Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dear Kitten - Regarding the Big Game (Superbowl)

One day a year things get weird, and Cat teaches Kitten the game-plan.

In case you missed it (yeah, right), the Superbowl is tomorrow. Here is an extended commercial from Friskies: the chief house cat explains the TV ritual of the annual game to the newly arrived kitten. Yes, it's an ad but I don't think it could be cuter.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

 A child brings a candle to at a Jewish cemetery at the former Terezin Nazi concentration camp on January 27, 2015, in Terezin (Theresiendstadt ) during the ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland. AFP PHOTO / MICHAL CIZEK.

 On January 27, about 300 Survivors, witnesses to the history of Auschwitz, were over 1 million people, Jews, Poles, Roma, Soviet Prisoners of War, Gays and others were murdered. They met in front of the Death Gate of the former Birkenau camp in order to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp.

"From whatever country you come, look at the rooms of this camp and think,

And do whatever you can so that your pilgrimage be not in vain as was not in vain our death.

For you and for your children, the ashes of Auschwitz are a warning..that the terrible fruit of hatred, whose traces you saw here, will never grow a new seed, neither tomorrow or ever."  Primo Levi 

"Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky,” author and Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel wrote in his book “Night.” “So many crazed men . . . so much brutality.”;_ylt=AwrTcdqUFslUO2YArAYnnIlQ

Night will fall - a film from the liberation of the camps:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hendrick Avercamp

Winter storms in the east but California is as dry as a bone - still, today is the day to celebrate the birth of Hendrick Avercamp (January 27, 1585 (bapt.) - May 15, 1634 (buried)), a Dutch painter who specialized in winter scenes.

Avercamp was born in Amsterdam, where he studied with the Danish-born portrait painter Pieter Isaacks (1569–1625), and perhaps also with David Vinckboons. In 1608 he moved from Amsterdam to Kampen in the province of Overijssel. Avercamp was mute and was known as "de Stomme van Kampen" (the mute of Kampen).

As one of the first landscape painters of the 17th-century Dutch school, he specialized in painting the Netherlands in winter. Avercamp's paintings are colorful and lively, with carefully crafted images of the people in the landscape. Many of Avercamp's paintings feature people ice skating on frozen lakes.

Avercamp's work enjoyed great popularity and he sold his drawings, many of which were tinted with water-color, as finished pictures to be pasted into the albums of collectors. The Royal Collection has an outstanding collection of his works.

Avercamp died in Kampen and was interred there in the Sint Nicolaaskerk.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday ramblings

Last night, PBS broadcast a documentary on Hans Litten. I had never heard of him and thought I had reached the end of my interest in the Nazis and their barbaric regime. But I was mesmerized and moved to tears.

Thoughts are free:

Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They flee by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free!
I think what I want, and what delights me,
still always reticent, and as it is suitable.
My wish and desire, no one can deny me
and so it will always be: Thoughts are free!

Hans Achim Litten (June 19, 1903 – February 5, 1938) was a German lawyer who represented opponents of the Nazis at important political trials between 1929 and 1932, defending the rights of workers during the Weimar Republic

Trailers for "Mr. Turner." from the always insightful blog "Lines and Colors" with links to more reviews:

Photographs, fakes and the demise of the educated eye from:

Fifty Shades
"In a world where pop superstars perform in flashy costumes, stiletto heels, and headset mikes, with giant screens broadcasting their every move......he emergence of a countertype was all but inevitable...."

All Art Friday - every piece a gem:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

'Mr Turner,' a triumph for director Mike Leigh and actor Timothy Spall

 If you like biographical movies about artists to be "inspiring" and your vision of the late 18th/early 19th century decorous and mannered, Mike Leigh's film on J. M. W. Turner is not the movie for you. Turner was not a gentleman but he was a genius, possibly the greatest landscape painter than England has produced. 

 Some have found the film boring. With all due respect, I would suggest that their attention span and ability to follow a quiet movie has been destroyed by too many blockbusters with ear splitting music and enormous special effects. Most of the film consists of Turner doing what artists do - walking, watching, sketching, thinking, working. It's the real drama of a working artist, not the artificial drama of Hollywood.

 The son of a barber and a mother who was put away as a "lunatic," Turner didn't smooth down his rough edges and Leigh does not flinch from portraying the human damage his selfish, art-obsessed behavior created. Timothy Spall embodies the great early-19th-century seascape painter J.M.W. Turner as he was described by his first biographer, G. R Leslie, " "short and stout and with a sturdy, sailor-like appearance. There was nothing elegant in his appearance." He was (and is portrayed as) businesslike in his dealings with clients and a tireless worker. He produced over 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 paper works

 The film opens with a long shot of the Dutch landscape, cuts to two women walking along a canal and over to Turner, sketching. The film follows him into the busy world of London where he lives with his elderly father (Paul Jesson) and a bashful housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson). Then he's off to Margate or one of the homes of an aristocratic patron or the Royal Academy where he's full of amiable cheer with some of his fellow artists combined with arrogant contempt for some of them. In one scene Turner snubs the artist Constable, who working next to him on a canvas involving much red. Turner ridicules him in a well-documented incident by adding a bright red buoy to the landscape, a blob of carmine carelessly stuck on the canvas with his thumb and worked in by hand.

 Leigh does not flinch in portraying Turner's relationships with women - as cruel and casual as any in that era.  His poor housekeeper, mutely adoring, becomes more and more consumed with eczema and loneliness.  Yet, he never kicked her out, even though she was so eaten up with eczema that she had to wear a veil and was a terrible house keeper to boot. From a biography on him, I found out that he left her several drawings and 600 pounds in his will, a very significant sum for the time.

Ruth Sheen portrays his estranged mistress as angry and self-righteous, trying to get more money from Turner and recognition that her two daughters are his; Turner always denied that they were. On his visits to Margate, where he lives in domestic bliss with Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey), a kindhearted widow, he sheds his identity altogether, adopting his lady friend’s last name. The tenderness he shows her is missing from most of his relations with women, with the exception of Mary Somerville (Leslie Manville), a Scottish scientist who shares his interest in the properties of light. Ruskin, the critic who championed Turner is portrayed in a derogatory mocking way as a self-righteous cockscomb and Turner's fellow artists range from supportive to completely dismissive.

 Leigh captures the changing world of England, from rural to urban, from wind to steam, from insular to increasing global. His patron in the beginning is the 18th century aristocrat, played by Paddy Godfrey. The man who offered to buy the lot (Peter Wight) represents the new world of industrial capital. There are multiple cameos in the movie - from Oscar Wilde chortling at a painting to Queen Victoria muttering her dislike of Turner's work to Prince Albert to the numerous merchants, sailors and people on the street, a world that's richly imagined beyond what usually passes for realism in a movie. "Mr. Turner' is a triumph for Mike Leigh and for Timothy Spall.

 There is no glorious epiphany at the end of the movie, no wrapping up of a complex figure with poetic finesse. Turner's work was about the light and it's light, that cinematographer Dick Pope gives you, composing each landscape like a Turner painting - from the film's opening shot of Dutch windmills to seascapes, moors, and majestic mountains.

 For those who surrender themselves to the pace of the movie, it is as if you are walking along side Turner, a man who gave himself to his art completely in a world that was outwardly cruder than ours. What is that Buddhist saying about the journey being more important than the goal?  Go on the journey with Turner which Leigh and Spall have made possible, the dark side as well as the light.

Monday, January 12, 2015

John Singer Sargent, born today in 1856.

There is no way I could pass up celebrating today's birthday boy. Although John Singer Sargent (Jan 12, 1956 - April 14, 1925)  was known during his life time for his portraits of the Edwardian elite, it's his watercolors that continue to dazzle.

During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings.

His oeuvre documents worldwide travel, from Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida.

In 1907, at the age of fifty-one, Sargent announced his retirement from the kind of society portraiture that, with the help of some judicious investments, had made him so prosperous. By then, he had already begun painting watercolors outside of the studio, en plein air.

At first, Carbone (his first biographer) explained, he painted the watercolors for himself. “In his studio, apparently, he had stacks and stacks of them, just in piles. People describe parts of his house with stairways lined with framed watercolors. He would give them as presents—there’s this joke that people would get engaged just so they could get a Sargent watercolor.” (“These sketches keep up my morale,” he told a friend, “and I never sell them.”)

Eventually, though, he grew serious about exhibiting and selling them, and came to see the watercolors as a body of work in their own right. He realized that their beauty was most visible when they were seen together, and he sold them in two large groups, one to the Brooklyn Museum, in 1909, and another to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, in 1912. By that time, it was clear that the watercolors were serious art. “One of the things we wanted to do with the show,” Carbone said, “is correct the sense of these works as being his ‘vacation’ occupation. They were really an extension of his most serious aesthetic concerns.”

Sargent was fascinated by light and by the ways he could reproduce the magic of its effects. A friend who travelled to Morocco with Sargent wrote: “He goes into raptures over the effect of translucency which is given to the white walls of the houses and mosques by certain lights, and also the unusual effect caused by the fact that the outlines of the buildings against the sky are lighter than the sky itself.”

Link to Boston exhibit:

There are several Sargent watercolors and drawings at the Houghton Hall exhibit, currently at the Legion. The show closes on January 18.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Parmigianino - born today in 1503

 "The Holy Family"

January 11, 1503. Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola (also known as Francesco Mazzola or, more commonly, as Parmigianino ("the little one from Parma") or Parmigiano; 11 January 1503 - 24 August 1540) was an Italian Mannerist painter and printmaker active in Florence, Rome, Bologna, and his native city of Parma.

His work is characterized by elongation of form and includes Vision of Saint Jerome (1527) and the Madonna with the Long Neck (1534). In the image. "The "Holy Family" 16th painting depicting Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus attributed to the Parmigianino, one of ten masterpieces recovered by the art squad of the Carabinieri paramilitary police, is shown during a press conference in Rome, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. The paintings were stolen in 2004 from an ancient religious complex in Rome official said, and were located last December. The works were wrapped in newspapers and hidden in the trailer of a suspected art smuggler.

Last year, the Legion had (on loan from the Frick) a very pretty piece of painting. Called "Schiava Turca," although the lady in question was neither a slave or Turkish, it gave us a chance to see one of Parmigianino's paintings first hand.

"I think she's really beguiling," says Melissa Buron, the Legion of Honor's associate curator of European art. "The sense of personality you get from this portrait - she's a living, breathing flesh-and-blood person, with a lot of twinkle in her eye. You can speculate for yourself: Would you want to have tea with her? Or is she an idealized conception?"

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

#Je Suis Charlie

Battle lines drawn now between liberty of conscience and tyranny of theocracy

Bring back calligraphy!

TOKYO.- Contestants write letters during the 51st annual new year Calligraphy contest at the Budokan hall in Tokyo on January 5, 2015. About 3,150 people participated in the calligraphy contest to celebrate the start of the new year. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA

Wu-wei.' Chinese Calligraphy. The Taoist principle that one must place their will in harmony with the natural universe. Some translations are "effortless action" or "action without intent."

Why don't we teach calligraphy in school any more. It used to be a respected art - now, kids can barely write. Any old scrawl will go.

Monday, January 5, 2015

For 2015, the Wheel of Fortune

What's coming in 2015 - Turner and The Floating World and women photographers and Jacob Lawrence and ...there will be more but for now
.. Oh Fortuna..

Fortune's delights are so variable & her erratic wheel is treacherous Royal 18 D II f.30v

Friday, January 2, 2015

Bay Area top ten art picks for 2014

 Vuillard from the "Intimate Impressions" show at the Legion

I am going over my articles for the year - I wrote a lot more than I thought I did and it's not all bad either. Some of the works, like the "Hagaddah" by Arthur Szyk, touched me deeply and others - like the "Masters of Fire" at the Legion - intrigued me. I was saddened by the loss of so many galleries and gladdened to find out that some -like Meridian and Roots - managed to survive eviction, find new spaces and continue on their mission. It is hard to limit the list to ten; the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford deserves a separate list for their shows on Robert Frank and Charleton Watkins as well as the new art spaces curated by DeWitt Cheng.

@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz.

Jackson Pollock

Joan Mitchell, Sunflowers

First on everybody's list is the new museum in Stanford:.

My next choice for one of the most beautiful, spiritual, and ethical shows of the year was the Arthyr Szyk exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum:

"Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art" at the Legion of Honor.

Tetsuya Ishida: Saving the World with a Brushstroke" at the Asian Art Museum.

“Roads of Arabia” at the Asian Art Museum. On everybody’s top ten list, although it is equal parts archaeology and art history (which specifically censored out any mention the ancient Jewish and Christian communities in the Arabian peninsula, expelled or destroyed after the rise of Islam).

"Masters of Fire" at the Legion of Honor. This was another show that is equal parts art and archaeology:

 Zheng Chongbin

 Li Huayi

A real eye opener for me - Contemporary Chinese calligraphy married to modern art. The Chinese painters in this show - Li Huayi, Wang Tiande, Zheng Chongbin and Lu Chuntao come from such a long tradition of using ink and manipulating the brush to create art that that is such an integral part of Chinese culture that it is imprinted in their DNA.

Ursula O'Farrell

Women artists in the Bay Area: From the sidewalk, Mythos Gallery looks like just another nondescript storefront off busy Shadduck Avenue in Berkeley. But if the viewer takes a second look, he (or she) will see one of the most powerful – if smallest – exhibitions of women artists from the 1950’s through today. The exhibition at Mythos Gallery is the first of two to showcase women painters who arose out of the Abstract Expressionist and Figurative artistic movements of the 1950's.

Romare Bearden at Jenkins Johnson: