December 7, 2013
Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming series called “The Knick”, which takes place in New York City in 1900, has got me thinking about the Lower East Side.
At that time, the neighborhood was a working-class neighborhood with a strong Irish, Italian, and Eastern European flavor. Recent immigrants began their American life here because they could join ethnic enclaves of people from “the old country”, and find work at nearby garment factories. We have a tendency to romanticize the past by thinking of it as a “simpler time”, and while the Lower East Side was desirable to immigrants because of the shared culture, faith, and contacts, we often don’t realize it was actually an uncomfortable place.
There was no such thing as privacy; tenements were crowded with multiple generations and boarders. Twenty people in three rooms was not uncommon; they slept on piles of half-made clothes on the floor. It was also dangerous: sewage ran in the streets, fire was a real risk, disease was prevalent, and mortality rates were high.
The Immigrant shows a child from this time and place, the place I hope Soderbergh shows without glorifying or prettying up. The artist, George Luks (pronounced Lewks), focused on scenes and individuals from New York’s Lower East Side around the turn of the 20th century. A very serious child, looking as if he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, gazes out guardedly at the world while simultaneously seeming to focus inward on his own worries. He is bundled against the cold and probably will soon be put to work in order to earn money for the family. His burning eyes, firmly closed mouth, and set of his shoulders show an unchildlike fierceness.
This painting has the ability to grab you from across the room. It’s deceptively simple, but so human and heart-breaking.
Comments (0) | Tags: art museums, artists, figurative art, movies, People in the news, Places
December 6, 2013
Nelson Mandela died yesterday. The world was a better place for him having been in it.
I can’t recount all of his accomplishments here, and others will do it better, but perhaps his greatest was forming the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as President of South Africa. This was after his 27-year imprisonment, of course, and after he was elected President during the nation’s first all-race elections.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was founded in order to help South Africa move on together from the violence, distrust, and shame of apartheid. The Commission investigated racial crimes on both sides, and did exactly what its title suggests: brought the truth out into the daylight in order to effect a reconciliation.
But reconciliation there wasn’t just one reconciliation; there were many: the reconciliation between blacks and whites, between a government and its citizens, between South Africa and the rest of the world, the reconciliation of a national identity that was not in support of basic human rights, and the reconciliation of individuals with their consciences. The Commission provides a blueprint for other countries divided against themselves.
William Kentridge is a South African artist whose work deals explicitly and implicitly with apartheid and especially reconciliation. He made drawings, photographed them, changed them, photographed them again, and then animated the sequence. The resulting films are sometimes cryptic but extremely moving. The erasures that are still evident on the page are haunting reminders of trying to move on. This film is called Felix in Exile.
In honor of Nelson Mandela.
Comments (0) | Tags: artists, People in the news, Places, political art
December 5, 2013
This colonial American painting really amuses me. That the little girl is a carbon copy of her grandfather, right down to the same nose, puffy eyes, and even hairline…poor kid!
This painting is in the collection of Tacoma Art Museum.
December 4, 2013
This painting has been a real favorite of mine recently. It’s a large work on paper, with wrinkles, imperfections and all–no frame to keep the paper from buckling. Its ability to express sadness and resignation, and ultimately a stubbornness to be seen and known, kind of takes my breath away. It says so much with so little paint.
Image courtesy of Brian Murphy’s website; please check out his other work.
Comments (0) | Tags: artists, contemporary art, figurative art
December 3, 2013
While waiting for a parade to start, I observed this little old nonna high up on a balcony. She was lowering a basket down to the street.
A young kid came and took whatever was in the basket and walked away. Money for an errand, I thought? Keys to deliver something?
You never know what you’re going to see in Italy. If you’re looking for the beautiful…if you’re looking to be inspired…I’m looking for ten students to take a painting vacation on the border of Tuscany and Umbria. Eight days of painting, wine tasting, field trips among olive groves and village markets. It will be unforgettable!
Read on for more information.
Comments (0) | Tags: art education, Places
December 2, 2013
At this time of year especially, I think of all the artists, in every media, and other individuals we’ve lost to AIDS.
Comments (0) | Tags: political art
December 1, 2013
Ever since spending part of my honeymoon in Helsinki, I’ve been in love with everything Finland. This amazing body of photographs takes me a little farther down the path of Suomi love.
Photographers Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen believe that the best way to understand a culture is to understand its stories, so they cast real Finns in the roles of characters from Finnish folklore.
The result is a body of photographs, Eyes As Big As Plates, populated by charismatic nymphs, sprites and sea creatures. They are seen in unguarded moments, as if we humans stumbled upon them in a clearing in the woods. These protagonists are fierce, self-sufficient, and intelligent. They are completely at home in nature, yet other-worldly, often meeting our gaze but making us feel that if we blinked, they might recloak themselves in mist and disappear again.
Images courtesy of Lara Sanchez’s blog.
Comments (0) | Tags: Artistic inspiration, artists, contemporary art, Mia, Places
November 30, 2013
We’re enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers! Meanwhile, here’s another Thanksgiving image from an artist I really like, J.C. Leyendecker. He was especially known for his ads for Arrow men’s shirts, and used his boyfriend as a model of American manliness. (Why do I feel the need to point out that his boyfriend *did not* model for the above magazine cover?)
Comments (0) | Tags: artists, gay art
November 29, 2013
With the expansion of the museum through the creation of the Haub Family Wing, Tacoma Art Museum will be one of the top five museums in the country when it comes to Western American art. Any donations received on #Giving Tuesday will only make it better; they’ll be matched by the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust and go toward education programs.
Comments (0) | Tags: art museums
November 27, 2013
Mia and I are hosting our first-ever Thanksgiving, so that’s what’s going on here today: pies, pies, pies.
Let the preparations begin!
Comments (0) | Tags: artists, Mia
November 26, 2013
Sometimes when I’m not sure what to work on, I need to take a walk, and I find things like this.
Yes, that’s a giant starfish that’s twice as big as my head, and yes, that’s just about the most beautiful purple I’ve ever seen.
November 25, 2013
I’ve been invited to teach a summer painting course in Italy in July 2014. It will be my first time back in Italy since teaching there in 2008 with Professor Tony Miraglia of UMass Dartmouth. I can’t believe it’s been that long!
The course is open to ten fun-loving students. No art experience required. There will be individual attention, so it’s suitable for everyone from beginners to advanced students.
We’ll be taking a full-senses-approach to really experiencing what makes Italy unique. You won’t believe how red the tomatoes are; they’ll inspire you to use richer reds on your canvas. The texture of the stone architecture will make you want to use more paint. We’ll bring fresh eyes to everything from the warm tones of the Mediterranean light to the reliquarios built into the medieval stone walls.
Comments (0) | Tags: art education, life of an artist, Painting, Places
November 24, 2013
Ivan Albright (1897 – 1983) was an American painter and printmaker whose work dealt mainly with themes of life and death, decay, and the effects of time. His depiction of exaggerated aging as well as the all-over eruptions of growths and details lend his work a dark and unsettling quality, suggesting a sort of vanitas for the 20th century.
His most famous work may be The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was featured in the Oscar-winning film starring Angela Lansbury (love her). Based on Oscar Wilde’s novel, the Faustian themes are a perfect match for Albright’s style: the extremely handsome Dorian Gray makes a deal with the devil that his painted portrait will age, but he will not. The portrait becomes more and more grotesque as it ages and reflects Dorian’s sins.
Albright was born in the suburbs of Chicago. He studied at several schools in the Chicago area, including the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and worked as a medical illustrator for a hospital in France during World War I. This job may have influenced his later style and themes.
Albright’s working method was obsessive; he painted his studio black and wore only black to eliminate possible glare, and often used brushes with only one hair. Many works took a year, two years, even ten years to complete. He estimated that he completed one-half of a square inch of a painting each day, and never changed the painting as he progressed.
He said that he was bored by bland titles, wanting them to convey “something that the painting said” and not only what it depicted. Thus, his work sports titles such as That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door) and Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida.
Albright was extremely protective of his work and overpriced it at 30 to 60 times above what other artists charged in order to forestall sales. The Door won a purchase prize from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which included a place in the permanent collection, but he refused to part with the painting and accepted a lesser prize rather than give it up. Needless to say, he still owned almost all of his work at the end of his life; he donated it to the Art Institute of Chicago (my favorite art museum).
Interestingly, his next door neighbor for many years on Division Street in Chicago was a well-connected art dealer named Richard Feigen. Feigen was disgusted at what he believed was the poor treatment Albright received from the Art Institute. He wrote publicly in 2000 that the Art Institute deliberately undervalued Albright’s donation by $15 – 20 million, never displayed the collection in the separate room they had originally promised, and have never given him a fitting retrospective. He believed that Albright’s reputation remains diminished because of it.
Fun fact: Ivan Albright was the father-in-law of Madeleine Albright, the first woman appointed as Secretary of State, serving under President Bill Clinton. (After a long marriage, however, she and Albright’s son divorced before she served as Secretary).
November 23, 2013
What is #Giving Tuesday?
The idea is only a year old; if you haven’t heard of it yet, that’s not surprising. It’s a day that comes after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. It’s meant to inspire personal philanthropy and encourage bigger, better and smarter charitable giving during the holiday season, showing that the world truly gives as good as it gets.
Where did the idea come from? The retail industry has its seasonal shopping that symbolically kicks off with Black Friday–a day that has since inspired Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. #Giving Tuesday, then, serves as a celebratory day to kick off the giving season, when many make their holiday and end-of-year charitable gifts.
It was inaugurated in 2012. Families and individuals were encouraged to be generous in whatever ways mattered to them, whether volunteering at a local charity or donating to a favorite cause. Over 2500 charities and non-profits in all 50 states came together with one common purpose–to help others, to incentivize ways to give more, give smarter, and celebrate the great American spirit of contribution. People from Bill Gates to Channing Tatum championed #Giving Tuesday in 2012, resulting in over $10 million in online donations on that day.
Tacoma Art Museum, where I volunteer by giving tours, was one of #Giving Tuesday’s inaugural organizations in 2012. They raised over $32,000 on #Giving Tuesday last year, and the funds went to arts education, acquisition of new work, and accessibility.
In 2013, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust will double every dollar that TAM receives, so the money folks donate will go twice as far. Such a deal!