Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Of Bright & Blue Birds & The Gala Sun

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (Spanish, 1863-1923) Miedo al agua (detail). Oil on canvas, 173 x 112cm Estimate: £500,000-800,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2014.

Of Bright & Blue Birds & The Gala Sun. Wallace Stevens

Some things, niño, some things are like this,
That instantly and in themselves are gay
And you and I are such things, O most miserable...

For a moment they are gay and are a part
Of an element, the exactest element for us,
In which we pronounce joy like a word of our own.

It is there, being imperfect, and with these things
And erudite in happiness, with nothing learned,
That we are joyously ourselves and we think

Without the labor of thought, in that element,
And we feel, in a way apart, for a moment, as if
There was a bright scienza outside of ourselves,

A gaiety that is being, not merely knowing,
The will to be and to be total in belief,
Provoking a laughter, an agreement, by surprise

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Raja Ravi Varma

The demi-god vulture Jatayu is struck down by the demon Ravana, as Jatayu attempted to intercede in the demon's kidnapping of Sita.

Today's birthday guy is an artist I never heard of but the style is very familiar - an Indian version of late Victorian painting, skillful, realistic but a bit too sentimental (IMHO). I remember seeing these prints in all the Indian stores in San Francisco. Obviously prints of Indian Gods and Goddesses are very popular.

Raja Ravi Varma was an Indian painter from the princely state of Travancore who achieved recognition for his depiction of scenes from the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. He came from an artistic family; his father was a scholar and his mother a poet. He studied art with both Indian and European (Dutch) artists.

 "Galaxy of Musicians", Indian women dressed in regional attire playing a variety of musical instruments popular in different parts of the country.

His paintings are considered to be among the best examples of the fusion of Indian traditions with the techniques of European academic art. Varma is most remembered for his paintings of beautiful sari-clad women, who were portrayed as shapely and graceful.

Shakuntala, a character in the epic Mahabharata

In 1892, the Maharaja of Baroda commissioned him to create a series of mythological paintings that were Indian in their essence. At the end of it, Varma created what we know today as the traditional Indian woman who is curvy and buxom,” said Deepanjana Pal, the author of “The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma.” “The images were a composite created out of what he saw during his travels – the skin color was from north India, the way the sari was draped was Maharashtrian and the jewelry was usually from south India.”

Unfortunately, he overextended himself by setting up a printing press and went into debt. Toward the end of his life, he sold it off to Fritz Schleicher, a German lithographer, who turned around its fortunes by using these mythical figures on advertisements, flyers and ultimately calendars. The works, in this popularized and homogenized form, quickly inundated the market and are still popular today. These forms - of shapely women and men with six-pack abs -  erased the previous, more complex and diverse imagery.

“I would even go to the extent of saying it is the Westernization of the heroes,” the Indian cultural critic cultural critic Ashis Nandy said, “so much so that it is very difficult to imagine anybody but a north Indian playing Rama now if there’s a new version of the ‘Ramayana.’ I cannot imagine a Manipuri dancer playing Rama. That kind of diversity is totally gone.” (NY Times, June 2013).

Raja Ravi Varma died in 1906 at the age of 58.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today marks Holocaust Remembrance Day. Over the course of 12 years, the Nazi regime perpetrated the largest, most abhorrent crimes in all of human history. As we remember the over 6 million victims of the Holocaust, please keep those persecuted in your thoughts and prayers and remember those that still face persecution today.

St. Francis now has a gay member originally from Nigeria. He speaks eloquently about the persecution facing gays - and lesbians - in Africa today. The tide of hatred is rolling around the world and many, many, many are at risk. 


Birthdays and Bearden at Jenkins Johnson

Happy Birthday to Terry Pratchett, the creator of Discworld and my favorite science fiction author. He now has Alzheimer's and has declared that he will commit suicide when he can no longer function. I hope that day is far off but I commend him for his courage. That's a tough stand to take but when he goes, he will have left us with a priceless legacy.

Another birthday "boy": William Kentridge, creator of "The Refusal of Time,” and many other works of art.

Romare Bearden at Jenkins Johnson.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Happy Birthday John James Audubon

Audubon, Golden Eagle, 1833–4

John James Audubon (Jean-Jacques Audubon) (April 26, 1785 - January 27, 1851) was a French-American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter. He was notable for his expansive studies to document all types of American birds and for his detailed illustrations that depicted the birds in their natural habitats.

 Audubon, White Gyrfalcons

His major work, a color-plate book entitled The Birds of America (1827-1839), is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed. Audubon identified 25 new species.

 In this image: John James Audubon (1785?1851), Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) and Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), Study for Havell pl. no. 76, ca. 1825. Watercolor, pastel, graphite, black ink, oil, gouache, black chalk, collage, and outlining with a stylus on paper, with selective glazing on paper, laid on card; 25 13/16 x 39 3/8 in. (65.6 x 100 cm).

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kuan Yin

Kwan Yin. Pastel, 22x36. 2014, The Bodhisattva of Great Compassion

In China, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is represented in female form and is known as Kuan Yin. Probably because of Kuan Yin's great compassion, a quality which is traditionally considered feminine, most of the bodhisattva's statues in China since the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618 - 907) have appeared as female figures. In India, however, the bodhisattva is generally represented as a male figure (but not in my pantheon.)

All you want to know from Wikipedia:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Birthday Richard Diebenkorn.

Since his death in 1998, Diebenkorn's reputation has steadily grown. His works anchor the modern art collection at the de Young Museum and his retrospective was that rare thing - a thoughtful blockbuster.

Diebenkorn was born in Portland, Oregon in 1922, raised in San Francisco and got his first art education there--interrupted by WW II and a stint in the Marine Corps. This proved to be the seminal chapter in his art education as he was posted to Quantico, Va. While he was there, he was able to visit Washington museums, especially the Phillips Collection.

Matisse's "Studio, Quai St. Michel, 1916" with its simultaneous inside-outside view, thrilled and inspired him: "I noticed its spatial amplitude; one saw a marvelous hollow or room yet the surface is right there...right up front."

Discharged from the military in 1945, Diebenkorn enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts. Over the next several years, he moved between the East and West coasts. His work from the late '40s to the early '50s was essentially abstract, though with strong overtones of landscape space and color showing a considerable influence of Willem de Kooning. De Kooning, Diebenkorn felt, "had it all, could outpaint anybody, at least until the mid-'60s, when he began to lose it."

Diebenkorn's friendship with the David Park, the fiercely independent Bay Area painter, who rejected abstraction, pointed him in the direction of figurative painting. In his later work, he returned to abstraction, but an abstraction shaped and informed by his studies of the figure.

Edward Hopper was another one of Diebenkorn's small number of masters whom he respected--no other American painter except de Kooning influenced him as much. What he liked in Hopper, Diebenkorn once laconically said, was "the diagonals."

The climax of his work - and the pride of the de Young, is the Ocean Park series. Began in 1967, Ocean Park is part of Santa Monica, the beachside suburb of Los Angeles where he had his studio.

For his 1988 Whitney exhibit, Robert Hughes wrote,  "From its high crystalline light, its big calm planes of sea and sky, its cuts and interlacings of highway divider and curb and gable and yellow sand, Diebenkorn produced a marvelous synthesis that, though prolonged through more than 140 large canvases, had very few weak moments."

The Ocean Park series radiates calmness. They are strong, almost austere. The paintings repeat elements - the straight lines, the geometric triangles and half obscured squares and arches. The colors echo the California landscape, yellow-ochre, green, multiple variations on blue. The layered surface shows many revisions and corrections; one of the fascinations in viewing his work is seeing the painter's hand in the process of creation. 

 In her introductory essay to the 1988 show at the Museum of Modern Art, curator Jane Livingston observed that "the fundamental fact about Diebenkorn may be that, in a sense, he lived just slightly in the wrong time. He was down to the bone a modernist. His painting was neither reductivist nor conceptual; it was sublime in an old-fashioned sense. Fortunately, he was entirely unembarrassed by the anachronism of his passion."

When he died of respiratory failure in 1993, Richard Diebenkorn was recognized as one of the preeminent painters of the last half century, a major figure contributing to the dominance of American art since 1945. He sought artistic challenges, was unafraid of changing styles, and constantly reworked and altered paintings until they achieved an "emotional rightness." ("I want a painting to be difficult to do," he once declared. "The more obstacles, obstructions, problems, the better.")

As Whitney director David Ross put it, "Diebenkorn emerges at the century's end as an artist who restored to late modernism the sense of the sublime that seemed to fade with each successive decade after World War II."


images courtesy FAMSF & Campbell/Thiebaud Gallery

Monday, April 21, 2014

The week ahead: Leonora Carrington at Gallery Wendi Norris and more

  • I have to confess that this is not one of my better written columns; it is pretty straightforward but that does not mean you shouldn't see the shows. I mean - Leonora Carrington, Romare Bearden, Creativity Explored and Gallery 16 all in one small city. How cool is that? Surrealism, African-American Art, the unique artists at CE AND Rex Ray at Gallery 16 whose powerful graphic design has gathered him international recognition.
    Carrington deserves - and has - volumes writen about her work. The twenty works on exhibit at Wendi Norris is just a small selection of her oeuvre. Carrington’s exhibition will include roughly ten rarely exhibited oil paintings in addition to a seven-piece gouache series that was on view at the Guggenheim’s seminal exhibition, "Surrealism: Two Private Eyes,"  the Nesushi Etegun and Daniel Filipacchi Collections in 1999.

    The "Celtic Surrealist" in the title of the show is a bit of a stretch but as the work was first shown in Dublin, it makes sense to tie it to a specific location. One tapestry - that of the hunter, dogs and horned deer could pass for Celtic but those figures are also part of ancient Indo-European mythology. 
    The rest of the work is not Irish at all but still, what differences does a title make. If the Irish want to claim her as a Celt (and her mother was Irish), why not?

    If Duchamp can call a urinal a work of art, the Irish can claim that Carrington - English born, the lover of German Max Ernst and who lived most of her long life in Mexico - is using Irish symbolism. and mythology in her art. 
    "The Celtic Surrealist" at Gallery Wendi Norris. Through May 31.  11 A.M to 6 P.M. Tuesday through Saturday. 161 Jessie Street. San Francisco, (415) 346-7812.

     It is exciting to see that Romare Bearden, the master of collage, is also the master of watercolors, that most difficult of mediums. Bearden’s collages in "Storyteller" — including mural maquettes, an Olympic poster, and a book jacket for a collection of poems by African writers — highlight the artist’s mastery.
    His watercolors were originally commissioned for the opening titles of the 1980 film Gloria and the vibrant colors reflect his Caribbean heritage. 

    The prints based on his collages are showcased in his "Odyssey" series, which illustrates Homer’s epic poem; the series seemingly departs from his best-known work of edgy urban and jazz scenes or his depictions of African American life in the rural South. 

    Because Bearden depicts these Greek mythological figures as black, he invites a comparison between classical myth and African American culture. Viewers may liken the Greek king Odysseus’ arduous and heroic ten-year search for home after the Trojan War to African American struggles. 

    Replacing white characters with black figures, Bearden attempts to defeat the rigidness of racial roles and stereotypes and open up the possibilities and potentials of blacks. Bearden says about this series and his work in general, "What I tried to do is take the elements of African American life….and place it in a universal framework."

    Romare Bearden: Storyteller: Through June 21. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, until 5 p.m. Saturday. Jenkins Johnson Gallery, 464 Sutter St., S.F. (415)

A Dragon "High-Five" for Monday

Well, actually a "high three" but then, dragons can't count.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Panis Angelicus - King's College, Cambridge

The choir of King's College, Cambridge sing Cesar Franck's well known setting of Panis Angelicus.

This is taken from "Sacris Solemniis", written by St. Thomas Aquinas before the year 1274.  The English translation shown is just one of many interpretations of the Latin verse

Panis angelicus
fit panis hominum;
Dat panis caelicus
figuris terminum:
O res mirabilis!
manducat Dominum
Pauper, servus, et humilis.
Te trina Deitas
unaque poscimus:
Sic nos tu visita,
sicut te colimus;
Per tuas semitas
duc nos quo tendimus,
Ad lucem quam inhabitas.

Bread of Angels,
made the bread of men;
The Bread of heaven
puts an end to all symbols:
A thing wonderful!
The Lord becomes our food:
poor, a servant, and humble.
We beseech Thee,
Godhead One in Three
That Thou wilt visit us,
as we worship Thee,
lead us through Thy ways,
We who wish to reach the light
in which Thou dwellest.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rare videos of Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky and more at work.

From the Open Culture Website: We’ve all seen their works in fixed form, enshrined in museums and printed in books. But there’s something special about watching a great artist at work. Over the years, we’ve posted film clips of some of the greatest artists of the 20th century caught in the act of creation. Today we’ve gathered together eight of our all-time favorites.

Above is the only known film footage of the French Impressionist Claude Monet, made when he was 74 years old, painting alongside a lily pond in his garden at Giverny. The footage was shot in the summer of 1915 by the French actor and dramatist Sacha Guitry for his patriotic World War I-era film, Ceux de Chez Nous, or “Those of Our Land.”
More at the Open Culture Websitel

Thursday, April 17, 2014

'SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot,' opening Saturday at the Oakland Museum of California

Yesterday it was the timeless art of Byzantium; today's post is about the uber-trendy pop art of Pan-Asian culture (here today and gone tomorrow). It's the equivalent of the "Hello Kitty" dolls - fun for one look but unless you are a teenager, fascinated by manga and Asian actors, here today and gone tomorrow.

Barry McGee did the first cover and if any of my readers remember what I thought of McGee's self proclaimed "outlaw outsider status," you will have a good idea of my opinion of this exhibit. It's fun, colorful, will bring in the crowds. Kids will have a blast and the museum will make some money. It's the new trend in museum shows - market to the lowest common denominator and keep your fingers crossed that those whose exposure to art has been limited to comic books, t-shirts and colorful plastic robotic toys will come back later to enjoy older - and more challenging - artistic culture.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Nicholas Brothers and a full moon eclipse

It's a bit of a grey day here and my energy is low. I know that a lot of people are going crazy over the upcoming tax day deadline. Plus tonight is the beginning of four lunar eclipses, this one in the Aries/Libra axis.

April 14-15, 3:42am EDT, 12:42am PDT, 8:42am GMD

So it seems like a good day for swing, swing, swing with the Nicholas Brothers, probably the best tap dancers to work in Hollywood. If anybody can tap the problems away, it's those two, aided by Cab Calloway.

From the movie: STORMY WEATHER 1943
It is said that no less an authority on dance than Fred Astaire once said that this was in his opinion the best dance number ever put on film. One thing for sure, the Nicholas Brothers were without a doubt the best Tap Dance team ever, case closed. I have included the entire number including Cab Calloway's opening vocal. The dance starts at about the 1:30 mark.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vuillard at the Legion of Honor for Slow Art Day

Édouard Vuillard. Mother and Sister of the Artist, c. 1893

On Saturday, April 12, the de Young, the Legion of Honor, and dozens of other museums and galleries around the world will participate in Slow Art Day. Like the National Day of Unplugging, which encourages people to power down their smartphones and socialize face-to-face, Slow Art Day’s mission is to enable new connections with art that otherwise might be lost in the everyday blur of activity. It gives participants the opportunity to expand how they look at and respond to art, with no artistic background or expertise needed. The approach is akin to meditation: simply choose a work of art and spend five to 10 minutes looking at it, without doing anything else.

 My choice would be Vuillard. The FAMSF don't have any in their permanent collection (except one on loan from Dede Wilsey). But the current show at the Legion has several, as part of the post-impressionist show from the National Gallery of Art. This is the one that fascinated me.

Vuillard habitually depicted his seamstress mother (with whom he lived until her death in 1928) and his sister in claustrophobic images filled with a profusion of patterns: striped dresses, variegated fabrics, and flowered wallpaper.

In this work, as in many others, we find ourselves inside Vuillard's family circle. The thickly patterned, decorative background is claustrophobic and the two women seem poised on the verge of confrontation. The mother sits, squat, black, confident, almost masculine and intractable in the middle of the scene. The daughter, bowed over, dressed in yet another mix of dots, stripes and blocks is bowed, bowed over and looking like she wants to merge into the wallpaper or escape from the powerful figure dominating the room, pushed into the edge. 

The palate is limited - black, grey, dark green, white with matte multicolored patterns and flattened space. The painting is small - 18 1/4  x 22 1/4" but it's a chapter on family relationships, right out of Freud. 

Poetry ! :


Legion of Honor Blog:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

New Work in Pastel: Orange Juice and Water

Orange Juice - I like the colors in this one but the shape of the orange peel (that orange triangle sticking out of the glass) doesn't quite work. But you can't rework pastel or the colors will get muddy so I am leaving this as is. I may redo the image in watercolor and "fix" that piece of peel - or not.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Happy Birthday Jean-Honoré Fragonard

The Swing (French: L'Escarpolette), also known as The Happy Accidents of the Swing (French: Les Hasards Heureux de l'Escarpolette, the original title), is an 18th-century oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard in the Wallace Collection in London. It is considered as one of the masterpieces of the rococo era, and is Fragonard's best known work.

The Two Sisters. The identity of the sisters is unknown. Until recently, they have been called the artist's daughter Rosalie (born 1769) and his sister-in-law Marguérite Gérard (born 1761). This is unlikely given the known difference in age between the two.

The Stolen Kiss, 1756–61. This picture is one of the few highly finished works painted by Fragonard during his first Italian sojourn from 1756 to 1761.

The Love Letter, ca. 1770

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (French: 5 April 1732 in Grasse – 22 August 1806 in Paris) was a French painter and printmaker whose late Rococo manner was distinguished by remarkable facility, exuberance, and hedonism.

One of the most prolific artists active in the last decades of the Ancien Régime, Fragonard produced more than 550 paintings (not counting drawings and etchings), of which only five are dated. Among his most popular works are genre paintings conveying an atmosphere of intimacy and veiled eroticism. (Wikipedia).

The Legion of Honor's Salon Dore, which just reopened after years of restoration, would have been the perfect setting for his work:

Fragonard is one of the favorites of Colin Bailey, the head of the FAMSF

Unfortunately the French Revolution sent most of his clients to the guillotine and Fragonard felt it prudent to drop out of sight.

When he died in 1806, he had long ceased to be a central figure in the Parisian art world. His most characteristic work—brightly hued and fluidly painted pictures of courting aristocrats, scenes of rustic life, pleasure gardens, and erotic mythologies made in the 1760s and 1770s—seemed irrelevant after the political, social, and cultural upheavals of the French Revolution. 

Yet his obituary in the Journal de Paris lamented that, "the French school has lost a justly admired painter," whose works associated him with "the very idea of the Graces."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

'Pretty in Ink and Rose O'Neill' at the San Francisco Public Library

 Rose O'Neill - who knew that the most popular cartoonist in America prior to the depression was a woman, the daughter of poor Irish immigrants and a staunch supporter of women's rights?

O'Neill created the Kewpie character, which first appeared in 1909 in her illustrated poems for the Ladies' Home Journal.

"Signs", a cartoon for Puck by Rose O'Neill, 1904.
Ethel: "He acts this way. He gazes at me tenderly, is buoyant when I am near him, pines when I neglect him. Now, what does that signify?"
Her mother: "That he's a mighty good actor, Ethel."

 Women's History Project

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Happy Birthday Max Ernst

Today's birthday boy is one of the biggest names in 20th century art. Max Ernst (2 April 1891 - 1 April 1976) was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. A prolific artist, Ernst is considered to be one of the primary pioneers of the Dada movement and Surrealism.

He enrolled in the University at Bonn in 1909 to study philosophy, but soon abandoned this pursuit to concentrate on art. At this time he was interested in psychology and the art of the mentally ill. In 1911 Ernst became a friend of August Macke and joined the Rheinische Expressionisten group in Bonn. Ernst showed for the first time in 1912 at the Galerie Feldman in Cologne. At the Sonderbund exhibition of that year in Cologne he saw the work of Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh. In 1913 he met Guillaume Apollinaire and Robert Delaunay and traveled to Paris. Ernst participated that same year in the Erste deutsche Herbstsalon. In 1914 he met Jean Arp, who was to become a lifelong friend.

Aquis Submersus. 1919. Influenced by the Italian metaphysical art it is one of Ernst's earliest works showing surrealistical accents. It is currently at the Städel museum in Frankfurt, Germany.

Despite military service throughout World War I, Ernst was able to continue painting and to exhibit in Berlin at Der Sturm in 1916. He returned to Cologne in 1918. The next year he produced his first collages and founded the short-lived Cologne Dada movement  In 1921 Ernst exhibited for the first time in Paris, at the Galerie au Sans Pareil. He was involved in Surrealist activities in the early 1920s with Paul Eluard and André Breton.

Constantly experimenting, in 1925 Ernst invented a graphic art technique called frottage (see Surrealist techniques), which uses pencil rubbings of objects as a source of images. He also created the 'grattage' technique, in which paint is scraped across canvas to reveal the imprints of the objects placed beneath. He uses this technique in his famous painting Forest and Dove (as shown at the Tate Modern).
The Barbarians:

His first American show was held at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, in 1932. In 1936 Ernst was represented in Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1939 he was interned in France as an enemy alien. Two years later Ernst fled to the United States with Peggy Guggenheim, whom he married early in 1942. After their divorce he married Dorothea Tanning and in 1953 resettled in France.

 The Robing of the Bride. 1940

Ernst received the Grand Prize for painting at the Venice Biennale in 1954, and in 1975 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum gave him a major retrospective, which traveled in modified form to the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, in 1975. He died on April 1, 1976, in Paris.

Highly Recommended: Max Ernst's life and career are examined in Peter Schamoni's 1991 documentary Max Ernst. Dedicated to the art historian Werner Spies, it was assembled from interviews with Ernst, stills of his paintings and sculptures, and the memoirs of his wife Dorothea Tanning and son Jimmy. The 101-minute German film was released on DVD with English subtitles by Image Entertainment.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A medieval calendar for April

The writers of the digitized medieval manuscripts blog for the British Library are having an April Fool's Day joke on the rest of us. See if you can spot it.