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