Archive for the 'art history' Category

Meaningful? Morbid? … or simply a mixed bag to be sorted each on its own merit? (by Olga Norris)

Rabbits’ Village School, Circa 1888
Walter Potter: Rabbits’ Village School
It was popular during the 19th century, and gradually becoming a minority curiosity during the 20th, but then suddenly there has been a revival of the art of taxidermy – or a growth in the use of taxidermy in art. In the 19th century the amateur Walter Potter made sentimental tableaux which can excite responses through the vowels from ah to ugh. (Image above, more images and an article here)
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst: Away from the flock (from here)
Somehow not really seen as taxidermy (I don’t know the technical details of taxidermy as opposed to – or in addition to preservation in formaldehyde) the conceptual art of Damien Hirst burst onto the scene with a shark, halved cows, sheep, …. And now he is certainly not alone. A few years ago I saw and was intrigued by the work of Claire Morgan, which was when I started thinking about the use of taxidermy in sculpture.
claire-morgan-fantastic-mr-fox
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Claire Morgan: Fantastic Mr Fox (from here)
This was followed by watching a BBC programme about Polly Morgan in the series What do artists do all day? You can watch here and here. There seem to be so many artists now working with taxidermy as part of their sculpture – there are links here and here to some of them.
I find that my initial negative reaction to most of this art gets in the way of my thinking about it. It has nothing to do with guts and feathers and fur, but somehow it feels disrespectful to the beasts if the quality of the work draws attention to the taxidermy rather than to the idea being explored in the piece. I thought of Hirst’s work as art first and considered the technique of presentation seriously only when I read that the shark had to be replaced because it was rotting. It’s the worth of the artistic expression which engages me rather than the particularities of technique in this case. I found that Claire Morgan’s work also engaged me, but perhaps that is because I saw and walked round it, observing, thinking, feeling – whereas the other work is simply represented in photographs and therefore not sufficient to make a considered enough judgement.
Bulldog
Shauna Richardson: Bulldog (from here)
And then I found out about the ‘crochetdermy’ of Shauna Richardson. She, with one tool, overwhelmingly one material, and lots of time achieves remarkable results. Here and here are more links about the crochet work. It certainly is extraordinary craft, as was shown in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition The Power of Making, but is it art? I certainly do not think it’s any less worthy of consideration simply because she does not use the body of the original beast. Like all work, I reckon that each individual piece should be weighed on its own merits, and not lumped in with however the technique of its making is considered at any point in time.
I’m curious to know what you think.

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools

A visit to the degree show at the Royal Academy Schools got me thinking about the history of art education for women, and the Royal Academy and the position of women within it.

A working environment

A working environment

The Schools are tucked in behind the grandeur of the main RA building – the studio skylights look like a series of sheds that have been tacked on.

Schools corridor (via)

Inside, the corridor is dark, cluttered and a few centuries old. Most of the statues have bits missing (not always just the naughty bits). This place has seen heavy use since the RA moved to Burlington House in 1868.

The life drawing studio in 2010

The life drawing studio in 2010

The bare bones of the life drawing studio, and the collection of casts, look pretty much as it always has, and tucked in along the hallways are other necessities.

A library is housed in locked bookcases

A library is housed in locked bookcases

Other cases house skeletons

Other cases house skeletons

The Schools were founded in 1768 as part of an institution with a mission: “to promote the arts of design in Britain through education and exhibition.” The Royal Academy went on to dominate the art scene of the 18th and 19th centuries, but along the way it somehow lost its women members… first by attrition, and then, says the RA website, “In 1879, the Council of the day came to the conclusion that our original Instrument of Foundation did not allow for women RAs. Eventually, they relented and passed a resolution to make women eligible, but only on the condition of restricted privileges.”

The Summer Exhibition in 1800 (via)

The Summer Exhibition in 1800 (via)

For a long time the RA Schools  was the only established art school in Britain. (Why “Schools”? – because when the RA was first founded, students were required to master a number of different artistic elements in a particular order – eg, drawing from casts before moving on to life drawing. Each element was known as a separate ‘School’.)

1808, drawing by gaslight

1808, drawing by gaslight (via)

Other art education was through private schools and tutelage, which is how any women in Britain who aspired to be an artist got training, unless she went abroad to study. In 1860 the RA started admitting women students – almost by mistake. Selection was by submitted drawings, and when L. Herford turned up, what was assumed to be a Lawrence turned out to be a Laura.

By 1862 there were seven women among an intake of about 25 students a year, and before long they outnumbered the male students – who had migrated to Paris, where the drawing instruction was superior (says Stuart Macdonald in The History and Philosophy of Art Education, 1969) . All students at the RA Schools “spent five or more years in tedious imitation” – and women were banned from life drawing until 1893.

Cast collection in the life drawing room, 2010

Cast collection in the life drawing room, 2010

By the beginning of the 20th century the RA Schools had further competition in the form of the Slade and the Royal College of Art, and the quality of its students declined. Attempts to widen the curriculum to include decorative art got nowhere – it was confined to life-sized painting from the head, and painting and drawing from the nude figure.

Lecture to art and architecture students, 1953 (via)

Lecture to art and architecture students, 1953 (via)

The course lasted up to 10 years before 1853; it runs for three years now, and there are about 60 students in the Schools at a time, doing this postgraduate course. In 1769, 70 students were admitted; then as now, they do not pay fees.

 

Angelika Kauffmann's paintings on the ceiling in the entrance of the RA are hardly noticed by visitors (via)

Angelika Kauffmann’s paintings on the ceiling in the entrance of the RA are hardly noticed by visitors (via)

Spring by Mary Moser (via)

Spring by Mary Moser (via)

Two women, Angelika Kauffmann and Mary Moser, were among the 36 founding members of the RA, but for a long time (until Annie Swynnerton became an associate in 1922, and Laura Knight a full member in 1936) there were no women academicians. Up to 80 practising artists are elected to be academicians ; these currently include 26 women.

 

Academicians are involved in teaching in the Schools and give lectures as part of the RA’s education programme. In 2011 Tracy Emin and Fiona Rae were the first women to be appointed professors, of drawing and painting respectively.

Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin (via)

fiona rae (via)

fiona rae (via)

And now, some work from the current graduates. They’ve had three years with free tuition … but first had to be chosen from some 1000 applicants!

Hold (hole and Plexiglas pole) by Ariane Schick … with a view through to the corridor

Hold (hole and Plexiglas pole) by Ariane Schick … with a view through to the corridor

 

Natalie Dray, part of Zone Heater

Natalie Dray, part of Zone Heater (feel the warmth…) and of 6 Sheet

Hannah Perry, Feeling It, wall-based sound sculpture (it shakes, rattles, and rolls)

Hannah Perry, Feeling It, wall-based sound sculpture (it shakes, rattles, and rolls)

 

Work by Alex Clarke

Work by Alex Clarke

Up the stairs and you’re in the public part of the RA’s grand building … a different place.

ra-stairs

 

The individual white line (by Olga Norris)

Last summer I signed up for a two day workshop on Japanese woodblock printing.  Circumstances conspired (our car broke down) so that I only attended the first day, but in preparation I had done a bit of research.  The other day I received a lovely card which reminded me of some of that research, and prompted me to seek a little further for this post.

Japanese woodblock prints were popular in the heart of the modern art world in Paris at the time after the Great War when several American artists were visiting.  These artists returned to pass on their enthusiasms, and so it was that some American artists even went to Japan to learn techniques.  Edna Boies Hopkins was one of those.  It was her image of Cascades on the card I received this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japanese woodblock printing involves making a separate plate for each colour used in the design.  Printmaking in Japan was an industrial process in so far as the publisher commissioned the image from an artist, then the plate makers cut the wood into as many plates as necessary, after which the printers printed each colour onto the very large editions – the prints were extremely popular.  However, for the artists in the burgeoning summer art colony of Provincetown New England this process was too longwinded.  They ingeniously invented white line woodblock printmaking.

This involved cutting a line of separation between different coloured elements in a design, so that each colour could be printed from the same plate.  The result is rather like painted silk using a gutta (glue) outline round each area which is to be coloured.

Here is an excellent post describing the simple stages of the process.  It is mostly women who were known for using this technique.

BLANCHE%202  Blanche Lazzall,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethel  Ethel Mars,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

artwork_images  Ada Gilmore Chaffee,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EBH_Rooftops-1  Edna Boies Hopkins,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

31   Edith Lake Wilkinson,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mabel Hewit

Mabel Hewit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

are but a few.  There is an excellent section on this seemingly totally American art technique and its artists in the book American Women Modernists edited by Marian Wardle.  (Unfortunately this is now out of print and is being offered for sale online at ridiculous prices!)  And there is more information in an academic paper by Maura Coughlin on Southcoast New England Printmaking.

I am interested to see that these white line printmakers have been influenced by the French artists (Ethel Mars’ work reminds me of Vuillard, for instance), Post Impressionism, with touches of Cubism, but have their own delightful character.  I must say that my favourites are the ones who use the white space for more than simply delineation – as Edna Boies Hopkins does in Cascades.

White line printmaking is becoming popular once more, with new practitioners and workshops offered even in the UK.  I have not tried it yet myself  but I certainly very much like the idea of the technique.

 

Take a ride on a Carousel by Kristin McNamara Freeman

After a long winter with much snow and record breaking freezing temperatures, a walk on the trail by the Clark Fork River took me to Caras Park. Here I found a work of art that continues artfully to bring delight to folks of all ages. This “Carousel for Missoula” has a wonderful and amazing story of how it was imagined, created and continues to operate with the support of a non-profit volunteer organization year round.

A man by the name of Chuck Kaparich, grandson of a Croatian immigrant to Butte, Montana in the early days of the 20th century, who worked in the mines and raised his family in that city, had a photo taken of he and his wife and seven children in front of a carousel in Butte and sent it to his relatives back in Croatia to show that he had made a success of his life. His grandson was visiting the carousel in Spokane, Washington in 1989 and when he saw the carousel there, the memory of that family portrait touched him deeply and he began to cry. As he read the story of that carousel and learned that every horse was hand carved by a Danish immigrant, Charles I.D. Looff, as a wedding present for his daughter early in the 1900’s, his own story with the carousel began to be written.

Chuck began in earnest a search for anything and everything he could learn about carousels and reliving his childhood memories of the carousel in Butte he was determined to learn how to carve and to make a carousel. This carousel he would make for his grandfather and it would be in Missoula, Montana.  For his birthday in 1990 his wife got him a set of carving tools. His journey with the tools and the carving of the wood, collecting images to use so that each horse would tell a story, began with a dedication to carve each day before going to work.

As Chuck carved the horses he could see them spinning around on a carousel in Caras Park, in downtown Missoula next to the Clark Fork River. He decided that if his dream was to become reality he needed to get that piece of land he saw in his dream secured for a carousel. He loaded one of his horses in his truck and went to see the Mayor. After a long conversation the mayor finally agreed to this dream plan. Next it was to convince the city council of the dream with four carved horses and each step of the way believers in the dream gathered around him. A foundation was formed and a team of volunteers worked on the project until the dream was reality and the carousel opened in 1995. The involvement went to the community of people and organizations who adopted ponies that were being created, each one telling a story and using colors and symbols that reflected who they were.

The ACFM, a Carousel for Missoula, organization has a website at http://www.carouselformissoula.com where you can see individual horses and learn about how this organization now 19 years later still operates the carousel and the “Dragon Hollow” playground without government funding. Here is a photo of the books I first read as the journey to learning about carousels began for me.

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In my search for information about carousels, historical locations and creators, I discovered that still today carousels from the 1800’s and early 1900’s are to be found around the world, still operating and delighting folks of all ages. A visit to Wikipedia will give you links to so many places that have information about the carvers, many of them regarded around the globe for their talent in holding the tools just so in their hands to slowly remove pieces from a block of wood until it took on the life of the animal in the maker’s vision, most often horses. The “heyday” of carousel creation was just at the turn of the twentieth century.

The book “The Carousel Keepers” is a fascinating recorded history of the carousels and the places where they “live” in  New Jersey. This oral history project was completed under a grant from the Historical Society of New Jersey and the book published in 1998. The book, “Thrill Rides – Carousels” is a children’s non-fiction work and has some great stories, information and photos. “Pony Tales: A Carousel for Missoula” is a most wonderful children’s book with stories by twenty-four writers and illustrators from Montana.

The carousel was so familiar to folks that when the Broadway musical “Carousel” was written by by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the public knew that the story was going to be set at a carnival. This stage production is a perennial favorite that is often performed by small theatre companies across the USA every year, and was created also as a most successful movie.

Carousels in the Coney Island Style, the Military Style and the Country Fair Style are still operating in parks and building designed especially for them around the US, in England, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Australia. Treat yourself to a return to the memory land of childhood summer picnics and outings with a visit to one of these works of art. An historical treasure of the skilled carvers, painters and story theme researchers for over a century. Art is not just to be found on the walls of museums or carved in stone, or cast in bronze…..the carousel provides a look at art in motion, art for everyone, art to ride.

 

Whatever happened to Social Realism? (by Kathleen Loomis)

My art book group was reading about Ben Shahn, the great Social Realism artist of the mid-20th Century, and the question came up, is there any Social Realism in today’s art world?  That movement, you will recall, pictures ordinary people, especially the poor and downtrodden of the world, and implicitly criticizes the power structures that keep them down.  It includes a lot of great art, on both sides of the ocean.

George Luks, St. Botolph St., 1922

Ben Shahn, Demonstration, 1933

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

One of the most enduring projects of Social Realism was the monumental effort by the U.S. Farm Security Administration to document poverty during the Depression.  Many unemployed artists, including Ben Shahn, worked for the FSA and produced photos that we all recognize.

Ben Shahn, Boone County, Arkansas, 1935 

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936

The poor we still have with us, but at least within the realm of painting, there seems to be little interest in High Art lately in documenting their lives.

What happened to Social Realism after its heyday?  We thought of several factors.

First, Abstract Expressionism made realistic painting seem so old-fashioned.  And subsequent trends in art — Pop, Conceptual, Minimalist, whatever — seemed equally bent on distancing themselves from anything from previous generations.  Painters who did stick with the old traditions, such as Andrew Wyeth, may have been popular with the public but were never fully accepted by High Art.

Second, irony came to rule American culture, making it uncool to be earnest or sincere.

Third, photography seemed to be a much better way of depicting the details of real life, and proving that extreme conditions aren’t just a figment of the artist’s imagination.  The FSA photos themselves were Exhibit A for that argument, and photographic documentation of the poor and marginal continues strong today.  You name the fringe group, there’s a photographer who has documented it.  For instance, teenage drug addicts in Tulsa, Oklahoma — Larry Clark (below).

 LGBT — Catherine Opie (below).

Workers in third world countries — Sebastião Salgado (below).

Turkish transvestite prostitutes — Kutlug Ataman (below). Although I neither know nor care much about Turkish transvestites, I confess to having sat for well over an hour transfixed by this video, which went on much longer.

Amputees from Colombian drug wars — Miguel Angel Rojas (below).

There’s obviously no dearth of art photography documenting the ragged edges of society, and if we’re unaware of either the art or the reality, it’s not for lack of somebody trying to enlighten us.  But the preferred form changes with the times.

So imagine my surprise as I was googling away to find paintings made in this very decade in the good old Social Realism style.

Max Ginsburg, Foreclosure, 2011

Had the man worn work clothes and the little girl a raggedy cotton dress, nothing in this scene would distinguish it from a painting of the 30s.  “I choose to paint realistically because I believe realism is truth and truth is beauty,” Ginsburg writes on his website. “I believe that realism can communicate ideas strongly.”

Although this approach is out of fashion, the desire of the artist to document the situations of the non-elite clearly continues.  It will be interesting to see whether photography in its turn will become old-fashioned as a means to accomplish this, and if so, what genre will take its place.

 

Rodin — king of recycling (by Kathleen Loomis)

My art history teacher last year, Chris Fulton, is an authority on Rodin’s great statue The Thinker, a situation that came about by accident. When Chris arrived at the University of Louisville a dozen years ago he noticed that the bronze Thinker who sits on the quad at U of L was much the worse for weather, its patina severely damaged and deteriorating before our eyes. He started to pester the administration to do something about it — our Thinker, the first bronze casting ever made in that size, is priceless. (There are about 28 full-size Thinkers around the world, but we’re number one, a mantra that U of L usually applies to basketball.)

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Auguste Rodin, The Thinker, at University of Louisville, surrounded by Chris Fulton and his art history students

After years of pestering Chris got them to commit to restoration of the Thinker, but as reward for his good intentions, he got put on the committee. The job was finally completed a year ago, and in the course of his work with the restoration, Chris became quite the expert. He also has begun working with some of the people he met on a larger project to document and study all the Thinkers ever cast.

Hearing him tell about his adventures in Rodin made me especially eager to hit the Musée Rodin when we got to Paris last year. The building used to be Rodin’s studio/workshop, and he donated all his sculptures to the government upon his death on condition that they turn the place into a museum.

Rodin first did The Thinker in 1880 as part of a commission to sculpt two massive front doors for a museum in Paris. The doors depicted the Gates of Hell, a scene from Dante’s Inferno, and Dante himself sat above the lintel contemplating the folly of mankind.

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Rodin, La Porte de l’Enfer, third maquette (plaster), 1881-82

The museum was never built, and Rodin kept working on the doors until his death, but it was hardly a failed project!

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Rodin, La Porte de l’Enfer, bronze

The huge production spawned many figures and poses that were given their own spinoff series, so to speak. The Thinker was first made as a free-standing statue in 1888, the same size as in the doors (about 28 inches tall).

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Rodin, Le Penseur, bronze, 1881-1882 (cast in 1917)

It was so popular that Rodin scaled it up to monumental size, about three times as big. Multiple casts were made in both versions, and one of the big guys is in the garden of the Musée Rodin, thinking under the golden dome of the Invalides.

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Rodin, Le Penseur, bronze, 1804

Although Rodin never installed his massive Gates of Hell doors at the museum that commissioned them, the project was a fertile spawning ground for many other sculptures (the Gates themselves showed up in several places, just not where they were originally intended). Most famous is The Thinker, but other bits also stepped out and became free-standing pieces.

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Rodin, Le Baiser, 1881-2

This one, representing Paolo and Francesca, doomed lovers from Dante’s Inferno, appeared in early maquettes of the Gates. Rodin decided they were too happy for their surroundings, and took them out of the final version. But never one to waste a good concept, he rendered them in terra cotta here and eventually in a larger marble version.

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Rodin, Les Trois Ombres, 1902-4

My favorite spinoff is The Three Shades, who stand at the very top of the Gates, pointing to the ominous words “abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” They’re actually identical triplets, each one cast from the same mold, but turned so that they each seem different.

Since learning more about Rodin’s many multiples, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of bronze-cast sculpture, where the artist isn’t closely involved in the actual making of the work. He may hover about the foundry (or in Rodin’s case, send helpers to check on the casting) but it’s not his hand any more at the end of the process. Did it make the sculptor nervous to turn over his baby to somebody else to finish? Was it exhilarating to order up dozens of Thinkers to populate the world? (Just like The Boys from Brazil.) Why do I lose respect for some artists who outsource the making of their work to others, but not for Rodin?

Emily Carr, Redux (by Clairan Ferrono)

Skidegate

Skidegate 1912

I first became aware of Emily Carr when I saw her work at the National Gallery of Canada in Vancouver 15 years ago.  I was, not to put too fine a point on it, gobsmacked!  I had never heard of her or seen work like hers.  For days I talked about her work (mostly to people who just nodded politely).  When we got home, I looked her up and examined  all the work I of hers I could find.  Then I read Susan Vreeland’s wonderful novel The Forest Lover, a fictionalized account of her life. And in 2007 Sandy Wagner did a post here at Ragged Cloth Cafe about her.  This summer I got the chance to go back to British Columbia, and of course I was anxious to see Carr’s work again.  And I fell in love with it all over again.

Emily Carr 8

Among the Firs  1930’s 36×30″

I love her trees and her light:

The Little Pine                                Scorned Timber

The Little Pine 1931                                                    Scorned Timber 1935

The Red Cedar                                                          Above the Trees

The Red Cedar 1933                                                  Above the Trees 1939

They beautifully convey the forests of British Columbia,  the movement of the trees, the pouring down of light, and, in fact, the spiritual energy that Carr obviously found there.  Her art was too individual, too avant garde for her time.  And while sometimes praised for the “vigor of her technique” her work was shunned as being not realistic enough.  Carr responded to this criticism by saying, “a picture should be more than meets the eye of the ordinary observer. . . .Art is art, nature is nature, you cannot improve upon it. . . .Pictures should be inspired by nature, but made in the soul of the artist, it is the soul of the individual that counts” ( Emily Carr, An Introduction to Her Life and Art by Anne Newlands).

Yes! The soul of the individual and the eye of the artist!

This past fall I took a drawing class for the first time.  I believed myself pretty lacking in talent, but found that my good observational skills kept me in good stead.  The class was working mainly on still lifes, and of course we all endeavored to be as accurate as possible.  Realism (terrifying!). But what was most striking to me, above and beyond my astonishment that my drawings actually looked like what they were intended to, was that all the drawings, while quite “accurate,” were very different and could easily be identified by artist.  Because we see differently and because we are interested in some things and not in others.  In other words, we make choices, and those choices make our work individual.

I am grateful for Emily Carr’s beautiful choices, for her wonderful eye and magnificent soul.


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