Monday, February 24, 2014

African-American History Month #3

Alvin Loving, Jr. (1935–2005, US), Mara C, 2003. Color offset lithograph and screenprint on paper, 70.8 x 54.6 cm (27 7/8” x 21 1/2”). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2014 Estate of Alvin Loving, Jr. (PMA-4193)

After the Harlem Renaissance (1920s–1930s) and World War II (1939–1945), African American artists continued to seek a way to emphasize the validity of African American art in the modern art world, which largely ignored them. There were two strains: those who believed that the art should reflect African American life and African heritage, and those who believed that an individual style, no matter its amount of “blackness,” could represent African American art. The group Spiral evolved in 1963 with both aesthetics coming together to encourage the continual evolution of African American art in both strains. Many African American artists who were young during the Harlem Renaissance sought expression in modernist terms, many of which were unique visions in American art. Ironically, the Spiral group petered out in 1965. The Civil Rights Movement revived the Harlem Renaissance ideal of black artists representing the black experience. Al Loving, Jr. preferred abstraction.

Loving is a member of a generation of African American artists who prefer abstraction as a means of expression. All the while, he interweaves his family history into his work. Born in Detroit, he received BAs and MFAs in fine art from the University of Illinois and University of Michigan.

Loving’s father was an educator and, ultimately, college dean, and his mother and grandmother were quilters. He was very influenced by his mother’s and grandmother’s work, watching them quilting as a child.

Despite the tradition of Spiral advocating that black artists should be free to express their aesthetic, in the late 1960s and early 1970s—in the light of the Civil Rights Movement—African American artists were under pressure to represent a uniquely black point of view. Loving chose abstraction, and turned to personal imagery to achieve that. His earliest works were hard-edge investigations of the cube, much like Othello Anderson.

Othello Anderson (born 1949, US), E1176, 1977. Acrylic on canvas, 183 x 183 cm (72” x 72”). Photo Davis Art Images © 2014 Othello Anderson. (8S-16707)

While Loving’s work of the 1970s links his work to the Hard Edge wing of Minimalism, he eventually came to favor the spatial explorations of op art. Mara C is a reference to his wife. This lithograph mimics pieces in which he applied layers of cut colored paper over a painted background. The undulating checkered background definitely reflects the influence of his mother’s and grandmother’s quilting. The organic shapes in the foreground remind the viewer that at one point, Loving would create works that were layers of painted paper.

Studio Activity: Look carefully at Loving’s work. Design a quilt that incorporates both organic and geometric shapes. Do not be hesitant to lay organic shapes over geometric, but emphasize the two-dimensional aspect of the design. Use crayons, colored pencils, watercolor, or gouache to achieve the design. Look at a number of different types of plants for inspiration for the organic part of the design. Do not limit the geometric part to squares, but experiment with triangles or even circles.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 4: 6:35; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.25; Experience Printmaking: 6, 8; The Visual Experience: 9.4

Monday, February 17, 2014

African-American History Month #2

Richard Mayhew (born 1925, US), North, 1969. Oil on canvas, 132 x 152 cm (52” x 60”). Private Collection. © 2014 Richard Mayhew. (8S-1604)
Richard Mayhew is one of my favorite artists because (hello!) he specializes in landscapes. He’s also been in the forefront of the effort to promote African American art without it having to express themes about African American life.

Mayhew was born on Long Island, New York to parents were both of mixed Native-American and African-American heritage. As a child his maternal grandmother taught him about the Shinnecock (people) reverence for nature. Mayhew attributes this as one of the key factors in his interest to paint landscapes. As a teenager he was also influenced by the landscapes of George Inness (1822–1898) and of the French impressionists and Barbizon school. He was impressed by their manipulation of pure color and light.
Mayhew, as one of the founding artists of the group Spiral in 1963, advocated that the artist's individual style was as valid of a statement to the African-American community as are allusions to African art or scenes of African-American life. He felt that if an artist's painting evoked some meaning to an African-American, then it was a valid statement of African-American art, even if it was abstract. The painting North provoked a jazz musician who viewed it to liken Mayhew's colors to the blues, a musical style developed by blacks.
North comes from a brief period in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Mayhew's work bordered on pure abstraction. It is also representative of his focus on how light and layering of color could create space. His landscapes are not painted from sketches or direct observation, but rather from memory. The bright pure colors heighten the romantic aspect of his landscapes and elevate them to symbols of reverence for nature.

Studio activity: Paint a hazy landscape. Using watercolors, gouache, or tempera, paint an imagined landscape in the style of Richard Mayhew. Pay attention to warm and cool colors, noticing that Mayhew—like many artists—uses warmer colors in the foreground (in this painting a yellow-green) with cool colors in the background. Warm colors tend to come forward visually, while cool colors tend to recede.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 4.21; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 4.21; Exploring Painting: 7, 11; Experience Painting: 6, The Visual Experience: 9.3

Monday, February 10, 2014

African-American History Month #1

Kermit Oliver (born 1943, US), K.J.’s Calf, 1975. Acrylic on Masonite, 61.9 x 121.9 cm (34 3/8 x 48”). Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, © 2014 Kermit Oliver. (MFH-854)

 I’m always excited when I learn about a new artist! I’d never heard of Kermit Oliver, but discovered his story when we acquired an image of his work from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. His work is so awesome, and, his history as an artist is truly unique!

Oliver was the first African-American artist to get a one-person show of his work in Houston. He studied art and education at Texas Southern University in Houston, and was mentored by the renowned African-American artist John Biggers (1924–1999). Although a working artist, Oliver never thought that his work would sell. He is a US Postal Service employee who works the night shift sorting mail. Growing up on a farm, he was affected by the slaughter of farm animals, which have become a major part of his subject matter.

Shelby Marcus, wife of Lawrence Marcus of the famed Nieman-Marcus department stores, discovered his work. When the French fashion house Hermes wanted designs for scarves with a southwest US theme, the Marcuses recommended Oliver. He is the only American who creates design for Hermes scarves.

K.J.’s Calf displays a particularly interesting aspect of his work. He often creates frames in different shapes, and then fills them with a painting. His frames often contain carved symbolism about the subject of the painting. This painting shows empathy for the subject based on his experiences growing up on a working farm. The isolation of the subject with emphasis on contrast of dark and light is fairly typical of his work. In many ways his works remind me of Andrew Wyeth’s works of rural realism.

Studio activity: Make an animal monoprint. Look at pictures of animals, and select one for subject matter. Using acrylic or gouache paint, create an image of the animal on a plastic or wooden surface. Press paper onto the wet paint to create the print. Emphasize texture and color in the painted surface. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to transfer the painting from the painted surface to the paper.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 2: 3.14; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 2.10, 5.25; Explorations in Art Grade 5: studio 21 and 22; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 2.12; Experience Painting: 5

Monday, February 3, 2014

One of the Forbearers of American Art

Since I moved to New England years ago, I have come to greatly to appreciate the rich history of our country. One of the most interesting aspects of realllllly early American art is the influence (naturally) of European Baroque and Rococo painting. Up until the late 1700s most painting in America consisted of portraits. Many of those painters were transplants from Britain looking to capitalize on the steadily growing prosperity of the middle class in America.

As prosperity increased in the American colonies, many artists migrated to profit from it. Many of the earliest works in American collections were prints that were copies of European and British art of the time. Eventually, these artists came in demand to produce actual oil paintings. In a sense, it was the verification by the colonial American middle class of being equal with their European counterparts.

Peter Pelham was an artist in London who specialized in producing print copies of illustrious British people. When he moved to America in 1727 (Boston), he immediately established a studio that produced prints of illustrious American citizens. He also produced painted portraits. While his style is somewhat in the stiff Baroque English aesthetic, he had a lasting influence of American painters in the burgeoning market for “classy” realistic portraiture. American artists of that period have produced a lasting historical record of early America and American values through their portraits.

American artists followed in the traditions introduced by artists such as Pelham, including John Singleton Copley (1738–1815), Pelham’s stepson. Copley had observed his stepfather copying portraits in various printmaking media, becoming a self-trained artist who went on to become one of the most illustrious painters of pre-Revolution America. Although it is doubtful that Copley learned directly from Pelhams’s hard-edged realism, it is obvious that artists such as Pelham steered the course for the subsequent domination of extreme realism in American painting.

Here’s Pelham’s mezzotint version of his own painting:

Portrait of Cotton Mather, first US engraving, 1727. Mezzotint on paper, printed area: 24.8 x 35 cm (9 3/4" x 13 3/4"). © American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA, Gift of T.W. Streeter. (AAS-6)
Mather was a controversial Puritan minister intimately involved in the notorious Salem witch trials. The mezzotint, from the same year as the painting, presents a considerably younger looking Mather.

Correlations to Davis Programs: Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.8; Explorations in Art Grade 3:P 1.1, 1.2, 1.3; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.1, 1.2; A Community Connection: 2.4