Monday, November 27, 2017

Some Flourish While Others Decline


Ancient Peru, Nazca Culture, Poncho or tunic, 100–600 CE. Camelid fiber, tapestry weave, 74 3/8" x 27 9/16" (189 x 70 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-1226)

It drives me absolutely nuts as an art historian the way Western art history textbooks treat Mesoamerican and South American cultures in a peripheral way, yet fawn all over ancient Greece and ancient Rome as the high points of aesthetic development. The fact is that the Americas, as well as East and Southeast Asia, had sophisticated, thriving empires during the same period of the flourishing of Greece and Rome. In fact, they outlasted them. What was happening with the Roman Empire between the late 400s and 600s CE? Oh, nothing. That’s right, it had collapsed. Although Peruvian cultures waxed and waned just like Rome, there was a sustained period of flourishing cultures from around 1500 BCE until the Spanish invasion and conquest in the 1500s CE.

The Nazca (flourished ca. 250 BCE to 650 CE) are thought to have arisen out of the Paracas culture, which flourished ca. 750 BCE to 100 CE. The Nazca culture was characterized by a collection of independent chiefdoms. Although there are cultural and artistic similarities among these communities, they did not—like other Mesoamerican and South American cultures—build great cities of standardized design.

As the Nazca expanded their influence, they traded with inland mountain regions where alpacas and llamas were raised, and rainforest regions where they secured the feathers of tropical birds for garments.

The best source for Nazca art objects is from their tombs, which were often 4 to 5 meters (13 to 16 feet) deep. The Nazca culture produced sophisticated ceramic art, gold and metal objects, and particularly sophisticated textiles. Textiles were the most highly-prized objects after gold in Peruvian cultures.

The Nazca were skilled in all of the Andean techniques, including several types of weaving and embroidery, and they also painted designs on plain cotton cloth. Abstract figures were especially popular in designs and most often are depicted participating in harvest scenes that show such foodstuffs as maize and beans. Animals, similar to those in petroglyphs and pottery designs, were also a popular subject.

The poncho above may have once served as a banner. It is thought that the neck hole was woven at a later date from the original weaving. It represents three large figures and twelve subsidiary figures. The large figures wear masks, ponchos, and skirt/loin cloths, and are bearing trophy heads

And here’s an example of the beautiful Nazca ceramics, produced at the time Rome was falling apart: 

Ancient Peru, Nazca Culture, Double-spouted bridge handle vessel, 325–440 CE. Painted ceramic, 3 15/16" x 7" x 6 ¼" (23.5 x 17.8 x 15.9 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5242)

Correlations to Davis Programs: A Community Connection: 1.5; The Visual Experience: 14.4; Discovering Art History: 4.9

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sister-in-Law / Beautiful Landscape


Claude Monet (1840–1926, France), The Islets at Port-Villez, 1897. Oil on canvas, 31 7/8" x 39 ¾" (81 x 101 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, Bequest of Grace Underwood Barton. (BMA-432)

My sister-in-law Stacy's birthday coming up on the fourteenth of November. She’s a beautiful person both inside and out. Since I couldn’t find any “sister-in-law” works of art that satisfied the need to praise a beautiful person, I am resorting to a work by an artist who truly produced some of the most breathtaking paintings I’ve ever seen. Even his studies for paintings have an extraordinary beauty to them. And, I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to my sis-in-law than with beauty in a painting equal to her beauty as a human being.

As you may already be aware from my posts about Monet paintings, he is one of my inspirations for wanting (trying) to paint landscapes. I think the fact that he was growing as an artist and expanding his vision of what he wanted to show in paintings even in his eighties, should be an inspiration to any painter to keep at it. I often think studies like this have an abstract potential that eventually came to dominate his late water lily paintings.

In 1890, Monet bought his home in the village of Giverny, which is now world-famous for his water lily garden. Nearby was the town of Port-Villez—between Vernon and Bonnières-sur-Seine—where he did numerous paintings as studies of reflections in water. To paint scenes such as this, Monet used a flat-bottom boat, something he had learned from the realist Charles Daubigny (1817–1878). In the 1860s, Daubigny was one of the Barbizon painters who encouraged Monetand his fellow fledgling Impressioniststo paint landscapes outdoors to achieve realistic interpretations of light and atmosphere. This, combined with Monet’s encounter with the works of J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), the great British Romantic landscape painter, is what started Monet on his path to true greatness.

Like many of the Impressionists, Monet did not paint most of his works completely outdoors. He established the colors and light while outdoors, then refined the works in the studio. However, I have a funny feeling that this study was executed completely outdoors. It’s always thrilling for me, an aspiring landscape painter, to see sections of a Monet canvas unpainted. Monet’s brush work seems to follow the rays of light from the rising sun. Those arcing lines of color are echoed in the foliage to indicate the receding and jutting volumes of the trees. For Monet, the landscape did not exist separately from the surrounding atmosphere and light. He attributed those elements as the truly important contributors to a successful painted landscape.

Correlations to Davis Programs: A Global Pursuit: 7.2; Discovering Art History: 13.1

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tree Memories


Rodney Taylor (born 1966, US), Untitled (Birch Trees), 2010. Mixed-media on paper, 144" x 114" (365.8 x 289.6 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2017 Rodney Taylor. (AK-2810)
Meet my new “find”: the awesome painter Rodney Taylor. As a Virgo, I do not routinely paint totally from memory. While a memory can evoke very specific imagery, it is often affected by emotional coloring that distracts me from establishing an image of the place that is somewhat recognizable. (I’m basically a landscape painter.) I certainly can, however, attest to the strong feelings place can play in a work of art. I think memory and place combine in the work of Rodney Taylor.

Born in Buffalo, New York, Taylor moved to New York City, where he lived and worked for 16 years. He studied at the Cooper Union, Fashion Institute of Technology, Bard Annandale-on-Hudson, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. A large part of Taylor’s work is heavily impasto impressions of elements of urban life and decay. He also often combines images of trees with his architectural imagery. The tree image also appears individually in his paintings.

Although many of Taylor’s paintings address urban imagery and symbolism, his paintings of birch trees stem from personal reminiscences. They recall memories of trips with his family to Maryland for family reunions. The birch trees represent his remembered views of trees flashing by the car.

Taylor’s more recent work has taken a decidedly abstract turn and a more muted palette. These works seem to be influenced by urban architecture.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 2: 1.1; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.6, 6.34; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.26