Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Access: Greek Islands

It was so much fun to walk through the old town of Naxos and take photos. The effects of history and nature are readily apparent.

There are the remnants of the conquerors: sea-etched marbles of Roman temples, rubble of Venetian castles with rusty brass door knockers, and deteriorating monasteries as remembrances of the Crusadesr_atencio_venetian-doorknocker

The town set high on a hill and faces out to sea, evidence of vigilance, allowing time to alert islanders of approaching sieges from pirates or conquerors. The streets are narrow, winding and twisting with low arches –- a labyrinth designed to slow armed advancements. Doorways are narrow and low – the better to defend one’s home.

Nature also exacts a price for its gifts r-atencio_crossed_saber-doorknob-oilof sun and sea life. Battering storms, wind, and salty breezes make all things metal rust. Paint flakes off. Plaster peels, revealing stones.
Vigilance of another sort, therefore, is required to maintain man-made structures.

Even new, white, angular buildings etched against azure skies eventually submit to sun, storms and the sea’s salt.

I took over 500 photos and will create a series of 30-35 in oil on canvas in keeping with classicism. My wordsmith friend and I arrived at a title for the series: “Access: Greek Isles,” including vignettes of the history and nature of life on the islands are shown through the portals of entry….doors, windows, streets, and gates.

Three more are in various stages of completion and I'll post them as soon as they're ready. This way, you can walk with me through the town and see what I saw. (Please go to http://www.r-atencio.com/gallery/access_greece/access_greece.html to see enlargements. I rushed to get the doors up for you to see. None of the others are ready yet. )


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Georgia O' Keeefe? Not really.

In to be in an artistic environment, she moved to New York. However, in time, she became disenchanted with the hubbub and distraction. She could not hear her own muse. To quiet her world, she moved to Taos, New Mexico.

By now, you are probably thinking: RA must be describing Georgia O'Keeffe. Actually not. The artist who also found her voice in the southwest was Agnes Martin (1912-2004). Ever heard of her?

I was first introduced to Martin in an oil painting class. My teacher was bent on introducing us to abstract painting. I found a book of her work and was taken by the luminosity of her paintings. Her paintings are deceptively simple lines and grids. It would be easy to dismiss her works if you relied solely on web images because her lines and colors are so subtle.

Martin did not start painting immediately upon settling in Taos.In fact,seven year would pass before she began painting again. During the hiatus, she revisited the concepts of Zen Buddhism and Taoism she had studied in college. When she took up the brush, her paintings were based on emotional expression and inspiration and not about intellectualism. (Morris Graves and Mark Tobey also were inspired by Eastern philosophies - see December, 2009, in Archives on the right.)

To quote Agnes Martin: "... light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness."

In May, 2006, the Orange County Museum curated an exhibit featuring four women artists who had found inspiration in the sparseness of the desert. Of the four, one was O'Keeffe and the other was Martin.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Am I Blue? Yes, I am!

Blue is one of the most ubiquitous color on this planet. Did you know that the ancients considered blue a lesser color than purple or red?

The lack of high regard for blue was because it was neither costly nor rare. Typical sources for blue were azurite (copper carbonate) in the Mediterranean region and plant leaves in northern Europe. (The early Greeks had no word for shades of blue. All blues were referred to as "kuanos" from which we get the word, "cyan.") This low regard for blue would change with the discovery of Ultramarine.

Ultramarine ("from beyond the sea") was extracted from lapis lazuli. It was a beautiful blue ranging from royal blue to purple blue. The rarity of lapis and the effort required to extract the pigment made ultramarine blue more expensive than gold.

With the 19th century industrialization, ways were found to synthesize blues and led to the development of Cerulean and Prussian blues. What about that stunning color and stunningly expensive Ultramarine?

In 1824, the French Industrial Society offered 6,000 francs to anyone who could create an artificial Ultramarine. Four years later, M. Guimet won the prize and we have him to thank for this extraordinary blue being available to all artists. (How else could Picasso have had a blue period?)

If you close your eyes and envision blue, what is the image/emotion that you associate with that color?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Compulsion to Make Art

It's so interesting how the muse of art continues to whisper into the ear of the artist no matter what infirmity the artist may experience. I can think of so many artists in history who found a way to continue even after they have experienced physical or mental handicaps.

Beethoven continued to compose music even after he was deaf. Van Gogh painted up to the last day before his deteriorating mental state led to his suicide. Quite a few well-known artists of the 19th century would continue to make art even as their ability to see became impaired.

Both Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and Claude Monet (1840-1926) kept painting in spite of the cataracts each had developed. In Cassatt's case, she went from painting very detailed oils to looser pastels because pastels gave her more latitude and required less detail. Beginning in his thirties, Edgar Degas' (1834-1917) faced diminishing vision. At first, he did what Cassatt did and made the switch to pastels. However, his vision problems continued to worsen.

Degas vision reached the point that he could no longer read, discern colors or see anything with his right eye. He needed to make art and so he began to sculpt. He would eventually make 150 sculptures. The one of the 14-year old ballerina being his most famous.

While the records show that these artists experienced all the emotions of anyone grieving loss, they continued to make art. Why do you think that is? Is there a compelling need to make art? If so, is it as strong in other professions or trades?