Archive | February, 2013

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28 Feb

 

 

 

 

 

 

Painting of the Day

28 Feb

Houses at Auvers. by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Oil on canvas, 1890. Currently on view at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Notes from mfa.org:

In May 1890, van Gogh moved from the south of France to Auvers, northwest of Paris, painting many of his finest pictures there in a feverish spurt of activity before his suicide in July. Houses at Auvers shows the landscape of early summer. The view from above creates a flattened tapestry of shapes in which the tiled and thatched roofs of the houses form a mesmerizing patchwork of color.

My comments:

I’m not the biggest fan of van Gogh, but I think this painting is really wonderful. I would call it one of the best works I’ve seen by him. He has very  finger-like brushstrokes that flicker on the canvas like flames. Although patterning is an important feature of almost any painting, it’s usually more subtle than the patterning we can see her. There are blocks of color that act like lily pads that you could hop to from the foreground in the painting all the way to the back, even into the sky.

But if anyone had only seen computer images of van Gogh paintings all their life without seeing any in person, they would be only half able to take in all that is a van Gogh painting, for the texture and thickness of van Gogh’s paint application is incredibly unique and acts as a huge deciding factor in the analysis of the artwork. Here it’s pretty hard to see the thickness of the artist’s brushstrokes, but if you could imagine it, it gives the painting a whole new restless energy.

In this painting van Gogh does not juxtapose as many complementary color blocks as he does in other paintings such as The Night Cafe and Still Life with Crows. Because of this it makes the painting have a more pleasant and less frightening tone. It makes it interesting that this painting came in the last year of van Gogh’s life. Although by this point he had moved away from the asylum and into a commune near his doctor and Theo, I don’t think it necessarily meant van Gogh was feeling better psychologically. Having read a huge biography on him by Gregory White-Smith and Steven Naifeh (which I reviewed on this blog), I don’t think that van Gogh was ever in a state of mind where he was not clinically insane, except for maybe early childhood. So while this painting looks fairly happy in tone and might be expected to be produced by a put-together, content person, I remain suspicious. It was probably made during one of van Gogh’s manic episodes, as he often appeared in his life to go through periods of great happiness and others of great depression. No matter what his mood, however, he was always frenetically painting. And demanding money from Theo.

Painting of the Day

27 Feb

Mermaid. by Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Oil on canvas, 1896. On view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Notes from philamuseum.org:

Edvard Munch painted Mermaid during an extended stay in Paris in 1896-97, upon receiving a commission for a large-scale decorative work from Axel Heiberg, a Norwegian industrialist. This striking image of a mermaid in the process of transforming into a woman reflects the artist’s interest in Symbolism (an artistic and literary movement aimed at eliciting emotional responses from the viewer or reader) and in the themes of metamorphosis, desire, and anxiety. Munch devised the picture’s unique trapezoidal format in response to Heiberg’s intention to hang the mural just below the sloping rafters of a stair hall in his home in Lysaker, Norway.

Edvard Munch painted Mermaid, his first decorative work, in Paris in the summer of 1896, at a time of great intellectual and artistic exploration for him. Like other avant-garde artists associated with the international Symbolist style, Munch was interested in depicting the emotions and fears of the human psyche. Themes of metamorphosis, anxiety, and desire imbue this large-scale mural, designed to fit under the sloping rafters of a great hall in the home of the industrialist and collector Axel Heiberg in Lysaker, Norway. The trapezoidal painting shows a beguiling mermaid lingering in a moonlit cove, seemingly in the process of transforming into a woman. She recalls Norse myths of mermaids as melancholy beings who love humans but cannot live comfortably on land. Munch was likely influenced by these traditional stories and by Lady from the Sea, a play by the great Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen that opens with a scene of an artist painting a mermaid in the brackish water of the shore.

My comments:

Munch is so well known for his multiple versions of The Scream that I think his other work, which is equally as beautiful in my opinion, unfortunately gets overshadowed. Munch’s way of depicting the female body is, in my opinion, absolutely gorgeous. I immensely prefer it to Renoir’s very chubby, larger than life women. The mermaid is an interesting subject that doesn’t get depicted that often, and the trapezoidal shape of the canvas is an even rarer occurrence. This makes this painting very unusual in so many aspects. Even its depiction of the female figure is unusual, because he portrays it as thinner and less soft than artists of his time and before.

But in this painting, the frame really focuses the viewer’s eye on the mermaid, for there is little open space to which our eyes could wander. So it becomes a very intimate psychological interaction with this lone mermaid, whose loneliness is exemplified by the fact that she’s in between the world of the humans and the world of the mermaid since she’s currently in metamorphosis. She’s not fully mermaid or fully human, so she doesn’t belong to either group.

The formal layout of the image is also a bit mysterious, because we can see a ghost line near the moon in the picture where it looks like Munch had originially placed the horizon line. The finished picture, however, has the horizon line lower down in the picture plane. There would have been much less space if Munch had kept the horizon line at the original place, and the image would look radically strange with such a combination of different perspectives. But Munch wasn’t interested in creating this sort of eye-catching formal choice, which implies that he wanted more attention to be placed on the symbolic meaning behind the mermaid’s narrative rather than making a sort of witty comment on the nature of art and painting as “a lie that tells the truth,” as Picasso said. I think that he made the right choice, because the allegory that he chose to use for the idea of lack of sold identity and isolation is an unusual and refreshing one.

Painting of the Day

26 Feb

 

 

 

Check In, Check Out - Michael BellThe N and the R - Michael Bell

Check in, Check Out (top painting) and The N and the R (bottom painting).by Michael Bell (born 1971). Oil on canvas, 2008-2010.

Notes from wikipaintings.org:

In “Ticket to Ride” Michael Bell created a cinematic painting series as a journey through one woman’s harrowing search for redemption, only nothing inspires redemption quite like revenge.

“Check In, Check Out” is the eigth of nine large-format mixed-media paintings that is a mirror image of Scene 2, “Room Service”, only the hotel room is completely cleaned up now.  Each painting ranges from emotionally-driven portraits as allegories reminiscent of dramatic film-stills to dark, ambiguous hotel room scenes and metropolitan landscapes on 60″ X 60″ canvases overlaid with mixed-media subway maps painted into the background of each work.

Bell’s narrative strategy is for the viewer to question how much of Ticket to Ride is just a dream, and how much is rooted in reality. Its major movement is the journey taken by an Italian Femme Fetale that begins on a New York City subway platform awaiting her metaphorical “train” and her journey continues — painting by painting — like a roller coaster ride through her mind.

In the end, the littered hotel room scene from Work 2 is mirrored with an empty hotel room scene in Work 8. The final scene (Work 9) brings the viewer full circle to the same Femme fetale on the subway platform in Work 1, to make us wonder, “Was this all just a dream or a foreshadowing of events to come?” On some level – visually and psychologically – every scene shimmers with unreality from one painting to the next like pieces to a puzzle or clues to a crime, only Bell’s work compels the viewer to participate in the ambiguity of the drama.

My comments:

I’m showing two paintings today because frankly I’m ready to move on to some new works. But the narrative ends on a disquieting note. As viewers we feel confused about whether what we just watched was real or imagined or foreshadowed, and it is ultimately an unsatisfying story. Since it was implied in the 6th painting that we the viewers were the ones who died, it’s now ambiguous as to whether we are actually dead or alive (within the narrative, of course; obviously we’re still alive). So why make a completely mysterious story? It may be an allegory for Bell’s opinion that art is open to interpretation and that there is no set answer about any artwork. We discussed this very question in my Art History first-year seminar last semester, as we tried to figure out where the truth about a painting comes from. Does it strictly come from the artist’s intentions, and as critical analyzers of art we should be concerned with discovering the artist’s intention? But if the subconscience exists, is it valid to analyze paintings based on what we think the artist’s inner psyche may be revealing? Or does an artwork’s truth come not from an artist’s intent, but from how it interacts with viewers, in which case an artwork will have a different but valid meaning for every viewer?

After having a few art history classes now and working on my own art, I do find that art reveals things about yourself that you may not have been thinking about. But I also know that having art historical knowledge makes an experience of an artwork so much more richer and learned. So I think there is a combination of both artist’s intent and artist’s inner psychology in developing a cogent interpretation of an artwork. But I also think that really coming up with a plausible reading of the artist’s subconscience can only come after studying that artist very deeply. There’s no way the first-time Picasso viewer would be able to understand the inner feelings of Picasso better than the scholars who have studied him for their entire lives. People might talk about the virtue of “virginal” eyes that are untainted by years of looking at so many artworks and how this is a fresh perspective that makes no assumptions, but I am of the mind, based on my own experience of remembering what it was like to know nothing about art and see it versus knowing what I do now (which isn’t a lot but still much more than I did before), that more experience with art ultimately trumps less experience.

Painting of the Day

25 Feb

The Meadows - Michael Bell

The Meadows. by Michael Bell (born 1971). Oil on canvas, 2009-10.

Notes from wikipaintings.org:

In “Ticket to Ride” Michael Bell created a cinematic painting series as a journey through one woman’s harrowing search for redemption, only nothing inspires redemption quite like revenge.

“The Meadows” is the seventh of nine large-format mixed-media paintings that range from emotionally-driven portraits as allegories reminiscent of dramatic film-stills to dark, ambiguous hotel room scenes and metropolitan landscapes on 60″ X 60″ canvases overlaid with mixed-media subway maps painted into the background of each work.

Bell’s narrative strategy is for the viewer to question how much of Ticket to Ride is just a dream, and how much is rooted in reality. Its major movement is the journey taken by an Italian Femme Fetale that begins on a New York City subway platform awaiting her metaphorical “train” and her journey continues — painting by painting — like a roller coaster ride through her mind.

Work 7 (The Meadows) takes us to the ominous marshes of the New Jersey Meadowlands. It’s there where we’re left with an unsettling landscape of an abandoned Taxi Cab, its trunk popped open in the marshes against the backdrop of the New York City skyline at daybreak.

My comments:

Not much has happened in the narrative since the last painting, where we watched the woman and taxi cab driver staring at us, the viewers, in the trunk of the car. In this painting, the dramatic cropping of the car leaves us with a giant cliff-hanger. What is in the trunk, if anything? Where did the woman and taxi driver go? Did they just abandon this car in the meadow? At this point in the story of these paintings, The Meadows appears very sinister and creepy, but I don’t think it would if I had seen it by itself without seeing any of the other paintings.

 

Painting of the Day

24 Feb

LESSING_ART_10310751621

Altarpiece of the Holy Blood (Wings Open). by Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531). Limewood and glass, c.1499-1505. Currently on view at the Church of St. James, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.

Notes from Stokstad & Cothren’s Art History, 4th edition:

The main panel of the altarpiece portrays the moment at the Last Supper when Christ revealed that one of his followers would betray him. Unlike Leonardo da Vinci, who chose the same moment, Riemenschneider puts Judas at center stage and Jesus off-center at the left. The disciples sit around the table. As the event is described in the Gospel of John (13:21-30), Jesus extends a morsel of food to Judas, signifying that he will be the traitor who sets in motion the events leading to the Crucifixion. One apostle points down, a strange gesture until we realize that he is pointing to the crucifix in the predella, to the relic of Christ’s blood, and to the altar table, the symbolic representation of the table of the Last Supper and the tomb of Christ.

Rather than creating individual portraits of the apostles, Riemenschneider repeated a limited number of facial types. His figures have large heads, prominent features, sharp cheekbones, sagging jowls, baggy eyes, and elaborate hair with thick wavy locks and deeply drilled curls. The muscles, tendons, and raised veins of hands and feet are also especially lifelike. His assistants and apprentices copied these faces and figures, either from drawings or from three-dimensional models made by the master. In the altarpiece, deeply hollowed folds create active patterns in the voluminous draperies whose strong highlights and dark shadows harmonize the figural composition with the intricate carving of the framework. The Last Supper is set in a “real” room contain actual benches for the figures. Windows in the back wall are glazed with bull’s eye glass so that natural light shines in from two directions to illuminate the scene, producing changing effects depending on the time of day and the weather. Although earlier sculpture had been painted and gilded, Riemenschneider introduced the use of a natural wood finish toned with varnish. This meant that details of both figures and environment had to be carved into the wood itself, not quickly added later with paint. Since this required more skillful carvers and more time for them to carve, this new look was a matter of aesthetics, not cost-saving.

My comments:

This enormous thirty-foot altarpiece possesses such intricate decorative accoutrement that the putative focus of the work, the Last Supper, feels overshadowed by it. The lack of individualization in the faces of the apostles and Jesus in the Last Supper scene adds to its engulfment by everything around it.

This work is an especially good example of when photographic reproductions simply cannot communicate the effect that the artist would have intended for this work. But I can imagine that the person who walks up to the altarpiece would feel quite overwhelmed by the ornate patterning that weaves throughout the entire artwork. One import aspect of drawing that we discuss in my Studio Art course is patterning, and it applies very well to this three-dimensional work as well. Even in the human figures, one can see the twisting, well-defined lines in the folds of the fabric of the robes that the apostles wear. This is also visible in their thick, ropelike strands of hair. This patterning serves to make what could have been a cumbersomely large and unwieldy piece of wood carving into a unified, very balanced composition. Despite its gargantuan size, the altarpiece does not inspire fear or uneasiness, and this is precisely because of its compositional symmetry and consistent patterning.

But because of the positioning of the Last Supper scene, which would be at the eye level of the viewer who stands in front of it, the artist refocuses our attention on the religious significance that he wants to express with his monumental altarpiece. Even after our eyes are guided upward by the intertwined lines that travel up from the Last Supper scene, Riemenschneider added another Christ figure near the top of the altarpiece. Even while viewers might have been taken away by the incredible artistry of the piece, Riemenschneider makes sure to remind them that at the end of the day, everything is for the glory of God.

Painting of the Day

23 Feb

Unfinished Business - Michael Bell

Unfinished Business. by Michael Bell (born 1971). Oil on canvas, 2009-2010.

Notes from wikipaintings.org:

In “Ticket to Ride” Michael Bell created a cinematic painting series as a journey through one woman’s harrowing search for redemption, only nothing inspires redemption quite like revenge.

“Unfinished Business” is the sixth of nine large-format mixed-media paintings that range from emotionally-driven portraits as allegories reminiscent of dramatic film-stills to dark, ambiguous hotel room scenes and metropolitan landscapes on 60″ X 60″ canvases overlaid with mixed-media subway maps painted into the background of each work.

Bell’s narrative strategy is for the viewer to question how much of Ticket to Ride is just a dream, and how much is rooted in reality. Its major movement is the journey taken by an Italian Femme Fetale that begins on a New York City subway platform awaiting her metaphorical “train” and her journey continues — painting by painting — like a roller coaster ride through her mind.

In Unfinished Business we’re taken to the ominous marshes of the New Jersey Meadowlands where the Italian Femme Fetale from Scenes 1, 4 and 5 and the artist (the Taxi Driver from Scene 5) are seen peering into the trunk of the Taxi at us, the viewer.

My comments:

As the narrative develops in this series of paintings, it becomes more ominous, more creepy, and more abstract. This painting is, in my opinion, the creepiest painting in the series, both in its style and in the implications of its narrative. The style of the painting, which I admire because I can’t tell how the artist could have done it, makes the image look as if we’re seeing it through shattered glass. This brings up the question of whether this shattered glass is all over us as the taxi driver and woman look at us in the trunk of the taxi. This makes me wonder why it is us in the trunk of the taxi. It sort of implies that we are the person who has been murdered and that the woman and the taxi driver are now looking at our dead body in the taxi trunk. It’s a very scary twist that reminds me of that movie “The Sixth Sense,” where the protagonist doesn’t understand why he sees dead people and then realizes that he is dead himself.

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