Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Alice Neel. Born in January 1900

Ballet Dancer, 1950. Hall Collection. © The Estate of Alice Neel. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London and Victoria Miro, London

I am coming to the end of January artists' birthdays but there are a couple more really important ones to write about, especially Alice Neel (January 28, 1900 - October 13, 1984). 
Alice Neel was one of the great American painters of the twentieth century, a pioneer about all artists and especially among women artists who have often been constrained by social norms to painting "the nice and the pretty." 

Mother and Child, 1967
Neel was never fashionable or in step with avant-garde movements. Sympathetic to the expressionist spirit of northern Europe and Scandinavia and to the darker arts of Spanish painting, she painted in a style and with an approach distinctively her own. 

Neel was born near Philadelphia in 1900 and trained at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, against her middle class parent's wished (naturally.) She became a painter with a strong social conscience and equally strong left-wing beliefs. In the 1930s she lived in Greenwich Village, New York and enrolled as a member of the Works Progress Administration for which she painted urban scenes. Her portraits of the 1930s embraced left wing writers, artists and trade unionists.

Neel left Greenwich Village for Spanish Harlem in 1938 to get away from the rarefied atmosphere of an art colony. There she painted the Puerto Rican community, casual acquaintances, neighbors and people she encountered on the street. Lovers came and went, leaving chaos and heartbreak in their wake; one was a Puerto Rican musician who left Neel months after she gave birth to his son. Another was a junkie who destroyed all of Neel's work that he could get his hands on. It was as if she was drawn to that which created pain and suffering in her life which she then used as material for her work. 

Alice Neel in her studio in New York, 1960 Photo: GETTY
In the 1960s she moved to the Upper West Side and made a determined effort to reintegrate with the art world. This led to a series of dynamic portraits of artists, curators and gallery owners, among them Frank O'Hara, Andy Warhol and the young Robert Smithson. She also maintained her practice of painting political personalities, including black activists and supporters of the women's movement.
Black Spanish Family, 1950, Estate of Alice Neel

Living most of her life in poverty, it would be wrong to believe that she didn't resent her artistic outsider status. When she moved to Spanish Harlem in the 1940's, she resorted to shoplifting and had to life on welfare to survive. Yet she was compelled to follow her own artistic muse, painting all that she encountered - whether her fellow citizens of Harlem, prostitutes, fellow artists, her family, her lovers, street workers and sex workers. Her neo-realism was deeply unfashionable in the heydey of Abstract Expressionism and seemed old fashioned. But what seemed old fashioned then, is now seen as emotionally astute and an often disturbing look into her subject's inner lives. "I don't do realism," Neel once said, going on to declare that a room, a chair, a table and a person were all the same to her – except that a person is human and therefore essentially psychological.

Her life was marked by extreme and painful episodes. She lost her first baby to diphtheria in 1927. Three years later, her second daughter was kidnapped by her estranged husband who took the child to live with him in Cuba. Neel never regained custody of her daughter and was only able to reconnect with her in 1934. Neel had a complete breakdown, tried to commit suicide, and ended up in the hospital for a long time. 

Andy Warhol
By the 60's, when the grip of Abstract Expressionism loosed on the art world, Neel began to achieve a belated fame. She was taken up by many of the fashionable and famous, including Andy Warhol. From the review in the tTs his torso, the result of gunshot wounds he had sustained when a member of the Factor shot him, two years earlier. The pop artist's middle -aged breasts sag ...Although Neel has barely sketched in the background, she has produced an extraordinarily rich psychological account of a man reduced from a cultural icon to a collection of greenish skin and bone."  She was called "one of the greatest portrait artists of the 20th century" by Barry Walker, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which organized a retrospective of her work in 2010. 

Alice Neel. Portrait in Old Age
Her late found fame and fortune meant little to Neel except that she could now buy all the art materials she wanted. Her son Hartley explained, “ultimately what success meant to Alice was the ability to paint without worrying about how to pay for canvas and materials”. His wife Ginny agrees. “When she died she left a couple of dresses and painting smocks and that was about it.” As long as Alice Neel was able to paint the people in her world the way she wanted, nothing else mattered.  She even looked at herself in the same analytical, probing way that she looked at all her subject. At 80, a few years before her death in 1948, she painted herself naked except for her glasses, a brush in one hand, a rag in another. Seated in a stripped chair, which shows up many times in her work, she does not fudge on on the signs of age on her body but is self appraising and yet funny but also, dignified. Her vision people in her portraits shows the soul that makes us uniquely human and for that, we return time and time again, seeing, as her daughter in law Ginny said, "Alice loved a wretch. She loved the wretch in the hero and the hero in the wretch. She saw that in all of us, I think."

Pregnant Maria. Neel defied the conventions of the nude in Western art, portraying women as strong, defiant, and honest yet vulnerable.  

Wikipedia here

Alice Neel and the Faces of New York here

Gandi was assassinated 70 years ago today.

Today marks 70 years since the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. A pioneer of peaceful protest, he worked tirelessly for an independent India, but was killed just six months after independence was achieved. This plate features a portrait of Gandhi, and is made from bamboo decorated with black lacquer and gold leaf. The inscriptions around the edge contain some of his sayings (in Tamil): ‘Freedom is a birthright’, ‘Don’t give space to outsiders’, ‘Yield to your enemy’. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Barnett Newman. On this day in 1905

I am working on two posts on artists who interest me more - Ruth Asawa and Alice Neel. But I should mention that Barnett Newman (January 29, 1905 - July 4, 1970) was born on this day; I went with a friend to see his Stations of the Cross when it was at the De Young and simply didn't find the work very interesting. If I want simplicity in line, I think I will look at Japanese art. Newman was as one of the major figures in abstract expressionism and one of the foremost of the color field painters. "His paintings are existential in tone and content, explicitly composed with the intention of communicating a sense of locality, presence, and contingency." In this image: Barnett Newman, Thirteenth Station, 1965/1966. Acrylic on canvas, 198.2 x 152.5 cm (78 1/16 x 60 1/16 in.). Collection of Robert and Jane Meyerhoff.

Onement 1, 1948. Museum of Modern Art, New York. The first example of Newman using the so-called "zip" to define the spatial structure of his paintings,

What is the explanation of the seemingly insane drive of man to be painter and poet if it is not an act of defiance against man's fall and an assertion that he return to the Garden of Eden? For the artists are the first men.
— Barnett Newman

Wikipedia here:

The Art Story here

The Guardian Review

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Least we forget. International Holocaust Remembrance Day

After going through the selection process upon arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Perla Schwartz, an elderly Jewish woman from Subcarpathian Rus was selected for death. She waits on the ramp to be taken to the gas chambers. Antisemitism and Fascism are on the rise again. Let all people remember what happened and not let it happen again. 

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, is an international memorial day on 27 January commemorating the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War. It commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jewish people, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 on 1 November 2005 during the 42nd plenary session.[1] The resolution came after a special session was held earlier that year on 24 January 2005 during which the United Nations General Assembly marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust.

"Sometimes I am asked if I know 'the response' to Auschwitz;... not only do I not know it, but I don't even know if a tragedy of this magnitude has a response."- Elie Wiesel

Let us honor Janos Korczak

In 1942, a man led 192 children to the gas chambers... 80 years later, he is still celebrated for his act!

On Thursday 6 August 1942 the Germans deported Korczak, his assistants and the two hundred children, from the orphanage at 16 Sienna Street, the orphanage having been relocated from Krochmalna. A witness to the orphans three mile march to the deportation train described the scene to the Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum as follows:

“This was not a march to the railway cars - this was an organised, wordless protest against the murder.” 

The children marched in rows of four, with Korczak leading them, looking straight ahead, and holding a child’s hand on each side.

A second column was led by Stefania Wilczynska, the third by Broniatowska, her children carrying blue knapsacks on their backs, and the fourth by Sternfeld, from the boarding school on Twarda Street.”

Nothing is known of their last journey to Treblinka, where they were all murdered by the Nazis. After the war, associations bearing Korczak’s name were formed in Poland, Israel, Germany and other countries, to keep his memory alive and to promote his message and his work.

In memory of the Holocaust, let's never forget the heroes who stood up in the name of humanity 


More FreeYezidiFoundation Retweeted US Holocaust Museum
On #InternationalHolocaustRemembranceDay, we pay respect to the lives lost during the #Holocaust. We #AskWhy for those victims and the #Yazidivictims that we have lost since 2014. And special thanks to @HolocaustMuseum for helping us Yezidis in our time of need @NaomiKikoler

Words can make a difference – both for good and evil. 
'I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I am so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s in me. When I write I can shake off all my cares; my sorrow disappears; my spirits are revived.' - Anne Frank, written in her diary, 5 April 1944

Holocaust memorial Day: 

Hendrick Avercamp. Born on this day in 1584

January 27, 1585. Hendrick Avercamp (January 27, 1585 (bapt.) - May 15, 1634 (buried)) was a Dutch painter. 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). In this image: Hendrick Avercamp, IJsgezicht met jager die een otter toont. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Avercamp probably painted in his studio on the basis of sketches he had made in the winter. Avercamp is famous even abroad for his winter landscapes. The passion for painting skating characters probably came from his childhood: he was practicing this hobby with his parents. The last quarter of the 16th century, during which Avercamp was born, was one of the coldest periods of the Little Ice Age.

The Flemish painting tradition is mainly expressed in Avercamp's early work. This is consistent with the landscapes of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Avercamp painted landscapes with a high horizon and many figures who are working on something. The paintings are narrative, with many anecdotes

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

National Handwriting Day

Where does good handwriting start? Well, it should start with the study of calligraphy, Lloyd Reynolds, a professor of English at Reed college revived the art of calligraphy in the US - his simple but effective style, if taught to children when they are learning how to write, would have lead to much better handwriting. But Reynolds was a college professor and while he influenced many pupils, including Steve Jobs, it's been the adults who took up the study of calligraphy. Many calligraphers have sought to have calligraphy taught in school but (alas) their efforts have been not very successful. Hence the crabbed and often illegible handwriting that so many people have. 


His calligraphy up at uTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v22dewR4izg

Steve Jobs on Calligraphy at Reed: 

More books on learning calligraphy:

  • Reynolds, Lloyd J. Italic Lettering & Handwriting: Exercise Book. Portland, Ore: Champoeg Press, 1963. OCLC 2203545
  • Reynolds, Lloyd J. 1969. Italic calligraphy and handwriting: exercises and text. New York: Pentalic. OCLC 2203545
  • Reynolds, Lloyd J. Weathergrams. Portland, Ore: Society for Italic Handwriting, Reed College, 1972. OCLC 9319640
  • Reynolds, Lloyd J. Handwriting & Calligraphy. Oregon Rainbow: 4 (1976) 32-39.
  • Reynolds, Lloyd J. 1979. Straight impressions. Woolwich, Me: TBW Books. OCLC 5421847

Sheila Waters is a calligrapher and teacher. She was born in Gravesend, England and graduated from the Medway College of Art in Kent and at the Royal College of Art in London


Sheila Waters:

Foundations of Calligraphy: 100 pages of alphabets. The "must have" book in any calligrapher's book shelves


Sheila Water's Retrospective300 full-color images of Sheila's life's work, designed by Julian Waters (Her Son), presenting Sheila's Retrospective Show of 2009. A great companion to her instructional book, "Foundations of Calligraphy." Julian designed the typeface, which was used for the first time in this publication. 


The Calligraphy of Raphael Boguslav:

Lettering artistry with Jessica:

A thousand painted letters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_fcmDBatGA

Medieval Manuscripts Blog: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/

Medieval Blackletter:

Humanistic script - the answer to the crabbed medieval blackletter

Tips on teaching yourself: https://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelwmiller/youve-got-the-write-stuff-baby?utm_term=.knEr5wR3PV#.ts5DBMEX2m

For Supplies: John Neal and Paper Ink Arts



Monday, January 22, 2018

Nicolas Lancret. Born on this day in 1680.

La Servante justifiée, 1735-1740

A little rococo morality tale ((in other words, not very moral) is attached to this painting: According to La Fontaine's popular tale, the master seduced a serving girl and was observed by a neighbor, who is shown here at her window at the upper right. He therefore invited his wife into the garden to engage in dalliance. Later, when the neighbor reported on his behavior, his wife observed that it was she whom her friend observed in the garden. "[Then] excuse me, and do not send [the girl] away," responded the neighbor, to which the wife replied, "Why send her away? She serves me well."
The Swing

Two Elegant Women in Polish Dress, ca. 1723
January 22, 2018. Nicolas Lancret (22 January 1690 - 14 September 1743), French painter, was born in Paris, and became a brilliant depicter of light comedy which reflected the tastes and manners of French society under the regent Orleans.

This was the era of Rococo art, where lighter colors, playful themes, and playfulness represented the excesses of the reign of Louis XV. Lancret's ability in depicting the fetes and party atmosphere made him very popular. While not his paintings were not as explicit as those of Boucher, his light palate and paintings of the elite at play in mythological landscapes were a departure from the Baroque's church/state orientation. Landscapes were pastoral and often depicted the leisurely outings of aristocratic couples.

Although traditionally regarded as a follower of Antoine Watteau, Lancret was a prolific and inventive genre painter in his own right. He studied with Watteau’s master Claude Gillot and probably met Watteau in 1712. Lancret was received into the Royal Academy in 1719 as a painter of fêtes galantes. Much admired as a decorative painter, Lancret executed numerous commissions for the great patrons of the day, including Louis XV and Frederick II. Although based in Watteau’s style, Lancret’s work is characterized by a more vivid palette, more varied genre themes, and a detailed and lively narrative sense.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Paul Cézanne, Father of modern art. Born on this day in 1839

January 19, 1839. Paul Cézanne (19 January 1839 - 22 October 1906) was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th-century conception of artistic endeavor to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. In this image: Paul Cézanne (French, 1839 - 1906). Recto: The Chaîne de l'Etoile Mountains (La Chaîne de l'Etoile avec le Pilon du Roi), 1885 - 1886. Watercolor and graphite on wove paper; Verso: Unfinished Landscape, undated. Watercolor and graphite on wove paper, Sheet: 12 3/8 x 19 1/8 in. (31.4 x 48.6 cm). BF650. Photo © 2015 The Barnes Foundation.

What a mediocre way to describe the father of modern art and the most influential painter of the 20th century. Artist, painter and so much more. Both Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that Cézanne "is the father of us all."

The son of a banker, he was born in Aix-en-Provence and from the age of 10, was a friend of Zola whom he met in school. Although he first complied with his father's wishes to study law, Cézanne left Aix and moved to Paris in 1861. His early work was not inspiring but he continued to struggle to unite "observation of nature with the permanence of classical composition." His father disinherited him but later relented and left Cézanne with a large legacy which gave him a financial independence rare among painters of any era. 

The more he painted, the more he saw. The more he saw, the more manifold and unattainable truth became. "I must tell you," Cézanne wrote to his son six weeks before his death in the fall of 1906, "that as a painter I am becoming more clear-sighted before nature, but with me the realization of my sensations is always painful. I cannot attain the intensity that is unfolded before my senses. I do not have the magnificent richness of coloring that animates nature. Here on the bank of the river the motifs multiply ..."

Did any painter ever achieve more in such isolation? Cézanne did not have a one-man show until 1895, when he was 56. If the last years of his life made him something of a public figure in his native Aix-en-Provence and among the artists in Paris, he spent them in virtual seclu sion in his studio at Les Lauves, on the hillside above Aix. The workplace held the permanent characters of his still lifes: the plaster cupid, the blue ginger jar, the plain Provençal stoneware, the scroll-sawed kitchen table, the floral rug, the skulls, onions and peaches. 

Above all, there was Mont Ste.-Victoire, which would become, thanks to the painter's obsessive scrutiny, the most analyzed mountain in art. One sees how absolutely, unlike most other painters who work en série, Cézanne despised repetition. Each painting attacks the mountain and its distance as a fresh problem. The bulk runs from a mere vibration of watercolor on the horizon, its translucent, wriggling pro file echoing the pale green and lavender gestures of the foreground trees, to the vast solidarity of the Philadelphia version of Mont Ste.-Victoire, 1902-06. There, all is displacement. Instead of an object in an imaginary box, surrounded by transparency, every part of the surface is a continuum, a field of resistant form. Patches of gray, blue and lavender that jostle in the sky are as thoroughly articulated as those that constitute the flank of the mountain. Nothing is empty in late Cézanne — not even the bits of untouched canvas. This organized dialectic of shape and of color is the subject of Cézanne's famous remark: "Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one's sensations." To realize a sensation meant to give it a syntax — and as the hatched, angled planes in late Cézanne become less legible as illusion, so does the force of their pictorial language become more ordered. His goal was presence, not illusion, and he pursued it with an unremitting gravity. 

The fruit in the great still lifes of the period, like Apples and Oranges, 1895-1900, are so weighted with pictorial decision — their rosy surfaces filled, as it were, with thought — that they seem about twice as solid as real fruit could be. It mattered to Cézanne that he was a Provençal. Mont Ste.-Victoire was central to him, not only as a shape but as an emblem of his roots. 

The light in his watercolors (perhaps the most radiant exercises in that medium since Turner) is not just the transcendent energy, the "supernatural beauty" of abstraction; it is also the harsh, verifiable flicker of sun on Provençal hillsides. To his anguish and fulfillment, Cézanne was embedded in the real world, and he returns us to it, whenever his pictures are seen. —: Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New

In his later years, the years when he wrote his best letters, the French painter Paul Cézanne did not cease to study and worry. He was solitary and difficult and as devoted to his art as a mystic might be to salvation. “I think the best thing to do is to work hard,” he wrote. For him, painting was the most exacting process. “He was,” Alex Danchev writes, “a thinker-painter of formidable penetration.” In April 1904, for example, two years before he died, he wrote to a young painter: “Treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything brought into proper perspective so that each side of an object or a plane is directed towards a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon give breadth . . . Lines perpendicular to this horizon give depth. Now, we men experience nature more in terms of depth than surface, whence the need to introduce into our vibrations of light, represented by the reds and yellows, a sufficient quantity of blue tones, to give a sense of atmosphere.” Colin Tobin

Heilbrun Timeline of Art history here 
Wikipedia here 
Guardian review of a current exhibit here
Web page of quotes, etc here

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A year of resistance

Indira Cesarine’s Resist featured at The Untitled Space One Year of Resistance exhibit, in NewYork, January 2018. Photograph: The Untitled Space/Courtesy of The Untitled Space


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Henri Fantin-Latour. Born on this day in 1836

 Henri Fantin-Latour (14 January 1836 - 25 August 1904) was a French painter and lithographer best known for his flower paintings and group portraits of Parisian artists and writers. His first major UK gallery exhibition in 40 years took place at the Bowes Museum in April 2011.  Musée du Luxembourg presented a retrospective exhibition of his work in 2016-7 entitled "À fleur de peau".Top Image: Henri Fantin-Latour, La leçon de dessin ou Portraits. Oil on canvas, 145 x 170 cm Musées Royaux des Beaux-arts de Belgique, Brussels.

Henri Fantin-Latour came to prominence in the era of Impressionism and had personal and professional connections to the group. But he preferred to exhibit at the Salon rather than with the Impressionists and unlike Claude Monet or Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Fantin-Latour rarely painted outdoors. 
At the age of ten, Fantin-Latour began training as an artist with his father, a painter. He later studied with Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, an innovative and important teacher known for his system of teaching visual memory. Fantin-Latour developed an enthusiasm for Italian painters, especially Titian and Paolo Veronese, and regularly copied their work at the Louvre. It was at the Louvre that Fantin-Latour met Édouard Manet with whom he forged a friendship; he would later paint Manet on several occasions

By the early 1860s, Fantin-Latour was producing the three genres of painting that would sustain his career: portraiture, still-life painting, and imaginative or mythological scenes. Commissioned portraits and still-life paintings of flowers and fruit were essential to the artist's livelihood and he established an important clientele in England. But Fantin-Latour received the greatest critical attention for a series of ambitious group portraits featuring many of the most renowned artists, writers, and musicians of the time. His imaginative works were often inspired by his great love of music and he created several paintings based on the operas of Richard Wagner. Fantin-Latour increasingly explored lithography as a testing ground for his fantastical works.

Images and information here

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Chaïm Soutine. Born on this day in 1893

January 13, 1893. Chaïm Soutine (13 January 1893 - 9 August 1943) was a Russian-French painter of Jewish origin. Soutine made a major contribution to the expressionist movement while living in Paris. Inspired by classic painting in the European tradition, exemplified by the works of Rembrandt, Chardin and Courbet, Soutine developed an individual style more concerned with shape, color, and texture over representation, which served as a bridge between more traditional approaches and the developing form of Abstract Expressionism. In this image: Chaim Soutine, Two Pheasants.

Born in Belorussia (Now Minsk, Russia), of a poor Jewish family, Soutine made his way to Paris in 1913. He remained the outsider, gauche, speaking poor French and always on the edge of starvation which is probably why so many of his works portray meat.  In 1915, however, the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, who also had studied in Vilna, introduced him to Modigliana, and Soutine soon became one of the companions of Modigliani as the Italian roamed Montparnasse in the evenings, offering to sketch portraits on the terraces in exchange for drinks. When Modliagini died in 1920 (?) of advanced TB and alcoholism, the news shocked and devastated Soutine who never drank from then on. 

Carcass of Beef

He seldom showed his works, but he did take part in the important exhibition The Origins and Development of International Independent Art held at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in 1937 in Paris, where he was at last hailed as a great painter. Soon afterwards France was invaded by German troops. As a Jew, Soutine had to escape from the French capital and hide in order to avoid arrest by the Gestapo. He moved from one place to another and was sometimes forced to seek shelter in forests, sleeping outdoors. Suffering from a stomach ulcer and bleeding badly, he left a safe hiding place for Paris in order to undergo emergency surgery, which failed to save his life. On August 9, 1943, Chaim Soutine died of a perforated ulcer. He was interred in Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris.

Despite dominant trends toward abstraction, Soutine maintained a firm connection to recognizable subject matter. His innovation was in the way he chose to represent his subjects: with a thick impasto of paint covering the surface of the canvas, the palette, visible brushwork, and forms translated the artist's inner torment. As an expatriate Russian Jew living within Paris, with few friends beyond fellow artist Amedeo Modigliani, Soutine interpreted common themes with the eye of an outsider, further enhancing his unique perspective regarding his human subjects, landscapes, and still lifes and lending them a particular vanitas and poignancy. A prototypical wild artist, Soutine's temper and depression are both well documented and were poured into the paint he layered on the canvas. Soutine's body of work transcends the movements that dominated the avant-garde during his lifetime, expressing a clear personal and artistic vision that both looks back at historic themes as well as toward future modernist styles.

More about Soutine's tragic life at Wikipedia and here