workshop, rather than taking commissions for his own work. Within the social confines of 17th-century Spain, Roldán managed to carve out a successful, respected place as an artist.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

The sculpture following its conservation at the Blanton Museum of Art.

639.1999-2019_recto-copy-scaled-e1584113175697-1

Read Full Post »

10000

Photo: Christie’s
Alireza Hosseini, a refugee from Afghanistan, says of his 2019 painting “Embrace God”: “I was a man who did not know a god. I went to a sage and he told me to imagine two chairs: one for me, the other for God.” (Story at the
Guardian,)

It can be discouraging being a refugee if your new countrymen see you more as a concept than an individual. That is why a program in France, though struggling itself, has been determined to do something that opens minds.

PBS NewsHour‘s “Arts Canvas” recently posted a report by Jeffrey Brown on letting refugees tell their stories through their art.

“JEFFREY BROWN: Portraits of migration, the troubles faced along the way, the trauma of making a new home.

“ABDUL SABOOR: I’m from Afghanistan, but, sometimes, I say from nowhere.

“BROWN: Photographer Abdul Saboor experienced it himself. In Afghanistan, he says, he worked in transportation for the U.S. Army, but fled when the Taliban began threatening him and his family. During a harrowing two-year journey, part of it spent in an abandoned train station in Serbia, he began taking pictures with a donated camera.

“SABOOR: When I show to the people, I say, that’s not normal, how we lived there.

“BROWN: His photographs became a bridge to overcome language and other barriers and raise awareness about the plight of refugees, which he continues to do in Paris. … Saboor is one of some 200 refugee artists from more than 40 countries now getting support from the Agency of Artists in Exile.

“On our visit to its makeshift building off the Seine River, an Ethiopian man belted out a traditional song with accompaniment from this phone. Across the hall, a Yemeni woman used her vast trail of official asylum-seeking papers, accumulated over two years of navigating France’s legal process, to create an art installation. … And a Kurdish actor who fled Turkey practiced a monologue about his first days in Paris. …

“Judith Depaule is director of the studio, which opened in 2017 with funding from the French Ministry of Culture.

“JUDITH DEPAULE: In the beginning, you are, like, in the state of shock. … because nobody wants you there. It’s difficult. You have to do a lot of papers. … It’s like a panic. …

“BROWN: President Emmanuel Macron has sought to criminalize illegal border crossings, while tightening restrictions on asylum, even as far-right parties in the country call for more.

“But France also has a long tradition of being a sanctuary for artists, including Pablo Picasso and James Baldwin. The idea here was to give artists a place to connect with one another, to work on and exhibit their crafts, and to help with all the practical challenges of living as a refugee.

“ARAM TASTEKIN (through translator): First of all, they helped us find a place to live. Secondly, they helped us get a work visa, find a lawyer. Some people needed psychologists, things like that.

“BROWN: Kurdish actor and drama teacher Aram Tastekin fled Turkey in late 2017. So, why did you leave Turkey?

“TASTEKIN (through translator): Because it’s complicated living there. I’m a conscientious objector. I am anti-military. I’m an artist who tries to make art and theater in the Kurdish language, to protect the Kurdish language. But when we make Kurdish art or theater, they always say it is terrorist propaganda. And that really hurts. How can a language be terrorist propaganda?

“BROWN: In 2018, graffiti artist and painter Ahlam Jarban fled her native Yemen amid its years-long civil war. She says she faced added persecution for her family’s Somali and Ethiopian roots and for her wanting to be an artist as a woman. She left everyone and everything behind, and says she still doesn’t know if it was the right decision.

“AHLAM JARBAN: Because, all of us, we are we are without our families. So we feel lonely. We feel — there is a lot of problem. But when we are together, when we speak, when we share this story, it makes us a little less stressed, make us little — keep fighting. So it is good to have this place. …

“BROWN: To further make its case and showcase its artists, the agency recently presented its third annual month-long festival titled Visions of Exile. …

“JARBAN: When they see our artwork, they don’t see it as a refugee. This see it as artist, and artist make this thing. We do all this journey to be something. We have hope, and we are human before we come.” More here.

Read Full Post »

29tmag-luchita-slide-ejnv-jumbo

Photo: Laure Joliet
Important shows are proliferating for 98-year-old artist Luchita Hurtado. “Luchita Hurtado. Dark Years” — was on view at New York’s Hauser & Wirth gallery earlier this year, and more exhibits are scheduled around the world.

In my after-kids career, I had jobs in which my colleagues were nearly always decades younger than me. I didn’t want to tell anyone my age. If the workplace celebrated birthdays, I didn’t want anyone to know when mine was. On Facebook, my date of birth is still visible only to me (and Facebook, alas).

So I loved what this artist who’s getting big shows at 98 had to say about revealing her age.

‘The older I get, the more I want to tell you how old I am,’ the 98-year-old artist Luchita Hurtado says, gesturing toward the paintings in her Los Angeles studio. ‘I’m showing off. Sometimes I feel that I’m really overdoing it.’

Maybe if I get to 98 with all my marbles, I will feel the same.

Anna Furman writes at the New York Times, “On a cloudless afternoon in October, I meet the artist Luchita Hurtado, 98, in her Santa Monica home studio — a sand-colored three-story building a 20-minute walk from the Pacific Ocean. Inside, her riotously colorful paintings — in which genderless figures transform into trees — animate the walls of her compact 145-square-foot studio, interspersed with dried leaves and a framed rare butterfly. …

“She recounts searching for Olmec colossal heads from a two-seater plane above San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán; camping at the Lascaux Cave in southern France before the site closed permanently to the public in 1963; posing for Man Ray, and forging friendships with Frida Kahlo, Isamu Noguchi and Leonora Carrington. …

“Hurtado has recently experienced a rise to fame that has been thrilling to witness — albeit maddening in its lateness. … In her expansive oil paintings, ink-based drawings, fabric collages and patterned garments, Hurtado explores what she sees as the interconnectedness of all beings. Her paintings from the ’70s [represent] women as sacred beings, powerful subjects of their own lives. …

“Born in the seaside town of Maiquetía, Venezuela, in 1920, Hurtado migrated to New York at age 8. At the then-all-girls high school Washington Irving, she studied fine art and developed a keen interest in anti-fascist political movements. [At one point], she supported herself by creating imaginative installations for Lord & Taylor and fashion illustrations for Vogue — at night, she created totemic figure drawings with watercolor and crayon. …

“ ‘Luchita has always had this very fluid identity, which makes her art so 21st century,’ says the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, who is organizing her retrospective in London. ‘We have to contextualize her clearly with the historic avant-garde, because she is a contemporary of Frida Kahlo, she knew Diego Rivera and was married to Wolfgang Paalen, a key figure of surrealism — and she is a key figure of spiritual surrealism, with a connection to pre-Columbian art, but we cannot lock her in that.’…

“Hurtado possesses the grace of someone who has not spent her life promoting her art, but quietly and diligently producing it — at her kitchen table, in backyards and closets and, at one point, in a stand-alone studio in the Santa Monica Canyon. …

‘I never stopped drawing, looking, living,’ she tells me. ‘It’s all the same thing, all solving your own life. …

” ‘I remember my childhood more and more,’ Hurtado tells me, tucking a tortoiseshell comb into her hair, which she had cut short herself the day before. She shares memories from Venezuela — hiding under fan-shaped leaves, watching crabs scuttle across the beach, devouring mangoes in a cool stream.

“Lately, when she wakes, she sees a vision of a pink ceiling floating above her. I imagine the series of paintings she created in 1975 in which bright-white squares are framed by mesmerizing planes of blue, goldenrod and fiery red — intended to draw moths to an illusory light, they give off a sense of ascension and expansion.

‘I’ve concluded that I’m going somewhere,’ she tells me. ‘It’s not death; it’s a border that we cross. I don’t think I’ll be able to come back and tell you, but if I can, I’ll find a way. If you suddenly see a pink ceiling, that’s me.’

Read her reasons for promoting different husbands’ work, never her own, at the New York Times, here.

 

Read Full Post »


Photo: Saul Gonzalez/PRI
Kalman Aron began sketching when he was 3 years old and had his first show at 7. Still working at 93, he said if he didn’t paint and draw every day, life would be too boring.

Links to some of the stories that I aim to blog about get squirreled away weeks in advance, and now I’m wishing I used this one in February before a certain artist died. Kalman Aron was 93 and was making art every day.

I heard about Aron from Saul Gonzalez at Public Radio International’s The World.

“When you step inside artist Kalman Aron’s modest apartment in Beverly Hills, a lifetime of creation surrounds you. The walls are covered in paintings and finished canvases are stacked on the floors, a dozen deep. The paintings range from portraits to landscapes to abstract works. They’re just a fraction of the roughly 2,000 pieces Aron says he’s created over the decades.

“Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1924, Aron started sketching when he was 3. At age 13, he won a competition to paint a portrait of the country’s prime minister. But then came the start of World War II; Germany invaded Latvia in 1941. … He was imprisoned in seven concentration and labor camps over the course of four years, not knowing if he’d be alive the next day.

“But Aron was able to survive when German soldiers discovered his skills as an artist. Camp guards and officers asked Aron to make small portraits of family members in exchange for scraps of bread. …

“After the war ended, Aron lived in a displaced persons camp in Austria and received a scholarship to attend Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts.

“In 1949, with only $4 in his pocket, Aron immigrated to the United States with his first wife, settling in Los Angeles. After a stint painting pottery in a factory, Aron started getting work by painting portraits for the city’s wealthy, like the family of Susan Beilby Magee. …

“Magee says you can trace how Aron came to grips with the trauma of his wartime experiences by studying how his work changed over the decades in Los Angeles.

“ ‘At the beginning of his time in LA in the ’50s, [the paintings] are all gray,’ Magee says. “There is no sunlight or people, there is nothing. That was his interior landscape when he arrived. Thirty years later he paints the Hollywood Hills and they are beautiful, full of color.’ …

“Aron says his art has saved him more than once — first, during the Holocaust, and now that he’s 93, it’s kept him from something many people his age struggle with.

“ ‘Dying of boredom,’ Aron says. ‘I’m still talking. I’m still working. They die of boredom.’ ”

The story I heard at PRI is here. And this obit appeared in the Washington Post.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: