Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Charles Ethan Porter: Many Firsts as a Determined Black Artist

 We are close to the end of February and Black (Art) History Month. Last week, was about a contemporary artist and this week it's about a long-ago artist, who enjoyed so many "firsts" in his quest and determination to live his life as an artist. 


His name? Charles Ethan Porter (1847-1923) was born to a mill worker and a housekeeper. They were free, but with a large family and low-pay work were very poor. Charles Porter had to do hard work at an early age to pay his way through school. Of his many siblings, he was the first to graduate from high school.



As an artistic prodigy, he was the first black man admitted to the prestigious National Academy of Design. Porter's talent was such that he earned the support of benefactors including the governor of his home state, Connecticut and Mark Twain.

After completing his program at the academy, Porter's determination led to another first. He sold all of his art to pay for his studies in Paris - the first black artist to do so. In spite of his cultural differences in France, he stayed for two years learning all he could from master teachers.

Returning to the USA, he eschewed the growing European style of Impressionism and became known as one of the American "nature mystics." 

 These were artists who preferred still live paintings of flowers and produce along with scenes in nature. He was able to garner support for his art and live modestly until post Civil War.


The full sting of being a black artist meant he couldn't even sell his art going door to door. He would teach students, auction his art and barter his art to support himself. Finally, in failing health, he returned to the town where he was born to live out his remaining years in total obscurity.




It was a solo exhibit of his works in 1987 that brought his work back to awareness for his artistic contribution and now his works reside in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Seattle Pacific University and several other well-known galleries.



Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Dean Lamont Mitchell: Paintings in Black History Month


 Since February is Black History Month, I like to select an artist or a movement of the culture. This time, the artist is contemporary and some of his subjects are landscapes and architecture. 

However, he also creates wonderful portraits in genre of his culture. His name is Dean Lamont Mitchell, (1957-) and his media is watercolor, oil, egg tempera and pastel.


Mitchell was born in PA, but grew up in FL. He knew from an early age that he wanted to be an artist. Although money was tight, by age 12, he managed to buy himself a set of oils. His talent was unquestionable and he won awards in his first competition!

When Mitchell was accepted at the Columbus School of Art & Design in Ohio, he earned money by teaching art at a Boy's Club. Clearly, his professional path was set for a life as a visual artist.


Confident of his ability, he began to enter his paintings at national and international art competitions. In a short period passing, he was gaining top recognition, receiving first prize at London, England. He'd go on to receive over 200 awards including some of the most prestigious exhibits.



Today, Mitchell is represented by galleries in FL, WY, KY, SC and CA. No wonder since his art is not only exceptional, but very relatable. (Because he is so talented in different subjects, throughout and below is a small sampling of his subjects.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Edward Weston: Photo Master of Shapes & Forms

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? 

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Nikolaos Gyzis: Chronicler of 19th Century Realism

 There are so many artists who either were famous in their time and later forgotten or the opposite - not given much credit to their lifetime, but are famous now. This week's artist falls into the former. 

Born on the Greek island of Tinos, Nikolaos Gyzis (1842-1901)  

trained in art in both Athens and later in Germany, where he would become a professor of Fine Art in Munich. He is considered to be one of the most influential artists of Academic Realism in the late 19th century. 





Gyzis created a genre series that is compelling based on his years growing up in Greece. It was seeing one of his paintings, in his evolution as an artist, that deeply touched me. It's a grandfather holding his sleeping grandchild while he mends a sock.(The Greek families have a special regard for their grandparents. Insofar as I've experienced, there are still special ties between grandparents and grandchildren.)*



His touching paintings of 19th century life are mixed here with a few of his excellent portraits. It's no wonder that he received so many awards and recognition. For some reason, perhaps because he painted so many genre paintings, I found myself thinking, "He's the Norman Rockwell of another century." What do you think?






*When the first boy child is born, he is given the name of his paternal grandfather. A second boy child is given the name of his maternal grandfather. For the first girl child, she is given the name of her maternal grandmother and the paternal grandmother for a subsequent girl child. The genius of carrying it through is heightened because until modern days, birthday celebrations were nominal. It was the saint's name feast day that the grandparent shared with the their grandchildren that was celebrated.