Archive for May, 2008

I’m not interested in the texture of a rock, but in its shadow.

May 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly was born May 31, 1923, in Newburgh, New York. He studied at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, from 1941 to 1943. After military service from 1943 to 1945, he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1946 to 1947. The following year, Kelly went to France and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris under the G.I. Bill, although he attended classes infrequently. In France, he discovered Romanesque art and architecture and Byzantine art. He was also introduced to Surrealism [more] and Neo-Plasticism, which led him to experiment with automatic drawing and geometric abstraction.

Kelly abstracts the forms in his paintings from observations of the real world, such as shadows cast by trees or the spaces between architectural elements. In 1950, Kelly met Jean Arp and that same year began to make shaped-wood reliefs and collages in which elements were arranged according to the laws of chance. He soon began to make paintings in separate panels that can be recombined to produce alternate compositions, as well as multipanel paintings in which each canvas is painted a single color. During the 1950s, he traveled throughout France, where he met Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Calder, Alberto Magnelli, Francis Picabia, and Georges Vantongerloo, among other artists. His first solo show took place at the Galerie Arnaud, Paris, in 1951.

Kelly returned to the United States in 1954, living first in a studio apartment on Broad Street, and then at Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan, where his neighbors would through the years include Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, Fred Mitchell, James Rosenquist, Lenore Tawney, and Jack Youngerman. Kelly continued to develop and expand the vocabulary of painting, exploring issues of form and ground with his flatly painted canvases. His first solo show in New York was held at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1956, and three years later he was included in Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1958, he also began to make freestanding sculptures. He moved out of Manhattan in 1970, set up a studio in Chatham, and a home in nearby Spencertown, New York.

Kelly’s first retrospective was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1973. The following year, Kelly began an ongoing series of totemic sculptures in steel and aluminum. He traveled throughout Spain, Italy, and France in 1977, when his work was included in Documenta in Kassel. He has executed many public commissions, including a mural for UNESCO in Paris in 1969, sculpture for the city of Barcelona in 1978, and a memorial for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., in 1993. Kelly’s extensive work has been recognized in numerous retrospective exhibitions, including a sculpture exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1982; an exhibition of works on paper and a show of his print works that traveled extensively in the United States and Canada from 1987–88; and a career retrospective in 1996 organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, which traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Tate Gallery, London; and the Haus der Kunst, Munich. Kelly lives in Spencertown.

If you don’t like garlic, you can’t understand modern art

May 30, 2008

Happy Birthday Alexander Archipenko

Alexander Archipenko was born in Kiev, in present-day Ukraine (at the time a part of the Russian Empire) to Porfiry Antonowitsch Archipenko and Poroskowia Wassiliewna Machowa Archipenko; he was the younger brother of Eugene Archipenko.

From 19021905, he attended the Kiev Art School (KKHU), after which he continued his education in the arts as the student of S.Svyatoslavsky in 1906 (also in Kiev). In the same year he had an exhibition in Kiev, together with Bogomazov. That same year, Archipenko moved to Moscow, where he had a chance to exhibit his work in some group shows.

By 1909, however, he had moved on to Paris.

In 1909 he was a resident in the artist’s Colony La Ruche, among emigre Russian artists: Wladimir Baranoff-Rossine, Sonia Delaunay-Terk and Nathan Altman.

After 1910 Alexander Archipenko had exhibitions at Salon des Independants, Salon D’Automne ‘a’ together with Aleksandra Ekster, Kazimir Malevich, Vadym Meller, Sonia Delaunay-Terk alongside Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Andre Derain.

In 1912 Archipenko had his first personal exhibition at the Museum Folkwang in Hagen.

From 1912 to 1914 Archipenko was teaching at his own Art School in Paris.

In 1913 Archipenko’s works appeared at the Armory Show in New York.

In 1914 he moved to Nice.

In 1920 he participated in Twelfth Biennale Internazionale dell’Arte di Venezia in Italy.

In 1921 he started his own Art school in Berlin.

In 1922 Archipenko participated in the First Russian Art Exhibition in the Gallery van Diemen in Berlin together with Aleksandra Ekster, Kazimir Malevich, Solomon Nikritin, El Lissitzky and others.

In 1923 he emigrated to USA. In 1929 he took American citizenship.

In 1923 Archipenko participated in an exhibition of Russian Paintings and Sculpture.

In 1934 he designed the Ukrainian pavilion in Chicago.

In 1936 Archipenko participated in an exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art in New York, numerous exhibitions in Europe and US.

Alexander Archipenko died on Feb. 25, 1964 in New York.

Associated with the cubist movement, Archipenko departed from the neo-classical sculpture of his time and used negative space to create a new way of looking at the human figure, showing a number of views of the subject simultaneously. He is known for introducing sculptural voids, and for his inventive mixing of genres throughout his career: devising ‘sculpto-paintings’, and later experimenting with materials such as clear acrylic and terra cotta.

The subject comes first, the medium second.

May 29, 2008

Richard Prince

Born in 1949 in the Panama Canal Zone, Richard Prince grew up in the Boston suburb where his parents settled five years later. In 1973 he moved to New York, where he immersed himself in the downtown music and art scenes. While working in the tear-sheet department of Time Life, he began to rephotograph the discarded advertising pages, carefully cropping out all copy until only formulaic images of consumer aspiration remained—interior decor, luxury goods, product logos, and fashion models. Drawing inspiration from the mainstream mass media as well as various American subcultures, Prince subsequently focused his camera on a series of stock figures so hopelessly clichéd that they could be described by one–word archetypes—Cowboys, Girlfriends, and Entertainers. These appropriated photographs were displayed individually, in serial groupings, or combined within a single sheet in a format that the artist refers to as a Gang. Simultaneously, he began to hand copy cartoons and old jokes from the annals of Borscht Belt humor, pairing the images with unrelated jokes, or spelling out the text of the gag line on otherwise empty, monochrome backgrounds.

As his career has progressed, Prince has brought an increasingly expressionistic sensibility to bear on his appropriated imagery and texts, producing resolutely painterly canvases. Although still present, the jokes are now muted by gestural fields of layered paint and, in some cases, are part of compositions comprising grids of collaged bank checks, stock photography, or vintage pornography. Prince’s Hood sculptures, painted muscle-car hoods that initially sported a slick, commercial finish, now function as supports for expressionistic hand painting. In 2002 the artist initiated Nurses, a series of canvases derived from the pulpy cover designs of medical romance novels, rendered in dripping, lurid colors save for the figures’ white uniforms and surgical masks. His most recent body of work—a series of interactions with the iconography of Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning—has extended this register of painterly figuration.

In recent years, Prince has drawn inspiration from the small-town milieu of his current base in upstate New York, which he has documented in a series of original photographs, Untitled (upstate). Environmental installations, such as the Spiritual America Gallery in downtown Manhattan (1983–84), the First House (1993) in Los Angeles, and the Second House (2001–2007) in Rensselaerville, New York, have long formed a key aspect of Prince’s practice, and a private library and fully operational industrial “body shop” have recently been added to his network of projects upstate.

Art is a technique of communication. The image is the most complete technique of all communication.

May 28, 2008

 Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg (born January 28, 1929) is a sculptor, best known for his public art installations typically featuring very large replicas of everyday objects. Another theme in his work is soft sculpture versions of everyday objects.

Oldenburg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, the son of a Swedish diplomat. As a child he and his family moved to United States in 1936, first to New York then, later, to Chicago where he graduated from the Latin School of Chicago. He studied at Yale University from 1946 to 1950, then returned to Chicago where he studied under the direction of Paul Wieghardt at the Art Institute of Chicago until 1954.

While further developing his craft, he worked as a reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He also opened his own studio and, in 1953, became a naturalized citizen of the United States. His first recorded sales of artworks were at the 57th Street Art Fair in Chicago, where he sold 5 items for a total price of $25. He moved back to New York City in 1956. There he met a number of artists, including Jim Dine, Red Grooms, and Allan Kaprow, whose Happenings incorporated theatrical aspects and provided an alternative to the abstract expressionism that had come to dominate much of the art scene.

The most memorable aspects of Oldenburg’s works are perhaps, the colossal sculptures that he has made. Sculptures, though quite large, often have interactive capabilities. One such interactive early sculpture was a soft sculpture of a tube of lipstick which would deflate unless a participant re-pumped air into it. In 1974, this sculpture, Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, was redesigned in a sturdier aluminum form, the giant lipstick being placed vertically atop tank treads. Originally installed in Beinecke Plaza at Yale, it now resides in the Morse College courtyard.

Many of Oldenburg’s giant sculptures of mundane objects elicited public ridicule before being embraced as whimsical, insightful, and fun additions to public outdoor art. In the 1960s he became associated with the Pop Art movement and attended many so-called happenings, which were performance art related productions of that time. The name he gave to his own productions was “Ray Gun Theatre”. His first wife -(1960-1970) Pat Muschinski who sewed many of his early soft sculptures, was a constant performer in his happenings. This brash, often humorous approach to art, was at great odds with the prevailing sensibility that, by its nature, art dealt with “profound” expressions or ideas. But Oldenburg’s spirited art found first a niche then a great popularity that endures to this day.

He has collaborated since 1976 with Dutch/American pop sculptor Coosje van Bruggen. They were married in 1977.

In addition to freestanding projects, he occasionally contributes to architectural projects, most notably the former Chiat/Day advertising agency headquarters in the Venice district of Los Angeles, California — the main entrance is a pair of giant black binoculars. The advertising agency DDB is the current tenant.

Subjective artists are one-eyed, but objective artists are blind.

May 27, 2008

Happy Birthday Georges Rouault

Isolated among the artists of his time, George Rouault produced work which proved it was possible to be an independent yet wholly committed Modernist. He was born in 1871, in the cellar of a house in Belleville, a working class quarter of Paris near the Pere Lachaise cemetery. The city was at that moment being bombarded by government troops from Versailles, who were putting down the Paris Commune. His father was an artisan – a finisher and varnisher of pianos in the Pleyel factory. He was also a follower of the Catholic democrat Lammenais who sent his son to a Protestant school in disgust when Lammenais was condemned by the Pope. Rouault’s grandfather was in his own way equally remarkable: he was an employee in the postal service and a modest collector – he bought Callot engravings, lithographs by Daumier and reproductions of paintings by Rembrandt.

The Protestant school was not a success, and in 1885 Rouault was taken away and apprenticed for two years to a maker of stained glass named Tamoni. He was then employed by another stained glass maker, Georges Hirsch, who did some restoration work on medieval windows, which gave his young assistant a chance to examine them and to realize their superiority to modern work. From 1885 onwards Rouault also studied at evening classes at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs, and in 1891 he was able to transfer himself to the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he entered Elie Delaunay’s studio. Delaunay died the following year, and it was Rouault’s good luck that his successor was Gustave Moreau, one of the leading Symbolists. Moreau immediately became a progressive influence in the school; his pupils included Matisse, Marquet, Evenepoel and Manguin, but it was Rouault who was his closest disciple.

During this period Rouault’s ambitions were still conventional. He set himself to win the Prix de Rome, but failed on two occasions despite Moreau’s encouragements. He did, however, manage to win some minor prizes, and he exhibited his work for the first time, sending it to the conservative Salon des Artistes Francais. In 1898 Moreau died, and there was an immediate vendetta within the Ecole des Beaux Arts against his more ‘advanced’ disciples. Rouault might have been put in a precarious position but was rescued by being offered a curatorship of the Gustave Moreau Museum which was set up under the terms of his teacher’s will. He still endeavoured to maintain some links with the academic art world for example, he exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition of French art held in connection with the Paris Exposition Universel of 1900, and was awarded a bronze medal. Nevertheless, the period was one of discouragement. In 1901 he spent some time at the Benedictine Abbey of Liguge in Poitou, where the novelist J. K. Huysmans was endeavouring to form a religious community of artists. The experiment was brought to an end by the law against religious congregations introduced by the anti clerical French government of the time.

It was at this point that Rouault claimed he had the good fortune to find himself as a painter, but to have been quite unconscious of what was happening to him:

It was not the influence of Lautrec, Degas or the moderns which made me experiment with a new style, but interior necessity, or the wish – maybe inconsistent – not to be trapped by conventional religious subjects.

In any case, he committed himself to the Modernist party, and in 1903 was one of the founders of the Salon d’Automne. Equally significant was his meeting with the radical Catholic writer Leon Bloy. He was especially struck by Bloy’s novel La Femme Pauvre, published in 1897, and in 1904, the author reported rather complacently in his diary: ‘My book has touched him to the quick, and left a wound that will never heal. I tremble to think of the sufferings in store for the unfortunate man.’ In fact their understanding was in many respect imperfect and required great tolerance on Rouault’s part, as Bloy had no eye for modern art and detested Rouault’s interpretations of his characters. Seeing the three works by Rouault in the Salon d’Automne of 1905, which used imagery drawn from his own creation, Bloy recorded sadly: ‘Bourgeois foulness has wrought so violent and horrified a reaction in him that his art seems to have received the death blow.’ The phase immediately before the First World War was one of transition for Rouault. He experimented with glazed ceramics, a path he did not pursue; he travelled a little he went to visit Bruges; and he married. His wife was Marthe Le Sidaner, sister of the painter Henri Le Sidaner, and she was to be a constant support for the rest of his life. Despite a successful one man show at the Druet Gallery in 1910, Rouault was often very poor. In 1910 or 1911 (the sources differ) he moved to Versailles where he inhabited a miserable, rat infested house in an old quarter of the town. On one occasion he went to tell his landlord, who was a veterinary surgeon, that he intended to complain to the local Committee for Public Health. ‘It’ll do you no good,’ said the landlord complacently, ‘I’m the chairman.’ During the Versailles years Rouault did a series of watercolours of low life subjects, including a series of paintings of prostitutes. These were apparently inspired by a single glimpse of a woman seen leaning out of a door, and Rouault was later careful to explain how the pictures came into being:

I am not a specialist in brothel subjects … The woman I saw in the doorway is not the woman I painted. She and the rest corresponded to the emotional state I was in at the time.

In 1916 Rouault left Versailles and in 1917 he signed a contract with the famous dealer Ambroise Vollard which was to provide him with freedom to work for many years. Rouault agreed to give Vollard everything he produced in return for a salary; Vollard even went so far as to provide him with a studio on the top floor of his own house, where he could work undisturbed. As the artist was later to discover, there were certain drawbacks to this arrangement. Vollard was a jealous patron – he liked to monopolize the work of the artists he favoured and to keep it from prying eyes. The result was that for twenty years people judged Rouault by old work, rather than by what he was producing currently. Vollard had a passion for fine illustrated books, and it was natural that he should encourage Rouault to turn in this direction. During the first decade of their association Rouault concentrated mainly on graphic work: during this period he produced the plates for Misere, which is generally considered his finest achievement. From 1918 onwards, he also returned to making paintings of sacred subjects. Some attention did come his way from outside: there was a scattering of exhibitions; in 1921 the first monograph on his work was published; in 1924 there was a retrospective at the Druet Gallery, where he had shown before; and he was awarded the Legion of Honour. In 1926 he published his book Souvenirs intimes, and in 1929 Diaghilev commissioned him to design his last major project, The Prodigal Son, with music by Prokofiev and choreography by Balanchine. It was not until 1937 that Rouault’s reputation took a great stride forward: forty two paintings, all in a style which was relatively ‘new’ for the critics and public but long established so far as the artist himself was concerned, were shown as part of the large ‘Exposition des Artistes Independents’, staged in connection with the Paris Exposition Universelle. In 1939 Vollard was killed in an accident and the artist was thus released from his contract. It left behind it an important question: what was to happen to the great mass of unfinished work which was now in the possession of Vollard’s heirs? In 1947 Rouault brought a suit against them to recover this material. Rouault had always been very concerned with the artist’s rights over his own creation. In 1943 he wrote:

I sometimes dream, in these last years of my life, of upholding a thesis at the Sorbonne on the spiritual defence of works of art and the artist’s rights before the law, and the ways and means of securing these rights, so that those who come after us may be better protected.

He succeeded perhaps better than he had hoped. He asked the courts for the return of 800 unfinished and unsigned paintings which had remained in Vollard’s possession at the time of his death, and his right to them was eventually conceded. He only failed to recover those which had already been sold. In November 1948, to make his point quite clear, he ceremonially burned before witnesses 315 of the canvases he had recovered. Rouault’s reputation was not damaged by the war. He had already had a few exhibitions abroad in the 1930s, and in 1940-41 there were Rouault retrospectives in Boston, Washington and San Francisco. In the immediately post-war period his sometimes sombre vision was in tune with the times. There was a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1945, and another, shared with Braque, at the Tate Gallery, London, in 1946. in 1948 he exhibited at the Venice Biennale and travelled to Italy for the first time.

When his eightieth birthday was celebrated at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris in 1951, the celebrations were organized by the Centre Catholique des Intellectuels Francais. But the French state honoured him too: he was promoted to the rank of Commander of the Legion of Honour. In the 1950s, what had been a trickle of retrospective exhibitions became a flood, and when Rouault died in February 1958, he was given a state funeral.

– From Edward Lucie-Smith, “Lives of the Great 20th-Century Artists”

Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion… the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate.

May 26, 2008

Happy Birthday Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange was a natural photographer in the truest sense because she lived, in her words, “a visual life.” She could look at something: a line of laundry flapping in the wind, a pair of old, wrinkled, work-worn hands, a bread-line, a crowd of people in a bus station, and find it beautiful. Her eye was a camera lens and her camera–as she put it–an “appendage of the body.” During her last illness, as a friend sat near her bed, she suddenly said to him “I’ve just photographed you.” Lange had engaged in this camera-less sort of photography for decades, from the time she was a young girl, and it served as both the foundation of her art education and her first apprenticeship.

Bored and disillusioned with school, she would often cut class and go walking through her neighborhood, the lower-east side of New York. She would make herself as unobtrusive as possible, and look at things and people. Down-and-outs of the Bowery, bustling marketplaces, the Jewish ladies in their schechtels, or black wigs.

Lange was born May 26, 1895, in Hoboken, New Jersey, where two painful events left indelible marks on her life.

When she was seven years old, she contracted polio, which left her with an obvious limp. The neighborhood children made fun of her and even her mother, Joan, acted ashamed of her crippled daughter.

Then in 1907, when she was twelve, her father walked out on the family. They neither saw or heard from him again. They moved into the home of Sophie Lange, the children’s maternal grandmother, and great-aunt Caroline. Joan took a job as a librarian in Manhattan. It was during long walks through downtown Manhattan to meet her mother after school that Dorothea discovered a wealth of visual imagery and decided that she wanted to take photographs.

Dorothea was fiercely independent. Instead of becoming a teacher as her mother wanted, she went uptown to the studio of a famous portrait photographer, Arnold Genthe, and asked him for a job. She was hired, and her life’s work began. She learned how to set up a camera and studio lights, met many rich and famous people, and studied the artistry with which Genthe portrayed people: he didn’t just snap their picture; he seemed to make the camera understand the people. This sense that an understanding of a subject was essential in making a portrait was truly the artistic part of photography, and something that Dorothea would take with her for the rest of her career.

Although she was never able to get rid of the vestiges of polio, Dorothea dropped the memory of her father almost completely. She took her mother’s maiden name, Lange, as her own last name, and refused to speak of her father, even to her own children.

The pain of her childhood, however, gave her a fuller sense of what suffering meant, and later on, when the government hired her to document the effects of the depression, it deepened her compassion for the destitution and despair that she saw all around her.

She would walk into camps, where homeless pea-pickers and refugees of the Oklahoma dust bowl were scraping by, sometimes starving to death, and talk to them until they felt comfortable enough to have their pictures taken. Her limp, she thought, created an instant rapport between herself and her subjects. She said that people trusted her more because she didn’t appear “whole and secure” in the face of their poverty and insecurity.

Although she got her start and made most of her money taking portraits of wealthy people, Lange preferred the deeper challenge of photographing the real human condition. Wherever there was social upheaval, or quiet suffering, Lange was there with a compassionate eye to record and report. During the depression, the government created work for writers, scholars and artists through various documentary assignments, and Lange was fortunate to get such a position. She took pictures of the labor strikes in San Francisco. She travelled to the deep South with her partner and husband, Paul Taylor, photographing out-of-work sharecroppers and their families. She went to Oklahoma to take pictures of dust-bowl emigrants, and went up and down California, meeting and photographing the homeless families who had come in search of work. During this time she took “Migrant Mother” which was to become her most famous picture.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she took heart-rending pictures of the Japanese families as they were evacuated from their homes and sent to prison camps. She was disgusted that the government would lock people upnot because of anything they had done, but solely because of their Japanese blood. She recorded the San Francisco shipyard workers, taking advantage of the war and the need for ship-builders to make their first real wages since the depression began.

By the 1960s, Lange was a nationally-known photographer who was surrounded by an extensive network of family and friends. She was also famous (on a smaller scale) for her Thanksgiving dinners, which she spent weeks planning for and preparing, and which culminated in huge gatherings where the ritual would begin with a reading of the proclamation of Thanksgiving. In 1965, the last year of her life, Dorothea Lange was honored by a retrospective of her work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Elizabeth Partridge, daughter of photographer Rondal Partridge who worked as Lange’s assistant for many years and whose family Lange took into her own, has written about this remarkable artist in the biography Restless Spirit: the Life and Work of Dorothea Lange. Dorothea Lange died October 11, 1965.

Written by Susannah Abbey


If painting is no longer needed, it seems a pity that some of us are born into the world with such a passion for line and color.

May 25, 2008

Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt is well known in North America. But when Europeans talk or write about Impressionism, names like Monet, Manet, Renoir, Sisley or Pissarro are mentioned. But few know the American woman artist Mary Cassatt. Is it because she was a woman and an American? Her beautiful art work has earned her a place in the pantheon of the great Impressionist artists.

Born in Pennsylvania
Mary Cassatt was born in 1844 in Pennsylvania, USA as the daughter of a wealthy merchant. At the age of seven her family left for Paris in France. After a few years of life in Paris, the family went back to the USA. Mary, impressed by all the art she had seen in Europe, surprised her parents by the wish to become an artist. Becoming an artist in the 19th century was as difficult for a woman as becoming a doctor. Society then had a different understanding of the role of women.

An American Woman Artist in Paris
Finally Mary won and her parents allowed her to visit the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1866 she went back to Paris. She copied the old masters in the Louvre and other museums. The young woman artist had acquired pretty good skills in traditional art style and in 1872 a Mary Cassatt painting was even accepted by the judges of the Salon.

Then she got to know Edgar Degas, an artist from the group of Impressionists who were refused by the Salon and had established their own show, the Salon des Refuses. Edgar Degas introduced her to his friends Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro and other Impressionist rebels.

Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas became good friends. Some art historians think she also was his mistress. This is however rather questionable as Degas was considered a convinced misogynist. Under the influence of Edgar Degas and the other Impressionists the artist Mary Cassatt changed her painting style. She used light colors and began to paint people.

A Love for Children
Mary Cassatt’s favorite subjects became children and women with children in ordinary scenes. Her paintings express a deep tenderness and her own love for children. But she never had children of her own.

The artist’s artistic breakthrough came in 1892, when she received a commission for a mural for the Woman’s Building at the Chicago World’s Fair. The mural painting got lost after the fair and has not shown up until today.

Mary Cassatt Prints
Mary Cassatt was also an excellent printmaker. After experimenting with different printmaking techniques like etching and aquatint she finally discovered drypoint combined with aquatint as her favorite intaglio process. Between 1889 and 1890 she created a set of twelve wonderful drypoints. From 1890 to 1891 she made a series of ten color prints, known as The Ten. This series is considered as a landmark in Impressionist printmaking. She continued to make prints until 1896.

Mary Cassatt prints show a strong influence of Japanese printmaking and later of Renaissance paintings.

Her Role in Promoting Impressionism
Mary Cassatt influenced Impressionism not only as an artist. She also had an important role in sponsoring and in financial promotion of Impressionist art. She often bought paintings of her friends when they were short of cash. And with her connections to rich American families, she encouraged many of her countrymen to buy Impressionist art. Quite a few of the great Impressionist art collections in the USA were established as a result of her activities. The collection of 19th century French paintings of the Havemeyers was largely mediated by her. The collection is now in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A Straightforward Personality
The artist Mary Cassatt would have made a poor career as a diplomat. She never held back with her opinion. Fortunately her wealth made her independent from what others thought about her. Especially when she grew older, her frankness could sometimes become insulting.

She did not like the modern artists like Henri Matisse or Pablo Picasso and spoke of “dreadful paintings”. Even her Impressionist colleagues were whacked. For Claude Monet’s late works – his famous water-lily paintings – she found the words “glorified wallpaper”.

She had one thing in common with Edgar Degas and that was poor eyesight. When she died in 1926 at the age of 82 she was blind.

I get my highs from using my eyes

May 24, 2008

Happy Birthday Philip Pearlstein


 Philip Pearlstein (born 1924) is perhaps the leading American realist painter of the second half of the 20th century. Born to a Pittsburgh surgeon, Pearlstein was drafted into the Army during World War II and made many sketches and paintings of the Italian landscape. He graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1949. He obtained a degree in art history at the NYU Institute of Fine Arts (1955), mounted his first one man exhibition at the Tananger Gallery the same year, and was included in ten Whitney Museum exhibitions from 1956 to 1973. During the 1950’s Pearlstein concentrated on landscape paintings of rocks and eroded cliffs, aiming for abstract patterns in the style of New York Abstract Expressionist painters, but around 1960 he made the switch to carefully drawn, realistic studies of studio nudes that still strive for abstractly designed and assertive images. Pearlstein was an art instructor at the Pratt Institute (1959-63), then professor of fine arts at Brooklyn College (1963-87). He continues to paint and exhibit.
Pearlstein’s claim to fame is that he pursued representational landscape and figure painting at a time when Abstract Expressionism made these interests unfashionable. Even so, Pearlstein handles the nude as a highly dynamic element in the design, made abstract by a variety of compositional devices.  Two Seated Female Models in Kimonos with Mirror (1980, 102x152cm) shows many of these: cropping the figure and viewing it in a distorting pose and from a distorting angle of view; presenting two or more figures in contrasting or complementary positions; complicating the image with folded and patterned textiles, angular objects or reflections; using a subdued palette adjusted to the harmonies of naked flesh; and crowding everything against the wall or corner of a confined indoor space. He also sometimes covers large areas of the image with a foreground pattern — the wire cage of a fan, the mesh of a hammock — that cuts the image into repetitive facets. Pearlstein’s nudes in watercolors are indistinguishable from those in oils; he spends an equal amount of effort in each medium, but especially likes the immediacy and irreversibility of watercolors, which give painting the riskiness of an “athletic sport.” Despite the complexity of each painting, Pearlstein always works from life rather than from photographs, making a careful pencil drawing, laying in foundation washes, then refining the details of every part of the painting in one to two months of weekly sessions; the bored or fatigued demeanor of models subjected to this long scrutiny helps to define the emotional distance of his works. As Robert Hughes wrote: “Antisentimental, antihumanist, antierotic, hostile to uncertainty, indifferent to the “psychology” of Expressionist figure painting and the existential doubt of AbEx: Pearlstein’s work is unlike anything seen in American realism since.
Pearlstein wrote that the nude “is a self-contained subject offering forms of great complexity ever-varying in their relationships, readily available in great variety.” The nude, in other words, represents nothing but itself, and can be positioned to create infinite compositional variations. But for most adults the reality of the nude human body is obscured by our reluctance to stare in real life and by the glossy distortions of pornography and kitsch art.  Pearlstein retrieves the complexity of the nude by emphasizing the physcial peculiarities of his models while posing them as abstract compositions. Model in Kimono on Drafting Stool (1985, 104x75cm) is made anonymous by cropping the head and shoulders, but is also made individual by the details of hands, feet, knees, and breasts. The vertical drape of the kimono, echoed in the stiff line of the right leg, the back of the stool, and the droop of hand and breasts, is countered by the the horizontal edges of the silk pattern, the emphasis of the bent leg, and the lines of forearm, chair seat and wall moulding. All this foregrounds the light valued thigh and stomach, which invite us to explore at length the contrasts in muscle tension, color, texture and weight in the other parts of the figure — that is, to admire the physicality, sensuality and lived life of this body. Our staring is kept from sexual stimulation by the blunt and slightly aggressive way in which the left thigh juts into view, and the almost clinical observation of the hands. Combined with the large format (typically 40×60 inches) and painstaking detail, Pearlstein’s nudes have a monumental strength and richness not seen since Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet, combined with the hard edged, cool factuality of Pop Art and Minimalism.
Throughout his career Pearlstein has also painted landscapes and architectural studies, often the same scenes captured in tourist postcards and travel guides. Surprisingly, these images are straightforwardly composed; the monuments are not cropped or partially obscured by intervening objects, as the nudes are. The simplification allows Pearlstein to struggle against the familiarity of the landscape by particularizing it in extreme detail. 
 The Great Sphinx, Giza (1979, 74x104cm) conveys his interest in recording the stones in scrupulous detail. These very subtle color variations highlight the color themes of Pearlstein’s technique: colors strongly contrasted in value, all with similar subdued saturation, and mixtures that transition as much toward gray as toward another color. Pearlstein organizes the very subtle color contrasts of the stones within a framework of strong light and dark values (the cracks in the rocks). There is a subtle sense of reverence in the upward angle of view and the dwarfed silhouette of the nearby Cheops pyramid. The handling of the blue gray sky makes it seem like a fresco background, and also harmonizes with the stone surfaces of the Sphinx. In the same way that Pearlstein’s nudes emphasize the individual peculiarities of anonymous models, his landscapes seem to assert the physical peculiarities of places and monuments that have become anonymous because they are endlessly reproduced as the cliches of our culture.


If you’re a painter, you’re not alone. There’s no way to be alone.

May 23, 2008

Happy Birthday Franz Kline

Franz Kline was a member of the second Abstract Expressionist generation. His warm and likeable personality made him popular; though memoirs of the time recall him as a hard drinker, he was not an ‘ugly’ drunk like Jackson Pollock and (on some occasions) Willem de Kooning. A leading figure at the Cedar Bar, the Abstract Expressionists’ downtown hangout in New York, he was also a companion of the literary beats, especially of Jack Kerouac.

Kline was born in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania in 1910, the second of four children. His parents were both immigrants – his father, a saloon keeper, came from Hamburg and his mother from Cornwall. In 1917 his father committed suicide, and his mother remarried three years later. From 1919 to 1925 Kline attended Girard College, Philadelphia, an institution for fatherless boys which he afterwards referred to as ‘an orphanage’. In retrospect, he also lengthened his stay there to ‘eleven years’, which hints that it may have been a traumatic experience. After his mother withdrew him from Girard, Kline attended Lehighton High School. Though not a big man, he was athletic and was Captain of Varsity Football in 1929. While at high school, he had an accident in football practice which immobilized him for a while, and this was when he developed an interest in drawing and decided to become a cartoonist and illustrator.

In 1931 he left home and went to Boston to begin his training. He studied first at the Boston University School of Education and later at the Boston Art Students’ League. At this time Kline, a handsome and vain young man, was attracted by everything which seemed upperclass and English, so it was natural that in 1935 he should decide to go to England to study art. He crossed the Atlantic in 1935, and in 1936 enrolled at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art in London. This was a thoroughly conservative, old fashioned institution, and it suited Kline perfectly as he was not at that time interested in anything avant garde but was, on the contrary, fascinated by the work of the great Victorian illustrators, such as Phil May.

He did a great deal of life drawing in London, and it was at Heatherley’s that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Vincent Parsons, a dancer who had worked with the Sadlers’ Wells Ballet Company (later the Royal Ballet) and with the Ballet Rambert, and who modelled for classes at the school. Her family was upper middle class, and Kline’s identification with all things English reached the point where he wanted to adopt British citizenship. However, to achieve this he would have had to remain in Britain for eight years without permission to work. This was impossible, so he returned to America in 1938. Elizabeth followed him, and they were married shortly after her arrival. Kline then spent a brief period in Buffalo as a display designer for a women’s clothing store before settling in New York, where he was to live for the rest of his life.

He began his career in the New York art world at the bottom of the ladder, showing his work at the Washington Square Outdoor Show in 1939. During this period he was producing competent urban views, usually of New York, with an Expressionist tinge. He painted murals in bars, and also worked briefly with the well known set designer Cleon Throckmorton, who employed a large number of assistants and often provided useful contacts for them. In 1943 and 1944 he showed successfully at the annual exhibitions put on by the conservative National Academy of Design, winning one of the major prizes in 1943.

This was also the year in which he met Willem de Kooning, who was to exercize a great influence over his art. It was De Kooning who in 1949 borrowed a Bell Opticon projector to enlarge some of his own drawings. Offered the use of it, Kline took a small drawing of a favourite chair and projected this on to canvas on such a large scale that it completely overlapped the edges. He was fascinated to note that the design, in these circumstances, became completely abstract.

Its effect on him was the more powerful because he had already begun to experiment with abstraction some three years earlier. The transition from figuration to abstraction was a curious one, demonstrated through a series of heads based on a photograph of the dancer Nijinsky in the role of Petroushka. Kline identified with clowns. In 1938 he wrote to his wife: ‘I have always felt that I am like a clown, and thinking that life might work out as a tragedy, a clown’s tragedy.’ The Nijinsky paintings also have strong elements of self portraiture.

There may also have been another, very personal factor connected with Kline’s move into abstraction, and this was the illness of his wife. She suffered repeated attacks of depression and schizophrenia, perhaps exacerbated by their lack of money and nomadic, unstable life. Between his arrival in New York in 1938 and 1957 Kline moved house no less than fourteen times, including at least three evictions because he was unable to pay the rent. In 1946, Elizabeth Kline entered Central Islip State Hospital for six months, and in 1948 she returned to hospital and remained there for twelve years, being finally discharged in 1960. Her husband visited her, often at long intervals, but from the time of her second hospitalization the marriage was effectively over. Kline, handsome, outgoing and charming, was not slow to find consolation elsewhere, and became especially attractive to women when he started at long last to enjoy success.

Kline’s experiments with the Bell Opticon projector had finally convinced him that he ought to abandon representation altogether. In 1950 he had his first one-man exhibition, made up entirely of paintings in his new manner. It took place at the Egan Gallery, then the usual showcase of the ‘downtown’ group of Abstract Expressionists. His calligraphic images in black and white were well received, and after a second show in the same space in 1951, Kline’s reputation grew very rapidly.

He was included in a number of key exhibitions in the 1950s: various Whitney Annuals, starting in 1952; Twelve American Painters and Sculptors at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955; the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1957, and the key anthology show New American Painting, which toured Europe in 1958-59. The Museum of Modern Art acquired Chief, one of his most impressive paintings, in 1952 – the underlying image is a streamlined locomotive (Kline’s stepfather was a railway employee). The Whitney Museum bought Mahoning in 1955. Prices for Kline’s work escalated rapidly, especially after he moved to the Sidney Janis Gallery in 1956. For the first time, he had plenty of money.

He was not to enjoy this prosperity for very long. in 1961 Kline fell ill and entered Johns Hopkins Hospital for tests which revealed long standing rheumatic heart trouble, with more recent and dangerous deterioration of the heart muscle. He was put on a strict diet and told to curb his lifestyle, but his illness was incurable. He died in hospital in New York in May 1962.

Kline’s talk ranged over many subjects – his favourite English illustrators, the lives of Baron Gros and Sir Joshua Reynolds, Gericault‘s way of depicting horses, old silver and pewter, the finer points of vintage cars. Many people remembered being amused by his accurate imitations of the actor Wallace Beery. However, the core personality remained difficult to identify. His attitudes towards art were basically those of the Abstract Expressionists, mingled with some loosely existentialist ideas. Kline frequently spoke of a painting as a ‘situation’, and of the first strokes of paint on canvas as ‘the beginning of the situation’. When painting, he said, he tried to rid his mind of everything else and ‘attack it completely from that situation’. The real criterion was the feeling a given work conveyed: ‘The final test of a painting, theirs [that of artists he admired, such as Daumier], mine, or any other, is: does the painter’s emotion come across?

Art is the distortion of an unendurable reality… Art is correction, modification of a situation; art is communication, connection… Art is social, self-sufficient, and total.

May 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Jean Tinguley

Jean Tinguely (22 May 1925 in Fribourg, Switzerland30 August 1991 in Bern) was a Swiss painter and sculptor. He is best known for his sculptural machines or kinetic art, in the Dada tradition; known officially as metamechanics.

Tinguely grew up in Basel, but moved to France as a young adult to pursue a career in art. He belonged to the Parisian avantgarde in the mid-twentieth century and was one of the artists who signed the New Realist’s manifesto (Nouveau réalisme) in 1960.

His best-known work, a self-destroying sculpture titled Homage to New York (1960), famously failed to self-destruct at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, although his later work, Study for an End of the World No. 2 (1962), detonated successfully in front of an audience gathered in the desert outside Las Vegas.

Tinguely’s art satirized the mindless overproduction of material goods in advanced industrial society.

In Arthur Penn’s Mickey One (1965) the mime-like Artist (Kamatari Fujiwara) with his self-destructive machine is an obvious Tinguely tribute.

In 1971, Tinguely married Niki de Saint-Phalle.