Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In the New Year...

There's been a true story circulating on the 'net about a famous and highly regarded violinist (Joshua Bell) who performed unrecognized in a Washington D.C. train station. Many people passed him by but few even paused to listen - except the very young who were fixated before being tugged along in the name of "time" and "schedules."

The entire event was a study organized by a writer at the Washington Post newspaper to find out if we are influenced by settings - "packaging." After all, it was still this amazing violinist playing very intricate pieces on a Stradivarius. Yet of the almost 1,100 people who passed, only 7 (seven!) stopped to listen.

Consider this: instead of resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, earn more money, and make better food choices, we could endow ourselves with the gift of time - time to listen, taste, see, and feel beauty. That would be my wish for all of us.

Here's to a beauty-savored 2010! R.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wishes for You...

Since many folks will be going out of town next week, I thought I get my greetings in now. Here's my sentiments and wishes for you... (Please click for enlargement)

Enjoy and savor the time spent with friends and family, R-Atencio

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mark Tobey v. Jackson Pollock

In an art publication, I read that Jackson Pollock, the famous abstract expressionist painter known for his "drip style," took great pains to deny that his work was influenced by the work of Mark Tobey. Evidence suggests otherwise.

Before describing the evidence, let me introduce you to Mark Tobey (1890-1976). If the name sounds familiar, I referred to him in last week's blog as one of the four "Mystical Painters of the Northwest" and a founder of the Northwest School (of art style).

As a young man, Tobey had converted to the Ba'hai faith. The study of his faith, as well as his travels through Europe and the Orient, led to his interest in Asian arts.
He studied haiku (Japanese essential poetry), Japanese brushwork, and Chinese, Arab and Persian calligraphy. He also stayed for awhile in a Zen monastery. In time, all of these experiences would influence his art and not only lead to abstract art work, but also to what Tobey referred to as "white writing."

Tobey experimented with combining painting and calligraphy for spiritual meaning. He would overlay the painting with white (or another light color) in an interwoven brush stroke style. His method would give rise to what is known as an "all-over" painting style.(His "Broadway" painting on right.)

Now, dear reader, back to Pollock... ...evidence shows that Pollock attended every exhibition of Tobey's paintings. Often, Pollock would attend an exhibit and then return to his studio and create a very large all-over canvas mural. Below on the left is a Tobey painting and on the right is a Pollock. What do you think? Do you think Pollock really was influenced by Tobey?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Morris Graves: One of the Mystic Painters

The assignment was to report on a dead 20th century Northwest artist who was accomplished enough to have a body of work and have been known in their lifetime. That's how I came to find out about Morris Graves (1910-2001).

He was native Northwesterner (Oregon) and a born artist. His parents had no idea what to do with the little artist. They were sure his fate was to be penniless.

Lacking guidance, Morris wasn't sure of his direction either, so at age 18 he joined the Merchant Marines. A voyage through the Orient would prove to be one of the most profound influences on his art.

Morris was largely self taught. His natural gifts meant that at age 23 he won first prize at the NW Annual Show held at the Seattle Art Museum. (By age 26, Morris had his first one-person show at that museum.)

From 1935 to 1954, Seattle had an informal art community. The artists group included Morris, Mark Tobey, Kenneth Callahan and Guy Anderson. Together, these four artists heavily influenced each other. They were referred to as the Northwest School of Masters. During this time, Life magazine placed the four on the cover of an issue with the title: "The Mystic Painters of the Northwest."

They were called mystic painters because they all sought understanding of themselves and their relation to the cosmos including Eastern concepts of consciousness and creation. Morris studied and used Taoist, Buddhist and East Indian symbolism in his paintings.

Throughout his life, Morris would produce art that was sparse and beautifully illuminated. At the end of this life, he requested a painting titled, "Triumph" be brought to him. He looked at it and saw not tulips but angels rising to the heavens and so he, too, departed.
Right up to the end of life, Morris saw and created mystic symbolism.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Norman Rockwell's Thanksgiving Dilemma

The year was 1943. The U. S. was in the throes of WWII. GIs were fighting in both the Pacific and Europe. At home, folks were experiencing scarcity. Sugar, coffee, and even gasoline were being rationed. In this environment, Norman Rockwell was commissioned to illustrate the Thanksgiving issue for the Saturday Evening Post. Thus was Rockwell's dilemma. What to do?

Rockwell knew that with the complete mobilization of the nation and the scarcities created by the war, it would be difficult to show a table laden with food. He thought of the soldiers slogging through winter in Europe or humid, rainy jungles in the Pacific. What would they think of such an image?

He decided on a composition showing what it meant to have a warm and secure life. To that end, he titled his illustration, "Freedom from Want." That was genius. It told those that were fighting and the people back home who supported them, that they were fighting for a safety of the American homeland.

Rockwell personalized the composition by placing the viewer at the table. He emphasized the folks (including the viewer) in conversation and avoided a food-laden table. Soldiers who were so far from home could place themselves in the scene. In fact, all Americans could place themselves in that the painting. No wonder it became an icon of Thanksgiving in the U. S.

As you look at the composition, is there anything else you notice as to how Rockwell solved his dilemma? What are the feelings that you have when you look at the painting?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. R.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wintry Joy !

As you may have guessed, I enjoy flowers very much. Their presence always makes me smile. From the first crocus popping up to announce spring to the late fall when only a few brave flowers continue to bloom, they bring me enjoyment.

Some of my first art works in both watercolor and pastel were flowers. Even my first woodblock prints were... you guessed it...flowers!

When I was thinking about what I wanted to add to my card series, I thought about the the flowers that cheer us through the dark days of winter. Oops! I did say "flowers," which is true but for one exception - holly. I think it's a berry... anyone?)

Here are the new series of pastels. If you would like to own or give a gift of this card series, please check my page on Etsy (Link here) or contact me directly. It's always fun to hear from you. Now, for your pleasure, "Winter Floras." (Click on image to enlarge.)


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

History and the Woman Artist

A few years ago, I attended an exhibition of woodblock prints at a local art museum. Since this was a show of ukiyo-e (see Blog Archives "Japonisme and the Impressionists"), there were a considerable number of works by Japanese masters. This was to be expected. However, there were also color print works of a very high quality rendered by late-19th/ early 20th century American and European women. I was surprised and intrigued. Curiosity got the best of me - always does - and I did some research.

I found that there were well-respected women woodblock artists and printers who studied in Asia - especially Japan. The ones who were highly recognized enjoyed sold-out exhibitions, solo shows in Japan and acceptance into the inner circles of art. Some of the women artists/printers who enjoyed that kind of fame during their lifetimes included Helen Hyde, Elizabeth Keith and Bertha Lum. (Hyde print at top left; Keith on right; Lum on left)

Characteristically, they were focused and independent-minded women. Keith prided herself on being a self-taught artist, Lum was married but went to Japan to study, and Hyde, who never married, was delighted when her art allowed her financial independence. Lum and Keith would live into the 1950s. Yet, what do we know of them today?

Historically, there are few women artists whose works are known in wider circles. In all probability, almost anyone can name 20 or more male artists for every one woman artist who has reached such a lasting reputation. Why do you think that is?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Japonisme and the Impressionists

There I was sitting in Early Modern Art History class in a darkened room admiring large slide-screen images of paintings by artists such as Monet, Pisarro, Degas, Van Gogh and Renoir. I dreamed of the day when I could stand in the presence of these works of art. However, before I could do that I had to pass the class and the required (and dreaded) final essay. This meant I needed to do some serious research.

Online and in the library I found many interesting facts about the major influences on the Early Modern artists. One of those was Japanese woodblock prints known as "ukiyo-e." (This will be a future topic.)

The story goes that when the French were exposed to Japanese art and culture in the 19th century, it became a craze. "Japonisme" was coined by the French for all things Japanese. Among the many Japanese imports, were Japanese art prints which served as wrapping paper for the imported goods.

The principles of ukiyo-e deeply influenced certain young artists who longed for an innovative approach to painting. They wanted to move away from the strict rigor or order required for art at that time. They found ukiyo-e designs exciting in their differences... ...asymmetrical compositions with strong lines of delineation, areas of intricate patterns and large areas of unshaded flat colors.

Some of the better-known artists whose work we admire today studied the techniques and developed a blend of both western and eastern methods. Names of some of the artists include : Mary Cassatt, Van Gogh, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas.

On the two paintings below, can you spot some of the ukiyo-e influence? Care to take a stab at the names of the artists? (Hint: It's definitely not Moe, Curly or Larry.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mrs. Edward Hopper...

One of my favorite artists is Edward Hopper. In design class, I chose one of his paintings for an assignment in analyzing design elements. During the analysis, I realized the brilliance of the layouts of his paintings and drawings. (On the left is one of his most popular paintings titled "Nighthawks.")

However, he's not the Hopper that I want to share with you. The Hopper I have in mind is Mrs. Edward Hopper AKA Jo Hopper. Since she was also an artist, she was familiar with the intimacy of the artist-model relationship. In her marriage she was having none of that. So, from their 1924 marriage to his death in 1967, she was his only female model.

Why would this matter to Edward's art? Answer: Since Jo was his only model, we can view the female form in its stages of aging. The first image below was completed in 1944 and the other two are from 1954 and 1963, respectively.

What are your observations of Edward paintings of Jo over the 20-year span? Does it seem fair that as an artist he was limited to only one female model for 45 years?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Caravaggio: The Gifted Scoundrel

Michelangelo Merisi, better known as "Caravaggio," was possessed of immeasurable, original talent as an artist and an immeasurably bad temper as a man.

There was no doubt as to his talent. In his fairly brief lifetime - he was about 39 years old when he died (1571-1610) - he received many top commissions. Art historians have referred to him as the most original and influential artist after the period of Da Vinci.

Caravaggio was painting in the age of Mannerism art. Yet his work was not mannerly. Instead, he used rough street people complete with dirty feet and shabby clothes for his subjects - even for lofty religious commissions. His realism would stand as a precursor to the Baroque period.

His best works used the drama of deep shadows and directed light. This technique, referred to as "chiaroscuro," probably influenced such later well-known artist as Vermeer, Rubens and Rembrandt.

In spite of all his talent and originality, his personal life was marked by many arguments, fights, and arrests. (He was brought to trial on at least 11 occasions.) His aggressions culminated in the killing of a man during a fight over the score of a tennis match.

Caravaggio fled. Ultimately, he was found and arrested. Powerful patrons arranged clemency for him from the Pope. In circumstances that would make an intriguing movie script, Caravaggio died before the Papal document arrived. It is thought that he died of pneumonia and the cumulative effect of his lifestyle.

Postscript: He was a fugitive and relentlessly pursued for 4 years. Yet, historians consider the art work during this period to be his best. The question is: What muse lived in him that required the payment or homage of such stress and violence in return for his talent?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Three of a Kind - More Triptychs...

I so appreciated all your good ideas after posting the first triptychs for the "Progressions" series. (tomato to Bloody Mary, lime to Margarita, and lemons to lemon meringue pie) Your interest so encouraged me that I've created even more for the Holiday Studio Art Sale.

A tip of the hat to Francis and Chloe, who gave me the idea of apples to apple pie, and to Barb, who suggested cucumbers to a jar of pickles. Keep the comments coming. The collaboration is so much fun!

For now, here are the two suggested "Progressions" plus coconut to coconut cream pie... yum!

One last thing: All of the confusing areas of commenting have been eliminated.
(1) Click on Gray/Blue Area just below that reads, "(number) comments" for comment box.
(2) Scroll down to box, write your suggestion/comment and your first name so I know who wrote.
(3) Click "anonymous" in "Comment as" and then "Post Comment."

It's easy and allows us to share without the worry of spamming. (Sometimes I post a comment back to you using the same method.)After all, you're my peeps.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is Digital Photography Really Art?

It is a question I ask myself as I see more and more photographs being accepted in jury shows. Personally, I have no problem with a well-composed and beautifully rendered photograph. (Think Ansel Adams or Imogen Cunningham.) The question comes up for me in this digital age with the digitally-modified/manipulated photographs.

Is it art or are we just inured to the concept because of all the special effects in movies?

The reason I ask is because with the digital imaging programs such as PhotoShop and PaintShop, anyone can make amazing and interesting changes to an image. Is that art or just skillful manipulation of a software program? Is the adult/child/ape who manipulates the image is some interesting way deserve to be called an "artist?"

I suppose one could liken the software programs to a paint tube, brushes, and myriad other art-making tools. It's just that I wonder. Do digitally manipulated photographs deserve to be considered in the same way as say, a well executed oil painting? or perhaps a perfectly registered multicolor woodblock print? or a smoothly polished sculpture?

As for me, I am having a little trouble with it. I have one of those software programs and I love all the ways that it allows me to modify an image for a website or some other graphic. Personally, I don't consider that to be making art.

Do you think I'm just behind the times? Is this the new direction art is taking? What is your opinion?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

98 Year Old Creative Force in Art

It seems there are lots of emails poking fun at the way we age. Truly, I find them funny. Yet there is something stereotypical in assuming a loss of our "creative juices" as we age. The renowned French artist, Louise Bourgeois, who completes 98 years on Dec. 25th, is an example of continuing original creativity regardless of age.

As a younger woman, Ms. Bourgeois created monumental works in marble, glass, latex, rubber, and metal. Her best-known sculptures are her 30-foot high spiders in a series titled, "Maman." (They are tributes to her mother and the other women who worked in the family business of repairing and reweaving valuable tapestries.)

When she was 88 years old (1999), she accepted a commission as the first artist to create a monumentally-sized work for the Tate Modern. The commission was to fill Turbine Hall - a room which is 30-feet high and 500 feet long. The installation was titled, "I Do I Undo and I Redo."

Louise Bourgeois has also explored her ideas in printmaking, painting and performance. In 2007, the Tate Modern curated a survey of her works over a span of 70 years. The survey included some 200 pieces.

As of this writing, Ms. Bourgeois maintains a vital and busy life. She conducts Sunday salons for artists, has an exhibition of her textile prints in Stockholm,and is working on a commission for 2010 for the Maison de Balzac in Paris.

As one writer stated, "At 98, and still working, she is a fierce woman who is original, curious, intelligent, sensitive, generous, wildly imaginative, sexual and uncompromising."
Imagine yourself at age 98 - what would you like to have someone write about you?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Random Approach...

For the most part, I've been working with pastel and acrylics. Recently, with the wonderful long hours of daylight, a large covered patio, and fresh breezes wafting through, my interest in painting with oils has been rekindled. (My indoor studio - also known as the garage - isn't ventilated well enough for paint thinners.)

The decision was to start small and see how it felt to work in oil again. The subject? As you have probably already figured out, I'm all about fruit and veggies these days. (Do you suppose it has something to do with summer? ) Design? My mind was on the randomness of a carton of small fruits.

The three paintings below are each 4" x 4" on 6" x 6" backing. They each are mounted on top of the backing to show the spilling of fruit around the edge of the canvas.
"Blueberries at Random"

"Cherries at Random"


"Gooseberries at Random"

This small format is new to me - and painting the edges on such a small canvas provided a new level of difficulty. Yet, art experimentation is so enjoyable to me. What are your favorite problem-solving issues? Repairs? Puzzles? Comments welcome.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Progressions: Produce (continued..).

Well, dear reader (and art lover), thank you for your encouragement and enthusiasm for the "Progressions" triptychs. I was and am so stoked by your participation.

Your suggestions for future "Progressions" have been transferred to my ideas sketch book. For sure, at least a few of your ideas will be in the next group I paint. (To see the previous triptych comments, click on "blog archive," "August," "Art in 3s - Triptychs" and scroll down.)

Your suggestions ranged from chocolate to steam, which got me thinking about subcategories. Thus the title for the fruits and veggies group is now re-named, "Progressions: Produce."

Speaking of produce, here are the next three that I've completed for the December Open House and Studio Sale... banana to bananas on cereal, pomegranate to cosmos, and avocado to guacamole.

Please let me hear from you for more progressions and subcategories. Your responses have made this a really fun and shared experience. Let's keep it going!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Arabian Nights (and Days) in Spain

On the occasion of a certain decade birthday, I wanted to do something special to mark it. I was visiting dear friends in Greece and thanks to an "open jaw" airline ticket, had decided to give myself the gift of Paris for a few days on my way home. A very dear French friend, who lives in Greece, made a list of things to see/do while I was in Paris.

The list included a night time bateau (boat) ride on the Seine and a trip to the Musée de l'Institut du Monde Arabe - the Museum of the Arab World. I did both.

In different ways, both were enchanting. After studying Western art in high school and college, the museum really opened my eyes to the very different and stylized beauty of Islamic art. (More on the traditional Arabian arts in a future blog.) Without a doubt, Arab writing style and art spoke to me.

Later, I took a university class in Islamic art and architecture as part of my art history education. (It's still hard to realize how a professor could be so boring on such an interesting subject.)

On my own, I learned more about the geometric and vegetal patterns that are the basis for most of the tile work. I tried my hand at it in a ceramics class and also used the patterns for a handmade book assignment in a color theory class. From all this, I concluded that the time of the Muslims in Spain (al Andulus) is one of my favorite eras. Yes, for the art to be sure, but also for the tolerance shown by the Muslim rulers to the Christians and Jews during that period.

Oh, and for that boring university class I wrote a paper on Madinat al Zahara, a once beautiful palace city outside of Cordoba, Spain. It now lies in ruins but continues to call to me. I dream of finding a way to visit the remains of a time when the Muslims ruled southern Spain. There must be a way to get to Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Andalusia and Granada....

What place calls to you? Why? (Please post a comment just below. Others may enjoy reading it and you can always be anonymous - except write your first name in the comment box so I know it's you.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Art in 3s - Triptychs

When friends meet me or phone, they often ask what I'm doing... what I'm working on these days. So, here's what I've been doing...

With the Christmas season fast approaching, I am getting together with a few other artists to host a Holiday Open House and Studio Sale. (Particulars and invitations will be sent as we get closer to the date.)

In the interest of having new work to view and buy at Christmastime, I've been working on quite a few small pieces and you, dear reader, will be the first to know.

As of today, I've completed three triptychs from a series I've titled, "Progression." The first from tomato to Bloody Mary, the second from lemon to lemon meringue pie and the third from lime to Margarita.

r atencio-limes-pastel

Now, I'm working on three more triptychs - pomegranate, banana, and avocado - which I'll post as soon as they're finished. What do you think so far? Do you have suggestions for future "Progressions?"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's good enough for Degas...

Question: What do I have in common with Degas (image on left), Cassatt, Rodin and Toulouse-Lautrec? Answer: We all appreciated the vibrant colors and immediacy of sketching/painting with pastels. You may think me a little arrogant to put Atencio in the company of such greats, but in Paris in year 2005, I came as close to M. Degas as I possibly could.

First, I've been enchanted with pastels even before I started art classes. The response of such vivid colors on paper is a thing of beauty. I had two pastel goals while visiting the City of Lights.

The first goal was to go to the D' Orsay Art Museum. It is a beautiful old train station that's been converted to an art museum. It is known for an outstanding collection of Impressionists' art. I went there three times to savor the pastels of Degas, Lautrec, and Redon. The last time was to say good-bye and to plant a wish to see them again one day.

The second goal was to find the little shop that still made the pastels that Degas has used. I had read about La Maison du la Pastel on the internet (where else?) and wanted to find this out-of-the-way shop that was only open on Thursdays from 2-6 PM. I did find it but, alas, it was closed. There was a note on the door. I don't know French, but two-years of Catholic school Latin gave me a rudimentary idea of what was written. It seems the person in charge was next door having a tea.

Bold, American woman (me)walked into the bar and asked for Madam Roche. The waiter had no idea what I wanted. He kept trying to seat me. By a process of elimination, I found Isabelle Roche. Nothing like I expected. She was the young, college trained granddaughter of the chemist, M. Roche, who had worked with Degas to create the pastel sticks as Degas wanted them.

Madam Roche showing pastelsMadam Roche opened the shop, which looked and felt like a typical old Paris warehouse.(Photo on left) She asked what color I wanted. I said, "Gray." From behind her, she pulled out tray after tray of grays... blue gray, red gray, and so it went. I was enthralled and next asked for green. Out came tray after tray of every imaginable green.

I made the mistake of not asking the price. Madam finally brought me back to reality. She said, "These pastels are expensive," and rang up what I had so far. Mon dieux! I left in a financial daze with my carton of beautiful pastels wondering if Degas had experienced the same dazed feeling. Do you suppose we had that in common, too?

Click here to check out the process and colors of Roche pastels

Click here to read a short, interesting history of Roche and Degas

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Artemisia Gentileschi: A Passion for Art

Last year, I was at a museum enjoying the art of Rembrandt and other painters of that era. I came across a classic and beautifully executed floral still life. It was done by a Dutch woman who was unknown to me. It seems that many women artist were lost to a history that denied them a voice. One of these women was a 17th century Italian artist named Artemisia Gentileschi

In her early years, Artemisia was trained by her father Orazio, who was a wonderful artist ala the school of Caravaggio. Later, she was refused entry into any of the art academies and had to rely on private tutoring to advance her skills. As a teenager, her tutor raped her. Her father took him to court and Artemisia would endure a 7-month trial, significant physical torture, and social notoriety. One can only imagine the strength of her character to endure all that.

Her skill and determination would lead to acceptance as the first woman in the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing) in Florence. Also, she would become the first female artist to create very large paintings of historical and religious pictures. (Suitable subjects for women were considered to be still life and portrait paintings. )Her work often depicted women as protagonists - as in her bibilical Judith series.

As a matter of contrast in style and female subjects, the image on the left is her father's painting for his Judith series.

In the 17th century, women did not compete with men for art commissions. Yet, Artemisia made her livelihood vying for the same commissions as contemporary male artists.

So, what happened to her in history? Where did she go?

Historically, her work was wrongly attributed to her father and to other male artists. In more recent times, Artemisia has finally been recognized. Now she is referred to “as one of the most accomplished Baroque painters.”

What do you think? Did you know about her? Are you attracted to the Baroque period?