The Spring and Red Tree

January 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

spring and red tree

It has been some time since I have published images of my paintings.  To tell the truth I have been going through something of a painter’s block. It is not unusual for me to go through period when I find it hard to draw or paint. At the current time I am working on two paintings at once. In both cases, water is an important element. A am also trying to push myself when it comes to color. That exploration is, hopefully, just beginning.

Inspired by, Odilon Redon

Odilon Redon


The Familiar Object that Startles

June 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you have been reading my blogs you might have noticed that I seem to spend a lot of time at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I like art museums in general and I do like MIA in particular.

One of the objects that I find surprising and wonderful is a car in on the second floor. It is in what I take to be the museum’s collection of Design. I wrote my nephew who is a lover of the contemporary automobile about this car. “It would not be the sort of car that you would not want to encounter on a country road in the middle of the night. You would not know if you should flee or follow.”

Context in is very important here and this car is, I think, a marvelous addition to the Museum’s collection.

Life, found or arranged

June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

The still life has always fascinated me. There are so many aspects of the art form that I could talk about but in this case I want to consider just one thing; the placing of objects verses objects found already in place. I took this photo of crab and sake items some months back, far enough in the past that I have forgotten if I place the objects where they are or did I simply took a photo of objects that are there by chance. I think it is very likely that the objects were arranged for the photo. The question however is one that often haunts me about still life paintings. Actually there are three associate questions: 1. Can you tell if objects have been purposefully arranged for a still life? 2. Can you tell when the objects were simply there by chance, and not arranged. 3. Can an artist disguise arrangement to appear as if objects were not arranged?

I once had a discussion with friend and fellow museum educator about the reason I liked Chardin.  At the time I said that I liked is still lives because they did not look arranged by the artist before they were painted.  Looking at Chardin’s painting today I see that I was very much wrong about that. They are paintings of objects obviously arranged before hand.  I know now what I like about Chardin, and that is the quality of his painted surfaces and his subtle almost smokey tones. 

The lingering issue for me however concerns what is being communicated if objects are recorded as they are found and is it different than presenting objects that have been arranged before hand.  In the former, I think we are dealing with the real clues of life.  If you were to walk into an room that I have just vacated and look for signs of my recent activity in that room you would be discovering signs of me and my life.  On the other hand, if you took those same items and arranged them artfully to be recorded, it would say more about the artist, composition, color, texture, etc. and perhaps less about life as lived.

You may wonder why I ask these questions.  If you were to enter my apartment today you might see that on a side an empty wine bottle as it has left last night and not far away an empty and unwashed wine glass.  Those two items found as they are carry lots of information about my life and to paint it as it appears by chance captures and makes that part of my life fixed and still. Where I to set up a scene with empty wine bottle and glass for the expressed purpose of painting objects of daily life would I be doing the same thing as a painter?

Chardin, my favorite still lift painter is sometimes good at hiding the fact that things are arranged before hand and sometimes not. Perhaps the randomness of the objects was not for him an issue of great concern.

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Food for Thought

June 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

It is odd to think that of all the forms of paintings that there are, still lives seem to have effected me the deepest. I can recall being in an art museum in  Antwerp when it dawned on me that I was getting more pleasure from viewing the still lives than anything else in the museum.  Perhaps it was dovetailed  with another  interest… food.

In later years when I worked as a museum educator at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. I recall more than once the pleasure I received teaching elementary school groups in front of a still life of cakes, raisins and a glass of wine by Raphaelle Peale. The pleasure came from coxing out of them information they already knew.  “What time of Year do you think it is?” I would ask and eventually by looking at the fruit, in particular the raisins, they would see that it was fall or winter.  I then would ask them to be more specific,  to consider the cakes. Eventually seeing the green and red sugar decoration on the cakes they would conclude that it was probably the Christmas season. The discovery that they did not have to get all the information from me but rather they could make discoveries on their own by looking and putting the clues together was a happy revelation for many a child.  At least that was my intention and my hope.

For more about the Peale family Play Video

The Elegance of the Paper Wasp

June 8, 2012 § 3 Comments

I will not pretend that I have some great discovery here. Artists, poets, priests, and ordinary observers have over thousands upon thousands of years have commented on the power and beauty of the natural world. This is more a reminder to myself to be notice and allow myself to be astonished and renewed. This is a shot of a small nest of a colony of paper wasps. It was hanging near a bike path in Minneapolis. It was no larger than a grapefruit. I suppose the size is what made me notice. I was used to seeing the large cartoon sized types. I think at the start of the season, in the spring a queen starts the colony with a small nest and a few fertile eggs. She is joined later by her daughters who build the paper nest larger and larger. They chew wood to pulp, mixing it with the moisture in their mouths. Considering the design, I wonder about intelligence and art making. Those little lives had no thought or thoughts I wonder presume. They had no impulse to please an viewer or cash in on a market. Their need was just to survive as a species. None the less this paper nest is a very pleasing thing. If it had been shaped by human hands it would be worthy of praise and celebration. Intelligence I suppose in not always thoughtful. The artistic is not away deliberate. We can shape our objects by chance, accident and instinct are just a few of the chance occurrences that can also play a role in making object look the way they do.

Symbols of Kingship

June 7, 2012 § 9 Comments

And again about African Kings. Another object in the African galleries of the Minneapolis Institute of Art is a Nok Terra Cotta. The Nok refer to a West African culture now extinct that who once located in northern Nigeria in around 500BCE. It is from this culture that we find the earliest evidence of iron technology in West Africa. What is intriguing about the Minneapolis figure is that we seem to have a figure of a ruler displaying signs of his office. Under an arm is what appears to be a flail ( a tool used by farmers to thrash grain to loosen the kernel from the husk). and tied his arm on to opposite side is a small crook, ( used by shepherds to guide tend sheep) These symbols, like goods symbols are multi layered with meanings. The king is associated with the two important aspects of agriculture ( by the way there is an ancient rivalry between the two, think Cain and Abel) The king is related to the fertility of the land and by extension the welfare of his people. He provides them with food. The king can protect his people as a shepherd his flock. ( the crook symbol would suggest that). The king has a violent aspect as well. He can punish for wrong doing and go to war against a threat. (the flail symbol and it violent threshing is suggested here). The odd thing is that there is only one other kingdom in Africa that I know of that these symbols are associated with kingship, and that is ancient Egypt.

The Kuba King as Artist

June 6, 2012 § 3 Comments

I teach a course in African Art at two colleges in New York City. One group that has always fascinated me is the Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. There art like that of many people of this region is influenced by textile designs. Another quality of this are is horribilis vacui, or the fear of blank spaces in art and design. Art is completive among the Kuba and is used in the jockeying tools and weapons among the high ranking in the royal court. The king himself must be an artist. He designs mask, dances, textiles, the palace and the list goes on. All the art of the proceeding king is destroyed as a new king he sets the new artistic style in motion. There is a Kuba belt heavy with dense beadwork and shell on display in the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It is a wonder of color and craft. The pendent of conch shells adds a crowning touch! The full regalia of a Kuba king can weigh many pounds and take hours to get into. And in the tropical heath of the Congo, no joy to wear on the part of the monarch who sits in state for hours.

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