Monday, January 27, 2014

Change is Always Interesting

France, west façade jamb figures of kings and queens from Judah, Chartres Cathedral, ca. 1140–1150, main part of the church consecrated 1260. © Davis Art Images. (8S-12349)
Do you ever look at something you’ve seen a jillion times and suddenly have a renewed appreciation for its beauty? That happens to me all the time. While cataloging, I came across images from our collection of the jamb sculptures of Chartres Cathedral; probably among the most renowned in Western art history, and some of them the oldest existing examples of Early Gothic sculpture.
Chartres was built during the great church building boom of the late Middle Ages (ca. 1200–1400). It was under construction continuously from about 1134 to 1510, with the main body of the church being consecrated in 1260. The Gothic part of the church was built after a fire in 1194 destroyed the main church, but left these gorgeous sculptures intact on the west façade.

During the Romanesque period (ca. 1000–1200), sculpture of the human form, which was almost entirely religious (Christian) in subject matter, was abstracted because of the emphasis on the spiritual in art rather than physical reality. Romanesque sculpture was characterized by flattened, stylized, elongated forms, such as the image below of a trumeau (center post) sculpture from the Abbey Church in Moissac. Note how the feet seem to float against the colonette on which the figure is attached. 

The west portal figures from Chartres are much more convincingly depicted standing and are more detached from their colonettes. This change took place in the space of ten to fifteen years! While they still have the elongation of Romanesque sculpture, the drapery is more deeply carved and faces less stylized.

France, Abbey Church of Saint-Pierre, south porch trumeau figure of Prophet Jeremiah(?), ca. 1125–1130. © Hartill Art Associates, Alec / Marlene Hartill. (HAR-401)
Let’s go forward another 50 or so years at Chartres and see the figures from the south transept portal. They are even more deeply carved, and less a part of the colonettes in front of which they stand. The drapery almost seems to emulate ancient Roman sculpture. These figures are compellingly monumental and plastic compared to those from just 50 or 60 years earlier, with definite attention given by the artists to the physical mass of the human body (even though it’s covered in robes). I love doing comparisons like this! It shows that art is a living, growing thing!

Studio activity:  An early Gothic figure. On a thick piece of cardboard or thin piece of wood, form a long, narrow column of clay as if it were attached to a colonette at the doors of a Gothic cathedral. Keeping the back of the column flat against the board, round the front of it. Create a figure, male or female, emphasizing line using either clay carving tools, or a pencil. Choose whether a shallow relief is desired, or a more in-the-round figure. Remember to stylize elements such as drapery, facial features, gestures, and objects the figure might be holding. Update the clothing to the 21st century.

Correlations to Davis Programs: Explorations in Art Grade 4: 6.34; A Global Pursuit: 3.4; Discovering Art History: 8.1, 8.2; The Visual Experience: 15.7; Beginning Sculpture: 5

Monday, January 20, 2014

Color for a Winter Cheer Up

Piero Dorazio (1927–2005, Italy/US), Raw Spectrum, 1978. Oil on linen, 200 x 260 cm (6’ 5” x 8’ 6”). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2014 Piero Dorazio / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (AK-3068dzars)
What better way to enhance the long winter chill than to look at COLOR!

There has been a strong strain of modernism in Italian art since the early 1900s, when Italian artists adapted Cubism and added the idea of movement, which led to the eventual dissolution of form. After a brief flirtation with Fascist-imposed social realism, Italy again became a major center for artistic modernist experimentation in all media.

Dorazio studied architecture starting in 1945, but at the same time he produced his first abstract paintings. His early works were influenced by Cubism and the Italian offshoot of that movement, Futurism. He studied art in Paris in the late 1940s where he encountered all of the various strains of modernism, and also stayed for a time in the US, where he was exposed to the work of the Abstract Expressionists.
In 1947 Dorazio participated in the Italian modernist movement Forma 1, which advocated the free use of color and emphasized abstraction in Italian art. While Dorazio’s abstractions changed from his earliest work of free abstraction to geometric abstraction, he never lost his love of color. In 1960 he introduced into his work paintings that consisted of painted tape in geometric formations. 

Raw Spectrum, painted ten years after Ambaradam, shows the artist’s continued (thank goodness) abiding love of color harmonies. It also demonstrates a connection to Dorazio’s earlier influence by Cubism, and the visual movement of the piece is definitely in keeping with the spirit of Futurism’s emphasis on the dynamic possibilities of color. One can also see the influence of his tape paintings in the long, horizontal strips of neutral color.
Oval I, 1982. Oil on paper, 44.92 x 57.94 cm (17 11/16” x 22 13/16”). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2014 Piero Dorazio / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (AK-1535dzars)
This work is especially evocative of the movement that was stressed in Futurism. Another term for vigorous action that the Futurists used was “dynamism.”
Peaceful Solution, 1976–1977. Oil on canvas, 251.6 x 221 cm (99” x 87”). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2014 Piero Dorazio / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (AK-2248dzars)
Many of Dorazio’s works of the 1970s and 1980s also included those in which he incorporated thousands of small brush strokes of pure color. They create a visual vibration. Many Futurists also used a technique similar to this—called Pointilism (or Divisionism), which was developed by Post-Impressionist painters—in order to enhance the sense of movement in a painting. This work, I think, borders closely on Op Art because of its reliance on the viewer’s eye to discern shifting movement merely by which color is place next to another.

Studio Activity: Create a work with vibrating colors. Using the color wheel to ascertain complementary colors, use paint to make 2” x 2” squares in a variety of complementary colors in a range of intensity. Situate the squares in various patterns until they create a visual movement or rhythm. Observe how the colors seem to change when placed next to certain other colors.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 4: 6.35, Explorations in Art Grade 5: 3.15, Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.25, Exploring Visual Design 4, Exploring Painting 12

Friday, January 10, 2014

New Year New Art

Emily SandagataRaven, 2013
Robb SandagataAnders Contemplates the Void, 2013
To start off the new year, I present to you two young artists who we are now featured at the Davis Art Gallery in a dual exhibition entitled “Unearthed”: Emily and Robb Sandagata. Watch them talk about their work in an interview with Sue Swinand and read their biographies and artist statements to learn more about their processes.

I really like both artists’ work, not only because is it narrative, but—as an art historian—it is so evocative of interesting aspects of art movements from the past, while also being amazingly complex, thought-provoking, and novel. Emily’s work puts me in mind of works by such artists as Robert Rauschenberg in his “combine paintings” that transcended both sculpture and painting in the use of found objects. Robb’s work makes me think back to the Hairy Hoo, the Chicago Imagists who pioneered a completely original form of Pop art in the 1970s, in the works of such artists as Ray Yoshida and Karl Wirsum.

Both artists examine materials and images that question what is beautiful. And yet, the complexity of their works is truly beautiful, and fascinating! I find myself getting lost within their works every time I examine them.  

Robb and Emily are both artists and art educators. Robb is now the Digital Production Manager for Davis Publications. Emily teaches middle school and elementary school art at
The Pike School in Andover, Mass.

Robb SandagataGrowing it Out, 2013
Emily SandagataRefusal, 2012
“Unearthed” runs through 7 February, 2014. The Davis Art Gallery is located in the Printers Building in downtown Worcester, Mass., at 44 Portland Street.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 4: 6.31-32, Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.4, Exploring Visual Design: 1, 6, A Personal Journey: 9.6; A Global Pursuit: 8.3, The Visual Experience: 16.8, Discovering Art History: 17.6