Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays!

I’m not big into the whole commercial Christmas thing, but I am into Christmas trees. In the spirit of that, I offer you one of my favorite paintings of trees. Granted, it’s not loaded with ornaments and lights, but, geez, it’s a gorgeous little study of a blossoming tree. What better way to celebrate the “holidays” than celebrating nature? After all, the evergreen (Christmas tree) is an ancient symbol of the endurance of nature and rebirth in all cultures. What better symbol for this season than the tree? And, speaking of “rebirth,” one could say that American impressionists fueled a rebirth in American art at the end of the 1800s!

Through the colonial period up until the 1800s, American artists looked to European painting for inspiration.  Although the American Academy of Fine Arts (Philadelphia) and the National Academy of Design (New York) were well established by the mid-1800s, young American artists during the 1880s looked to France for inspiration in painting. Despite the infusion of Impressionism and other modernist tendencies early in the 1900s, Realism persisted as the chief American mode of expression into the middle of the 1900s. But, thank goodness for American Impressionism!   

Childe Hassam was born in the Boston area and trained as an illustrator and painter. By the 1880s he was painting scenes of Boston in the dark palette of the Munich school, a group aware of Impressionism, but emphasizing contrasts in light and dark much like Baroque artists. That style is now called Dark Impressionism. Hassam went to Europe in 1883, spending three years in Paris starting in 1886, during which time he was exposed to Impressionism. His palette lightened and he adopted the short, quick brush strokes of Impressionism as well.

Back in New York, starting in 1890 Hassam painted in the impressionist manner. Initially, he and the other Paris-influenced artists were not critically acclaimed. But, by the mid-1890s, Impressionism was a more-or-less accepted style in American art. Hassam’s favorite locations to paint in the summer were in New England. This painting of a brook near New Canaan comes from his summering in Cos Cob. He also produced many paintings from the artists’ colony in Old Lyme, CT.

This work, while still displaying the broken color and importance of brush work of all Impressionism, also shows how, throughout his life, Hassam leaned toward more expressionistic brush work. I love this work, because not only is it a study, but, in my mind it mimics a Christmas tree—the blossoms are the lights!

Childe Hassam in Winter:
Boston Common at Twilight, 1885–1886. Oil on canvas, 106.68 x 152.4 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-93)
Late Afternoon, New York: Winter, 1900. Oil on canvas, 94 x 74 cm. Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-579)
The Breakfast Room, Winter Morning, 1911. Oil on canvas, 64 x 77 cm. Worcester Art, Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-87)

Studio activity:  Create a personal tree. In a personal style, create an artwork with a tree as the subject. Use chalk, oil pastel, or acrylic to engender expression in the tree depicted. Try to personify the tree, give it emotion that expresses a personal point of view. Choose colors, exaggerated lines and shapes to make the tree seem calm, energetic, angry, happy, or sleepy.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art 4: 1.6, 6.33, 6.34; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.26; Exploring Visual Design: 4. 6; Discovering Art History: 13

Monday, December 17, 2012

Traditions of Change

My husband and I received several ceramic art pieces, one of my favorite art forms, as wedding presents. One of my favorite manifestations of this genre is the ceramic art of the Carolinas. I can’t think of any other cultures that made as compelling of ceramic works with faces other than the Moche in Peru. In Southern ceramic artwork, face vessels originated with pre-Civil War (1860–1865) African American potters, possibly influenced by their contact with wares they saw in the Caribbean on their way to slavery in the US. The genre eventually migrated to the rich ceramic art environment in other southern states, particularly North Carolina. German immigrants and German-American descendants settled in North Carolina’s Catawba Valley in the late 18th century as farmers who brought their pottery-making tradition with them. For over 200 years the farmer/potters of the Valley produced utilitarian storage vessels, including churns, milk crocks, preserve jars, molasses jugs, meat and grain storage jars, and a variety of tableware. The advent of refrigeration and mass production nearly killed the centuries-old pottery tradition in the region, but it has revived spectacularly.

Native bands such as the Cherokee and Catawba in western North Carolina had ceramic traditions the extended well before the arrival of white settlers, primarily pit-fired wares. Alkaline glaze is a Southern ceramic tradition initiated by German immigrants to North Carolina’s Catawba Valley in the late 1700s. The term “alkaline” refers to the flux, the material used to lower the melting point of the glaze. In the South, lime and wood ashes are most commonly used. To achieve the glassy surface, potters use clays with high silica content, iron slag, sand, or even bottle glass. The German settlers and their descendants produced earthenware until the early 1800s, when they switched to stoneware.

Burlon B. Craig of Vale, North Carolina, was one of the last of the traditional North Carolina potters to work in alkaline glaze. He is credited for having kept the traditional methods of production, forms, and glazes once prevalent in the Catawba Valley alive by mentoring other potters to adopt traditional methods along with their innovative techniques and material. He dug his own river clay from several locations, including a South River pit once used by the Catawba Indians.

While Craig’s utilitarian wares were extremely popular, he became famous for his face jugs, a traditional favorite with tourists since the 1920s. The face jug had been adapted by the descendants of German settlers during the late 1800s from African Americans.  The jug was used as “child-proof” to scare them away from the contents in the jar, usually home-made alcohol. Among African Americans, in the tradition of African burials in which household personal items were included with a deceased person (like many cultures around the world), such pots were often set on graves. If the pot would become broken, it was assumed that the deceased was having a fight with the devil.

Studio activity:  Make an expressive face pot. Take a lump of clay and form it into a ball. Using the thumb, create an opening (hole) in what will be the top of the pot, and work the hole bigger, thinning and smoothing the interior and outside of the walls of the pot until it is the desired size and shape. Apply nose, eyes, lips, and ears with separate pieces of clay, or use a pencil or other sharp tool to incise the lines of the eyes and mouth.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 2: 3.17-18 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 4.23-24 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.1-2 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 6.31-32 studio; Exploring Visual Design: 2, 6; The Visual Experience: 10.15

Monday, December 10, 2012


I've been at the art historian thing for a looooooonnnnnng time. So, it will be no surprise to you all that I came across a glaring error in our database of digital images. I received this image—gad! In the 1980s—and it came under the heading of actor prints. My completely substandard Japanese translation skills (I know that “mizu” means water), added to the farce. At the time we received this image, I had no access to online dictionaries that could help me translate the piece. But, now I know! This is not an actor print; it’s a public service announcement!

I have a major interest in Japanese art—especially color woodcut prints. And one can’t have that without an interest in Japanese culture, because the two are so intertwined.

Measles was predominantly a Western disease that spread due to our forcible trade with Non-Western countries. 500,000 Hawaiians died from measles after the Western countries decided that it should be “civilized.” Who’s to know how many natives of Central and South America and Africa died from measles after being exposed to European “civilizers”?

Japan was introduced to measles starting as early as the 1500s, when the Portuguese established trade with the country. This was cut off during the Edo Period (1615–1868), when the Japanese dictator feared a foreign takeover. They allowed foreigners (Western Europe and Australia) to deal through one port: Nagasaki. The final opening of the door of Japan, and the spread of measles there, came in 1854 when the US, under Admiral Perry, forcibly opened the ports of Japan to trade. After that, measles became a major health problem in Japan, much on the scale with smallpox in Western Europe and the US at the same time.  

I’ve written about the Ukiyo-e style many times, but never realized the medium was also used for public service! This woodcut advertises the dangers of measles, and uses a deity to depict the eradication of measles, which they have translated into demons. When I received this labeled as an “actor print” I should have realized that the title Hashika Yakubyo Yoke was not a name, but the subject title. Look at other actor prints and I hope you’ll forgive my ignorance. It’s amazing how art history can open our eyes to the dissemination of information in other cultures. It’s fascinating that the Ukiyo-e style was not only used to popularize fashion and actors, but also to spread propaganda and news.

An Actor Print:

Utagawa Yoshitaki (1841–1899, Japan), The Actor Gennosuke III from Osaka, ca. 1860. Color woodcut withsilver and brass leaf, 24.3 x 18.7 cm. © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-2672)

Studio activity: Do a drawing that illustrates an illness in a humorous way. Decide what symbols are to be used to represent the illness, be it a human figure, a plant, or an animal. Using markers or colored pencils on 11 x 8 1/2" paper, depict a person either fighting or suffering from an everyday illness. Be sure to include details of how the person looks when he or she is sick.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 3: 3.17; A Personal Journey: 4; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 12; The Visual Experience: 9.4, 13.5; Discovering Art History: 4.4

Monday, December 3, 2012

More of the Legacy

Working with new images is so awesome, because I learn something new every few days. Before I added these images from Godey’s Lady’s Book to our collection from the American Antiquarian Society, I had never heard of Sarah Josepha Hale (1788–1879). Well, let me tell you, the deeper I studied, the more convinced I am than ever what an important role women have played in our society and our art. Hale was, for 50 years, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the most influential social magazine in 1800s America. Although the 1800s in America is remembered as a period when women were advised to devote their lives to the household, many women made their mark in art, literature, education, and politics. Yeah, women stayed in their homes all right on the frontier, doing everything from farming to gutting animals for food to raising families.

Hale was born in New Hampshire. Her mother was her first teacher and passed on to her a love of reading. Subsequently, she was tutored by her brother, a Dartmouth student, and afterwards by her husband, who was a lawyer. After the premature death of her husband in 1822, she was determined to see that her five children were educated, and turned to writing as a vocation. She published several poems to moderate success and published her first book Northwood, a Tale of New England, which was the first American novel published by a woman. She eventually became editor of the “Ladies’ Magazine” in Boston in 1828, and after that, in 1837, of Godey’s Lady’s Book in Philadelphia.

Godey’s was meant to keep women up-to-date on current fashion, mores, and literature. Although the articles and editorials were meant to preserve the woman’s place within the household, Hale pushed many then-radical ideals about women. She was instrumental in the founding of Vassar College for women and was a keen proponent of higher education for women, unavailable at the time. Although she was not for women’s voting, she believed that well-educated women could inform their husband’s votes. She did not favor the monthly fashion plates, like this example (because she favored more modest dress for women), but she did coin the term “lingerie” for women’s undergarments, which has stuck to this day.

Other achievements by Hale include convincing President Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She compiled a book that recognized over two thousand women writers from the earliest recorded history. Godey’s magazine was published at a time when Philadelphia was recognized as the publishing capital of the United States. Another interesting fact, aside the fact that Hale was the first editor of a magazine devoted to women’s issues, was the fact that these fashion plates were hand-colored by—what Godey referred to as—his “corps of women colorists.” This mirrors the fact that most of Currier and Ives lithographs were hand-colored by women.

Studio Activity: Design an outfit for a contemporary woman. Carefully consider the kind of woman you want to design for. Draw the outline of a person on lightweight cardboard, paying close attention to the proportions of the arms, legs, and head. Cut out the figure and lightly trace around it on paper. Sketch the features of the clothing on the paper outline and color them with markers or colored pencils, paying special attention to details such as patterns or border designs. Cut out the finished paper outfit and attach it to the cardboard figure, filling in details of the face and hair.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 1: 6.33, 6.34; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.3; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.3; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.3; A Personal Journey: 3.3; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 7; The Visual Experience: 9.4.

Monday, November 26, 2012

“General” Redefined

I’m sick, after a week or two, of hearing general-bashing in the news. And for what? Really??? I’d rather hear the government debating about more funding for education. But, I digress. So, I decided to redefine the idea of “general.” I offer you a few GENERAL views of gorgeous (GORGEOUS) buildings in Bangkok, Mysore City, and Cochin. And now, let’s sink into art history…

Based on archeological findings in Ban Chiang, it is believed that Thailand had a sophisticated culture as far back as 3500 years ago. It is one of the few countries in the world that was never colonized. Apparently, the early Thai peoples migrated to various regions throughout Southeast Asia. Until the 13th century, the Mon and Thai people controlled the southern and northern areas of what now is Thailand. The Mon were of the same lineage as the Khmer in Cambodia and later settled in Burma (or Myanmar). The Khmer culture ruled the Mon civilizations from Cambodia, and influenced the development of Buddhism in Thailand, although there were native animist beliefs as well.

In the 13th century, Thai chiefs united to form the Sukhotai kingdom, the first truly independent Thai kingdom. Although short-lived, the period is considered the most culturally significant in Thai history, as Thailand established contacts and gleaned artistic influences from China, India, and Cambodia. The Ayutthaya period (1300–1767) was a long period of territorial expansion, increased international contacts (including Europe), and periodic war with Burma. After the Burmese devastated the capital of Ayutthaya, it was moved by the new dynasty to Bangkok.

Wat Arun was begun under the Chakri king Rama III (reigned 1824–1851), and work continued under Rama IV (reigned 1851–1868). Rama IV lived as a Buddhist monk for 27 years, and much attention was paid to the decoration of Wat Arun. It was built in a formula established during the Angkor period in Cambodia (ca. 9th–13th centuries): a central tower (prang) on a platform, surrounded by four smaller towers. A unique aspect to some Thai architecture, such as War Arun, is the decoration of the façade of the towers with broken Chinese ceramic pieces that marvelously reflect sunlight. These fragments came from the ballast of the numerous Chinese ships doing trade with Thailand, and from the numerous ceramics kilns established by Chinese emigrant artists.

And, another couple of “GENERAL” views:

Dutch Colonial, SaintThomas Church, 18th century. Kochi (Cochin), India. Photo © DavisArt Images.   (8S-10139)
Kochi is a city on the west coast of India that has been a major trading port since ancient times. It was the center of the spice trade and was known by the ancient Greeks and Romans, Chinese, and Saudi Arabians. After the 14th century it became a major focus of European “colonization” (domination), first the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and then, ultimately, the British.

This church is a synthesis of Baroque and Rococo architectural styles from Europe. The stepped gable is definitely Baroque, while the volute shapes between each step hint at the Rococo style which was characterized by flowing arabesques. Although it must have seemed peculiar to the native Indians compared to their own architecture, it bears a striking similarity in vertical emphasis to traditional Indian temple architecture:

Chamundi Hill, 12th and 19th centuries.Mysore City, GENERAL view. Photo © Davis Art Images. (8S-10140)

Studio activity:  Design a building with a personal purpose. Use markers, pencils and colored pencils. Design a building based on basic geometric shapes that imitate the overall emphasis of the three buildings in this blog post. Use horizontal and vertical lines to set up the building’s basic shape, keeping in mind that buildings are usually conceived of as units of geometric shapes. Add decoration and organic shapes to enhance the basic geometric units.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 2.12; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 3.15, 3.18; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 2.12; Exploring Visual Design: 2, 6, 8; The Visual Experience: 11.1

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving…the name says it all!

I’m sooo over politics this week, and I want to focus on good ol’ Americana. Thanksgiving is an awesome holiday because it makes people think “THANK YOU for what I have.” I truly believe that many of us (I’m the worst in this respect) take for granted what a great society we live in. Many countries celebrate the idea of giving thanks, mostly in harvest festivals. But if you want to see warm, evocative scenes of American life, look to American primitive artists such as Doris Lee. I swear I can smell the pumpkin pie baking in this painting! Of course Doris Lee was born and raised in rural Illinois, as I was, so I find it very easy to pay attention to her art!

Lee was a very active artist during the Depression years (1929–1940), producing paintings, murals, costume designs for theaters, and designs for ceramics and textiles. She studied art at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri, as well as in Paris and San Francisco. Interestingly, she was a student of American impressionist Ernest Lawson (1873–1939).

Although she did not adopt the impressionist aesthetic, she certainly shared Lawson’s interest in American life and scenery. During the 1930s she was very active in WPA mural projects, which had a decidedly nationalistic bent to subject matter during the morose years of the Depression. I’m interested to see if such an emphasis on realistic subject matter about everyday American life evolves out of our current Great Recession.

It is always fascinating to me when artists who work in a realist mode eventually end up doing abstract work. Her late work reminds me very much of American artist Adolf Dehn (1895–1968). In the 1960s she became interested in experimented with shapes, but never entirely abandoned the object. I think some of her late works are awesome in her sense of color, and quite different from works such as Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Studio activity:  A collage about a family or group celebration. Select a family or group celebration/holiday and create a collage. Use watercolor or markers to create the background of the scene, and then choose images of different people from magazines to populate the interior/exterior depicted. Explore gender, race, pose and action to make the collage interesting.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 1: 5.27; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.9, 2.10, 5.26; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.3; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.5, 1.6; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.3; A Community Connection: 1.1 studio; A Global Pursuit; 5.1; Exploring Visual Design: 5, 10, 11, 12

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Have We Seen This Before?

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I’m not a big fan of stylistic labels. However, I do like investigating interesting similarities in artists’ works from different periods. The similarities are most often from completely different influences. In the case of the two works I’m highlighting this week, I see great similarities in influence, yet completely different and fascinating approaches with media.  Both of these paintings are huge (Aqua Poppies is 8' x 12'!), creating a rather abstract type of still life.

Donald Sultan became interested in construction materials when he worked for Denise René Gallery in New York. While replacing tiles, he became fascinated with manipulating the tar that adhered the tiles to the Masonite floor. In his art, he utilizes construction materials and techniques to create elegant still lifes. His substantial poppies are painted a hue seldom found in nature. From a simple wooden grid he carves the outline of the flowers, filling the depressions with plaster, and then applies paint to define the petals and black flocking to signify the centers. Sultan is interested in the juxtaposition of the natural with the industrial. He masterfully transforms humble materials to create a bold, yet ephemeral image. Sultan’s most iconic works are those of the large lemons on a jet-black tar background.

The Whitney Museum created the unfortunate label of New Image Art in a show of artists in December 1978. These artists had returned to figuration after the domination of geometric abstraction, minimalism, and hard edge painting in the 1970s.

Andy Warhol (1928–1987, US), Ten Foot Flowers, 1967. Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas, 292.2 x 292.2 cm (115" x 115"). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2012 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York   (MOMA-P3307waars)

Andy Warhol was an icon of Pop Art. Similar to Sultan, Pop artists rebelled against the domination of Abstract Expressionism in the art world of the 1950s and 1960s. They returned to figuration and recognizable subject matter in a variety of different personal styles. Warhol chose to use the silkscreen medium to eliminate any personal marks, such as brush strokes, in his works to evoke the mass-media billboards and advertisements of American commercial culture.

In the case of both artists, the result is beautiful interpretations of flowers. Being a landscape painter myself, I always enjoy seeing artists who extoll the glories of nature, no matter what medium they choose. Although we may find that the process is more importance to these artists, I believe that they were expressing a joy in nature in two radically different ways. They also were quietly rejecting total abstraction, although their large, flat shapes certainly have an abstract potential.

Hmm, what other artists produced huge floral subject with abstract potential? Can you guess?

Morning Glory with Black I (CL-524okars)
Red Amaryllis (8S-17606)
Pitthea (8S-17657)

Studio activity:  Close-up view of a flower. Find a flower, leaf or twig and observe it carefully. Make sketches several times and then create a watercolor painting. Observe the main parts of the flower and then details, such as lines and different shapes. Vary the kinds of brush strokes, thin and thick, wavy and straight, dots and blobs to record the main shapes of the flower. Mix colors to create visual interest.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 4.20; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 4.19, 4.20; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 2.11; A Global Pursuit: 7.1; Exploring Visual Design: 2, 4, 5, 6, 8; Discovering Art History: 17.2

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hello! Women of Fashion

What a joy it is to be constantly dealing with new images of art in our digital collectionI’ve already directed you to our new collection of trade cards from the Winterthur Museum. Now I want to show you something from the Mint Museum in North Carolina. I’m always ecstatic to see works I’ve never paid enough attention to before, such as this gorgeous “afternoon” frock. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t feel there’s ever been a time in [art] history when women didn’t play a significant role. New acquisitions from the Mint Museum, as well as the American Antiquarian Society, emphasize this.

View from the Back. (MIN-57B)
Leonie Dumonteuil had her own fashion “house” (Maison Dumonteuil) in Paris, which means that she was a successful designer and businessperson. The same designers who pioneered the crinoline (hoop skirt—see Gone with the Wind), pioneered the bustle, a tamed down version of the crinoline. Actually, the bustle was a wire cage with padding that was collapsible for sitting. The designation of this “frock” as an “afternoon dress” indicates that it was meant for wealthy women who changed outfits to suit the time of day. Obviously, it wasn’t for a woman who had to go shopping for groceries or do the laundry, but rather for one who entertained visitors in the afternoon. Although some trade cards would lead one to believe that middle class women sported bustles in their homes during domestic duty.

Trade Card for R. Shwarz Toys, Dolls, Fancy Goods (Boston), ca. 1876. © Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, DE. (WIN-54)
While fashion design might seem like a stereotype of women artists, it underlines the fact that women were hard at work during a century that persistently demanded that women be tied to the household. I’ve already shown you how women artists pioneered “art pottery” in the 1800s. That, however, was not the only field in which they were active. Women artists could be found working in many art forms, including painting, sculpture, and architecture. They were the backbone of the booming printmaking genre that made the 1800s one of the most prolific advertising eras in history. Not to mention Currier and Ives, which employed women to hand color their lithographs. Godey’s Lady’s Book employed a “corp of one hundred and fifty women” who hand colored their monthly fashion plates. By the 1850s, Godey’s had a circulation of 150,000, which means these artists were working big time to hand color the fashion illustrations.

Godey’s Lady’s Book (1830–1898, Philadelphia), Wedding fashions, January 1871, volume 82. Hand-colored lithograph. © American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA. (AAS-168)
Aside from Frances Flora Palmer (1812–1876), who did landscape drawings for Currier and Ives, very few, if any, of these women artists are known by name. This lovely print, probably copied from a French fashion journal, features the bustle at its greatest extent. I’ve seen wedding dresses like this on Say Yes to the Dress on TLC! Oh, and, by the way, consult an earlier blog post to see when white wedding dresses became fashionable.

Studio activity: Pretend that you are a fashion designer from the 1870s and design a dress with a bustle, using color pencils or markers. Update the style by adding touches that are totally 21st century, such as iPhones, iPads, synthetic materials such as Plexiglas, or technology such as wiring and DVDs.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.3; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.3; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.3; A Personal Journey: 3.1; Exploring Visual Design 1, 6

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cross-Cultural Similarities

I am really not convinced that aliens came to Earth in ancient times and seeded cultures with the same aesthetic ideas, despite programs on NatGeo or TLC that still propose such scenarios, comparing the pyramids in Central America to those in Egypt. I prefer to rely on the idea of “simultaneous development of ideas,” finding it much more plausible that the influence of ancient Greek sculpture was transmitted to Cambodian artists by Indian artists of the Gupta period. While acquiring images of artwork from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I came across this stunning sculpture and thought I’d show you a comparison that may have some wondering if the ancient Egyptians ever visited Southeast Asia!

Early Cambodian art was under the influence of southern China. Cambodian art is perhaps primarily most famous for the large, holy mountain-type temples such as Angkor Wat (ca. 1100–1150). However, the sculptural style that emerged as a result of wave after wave of Indian influence is, perhaps, unique in Southeast Asia. Beginning in the third century ce, there were important contacts by sea with India. After the fourth century, monumental sculpture appeared in both Cambodia and Thailand, based initially on the Gupta style (ca. 320–647 ce). The Gupta Period style was characterized by an elegant refinement of facial features and gestures, but also a strong frontal orientation. Cambodian art ceased to evolve for all intents and purposes in the fifteenth century after Thailand military power crushed Angkor and scattered other religious communities.

Hinduism and Buddhism were imported in to Cambodia at this time. There was a synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism into a uniquely Cambodian religion called Devaraja, the cult of the God-King. Hinduism was by far the strongest influence from India. This sculpture shows the fusion of Buddhist iconography with Hindu stylistic tendencies. The head of this Buddha, with its diadem of incised decoration and pointed top knot, along with incised lines for eyes and mustache, is typical of Cambodian god figures, seen in heads of Vishnu and Siva as well. The mysterious smile on the Buddha’s face, also typical of Cambodian sculpture, is sometimes called the Angkor Smile

Compare this Buddhist figure with that of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Menkaure, builder of one of the Great Pyramids in Giza. Although almost 3100 years separate the two sculptures, there are striking similarities with the rigid frontality, the generalized anatomy, and the placement of one leg moving forward. This style of male or female figure in Egypt endured for thousands of years, and was codified because such sculptures served a sacred, funerary purpose. The Cambodian Bodhisattva was more of a celebratory figure that would adorn a temple to be seen by worshipers.

Ancient EgyptMenkaure and Khamer-Ernesty II, 2490-2472 BCE, greywacke, 142.2 x 57.1 x 55.2 cm (56 x 22 1/2 x 21 3/4”)  © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston  (MFAB-36)

Activity: Stuffed sculpture. Draw a wide body shape that represents either a self-portrait or portrait of an imaginary person, making sure that it is a wide body shape. Cut around the edges. Trace the shape onto another piece of paper and cut it out, placing it under the original shape. Color in the face and clothes using markers or crayons. Close all the edges but one with glue or staples. Stuff with crumpled up paper then close the last edge.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 2.9-10 studio exploration; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 5.29; Explorations in Art Grade 3 1.3-4 studio exploration, 3.16; : Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.3-4 studio exploration; A Global Pursuit: 1.4, 8.5; Exploring Visual Design: 2, 7, 12; The Visual experience: 10.2, 13.3, 15.3; Discovering Art History: 4.5, 5.3

Monday, October 22, 2012

Epiphany of the Week

Just when I’m in danger of becoming cynical that there is very little in the art world that has not yet been done, I come upon this amazing artist: Eva Hild. This is my epiphany of the week (yes, I have those every week). Her work is so exquisite, so delicate, and yet so forceful, I would just like you all to contemplate on it. Aside from its organic nature, it sort of sums up the idea of “positive and negative space” in an amazing way.

The evolution of ceramic as fine art sculpture began in the early 1900s with such artists as Joan Miró (1893–1983) and Jean Arp (1888–1966), and Peter Voulkos (1904–2002) in the 1940s. It has come full circle in the sculptures of Eva Hild. Hild is known for her ceramic sculptures in highly finished white stoneware. Her work emphasizes her ideas about the coalescence of inner and outer pressures, executed in highly organic shapes. They reflect the angst of the 21st century, in which monetary, societal, and political pressures affect everyone. They also reflect the idea that the inner and outer worlds of human beings are connected through forms that effortlessly define positive and negative space. Hild’s organic shapes always sway in circular movements.

Hild lives and works in southwest Sweden. She studied at the School of Design in Gothenburg. Her technique is comprised of painstaking hand-building of forms. She slowly expands the form without use of an armature. When the work is dry she polishes it with sandpaper to achieve a smooth surface and incredibly defined lines. After the first firing, she polishes it further and then fires it again at 1200 degrees Celsius (roughly 500 degrees). The last step is to coat the works with silicate, a compound that is the base of glass and bricks.

Other artists who come to mind when looking at Hild’s work:

Ruth Duckworth (born 1919, Britain/US), Untitled, 1975. Porcelain, height: 14cm. Courtesy the artist. (8S-19413)

Jean Arp (1887–1966, France), Human Concretion, replica of 1937 work, cast 1949. Cast stone, 49.5 x 47.6 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2012 Estate of Jean Art / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.(MOMA-S1137ajars)

Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975, Britain), Hollow Form, 1955–1956. Lagos wood, partly painted, 90 x 66 x 65 cm without base. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2012 Estate of Barbara Hepworth. (MOMA-S1027)

Fulvio Bianconi (1915–1996, Italy) with Venini Company (form 1921–1997, Murano, Italy), Fazzoletto Vase 1949. Blown glass, height: 26 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Estate of Fulvio Bianconi. (MOMA-D0654)  

Jacques Lipchitz (1891–1973, Lithuania / US), Reclining Nude with Guitar, 1928. Marble, 41.6 x 70.3 x 34.3 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Estate of Jacques Lipchitz. (MOMA-S0755)  

Kazuo Yagi (1918–1979, Japan), A Cloud Remembered, 1959. Ceramic, 22.6 x 21.5 x 24.8 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Estate of Kazuo Yagi. (MOMA-S1190) 

Sugiura Yasuyoshi (born 1949, Japan), Fallen Camellia Flower, 2009. Glazed stoneware, 12.7 x 11.4 x 8.9 cm. Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. © Sugiura Yasuyoshi. (WAM-823)  

Correlations to Davis programs: A Personal Journey: 9.4; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 2, 12

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Art on the body: Jewelry

Jewelry is one of those art forms that had previously been lumped under the designation “craft,” which you all know I hate, or decorative arts (not much better).  The consideration of jewelry as fine art began during the Art Nouveau movement (flourished ca. 1885–1920) through the period of the Bauhaus in Germany (ca. 1919–1933). It blossomed during the mid-1900s when artists such as Pablo Picasso (1883–1971) and Alexander Calder (1898–1976) designed jewelry. Art Nouveau emphasized the merging of art with design, and Bauhaus continued that idea. The period of Picasso and Calder was a time when “fine” artists branched out in all directions. Jewelry artists finally achieved status as “fine art” in the 1950s and 1960s, the same period when ceramics and textiles also became recognized as something more than “craft.”

In the mid-1900s, in Padua, Italy, a school of goldsmiths and jewelers developed that eventually attained international renown for its avant-garde designs. While the “school” was rooted in Renaissance ideals of geometry and formal and technical emphasis, its training accommodated those artists who wanted to expand on the foundation of its teachings. Annamaria Zanella, trained in Padua as a sculptor, also studied in Pforzheim in Germany, where she learned enameling.

Although Zanella has used the geometric emphasis of Paduan design, she creates Deconstructivist works that defy the logic and symmetry of classical design. Deconstructivism is a term used for works of art and architecture that defy the classical norms of balance, symmetry, and geometry that was so pounded into everyone’s head during the Renaissance. Interestingly, Zanella’s work reflects a similar aesthetic to that of Frank Gehry (born 1929, a Deconstructivist architect) in his architecture

Frank Gehry, Guggenheim Museum, 1991–1997. Bilbao, Spain. © 2012 Frank Gehry. (8S-29748)
When you think about the classical ideals of balance in nature being rooted in basic geometric shapes, and how that has carried through many periods in Western art, Zanella’s pieces art not that radical. They are beautifully rational and pleasing. The artist also uses many types of discarded materials, including garbage, tin, paper, etc.

Studio activity: Design and make a pendant. Using cardboard, aluminum foil, glitter, glue, and markers, make an abstract pendant to wear. Think of a design for the pendant, either geometric or organic, and draw the design on the cardboard, cutting out the shape with scissors. Cut out shapes in different colors of construction paper and aluminum foil to decorate it. Finish decorating by coloring areas with markers.

Correlations to Davis programs:   Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.11, Explorations in Art Grade 3: 4.1

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Color, Color, Color

I know that the art historical term Post-Modern is meant to designate art after the “modernist” period (starting in the early 1900s and ending in the 1960s).  But, that really doesn’t speak to me of art I’m seeing in galleries now. What do we call art of today? I am of the belief that we should try and stop labeling works of art with the category “style.” Peter Halley’s work is hit with the stylistic term “Neo-Geo” (Neo-Geometric Abstraction, essentially Neo-Minimalism).  As you all know, I’m a sucker for color.  We recently added this work and I have to say that it‘s awesome! What’s even more awesome is the artist’s consideration of society in the 2000s. It’s one of those summations of the insular nature of our lives in the 21st century.

Halley was born in New York and received degrees from Yale and the University of New Orleans, where he taught. In the 1980s his work The Grave was the beginning of an exploration of geometric forms reminiscent of Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman (1905–1970). Halley’s works starting in the 1990s, often in day-glow colors, elicit a sense of isolation and alienation seen in the work of many artists of the early 2000s. At the same time, the vibrant color gives the work a sense of joy. I realize the Halley’s interpretation of contemporary society is one of isolated, cold, disconnected masses, but, his work is instrumental in reasserting that even in such times, beauty emerges, and his work is a perfect example. Color rules!

Let’s look at works from the mid-1900s in which personal statement seemed to be nullified, for instance the Homage to the Square works of Josef Albers (1888–1976). I’m sorry, but I see blatant love of color harmonies in his work. Also, let’s look at some works by Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967). I so love his work and the color harmonies are sometimes so subtle! What separates these artists from Halley is their emphasis on disconnection from any human emotion, though I might add, I get emotionally excited by their works!

Joseph Albers, Temprano from Homage to the Square, 1957. The Phillips Collection. © 2012 The Estate of Joseph Albers/The Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.  
Ad Reinhardt, No. 15, 1952. Albright-Knox Art Gallery. © 2012 The Estate of Ad Reinhardt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

While many people see Minimalism as a stark, cold expression, I see it as a vibrant form of the expression of the artist’s convictions about art being, sometimes, a thesis on color, shape, or form. And if these are the artists’ convictions, what makes such works any less compelling emotionally? I sure get teary-eyed looking at Halley’s gorgeous work.

Studio activity:  Geometric shapes that express an idea. On an 11" x 8 1/2" piece of heavy paper, using acrylic or watercolor paint, create a non-objective painting that expresses a point of view. Think carefully about what the main idea is, and choose geometric shapes (square, circle, triangle, rectangle, etc.) that could possibly express the idea. Make sure to choose colors to heighten the feeling about the idea of the work. It might be interesting to mount the whole class’s works on the wall side by side to see if the geometric images create a visual rhythm.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 4: 6.35; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.25; A Global Pursuit; 9.4; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 4, 11; The Visual Experience: 16.8; Discovering Art History: 17.6

Monday, October 1, 2012

Trade Cards

Davis Art Images has acquired over 150 trade cards, mostly from the 1800s, from the collection of the Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, Delaware (and we’re still in the process of cataloging all of them). Trade cards were essentially the descendant of broadsides from the 1700s, and they are the ancestor of the modern business card. I just wish contemporary business cards could be this interesting!  Wouldn’t you love to have an image like the above trade card on your business card, or any image pertaining to what you do as a job? Who knows the whacky images I would have on my business card as a curator/art historian!

Trade cards were distributed in businesses by salespersons or even by kids standing outside of businesses. They advertised every conceivable type of business and service. I often think of some of the designs as miniature posters, since color lithography became the prime medium for posters starting in the 1870s. Many are amazingly inventive in shape and design. My favorite from this group is the Columbia Bicycle card (view the reverse, as well). It demonstrates the range of tonalities possible with the recently developed color lithographic process.

Lithography became the primary advertising medium after the 1860s, because it produced multiple copies of an image from a stone rather than a plate that needed to be carved. That meant that the artist producing the print merely had to draw it on the stone in a waxy medium that attracted the ink. Color lithography replaced wood engraving as the primary medium for illustrating magazines and newspapers, as well as for producing posters, advertisements, and trade cards. Color lithography required multiple stones, a different one for each color (much like color woodcut prints). Thus, often the registration of the different colors is not always spot on.  It was, however, an easy way to produce hundreds, if not thousands, of duplicates of an original drawing.

In the 1800s, lithography was the main form of communication (before the telephone of course). Many artists produced color lithographs of their paintings to advertise their work. I think, in many ways, these trade cards from the 1800s are a brilliant salute to the lithographic medium, many of which feature outstanding compositions.

Activity: Design an advertising (trade) card for an imaginary business. Think up a business that sells a certain product and design a trade card using color pencils, markers, or design software. Try to choose a business that sells contemporary merchandise such as computers, MP3 players, or tablets. Also consider choosing a service such as internet provider, auto dealer, or cable provider. Make sure to include details that highlight the value of the product the business sells, after looking at this array of trade cards from the Winterthur Museum.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mexican Artists in America (Did You Know?)

I’d like to point out in this blog post the contribution of Mexican artists to American art since long before many parts of the country were colonized as American states. The Spanish tried to lure Mexican colonists into to Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona as early as the late 1600s. They established missions in in the Southwest as early as the 1690s. This means that Mexicans were the first people to establish “civilization” in the southwestern United States. Only during the 1820s, when the Mexican government could not persuade enough people to populate those areas, did they allow hundreds of Americans to settle in Texas. The rest is history, the so-called “manifest destiny” idea that Americans developed, believing that the whole continent of North America was meant to be controlled by the US.

The French founded the city of New Orleans in 1718. It was ceded to Spain in 1762 as part of the peace negotiations with Spain at the end of the Seven Years War. Only under Spanish domination did New Orleans begin to flourish and established an urban identity, becoming a center of trade. New Orleans was handed back to the French in 1800 after Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. He sold it to the United States in 1803.
With the increased prosperity came a desire by New Orleans’ well-to-do to patronize the arts. Since the city had no native artists, and no art school existed until the end of the 19th century, many of the artists who rose to prominence under Spanish rule were from Mexico. José Francisco Xavier Salazar y Mendoza was the best known of those artists and the most sought after for portraiture commissions at the time.
Originally from Mérida on the Yucatan in Mexico, Salazar and his family moved to Spanish-ruled New Orleans around 1782. Already an accomplished artist trained in the Spanish Rococo style, he received numerous commissions for portraits of prominent families and community leaders. Under his tutelage, his daughter Francisca became an artist and assisted him in his studio. He may have also been assisted by his brother.
This portrait of a prosperous gentleman reflects Salazar’s awareness of Spanish portraiture of the period. The emphasis in Rococo portraits was a subtle idealization of the subject’s features, emphasis on luxurious garments, and elegance of bearing that would reflect the status and refinement of the sitter. Like most Spanish Rococo portraits, the palette is somewhat darker than that in French and English portraits of the same period. The neutral background is similar to those seen in American portraits of the period. Not unusual for Spanish colonial painters at the time, most of Salazar’s canvases, like this one, were unsigned.

Compare this portrait to those of Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) in Spain at the same time:

Portrait of a Man in a Brown Coat. Oil on canvas.© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-1108)
Portrait of the Toreador José Romero, ca. 1795. Oil on canvas. © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2802)

Studio activity:  A portrait in clay. Sculpt a bust-length portrait or self-portrait using clay. Consider realistic proportions, try to show expression (happy or sad), and pay attention to detail. Notice that the eyes of a portrait are halfway between the top of the head and the chin. Make sketches of the portrait before beginning.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 1: 2.8; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.8, Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 2.7; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.1, 1.2; A Personal Journey: 3.2, 6.4; A Community Connection: 2.4; Exploring Visual Design: 3, 9; Discovering Art History: 11.5

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Chicago Artist

Art from Chicago is always dear to my heart because it is my hometown. I lived there during the very fertile artistic period of the 1970s and 1980s. There were gallery openings every Friday night on Huron Street and Superior Street, then full of galleries representing up-and-coming artists. The artists who particularly intrigued me were those who came into their own in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of those artists was Margaret Wharton.

Art in Chicago in the early 1970s had a strong Pop Art flavor. The Chicago School, as it was called, had a strong contingent of women artists. The “school” was characterized in general by funky, vital, and surreal imagery. Subject matter often related to current events or surreal visions of everyday objects. The work of many of the artists, Wharton included, was related in spirit to the Dada movement in Europe of between ca. 1916 and 1922. Dada emphasized the irrational in art and the transformation of the commonplace into bizarre, monumental works of art.

Wharton was trained at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Many of her teachers were active in the Chicago School, and they encouraged her highly personal vision. In 1973 she helped found the Artemisia Gallery, the first cooperative gallery for women artists in Chicago. Her earliest works were welded articles of clothing, influenced by the plaster works of Claes Oldenburg (born 1929). She also created small, enigmatic boxes reminiscent of the work of Surrealist Joseph Cornell (1903–1972).

She turned to the chair as a primary subject matter for some years beginning in 1975. While many Dada artists and 1960s artists had used chairs as a starting point and added to them, Wharton made sculptures only out of chairs. She sliced, cut, chopped, and deconstructed them, creating new and evocative forms. The titles were often suggestive of religious subjects, such as this piece.

To make Trinity, Wharton cut three chairs into segments and recombined them in limp form, belying their function. The limp nature was perhaps meant to signify the impotence of organized religion. The chair conveys a strong human presence, and no matter what transformation Wharton enacted on chairs, the object never completely strayed from its original form. Her work transcended found object works in that she transformed an everyday objects into sculpture with totemic impact.

Currently, Wharton’s work consists of sculptures created from a variety of found object. She continues to use chair parts in her work. Check out her latest work at her gallery representative: Jean Albano Gallery.

Studio activity:  Design a non-functional chair. Using markers, crayons or colored pencils, design a chair that would be a work of art rather than a chair in which to sit. Be sure to include details such as attached objects, the shape of the members of the chair (arms, legs, back, seat), and the colors of the design.