Art & Antiques Magazine For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Tue, 11 Oct 2016 16:28:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Art & Antiques Magazine 32 32 Getting Real Wed, 28 Sep 2016 21:12:10 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A show at the Delaware Art Museum presents the many modes of contemporary realist painting.

Scott Fraser, Lemon Fall, 2015

Scott Fraser, Lemon Fall, 2015, oil on board, 51 1⁄2 x 66 inches.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Paul Fenniak, Theme Park Patron, 2014 Scott Fraser, Spider Lullaby, 2012 Steven Assael, Passengers, 2009 Scott Fraser, Lemon Fall, 2015 Robert C. Jackson, Enough with the Bubbles, 2015

A few years ago, the artist Robert C. Jackson decided to write a book about contemporary realist painting. He chose 19 fellow artists whom he considered the most interesting, and instead of writing about them from his own point of view, he decided to interview them and let them explicate their own work. He also interviewed himself, bringing the total to 20. In 2014, the results were published in book form, along with reproductions of all the artists’ work, under the title Behind the Easel. The Pennsylvania-based Jackson, at 52 a senior and much-respected figure in the world of representational painting, had created a sort of democratic manifesto for contemporary realism, and now his book has become the basis of an exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, “Truth and Vision: 21st Century Realism,” which opens on October 22 and runs through January 22.

Margaret Winslow, curator of contemporary art at the Delaware Art Museum, says that the idea for the exhibition came to her after the museum acquired one of Jackson’s paintings. “I realized that the museum had not presented a contemporary representational art show in quite a while, and I saw that there’s increasing public support for representational painting,” she says, citing The Representational Art Conference, a yearly event which began in 2012, as an example. She also points out that the Delaware Art Museum has a long tradition of supporting representational painting, in particular the Brandywine tradition, which began with Howard Pyle’s school in Wilmington and Chadd’s Ford, Pa., at the turn of the 20th century and continues today in the Wyeth family.

The work on view in the exhibition is quite diverse, and despite the “realist” label, much of what it depicts can’t be found in ordinary life. Take, for example, Robert Jackson’s Enough With the Bubbles (2015). Painted expressly for this show, it gives us a sort of Mad Hatter’s tea party attended by multicolored balloon animals feasting on lobster, shrimp cocktail, and oysters while one of them exuberantly blows soap bubbles from a pipe. Each detail of the composition is rendered naturalistically, with keen attention to detail, from the food to the balloons to the upturned wooden soda crates that serve as a table. What Jackson has done is to take what are basically still life objects, each one quite sane and everyday in itself, and combine them in a way that breathes a bizarre, hallucinatory kind of life into them (he may also be making fun of Jeff Koons, but that can’t be proved).

“Truth and Vision” is full of still lifes of various kinds, many of which can be considered trompe l’oeil. This particularly American art tradition also has a local connection—one of its greatest 19th-century exponents of trompe l’oeil painting, Jefferson David Chalfant, lived and worked for his whole career in Wilmington, Del. Alan Magee paints arrangements of smooth stones placed on a flat surface, a classic trompe device to create uncertainty in the mind of the viewer as to whether he or she is looking at a very slightly three-dimensional collection of objects or a completely flat rendering thereof. In Aphorism, an acrylic on canvas from 2010, Magee gives us only the stones, arranged in a pattern that could be random. In Treasury (2009), stones have been artfully combined with other objects to make a humanoid creature that lies on top of a handwritten letter and a manila envelope that appears taped to the background, with trinkets scattered across the whole thing. Winslow considers Magee to occupy “an interesting place between trompe and still life.”

Jackson has contributed some classically trompe paintings to the show, and like Enough With the Bubbles, they use humor as a major ingredient. Looking at Art (2014) plays the old trompe trick of tacking pieces of paper to a vertical board, as in the “letter rack” paintings of John F. Peto. But instead of letters we get those postcards of artworks that museum shops sell by the thousands—Chuck Close, Richard Diebenkorn, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Wayne Thiebaud, Giorgio Morandi, they’re all there, inviting the viewer to “name that painting.” Hanging over one of the postcards is a pair of 3-D glasses, in winking acknowledgement of the illusionistic game being played. And in Mr. Rothko, Mr. Johns, Meet Mr. Jackson (2013), Jackson ingeniously creates art-historical references out of trompe l’oeil elements. Other artists in the show who use trompe l’oeil techniques are Will Wilson, whose Infrastructure (2012) is an updated version of the classic back-of-the-framed-canvas view, and Scott Fraser, whose Lemon Fall (2015) does the peeled citrus thing—a staple of European still life from the 17th century on—but with a twist.

Figure painting—one of the classic trio of representational art, along with still life and landscape—also figures prominently in “Truth and Vision.” Steven Assael’s Passengers (2009) actually combines two of these genres. It shows three young people asleep in what appears to be a train car; through the window glows a sublime Hudson River School-like landscape. But is it really a window? It might be a painting hanging on a wall, and the three figures may be snoozing in a room at home instead of being bound on a journey. As with so many of the pictures in this exhibition, Passengers is enigmatic, realist but not quite realistic. Paul Fenniak paints moments that could be snapshots of real life but that nonetheless have an unsettling, ambiguous quality. In Departure (2012), a woman pauses on a wooden stair by a picket fence. It’s either dusk or night, and a pale light catches her in a beam that sets her off from the surrounding gloom. Is she about to leave that house forever, and if so, why? Is one of the RVs in the background about to carry her away to a nomadic existence? Impossible to say. Theme Park Patron (2014), is a bit weirder but still plausible; the woman strapped to a ride may just be enjoying being high up over the amusement park, or she may be stuck up there, unable to resist. There is an awkwardness about her posture that suggests something is not quite right.

The Delaware Art Museum’s broad survey shows that representational painting is alive and well. The resurgence of this approach to art has been going on in the U.S. since the 1960s, when a reaction against the austerity of abstraction set in, and artists found that viewers, in some very deep way, crave images of people, objects, and scenes that they can recognize from their own visual experiences. Whether the paintings are true to everyday life or visionary and fantastical (what Winslow calls “imaginative realism”), they gratify this need while affording the artists a chance to make full use of their technical skills.

“There’s been so much conversation and scholarship about the trajectory of representational painting,” says Winslow, “which of course has been with us since the Paleolithic period, re-examining the impact of Abex, Minimalism, and conceptual art. I think that there has been a shift back to representation. In this portrait-heavy environment that we’re in, in regard to social media, it’s an interesting time to embrace representation.”

By John Dorfman

The Painter of Modern Life Wed, 28 Sep 2016 21:05:22 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Aristocratic and conservative in his tastes and opinions, Edgar Degas was a revolutionary in art.

Edgar Degas, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, 1873

Edgar Degas, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, 1873, oil on canvas.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Edgar Degas, Woman in a Tub, circa 1883 Edgar Degas, The Dance Class, circa 1873 Edgar Degas, Rehearsal Hall at the Opera, Rue Le Peletier, 1872 Edgar Degas, Racehorses in a Landscape, 1894 Edgar Degas, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, 1873

“A work of art,” Émile Zola wrote after seeing the Salon of 1866, “is a corner of creation seen through a temperament.” In Zola’s novels, biology is destiny. The human temperament is fixed, like that of a piano, but democratic, commercial society is fluid. The 20-novel history of the Rougon-Macquarts, a French family under the Second Empire of Louis Napoleon, demonstrates the resulting disorder, “the fatal convulsions that accompany the birth of a new world.”

“Make expressive heads (Academic style) into a study of modern sentiment,” Edgar Degas wrote in a notebook in the late 1860s. A new world required a new vision. Degas’ contribution to the Salon of 1866, Scene from the Steeplechase: The Fallen Jockey, is often seen as prefiguring a shift of temperament, a turn from historical to contemporary subjects in the 1870s. “Degas: A New Vision,” which opens on October 6 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (through January 8), suggests that while Degas’ eye turned from Spartan athletes to Parisian dancers, his temperament remained fixed. As in Zola’s fiction, the world changed around him.

Curated by Gary Tinterow of the MFAH and the Degas scholar Henri Loyette, “A New Vision” is most international exhibition since “Degas,” the landmark 1988 retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, whose curators also included Tinterow and Loyette. The exhibition collects more than 200 works from public and private collections and surveys the sweep of Degas’s career, from his Italian studies of the 1850s to his photographic experiments of the 1890s.

“Once I get hold of a line,” Degas told Walter Sickert, “I never let go of it.” And the line, like the idée fixe of a Balzac character, never relinquished Degas. His fleeting poses and transitional movements are both technical descriptions and psychological portraits. The two are not the same, and their blending in Degas’s expert line produces the intimate and disquieting effects that run through his work. The draughtsman resolves a challenge to his eye by capturing the physical tension of muscle and nerves. In doing so, he depicts unresolved and uncertain psychological states, notably his own.

This effect is most explicit in the early group portraits. Degas has a Tolstoyan eye for the varieties of unhappy family. In his dual portrait of his brother-in-law and sister, Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli (1865), Thérèse is half obscured by a table, while Edmondo dominates the foreground, so much so that his left elbow is off the canvas. Candidly anxious, Thérèse raises one hand to her cheek and keeps the other on Edmondo’s right shoulder, as if trying to calm herself. Edmondo sits sideways on a dining chair, his left shoulder cocked on the back of the chair, his left hand dangling loosely. He looks relaxed, but he cannot meet our gaze.

Thérèse looks directly at us with honest weakness, but Edmondo looks shiftily to his left. Like his left elbow, his eyes are pushing out of the picture, and away from Thérèse. By propping his left shoulder on the chair back, he drops his right shoulder. Thérèse’s hand will only remain there if she maintains the pressure, and if Edmondo continues his leftward drift, he will pull away from her entirely. His left leg might even be tensing in preparation for standing up and escaping a situation in which he is not as comfortable as he pretends.

“To find a method of composition that reflects our times,” Degas wrote in 1859. In that year, he began preparatory sketches for another masterpiece of misery. The Bellelli Family (1867) is a group portrait of his Italian in-laws, a bourgeois drama executed on the scale of a history painting. Laure, his father’s favorite sister, is stoically sad in black. Her pose echoes Holbein and Van Dyck, but she is a modern neurotic whose marriage has been displaced by the “fatal convulsions” of modern politics. Her husband, Gennaro Bellelli, is exiled from Naples for his activism in the Risorgimento.

Gennaro sits with his back to us, unemployed and unreliable. His face is seen in profile, as if he were a Roman preparing for his image to be stamped on the coinage, or a successful modern politician posing for an engraving. The gravity of failure, marital and public, pulls their daughters, Giovanna and Giulia, in different directions. Laure has a hand on Giovanna’s shoulder. Steadied before the gaze of the world, Giovanna is the only figure to look at the viewer. Giulia sits in the center of the picture. She is looking past Gennaro, but he is looking at her. She is his only point of contact with his family. She sits with one leg tucked under her body, ready to topple toward him, and out of Laure’s grasp. Although Laure and her daughters avoid Gennaro’s gaze, someone is watching him, and not just the artist. On the wall behind Laure’s shoulder, Degas reprises his oil portrait of his recently deceased grandfather Hilaire De Gas as an “Old Master drawing” in sanguine chalk.

In 1855, the young Degas had approached his hero, Ingres, through a family friend, and asked for advice. “Draw lines, lots of lines,” Ingres said, “from nature or from memory.” The Bellelli Family took eight years, long enough for Degas to convert his impressions of the Bellellis into muscle memory, and to reconcile modern sentiments with the “expressive heads” of the Renaissance masters. The line is beautiful, the implications bitter. Gennaro’s ironic profile and the mock Old Master drawing of Hilaire De Gas are satires on modern life.

The “Painter of Modern Life,” Baudelaire wrote in 1863, must “extract from fashion the poetry that resides in its historical envelope, to distil the eternal from the transitory.” In Interior (1868–69), Degas applied the method of the history painter to the sordid matter of a Zola novel. In a dark bedroom somewhere on the border between the distressed middle class and the respectable working class, a man in bourgeois costume leans against the bedroom door, and a woman in a nightdress crouches half in shadow. On the table, her pink-lined jewelry box is open, its contents probed harshly by the light overhead.

Degas called Interior “my genre painting.” But this scene does not contain enough clues to tell a genre painting’s story. In the early 20th century, the painting was referred to as The Rape, but Degas’ friend Paul Poujaud knew it as The Quarrel. Are we looking at a classical antecedent, the rape of Lucretia by Tarquin, which sparked the revolt that turned Rome from a monarchy to a republic? Or a modern consummation, perhaps from Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, where Thérèse and her lover, having murdered her husband, prepare for their wedding night? Or a mundane scene of prostitution, raised to the level of allegory by the violence and tension of Degas’ execution?

In the early 1870s, modern life assaulted Degas as if he were the protagonist in one of Zola’s instructive catastrophes. In 1870, France accepted Prussia’s invitation to war and lost. The Second Empire fell, the emperor absconded to London, and Paris rose in revolt. The liberal Third Republic arose to make peace with Prussia and make war on the citizens of Paris.

Degas volunteered for the National Guard in 1870. During rifle training, he discovered that his eyesight was defective. So too, it emerged after his father’s death in 1873, was his vision of his family. His father, Auguste, had been a banker; his mother Célestine’s family was in the cotton business in Louisiana. Family money had cushioned Degas for 40 years. Now, it emerged that his brother René had sunk the family in debt. Degas had to sell his house and art collection to clear René’s debts and the family name. Cornered, he had to earn a living for the first time. The pictures of ballet dancers and racehorses sold especially well.

“After a great many essays and experiments and trial shots in all directions, he has fallen in love with modern life,” Edmond de Goncourt wrote in 1874, after a visit to Degas’ studio. But Degas’ eye had always been on modern life, even when his mind was on ancient Greece. The posture of the boy on all fours in Young Spartan Girls Challenging Spartan Boys (1860–62, reworked 1880) recurs in his brothel sketches. He had exhibited his first picture of a dancer, Mlle. Fiocre in the “Ballet La Source” at the Salon of 1868. Degas was not in love with modern life as much as he was a prisoner of it. He preferred the city to the country, the line of a dancer’s leg to that of a tree.

Degas exhibited in seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1888, but he described himself as an Independent or a Realist. He rejected plein air painting in favor of traditional studio practice. He insisted, and not without reason, that no art was “less spontaneous” than his. Aristocratic in manner, reactionary in politics, and classical in taste, he was uncomfortable with the Impressionists’ courting of controversy and publicity. In 1880, Zola even accused him of having exploited the Impressionists, in order to place his “refined and elaborate works” before a public that might otherwise have missed them.

Degas followed his lonely line into and out of the Impressionist controversy. His commonality with the Impressionists is not just in his eye for the evanescent and the quasi-photographic fixing of mobile effects. His technical commonality with the Impressionists is strongest in his use of pastels. Pastels cannot be mixed on a palette, but must be applied alla prima, directly onto the picture ground. To avoid overmixing, which kills the colors, pastels must be applied in correct sequences—blue over red, not red over blue—or by spaced strokes that mix in the viewer’s eye.

“Make portraits of people in familiar and typical positions,” ran another of Degas’ notebook jottings, “above all, give faces the same character of expression one gives their bodies.” Familiar, that is, to the muscles that sustain the pose, and typical of the person who makes the movement. In A Cotton Office in New Orleans (1873), his uncle, the cotton merchant Michel Musson, assesses raw cotton that is as light as a cloud but heavy with potential cash value. The perfectly balanced dancer bows with a bouquet in Finishing the Arabesque (1877); in the dressing room, the ungainly nudes hop from bath to floor.

By the 1890s, Degas was more than half blind and experimenting with a metal contraption that covered his blind right eye entirely and allowed his weakening left eye to see through a narrow slit. He called his late paintings “an orgy of color,” a final visit to his brothel of the senses. For his last drawings, he measured his model with a pair of compasses, not realizing that he was pricking her skin. After he moved to a smaller apartment, a developer knocked down his house. Drawn by memory, Degas continued to visit the site, looking at a hole in the ground, but seeing the “lines, lots of lines” of architecture, and the life that had been within.

Degas was always a man of temperamental obsessions—engraving, poetry, anti-Semitism. Like Zola, he took up photography in late life. Degas’ photographs are taken head-on, not from the corners, and they have the narrative clarity of history painting. In an 1895 photograph, the artist poses next to Albert Bartholomé’s oil, Weeping Girl. In the shadowed room, his little corner of creation, he strokes his beard and contemplates the girl’s curled, naked body. It is as though she has emanated from his head like an ectoplasm at a séance—or as if he has never left the room of Interior.

By Dominic Green

Out of Frame Wed, 28 Sep 2016 20:57:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By folding, creasing, and ultimately draping his canvases, Sam Gilliam brought color abstraction closer to the viewer than any artist before him.

Sam Gilliam, Back, 1970

Sam Gilliam, Back, 1970, acrylic on canvas, 103 x 144 x 4 in. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Photography: Lee Thompson

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Sam Gilliam, Bursting, 1972 Sam Gilliam, Change, 1970 Sam Gilliam, Crystal, 1973, acrylic on canvas, approximate installation dimensions: 92.75 x 29.75 x 7.5 in., Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Photography: Fredrik Nilsen Sam Gilliam, Helles, 1965 Sam Gilliam, Back, 1970

In 1962, when Sam Gilliam arrived in Washington, D.C., the leading avant garde presence was the Washington Color School—a group of artists working in the color field style. Gilliam, who had finished his MFA at the University of Louisville in Kentucky a year earlier, relocated to the nation’s capital to unite with Dorothy Butler, a recently hired reporter for the Washington Post and the woman he planned to marry. Though the Washington Color School painters got their name from the title of a 1965 show at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, they had been active since the late ’50s. Characterized by bold stripes of saturated color, the canvases of the Washington Color Painters were equal parts vibrancy and precision. In 1962, however, Morris Louis, a leading figure of the group, died, and Kenneth Noland, though he remained an integral part of the Washington scene, had moved north. A younger generation of painters, with Gilliam chief among them, began to show at the influential Jefferson Place Gallery, reshaping the visual art of the city.

Gilliam, who had set up a studio in a carriage house above a garage, had his first solo show in 1963. There, he met Thomas “Tom” Downing, a student of Noland’s, who along with Louis, Noland, Howard Mehring, and Gene Davis would represent the Washington Color Painters in Clement Greenberg’s seminal 1964 traveling exhibition “Post-Painterly Abstraction.” Gilliam recognized Downing from an article he saw in the paper and asked him what he thought of his show. Meeting Downing would prove to be a major turning point in Gilliam’s direction as a painter. Downing teased Gilliam, who was painting figurative art inspired in part by the California School at the time, saying that his work gave the impression that Gilliam was scared to paint. Gilliam, charged by Downing’s advice that he should paint “real” paintings, cast figuration aside.

In the following years, as Gilliam became more closely aligned with the Washington Color Painters, his work became more reflective of their style. Using the Magna acrylic resin paints popular among the group, Gilliam created canvases washed with monochromatic fields of color divided by diagonal stripes and triangular forms. Though they were responses to the hard-edge geometric paintings of Downing and Noland and the strict tenets of Color Field painting, Gilliam’s works differentiate themselves with their subtle blending of colors and softer, lyrical sensibility.

The 2013 exhibition “Hard-Edge Paintings 1963–1966,” his first with Los Angeles-based David Kordansky Gallery, put works from this era of the artist’s career on view. The show, which was curated by contemporary artist Rashid Johnson, served as a reintroduction of this series to the greater art world. Works such as Blue Let (1965), a canvas washed with a Pan Am-esque blue and a myriad of multi-hued stripes, or Helles (1965), an off-white canvas spangled with colored stripes of staggered thickness, find Gilliam working within a paradigm of material and color that would serve as a jumping-off point for his subsequent work.

After the stripe paintings, Gilliam began experimenting with manipulating the canvas—folding and creasing it—before the paint could dry. Taking it off the stretcher, Gilliam would work his paint into the canvas on the floor, allowing pigment to pool in the canvas’ folds and thin at its creases. Referred to as Beveled-edge paintings or Slice paintings, these works, which Gilliam would stretch on a beveled canvas after the paint had soaked in, pushed past the boundaries of Noland’s pour techniques.

In a video interview with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gilliam describes Light Fan (1966), an early painting from this period: “Light Fan is…kind of a color architecture. The color is put on chromatically; there’s a dark color, there’s a green color, there’s an ochre color, etc., that goes across to have a flow.” Says Gilliam, while closing his eyes, “Even though it was gestural, even though it had structural moments, it became unified in terms of the wetness of the paint. Light Fan was very significant because it was the springboard to real sculpture—to real sculptured painting.” Where color field painting took color as its central subject, Gilliam’s paintings of the late ’60s examined the sculptural qualities of the canvas, color, and paint itself.

If Light Fan was “color architecture,” the series of paintings Gilliam unveiled at a 1969 exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art questioned the architecture of a painting in general. Gilliam was asked by friend and curator Walter Hopps to show alongside fellow D.C. artists Rockne Krebs and Ed McGowin in a show appropriately titled “Gilliam, Krebs, McGowin.” Hopps, who was the newly appointed director of the Corcoran, created gallery spaces with 20-foot ceilings. Gilliam was assigned the upper floor of the atrium—a 30-by-60-foot space that Gilliam would need to paint bigger paintings in order to fill. It was while trying to hang the painting Niagara for the show in his studio that Gilliam happened upon what would become his signature. One side of the canvas drooped off the wall and onto the floor.

Gilliam began draping his canvases, allowing them to hang, sag, and fold, Effectively turning two-dimensional paintings into three-dimensional objects, he eliminated the frame, the formal geometry, and changed his paintings’ relationship to the gallery wall. With no literal precedent in the art-historical canon, Gilliam’s drape paintings seem akin instead to the marble-etched folds of the vestments, which adorn the Three Goddesses of the Parthenon’s east pediment, or floor-skimming window treatments. They also present the viewer with a familiar material reality, an unusual feat for abstract art, which casual viewers, as has been incessantly lampooned since the ’50s, so often find alienating. The 1969 show at the Corcoran was met with high praise. Paul Richard, the Washington’s art critic at the time, described it as “enormously important.” D.C. art critic Ben Forgey, when conducting an interview with Gilliam in 1989, said, “I’ll never forget, and I’m sure many people will never forget, the drape canvases the first time we saw them in the Corcoran.” In 2005 the Corcoran gave Gilliam a show of his own, a full retrospective.

“Green April,” Kordansky’s second exhibition of Gilliam’s work, which closed this past July, focused on Gilliam’s beveled-edge and drape paintings. The majority of the pieces in the show had never been exhibited before. Green April (1969), the monumental beveled-edge piece from which the show gets its name, is over 20 feet of subtle, luminous gradations of seafoams and aquas, which bring to mind a marine fantasy or crinkled cellophane. Green April is described in the gallery’s release as sharing both the panoramic scope and ethereal luminosity of Monet’s Water Lilies. Crystal, a 1973 drape painting, has a brighter palette, with a similar seafoam alongside oranges, yellows, reds, and pinks. It hangs closer to the wall than some of Gilliam’s more sprawling hammock-like drape paintings. The piece bears a mesmerizing talismanic quality, which could be due in part to its name or to the fact that it resembles an enormous cloak. Existing outside of the literal and figurative framework of painting, Crystal seems to exist more freely within a shared space with the viewer.

Gilliam, who is in his 80s now, was born in Tupelo, Mississippi—the birthplace of Elvis. He moved with his parents and seven siblings to Louisville during childhood. There he took to drawing early and decided he wanted to be a cartoonist. He grew up near a fairground where there was a circus, which he often attended—an influence perhaps on some of his tent-like drape paintings. At the University of Louisville, where he received his bachelor’s degree, he studied art and worked as a fellowship student at the library and art library. There he immersed himself in the books that professors used to compile their lectures. After college, he joined the ROTC and was stationed in Japan—a woodcut studio near his base, galleries, and art stores kept him busy. During graduate school, one of his professors, Carl Crodel, who was from Munich, claimed to know Paul Klee—a major influence on Gilliam—and thought Miró, who it is said was the first to use a paint pouring technique, was the last important artist. With Downing, Gilliam frequently took the bus to New York to see art shows. In fact, every interview with Gilliam emphasizes the importance of the museum or gallery space, to the point that it seems that looking at art is as central to Gilliam’s practice as painting.

After the revelation of his drape paintings, Gilliam was featured in the American pavilion at the 1972 Venice Biennale. The following year, he made Autumn Surf, a drape made of 150 yards of 15-foot-wide polypropylene for the San Francisco Museum. In 1975, Gilliam installed a series of drape paintings titled Seahorses on the side of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as part of a program sponsored by The United States General Services Administration. The canvases—two of which were 30 by 90 feet, the other four 30 by 60 feet, were attached to bronze rings, which adorn the museum’s building. An installation at the Brooklyn Museum was held the following summer. During the ’80s and ’90s, Gilliam took quite a few commissions for installations or public art. A primarily-colored fan like polychromed aluminum and steel hanging sculpture was installed in LaGuardia Airport in 1996. He built a piece above the tracks of the Davis Square Subway in Cambridge, Mass., and created installations in Germany, Chile, and Korea.

While Gilliam has been exhibiting regularly in D.C. for the past few decades, his work is still not as well known and appreciated as it ought to be. Recent shows with Kordansky and acquisitions by MoMA and the Met, however, have shined a well-deserved spotlight on multiple periods of the artist’s work.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Life and Light Wed, 28 Sep 2016 20:49:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Venetian Renaissance painting is as distinctively beautiful as the city that nurtured it.

Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano, The Archangel with Tobiolo and Two Saints

Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano, The Archangel with Tobiolo and Two Saints (L’arcangelo con Tobiolo e due santi), 1414-1415, oil on canvas, 64 x 70 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Vittore Carpaccio, Portrait of a Lady with a Book Vittore Carpaccio, Annunciation Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano, The Archangel with Tobiolo and Two Saints Bartolomeo Veneto, Portrait of a Gentleman Giovanni Bellini, Madonna and Child Blessing

In Giorgio Agamben’s essay “On the Uses and Disadvantages of Living Among Specters,” the Italian philosopher writes, “If we compare Venice to a language, then living in Venice is like studying Latin, like trying to pronounce every word, syllable by syllable, in a dead language… It must be remembered, though, that one should never declare a language dead provided that it still somehow speaks and is read…The truth is that a dead language, just like Venice, is a spectral language that we cannot speak but that still quivers and hums and whispers in its own special way, so we can eventually come to understand and decipher it, albeit with some effort and the help of a dictionary.”

Most visitors to Venice have experienced the legendary city’s “spectral” quality, the feeling of being outside of time, straddling the present (navigating labyrinthine streets filled with tourists and vendors) and the glory of the past. Venice’s striking character is unique in Italy, however; it is without a doubt dazzling, but at the same time its architecture and charm differ from the overwhelming monumentality of Rome and Florence. Instead, it is strangely familiar. Venice is uncanny—as if everyone has visited the city before in a collective dream. This dream, however, may be the shared experience of language and culture which finds deep roots in Venice’s humanist tradition and proto-modernity. In this sense Venice holds a past we hope will teach us something about ourselves and where we come from, if we can only learn to speak and understand its distant tongue.

The Denver Art Museum’s exhibition “Glory of Venice: Masterworks of the Renaissance” (from October 2—February 17) provides the dictionary Agamben alludes to. In the masterpieces of the Venetian painters on display, visitors can begin to understand the language and concerns of Renaissance Venice, its particular brand of humanism, and how it influenced and guided the expressive work of the city’s painters. By viewing the colorful gems of Venetian painting from the late 15th to the early 16th century, visitors will be able to experience what is unique and enduring in Venetian painting, how it began, and its arrival at a synthesis of perspective, naturalism, landscape, light, and color. At a glance, these elements evoke a definition of realism (if brought together in the service of achieving fidelity to reality), and this is part of Venice’s contribution to painting, the optical realism light and color can create, a mission later embarked on by the Impressionists. Somehow, it is more though, and like all great art there is a deeper dimension to work of painters such as Bellini (the painter who gave the Venetian style its first full utterance), Giorgione, and Titian (whose work signals the end of the show’s time frame), where color and realistic perspective serve humanistic and compositional concerns as well as the divine.

“Glory of Venice” presents more than 50 major masterworks of Venetian painting, the core of which are 19 paintings on loan from the prestigious Gallerie Dell’Accademia in Venice. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to trace the development of the Venetian style, its sensitivity to color and light and its deep humanism, in a collection of paintings which rarely travel, including Christ Carrying the Cross by Giorgione (on loan from the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice), The Annunciation by Vittore Carpaccio (from the Fondazione Magnani Rocca in Parma), and culminating in the refined early works of Titian, which signal the beginning of a new era in Venetian painting that included Veronese.

The humanism of the Renaissance found a particular expression in Venice. The Venetians celebrated their city and their lives in a glorious pageantry of finery and ceremony which put the human being and society at the center of things. Venice became the most prosperous city in Europe during the 13th century (although the 15th and 16th centuries were the time of the city’s decline in power) and this allowed the Venetians to enjoy and examine life and the world of beautiful things that surrounded them, as well as to enjoy the influx of culture and ideas which made their way to the privileged city. The scholarly obsession with antiquity was less present in Venice, and the brand of humanism that developed there reflected the concern with the here and now and the city’s geographic place at the crossroads of east and west. Works were commissioned for government buildings, and artists included details of their city in works depicting biblical subjects, opening the door to landscape painting.

In Giovanni Bellini’s oil on wood Virgin with Standing Blessing Child (circa 1475–80) the naturalistic landscape emerges behind the Madonna and Child, both rendered with deep sensitivity to shape and color. This feature became a mark of Bellini’s followers and opened the possibility of realistic depth and perspective and led to the landscape being approached as subject in its own right. As the show’s curator, Angelica Daneo, describes it, “Landscape really lends itself well to explorations of light and color. As you go through the exhibition, the landscape becomes the protagonist. In the Renaissance of Florence, the human figure is at the center, the prominent subject of the painting, but in Venetian painting landscape dominates the composition. If you see an Italian Renaissance painting where you are so attracted by the landscape, it’s a good chance it’s Venetian.”

The Venetians drew (or rather colored) from life, filling their work with sumptuously lifelike representations of holy figures, humble and glorious. Long gone were the alien Christs and Madonnas of the Byzantine era, but the Venetians also avoided the hard, idealized statue-like figures found in painting elsewhere in Italy. What emerged was something uniquely Venetian—beautiful and familiar works unified by color and composition. In the work of the Venetian masters of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the line begins to become blurred in favor of color, and this diffusion leads to a soft beauty but also to optical realism and new possibilities for shape and depth. Titian’s Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Dominic, and a Donor (circa 1513) creates shape, depth, and life with color. The oil on canvas depicting the Virgin and Child being adored by saints is a triumph of Venetian painting, soft and hazy, full of movement, with the scene set against a landscape with character and depth. The folds of the Virgin’s garment are free of hard shadow or rigid line and instead are created with precise attention to light and shade. It is clear why the early period of Venetian Renaissance painting culminated in the deep sensitivity of Titian.

The Venetian painters’ visual language creates the phonemes that constitute our own contemporary visual language of verisimilitude in which realism (in figure, landscape and the relationship of the two) forms the bedrock from which an endless procession of artistic augmentations are able to proceed. By adding dimension and depth, the Venetians were able to represent space and figures that were empirically recognizable as “real” and manipulate them into glorious and colorful compositions. The humanistic tradition of Venetian painting echoes down through Italian art, finding perhaps its last great expression in the golden age of Italian film, in which filmmakers and writers such as Roberto Rossellini and Giuseppe De Santis used life to create great works of soaring beauty and deep humanity. Luchino Visconti’s 1943 masterwork Ossessione (shrouded in its own brand of Venetian atmospheric haze) is a wonderland of diffuse light and sensuous shape, and in Michelangelo Antonioni’s revolutionary 1960 film L’Avventura the landscape gains a dominance and psychological character it had never before enjoyed in cinema. These works achieve a humanistic power in much the same way a Venetian masterwork would by using the recognizable and reorganizing it into perfect artifice with graphic and emotional sensitivity.

Venetian painting is characterized by pictorial excellence and sensitivity to light and color. Light is what makes possible the language of Venetian painting. This explains the Impressionists’ attraction to the Venetian painters, whose attention to the effects of light and atmosphere they studied and sketched in the Louvre. The realistic representation of space and light is a phenomenon the contemporary world takes largely for granted due to the ubiquity of cameras, and as late as the 15th century this feat was something very special. As important as Giotto’s discoveries were in the realm of perspective and the return to sketching from nature, over the next two centuries they were refined and supplemented by the work of Giorgione, Bellini, and Titian, which brought forth new advances in dimension and depth, made possible by the introduction of oil paint. Light and shadow and their Janus-like relationship to the dimensionality of figures in space create even greater realism and emotion. It leads one to ask, why were the perfection of and sensitivity to light effects in painting so particular to Venice? The answer could be la nebbia—the fog.

The autumn fog which envelops Venice is part of its spectral myth. How do we see light when it is what allows us to see? Shadow provides negative evidence of light’s presence but this allows us to see only its absence. In fog we see light struggle through atmosphere. By living in a city sometimes shrouded in fog, Venetian painters may have become acutely aware of light and its reality, its sculptural character in atmosphere. This is speculation, but perhaps also a key to the past. If you are fortunate enough to stand in Venice in the early morning fog of autumn, stop and think of what Bellini may have seen when he stood in the same spot 500 years earlier, and attempt to think what he may have thought. Imagine the haze that characterizes some of his most affecting works. In this way it may be possible to decipher the language of Venice, to cross the bridge of time and see ourselves and our human world a little more clearly through the fog.

By Chris Shields

Go With the Flow Wed, 28 Sep 2016 19:29:45 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The late Marvin Lipofsky was there at the birth of the American studio glass movement, shaping its course as he shaped his own sculptures.

Russian Group 2006 - 7 #7

Russian Group 2006 – 7 #7, 11 x 18 x 14 inches, the 1st International Symposium of Art Glass, Gus-Khrustalny, Vladimir Region, Russia 2006–07, Marvin Lipofsky with help from Valdimir Zakharov and Boris Arbusov;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Group Taiwan 1995 #1 Marvin Lipofsky working on glass with assistants, circa 1970s Glass Form 1968 GA Series 1994–99 #5 L’viv Group 2001–02 #2 Russian Group 2006 - 7 #7

Line up piece after piece by the late glass sculptor Marvin Lipofsky and something wonderful happens. No matter where it was made, or how, or when, or with whom, there is no mistaking its author. Be it a semi-striated, candy-hued form from his “Fratelli-Toso” series, created in the late 1970s in Murano, Italy; or Otaru Series 1987 #4, a delicately colored, flower-like shape that sprang to life in Hokkaido, Japan; or Australian Landscape 2004 #4, which seems ready to float off the table and head for the Great Barrier Reef once your back is turned; they are all unmistakably Lipofskys. Though he signed his work, he didn’t need to ; even an utterly unschooled person pulled off the street could glance at a grouping of his sculptures and see right away that they are all from the vision of a single artist. It’s a test that only the greatest can pass.

Lipofsky was born near Chicago in 1938 and was far more influenced by National Geographic than by any art magazine. He fell under the spell of travel long before he fell under the spell of glass sculpting, getting away when he could, because he could, so he could learn something new that was best learned by leaving home. Once hired by the University of California, Berkeley in 1964 to found and direct its glass program, he used his academic credentials as a skeleton key to open the doors of glass factories around the world. He ultimately traveled to more than 30 countries to toil alongside local artisans and students in their hot shops.

The charm of Lipofsky’s art is rooted in the personality of its maker. Though he did not grow up in California, he embraced the eminently Californian attitude summed up by the phrase, “go with the flow.” When he entered college, he didn’t set out to work in glass; he just knew he wanted to create in three dimensions and pursued avenues that would let him do that. He studied design and ceramics before entering the orbit of Harvey Littleton at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the fall of 1962, when the soon-to-be studio glass icon was setting up the first hot glass program at an American university. Their first encounter was not nearly as epic as it might have been, given how much each man would do to ensure the success of the artistic movement. In a 2009 oral history video for the Glass Art Society, Lipofsky recalled Littleton asking him, “Are you here to blow glass?” and responding, “I dunno. I’m here to be a sculpture major.”

But Lipofsky went with it, and thus became one of the handful of graduate students who midwifed the birth of the American studio glass movement, finding their way with the help of a furnace set up in a garage at Littleton’s 80-acre farm in nearby Verona, Wis. Through these humble origins, glass began to move from the realm of the functional to fine art, and glass artisans felt the freedom they needed to evolve into glass artists. Lipofsky would become the most famous of Littleton’s earliest recruits (future superstar Dale Chihuly would come through later) in part by accepting a job offer that Littleton passed to him as he approached graduation—the post at Berkeley. It ended in 1972, but Lipofsky also continued to teach at the California College of Arts and Crafts (since renamed as the California College of the Arts) for 15 more years, and in addition he led at least 300 workshops in the course of his long career, doggedly and generously sharing the information that he harvested on his travels with all who were eager to receive it.

Lipofsky evolved a way of working that was simple but by no means easy. It started with visiting a glassworks far from his Berkeley studio. Within a span of time that was as short as it was intense (typically from one to three days), he would create new works in concert with the away team, directing as they blew glass into the hand-carved wooden molds that he brought with him. This ability to fall in with strangers, many of whom did not speak English, and achieve what he wanted with them might be the most underappreciated aspect of Lipofsky’s genius, and again, it has its roots in his ability to go with the flow. He learned to size up a team of glass artisans quickly and correctly, and he worked within their capabilities rather than trying to impose on them to any great extent.

Working within a team’s capabilities also meant working with whatever materials their hot shop had on hand. If it was rich in chemicals that yielded red-colored glass, as he found in China, then he favored red in his sculptures. In Murano, he did as the Muranese did. Lipofsky might learn a few key words in the native tongue ahead of time, and he would rely on a translator when necessary, but everyone involved had at least one language in common: that of glass-making. Lipofsky’s interpretation of going with the flow often extended as far as reflecting the time of year at which he visited a glass factory. The oranges, yellows, and browns in pieces made in Ukraine capture the late-fall hues of the trees; the colors of the cherry blossom-laden spring and the magnificently blue ocean waters that he saw in Japan found their way into the glass.

After the excitement, the intensity, and the camaraderie of fashioning new pieces in a faraway hot shop, Lipofsky would have them shipped back to his Berkeley studio, where he would cold-work them into finished art. The two phases of his artistic process were as different as they could possibly be; speed and teamwork gave way to contemplation and solitude. Though Lipofsky trekked the globe as often as he could, even taking off during the school year if the invitation was tempting enough, he returned to the same physical studio space for much of his artistic life. Once home, he didn’t drop his luggage and pry the shipping crates open straight away. On the contrary, he preferred to let the last trip’s yield sit for a while before starting to aim his brain at it. Over the course of days and sometimes weeks, Lipofsky would sandblast and shape the glass, cutting away material as he wished so he could reveal and enhance the mysteries of the interior. He did this alone, always alone. He has roughly 1,500 glass sculptures to his name, not including countless others created during symposia, demonstrations, and other events.

As you might be expected of someone who goes with the flow, Lipofsky showed no interest in spending his time articulating and describing the forces that animated his sculptures. He dismissed artist’s statements as so much useless faffery, and while he recognized what other people might see in his works, be it a literal resemblance to a shell or a bodily organ, or an impression of sensuality of the sort that radiates from a Georgia O’Keeffe canvas, he wasn’t willing to go so far as to validate their reactions. In a lengthy 2003 interview for a Smithsonian oral history project, he commented, “I’ve always said that there wasn’t any real symbolic symbols to most of my work. That’s just what the glass did. And the glass did those things without having to try very hard with it.” In other words, Lipofsky devoted himself to following the glass where it led him.

Lipofsky died this past January at the age of 77. Though he had begun to slow down his pace in 2008—standing and holding a 25-piece of glass for hours upon hours of cold-working is a taxing feat at any age—his death came as a shock. Lipofsky himself hadn’t accepted the fact of his own eventual demise to the point of drafting comprehensive instructions on what, exactly, to do with his estate. Particularly challenging is the question of how to deal with the 50-odd works that were left sitting in his studio, waiting for the artist’s attention.

Lipofsky’s death also closed the door on a tantalizing might-have-been voiced by Corning Museum of Glass curator Tina Oldknow in her foreword to the book Marvin Lipofsky: A Glass Odyssey. In noting how he had personally assembled a priceless visual record of American studio glass history through taking tens of thousands of photographs during his rich and remarkable career, she said, “I would love to see this material gathered into a book with Lipofsky’s own, inimitable commentary.” Sadly, that 2003 book on the artist is the publication that comes the closest to filling the gap that she identifies. Since Oldknow retired in 2015, it falls to others to assemble Lipofsky’s five decades of documentary material into a magnificent whole that would detail the spark and the spread of the American studio glass movement from his unique vantage point.

Even if such a volume never sees the light of day, Lipofsky is in no danger of sinking into obscurity. He changed too many lives to suffer that fate. Jeanette Bokhour, who began working with him in 2004 and now manages his studio and archive, grasps the challenge that lies ahead: “Marvin expected me to exhibit his work and sell his work, but history wants you to do more—to understand who he was, and what he did.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Master of Mysterious Images Wed, 28 Sep 2016 19:21:53 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Known for his distinctive poster designs, the veteran Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo is earning belated attention overseas for his work as a painter, too.

Tadanori Yokoo, no goal for art, 2015

Tadanori Yokoo, no goal for art, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 46 x 35 3⁄4 inches;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Tadanori Yokoo, A La Maison de M. Civecawa, 1965 Tadanori Yokoo, Chinsetsu Yumihari-zuki, 1969 Tadanori Yokoo, Having Reached a Climax at the Age of 29, I Was Dead, 1965 Tadanori Yokoo, no goal for art, 2015 Tadanori Yokoo, 49 Years Later, 2014

The Tokyo-based graphic designer and painter Tadanori Yokoo is regarded as one of the most accomplished doyens of modern art in Japan, even if, for all his renown, the scope and diversity of his oeuvre are still not very well known in the West. However, Yokoo’s work in the field of poster design, for which he won acclaim earlier in his long career, still boasts a cult following among design mavens and specialists around the world. Meanwhile, in recent decades the artist has devoted his energy primarily to painting, a development that may have confounded Yokoo-watchers both inside and outside Japan who thought they had his work neatly pegged and placed somewhere in the Eastern division of modern art’s complex, global history.

In fact, as the artist’s most recent series of paintings, which New York’s Albertz Benda Gallery has been showcasing over the past several years, have demonstrated, Yokoo is not only an artist whose moves are unpredictable but also one who mines his own life’s history for thematic reference points in enigmatic ways.

Yokoo was born in 1936 in Nishiwaki, a town with a long history as a textile-producing center in Hyõgo Prefecture, in the southwestern part of Honshu, the main island in the Japanese archipelago. He was brought up by elderly adoptive parents who had run a kimono-fabric company. He grew up at a time when Japan was militarizing and then during the years of World War II in the Pacific. In the decades leading up to the right-wing militarist takeover of the government and the outbreak of war, Japanese art, culture, fashion, and intellectual life had been influenced by waves of incoming Western styles and democratic ideas. In his novels and essays, the contemporary writer Junichirõ Tanizaki identified the sense of nostalgia mixed with anxiety that his people and their tradition-embracing society felt in the face of modernity’s seemingly unstoppable approach.

Even as a child, Yokoo loved to draw. After finishing high school, he went to work at a printing company, then at a newspaper in the port city of Kobe. He soaked up the colors, textures, and ambience of the fading world in which he had grown up and, after moving to Tokyo in 1960, worked for an advertising agency and then as a graphic designer at Nippon Design Center. That company was run by Ikko Tanaka, an innovator who profoundly influenced modern graphic design in Japan. At the time, the Japanese capital was undergoing rapid reconstruction, as war-devastated neighborhoods of old wooden structures and cozy back streets gave way to high-rise concrete apartment blocks and commercial centers.

Yokoo fell in with underground avant-garde artists, including Tatsumi Hijikata, the creator of the psychologically intense butõ dance form, and Shuji Terayama, a poet, dramatist and filmmaker. Yokoo began creating collage-like posters to promote their performances and events. In developing such projects—and, through them, a signature look and aesthetic that imitated no known style—Yokoo, who as a child had enjoyed classic warrior tales, evoked the look and character of such indigenous, pre-modern source material as printed menko game cards, with their images of samurai, movie stars, or famous athletes; old kimono-fabric labels; Hokusai-style waves; antique typography; and the Hinomaru, Japan’s traditional Rising Sun flag, with its bold rays extending out from a red disc.

Breaking with the uncluttered approach to modernist design that prevailed in cutting-edge poster, book, and advertising design in Japan in the 1960s (and which typified Tanaka’s own spare, elegant style), Yokoo packed his poster designs with allusions to a pre-modern past, but with all the verve and some of the irony of the emerging Pop Art style. A few years ago, in an interview published in a newspaper in Japan, Yokoo recalled that his work “constituted quite a critique of design as it existed” at that time.

Eventually, professionally, he set out on his own. He became friendly with well-known sports stars and performers, his own celebrity rising in tandem with the power and influence of postwar mass media. In 1966, Yokoo presented his first solo exhibition at a Tokyo gallery, and as his unusual work became known overseas, foreign critics were quick to tag it “Pop Art.” In 1968, he designed a poster for the “Word and Image” survey of poster art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It featured Hinomaru-style sun rays shooting out from a giant eyeball. Four years later, MoMA mounted a solo exhibition of Yokoo’s work, consolidating his stature at home and abroad.

Since that time, outside Japan Yokoo has often been called a Pop artist, referred to as a Japanese counterpart to such iconic American artists of the 1960s as Andy Warhol or Peter Max. However, in Yokoo’s case, that label has never been completely accurate. Certainly American pop-cultural influences could be strongly felt in Japan after the war years, but for all their bold color and impact, thematically, Yokoo’s posters looked back, not ahead to some fantasy of a high-tech future, nor did they celebrate the emerging postwar consumer culture. (One of his most famous posters mockingly announced the artist’s own death at the age of 29.) At the same time, Yokoo carefully balanced the emotional temperature of the potentially nostalgia-provoking elements of his poster designs in a way that prevented them from becoming kitsch.

Even as he produced a vast body of work and developed friendships with such leading cultural figures as the fashion designer Issey Miyake (for whom he has routinely created runway-show invitations for many decades) or the writer Yukio Mishima (a nationalist who famously committed ritual suicide after a failed coup d’état attempt in 1970), there were periods in his career during which he made paintings. And in 1981, after visiting a Picasso exhibition at MoMA, Yokoo declared that he had given up graphic design in order to devote himself to painting. “When I entered that exhibition, I was a graphic designer and when I left I was a painter,” he recalled many years later.

In fact, Yokoo told Art & Antiques in a recent written interview, “I started creating my first paintings in 1966. My motifs in those early works were young girls in seductive poses in various situations.” He made about 20 such pictures in acrylic on canvas, including some depicting women with pink-red skin and bathing caps swimming in a moat surrounding a medieval Japanese castle. Yokoo did not exhibit those paintings outside Japan around that time. Instead, as he grew his hair long, savored the Beatles’ music, assimilated the hippie and psychedelic trends of the 1960s and early ’70s, and traveled to India, it was his distinctive posters that attracted the attention of fans and collectors.

When Yokoo switched his focus to painting in the 1980s, in Western Europe and the U.S., the aesthetics of so-called bad painting were in the air. In 1978, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York had presented “‘Bad’ Painting,” a controversial exhibition curated by the late Marcia Tucker. It examined the notion of taste, at which certain contemporary artists had begun taking aim in a postmodernist critical spirit that questioned canonical art history’s assumptions and narratives. Tucker wrote of the “bad” painting genre (which would in some instances find fuller expression in the 1980s in such movements as New Expressionism), “The freedom with which these artists mix classical and popular art-historical sources, kitsch and traditional images, archetypal and personal fantasies, constitutes a rejection of the concept of progress per se. […] Bypassing the idea of progress implies an extraordinary freedom to do and to be whatever you want.”

In that pre-Internet age, such ideas reached Japanese artists mainly through art magazines. Whether or not Yokoo was directly influenced by the “bad” painting trend, when he first started exhibiting his pictures in Japan, some critics and viewers did not know what to make of his big career turn. Animals, starbursts, ectoplasmic garlands of color, dramatically lit figures like characters in movie posters, old buildings, assorted motifs from traditional Japanese art, whole panels of abstract patterns, and fragments of words written in Japanese or in Roman letters—Yokoo’s compositions could accommodate just about anything. Sometimes, in an atmospheric manner, they suggested recognizable narratives but mostly their intended meanings, if any, were anybody’s guess.

In a more recent development that echoes similar late-career gestures by such well-known modern artists as Picasso and Jasper Johns, in the past few years Yokoo has been dipping back into his own catalogue of emblematic images and reconsidering them in all-new works. He has shown them at Albertz Benda, calling renewed attention to his painting and to the variety within his broader oeuvre. In 2002, for a retrospective of his work at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art, Yokoo recreated two paintings from what he calls his “Pink Girls” series of the 1960s (the originals, in private collections in the U.S., were not loaned to the exhibition at that time). The artist told Art & Antiques, “That was the beginning of my recreated works. Through the process of copying my own paintings, I felt a strange sense of excitement. They were copies but they were original works as well.”

Yokoo explained that, as he has continued to revisit and rework some of his earlier pictures, the process “has developed into something like conceptual art.” As it turns out, it was only last year, in the “International Pop” exhibition that opened at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and was more recently presented at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, that Yokoo’s “Pink Girls” from the mid-’60s were first shown in the U.S. “I wonder what would have happened if these works had been shown in the U.S. in 1966,” he said.

In his more recent pictures, Yokoo’s swimmers are still pink and can still be seen splashing about in a moat—but he paints them blue, orange, or black, too, in pools or other bodies of water, their transparent heads sometimes overlapping to form faces filled with eyes and mouths like images from Cubist-Surrealist dreams. He has also created compositions resembling jigsaw puzzles, in which random patterns and fractured dancers’ bodies play tug-of-war in densely packed pictorial space. His sources for such images, he told Art & Antiques, were “parody photos” of movie actors he had found in old issues of Life magazine. “The original actor was Rudolph Valentino,” he explained, “but Tony Curtis was dancing with Natalie Wood in the Life version. I made a kind of parody painting out of the parody photograph. I decided to create various versions in different styles.”

In a posthumously published essay, Mishima observed that in Yokoo’s work “there is a direct line connecting the sadness of Japanese local customs and the demented, blatant nihilism of American Pop Art.” For Mishima, who was no fan of modernity’s fast-advancing forces of change, Yokoo’s art offered a kind of “spiritual exchange along a grim path to and from the deepest places in the mind in opposition” to such phenomena as “tourism, world trends, industrialized society [and] urbanization.” (The broader arc of Yokoo’s lifelong creative journey may be examined in depth in the collection that is on view at the Tadanori Yokoo Museum of Contemporary Art in Kobe, which opened in 2012.)

In Yokoo’s paintings, as in his poster designs, which bring together so many seemingly disparate elements, whose individual or collective meanings, if any, he leaves wide open to interpretation, he has created an art of mystery and strange allure. In it, he carefully balances his own emotion regarding his subject matter somewhere between fond engagement and cool detachment. Still, his spirit is inescapably very present in each of his productions. That’s because, for Yokoo, the source and ongoing flow of his creative energy are as real and enduring as a mountain is illusive to a sensitive Buddhist monk. As this prolific artist once observed, “I guess the real foundation [of my work] is my own experience, my own memories.” In his art, he said, “The past and the present become one.”

By Edward M. Gómez

A Rage for Ruins Wed, 07 Sep 2016 19:16:08 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The 18th-century French painter Hubert Robert catered to the aristocracy’s fascination with the ancient world and the eroding effects of time, with works which continue to astonish.

Hubert Robert, Le Panthéon avec le port de Ripetta, Salon of 1767

Hubert Robert, Le Panthéon avec le port de Ripetta, Salon of 1767, oil on canvas, framed: 141.5 x 168.5 x 7.5 cm (56 x 66 x 3 in.) unframed: 119 x 145 cm (47 x 57 in.).

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Hubert Robert, Studio of an Antiquities Restorer in Rome, 1783 Hubert Robert, A hermit praying in the ruins of a temple, c. 1760 Hubert Robert, The Old Temple, 1787- 1788 Hubert Robert, Le Panthéon avec le port de Ripetta, Salon of 1767 Hubert Robert, The Obelisk, 1733 -1808

If ever there was a social butterfly at the Royal Academy in France, it was Hubert Robert. During his artistic domination in and around Paris during the second half of the 18th century, Robert cultivated countless relationships with a veritable Who’s Who of ancien-régime Paris, floating through the city’s circles of intellectuals (particularly members of the fashionable Republic of Arts and Letters), antiquarians, and amateurs, as well as fully realizing his lofty aspirations as a painter of architecture, landscape, and antiquities.

His friend and eventual colleague at the Royal Academy, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun, wrote extensively not only of his talent but also of his charms, which were many. Two oft-quoted passages from her Souvenirs are worth repeating here: Robert “excelled above all at depicting ruins … It was fashionable and a great luxury to have one’s salon painted by Robert.” She went on to write that he also “cut the best figure in society, of which he was moreover very fond. Loving all pleasures, without omitting those of the table, he was generally sought out, and I doubt that he dined at home more than three times a year. Plays, balls, dinners, concerts, visits to country houses, nothing was declined by him, for all the time he did not employ working, he spent in amusements.”

Realizing his ambitions and climbing France’s social ladder were made possible no doubt thanks to his innate skill as an artist and draughtsman. The canvases of which Vigée Lebrun spoke, and which were Robert’s trademark for nearly 50 years, were known as capricci, a term denoting the decorative convention for depicting picturesque architectural ruins that had developed in baroque Rome and reached its apex among the Italian painters with Giovanni Paolo Panini, for whose work Robert felt a deep affinity. Robert’s charisma, coupled with his artistic ingenuity and his ability to create those arresting and novel capricci for which he was—and still is—amply praised, made for an ideal combination and brought him the praise for which he had hoped.

Robert was considered one of the most important painters by patrons, critics, and artists alike in the 18th century and was acclaimed well into the Belle Époque. Paeans to him peppered the writings of some of France’s most important literary figures, from Denis Diderot—who gave him the nickname “Robert of the Ruins”—to Edmond de Goncourt and Marcel Proust more than a century later. But the 20th century has been less kind to him, and more than 80 years have passed since he was the subject of a major retrospective. This year’s exhibition, “Hubert Robert, 1733–1808,” serves to remedy that. The show first graced the walls of the Louvre, the very institution where Robert himself was installed with his own studio and apartments in 1779, and is currently on view across the Atlantic at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (through October 2).

The son of the valet and the chambermaid of the Marquis de Stainville, Hubert Robert received the privilege of a trusting patron, the foundation of a master’s early education since the Renaissance (as in the legendarily celebrated cases of Leonardo and Francis I and Michelangelo and Lorenzo de’ Medici), even while in his youngest, formative years. Stainville and his son, the Comte de Stainville, had evidently had spotted talent, refinement, and social adeptness in the budding artist. In 1754, at just 21, Robert was invited to join the entourage of the Comte de Stainville in Rome, where Robert internalized as much of the Eternal City as he could, as the numerous notebooks of sketches sold at his posthumous auction attest.

His relationship with Stainville not only provided him with an opportunity for this ever-important artist’s Grand Tour, it also made possible his admission to Rome’s French Academy, a distinction generally only given to winners of the Rome Prize, which he in fact never received. He remained in the city for another 11 years, and it was during that Roman holiday that the cornerstones were laid for Robert’s career, cornerstones that would quite literally appear and reappear on the architectural ruins that populated his drawings and canvases throughout the rest of his life.

His portrayals of artists in their own dilapidated, romantic surroundings suggest that the worlds of fantasy and reality straddled a fine line for him even beyond the well-known capricci. In The Artist in His Studio, painted in 1765, during the last year of his Italian sojourn, an artist—possibly Robert himself—draws from a marble bust on his work table. On the walls, drawings and a framed painting are hung without much care, one having turned 90 degrees. The sunlight shining in from the open windows is the only illumination, while the only other living creature is his loyal dog sniffing curiously in the foreground.

This meta-narrative runs through his career, as with the somewhat romanticized chalk drawing of the sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, best known for his restoration on Roman marbles, at work in his studio in the mid-1760s, and, 20 years later, the lively and vibrant Studio of an Antiquities Restorer in Rome (circa 1783). Here, the entire workshop has become a capriccio in itself, with eroded Corinthian columns pulled from a decrepit portico in the recesses of his mind that he very likely faced in person two decades before. The structure supports a much later wooden roof sheltering sarcophagus fragments, marble statuary like the allegory of the Nile that today sits in front of the Palazzo Senatorio, and bronzes such as a larger-than-life-size Minerva. It is a clear and sunny early morning on which these men work and visitors, notably mostly women, look on in wonderment, dwarfed by the beauty and the antiquity surrounding them.

These fictitious vistas of Roman monuments, set outdoors more often than indoors, had by the 1780s become Robert’s specialty, and much of the show is devoted to the genre that he more or less singlehandedly popularized. For Diderot, painted ruins translated to poetry, and Robert’s compositions highlighted the “beautiful horror” that Diderot felt was paramount to the power of these works. Likewise, it is almost impossible to ignore the similarities between Robert’s fantastic depictions of the detrimental effects of time and nature on the creations of man and Edmund Burke’s 1757 tract on the sublime. The melancholic, idealized beauty of Robert’s compositions proves to be a perfect visualization of Diderot’s sentiments toward ruins as filtered through his own reading of Burke. In 1767, at the time of Robert’s Salon debut, Diderot famously wrote, “The ideas ruins awaken in me are big. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, everything passes. Only the world remains. Only time endures.”

Though he has been canonized for these almost ubiquitous ruinous views, Robert was in fact so prolific that it is easy to forget the sheer scope of his oeuvre. But one thread remains, and that is Robert’s striking understanding and interpretation of mortality and life’s fragility, from timeworn, fragmentary architecture to laundrywomen performing the labors that would mark their lives daily. This sense of looming death might well have fed into Robert’s own need for constant sociability and what Vigée Lebrun might describe today as a “fear of missing out.”

In this extensive exhibition, with over 100 artworks in total, we see in Robert’s art of the second half of the 18th century his personal trajectory and France’s as well, from his movement alongside the ranks of nobility, his academic upbringing, his reliance on Italian masters like Giovanni Paolo Panini and Giovanni Battista Piranesi, his involvement in interior and exterior artistic projects, his consideration of other media (in the form of stone folies and painted porcelain), to the effects of the Reign of Terror under Robespierre as seen through the artist’s own imprisonment at Saint-Lazare and through the post-Revolutionary destruction of châteaux and ecclesiastical monuments (and even their rehabilitation under Alexandre Lenoir with an 1801 interior of the Museum of Monuments).

One unusual example that stands out is Robert’s extant work for Jean Joseph, marquis de Laborde, the tax collector under Louis XV. In 1786, under Robert’s scrupulous supervision, his capricci were reanimated in three dimensions in the gardens at the Château de Méréville (View of Méréville in the direction of the château). Laborde acquired the property, located about 40 miles south of Paris, in 1784, hiring the architect Jean-Benoit Vincent Barré to transform the medieval structure and Robert to conceive interior painting schemes and garden follies. Surviving drawings provide us with visual evidence of the scale of the massive landscaping project, which was recently restored. The château itself, the interiors of which included six paintings by Robert installed in two rooms, is today still unvisitable, having fallen into disrepair after the building was abandoned in 1897 and its contents sold in Paris three years later.

Four of the canvases Robert painted for Méréville—The Fountains, The Landing Place, The Obelisk, and The Old Temple—are today preserved at the Art Institute of Chicago. (The location of the other two is unknown.) Each reads as yet another tribute to Robert’s Roman holiday, truncating the wonders of that city into a series of complementary paintings destined for a thoroughly northern building. In The Landing Place, the viewer must look up to a most unexpected angle to glimpse one of the Quirinal Hill’s Horse Tamers precariously perched atop the remains of an equally incredible temple-cum-portico-cum-arch. The composition is somehow still open and airy, as nearly half the canvas is given over to a cornflower-blue sky with wisps of cumulus clouds, while in the foreground, gondolas await the figures lounging on stairs that lead to nowhere. Robert’s nonchalant and unorthodox rendering of reality shines here and in the three pendant paintings specially designed for Méréville’s petit salon.

Thus the sprezzatura that clearly defined Robert’s persona also characterized his art in Rome and beyond, and he and his close friend and fellow member of the Academy Jean-Honoré Fragonard together championed a new form of painting, marked by quick, loose brushwork and a seeming effortlessness. But that rapidity and slackness later became his academic downfall. In 1796, after that style of painting had ceased to be all the rage at the Salon, one observer noted, “The weakness of fa presto is the weakness of this facile and ingenious painter.” Nearly 20 years earlier at the Salon, Diderot had been among the first to predict that Robert’s supremacy would wane due to his painterly style: “If this artist continues to sketch, he will lose the knack of finishing, his head and his hand will become wayward….he is extravagant, his wife is a woman of fashion, he has to work fast.”

Vigée Lebrun’s 1788 portrait of the painter, which opens the exhibition catalogue, gives the sense that such criticisms probably did not much discourage him. His appearance is as casual as his sometimes slapdash brushstrokes, with wild, unkempt hair; a broken-in and wrinkled woolen coat; and a self-assured expression as he leans on his left arm to casually support his palette. Vigée Lebrun painted him in the act of looking, but she also painted him in the act of painting. His wide-eyed gaze and mien even suggest the very term that literally translated into his art, and that only a close confidant like Vigée Lebrun could have captured: capricious. Here we have a man of conviction, a man who would not change his favored artistic style for anyone, even if his refined upbringing might suggest otherwise. Evidently, despite his incarceration and the deathly chill of the Terror, Robert was not deterred from continuing to create the ruinous, saturnine world that had brought him fame among the aristocracy decades earlier, from being the artist and socialite he wanted to be, and, in short, from living his life.

By Martina D’Amato

New West Wed, 07 Sep 2016 18:48:46 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Ed Ruscha’s complex vision of the Western American landscape unfolds at the de Young Museum.

Ed Ruscha, Asphalt Jungle, 1991

Ed Ruscha, Asphalt Jungle, 1991, acrylic on canvas, 82 x 104 in. (208.3 x 264.2 cm)

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, 1962 Ed Ruscha, Pool #7, from the Pools series published in 1997 Ed Ruscha, Ed Ruscha, Asphalt Jungle, 1991 Ed Ruscha, Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, 1963

In John Ford’s 1956 masterpiece The Searchers, the wide frame is utilized to create one of the movies’ most iconic images of existential American individualism in the West: John Wayne silhouetted in a doorway, beyond him the plains, mountains, and sky. In essence, Ford gives us the concrete and the limitless. This meeting of sleek, tightly controlled modern design and expansive poetic landscape echoes loudly in the work of Ed Ruscha, an artist who has also chronicled of the American West, its realities, its fictions, and the place he inhabits at the crossroads where they meet.

The de Young Museum in San Francisco presents Ruscha’s work with a focus on its connection to our national mythology in “Ed Ruscha and the Great American West” (July 16–October 9). The exhibition brings together 99 works and details the artist’s enduring engagement with landscape and the iconography of the West (both existing icons and his own) through multiple mediums and perspectives. The show is divided into nine sections organized according to periods of Ruscha’s career and themes found throughout it. Through these sections Ruscha’s desire to explore the West from every possible perspective becomes evident—from high above (Fashion Square, Sherman Oaks, 2000) to slightly below; from the ghostly past (Bison Study #2, 1989) to the stark present (Filthy McNasty’s, 1976); from behind the Hollywood sign (The Back of Hollywood, 1977) to the fine print (The End, 1991).

Ruscha made his way across the desert from Oklahoma to Los Angeles in 1956, at the age of 18. Along the way, traveling the legendary Route 66, he fell in love with (or at least became fascinated by) the landscape of the Western United States—lonely modern gas stations, distant orange horizons, advertising signage, endless highways, and the time to ponder it all. What Ruscha discovered in his travels was a meeting of new and old America, the counterculture yearnings of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road meeting the opportunistic and freedom-seeking ideals of westward-bound pioneers. Ruscha combined these dovetailing sentiments with a strong graphic sensibility (he worked for the Carson-Roberts Advertising Agency in Los Angeles as layout artist) and found a way to amplify the stark abstraction inherent in the desert landscape and the human perspective at the center of it all.

The history of Ruscha’s color screen print Standard Station (1966) traces the personal, technical journey of the artist through mediums and ideas. It was developed from his 1962 photograph Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, and the casual documentary framing of the photograph is transformed into a colorful pop vision in the 1962 colored-pencil sketch Standard Study, leading to the iconic, graphically intense 1963 oil painting Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas. Three years later Ruscha arrives at the softer, yet still intense, desert glow of the 1966 screen print. The compositions of both the 1963 and 1966 versions are low-angle, evoking the idea of approach, the clean modern oasis rising up from the unforgiving smoothness of the desert through a car windshield. The windshield is the linchpin of the new subjectivity at the heart of Ruscha’s work. By allowing it to be the vantage point, Ruscha acknowledges one of America’s most commonplace symbols of personal freedom—the car. This perspective is uncompromisingly realistic and honest in its approach, dispensing with the Romantic, level, privileged view of the world in traditional landscape and substituting a contingent, partial view framed by the car window which seems to say: Let’s be honest, this is how we really experience America.

The new post-Romantic view of the West was a rich theme for works of art of the 1960s counterculture. In films such as Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider and Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop, the stark blank canvas of the desert became the open space for existential wondering and wandering and the search for “America.” In Ruscha’s work an ironic assortment of pop images becomes the stuff of personal psychology and fantasy—billboards are grafted onto our field of vision and long highway drives are journeys into the mind. During the ’80s, words begins to redefine subjectivity in Ruscha’s work; the human perspective no longer means simply vantage point but also thought and its constant presence. A Particular Kind of Heaven (1983) depicts a surrealistic desert horizon with the title phrase overlaid, floating in the sky, the moment of thinking captured. The mind and the landscape become intermingled. Words appear on top of mountains, pristine icons (the Hollywood sign, for example) crumble, and feelings take form in psychologically charged personal visions.

Ruscha’s work shifts between bringing out the essence of design in the commercial and commonplace ( as in Standard Station) and documenting the mundane and tacky with smirking detachment (Ed Ruscha and some Los Angeles Apartments, The Sunset Strip). Finding a meeting point between his artist’s books and his painting can be tricky, but the common theme is the West, the reality it presents and the dream—in a sense, still Romantic—it symbolizes. In Ruscha’s work there is a journey across the desert to “The End” of the line in Los Angeles, and it’s a grim place to arrive. Ruscha’s take on it echoes those of many of his disillusioned contemporaries. The cheap, desperate facades and apartments of Los Angeles makes one wonder if going back out into the desert, the true place of dreams, might not be the best, most humane decision.

By Chris Shields

Talking in Colors Wed, 07 Sep 2016 18:24:45 +0000 Continue reading ]]> James Havard’s lifelong infatuation with paint has yielded a diverse, absolutely individualistic body of work.

James Havard, Woman Holding Apache Doll, 1996

James Havard, Woman Holding Apache Doll, 1996, oil and wax on board, 16 x 19 3⁄4 inches

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) James Havard, Talking in Color #1 James Havard, Untitled, 1985 James Havard, Woman Holding Apache Doll, 1996 James Havard, U.S. as a Buffalo Hide with Back Fat, 1975 James Havard, Blue Hat

In a 50-year career, James Havard has painted in many styles, from realism to trompe l’oeil “abstract illusionism” to multimedia collage to his current mode, which recalls art brut. But no matter how different they may be, all these styles are unmistakably Havard, speaking eloquently in their different voices of one relentlessly creative spirit. For Havard, art and life have always been inseparable, and while his own life in art has taken him on a long journey from where he started out, in a way he has never lost touch with his foundations.

One of Havard’s most recent series of paintings is called the “Roughnecks Series.” These vividly expressionistic works all depict a central figure, rendered in solid black against a background of wild bursts and bands of color, sometimes accompanied by other figures in outline. A roughneck is an oil-refinery worker, a hazardous occupation that Havard’s father pursued up and down the Texas Gulf Coast during the Depression and after. These paintings aren’t a nostalgic homage, though; they are very immediate, very much of the present. They may, in fact, be a sort of symbolic self-portrait; Havard himself has some roughneck in him, not just through genetics but by way of practical experience—in the 1950s he worked alongside his father to put himself through college. In the paintings, the roughneck figure could just as well be an artist, and instead of the fires of a Texas oil well, the bursts of hot color could represent the primal ooze of paint itself, the raw materials for the risky endeavor of art.

Havard was born in 1937 in Galveston, Tex., and when he was six his parents bought a small farm near the town of Crosby (population 1,000), on which the family grew vegetables and raised livestock to feed itself, occasionally selling meat to supplement their income. Animal husbandry was one of Havard’s strongest interests, along with drawing; he won blue ribbons at state fairs for animals he raised. When he graduated from high school, he won a scholarship to the agricultural program at Sam Houston State College in Huntsville. During his sophomore year, though, he saw other students doing studio art and decided to take an art class. It was a life-changing moment, and he impulsively decided to change his major to art, even though it cost him his scholarship. To make up for it, he worked at many jobs, anything he could find, including at the oil refinery. After graduation, in 1958, Havard got a job in Dallas as a technical illustrator at Collins Radio, making detailed drawings of electronic components and even of the prototype of a “space toilet” for astronauts.

Determined to make his living as a fine artist, Havard, who had had a few small exhibitions in Dallas, won another scholarship—full tuition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. At this famous art school, the first and oldest in the U.S., where Thomas Eakins had taught, Havard underwent a very traditional education. His most important teachers were Ben Kamihira and Hobson Pittman, both realist painters, and among his student friends was David Lynch, the future filmmaker (and painter). While at PAFA, Havard won several awards which included travel and study abroad, and soon he was off to London. Among the people he befriended there were David Hockney, Peter Blake, and Richard Hamilton, who were rapidly becoming prominent; Blake in particular had a strong influence on the young American artist. After London, Havard traveled to Spain and Italy on a EuroPass; he arrived in Bologna hoping to meet Giorgio Morandi, only to find out that the artist had died that very day. Despite that disappointment, these adventures instilled in Havard a lifelong affection for European culture and lifestyles.

After graduation, Havard stayed in Philadelphia, a city he would remain closely associated with from then on (today he lives in Westtown, in Chester County, outside Philadelphia). He had a solo show in Dallas, at Atelier Chapman Kelly, and one in Philadelphia, at Vanderlip Gallery. Experimenting alternately with Pop Art and abstraction, he was looking for a distinctive, individual style. He soon found it. Living above an auto body shop, he started working with industrial spray paint, applying it to molded Plexiglas panels made by a commercial sign company. Instead of using these materials to evoke mass culture, as the Pop artists did, Havard went into full abstraction, applying pastel-hued paints to the inside surface of the Plexiglas and moving them around with his fingers in swirl patterns. With some of the works, he then painted geometric images on the outside of the Plexiglas. With these works—which are sometimes compared to the “finish fetish” mini-movement of California artists who reveled in the iridescent sensuality of auto-body paint—Havard made a major discovery that affected his subsequent work for a long time: He could create a 3-D illusionistic effect without disturbing the purity of his abstraction.

The next phase of Havard’s career, during the 1970s, was devoted to this “abstract illusionism,” as the dealer Allan Stone dubbed it. Havard developed a technique whereby certain of the abstract forms in his paintings would have a sort of shadow below them, as if they were floating above the picture plane. Eventually, he found ingenious ways to create several layers of abstraction within one painting. Soon, figuration started finding its way back into Havard’s work, in the form of geometric symbols from Native American iconography that he caused to float across the surfaces of his canvases.

Havard has always had a deep interest in Native American cultures, and as early as the mid-’60s he began collecting. In a way, his collecting activity is in line with similar efforts by modernist artists such as Picasso who drew inspiration from “tribal” or “primitive” art. Eventually, as his work grew more and more desirable on the art market, his American Indian collection grew to the point where Architectural Digest featured it twice during the ’80s, first when it occupied his Tribeca loft and again after he moved to Santa Fe in 1989. In light of Havard’s passion for Native American art and artifacts, it makes sense that his dealer now is John Molloy, an expert in classic Indian ethnographic material who also shows contemporary art. Molloy, whom Havard met when they both lived in Santa Fe, is now based in New York and will have a one-man show of Havard’s recent work on view this month.

In the early 1990s, Havard had two major health crises, including a near-death experience, that caused him to drastically rethink his work and alter course. In 1996, he emerged on the other side with a new, expressionistic style—still with Native American content but now with new “primitive” influences, from outsider art and children’s art. Some critics have compared Havard’s later work, with its sometimes deliberately crude, childish, or cartoonish figures and written words, to that of Basquiat, but the similarity is superficial. If anything, the work owes more to the Dubuffet tradition, but in any case it is pure Havard, channeling all the streams from his past and activated by his lifelong love of the substance of paint. Some of these works are almost like shadowboxes with collaged elements, most notably photographs of ethnographic artworks and other historical imagery on top of painted passages and lettering. Other paintings feature frames made by the artist and painted in ways that integrate them with the canvas.

In 2006 Havard moved back to the East Coast, and now, limited by some mobility problems brought on by a stroke, he has to paint on a smaller scale. The new works, some just 6 by 8 inches, are nonetheless extremely powerful, perhaps even more so because the reduced format concentrates them. One recent series Havard calls “Talking in Colors,” and that description is more or less literal—if the word could be used of such visionary images. In these paintings, enclosed in cheap Chinese frames that the artist distresses and paints over, the figures have streams of multiple colors coming out of their mouths. They might be spiritualist mediums emitting rainbow-hued ectoplasm. For an artist who has always made paint talk, nothing could be more natural.

By John Dorfman

Robert Cottingham: Signs of the Times Thu, 25 Aug 2016 01:38:45 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A new show puts decades of Robert Cottingham’s meticulously Realist and decidedly American paintings on view.

Robert Cottingham, Champagne, 1992

Robert Cottingham, Champagne, 1992, oil on canvas, 62 x 62 inches

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Robert Cottingham, Loans, 2014 Robert Cottingham, Empire IV, 2012 Robert Cottingham, Bimat, 1998 Robert Cottingham, Hot, 1992 Robert Cottingham, Champagne, 1992

To say that Robert Cottingham’s painting practice began as a hobby gives the wrong sort of impression. However, it was after the close of his workday as an art director at an advertising firm that Cottingham initially painted. He had graduated from Pratt Institute in 1963, having studied advertising and graphic design, and was working in New York at the firm of Young and Rubicam. In 1964, the artist was transferred to Los Angeles. Within four years, he had given up the advertising racket and was painting full-time.

One look at Cottingham’s work—which has been called “Photorealist,” though the artist insists otherwise (he’s a realist painter dealing with the vernacular scene, like Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, or Charles Demuth)—and it seems inseparable from his advertising career. Like Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist, who also came from an advertising background, Cottingham seems entrenched in methods of communication. This is expressed not simply by his work’s bold palette or sense of Americana, but because of its ability to convey powerful sentiments with a single word, letter, or symbol. Typeface, too, seems of paramount importance in the artist’s work, with the font in which words are written (or in this case painted) communicating just as much as the words themselves.

But in truth, Cottingham’s work takes on a different sort of advertising than what was typical of Pop Art. Rather than appropriating ad copy or images of mass-market products for sale, much of Cottingham’s paintings focus on the street-level advertising of American businesses: signage. The dazzling marquee of a movie theater, the painted insignia of a railroad boxcar, and the inviting neon signs of diners and bars all find a place in Cottingham’s work. Cottingham rendered his imagery with uncanny precision but often cropped the name on a sign to form new words (such as A.R.T., 1992) or captured a marquee from an unexpected vantage point. Though he began using photographs as initial references in the late ’60s, he wasn’t beholden to the original image and would change the words to accommodate his desired meaning. If signs were meant to easily communicate familiar messages, Cottingham’s canvases were an opportunity to see the familiar from a different, sometimes disorienting, perspective.

“Robert Cottingham: Master Realist” opens at The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, on September 18 (it runs through November 20). Along with an expansive look at work from a decades-long career (Cottingham is still painting today at the age of 80), the show will also put a slice of American visual culture on view.

Jane Eckert, the owner of Eckert Fine Art Gallery + Consulting in Kent, Conn., and the curator of “Master Realist,” says, “To me he is an all-American painter. Signage was such a big part of our country before television and the media.” In the ’70s, Eckert recounts, Cottingham won a grant that afforded him the opportunity to travel from the East Coast to the West by bus. “There were so many old theaters and stores, which he’d photograph as he went across the country,” says Eckert. “To this day he paints from those photos.” Much of Cottingham’s subject matter—the signs and businesses in these photographs—has since been torn down. “He was on the cusp of capturing this part of Americana, especially in the Midwest,” says Eckert.

With Empire, one of Cottingham’s most famous images (one example will be in “Master Realist”), the artist’s paintings serve as an inadvertent means of historical preservation. In the late ’90s, Cottingham was in Alabama for a show of his work at the Montgomery Museum of Art. The director of the museum suggested that the artist go see an old theater downtown, which was built in 1914. When Cottingham went to look at the Empire Theater it had already closed, but he learned that in 1955 Rosa Parks was actually stopped in front of it when police were called to arrest her. Today, though the Empire has been torn down, the Rosa Parks Library and Museum stands in its place. Cottingham photographed the theater, and in 2008, when he was commissioned by Lincoln Center in New York to develop an image for the anniversary of their film festival, those photographs served as his model. For the next couple of years, Cottingham rendered images of the Empire Theater marquee in oil, watercolor, gouache, and graphite.

“Master Realist” will also illuminate the artist’s process, which involves several steps. Eckert says, “Most Photorealists just took a photo and worked directly from that, but Robert starts with a drawing and captures the shading—where lights and darks are—then he plays around with cropping it. He gets close.” After the drawing and deciding on composition, Cottingham does a gouache or watercolor rendering, bringing color into the image. Only after these steps does he move on to oil. “I find his paintings are not as cold as Photorealist paintings,” says Eckert, “they are very tight, but there’s always a little bit of a softer feel to them. It’s the process that makes that happen.”

The show won’t just stop at signage. Other fascinations of the artist will be on display: a series of Arts & Crafts houses in Pasadena, Calif., Remington typewriters, Brownie cameras, and watercolors of colored perfume bottles he made early in his career. But regardless of subject matter, Cottingham’s work, as will be on view at “Master Realist,” never strays from the bold, realist presentation of the image that makes it recognizable. “He’s a graphic designer,” says Eckert, “that’s the thread that runs through it all.”

By Sarah E. Fensom