Jasper Johns

I found out that Jasper Johns has new work on exhibit at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) and got all kinds of excited. And since I touched on artists who work and find success well into their advanced years recently (Maria Lassnig) I thought I would provide another example an artist pursuing his craft well inot his twilight years instead of retiring.

Jasper Johns is mostly known for his richly worked paintings of maps, flags, and targets that led the artistic community away from Abstract Expressionism toward a renewed emphasis on concrete subjects. But today the 83-year-old Jasper Johns is still hard at work and recently made two paintings, two etchings and 10 works on paper in a variety of media, all of which are variations on a photograph of artist Lucian Freud that appeared in a Christie’s catalogue, originally commissioned by Francis Bacon. While Johns does own a painting by Freud, he never met the artist himself, and only met Bacon once via telephone interview; Johns says all inspiration for the series came from the Christie’s photograph, not Freud or Bacon.  When asked how the works evolved Johns answers with, “It just began… There were drawings that were studies for paintings. I also knew I wanted to do a print, and so it went back and forth between printing, drawing, and painting.”

“Regrets” 2013. An altered photo from a Christie’s catalogue.

In the photo a younger, Freud, then in his 30s, sits perched on a bed raising an arm to hide his face. British photographer John Deakin took it around 1964 as part of a series commissioned by Francis Bacon, wanting to use the images as source material for his own paintings. Over the years, Bacon took that photograph of Freud on the bed and folded it, tore it and creased it until a pronounced dark patch dominated its foreground. Eventually Christie’s got a hold of the tattered image and shortly after Johns saw it in their auction catalog. The photo became the focal point of his latest project, inspiring him frays, creases, black patch, and all.

But in true Post-Pop fashion, Johns tore the image out of the magazine rather then buy it himself, and proceeded to trace, copy, mark up and in all possible ways obscure it into near abstraction. He also played with the negative of the dark patch to contrast the positive space, all while incorporating layers of his signature themes like crosshatching, numbers, gray palette and wire mesh. A signature of his work is simplicity that downplays the elaborate nature of his working process.

Ok, so now for a little history on Johns. A native of the South, Jasper Johns was born in Augusta in 1930, and raised in South Carolina. From the young age of five he knew he was going to be an artist. He attended college at the University of South Carolina at Columbia for three years, leaving for New York in 1948 at his art teachers’ insistence he move there. Johns attended the Parsons School of Design for a semester and saw numerous exhibitions during this period. For a period of two years  he served in the army during the Korean War, stationed in South Carolina and Sendai, Japan, only to once again return to New York in 1953. Johns soon became friends with the artist Robert Rauschenberg (born 1925), also a Southerner, and with the composer John Cage and the choreographer Merce Cunningham. During the mid-1950s, Johns along with Rauschenberg joined up with several Abstract Expressionist painters of the previous generation, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Barnett Newman to name a few.

“White Flag” 1955

During this time Johns grew frustrated with the results of Abstract Expressionism deciding that improv painting had arrived to all possible conclusions; or at least he appeared to become bored with where the technique was heading. Ever the control freak, Johns refocused on the the deliberate abstraction of widely available concrete subjects like printed media, or as he explains “things the mind already knows.” He became famous for repurposing quotidian icons of American culture; such as flags, targets, stenciled numbers, ale cans, and, slightly later, maps of the U.S especially the American flag during the 50s.  The difference between  Johns’ new painting style and Abstract Expressionism is that Johns stressed conscious control rather than spontaneity thus revolutionizing the allover compositional techniques of Abstract Expressionism. Johns’s new style engendered a number of subsequent art movements, among them Pop, Minimal, and Conceptual art. Johns’ early style is perfectly exemplified by the reserved, but lush large monochrome encaustic painting White Flag of 1955. The simplicity of this piece understates the meticulous and great amount of work Johns put into the piece rendered of beeswax on cotton panels he stretched himself.

Throughout his career, Johns incorporated certain marks and shapes into his art that clearly display their derivation from factual, unimagined things in the world, including handprints and footprints, casts of parts of the body, or stamps made from objects found in his studio, such as the rim of a tin can. This latest series of work seems to be a continuation of his exploration in abstracting concrete printed media in new and innovative ways.  I was able to find two more images of works from the show, but for now much of it is being kept secret for the opening; which was March 15th. So there should be more information available soon.

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/07/arts/design/moma-to-show-jasper-johnss-regrets-series.html?ref=design&_r=0

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/john/hd_john.htm

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Maria Lassnig: Body Awareness

I realized that I have done y’all, dear readers, a huge disservice. I have failed to post anything on one of my FAVORITE artists in any genre EVER. Her name is Maria Lassnig, she hails from Austria, born September 8, 1919 in Kappel am Krappfeld, Carinthia. Lassnig built her artistic career by bravely exploring the insecurities associated with the internal sensations of the body by shamelessly exhibiting, for our viewing pleasure, her own body in paintings and drawings.

Since the 1940s, her self-portraits boldly explore “body awareness,” her term for these paintings, to reveal insights into Lassnig’s own feelings of sensations within her body. The viewer is invited to share with Lassnig, the senses felt within her own skin and we don’t just observe, we experience her fright, or timidness, or violence, or confusion. Her paintings are meant to make the viewer feel uncomfortable and the powerful effect of her images ironically comes from their vulnerability. Her naked, bald, and wide-eyed self-portraits brazenly posit her bare body for examination. Looking at them we see exposed, fragile, fleshy, soft fgures, naked with enlarged eyes full of feeling., and we empathize with these exposed figures.

Lassnig’s approach to painting is rooted in rendering only the parts of her body that she can feel while painting. Through this approach she has created an oeuvre originating with the recognition of the human body’s potential as a medium for generating images,  constituting a sort of autobiographical attempt to render her inner states on canvas. A lot of her portraits and later figures are shown without limbs, clothes, or hair because these are parts of herself she cannot sense while painting. In her large-format works Lassnig investigates themes like gender-roles, with figurative elements presented against monochromatic backgrounds in a colour-palette that  prominently features a neon-ish sea green, characteristic of her work. The spectrum of motifs ranges from a double-portrait (“Adam und Eva,” 2010) and the presentation of a couple making love, an amorphous green creature seeming to float above them (“Die Inspiration,” 2010), to a half-portrait of a young man who literally reveals his innermost, insofar as he opens up his chest with his own hands (“Der Jüngling,” 2011). Being completely unafraid of taking on unpleasant topics, Lassnig produced a series of paintings that places the violence of rape uncomfortably before the viewer, with the intention of allowing us to experience the victims’ terror and helplessness while simultaneously relating to the dominance and pleasure felt by the rapist. A lot of her self-portraits in later life are such dualities that comment on youth and age.  She exposes similar feelings of helplessness felt by the very young and the very old by juxtaposing a childhood companion, the teddybear, with her frail and aged body (“The teddy is More Real than Me,” 2002).

“The teddy is more real than me”

Following her graduation from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in 1944, Lassnig contributed greatly to the emergence of art informal in Austrian in the early 1950s. She met and befriended Arnulf Rainer and Josef Mikl and the three abstract painters exhibited in Vienna around this time. During this time she was part Hundsgruppe, which also included Arnulf Rainer, Ernst Fuchs, Anton Lehmden, Arik Brauer,  and Wolfgang Hollegha . The works of the group were influenced by Abstract Expressionism and action painting. Later, in the 50’s, she joined with Surrealist Andre Breton and Benjamin Peret. Lassnig’s early exposure to Art Informal, Surrealism, and Gutal left apparent influences in her softened graphic, but still brutally honest style. She remained singular from her contemporaries for the linguistic interests she pursued in her portraits. She also left her mark on the development of feminist art in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. In 1980, after living for several years between Paris and New York, Lassnig returned to Vienna for a position at the Academy of Art, becoming the first female Professor of painting in a german-speaking country. She was also the first woman artist to win the Grand Austrian State Prize in 1988, and in 2005 she was awarded the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art.

Lassnig has also exhibited extensively through the world.  She represented Austria, with Valie Export, at the Venice Biennale in 1980, and has twice exhibited at documenta. In 1996 a retrospective of her work was held at the Centre Georges Pompidou. For the  2005-2006 year she she designed the large scale picture (176 m2) “Breakfast with Ear” as part of the exhibition series “Safety curtain” the Vienna State Opera. In 2008 an exhibition of her recent paintings was shown at the Serpentine Gallery which also travelled to the Contemporary Arts Center in the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, (2009). The exhibition was curated by Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist in association with Rebecca Morrill and featured thirty canvases and seven films. Lassnig’s recent solo exhibitions include, It’s art that keeps one ever young, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany, (2010), ‘Maria Lassnig. Films’, Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York NY, (2011), and THE LOCATION OF PICTURES, Deichtorhallen; Hamburg (2013).

Finally, Lassnig received the 55th Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, awarded at the Biennale’s June 1 opening, with the Italian artist Marisa Merz. Lassnig is now 93 and it is a great honor to be awarded this in honor of her long and prolific career. In old age, many artists are criticized for becoming soft, conventional, “losing their style/vision/fire/<insertcritique> but Maria Lassnig has proven that age cannot be held up as a barrier to art making, to impact-full art making, and she continues to produce art that pushes boundaries to expose dualities to reveal insights into ourselves, bodily and conceptually.

NASREEN MOHAMEDI: Becoming One

Open and inquisitive, Nasreen Mohamedi embarked on an intimate, personal artistic practice without precedent in Indiana art dominant during her career.  Her simple works are quiet, reflective, and sensitive but absolutely resolute; and this focused quality is what characterizes her oeuvre. Mohamedi’s centered vision allowed her to develop a distinctive art practice, which would later mark a pinnacle for modernism in Indian art, becoming essential for progression.

Her body of work possesses a totality of perspective, unity of thought and fluid merging of action. The purpose is absolute, surrendering extravagance, conflict, and contrast for order, direction, and cohesion. No matter what media Mohamedi chose, ink on paper or through lens on film, her controlled gaze perceived all connections and cemented what seemed separate into a singular, co-dependent whole. She did this by breaking down structures to establish order with the essence of form. This process is constant and continuous; with time losing its meaning and space becoming infinite.

The Photographs series are not abstract but neither are they representational, citing instead encounters of tangible-ness. Stripped of color leaving only dark and light, they seem to transcend into something greater than the apparent structures on the surface. They reach out to the viewer, perceiving you as the artist once perceived their convergence of nature and individual. This series reminds me of Agnes Martin and other minimalists, but though Mohamedi knew of the techniques of her contemporaries, grouping her work within the context of a European movement, such as minimalism, would be a mistake for omitting an understanding of her vision of order, direction, and unity to the art evolution in India.

The Series drawings, rendered simply on graph paper, defy their diminutive size with a monumental presence. Their simplicity, differing only slightly by stroke of the line, connects them all, implying tangible, embryonic systems, that posses a delicate and continuos life of their own. The most personal of all her works is her Diaries (1968- 1988). Again, they are small, palm-sized, but by encapsulating the experience of two decades they underscore the intensity and strength of Mohamedi’s commitment to her cynosure. Words and forms, inspirations and struggles life and art, all co-exist on the pages as a singular unite, one unable to exist without the other.

Nasreen Mohamedi was born in 1937 in Karachi, India and moved with her family to Bombay in 1944. She studied at St. Martins School of Art in London from 1954 to 57 and later in Paris from 1961-63 under a French Government scholarship. On her return to India she joined the Bhulabhai Desai Institute where she came into close contact with artists Tyeb Mehta, M.F. Husain and V.S. Gaitonde. And in 1964 she accompanied M.F. Husain to Rajasthan as a photographer while he worked on his film ‘Through the eyes of the painter’. Mohamedi joined the M.S. University, Faculty of Fine Arts, in Baroda in 1972 and continued to teach and work there until 1988.  Sadly, Nasreen Mohamedi passed away in 1990 in Kihim, India.

To honor her oeuvre the Talwar Gallery in New York is hosting an exhibition titled Becoming One of her photographs, drawings, and diaries from September 13, 2013 through January 25, 2014, offering a chance for viewers to observe Mohamedi’s focused vision. This exhibit will also include her never before seen works.

Happy Birthday John Singer Sargent

Today is the birthday of American portraitist John Singer Sargent. To celebrate I want to talk about one of his controversial portraits Portrait of Madame X, because despite it’s blatant objectification of women, I find the portrait to be stunning. I have always loved and admired the mysterious woman for her controlled and powerful sexuality, just oozing from within the painting. Perhaps because I feel that the woman is employing the power of her beauty and figure at her own will, I am more forgiving to Sargent for the shameless exploitation of female sexuality. And I admit I may have a bit of a lady-crush on the stunning Madame X.

But first a little about Sargent. The painter was born on January 12,1856 and is regarded as the leading portrait painter of the Edwardian era for his rich oil and watercolor evocations of elite luxury. During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings. His oeuvre documents worldwide travel, from Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida— though he lived in Europe for most of his life. Through out his career Sargent’s commissioned works were consistent with the grandiose manner of portraiture, while his informal studies and landscape paintings displayed a familiarity with Impressionism. In later life Sargent expressed ambivalence about the restrictions of formal portrait work, so his work evolved as he devoted more of his energy to mural painting and working en plain air (which means “in the open air,” and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors, which is also called peinture sur le motif (“painting on the ground”) in French.)

From the beginning Sargent’s work was characterized by remarkable technical facility, particularly in his ability to draw with a brush, generating admiration as well as criticism for a supposed superficiality. But despite the international acclaim Sargent enjoyed, he was not without controversy and critical reservation. His early submission to the Paris Salon of 1884, none other than the famed Portrait of Madame X, was intended to consolidate his position as a society painter. But the entry resulted in a scandal that ruined his chance at establishing a career in Paris; though he became infamous in Britain and America.

Portrait of Madame X

Portrait of Madame X is a study in opposition by characterized by the woman’s pale flesh tone contrasted against the deep blacks of the dress and background. With jeweled straps just gracing her pale shoulders, the sitter is practically falling out her fine black satin dress, tightly fitted to her form— it is a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. Her high forehead, graceful neck, shoulders, arms, full bosom and shapely figure assert a careless but controlled sensuality. The recessive browns add to her mystery and provide further contrast to the skin tones. The final result is a fixation on the whiteness of her skin, an overt contrivance of “aristocratic pallor”; by contrast her red ear is a jarring reminder of the color of flesh unadorned. The pose is Sargent’s careful selection: her body boldly faces forward while her head is turned in profile. A profile is both assertion and retreat; half of the face is hidden while, at the same time, the part that shows can seem more defined than full face. The table serves the dual purpose of providing support and echoing the woman’s curves and stance. At the time, her pose was considered sexually suggestive. Her unnaturally pale skin, cinched waist, severe profile and emphasis on aristocratic bone structure all imply a distant sexuality “under the professional control of the sitter,” rather than offered for the viewer’s indulgence. Though the viewer does receive a salacious and bold display of woman flesh, she is also aloof, mysterious, and clearly unattainable.

But what was most disconcerting to the viewers upon the painting’s debut, is that the woman is clearly upper-class; adding to the image’s unsettling erotic suggestion. The sitter is young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau, an American expatriate who married the French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. Gautreau represented the parisienne, a new type of Frenchwoman recognized for acquiring her sophistication through soliciting. The English-language term “professional beauty”, referring to a woman who uses personal skills to advance to elite status, was also used to describe her. Her unconventional appeal made her an object of fascination for several and Sargent was also impressed. He anticipated that a portrait of Gautreau would garner much attention at the Paris Salon, and increase interest in portrait commissions. In a letter to a friend he wrote:

“I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think she would allow it and is waiting for someone to propose this homage to her beauty. If you are ‘bien avec elle’ and will see her in Paris, you might tell her I am a man of prodigious talent.”

Although she had refused numerous similar requests from artists, Gautreau accepted Sargent’s offer perhaps because Sargent was an expatriate also. But if their collaboration was motivated by a shared desire to attain high status in French society, its controversial reception amounted to the failure such a strategy. The attempt to preserve the Gautreau’s anonymity was unsuccessful, and the sitter’s mother requested that Sargent withdraw the painting from the exhibition. Sargent refused, saying he had painted her “exactly as she was dressed, that nothing could be said of the canvas worse than had been said in print of her appearance”. Later, Sargent overpainted the shoulder strap to raise it up and make it look more securely fastened. He also changed the title, from the original Portrait de Mme ***, to Madame X – a name more assertive and title dramatic that by accenting the impersonal, gave an illusion of the woman archetype.

The poor public and critical reception was a disappointment to both artist and model; Gautreau was absolutely humiliated by the affair. Soon after Sargent left Paris to move to London permanently. Sargent brought the painting with him and hung Madame X in his studio. Starting in 1905, he displayed it in a number of international exhibitions and finally in 1916, Sargent sold the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He wrote to the museum director “I suppose it is the best thing I have ever done.” and honestly, I find I am of a like mind with Sargent. Even though he created many remarkable paintings of incredible places and people, Madam X remains my favorite for the reserved sexuality she masterfully unleashes upon the viewer.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Fireflies on the Water, 2002. Mirror, plexiglass, 150 lights and water, 111 × 144 1/2 × 144 1/2 in. (281.9 × 367 × 367 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

I am obsessed with Yayoi Kusama’s instillation art. She utilizes color and texture in a dynamic exploration of infinite space. Kusama creates the illusion of limitless space using polka-dots, lights, mirrors, water, and pattern to make endless reputations of texture, color and shape. She is able to trick our senses into perceiving her fictional environment— no matter how bizarre, garish, or fantastical— as reality. Right now she has exhibitions in three different countries, one at the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai (“A Dream I Dreamed”) until March, another in Japan at the Kochi Museum of Art (“Yayoi Kusama Eternity of Eternal Eternity”) until February, a third in New York  (“Yayoi Kusama I Who Have Arrived In Heaven”) through December, and the last in Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro (“Obsession Infinita”) through the end of January. But Kusama has had a dynamic career in a variety of mediums, she continuous to evolve her art making techniques while still exploring boundaries and space with pattern and color.

 

Yayoi Kusama, Driving Image (detail) (1959-64)

 

 

Kusama has had an incredibly successful international career. She started to paint around ten, creating richly textured paintings in watercolors, pastels, and oils using polka dots and nets as motifs. When she first arrived to the United States in 1957 she showed large paintings, soft sculptures, and environmental sculptures assembled from mirrors and electric lights. In the late 1960’s Kusama began to stage happenings in the US and Europe, such as body painting festivals, fashion shows, and anti-war demonstrations. In one happening she had participants dance to her choreography naked except for a painted polka dot pattern she applied. She also explored media-related activities, and in 1968 released the film “Kusama’s Self-Obliteration.” This film, in which Kusama produced and starred in, won a prize at the Fourth International Experimental Film Competition in Belgium and the Second Maryland Film Festival and the second prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. In 2008 her documentary film “Yayoi Kusama, I adore myself” released in Japan and  screened at international film festival and museum. 

 

Yayoi Kusama, Accumulation of Corpses (Prisoner Surrounded by the Curtain of Depersonalization) (1950)

 

 

 

In 1973 Kusama returned to Japan where she continued to produce and show art works. During this time she became interested on language and book artand issued a number of novels and anthologies. In 1983, the novel “The Hustlers Grotto of Christopher Street” won the Tenth Literary Award for New Writers from the monthly magazine Yasei Jidai. for the rest of the 70’s and to present, she continued to expand her art productions and held many solo exhibitions, retrospectives, and museum exhibits in Paris, Australia, New York, LA, London, Brazil, Denmark, Rome, Milan, Mexico City, China, Tokyo, Korea, New Delhi, and even participated in the 1993 45th Venice Biennale and the 2012 Sydney Biennale and Aichi Triennale. She has had her work recognized by many titles museums and associations the world over.

 

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – Love Forever (1996)

But perhaps being insanely prolific and successful does have its drawbacks. The rumor is that Kusama’s intensely patterned and bright art literally drove her insane. “Obsessions, phallus obsessions, obsessions of fear are the main themes of my art. Accumulation is how stars and earth don’t exist alone,” she explains. For the last forty years, she’s been a patient of a mental institution in Japan, where she continues to produce extraordinary works. This is an excerpt from project by filmmaker Heather Lenz, titled “Kusama Princess of Polka Dots.” Though the film remains unfinished, this 7-minute cut is a part of an exhibition on Kusama at London’s Tate Museum.

Forgotten Women Artist of the Armory Show, and a tiny rant conclusion

The Armory Show refers to the 1913 “International Exhibition of Modern Art” organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors. It was the first large exhibition of modern art in America and toured three cities, starting, of course, in New York City’s 69th Regiment Armory where it stayed from February 17 until March 15, 1913 before traveling to the Art Institute of Chicago and ending as The Copley Society of Art in Boston. History tells us that the show was a catalyst for American artists because it featured innovative styles from European artists; who were believed to be more independent and creative with their artistic language, and so has become legend for its supposed influence on American viewers and artists. But this story isn’t entirely true, because American artists, such as Marsden Hartley, William Glackens, Robert Henri, John Marin, Walter Pach, and Kathleen McEnery, were experimenting on their own before the influx of European influence.  What the show did do was introduce American audiences, who were accustomed to viewing realistic art, to the experimental styles developed by modern artists, which included Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism. The early innovations of American artists are unrecognized because the cannon bestows its light on the glory of European artists for revolutionizing American painting. This is just one of the myths about the show that has been engendered by its inflated legacy. Another myth that needs to be addressed is the significant prevalence of women artists and their importance to the development and execution of the show.

Omitted from history is that women artists were as much a part of the Armory Show, and consequently the Modern Art movement, as male artists. It is generally recognized that women backed the financial needs of the show as patrons, like Katherine Dreier through the Société Anonyme, Lillie Bliss and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller through the Museum of Modern Art, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney through the Whitney Studio Club (later to become the Whitney Museum of American Art). However, the depiction of women as financial backers persists as the singular credit to women’s involvement with the Armory Show, thus excluding women artists from the story of the exhibition and by extension the development of Modern art. This is a shame because there were many women featured in the show as distinguished artists in their own right. While I have managed to find a wiki page for all of these ladies, I am upset to learn that many of them have nothing more than a poorly written, all-too-brief wiki page as testimony to their artistic legacy. The following is a linked list of all the women to their wiki page:

Marguerite Zorach “The Ipcar Family at Robinhood Farm, Maine” (1944)

Marguerite Zorach “Two Nudes”

In fact Marguerite Zorach is one of the few American artists of either gender to have received critical attention in relation to the Armory Show, during and after the exhibition, becoming known as “The First Woman of California.” She was born in Santa Rosa, California,  in 1887, but was raised in Fresno. In 1908, she traveled to Paris to study art and was taken with the early art styles developing there.  She became a regular at galleries directed by Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, and eventually enrolled at the La Palette to study under  Jahn Duncan Ferguasson. In Paris, Zorach developed a style similar to fauvism and early Blue Reiter works. When she came back to Fresno, she became an innovator in the modernist movement for introducing audiences and other artists to fauvist and cubist styles, including her future husband William Zorach. Both artists exhibited in the Armory Show in New York after opening a studio in their home they named “Post-Impressionistic studio.” She also worked in textiles using embroidery and batik; these tapestries later became her main focus and perhaps the “craft vs. art” debate resulted in her body of work being omitted from fine art discussions. Knowing that her tapestries risked being dismissed as craft, Zorach made a point of referring to these works as “modernistic pictures done in wool” and in 1923, the Montross Gallery hosted the first solo exhibition of her modernist pictures in wool, Embroidered Tapestries by Marguerite Zorach.

Bessie Marsh Brewer “Rheims Cathedral”, etching

Bessie Marsh Brewer has such a meager a wiki page that I had to try to find out more about her. She was in Toronto, Ontario in 1884. She was one of the few early female printmakers, as well as an illustrator, painter, and sculptor. She studied at the New York School of Design for Women and at the Art Students League with Robert Henri and John Sloan. She featured three drawings in the 1913 New York Armory Show, The Furnished Room, Curiosity and Putting Her Monday Name on Her Letterbox. Marsh went on to work at various New york magazines as an illustrator and illustrated some of the first ads for birth control, which I think is incredibly interesting. The exchange between a man and a women in one such ad goes as follows: *Couple with baby stroll past couple on park bench* Bench Man: Babies is fine things ain’t they? Bench Woman: Yeah, every once in a while.” Now remember this was in the twenties when women were still taught that their main purpose was having children, taking care of the house, and that sex was mostly for the pleasure of men and that is was her domestic duty as a wife to comply, oh and make babies. I just love that she was unafraid of pioneering birth control in a way that suggests women may want to have sex for pleasure too, not just procreation. Marsh also continued to exhibit her artwork in New York galleries.

Marie Laurencin Portrait of Mademoiselle Chanel, 1923

The final artist I will talk about is Marie Laurencin. Laurencin’s works include paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints, but she is best known as one of the few female Cubist painters,along with Sonia Delaunay, Marie Vorobieff, and Franciska Clausen. While her work shows the influence of Cubist painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque—who was her close friend— she developed a unique approach to abstraction. By pursuing a specifically feminine aesthetic utilizing curvilinear shapes and pastel colors, her work lies outside the bounds of Cubist norms. She also created cubist paintings that spoke to women’s identity by mainly painting groups of women and female portraits. Laurencin’s insistence on the creation of a visual vocabulary of femininity characterized her art until the end of her life and can be posited as a response to what is considered to be the arrogant masculinity of Cubism.

Marie Laurencin “Apollinaire and Friends”

From just clicking through a few web links I was able to discover a several resources— archival, books, articles and free online info— on these three women and their contribution to art. So why is it that when we study the 1913 Armory Show all we learn is how DuChamp and Picasso saved American art from convention? Clearly there is much more to the show, including women’s part as artists. I am so ready for a time when we study artists as just that, “artists” not female artist or male artist. Gender does not dictate what kind of art someone makes, and I am talking about biology effecting artistic production, not social constructs established by gender roles that would limit or expand one’s artist options in a specific time period. I am tired of female artists being presented as an after thought to male artists because of the instance on “political correctness” thanks to a tired feminist movement  that no one really takes seriously anymore. Our art culture and the people who are a part of it deserve better consideration than that.

The Portrait of Thanksgiving: ThanksGetting

By now I think most people know that the 1621 Thanksgiving feast between Pilgrims and Indians is a myth. But I still find it fascinating to look at how artists have either played a part in perpetuating the warm-fuzzies with traditional Thanksgiving scenes or unmasking tradition for the farce it truly has become. You see, though the origins of the holiday are loosely traced back to a grand feast between Indians and Pilgrims— btw, it was actually prompted by a good harvest, not the benevolence of local tribe helping starving Piligrims— the celebration without question has become an important tradition in American culture, but not for reasons of family gathering or thankfulness.

Norman Rockwell “Thanksgiving” 1943

Norman Rockwell’s famous painting from 1943 “Freedom from Want”(just one in a four-part series of “freedom” paintings inspired by Roosevelt’s State of the Union Address) embodies perfectly our ideal Thanksgiving family gathering. The family is gathered at the table while the mother, or grandmother, places a large turkey before her husband. The painting was commissioned to promote the importance of tradition and family togetherness as a means of rediscovering American values and strength after the war. But the painting is a an illusion, and reflects instead the American obsession with consumerism.

John Currin “Thanksgiving” 2003

Contemporary artists Kent Bellows and  John Currin have painted  to dispel the Thanksgiving illusion and reveal how the holiday has evolved to center around commodity, greed, and gluttony. While Norman Rockwell created the shiny surface of family ties to hide American overabundance, Currin employs a kind of hybrid surrealism to deftly reveal it. Currin’s “Thanksgiving” (2003) cleverly pulls off a juxtaposition of cruel and tender by utilizing techniques from the old Dutch masters, notably Vermeer and to my mind the Ingres “Odalisque,” to convince us of the real-ness of his unreal women. Their heads are too large, their necks are too long, and their bodies are oddly misshapen ovoid forms. Yet the qualities of detail are so rich and carefully constructed that there is an unsettling harmony between the disturbing exaggerations and luxurious details and we are convinced of the image as a reality. Currin pulls it off by balancing the old masters’ techniques of accurate depiction with the more nuanced and searching qualities of the abstract expressionists to devolve and reconstruct the figure. Besides the Expressionist influence, Currin is taking the absurdities from Surrealism and incorporating this into his canvas to demonstrate the absurdities of causally following a tradition you barely understand. Like the raw turkey; is this family really about to carve into the uncooked bird? And what is being fed to the girl in the middle poised like a baby chicken? Also, nearly everything in the picture is in a series of cycles, each representing three different states of time and decay. The floral center piece is made of roses that are in various states of bloom and wilt, the food depicts three groups—meat, fruit, vegetable— and the women are in three stages of life: maiden, wife/mother, and widow/hag. Is this the cycle of American consumerism? We buy, use, then discard and replace, never truly taking the time to be thankful for having it.

Kent Bellows “Self Portrait with WIne Glass (Gluttony) 2000

Kent Bellows’ “Self-Portrait with Wine Glass” (Gluttony 2000) is another jab at the veil hiding American greed. His painting parodies other traditional Thanksgiving dinner portraits with his mastery of Realism that is simultaneously unsettlingly surreal from his dramatic use of lightening. Bellow’s is quite skilled in creating dream-like drama and anxiety in his portraits that make them different than reality— a kind of hyperreality if you will. With the aim of expressing psychological and emotional states, “Self-Portrait with Wine Glass” assaults our senses with the abundance of food, shine of silver dinnerware, and rich luxury of fabrics and color. The exquisite finery is emblematic of the current state of America’s obsession with possession, status, and commerce. And even the stormy background serves to forewarn us of the dissatisfaction we will eventually feel from the endless cycle of consumerist culture.

I think that when people are out shopping for super sale deals on Thanksgiving— a day supposedly and ironically set aside as a time for thankful reflection on what is already had, not for what can be bought for a steal— then it becomes an issue that needs to discussed; or at least brought to light. And that is what Bellows and Currin have done. They have pulled back the veil on Thanksgiving to show the truth.  What we are really celebrating is the success of American business and marketing to get people, regardless of their social standing, to wait in lines in the cold for hours to buy items they don’t need at “deals” worth the loss of priceless time that could be spent with loved ones. Am I being dramatic? Perhaps a little, but I really do question the reason for this holiday, or at least our societies’ demand that we still refer to it as “Thanksgiving” when it has truthfully become more of a “Thanks-For-What-I’m-Getting” or ThanksGetting.

Kent Bellows’ Self-Portrait with Wine Glass (Gluttony) 2000

http://thoughtsonart.com/artists/John_Currin_Alex_Katz_David_Hockney_Yuskavage/5_Currin_Yuskavage_Peyton_Saville.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/22/happy-thanksgiving-the-15_n_2171713.html