Monday, August 26, 2013

Beauty in Syria

Syria, Mosque Lamp, 1300s. Blown glass with enamel and gold leaf decoration, height: 18 cm (7”). © Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-2212)

Considering the unfortunate circumstances in Syria and Egypt presently, I thought I would present some art from that region to show what beautiful things have come out of Syria and Egypt. I often wonder if troubles in the Middle East don’t stem from the fact that the borders of “countries” of Islam were so fluid historically. They were only established in the 1800s and 1900s as the result of European colonization. This mosque lamp is a perfect example of the fluidity of influence of certain periods of ruling dynasties that spanned large sections of the Middle East. How can one make borders for one country that for centuries has experienced multiple cultural, linguistic, and artistic impacts?

The Mamluk dynasty controlled most of Egypt, western Saudi Arabia, and the west coast of the Middle East from ca. 1250 to 1517. Because imagery of humans or animals was discouraged by the Qur’an (the Muslim holy book), decorative arts with non-figurative designs flourished during the middle period in art of Islamic countries (ca. 1000–1400).
Blown glass objects decorated with gold leaf and enamel reached their most refined point during the Mamluk period.

Glass-blowing had been an established art form in the Middle East, and especially Egypt, since the 3rd millenium (2000s) BCE. The art form itself is thought to have originated in the Middle East. The foot and the body of this vessel were blown separately, the foot being attached to the bowl while it was still molten. Vessels such as this lamp were hung from the ceiling of mosques, mausoleums, and palaces from chains. The glow of such a lamp symbolized divine light, the eternal presence of God. Often such lamps were decorated with calligraphy that quoted the Qur’an.

The sophisticated glass art of Egypt, and subsequently Syria, was a major influence on the growing industry of glass blowing in Venice at the time. Venice was one of the major ports for trade with countries in the Islamic world, and countries of Islamic faith exported glass wares such as vases, candle holders, bowls, and lamps. This lamp is unique as it is one of the few still containing its original wick.
Unknown artist, Mamluk Period, Egypt, Mosque Lamp, 1310–1320. Mold-blown glass, enameled, and gilt; height: 27.5 cm (10 7/8"), diameter: 20 cm (7 7/8"). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-1388)
Check out another mosque lamp, this one from Egypt. The inscription in Thuluth script attributes this vessel as a donation for a fortress-monastery by the official Karim al-Din.

Correlations to Davis programs: A Personal Journey: 4.5; A Global Pursuit: 3.1; The Visual Experience: 10.9, 14.2; Exploring Visual Design: 1; Discovering Art History: 4.7

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pop Art, Again!

Patrick Caulfield (1936–2006, Britain), Bathroom Mirror, 1968. Screenprint, 71 x 93.2 cm (27 15/16" x 36 11/16"). Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2013 Estate of Patrick Caulfield / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-P4500clfars)

While American art was “discovering” abstraction in the years immediately following World War II (1939–1945), Britain was exploring new territory. Their experience with abstraction had evolved before the war in works by artists such as Henry Moore (1898–1986), Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975), and Ben Nicholson (1894–1982). One territory British artists explored as early as 1952 was the burgeoning commercial culture that exploded after the war. Like the later philosophical debate in American Pop Art in the early 1960s, there was a debate about what constituted “fine art” between British abstractionists and realist artists who looked to the massive amount of subject matter available from advertising, comic books, product design, and mundane aspects of everyday life.

The so-called Independent Group (including Richard Hamilton (1922–2011), John McHale (1922–1978), Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005), and William Turnbull (1922–2012)), starting in 1952, debated the legitimacy of popular culture as fine art subject, but eventually evolved into a group of thinkers and artists who hailed it as a sort of new paradigm, representing everyday life in a more effective and immediate way than any previous genre painting could.

Patrick Caulfield studied in London, graduating a year after most of the artists who are considered the originators of Pop Art. He adopted a technique that emulated sign painting with flat shapes and basic black outline, eliminating any personal “signature” in brush stroke or subjective connection with subjects from everyday life. Like many Pop artists in America, he preferred the screenprint medium because it eliminated any reference to personal gesture.

By the late 1960s he was producing works that are reminiscent of Photorealism/New Realism in the same stripped-down style. Bathroom Mirror is an interesting exploration of an everyday interior stripped of all but the barest elements, and yet highly evocative and recognizable as an element of modern culture. In my mind, this work is the poster child for the element of art contour line.

Caulfield, Café Sign, 1968. Screen print. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, © 2013 Estate of Patrick Caulfield / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-P4501clfars)

One of the artists who pioneered Pop Art in Britain, Richard Hamilton, defined it in 1957 as Popular (designed for a mass audience), transient (short-lived interest), low cost, mass produced, and youth-aimed. Here are some of his works:

Richard Hamilton, Glorious Techniculture, 1961–1964. Oil and collage on panel, 122.9 x 122.9 cm (48 3/8" x 48 3/8"). Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2013 Estate of Richard Hamilton / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-P1113haars)
Richard Hamilton, Swinging London 67, 1968–1969. Silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 67.3 x 85.1 cm (26 1/2" x 33 1/2"). Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2013 Estate of Richard Hamilton / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-P1587haars)

Edouardo Paolozzi was also an influential artist in the Pop art movement in Britain. Originally starting out with collages of advertising and comic characters, he eventually came to focus on sculpture that reflected industrial mass production.

Edouardo Paolozzi, No. 4 Protocol – Sentences, collage study for “Universal Electronic Vacuum,” 1967. Cut-and-pasted printed paper and pencil on graph paper, 104.1 x 71.1 cm (41" x 28"). Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2013 Estate of Edouardo Paolozzi / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-P3581pzars)
Edouardo Paolozzi, Lotus, 1964. Welded aluminum, 226.1 x 92.3 x 91.6 cm (89" x 36 3/8" x 36"). Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2013 Estate of Edouardo Paolozzi / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-S0145pzars)

American artists who remind me of Caulfield:

Robert Cottingham (born 1935), Blues, 1989. Aquatint, 67 x 66 cm (26 3/8" x 26"). Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH. © 2013 Robert Cottingham (BIAA-286)
Lichtenstein (1923–1997), Interior with Mobile, 1992. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 330.2 x 434.4 cm (130” x 171"). Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2013 Estate of Roy Lichtenstein  (MOMA-P1257)

Studio activity: Do a simple drawing of an everyday space. Use a pencil or felt tip pen. Reduce the space to contour lines. Contour lines define the outline of objects and details within the objects without defining shadows or volume. Try doing a drawing of a detail of a room simply in contour lines so that the composition appears abstract.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 1.4; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 6.34; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 2.7-8 studio; The Visual Experience: 16.7

Monday, August 12, 2013

Art at the Beach

Tom Wesselmann  (1931–2004, United States), Seascape, from the portfolio “Edition 68,” 1968. Screenprint on paper, sheet: 60.9 x 59.9 cm (24" x 23 9/16"). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2013 Estate of Tom Wesselmann / Licensed by VAGA, New York. (MOMA-P3312wsvg)
This week I present you with one of the more witty aspects of Pop Art. Pop Art parodied American culture in all of its aspects. Naturally, beach culture and tanning would be one of them. And naturally, in Tom Wesselmann’s aesthetic, he’s not going to show a hairy male ankle and foot sticking in the sky. Too much detail to deal with!

Like other artists of the Pop Art movement, Wesselmann began his training as a comic artist, first in Cincinnati and then in New York. Although influenced by Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997, United States), Wesselmann worked in a style of simple, flat areas of color that have the spirit of comic-book art, with minimal shading and formal concerns. Like Lichtenstein’s work, they reflect the flat, generalized coloring of billboards, posters, and other popular culture advertisement.

Roy Lichtenstein, Girl with Ball, 1961. Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 153 x 91.9 cm (60 1/4" x 36 1/8"). Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2013 Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. (MOMA-P2959)

What is interesting about Wesselmann’s work is the goal. Is he objectifying women, like Playboy did? Or is he simply reflecting that objectification in American society during the 1960s? In a (much) broader sense, is he reflecting the new power of women in American society, albeit in crass terms? Anyone who knows Wesselmann’s work knows about his aggrandizing of elements of the female anatomy. In this is he saying something about the American obsession with sexuality? It certainly looks that way if you review his Great American Nude series. In that series, he often surrounds the nude with consumer items, in keeping with the Pop Art aesthetic.

I like Wesselmann’s “Seascape” series because it is the least offensive objectification of women. He obviously redefined seascape.

What is interesting to me, as a painter, is the way he reinterprets the subject matter to conform to his chosen genre, e.g. the female form. There are many artists who take traditional subjects and mold them to fit their objective interest. In essence, he projects a symbol of a seascape that is entirely new.

Sylvia Sleigh (1916–2010, Wales/United States) was interested in reinterpreting the Western ideal of the female nude by painting numerous male nudes with extreme detail. She often used religious and ancient mythological sources as her jumping off point:

Annunciation: Paul Rosano, 1975. Oil on canvas, 229 x 132 cm (90 1/8" x 52"). Photo courtesy of the artist. © 2013 Estate of Sylvia Sleigh. (8S-18364)

Studio activity: Represent a physical location—such as a city, countryside, mountain range, etc.—with a symbolic drawing. Using colored pencils, think of a place of importance (such as Mount Rushmore), and create a work of art that sums up the location with one symbolic object. For instance, Mount Rushmore could be symbolized by a depiction of the White House, since all four faces on Mount Rushmore were presidents. A hometown artwork could symbolize a school, a city hall, the police, or the location of the town. Do a drawing first in pencil, sketch out the plan, and then fill it in with colored pencil.

Correlations to Davis programs:  The Visual Experience: 16.7, Discovering Art History:  17.2

Monday, August 5, 2013

Fashion and Society

Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle (1717–1806, France), Mademoiselle d’Azincourt, 1759. Watercolor, 27 x 22.2 cm (10 5/8” x 8 3/4”). © Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. (AK-799) 
I’ve talked about fashion relating to politics. This entry will relate to society at the time of one of the most outlandish periods in fashion (well, maybe not compared to Punk in the late 1970s and 1980s, which, interestingly was a reaction to society in the opposite direction, protesting the “luxury” of the middle class).

This image comes from a large series of small watercolors Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle did of members of the French court immediately preceding the Revolution (1789–ca. 1798). Carmontelle was an artist, theater designer, architect, and landscape designer who designed the first “landscape garden,” the Parc Monceau, in Paris, upon which some of Versailles’ late gardens were based. From humble origins, he rose to serve members of the lesser nobility and produced portraits of dozens of famous people he met. His watercolor and ink sketches of these fashionable people usually took only two hours for him to complete. 

Fashion reached new heights of ridiculous ornament, size, and complexity in France between the 1750s and the 1780s. When the ancient Roman city of Pompeii began to be excavated in earnest in 1748, it elicited an excitement for ancient Roman, and hence Greek, art and introduced Europeans (and ultimately Americans) to the ideas of the ancient republics. This coincided with the increasing rise of the middle class in Europe. In reaction to “democratic” ideas, fashion went the other way. The French nobility sought to express their superiority through over-the-top fashion and life-styles. Let’s see some other ridiculous notions of “chic” from the period.

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749–1803, France), The Vicomtesse de Gand, 1787. Pastel on blue paper, 55 x 46 cm (21 5/8" x 18 1/8"). © The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. (NGA-P0988)
This entitled young woman parades around in a ridiculous wig surmounted by an even more ridiculous hat. Wigs had become fashionable in France around 1700 after the king Louis XIV went bald, and the fashion spread throughout the Western world (including America, Central, and South America). Some were so outlandishly high that they had hinges so that wearers could go through doorways.

François Boucher (1703–1770 France), Madame Bergeret, 1746. Oil on canvas, 142.9 x 105.1 cm (56 1/4" x 41 3/8")/ © The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. (NGA-P0327)
Imagine tooling around the garden picking blooms in this wide load. She should wear a red flag on the back! Side hoops (paniers) increased in width during the first half of the 1700s. Then classicism and a faux “of the people” fashion for classically inspired garb took over. A little too late to stall the French Revolution.

Here’s Marie Antoinette’s “shepherdess” look:

Attributed to Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755–1842, France), Marie-Antoinette, ca. 1783. Oil on canvas, 92.7 x 73.1 cm (36 1/2" x 28 7/8"). National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. (NGA-P0681)

Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825, France), Portrait of Jacques-François Desmaisons, 1782. Oil on canvas, 91.44 x 72.39 cm (36" x 28 1/2"). © Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-282)
Men also “overdressed.” This guy is David’s uncle, an architect and contractor. Imagine working at a drawing board in this get-up, complete with silly wig. Fur trim on a frock coat, where it can provide no warmth, was a concession to luxury, and a status symbol, of course.

Here are some examples from other countries that adopted the luxurious dress of the French upper class:

Rad hair in England:
Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788, Britain), Miss Linley (Later Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan), ca. 1775. Oil on canvas, 76.2 x 63.5 cm (30" x 25"). Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-1256)
Nice paniers in England:
Arthur Devis (1712–1787, Britain), Portrait of Lady Juliana Penn, 1752. Oil on canvas, 91.8 x 79.1 cm (36 1/8" x 31 1/8"). Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-3837)

An elite Mexican who obviously had no day job:
Miguel Cabrera (1695–1768, Mexico), Don Juan Joachín Gutiérrez Altamirano Velasco, ca 1752. Oil on canvas, 206 x 136 cm (81 1/16" x 53 1/2"). Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-157)

A Puerto Rican upper-class woman who hadn't gotten the news about the impending revolution in France:
José Campeche y Jordán (1751–1809), Doña Maria Catalina de Urrutia, 1788. Oil on wood panel, 52 x 28.6 cm (20 1/2" x 11 1/4"). Museo de Arte de Ponce, Ponce, Puerto Rico. (PON-3)
The Swiss upper class notoriously aped the French court styles. This guy was a Swiss lawyer, writer, and art collector:
Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702–1789, Switzerland), François Tronchin, 1757. Pastel on parchment, 38 x 46.3 cm (15" x 18 1/4"). Cleveland Museum of Art. (CL-45)
Studio activity:  Design an outfit or uniform that reflects personal tastes or the characteristics of a friend or other person. Make a cardboard figure on which to attach the finished outfit. Use markers or colored pencils to design the outfit on paper. Cut out the outfit and attach it to the cardboard figure cutout. Make studies of the costume before committing it to the paper, and try to design an outfit that reflects personal values or an exaggerated sense of someone’s personality.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 1: 2.8, 5.30, 6.33, 6.34; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.8; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.3; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 6.32; A Personal Journey: 3.1