Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Turners

At a recent exhibition of late 19th and early 20th century art, Karen Brosius, executive director of the Columbia Museum commented, "The Turners grab you by the throat with their turbulence and atmospheric effects..." What did she mean by "the Turners?"

Ms. Brosius was referring to the works of J.M.W.Turner (1775-1851) - one of the finest painters of light. He is also referred to as "the First Impressionists." For it was Turner, who 40 years before Monet, found the way to make forms dissolve in light.

"A group of French painters, united in the same aesthetic aims...applying themselves with passion to the rendering of form in movement as well as the fugitive phenomena of light, cannot forget that they have been preceded in this path by a great master of the English, the illustrious Turner." (from a letter signed by Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Renoir, and others)

Today, dear reader, instead of a biography, we'll let some of the Turners illustrate why he is and was so highly regarded. (You'll notice how his work became less about details, but the details left became more important. ) click on images to enlarge

I hope you enjoy his art as much as I did when first introduced to "the Turners."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A 20th Century Master of Forms and Shapes

In college our drawing instructor projected a blurred image on a screen. The image was unidentifiable so that the students could not assume shape or form as they drew it. Slowly, the instructor sharpened the image as we students feverishly worked to modify our drawings based on changing information. Finally, the image came into view. It was Edward Weston's iconic photograph of a sea shell. After that, I searched to know more about him.

Edward Weston (1886-1958) was born at a time when photography was becoming available to a wider audience - thanks to the inventions of George Eastman (Eastman Kodak). For it was on Weston's 16th birthday that he would receive his first camera - a Kodak box camera. He was hooked.

At age 20, Weston's photograph titled, Spring, Chicago would be published in a full-page spread in the magazine Camera and Darkroom. He would become a recognized and respected portrait photographer in Glendale, CA. However, he wanted to grow artistically so he raised the money to go to New York. He wanted to study with the foremost photographer of the age - Alfred Stieglitz.

Weston was encouraged by Stieglitz and his wife, Georgia O' Keeffe as well as other artists and photographers to continue his exploration of abstract modernism. This would lead to Weston to his most famous period wherein he photographed vegetables in a sculptural form.

Below are some of his vegetables works. While admiring the beauty of forms, can you identify the objects?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Then and Now: What Happened?

We hear news that due to the economic downturn, music and art are being cut out of school programs. What a contrast to a previous time when the U.S. was mired in difficult economic times.

It came me as I toured an exhibit of WPA-created art. The WPA (Works Progress Administration) was started by President Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression to construct U.S. infrastructure and put Americans back to work. The workers not only built roads and bridges, but also such well-known buildings as the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles and Timberline Lodge in Oregon.

About now you may be wondering what that have to do with the topic of art. As it happens,George Biddle, friend of Roosevelt, realized how artists, musicians and writers were struggling. He convinced the president to create art, theater and music projects under WPA. (The visual arts included painters, sculptors, muralists, and photographers.)

Some of these artists taught art classes in schools and local community centers. Some of the muralists and sculptors generated work for apprentices. All of the artists were allowed to explore their own art - unless it was a public commission.

The list of artists who survived and grew includes such well-known names as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem deKooning, Diego Rivera, Thomas Hart Benton, and Grant Wood. In total, there were over 5,000 artist who were funded through WPA.

Thinking about it, I wonder how many school children were shaped by this demonstration of the importance of art/music in the world. I also wonder what happened to that commitment. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Freud's Grandkid...

If you didn't know, there's another noted Freud family member. No, not another psychiatrist, but rather an artist. His name is Lucian Freud and he really is Sigmund Freud's grandson.

Lucian Freud (1922-) was born in Germany, but his folks immigrated to Britain in 1933 when Hitler came to power. By age 17, Lucian was formally studying art. His works were published almost immediately and by age 22, he had an exhibit at the Lefevre Gallery in London.

Up until 1956, Lucian was mainly painting thin coats of paint with high detail. At that time, he switched to painting thick coats (impasto)and a looser style.

Three years later, he mastered the new approach and began painting nudes in a free, energetic style with which he is identified to this day. (see below)

Now, age 86, he still works from morning to night, has three paintings going at the same time, and paints large canvases often measuring 6 feet or more. Must be a lot of vigor in those Freudian genes.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Man of the People, For the People

First, I'd like to thank all of you who took the time to comment on my new Greek series. You have truly inspired me to continue and I have completed two more from the energy of your complimentary responses.

Can't say why, but I am drawn to artists who create art in spite of the danger of doing so. Goya, Pisarro, and Luce (See Feb., 2010 archive) all paid a price. So did Daumier.

Honore Daumier (1808-1879)was a lithographer, caricaturist, sculptor and painter. The family's financial circumstances were lean. In order to help, young Daumier took a job as a delivery boy. In his spare time, he sketched from paintings at the Louvre.

When Daumier was age 22, he studied lithography and found work with small publishing houses. He became a very good satirical political cartoonist poking fun at the king and the upper class.
Eventually, his lithograph titled "Gargantua" of Louis-Phillipe, the reigning monarch, would lead to a 6-month stint in jail. Nevertheless, he continued to "voice" his displeasure with the French oligarchy.

Daumier is considered one of the most prolific artist of the 19th century. During his lifetime, he produced 4000 graphics, 300 paintings, 800 drawings, 1000 woodcuts and sculptures. He is most remembered for his lithograph titled, "Rue Transnonain, le 15 avril 1834" To fully appreciate what Daumier was portraying, it helps to have a little background.

During Louis-Phillipe's reign, there were anti-worker laws enacted such as those that prevent forming labor unions. The terrible working conditions that existed and the new laws generated resistance. During the resistance, a sniper shot a police officer and the police went on a rampage in the building where they thought the sniper was located.

The police shot everyone they could find in the building - even women and children. Daumier, who lived only 3 blocks from the building, was so upset that he created a large lithograph. A print seller placed one of the prints in his shop window.

When the authorities learned about the lithograph, all known prints were confiscated and the original lithographic stone was destroyed. Fortunately, some prints were successfully hidden away from the authorities.

Look carefully and closely at the print. Did you note the little child? What do you think about this famous print?