Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Happy Birthday Philip Guston

Philip Guston began his career in the 1930s as a Social Realist, when it was the politically and artistically correct thing to be. In the early '50s he turned to Abstract Expressionism -- belatedly, but it was still fashionable enough to give him a modest reputation, appropriate to his modest, domesticated version of Abstract Expressionism. In the late '60s he began to paint the unfashionable funky-gruesome figures which finally carried his reputation over the top, more for their weird silliness than their odd prettiness (evident in the "pink eye" and brushiness with which many were painted). Some people deplored his abandonment of Abstract Expressionism -- the new orthodoxy -- but many others lionized him as a true avant-garde hero. Was it not the essence of avant-garde rebellion to rebel against what had become old avant-garde art?

Untitled", (book, ball and shoe), 1971. Oil on paper, 50.2 x 70.5 cm., 19 3/4 x 27 3/4 inches. (T004167) ©The Estate of Philip Guston. Courtesy: Timothy Taylor Gallery, London.

Guston had the guts to change, to make it genuinely new. Refusing to toe the current art party line, his fresh maverick imagery -- "fresh" in every sense of the word -- made him an outcast, but also brought him notoriety. He had the credibility of those who break set: he showed that it was still possible to perform the defamiliarization miracle -- restore the unfamiliarity and inexplicability that life and art have before they are legitimated and sanctioned by explication and explanation -- that gave avant-garde art its credibility in the first place.Guston claimed he moved away from "purity" toward "narrative" -- really back to the psychosocial narrative art he began with (however deeper his sense of the psychosocial). Some people deplored his abandonment of Abstract Expressionism -- the new orthodoxy -- but many others lionized him as a true avant-garde hero. Was it not the essence of avant-garde rebellion to rebel against what had become old avant-garde art?  Kuspit, History of Art. 

Seventy-odd drawings were published after Guston’s death in the book Philip Guston’s Poor Richard, which chronicled the life of Nixon from childhood through to his famous visit to China in 1972. These satirical drawings came after Guston’s notorious stylistic break with Abstract Expressionism in the mid 1960s, when he moved towards his recognisably crude figurations of thick, cartoonish men and hooded Klansmen. Guston agonised over the state of global politics, lamenting the horrors of the Vietnam War and questioning his role as an artist in such troubled times. (Apollo Magazine) 

Philip Guston: June 27, 1913 - June 7, 1989

Monday, June 25, 2018

Levina Teerlinc . Flemish painter of miniatures to the court of the Tudors

Elizabeth 1, 1565

Lavina Teerlinc (1510-1576)  was Flemish, a painter who worked for the Tudors from the time of Henry VIII through the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I. She was the oldest daughter of Simon Bening, a famous illuminator (painter of miniatures) of the Ghent-Bruges school. Like all women artists of this period, she was trained by her father and probably worked in his workshop before her marriage. We know the names of other painters of the Tudor court, but Teerlinc, a woman who was famous in her time, had to wait to the 20th century to be recognized. 

Unknown lady 

Elizabeth 1

In 1545, she married George Terlinc and moved to England with him, where she became court painter to the Tudors, serving Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I. She received an annual salary of 40 pounds until her death in 1575. She had one son and died in London on June 23, 1575. She was the only Flemish miniature painter of note to be recorded in England between the death of Hans Holbein the Younger in 1543 and the rise of Nicholas Hilliard in the 1570's (Nochlin, 102). 

There are no surviving works by Teerlinc -she did not sign her work and many of her works were believed destroyed by a fire at Whitehall. 

Yet she was one of the most well-documented artists at court in miniature painting, providing various portraits of Elizabeth I in the years 1559, 1562, 1563, 1564, 1567 ("a full-length portrait"), 1568 ("with Knights of the Order"), 1575 ("with other personages"), and 1576. In 1556, she painted for Mary a "New yaer gift a small picture of the 'trynitie.' Teerlinc is best known for her pivotal position in the rise of the portrait miniature. She might have trained Nicholas Hilliard, by training a goldsmith, in the methods of miniature portraiture. These tiny paintings were very popular in the court, intimate images that could be carried on the person as a reminder of a loved one. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Henry Ossawa Tanner. June 21, `1859 - May 1937

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Banjo Lesson, 1893. Accepted in the Paris Salon of 1894

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation, 1898, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Henry Ossawa Tanner was born on June 21,1859, the son of an African American minister in the African Methodist Episcopalian Church and a mother who was a former slave. He became the most significant African-American painter of the 19th century and the first to achieve international recognition. 

His mother, Sarah, had escaped the south via the underground railway and settled in Pittsburg where she eventually married Benjamin Tucker, Henry Ossawa Tucker's father. Although the family moved several times during Henry's childhood, in 1864 they settled in Philadelphia where Henry developed his interest in art. His parents were not happy about his desire to become a painter and tried to get him to work in a mill but Henry was too frail and became ill.

During his recuperation, Henry lived at home and at the age of 21, his parents allowed him to enroll in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. When he was a student there, he came to the attention of Thomas Eakins who encouraged his talent and was a great influence on his early styleTanner moved to Atlanta in 1889 in an unsuccessful attempt to support himself as an artist and instructor among prosperous middle class African-Americans. Bishop and Mrs. Joseph C. Hartzell arranged for Tanner's first solo exhibition, the proceeds from which enabled the struggling artist to move to Paris in 1891. Illness brought him back to the United States in 1893, and it was at this point in his career that Tanner turned his attention to genre subjects of his own race. -   From Rings: Five Passions in World Art, by J. Carter Brown

Spinning By Firelight, 1894
In his autobiography The Story of an Artist's Life, Tanner describes the burden of racism: "I was extremely timid and to be made to feel that I was not wanted, although in a place where I had every right to be, even months afterwards caused me sometimes weeks of pain. Every time any one of these disagreeable incidents came into my mind, my heart sank, and I was anew tortured by the thought of what I had endured, almost as much as the incident itself."

Instead of the comic stereotypes of the African American, Tanner sought to imbue their lives of struggle with dignity and integrity: Henry Ossawa Tanner, who sought to represent black subjects with dignity, wrote: "Many of the artists who have represented Negro life have seen only the comic, the ludicrous side of it, and have lacked sympathy with and appreciation for the warm big heart that dwells within such a rough exterior." The banjo had become a symbol of derision, and caricatures of insipid, smiling African-Americans strumming the instrument were a cliche. In The Banjo Lesson, Tanner tackles this stereotype head on, portraying a man teaching his young protege to play the instrument - the large body of the older man lovingly envelops the boy as he patiently instructs him. If popular nineteenth-century imagery of the African-American male had divested him of authority and leadership, then Tanner in The Banjo Lesson recreated him in the role of father, mentor, and sage. The Banjo Lesson is about sharing knowledge and passing on wisdom."  From Rings: Five Passions in World Art, by J. Carter Brown

Daniel in the Lion's Den
Raising of Lazarus
In 1897, Tanner's "Raising of Lazarus" so impressed Rodman Wanamaker, a Philadelphia merchant living in Paris, that he financed the first of Tanner's several trips to the Holy Land. Encouraged by his new found acclaim, Tanner returned to the US but the racial prejudice convinced him that he would not remain and continue painting. In 1899 he married a Caucasian opera singer working in Paris and his knowledge of the racism and Jim Crow laws convinced Tanner to settle permanently in Paris. 

During his life in France, he moved away from genre painting dealing with African-American topics and instead, painted religious works, influenced by his trips to the Middle East and his own religious faith. Although he never lived in America again, he was a symbol of hope to generations of African-American artists including the artists of the Harlem Renaissance, all of whom struggled against the racism and bigotry in the United States. Although his traditional style was rejected by later generations of African-American artists, he remained uniquely famous and popular. He was criticized by Alan Locke, an African-American scholar, for never developing a school of Negro art."(Locke, 1933). But that was not Tanner's goal and he should not be judged by such a narrow ideology. Succeeding in the fine arts was the goal of many African-American artists who came before him - they wanted the recognition and the respect that was due them in the wider society. When placed among his peers, other painters of the 19th century, he is as skillful a painter as any. During the final years of his career, he received international acclaim, numerous medals and was awarded the distinction of the title of the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. 

The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water. c. 1907. Des Moines Art Center.

SF Art Picks for the weekend of June 23-24- from the SF Chronicle

“René Magritte: The Fifth Season”: A well-chosen, carefully researched, beautifully designed reconsideration of a beloved artist whose enigmatic works taught us, as beginners, to look more deeply. Through Oct. 28. $27-$35; ages 18 and younger free. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F. 415-357-4000.

Taravat Talepasand: “Yeki Bood, Yeki Nabood, Once Was, Once Wasn’t”: “Westoxicated” is the title of a photorealistic self-portrait that commands this small gallery in the Minnesota Street Project. It is a key to the artist’s embrace of pleasure as a metaphor for self-determination. Through June 30. Free. Jack Fischer Gallery, 1275 Minnesota St., S.F. 415-522-1178.

Louise Bourgeois Spiders”: The French American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) left behind a remarkably diverse body of significant work, but none of it was more popular with the public than her extended series of sculptures and drawings of spiders. She spoke of those works as “an ode to my mother” and implied that she meant that in the nicest way. Through Sept. 4. $19-$25; ages 18 and younger free. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F. 415-357-4000.

“Ragnar Kjartansson: Scenes From Western Culture”: Those who wandered, mesmerized, through Ragnar Kjartansson’s nine-screen video installation “The Visitors at SFMOMA last year will want more from this quite different 2015 effort than it delivers. But if not every work by an artist can be a masterpiece, this strong follow-up is rewarding on its own terms. Through Sept. 1. Free. McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, 1150 25th St., Building B, S.F. 415-580-7605.

Judy Dater: Only Human”: Since the early 1970s, certain pictures by Judy Dater have retained an unshakable status in the evolving history of photography. If never quite taken for granted, the greatest of these works — mostly portraits, generally of women — seem to have always been a part of the contemporary American image lexicon. The Bay Area artist’s first survey in two decades makes the pictures exhilaratingly new again. (There is also a smaller, free exhibition of Dater’s works on view at Modernism Gallery. 415-541-0461; Through Sept. 16. $6-$15, under 18 free. De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, S.F. 415-750-3600.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Kurt Schwitters. Born on June 20, 1887. Multitalented and multidisciplinary German artist.

June 20, 1887. Kurt Hermann Eduard Karl Julius Schwitters (20 June 1887 - 8 January 1948) was a German artist who was born in Hanover, Germany. Schwitters worked in several genres and media, including dadaism, constructivism, surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography, and what came to be known as installation art. He is most famous for his collages, called Merz Pictures. 

 "I am a painter and I nail my pictures together,” Kurt Schwitters said to fellow artist Tristan Tzara in 1919. Throughout the 20's, the work flowed forth. He made no distinctions between his art (painting, collage, sculpture, design, installation), his writing (poetry, essays, children’s stories) and his performances. He met everybody who was anybody in that wild, creative world: Hannah Höch; Constructivists like El Lissitzky; Theo van Doesburg, a founder of the movement known as De Stijl — and collaborated with many of them. He traveled Europe nonstop, performed tirelessly, had shows and attracted collectors.

"Take a dentist's drill, a meat grinder . . . Take lights and deform them as brutally as you can. Make locomotives crash into one another . . . Explode steam boilers to make railroad mist. Take petticoats and the like, shoes and false hair, also ice skates."  That is the scenario for one of his theater pieces. 

"The more one sees of Schwitters, the more we see his influence, not only Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.  but Kleinholtz, the SF Beats with their love of urban decay, the contemporary conceptual artists with the hanging rope and deformed wire props. He's the inspiration for Pop Art, Fluxus, Conceptual Art to site-specific art, and the forerunner of present day artists such as Thomas Hirschhorn, Gregor Schneider and Rachel Whiteread." Robert Hughes

Like so many artists, he had to flee Germany when the Nazi's came to power. He ended up in a camp in England for refugees where he continued to work, even though his health was very poor. He died shortly after the end of WW II.

The multidisciplinary nature of Schwitters’s output and the destruction of so much in WW II, may be one of the reason why he remains an underground figure. 

Like a prophet scorned in his own day, he saw it all, made it all and, as is true with so many great artists, his reputation came into his own only after his death in 1948.