Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Beggar at the Wedding

It was a beautiful spring day. My friend had invited me to her wedding at the Jewish synagogue located in the midst of a very nice neighborhood.

I arrived early to help the bride however I could. The hall was lovely. Everything about it celebrated the happiness of the wedding couple's commitment to each other.

Outside the synagogue I heard some kind of a hubbub. I went outside to see what was happening. On the sidewalk in front of the temple was a very shabbily dressed old man asking for handouts from the guests. (When the bride realized what was happening, she was very upset.)

To calm the scene, the rabbi went out and spoke with the man. The rabbi told the old beggar that rather than beg, he was invited to stay and rejoice with the other guests. The bride was beside herself that this shabby old beggar would be present at her most auspicious and memorable day.

Well, the rabbi entered back into the hall and told the bride that the beggar was a mitzvah - a good deed and a blessing at her wedding. With the rabbi's explanation, the bride relaxed and told others with pride of the blessing of a beggar at the wedding.

You see, once she chose to look at the situation differently, it stopped being an intrusion on her happiness and became a mitzvah to bless her wedding.

As the saying goes, "What you pay attention to determines what you miss." She saw only his exterior appearance until someone pointed out what it meant to do a good deed and invite him to eat.

This is a true story that happened many years ago. The couple is still together and I have never forgotten what it taught me.

And, so Dear Reader, may the coming year be full of good deeds (mitzvahs) and their attendant blessings on you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Imogen Cunningman: Photographer par excellence

Recently I was asked who taught me about shadows, tones, and textures for my art. I answered,"A big source was making studies from Imogen Cunningham's book titled, Flora, which I had found in a used book store." I thought the photography was wonderful and I wanted to know more about the artist.

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976)was born in Portland, Oregon. (Her father named her Imogen after the heroine in Shakespeare's Cymbeline.) Growing up, she took art lessons every summer. She found her medium in photography and bought her first camera at 18.

Her further education in photography was at the UW in Seattle where she studied chemistry in order to learn more about photo lab techniques. After graduation, she worked for the famed photographer, Edward Curtis.

Cunningham was about 26 years old when she received a grant to go to Germany for further study of photographic chemistry. She returned to Seattle and opened a portrait studio. (She was the only photographer who was a charter member of the Society of Seattle Artists. )

Her stunning work gained international recognition and exhibitions - Fellow of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and collected by the Smithsonian Institute.

Although it was her plant photos that caught my attention, she was also known for her nudes and industrial landscapes.

Were you familiar with her work? What do you think of her photography?

Monday, December 5, 2011

What's In a Name? Étienne de Silhouette

There's evidence dating back to the first century in Greece of back-lit portraits - what we refer to today as "silhouettes." I have no idea what this art form was named before Étienne de Silhouette. (1709-1767) It is interesting to discover how this art form took his name. After all, there's no historical evidence of his having a talent for such art.

As it happens,he was the Minister of Finance in 1759 in the court of Louis XV. Just like today, he had the ungrateful task of controlling the deficit and raising enough money to finance the Seven Years' War against Britain.

M. Silhouette's austerity moves made him unpopular and gained him a reputation of being a penny-pincher. The phrase, a la Silhouette became a common phrase for anything done on the cheap. In the same period, shadow cutouts were very popular and inexpensive. And that, dear reader, is how these forms of portraits became known as "silhouettes."

Isn't it fun to know the history of words? Do you have a favorite word with a history you know?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Magic Show: What do You Think?

Have you ever been to an art exhibit and found yourself intrigued by a certain painting? So much so that you needed to look at it awhile to allow the mind to interpret what the eyes were seeing? It's that sense that something is "off."

Intriguing the viewer's mind has been the goal of many talented artists. They are like magicians who use sleight of hand to capture the attention of the audience. I thought it would be fun to demonstrate a subtle form of this sleight of hand in a few well-known paintings. (click on image to enlarge)

Degas' painting: "The Bar at the Folies Bergère"

Look carefully. Is that the same girl in a mirror or a different girl?

Manet's painting: "The Waitress"

Where is the person in the top hat sitting?

Degas' painting: "Ballet Rehearsal"

Are we seeing another room in the background or is that a mirror reflecting the rest of the room?

Intriguing, yes?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Story of Hope, Courage and Gratitude

My first thoughts for the blog was an iconic Thanksgiving art image. Then I received an email that changed my mind. It shifted my thoughts to reflecting on generosity of spirit and gratitude.

Often we remember the worst of the news. Stories of greed, malice, deception and all manner of cruelty that frightens us and keeps us from trusting and hoping. Then, along comes a story of such bravery, courage and gratitude that we are uplifted.

The email was about a 50-ton female humpback whale who became unmercifully entwined in long, heavy crab pot lines in San Francisco bay. She could barely keep her blowhole above the water line. A fishing boat captain saw her plight and called for a rescue team.

The rescuers could tell that the ropes were cutting in so deeply there was blubber in the water. The divers held out little hope for her survival. However, that little spark of hope was just enough for them to risk getting in the water with her.

They knew full well the damage she could do to the divers if she became frightened by their actions. The divers needed time to cut through heavy ropes entangling her dorsal and tail fins and to remove the ropes from her mouth and baleen. (Being near her mouth involved working right in front of her fist-sized eye.) She watched and stayed calm. She knew. She understood.

I can't say how she knew given the history of hunting the humpbacks to near extinction, but she did. Perhaps it was the way the divers approached her. They entered her realm with kindness and compassion - wishing only to help. Maybe she sensed their meaning.

When free, she circled and approached each diver gently nudging them. Yes, she knew.

What if we approached life with kindness and compassion towards all beings? And what if we remembered to show sincere gratitude for who and/or what we've been given?

May every day be a day of Thanksgiving!

(By request,this is a reprint of 2010 Thanksgiving)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Store is Open... Yeah!

So many people are fans of my "Progressions" series but can't justify buying art in these days of economic insecurity. They are looking at the holidays and those hard-to-shop-for people with no idea as to what to get them. I think I've hit upon something.

What if you could buy practical gifts based on unique art that ranged in price from $10.95 to $32.95? If it sounds like a plan to you, consider these gift ideas:

A tempered glass tray that can be used as a cutting board, a serving tray, a trivet and looks so colorfully decorative in the kitchen.

I've chosen one out of each of the "Progressions" series - Food, Drink & Dessert

How about a hefty 15-0z ceramic mug for hot coffee or hot cocoa with a wraparound design based on "Progressions" from coffee beans to latte? (or cocoa beans to hot chocolate with whipped cream? Yum!)

Then there are ceramic tiles which can serve as coasters or purchased with a lovely wrought iron trivet - which doubles as a wall decoration when not in use.

There are packets of note cards, recipe and book markers - great stocking stuffers! There's even a close-out on cards and a special holiday offering of 10% from each online sale donated to the food bank!

Where is it? It's on my new online store. You can find most of these artful holiday items on the "Boutique" pages. You can go directly at:http://www.r-atencio-annex.com/Gallery/Boutique/boutique.html

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Sphinx of Delft - Part Two

As I mentioned in last week's blog, very little is known about Vermeer (1632-1675). It's as if he arrived a fully-developed master painter into the Delft Guild of Saint Luke. To this day, the identity of his master(s), the nature of his training, and the period of his apprenticeship remain a mystery.

Naturally, this leaves room for speculation. The one thing certain is that styles of art, composition and subjects are a cultural matter and culture evolves slowly.

Artists generally start by copying popular styles and slowly developing their own individual expression. Based on that notion, it is possible to speculate that Vermeer was influenced by several contemporary painters.

Carel Fabritius (1622-1654), who apprenticed with Rembrandt, could have been an influence. His portraits were very similar to Rembrandt and he used perspective in innovative ways which seems to have influenced Vermeer.(left: Fabritius; right: Vermeer)

Another influence often speculated was Gerard Ter Borch (1617-1681), who painted "genre" or scenes of daily life. (Left: Ter Borch; right: Vermeer)

Then there was Pieter de Hooch, who lived in the same town as Vermeer and shared Vermeer's style and subject matter. His paintings, like Vermeer’s, are usually small and display the same great power of composition.

So, there you have it, dear reader. When you compare their styles and subjects, do you agree that Fabritius, ter Broch or de Hooch could have influenced Vermeer?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Sphinx of Delft

The artist, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), left no evidence of his biography except for a few legal documents. No confirmed images. No information about his art training. No evidence of having served an apprenticeship. Yet, he is in full bloom as a master painter in 1653 when he joined the Guild of Saint Luke - meaning he had completed an apprenticeship with someone, somewhere.

In fact, on three occasions, he served as head of the guild. So, why is there so little mention of him in the notes of other artists in the guild?

Vermeer needed money to support his wife and 11 surviving children, but it appears that he only produced 3 paintings a year and never took on apprentices. How did he manage?

All the questions led Théophile Thoré-Bürger, the 19th century art critic, to refer to Vermeer as the "Sphinx of Delft."

All the gaps in his background and his artworks have provided authors with a wonderful opportunity to make stuff up. There are many books of fiction about his subjects, his works and his life. If we can't know who was his master, at least we can know something about who influenced him - and that will be the subject of next week's blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Meet the Delaunays

The Delaunays - Robert and Sonia - were a married artist couple. Artists marrying other artists is not too unusual. What makes the Delaunays unusual was that while their individual work is quite distinctive, it is also compatible for exhibiting together. As a matter of fact, as I write this, the Delaunays' art is on exhibit in Japan - some 30 years after the last partner's death!

Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) was senior to Sonia by six months, so we'll look at his background first. Born in Paris, Robert studied art and began exhibiting at the tender age of 19. His influences were: Paul Cézanne and later Vasily Kandinsky.

Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) was born in the Ukraine and studied art in Germany. She disliked the strictures of art school and left for Paris where she was influenced by the art of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Rousseau.

Robert and Sonia met in 1908. Sonia said of Robert, "In Robert Delaunay I found a poet. A poet who wrote not with words but with colours." They married and had a son, Charles.
Sonia made a quilt for Charles that is now in the collection at Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. This patchwork quilt would be the turning point of Sonia's art.

As Sonia moved towards cubism, Robert was studying color theory. Together, the Delaunays founded an art movement known as "orphism" which combined purely abstract shapes with bright colors.

All the while the Delaunay family was supported by Sonia's allowance from her family in Russia. WWI forced the family to leave Paris for Spain. During this same time, the onset of the Russian Revolution meant the end of Sonia's allowance. To generate income, Robert designed stage sets and Sonia designed costumes for the opera until the end of WWI at which time the family returned to Paris. The Delaunays continued to paint, design and collaborate until 1941 when Robert succumbed to cancer.

Sonia carried on designing fabrics, clothes and costumes. She also spent a good deal of her energy and money on retrospectives of Robert's art. In time, she passed through the sadness of loss. She spent the last part of her life painting and re-establishing her own artistic and design contributions. (Below left are Robert's paintings and on the right are Sonia's geometric textile designs.)