March 28, 2011 § 5 Comments
Few subjects in art rival the human face and figure for psychological impact and technical difficulty. Our first clear vision in this world is that of our own mother’s face. Thereafter, the human face holds encoded meanings that become a life’s study.
In painting our own, or others’ likeness the fundamental challenge is learning to see and simplify the major and minor color shapes that the head presents to our eyes, instead of just the details of eyelashes, nostrils and lips. We may wish, in painting the head, to reveal the inner being of our sitter, but that will never happen without careful attention to the outer form. The inner and the outer are inseparable. Charles Hawthorne, the celebrated teacher of Edwin Dickinson and Hans Hoffman, relates a story about painting the portrait of a bald man, becoming fascinated by the colors he observed in the man’s head, one color spot against another, and finding later that he had accurately captured the sitter’s likeness with hardly a conscious thought as to how he was doing that. Seeing is a kind of knowledge.
Following is a gallery of artists’ self-portraits in a loosely chronological order from Rembrandt’s early self-portraits to the work of some notable contemporary painters. Every generation of artists, it seems, is similarly compelled to make its own statement of identity.
In his 63 years on earth, Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn (1606-1669) painted 88 self-portraits. He first painted himself in his twenties. They are masterful, proud, and just a bit cocky – the new kid on the block hanging out his shingle as a portrait painter. Caravaggio had already come and gone, alerting Rembrandt’s generation to the splendors and mysteries of raking light.
Rembrandt continued to use himself as a model throughout his life documenting his aging face through prosperous times and through the financial setback that beset him late in life. The body of self-portraits that he left us are a great legacy to the world. They have much to teach the aspiring painter about how light and shadow activate an image, how it sculpts the planes of the head and sets up a dialogue between form and space. Rembrandt’s self-portraits also teach us that content or meaning is not something that the painter needs to consciously program or add on. The inner state of the sitter and the outer forms are intimately involved in each other. Only the honest, attentive gaze will reveal it.
March 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
A beautiful eulogy by Jed Perl on the painter and teacher, Gabriel Laderman, who died March 10, 2011, :
“…The tyranny of trends, vogues, and vanguards was something Gabriel refused to acknowledge. At a time when everybody wanted art to be fresh, Gabriel did not give a damn about the next new thing. He felt no need to grapple with what was happening simply because it was happening… He did not believe in the Zeitgeist. He believed in the individual. His great idea was that what an artist makes is a matter of personal choice and inner necessity, not a response to historical forces. He himself was a representational painter in an era when many said that representational painting was already dead and buried. But unlike some postmodernists, who see their resurgent representational impulses as a reaction against modernism and therefore the next step in a historical progression, Gabriel rejected the very idea of progress in art. He refused to accept the historical inevitability of certain kinds of art. Cubism was not what history had made Braque and Picasso do, it was what Braque and Picasso had wanted to do—and somehow managed to do. His tradition-consciousness was not a form of academicism. Everything was about personal encounters, a person’s unique response to the challenges of the rectangle, of volume and void, of line and color, of style, of emotion.”
Read the essay in its entirety:
Against Inevitability: Honoring Gabriel Laderman, by Jed Perl, in the The New Republic.
March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
Robert Hughes, former art critic for Time magazine, has been writing about art and contemporary culture for fifty years. His film, The Shock of the New, broke ground in 1980 as a television documentary tracing the development of Modern Art since Impressionism for an audience of milllions.
In his 2008 documentary, The Mona Lisa Curse, Hughes reflects on the sea change in modern culture, and the forces behind it, that has transformed art into a major commercial commodity, and museums, galleries, and artists into multi-billion dollar “brands.” Beginning his story with the traveling exhibition of the Mona Lisa to the Metropolitan Museum in the Kennedy era, and the accompanying marketing blitz, Hughes unfolds a compelling narrative of this major metamorphosis of art in our time.
“It’s a story that I’ve watch unfold during the last 50 years. I’ve seen with growing disgust; the fetishization of art, the vast inflation of prices, and the effect of this on artists and museums. The entanglement of big money with art has become a curse on how art is made, controlled, and above all – in the way that it’s experienced. And this curse has affected the entire art world.” – Robert Hughes, in The Mona Lisa Curse.
The entire 12-part YouTube video release has been pieced together by Larry Groff (thank you, Larry!) into one long, uninterrupted whole which he has posted on his blog, Painting Perceptions.
A synopsis of each of the twelve parts of the documentary can be found on Mark Vallen’s blog, Art For a Change.
Watch the The Mona Lisa Curse.
March 12, 2011 § Leave a comment
From Alive and Dangerous: Interview with Alex Kanevsky by Christopher Hill, February 27, 2011, blog post on Seems A House of Leaves. Click on the link to read the full interview.
“People always think that their paintings are defined by style. Style is a collection of your personal clichés, which don’t get you anywhere. Fashion designers need clichés because they need to have recognizable things. We actually need to have a direct connection between what you have inside and your painting. The moment something does not answer that need, you just discard it… It keeps things alive and dangerous, and that’s interesting.” –
Images from Alex Kanevky’s website:
March 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
In his recent article for the Huffington Post, John Seed comments on the persistence of a “feud” that first reared its head in 19th century Paris between two of the greatest painters then living, Jean Dominique Ingres, and Eugene Delacroix. Ingres’ god was Raphael, and the cool, classicizing illusionism of the high Renaissance. Delacroix, a capital R Romantic, championed the more painterly traditions embodied by artists like Titian. For Ingres, drawing was “the probity of art;” for Delacroix, it was color. Ingres, as a matter of finish, defaced his brush marks into a smooth, refined sheen, while Delacroix gloried in the movements and tracks that his hand left in the paint. Delacroix proclaimed that one day the world would see that Rembrandt was a greater painter than Raphael. And so arose the feud between rival allegiances that was really a feud about ways of thinking about painting, a feud so famous in Paris that it was caricatured by Honore Daumier in this cartoon from a periodical of the day.
The above is prologue to what this post is really about, the journals that Delacroix began keeping when he was about 24 years of age. He kept the journals for most of his 64 years of age, chronicling his thoughts, his projects, his relationships with composers, writers, critics, statesmen, and other intellectuals of the period. When I was a young art student I got myself a copy of Delacroix’s journals, wanting to find a model, a guide, for this strange career I was embarking on. At any age, or at any stage of one’s development as an artist, I have found, Delacroix’s words will resonate. The times and the fashions have changed but, as John Seed argues, the tension between these two value systems in artistic creation are so fundamental, like “yin and yang,” as he puts it, that they are still with us today. Delacroix’s writing is clear, at times lofty and philosophical, and just as often, practical and down-to-earth. It is always touchingly human.
This is Delacroix’s first entry in his new project, made on a Tuesday in September, 1822:
“I am beginning my Journal; the Journal I have so often planned to write. My keenest wish is to remember that I am writing only for myself; this will keep me truthful, I hope, and it will do me good. These pages will reproach me for my instability. I am beginning in good spirits…”
Have you ever found yourself feeling defensive about being an artist when someone insinuates that it’s not a serious vocation, or that it’s frivolous or decadent to pursue art when there’s so much wrong with the world? Or that art is intellectually suspect compared to science or other disciplines?
“When I have painted a fine picture I have not given expression to a thought! That is what they say. What fools people are! They would strip painting of all its advantages. A writer has to say almost everything in order to make himself understood, but in painting it is as if some mysterious bridge were set up between the spirit of the persons in the picture and the beholder. The beholder see figures, the external appearance of nature, but inwardly he meditates; the true thinking that is common to all men… The art of the painter is all the nearer to man’s heart because it seems to be more material. In painting, as in external nature, proper justice is done to what is finite and to what is infinite, in other words, to what the soul finds inwardly moving in objects that are known through the senses alone…”
Maybe you have admired a colleague’s progress while struggling with some difficult passage in your own painting?
Tuesday, October 22:
“This evening I again admired Reisener’s little portrait… I should like to have painted it myself, and yet I wouldn’t change what I can do for that, but I wish I had his simplicity. It always seems to me so difficult to paint the eyes – the space between the upper eyelid and the eyebrow – without making the work look laboured..”
Have you ever reproached yourself for your perceived flaws or failures as a painter?
October 12, 1822:
“I am afraid I lack patience. I should be a different man if I had the staying power of some of the people I know. I’m always in too much of a hurry to get results.”
“I’ve not enough self-control… I don’t observe closely enough before beginning to paint…”
How little actually changes from century to century:
October 12, 1822:
“Charles, Piron and I dined together. Then to the Theatre des Italiens. What a delicious thrill they give me, these women with their charms and graces! All these divine things that I can see but never possess make me feel glad and sorry at the same time!”
Link to John Seed’s article in the Huffington Post: “Painterly vs. Precise: 20 Artists, 20 Studio Visits.”
March 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
WTF? Camouflage and painting?
Read my recent blog post: