Archive for August, 2008

You can never learn less, you can only learn more.

August 31, 2008

Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller

Fuller was born on July 12, 1895, in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Richard Buckminster Fuller and Caroline Wolcott Andrews, and also the grandnephew of the American Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller. He attended Froebelian Kindergarten. Spending his youth on Bear Island, in Penobscot Bay off the coast of Maine, he was a boy with a natural propensity for design and construction. He often made things from materials he brought home from the woods, and sometimes made his own tools. He experimented with designing a new apparatus for human propulsion of small boats. Years later, he decided that this sort of experience had provided him with not only an interest in design, but a habit of being fully familiar and knowledgeable about the materials that his later projects would require. Fuller earned a machinist’s certification, and knew how to use the press brake, stretch press, and other tools and equipment used in the sheet metal trade.

Fuller was sent to Milton Academy, in Massachusetts, and then began studying at Harvard, but was expelled from the university twice: first for entertaining an entire dance troupe, and then, after having been readmitted, for his “irresponsibility and lack of interest”. By his own appraisal, he was a non-conforming misfit in the fraternity environment.Many years later, however, he would receive a Sc.D. from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

Between his sessions at Harvard, Fuller worked in Canada as a mechanic in a textile mill, and later as a labourer in the meat-packing industry. He also served in the U.S. Navy in World War I, as a shipboard radio operator, as an editor of a publication, and as a crash-boat commander. After discharge, he returned to the meat packing industry, where he acquired management experience. In 1917, he married Anne Hewlett. In the early 1920s, he and his father-in-law developed the Stockade Building System for producing light-weight, weatherproof, and fireproof housing – although the company would ultimately fail. In 1927, at the age of 32, bankrupt and jobless, living in inferior housing in Chicago, Illinois, Fuller lost his young daughter Alexandra to complications from polio and spinal meningitis. He felt responsible, and this drove him to drink and to the verge of suicide. At the last moment, he decided instead to embark on “an experiment, to find what a single individual [could] contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity”.

By 1928, Fuller was living in Greenwich Village and spending a lot of time at Romany Marie’s, where he had spent a fascinating evening in conversation with Marie and Eugene O’Neill several years earlier. Fuller took on the interior decoration of the café in exchange for meals, giving informal lectures several times a week, and models of the Dymaxion house were exhibited at the café. Isamu Noguchi appeared on the scene in 1929 –Constantin Brâncuşi, an old friend of Marie’s, had directed him there – and Noguchi and Fuller were soon collaborating on several projects, including the modelling of the Dymaxion car. It was the beginning of their lifelong friendship.

Fuller taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina during the summers of 1948 and 1949, serving as its Summer Institute director in 1949. There, with the support of a group of professors and students, he began work on the project that would make him famous and revolutionize the field of engineering: the geodesic dome. One of the early models was first constructed in 1945 at Bennington College in Vermont, where he frequently lectured. In 1949, he erected the world’s first geodesic dome building that could sustain its own weight with no practical limits. It was 4.3 meters (14 ft) in diameter and constructed of aluminium aircraft tubing and a vinyl-plastic skin, in the form of a tetrahedron. To prove his design, and to awe non-believers, Fuller hung from the structure’s framework with several students who had helped him build it. The U.S. government recognized the importance of the discovery, and employed him to make small domes for the army. Within a few years there were thousands of these domes around the world.

For the next half-century, Fuller contributed a wide range of ideas, designs and inventions to the world, particularly in the areas of practical, inexpensive shelter and transportation. He documented his life, philosophy and ideas scrupulously in a daily diary (later called the Dymaxion Chronofile), and in twenty-eight publications. Fuller financed some of his experiments with inherited funds, sometimes augmented by funds invested by his collaborators, one example being the Dymaxion Car project.

The Montreal Biosphère by Buckminster Fuller, 1967 International recognition came with the success of his huge geodesic domes in the 1950s. Fuller taught at Washington University in St. Louis in 1955, where he met James Fitzgibbon, who would become a close friend and colleague. From 1959 to 1970, Fuller taught at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Beginning as an assistant professor, he gained full professorship in 1968, in the School of Art and Design. Working as a designer, scientist, developer, and writer, he lectured for many years around the world. He collaborated at SIU with the designer John McHale. In 1965 Fuller inaugurated the World Design Science Decade (1965 to 1975) at the meeting of the International Union of Architects in Paris, which was, in his own words, devoted to “applying the principles of science to solving the problems of humanity”.

Fuller believed human societies would soon rely mainly on renewable sources of energy, such as solar- and wind-derived electricity. He hoped for an age of “omni-successful education and sustenance of all humanity”.

Fuller was awarded 28 US patents and many honorary doctorates. On January 16, 1970, he received the Gold Medal award from the American Institute of Architects, and also received numerous other awards.

Richard Buckminster Fuller died on July 1, 1983, at the age of 87, a guru of the design, architecture, and ‘alternative’ communities, such as Drop City, the community of experimental artists to whom he awarded the 1966 “Dymaxion Award” for “poetically economic” domed living structures. In the period leading up to his death, his wife had been lying comatose in a Los Angeles hospital, dying of cancer. It was while visiting her there that he exclaimed, at a certain point: “She is squeezing my hand!” He then stood up, suffered a heart attack and died an hour later. His wife died 36 hours after he did. He is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

To give a body and a perfect form to one’s thought, this – and only this – is to be an artist.

August 30, 2008

Happy Birthday Jacques Louis David

Jacques Louis David was born in Paris and first studied with Francois Boucher,
whose influence may be seen in his works until 1770. In 1768, however, David had begun his studies with the Neoclassicist Joseph Marie Vien. A two-time winner of the Prix de Rome, David did not go to Italy until 1775. He remained for five years, studying the works of Caravaggio and other seventeenth-century Italian Baroque artists. David attracted much attention in Rome for the realistic vigor of his series of strong portraits. He became more and more deeply involved, while in Rome, in the Neoclassical aesthetics of Vien, Anton Raphael Mengs, Johann Winckelmann, and Benjamin West. David studied antique sculpture and ancient history and began to choose his subjects from the latter. The work that became the manifesto of Neoclassicism, the “Oath of the Horatii”, was painted in 1784-85, on a second visit to Rome. In this and in his next great work, “The Death of Socrates”, painted in Paris with figures inspired by classical statues and compositions taken from Roman bas-reliefs, David added two Caravaggiesque touches: sharp lighting that casts clear shadows, and realistic detail. David’s art, embodying the ancient civic virtues, became the symbol of the Revolution and its aesthetic doctrines.

David was also active in the political side of the French Revolution where, from about 1787, he was the arbiter of taste and design in
furniture, clothing, and the stage, as actors began to pose in groups similar to those in his paintings. He brought about the downfall of the French Royal Academy, thus freeing artists from its narrow tradition. He taught more than sixty pupils and was imitated by scores of artists. In 1793 David painted the realistic “Death of Marat”, a powerful painting closer to the sensibilities of a Caravaggio than to those of antique sculpture. In 1794, while briefly imprisoned, he did a naturalistic landscape view of the Luxembourg Gardens. An enthusiastic Bonapartist, David became the first painter to the Emperor, an officer in the Legion of Honor, and a member of the Institute. With the restoration of the Bourbons, however, he was banished to Belgium for having voted for the death of Louis XVI and it was there that he died. David’s strong sculptural painting had replaced the delicate and artificial style of the eighteenth century. Although his strict classicism held back the rise of the Romantic School, he stimulated such artists as Gros and Géricault in their free choice of subjects and in their passionate seriousness. He was thus an important force in the evolution of modern painting.

As long as you do not hold a balance between your seeing of things and your execution, you will do nothing that is really good.

August 29, 2008

Happy Birthday Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Jean-Auguste-Dominique IngresBorn in Montauban on 29 August, 1780, the son of an unsuccessful sculptor and painter. Ingres studied at the art academy in Toulouse before joining the studio of Jacques-Louis David in 1797. Ingres, who was David’s best student, began his career in obscurity. Though he personally disliked the Academy and avoided the Salon, Ingres has come to be identified with its goals and viewed as an artistic conservative. But, despite his allegiance to clear and precise form, balanced compositions, and idealised beauty, he shared much of the same interest in exotic and erotic subject matter that had attracted the Romantics.
Ingres was a sensitive and painstaking draughtsman. For him, drawing was the very heart of painting, and he drew and redrew whatever he was to paint until he understood all its elements and their subtlest interrelations. Though he valued history painting above all else, he also often produced portraits, some of the best of which are drawings. Having been awarded the Prix de Rome by the Academy for his painting The Envoys from Agamemnon, which included a stay in Rome, Ingres decided to remain there after his stipend ended in 1810. Ingres remained in Rome from 1806 to 1820, and it was there that he developed his extraordinary gifts for drawing and design. He helped support himself by making portrait drawings of visitors to Rome. These drawings are skilful, concise masterpieces. Ingres’s outstanding evocation of place, light, and character in these seemingly casual portrait drawings established him as one of the most revered draughtsmen in art history.

Even in his portraits Ingres exhibited a sensual feeling that was more often expressed in the nudes that preoccupied him as he got older and his style developed. His Turkish Women at the Bath, produced at 82 years of age, is the culmination of his portrayals of female nudes.

Leaving Rome in 1820, Ingress went to Florence for 4 years. Returning to Paris in 1824, he was applauded for his painting The Vow of Louis XIII, exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1824. He accepted the directorship of the French Academy of Rome in 1834, and at the end of his 7-year term he returned again to Paris and was welcomed enthusiastically as one of the greatest painters in France. His reputation was established and his works commanded high prices. He was given the rank of commander of the Legion of Honour in 1845. At the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1855 he was awarded a gold medal (as was Delacroix, leader of the Romantic Movement).

Ingres died in Paris on 14 January, 1867

A painter’s tastes must grow out of what so obsesses him in life that he never has to ask himself what it is suitable for him to do in art.

August 28, 2008

Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud was born in Berlin on December 8, 1922. Ernst, his father, was an architect and the youngest son of the esteemed Sigmund Freud, one of the central figures in the birth of modernity and in the scientific analysis of internal subjectivity. Living in a non-practicing Jewish family surrounded by bourgeois comforts, Freud’s early years were simple and untroubled, with plenty of time for his active imagination to wander freely (see Chimneys on Fire, 1928). When Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, though, Ernst and wife Lucie knew it was time to leave, and the family relocated to an attractive neighborhood in London.
Moving from different prep schools to different art schools, Freud, the self-proclaimed bad boy, learned early on to ride on the coattails of his own talent and lineage. By 1939, after successfully publishing several of his drawings in the progressive magazine Horizon, the 17-year-old Freud was socializing within important British homosexual cliques. These gay peers, including Stephen Spender, Cyril Connolly, and Peter Watson, were the driving forces behind the avant-garde of war-torn London, and Freud began to profess the importance of homosexuality and counter-culturalism in all artistic pursuits. After literally burning his art school to the ground, joining the merchant navy, losing his naval license, getting re-accepted at school, and entertaining the artistic élite with surrealist still life paintings and other adolescent wonders, the natural painter’s youthful exploration of art culminated in the exquisite Dead Heron of 1945.

With the war over and troubled adolescent years behind him, Freud began his relentless pursuit of the elusive, faithful portrait. He began this pursuit by painting his first wife Kitty (married in 1948) again and again. After his divorce, he continued this search by repeatedly painting his second wife Caroline (married in 1952) and a wide group of painters and friends. The results were always uncomfortable, disconcerting, and suggestive of the existential crisis that drove Freud’s work during the early part of his career. Witness the prize-winning picture for the Festival of Britain, entitled Interior, Paddington (1951). As artist and friend Bruce Bernard describes the piece: “Harry [Diamond]’s problematic, if not explicitly threatening, figure is ingeniously and incongruously coupled with one of the most memorable potted plants in the history of art, set in the most solid of plant pots, not quite hallucinatory but enhanced to a disturbing degree. Man and pot are both standing on an unforgettable painted carpet, and only in the view from the window, with the waif on the pavement below, is the curious, still tension — perhaps necessarily — dissipated.” This is Freud at his young best.

In 1956, upon realizing that his solitary portraits needed liberating, Freud began exploring the expressionistic chiaroscuro techniques that would illuminate his figures from novel perspectives. His pursuit of the liberated figure, however, would not be fully realized until Freud began in earnest his study of female nude portraiture in 1966. The female nude remains the most powerful and most subversive form in Freud’s work, and the one on which Freud would ultimately expend the majority of his creative genius. Whether his subject is a friend, lover, relative, or one of his own three children, Freud seemed to celebrate the naked body as a whole, covered in light and life, without deceit or cunning, just the uncovered honesty of female flesh.

1977 saw Freud turn much of his attention to nude males. While the clothed figure (often with downcast eyes, usually sitting or lying) still dominated much of his work, Freud grew extraordinarily concerned with the realistic male form. Man with Rat of 1977 initiated a continued and rigorous search for the best means for communicating reality. Rather than painting a man ageless and frozen, Freud instead presents one stopped along his way, captured for a moment in quiet repose. Freud’s depiction of the realistic male seems to suggest a need for the viewer to witness the contemporary, modern, working persona in his own space, reclined on a bed, or on one of Freud’s many sofas. Man’s best friend, the dog, is also seen reclining along with the subject in many of these works. While Freud occasionally shifted his attention to urban landscapes and created pieces in other media besides paint (principally drawing and etching), such works seem to suffer without the depth of fleshy paint employed for his figures.

One cannot speak of Freud’s males without mentioning one of his favorite subjects, Leigh Bowery. The two met at London’s Anthony d’Offay Gallery during a 1990 show that featured the offensive performance artist Bowery; Freud began painting Bowery’s portrait soon thereafter. “I found him perfectly beautiful,” said Freud later. Bowery posed for Freud dozens of times over nearly four years, showing an exquisite largeness and a massive power contained within the male form. Bernard writes of the first collaboration between Bowery and Freud (Leigh Bowery Seated, 1990): “Bowery, posing as a huge, insouciant Lord of Misrule, lounges provocatively on his unworthily neat little throne, and seems to be questioning the artist about his conduct of the whole enterprise, while Freud refuses to be daunted by his not entirely mock-imperious sitter.” Their relationship brought for Bowery the ironical sense of immortality he’d always desired. When Bowery died of AIDS in 1994, Freud’s work seemed to slow.

The artist, still living and now working in his studio in Holland Park, London, has had several major retrospectives around the world. And just as his patronymic seems to be cited in almost all current essays on cultural criticism, Lucian Freud’s own work commands an enormous amount of attention and respect. He is at once considered the greatest and the only Realist painter of the twentieth century, melding the necessity of human information with the subjectivist layers of human feeling.

t r i v i a :

Freud is a tremendous gambler

Recent portraits have included David Hockney. Hockney describes his portraits as “…so layered that photographs can’t get near it…his portraits are among the best around…”.

Freud works with his subjects on portraits very slowly. Subjects have described the experience of sitting for him as very intense but others have said how he makes them special, that he gives everything to them until the process is over.

Freud quote:

“I paint what I see, not what you want me to see”
Freud never flatters his subjects.

His work is all about truth and not turning away from it.

In 1990 the performance artist Leigh Bowery began to sit for Freud for what would become a series of paintings until Bowery’s death in 1994.

Likes to keep every strand of his life very seperate, people are place in different compartments.

A creator needs only one enthusiast to justify him

August 27, 2008

Happy Birthday Man Ray

Man Ray was a pioneer in 20th century avant-garde art and photography and a leading figure in the Dada and Surrealist art movements in both America and in France, where he lived for many years. Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in Philadelphia in 1890, he grew up in New York, where he studied art at the National Academy of Design and the Ferrer School. Early in his career he worked as a commercial artist for a map publisher, but gave it up to practice his own art. Man Ray was introduced to the European avant-garde at the 1913 Armory Show, the first exhibition in the United States to feature modern art. This exhibition inspired him to reject traditional styles and to experiment with new forms and new methods of creating art. He met Alfred Stieglitz in 1913, and through Stieglitz’s Gallery 291, he became acquainted with many of the most innovative artists of the time, including the founder of the New York Dada movement, Marcel Duchamp. Man Ray and Duchamp remained close friends throughout their lives.

Man Ray’s early work, such as The Phillips Collection’s The Black Tray (1914), shows cubist influences, particularly in the abstracted and simplified forms, flattened and arranged in layered planes within very shallow space. His interest in abstract surface design that results from overlapping shapes suggests collage, a technique in which Man Ray was also interested. In 1917 he abandoned painting and collage in favor of photography and opened his own portrait studio. During this time he began to gain a reputation within the New York avant-garde art community for his advanced intellect and defiance of artistic convention, and, with Duchamp, he founded Société Anonyme, an organization dedicated to promoting international avant-garde art and artists in the United States. Man Ray moved to Paris in 1921 to gain exposure to the newest European art movements, and while there he was an active and influential member of the Dada and Surrealist art movements.

In 1922, Man Ray invented a new method of creating a photograph, which he called ‘rayograph.’ Instead of producing photographs from a negative, Ray created photographic images by placing objects directly on photosensitive paper. During the1920s and 1930s, he was also a popular fashion photographer, featured in publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vu, and Vogue. At this time he also experimented with solarization, which is reverse imaging, creating a photographic image from a negative form. His photographic innovations influenced other avant-garde photographers, such as André Kertesz and Brassai, and apprentices Berenice Abbott and Lee Miller. During World War II, Man Ray relocated to Hollywood, California, where he continued to develop his art, focusing on painting, filmmaking, and constructing objects within the Dada and Surrealist canon. He returned to Paris in 1951 and remained there until his death in 1976. During the later years of his career, he continued to flourish as an artist, and his work was exhibited widely, for example, at the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris (1962), the Los Angeles County Museum (1966), and the Venice Photography Biennale, where he won the Gold Medal in 1961.

It’s a great excuse and luxury, having a job and blaming it for your inability to do your own art. When you don’t have to work, you are left with the horror of facing your own lack of imagination and your own emptiness. A devastating possibility when finally time is your own.

August 26, 2008

Julian Schnabel

b New York, 26 Oct 1951). American painter and printmaker. He studied at the University of Houston from 1969 to 1973 and participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (1973-4). Probably the most exhibited, financially successful and aggressively self-promoting American artist of his generation, Schnabel emerged suddenly in the late 1970s as a leading and controversial figure within a movement labelled New Image. He produced paintings and prints, and his brash, appropriative style, which shows an awareness of Expressionism, combined huge scale, often garish colours and obscure textual reference. He held his first one-man show at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX, in 1978 and subsequently exhibited extensively throughout Europe and the USA. Humanity Asleep (1982; London, Tate), painted over a surface of broken crockery, is typical of what some critics regarded as his attention-seeking devices, but it was partly the product of a preference for collaged and textured surfaces of unusual materials, such as velvet and animal hides, as well as the use of tarpaulin instead of sized canvas. The media attention that has obscured the seriousness of Schnabel’s work has also assured its place in the contemporary art market.

The relationship between the public and the artist is complex and difficult to explain. There is a fine line between using this critical energy creatively and pandering to it.

August 25, 2008

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy was born in Cheshire in 1956 and was brought up in Yorkshire. He studied at Bradford College of Art (1974-75) and Preston Polytechnic (1975-78).

After leaving college Goldsworthy lived in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. He moved over the border to Langholm, Dumfriesshire, in 1985 and to Penpont one year later. This gradual drift northwards was due to a way of life over which he did not have complete control. However, contributing factors were opportunities and desires to work in these areas and reasons of economy.

Throughout his career most of Goldsworthy’s work has been made in the open air, in places as diverse as the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, Grize Fiord in the Northern Territories of Canada, the North Pole, Japan, the Australian outback, St Louis, Missouri and Dumfriesshire. The materials he uses are those to hand in the remote locations he visits: twigs, leaves, stones, snow and ice, reeds and thorns. Most works are ephemeral but demonstrate, in their short life, Goldsworthy’s extraordinary sense of play and of place. The works are recorded as photographs. Book publication is an important aspect of Andy Goldsworthy’s work: showing all aspects of the production of a given work, each publication is a work of art in its own right.

Some recent sculpture has a more permanent nature, being made in stone and placed in locations far from its point of origin, as for example chalk Arches made at Sculpture at Goodwood in 1995 are semi-permanent, given the fragility of the material, and are now sited indoors at Goldsworthy’s studio in Dumfriesshire, to extend their life.

I am not interested in the kind of expression that you have when you paint a painting with brush strokes. It’s all right, but it’s already done and I want to do something new.

August 24, 2008

Donald Judd

Donald Judd revolutionized practices and attitudes sur- rounding art making and the exhibition of art, primarily advocating for the permanent installation of works by artists in carefully selected environments. Judd achieved this goal for his own work and that of his colleagues at both his studio and residence at 101 Spring Street in New York and in various locations in and around Marfa, Texas.

Born Donald Clarence Judd on June 3, 1928, in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, the artist served in the United States Army in Korea, then attended The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia; the Art Students League, New York; and Columbia University, New York, where he received a B.S. in Philosophy, cum laude, in 1953.

Judd’s first solo exhibition was in 1957 at the Panoras Gallery, New York, the same year he began graduate studies in art history at Columbia University. Over the next decade, Judd worked as a critic for ARTnews, Arts Magazine, and Art International; his subsequent theoretical writings on art and exhibition practices would prove to be some of his most important and lasting legacies.

Beginning in the 1960s, Judd exhibited regularly and widely at galleries in New York as well as across the U.S., Europe, and Japan. During his lifetime, major exhibitions of Judd’s work occurred at The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1968, 1988); The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1975); Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (1987); and The Saint Louis Art Museum (1991), among other museum exhibitions. More recent exhibitions have taken place at The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama, Japan (1999); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2001); and Tate Modern, London (2004), among others.

Judd received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Swedish Institute, and the John Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, among others. He married dancer Julie Finch in 1964 (later divorced) and had two children, son Flavin Starbuck Judd in 1968 and daughter Rainer Yingling Judd in 1970. While still maintaining his building in New York at 101 Spring Street, Judd moved to Marfa, Texas, in 1972, where he would live and work until his death on February 12, 1994.

Modern art has always only shown itself to me in trends and blowhards, so I couldn’t be a modern artist. There were always powerful movements or groups that today we don’t even know anymore.

August 23, 2008

Gerhard Richter

Out of focus in his paintings and his worldview, Gerhard Richter has never committed to one artistic style. Having grown up in East Germany, which limited his ability to create as he pleased, Richter prizes the freedom to experiment over potential fame for a specific contribution to the art world. Early experiences with communism led him to mistrust ideologies in general; many of his works illustrate the futility he sees in violent revolutions. From abstraction to photorealism, Richter’s eclectic career imparts a freshness to his work. He defies expectations and pries open the limits of the art world with every new piece.

Born in 1932 into a Germany shattered by the poverty and shame that remained from the defeat in World War I, Gerhard Richter was brought up under Hitler’s totalitarian Nazi regime, the Third Reich. The child grew up in Dresden, pierced from birth with the shards of communism’s broken ideology, whose attempted repair saw more horrors than its inception. As a child, Richter experimented often with photography; for a time he worked as an assistant in a photographic laboratory. His formal education in visual art began at the Kunstakademie in Dresden, where he learned to imitate a realistic style of painting influenced by Max Beckmann, a well-known artist at that time.

Since he grew up in East Germany, Richter was shut off from Western twentieth century culture for almost the first three decades of his life. As a result, he was steeped in the Romantic painting tradition that mainly focused on landscapes. Also, because of the communist regime’s dedication to socialist realism, American and European art-the Pop and Fluxus movements, respectively-were virtually banned from East Germany. As late as the 1960s in East Germany, Expressionist paintings were only permitted on exhibition if they were accompanied by a Marxist text examining their conservative components.

It was not until 1959, during a visit to Kassel, West Germany, that Richter saw works of modern art that differed from what he had learned in Dresden. At the historical Documenta II exhibit in Kassel, Richter saw pieces by contemporary artists Jackson Pollock and Lucio Fontana. Fascinated by the drips that made up the American artist’s work and the canvas slashes that became the Italian’s signature, respectively, Richter realized for the first time that as realistic as his own paintings were, they were not at all real. Richter claims Pollock and Fontana as the real reason for his departure from the German Democratic Republic two years later. He said their work represented for him, “the bitter truth, liberation . . . here a completely different and new content was expressing itself.”

Two months before the Berlin Wall was erected, Richter moved from Dresden to Dusseldorf in West Germany, where he hoped to produce works as avant-garde as the ones he had seen a few years earlier. He wanted to separate himself from the socialist realism of the East, and be free to develop his own style. From 1961 to 1963, he studied art at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, working under the artist Karl Otto Gotz. It was there that he met Joseph Beuys, an artist whose works commemorating the Holocaust had an important influence on him.

Richter began to see art as something that had to be separated from art history; paintings, he thought, should focus on the image rather than the reference, the visual rather than the statement. Understanding what he saw as the “impossibility of fixing a single image of reality,” Richter wanted to find a new way of painting that would not be constricting. He began painting from photographs in 1961; his first photo painting, as they became to be called, was of Brigitte Bardot, an actress. The photo represented to Richter a “pure image,” something completely real and yet at the same time unattainable. These paintings resemble blurred photographs, for example, displaying a closeness to reality but also an inimitable distance in that the eye can never exactly focus on the image at hand.

Richter first exhibited his art publicly in 1963 at a Dusseldorf department store. The event resembled a Happening, an art form of the time where artists would stage a kind of scene-complete with visual art and human action-and viewers would walk around; through their own movement the viewers themselves would become participators.

Three years later, torn between his past education in realistic art and his new experiences with different mediums, Richter went through a crisis of direction. Agitated by the tension he felt between abstraction and figuration, he began to produce works that were combinations of the two. In this effort, he began to embrace Andy Warhol’s style. Warhol, an American Pop artist, used silkscreens to present the readymade image, usually a photo of a celebrity or political figure. Richter and Warhol were working during the same period, but Richter’s own images of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong in fact pre-date Warhol’s more famous work with the same image.

Because Richter wanted to make paintings that had no interpretable images, around 1966 he began his gray paintings. By using only the neutral color gray, Richter could focus on the application of the paint and the compositional structure of the work. He used specific techniques when applying the gray, such as horizontal strokes of thick paint, flat matte paint so as to render the surface patterns nearly invisible, and rollers that would also affect the paint’s appearance.

Around the same time, and throughout the mid 1970s, Richter worked on his color chart paintings. Similar to Ellsworth Kelly’s paintings, the structure of these works depended on a pre-established system rather than the artist’s whim. Although Richter embraced the avant-garde attitude of art at the time, he felt strongly that it was impossible to deny the inescapable structures that surround everyone; to be true to this feeling, then, he decided to borrow different arrangements within to work. For the color charts, for example, all he had to do was choose a canvas size. Then he would pick colors according to their respective combinations of red, yellow and blue.

Unlike Kelly and Donald Judd, Richter was not interested in the purity that art could provide. Having already been disillusioned by the idealism proffered by communism-which he found was actually hollow-Richter became more skeptical than American artists of his generation. He painted in order to “deal with appearances (which are alien and must be given names and meanings).” In 1971, Richter became a professor at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, from which he had graduated eight years earlier. Around this time, critics from the far Left began to attack Richter for his so-called escapist work that did not directly address the politics of the era.

In 1976, Richter first gave the title Abstract Painting to one of his works. By presenting a painting without even a few words to name and explain it, he felt he was “letting a thing come, rather than creating it.” One year later, this affinity for abstraction would be dashed by the tragic death of German terrorists in the Stammheim prison. On October 18, 1977, several young radicals who had been imprisoned for their violent acts against the government, committed suicide (many have thought their deaths were in fact a murder by the prison guards, but this theory was never proven). Richter responded to this tragedy in his Baader-Meinhof series, in which he painted pictures of the dead. Having been long disillusioned by devotion to faulty ideologies (starting with his communist upbringing), Richter wanted to portray the dead without glory, to show the futility of their actions. “As I paint the dead,” he said about this work that was completed in 1988, “I am occupied like a gravedigger.” In other words, the task of painting in this case was limited to the mundane and the base.

In 1982, Richter married Isa Gentzken, a sculptor. In 1983, Richter moved to Cologne, where he has been living since. He and Isa divorced, and thirteen years later, in 1995, Richter married Sabine Moritz. That same year, Sabine gave birth to a son, and in 1996, to a daughter named Ella Maria. Richter has been teaching at the Kunstakamedie in Dusseldorf since 1971, except for a one-year guest professorship in 1978 at the College of Art in Halifax, Canada.

Throughout his career, Richter has shrunk from defining a specific goal in his art. It makes sense that his upbringing in one of the tumultuous playing fields for the Cold War would instill in him a strong sense of culture. His works arise, according to the artist, from the structures and ideas that surround him; “nothing comes in isolation,” he wrote. With his photo pictures that represented regular images, Richter tried to subvert the hierarchy of art and the everyday. “Have artists,” he asked, “ever made objects remotely as large and as good as a lay person’s garden?” Although pummeled throughout his life with images of horror and chaos, Richter adheres to no single way of averting the world’s evil. “I believe in nothing,” he said, and so he believes in everything, in every effort to bring an image forth into reality and to show a culture to itself.

All my life as an artist I have asked myself: What pushes me continually to make sculpture? I have found the answer. art is an action against death. It is a denial of death.

August 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Jacques Lipchitz

Jacques Lipchitz (August 22, 1891 – May 16, 1973) was a Cubist sculptor. Jacques Lipchitz was born Chaim Jacob Lipchitz in Druskininkai, Lithuania, under the rule of the Russian Empire, as a son of the Jewish building contractor. At first, under the influence of his father, he studied engineering, but soon after, supported by his mother he moved to Paris (1909) to study at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian.

It was there, in the artistic communities of Montmartre and Montparnasse that he joined a group of artists that included Juan Gris and Pablo Picasso and where his friend, Amedeo Modigliani, painted “The Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz and His Wife Berthe Lipchitz.”

Living in this environment, Lipchitz soon began to create Cubist sculptures. In 1912 he exhibited at the Salon National des Beaux-Arts and the Salon d’Automne with his first one-man show held at Léonce Rosenberg’s Galerie L’Effort Moderne in Paris in 1920. In 1922 he was commissioned by the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania for five bas-reliefs.

With artistic innovation at its height, in the 1920s he experimented with abstract forms he called transparent sculptures. Later he developed a more dynamic style, which he applied with telling effect to bronze figure and animal compositions.

With the German occupation of France during World War II, and the deportation of Jews to the Nazi death camps, Jacques Lipchitz had to flee France. With the assistance of the American journalist Varian Fry in Marseille, he escaped the Nazi regime and went to the United States. There, he eventually settled in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. He was one of 250 sculptors who exhibited in the 3rd Sculpture International held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the summer of 1949. He has been identified in the LIFE Magazine photograph showing 70 of them. In 1954 a Lipchitz retrospective traveled from The Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and The Cleveland Museum of Art. In 1959, his series of small bronzes “To the Limit of the Possible” was shown at Fine Arts Associates in New York.

Lipchitz taught one of the most famous contemporary artists, Marcel Mouly.

Beginning in 1963 he returned to Europe where he worked for several months of each year in Pietrasanta, Italy. In 1972 his autobiography was published on the occasion of an exhibition of his sculpture at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Jacques Lipchitz died in Capri, Italy. His body was flown to Jerusalem for burial.