Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ancient Glass

When I was in graduate school, I was privileged to be able to visit Venice and subsequently the island of Murano, famous for its glass-making. I was fascinated watching glass-blowing and instantly wanted to quit painting for that discipline. Unfortunately, I found that you can’t be a glass blower in your living room/studio. But my fascination with all sorts of art glass has persisted. What really amazes me is that glass has survived intact since the Roman Empire and that glass as an art form only dates from the first century BCE. What artists do you think of who are famous for glass art? Louis Comfort Tiffany, Dale Chihuly, or Dominic Labino?

Glass is believed to have been first shaped into mold-formed vessels in ancient Phoenicia around the 4th millennium BCE. The earliest Egyptian glass vases date to around 1500 BCE. Glassblowing was invented in the Syro-Palestinian region during the early first century BCE, and is thought to have come to the Roman world on their annexation of that region in 64 BCE. Large numbers of glass objects are not evident in central Italy until the beginning of the first century CE. The Roman glass industry arose and reached full maturity within a couple of generations during the first century CE.

Although blown glass dominated the Roman glass industry, it by no means supplanted the earlier Roman technique of cast glass, evident in this bowl. By the end of the early imperial period (c284 CE), sophisticated blown and cast glass objects were part of Roman daily life from the morning to the evening. In fact, the production of Roman native clay cups, bowls and beakers declined during the reign of Augustus. By the mid-first century, the popularity of glass had caused clay vessel production to cease entirely.

The most common manner of casting glass was pouring molten glass over a core mold and shaping it. The Romans adopted and adapted various color and design schemes from the Greeks. A distinctly Roman innovation in glass was marbled mosaic glass, such as this piece. This effect was achieved by fusing small, mosaic-like pieces of cane into a marble pattern. Ribbed objects such as this bowl were the most highly prized type of style, because its form resembled such luxury items as expensive rock crystal objects.

The Toledo Museum has a huge collection of glass from antiquity to the present.

The Corning Museum of Glass is a world-renowned glass museum in Corning, New York.

Discover many examples of glass from ancient to contemporary in the Davis Art Images archives.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pioneer American Modernist


Every now and then my landscape painter alter-ego forces me to focus on a painter who is renowned for his or her landscapes. One of my all-time favorites in that department is Marsden Hartley. I especially like Hartley because, at a time when most American painting was dominated by realism and historicism, Hartley struck out in his own singular style. Like me, he had a mystic/spiritual connection to landscape that I to this day find hard to explain when I do a vitae for a show. I wonder if Hartley was ever asked why there are very seldom any references to buildings or people in his landscapes, as I am.

Hartley was born in Maine. His family’s relocation to Cleveland, Ohio, gave him the opportunity to study at the Cleveland School of Art, where he enrolled in outdoor painting classes taught by a Paris-trained impressionist. Over the years he studied at William Merritt Chase’s School of Art (where he studied the work of George Inness) and the National Academy of Design in New York. He also went on retreats to art colonies in Maine where, before 1906, he began to produce landscapes of mountains and clouds. Such motifs would remain central to his work for his entire career. He would repeatedly return to Maine throughout his life.

Between 1906 and 1908 Hartley developed a Neo-Impressionist style and painted what are considered some of his first mature works. His color was influenced by the work of Maurice Prendergast (1858–1924), a painter influenced by Impressionism, and Giovanni Segantini (1858–1899) a Swiss Neo-Impressionist. From Segantini, he adopted the stitch brushstroke that is seen in this work. He showed his work to Prendergast who subsequently introduced Hartley to Alfred Stieglitz (1866–1944), the famous photographer and greatest advocate for modernism in American art at the time.

This painting pre-dates the period when Hartley spent much time going back and forth to Europe, where his painting took on aspects of Cubism. The brilliant color, active surface, and simplified form reflect the art of great European modernists (Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne) whom he would have seen in Stieglitz’s New York Gallery 291, the first gallery in the US to display abstraction and European modernism. While Hartley’s numerous mountain landscapes of Maine are proof of his delight in nature, just like the work of Vincent van Gogh, they also reveal his deeply spiritual connection to nature, something he would have appreciated when he studied the work of Inness.

Works by Hartley in the Davis Art Images collection.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ancient Peruvian Fiber Art

Over the years, I have gone through periods of intense fascination for a variety of art forms. Have you ever found yourself thinking, “If I weren’t a painter, I’d be a glass artist” or the like? I do that all the time. One of my many moods has been, “If I weren’t a painter, I’d get a loom and be a fiber artist.” Mr. Kapheim, my high school art teacher, tried to introduce us to a variety of media disciplines, but he encouraged us to focus on one and get it right. My love of fiber arts has never abated, and one of my absolutely favorite periods of fiber art is from the ancient Americas, specifically Peru. Compare this piece with textiles from any other culture from the same period, and I’m sure you’ll agree that ancient Peruvian textiles rank towards the top in color, form, and sophistication.

The textiles of ancient Peru, woven in every known technique for over three thousand years, represent the highest achievement of their civilization. Textiles were the most highly prized objects after gold in Peruvian cultures. Most Peruvian textiles were produced on simple backstrap looms.

The Paracas culture was located on the south coast of Peru. The name translates from the Quechuan dialect to “sand falling like rain,” due to the frequent sandstorms characteristic of the area. The Paracas elevated textile art to some of its highest levels of sophistication, and had the longest continuous tradition of textile art in history. In fact, textiles were developed to a high degree of refinement long before ceramics (the Paracas also developed improvements in the kiln-firing of ceramics). Textiles were used for trading purposes, commemorated attainment of certain societal rank (such as attaining adulthood), used to mark a person’s status or achievements, and celebrated familial events. Thousands of Peruvian textiles have come down to us because the mummified bodies of Paracas society were wrapped in multiple layers of cloth on burial.

The Paracas believed that nature and humankind shared the same attributes of the spiritual world. While many textiles display animal forms, there are many, like this example, that seem to blur the boundaries between human and animal. Such forms are called “anthropomorphic,” or “zoomorphic.” The dry climate of the Peruvian coast helped to preserve the large numbers of textiles seen in museums today. The period of production of this beautiful piece roughly coincides with the Roman Empire in Europe, the Nok culture in Nigeria, and the Han Dynasty in China.

website on Peruvian textile tradition

images of ancient American textiles from Davis Art Images 

books on fiber art from Davis Publications

Monday, May 4, 2009

Expressionist Architecture

Every now and then (actually on a weekly basis), I come across a “Holy Cow!” work of art in our image collection that I either never noticed before or had not seen in a really long time. Usually, because I’m a painter, I get blown away by brilliant color in paintings. This week, it happened to me when I came across this church while researching something else. I’m sure when I mention the word “church” many of you think of Gothic cathedrals like Notre-Dame in Paris or the cathedral at Chartres (in every art history book). The church architecture that I find a lot more interesting is that of the 20th and 21st centuries. Now, when I mention the style “Expressionism,” do you immediately think of painting or sculpture? Well, the style is also defined in architecture. Challenge your students to think of contemporary (21st century) buildings that could fit the stylistic definition Expressionism.

Experimental architecture in northern Europe between 1900 and 1933 derived great impetus from German architects who worked consciously on establishing a “school” or modern architecture, devoid of the romantic historicism that dominated nineteenth-century architecture. Interestingly, this was the period of the flowering of the “Chicago School” of architecture in America that pioneered the skyscraper.

Expressionism manifested itself in architecture, although it did not constitute a large number of buildings. It was stamped out by the Nazis as “degenerate,” but it established a base for a movement in architecture later realized in the 1950s and 1960s as well as the 1980s under Postmodernism.

The first evidence of the expressionist attitude was the idea of monumentality projected by a building. In other words, the building has the appearance of sculpture. While some buildings relied on dramatic organic curves in their facades, others, like the Grundtvigs Church employed jagged line seen in German expressionist painting. Brutalism, an offshoot of the International Style, popular from the 1940s to the 1970s, was greatly influenced by trends in expressionist architecture.

Peder Jensen-Klint was a Danish painter, engineer, and architect. His aesthetic goal was to merge classical forms of architecture with modernism, much as was the emphasis of the Bauhaus in Germany. Grundtvigs Church has the soaring vertical emphasis of traditional Gothic cathedrals, and their traditional three-aisle hall interior. But, it uses the traditional stepped gable of traditional Danish churches to form a dramatic angularity on the façade that gives it an expressionistic silhouette. The yellow brick construction (some six million of them) is also a traditional feature of Danish church architecture.

This website contains some awesome views of the church.