A much anticipated winter storm has finally arrived here in Metrowest Boston. Fine-grained flakes are driving as commuters and school buses are driving out as hastily as they can. A year ago I got caught in a similar conjunction of storm-school closings-and job closings and a 40 minute drive from downtown turned into a 6 hour sleighride.
It's only appropriate that we pause for a moment to reflect on the birthday of Edward Redfield who was born on this day (Dec. 19th) in 1869. Redfield was an Impressionist painter who settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania after studing in Paris with the likes of Robert Henri and Wm. Merritt Chase. Long story short, Redfield's identity as an Impressionist type of painter and his sympathy for Ashcan School Social Realism led him to landscape painting of the Pennsylvania countryside in all manner of weather. He became quite famous for his winter landscapes. Here are a couple of examples:
"Late Afternoon (Delaware River)" Oil on canvas; 38 1/8 x 49 7/8” Woodmere Art Museum
"River Hills" Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY
The small fact I feel I need to bring to your attention is that many of Redfield's painting were done all prima, on site and in one session. So next time you glide by a half-frozen landscape painter perched on the side of a country road in front of a four by five foot blinding white canvas rectangle, paintbrushes and knives at the ready, offer to get him a cup of coffee or something else that will keep his spirits up as he confronts, under trying circumstances, one of the supreme challenges and traditions of American art: painting what is directly in front of you the best and most honet way that you can.
Redfield was notoriously finicky about his work. He destroyed many canvases. It's said that not long after his wife died in 1948 he produced his final paintings and then stopped because he felt he was past his prime as the specialized painter he had become. He lived on for another 15-20 years and turned his attention to traditional Pennsylvania crafts: tole painting and rug hooking.
Richard Scarry, born on June 5th 1919 If you know who Richard Scarry's replacement is in the pantheon of illustration gods, please get in touch! His narrative formula, sense of humor, and seemingly effortless technical skills still blow me away. My kids have grown up and we don't read Scarry's "Busy" books any more but I miss them a lot.
There's a fun and supportive biography of Scarry written by Ole Ransom and Walter Retan, his editor at Random House. The sense of play and affection is pervasive.
The Sleeping Gypsy
1897 (70 Kb); Oil on canvas, 129.5 x 200.7 cm (51" x 6'7"); The Museum of Modern Art, New York
This famous French Customs Officer and painter was born on this day in 1844. Is "The Sleeping Gypsy" in Chicago? I need to find out because I feel like I've grown up looking at it. Nope, it's in New York. Well, never mind. That picture is taped up in every grammar school art classroom in the Western world. And I don't care how popular and iconic these images are, I still find them inspiring for a few important reasons: • Just paint darn it! Don't listen to critics. • There is life after 40. Like many "Outsider" artists, Rousseau didn't start the work he's most remembered for until he was in middle age. • Keep the work simple: meeting basic needs is a profoundly moving human endeavor. Children remind of this all the time! links: • WebMuseum, Paris • National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. • Tate Museum • Artchive.com
Leo Lionni was born on May 5, 1910. If you haven't seen and been effected in even a small way by his intelligent and playful art you need to go back and reassess your formal and informal artistic education.
Leo Lionni (d. 1991 in Rome)
Some Leo Lionni facts: • Leo Lionni wrote and illustrated more than 40 picture books, including four Caldecott Honor Books. • He designed the cover art for "The Family of Man". • He fled fascist Italy in 1939, settled in New York and for many years pursued a successful career in advertising. Before this he worked in a variety of fields and eventually earned a PhD in economics. • He wrote an autobiography: "Between Worlds : The Autobiography of Leo Lionni"
And say "Per molts anys!" to the great Catalonian artist Joán Miró! It's his birthday! This confection, this ornament of our existance called Art would be incomplete (no cherry, no whipped cream!) without Miró. For me, and many others, life would be a sterile and fenced-in plodding thing without the beautiful, heartfelt strange hovering presence of Miró's great artistic contribution. Gracias!
"Portrait of a Woman with a Dog"
Jean Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732—1806)
Oil on canvas; 32 x 25 3/4 in. (81.3 x 65.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Today is/was the birthday of Jean Honoré Fragonard. He was born in 1732 and sits squarely in the Rococo Period.
He is known, among other artistic accomplishments for his lightweight and erotic paintings of maidens and gentlemen of leisure dallying in gardens, was a marvelously gifted and energetic painter. You can well imagine a rising class of wealthy patrons lapping up his fragrant, well-composed canvases. There is a cautionary tale here however (if you read between the lines, this seems to be the way many writers regard Fragonard): • He was never ahead of his time but he embodied the current Rococo ethos. • His timing was unfortunate: he rose to popularity at the end of the Enlightenment in France and was over swept by the changes wrought by the revolution and the subsequent Neoclassical style (think Jacques Louis David). • He died comfortably enough but was never able to recapture the energy and sparkle of his youth. • Was he too caught up in his technique and the frivolous lifestyle it represented? Is this so bad? Can an artist consciously direct their career to be timeless and relevant or is this utterly out of our control? I’d like to think at least that Fragonard died a happy man who knew he had captured the sun and put it into his paintings.
Marcello Venusti, 'Portrait of Michelangelo', 1535.
Florence, Casa Buonarroti. The National Gallery, UK
Born 400 years apart, these two masters share a birthday: March 6th. Let's buy a round for these gents!
Michelangelo: "Michelangelo was a real person.The style, and all the ideas which propel it, is comely and inspiring. But don’t stop there people! Michelangelo was an illustrator of the first rank who brought to each assignment his unvarnished self. Maybe this is the heart and soul of what it means to be described as a “Renaissance" Man or Woman: insert your entire humanity into your current project."Will Eisner: "I grew up reading all sorts of comic books but Eisner’s opus “The Spirit” never captivated me as a child. Boys like myself simply required super powers and a cape in accordance to our burgeoning, yet uninformed juvenile masculinity. Throughout the run of the series, The Spirit quickly evolved into a complicated, psychological tour de force of pathos, humor and startling draftsmanship. “The Spirit” is available in many excellent compilations and is required reading for visual artists. Eisner went on to create the first graphic novels and coined the term “sequential art” and was an articulate champion of the literary status that graphic novels now claim. As Eisner tells the story in a keynote address, he called the president of Bantam asking to show them a draft of his novel “A Contract with God”: "There's something I want to show you, something I think is very interesting." He said, "Yeah, well, what is it?" A little man in my head popped up and said, "For Christ's sake stupid, don't tell him it's a comic. He'll hang up on you." So, I said, "It's a graphic novel." He said, "Wow! That sounds interesting. Come on up." The rest is history!"
Give it up for Howard Pyle, one of the ultimate great American illustrators. He was born on March 5, 1853 in Wilmington, Delaware. My own thoughts on Howard Pyle: "Howard Pyle was one of the greatest American illustrators. He also wrote many of the books he illustrated. A native of Wilmington, Delaware, Pyle is equally well known for starting what has become known as "The Brandywine School". His famous pupils include Maxfield Parrish, Jessie Wilcox Smith and N.C. Wyeth. It appears to me that Howard Pyle lived at a time when standards of conduct were very important and that was somehow translated into his art. It all seems rather more slippery nowadays!"
The great French artist, illustrator and social commentator Honoré Daumier was born today, Feb. 26, 1808. Spend a few moments comparing your puny achievements against the towering tenacious draftsman from Marseille.
I wrote a little appreciation last year at this time: "Daumier! I wish I could pinpoint the moment or the specific work of Honoré Daumier's that so firmly fixed him in my landscape of artistic influences. It was probably quite early because I associate him with Thomas Nast which, for me, dates back to high school. Back then, I really wanted to be an editorial cartoonist and I'm sure in my reading I saw examples of Daumier's work.
The lithographs —there are hundreds— are fabulous caricatures of French politicians and ordinary people. His figure drawing and compositions are so useful and clear; the wit is broad and unsparing. Just writing this, I feel the urge to draw with a litho crayon!"
cover illustration of "Rapunzel" in a very tight Northern Renaissance style. Zelinsky works in a number of styles and they are all recognizable as his work. It's worth some study.
Gosh, Paul O. Zelinsky is an impressive illustrator of children's books. Today's his birthday AND it's Valentine's Day. Not bad! My kids and I have loved his books since day one. Paul O. Zelinsky's website
Paul O. Zelinsky grew up in Wilmette, IL which is next-door to Glenview where I spent a few formative years.
That's about it for any personal connections to this wonderful children's book illustrator. Notice the precious awkwardness of Zelinsky's drawing and the fearlessness of his aproach to a text: every book is different (some more different than others) yet somehow they all fit together as having fallen from the same tree. We have worn out several versions of "The Wheels on The Bus". Most Excellent! Happy Birthday Paul O. Zelinsky, may you go from strength to strength!"
Norman Rockwell at the drawing board. Photo from the Norman Rockwell Museum website.
Today is the birthday of Norman Rockwell.What ya gonna do about it?! Here's my birthday blurb:
"I don't think about Norman Rockwell too much but I have to conclude that he is a guilty pleasure for me. In some respects his illustrations were (and continue to be) at the center of various debates in American culture that began in the 1960's. Rockwell was a very complex individual who was in the center of a contradiction-laden web of evolving American cultural assumptions. He represents and embodies the contradictions like a character in a drama.
Artists of all persuasions will appreciate Norman Rockwell's draftsmanship, composition, painting ability and, especially, his work ethic. We may be jealous, annoyed or frustrated with his legacy and the effect it has on framing broad conversations on Illustration, but he embodies a heroic stance that the art of Illustration may one day regain."
Leon Golub "White Squad II" 1982, acrylic on linen
There are three art birthdays today that I know of: • Leon Golub • Georg Baselitz • Édouard Manet These gentleman are a trio of heavy hitters in the World Series of art. In my book, Manet hits clean-up but the steady drum beat of Golub always sets the ball in motion. Baselitz beat out the throw to first and is itching to steal second base. That's the way it is.
In light of Drawger's recent preoccupation with issues in the political arena, I hold up for your inspection Mr. Golub who passed away in 2004. His acidic, aggressive and agitated humanitarian paintings take the viewer deep into the bad news that permeates life. His scarred and scorching canvases spellbind us in a voyeuristic embrace that makes us feel disgust and sympathy with victims and perpetrators of unjustice equally through all epochs of human history.
In his last years, Golub's work turned inward and was often composed of a frantic collage of images and scrawled messages that surfaced from the dislocation we all feel when struggling to consciousness from the depths of a terrible dream. The voice, however inhuman, almost brutally stifled, rises above the din of the wind and crackling fire to bring the promise of hope and the call to "do something!" to me.
"Carnation Lily, Lily Rose"
1885-86 Tate Gallery, London Oil on canvas
This completely awesome artist was born today, Jan. 12, 1856. Take a moment and consider how puny and talentless you really are. Nothing personal, it's just that Sargent is a brilliant painter in so many ways. The images below are from here: The John SInger Sargent Virtual Gallery.
1882 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Oil on canvas
Tintin first appeared in print in Le Petit Vingtième on January 10, 1929. The first Tintin book was published in 1930 (Tintin, Reporter, in the Land of the Soviets). The Belgian boyscout reporter and his canine sidekick Snowy, starred in many globe-trotting adventures of espionage that frequently mirrored real-world events and places. A familiar cast of characters, good and evil, made the stories
Tintin was created by Georges Remí (alias "Hergé") who died in 1983. The well-researched and meticulously drawn panels have inspired a generation of artists, cartoonists, and graphic novelists.
This page stars the Thompson Twins, a pair of bumbling British detectives and Captain Haddock. Tintin's friend Haddock is a blustering sea captain with a foul tongue and a weakness for alcohol. The cigars were a gift of young Abdullah, a rascally Arab prince who frequently causes trouble. The Tintin books are full of many plot threads and that weave in and out of the books over time.
This cover illustration is one example of many of Hergé's terrific draftsmanship. In many respects, comic books such as Tintin offer a uniques and accessible form for exploring composition and the figure to tell stories in a cinematic way. Comic books are cinema.
"The Banquet of Kings" oil on canvas, 1913, The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
We all know that it's Elvis's birthday today. But are you familiar with Pavel Filonov?
Pavel Filonov was a Russian artist who died in 1941 in Leningrad (St. Petersburg). His work is in the Constructivist grain but it is so rich in ideas and personal/political imagery. Here's my take on this great and under-appreciated 20th century master: "Pavel Filonov… where to begin? I discovered him when I went to St. Petersburg in April 1993 to organize an animation studio for a computer game company. Filonov: banned artist, probably crazy and impossible to work under. Painting big canvases with the smallest of brushes. He had one foot in the brilliant, bright Futuristic cosmos and the other in the vodka-swilling, horsecart-pulling, turnip-tending , "Thanks for your dacha comrade, here's your one-way ticket to the gulag" Russia of the early 20th century. There's an academic strain but a searing vision too. I love Filonov!" links: • a Russian site: very slow and very complete. • The State Russian Museum • Russianavantgarde.com
"A Geometrical Construction", watercolor on paper, 1920, The Russian Museum (It's like Saul Steinberg and Fernand Leger got drunk on cheap Vodka and started drawing)
"The February Revolution" mixed media on paper, 1924-26, The Russian Museum
The best selling Elvis stamp. Painnting by Mark Stutzman
Elvis: Much ink has been spilled on The King. Here's my little commentary that reflects on the position of any creative voice in the crushing world of high stakes commerce: "I'm not a big Elvis fan; maybe in another life I will be. I have included him in here because for me he represents the small but indispensable cog in a great commercial enterprise. Look at the industries his cult has spawned! All because of one talented --and possibly tortured individual's (the victim we seem to require in our tabloid culture!) need to express something about the beauty of life in a popular vernacular language: music, poetry, his public persona and myth: The Gift of the King!
Dante sets out on his journey. (llustration to Dante's Divine Comedy, Inferno by Gustave Doré. Plate 1: Dante in the Dusky Woods)
Today is the birthday of Gustave Doré. He is famous for his illustrations for The Bible, The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner and Paradise Lost. We know his work through wood engravings which we probably have seen in a Dover reprint.
I think, historically, there's is an extremely fine line separating fine art and illustration. Currently, we are taught that the two are quite incompatible. But as the patina of time washes over all our graphic efforts, the line begins to fade away.
Gustave Doré was basically an extremely prolific illustrator yet we are able to view his efforts within the continuum of art over the past century and a half. He was part of the artistic fabric of his world. He just happened to function in a economic ecosystem that looks a lot like today's illustration market: making connections with clients and constantly, joyously hustling his work.
We close the year in happy recognition of the life of Henri Matisse. Who hasn't in some way been affected by his clarifying vision? The artists who have come before you all faced the same issues of existence and found a way through line, form, color, space and poetry to say something about the complicated aspects of being alive.
Matisse was born into a rapidly changing world and his life was bookended by extraordinary developments in technologies of radically different scales. He grew up surrounded by the French textile industry and a tradition of competitive textile design. His temperament, family surroundings, and training as a lawyer and the fact that he came to his art career rather late imbued in him a scholarly confidence and a fatherly demeanor to his explorations of painting. I doubt whether Henri Matisse and I would have been friends if we'd been contemporaries; our personalities are very different. There's a fabulous book (Matisse: Father and Son by John Russell [Amazon]) that chronicles the life of the artist's son Pierre Matisse. Many letters are excerpted and Matisse pére's voice is clear in it's fatherly concern, self-centered worries, and autocratic nature.
What appeals to me about Matisse's work is his quest for exactness and simplification that serves to amplify aspects of his subjects that he feels are important and worthy of celebration and inspection. This is done with a respect for the subject and for our need to be clear about things. There's no trickery or mumbo-jumbo to get in the way. The work is dignified and sensuous, Apollonian and earthy and totally bourgeois. The work is deeply artistic and open to study. The bones are visible because of his virtuoso draftsmanship. Like the few great artists whose work has been so influential on Modern painting and image making in general, it is imperative to take Matisse in small doses with intervals of many years in between. That way the lessons might seep in from your roots up. Good luck! Next year will be even better than this one if you let Matisse float through your skies occasionally.
Today we acknowledge the birthday of the last great American vernacular Surrealist (and Constructivist) artist, Joseph Cornell. He quietly shot to fame as the curtain came down on an old world order back in the 1970's. His magical constructions create and describe a personal world of curio cabinets, cosmology and cluttered clues to find. Like an obsessive magpie, this Queens, NY recluse would glean cast-off Victoriana (old maps, love lettters, compasses, watch springs and clay pipes) from yard sales and thrift stores. The treasures would be carefully filed away in shoe boxes and later, with great deliberation, find their way into his small glass boxes. The theatre-like assemblages display a mind, feet firmly plodding the cirrus-clouds of imagined facts retrieving our souls and putting them in quiet, hallowed and albeit, musty places of distinction.
Assemblage, in the world of graphic art, is now the domain of Photoshop users who manipulate symbols and signs to make oblique and aggressive statements. Cornell, like all great artists, stands before the rabbit hole and suggests that we should jump in. Gravity will not get in the way and cut short your sleepwalking ramble through his dream worlds.
Well boys and girls, join me is wishing a "Happy Birthday!" greeting to Jean-Michel Basquiat. The painter would have been 46 years old today (Dec. 22). While his lustre in death pales next to other pop icons, he is equally interesting if only to a more limited audience. Even the most conservative artist might benefit from revisiting the fantastic years that saw Basquiat's meteoric rise to art world stardom. Naturally, it's a cautionary tale! Here's my blurb for this day's birthday boy:
"Basquiat was a seminal figure in the arc of 1980’s American painting and lifestyle as art. He embodied a concept that the desire an individual had was sufficient to gain merit. I don’t mean that his paintings are without merit: I think they are beautiful, enigmatic, full of truth and are worth detailed appreciation. What was not taught in my art schools, and, perhaps, should be, is the power and necessity of ambition in an artistic vocation. A course of case studies would be enough to implant (or dispell!) a variety of fantasies about this career.
Jean Michel Basquiat’s strategies seem commonplace now and his unwitting followers are legion. Look at the continued viability of graffiti and ephemera as a legitimate graphic trend. We trumpet our adolescent doodles as significant markers of our genius on lined paper and hoodies. These gestures are a wellspring of art, they are our roots music. The street becomes a springboard to the gallery. But where does the street end and the gallery begin?
Perhaps what led partially to Basquiat’s predictable demise were the competing demands of the gallery and art world and the ancient joy of striking out on one’s own when new in town without a thing to lose dancing to the light of his own fire. All this, and more, in the awakening grime of New York in 1981."
Today, Dec. 15th is shared by a couple of heavyweights: Friedenreich Hundertwasser & Ray Eames
"Silent Steamers" woodcut
Friedenreich Hundertwasser: an Austrian born artist who's colorful organic compositions were broadcaast on canvas, in prints, clothing and maybe most notably, in architecture and philosophy.
Crosspatch Fabric, 1945-47
Design: Ray Eames
Also born today was Ray Eames. Along with her husband and business partner Charles Eames, Ray Eames designed many iconic Modernist design masterpieces that continue to influence all aspects of design today. The Eames' are probably most famous for the plywood Eames chair. Mazeltov!
I never get tired of reading books illustrated by Lois Ehlert. Her use of colors and shapes is bold, unexpected and well-designed. No dead spots at all. Light falls on the printed page, extraneous messages are filtered out by her careful and audacious color choices and a resounding, affirming note is emitted to my eyes and mind.
In interviews, Ehlert talks about how to help children experience and make art their own. One of the most important things you can do is provide them with their own special spot where they can make art (or whatever) and leave the materials out. A little studio. In her case, it was a small card table. That's all. It can be that simple.
“… That's the thing right there - to keep the materials out. And it's not only for art but for writing and music. It's the same reason I have my sewing machine out. When you have an idea and you have to take time to gather your forces, you lose some of that creative energy. I haven't found any other way to liberate myself.”
It sure seems weird wishing "Happy Birthday" to a Larger-than-Life dead artist of Robert Mapplethorpe's caliber and notoriety. The guy was only human and he has an amazing story to tell. So here's a birthday salute to a man who "drank from the well", absorbed the lessons, and threw it back into America's face beautifully.
Did I mention that he studied at Parsons?
OOPS, he studied painting at Pratt, not Parsons. Sorry for the confusion.
Detail from "Still-Life with Pipe an Jug" c. 1737
Oil on canvas, 32,5 x 40 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris
Yesterday, Nov. 2, was the birthday of the great French painter Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699). Please look at his work. It will slow you way down. Slow enough to get a longer, albeit dim view, of the remaining span of your days and what your eyes and heart are truly for: Seeing and Feeling. As artists, I believe, we have an obligation to help people see and feel (and sell stuff, alas!).
"The Canary" 1750-51
Oil on canvas, 50 x 43 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris
Diamonds are a girl's best friend. Team up with Hello Kitty and you'll never be lonely!
All Hail the Queen of Cute, The Empress of Desire… Hello Kitty! Hello Kitty was born this day in 1974. Some dispute her actual progenitors (was it Dick Bruna?) but that won't stop the Japanese licensing company Sanrio and legions of fans across the galaxy from hoisting a toast in honor of the Queen of character licensing today.
Here's my little birthday essay: "Today we celebrate the official birthday of Hello Kitty. In some ways, Hello Kitty is the offspring of a previous generation of cartoon characters that began life as entertainers on the tiny or silver screen. Hello Kitty came into existence solely to be Herself and to be desirable to a certain researched global economic demographic. She epitomized the commercial allure of the branding idea. Like a malevolent bacterium, reproduce yourself enough, and you rule — for a while at least (that's when the real fun begins).
With the popularity of the Internet, any art student or graphically-precocious teenager dreams of the big time riding effortlessly on the back of their cute or goggle-eyed doodle. More power to them! Today, there are thousands of characters in search of "merch".
But today is Hello Kitty's day. Let's not be cynical and depressed about how capitalism stole everything and sold it back to us. Let's enjoy the simple pleasures of life as we shell out a few more dollars for the temporary peace and joy of a young child's imagination."
You bought it, you broke it, you got to keep it! Casino mogul Steve Wynn will keep and restore "The Dream" after accidentally poking a hole in it. Photo: AP
Today is Picasso's birthday: he was born on October 25, 1881.
Here's my little testimony: "Picasso: It’s impossible to avoid Picasso. Whether you like it or not, the fact, idea, concept and very linguistics of Picasso are embedded in our culture which you have ingested from birth. It seems stupid to suggest that Picasso was a very un-original artist. I say this wth the utmost awe. Would you say that a mirror was flawed if it only threw back the most precise reflections rather than some original idea of its own? Pablo Picasso: Portrait of the Artist as a Meat Grinder. Picasso: fashioning a personal investigative journalism seived through the lenses of our the passé and corrupt Western century and messing with our cultural DNA. I wish I could hang around for two centuries and see how he holds up. Will Picasso be needed in two hundred years? Picasso is the prisoner who is free, paradoxically, to inhabit the spotlight on a dark stage: some nights the house is dangerously full and other nights there’s an audience of none. I pray that in two centuries liberty is still the Promised Land for dreamers and doers like Picasso, or you and me!"
This is a screenshot from Ed Emberley's nice website. It's very similar to the books but the books are way better.
Oct. 19th is Ed Emberley's birthday. Ed Emberley is the author, designer, illustrator of an influential series of drawing books for kids. He's also a Caldecott Award in his trophy case. Here's a blurb I wrote about him on my website:
"Thanks to my daughters and the long and well-stocked shelves at my local library, I discovered Ed Emberley's fabulous and witty drawing books. Besides being a great artist and designer, Emberley is motivated by the conviction that anyone can learn to draw. To demonstrate this, he has written elegant and jaunty "how-to" books that break down the drawing process into steps that utilize simple shapes, colors and lines. These books are great resources for artists and animators.
My favorite picture book of Emberley's is "Go Away Big Green Scary Monster." This deceptively simple and colorful book uses carefully designed cutouts that develop into the "big green monster" as the pages are turned. By the middle of the book the monster is fully revealed. In the last half of the book, parent and child methodically disassemble the monster and make him "Go Away!." It's a brilliant, generous, helpful, entertaining and very satisfying book that elevates the simple act of turning pages into a creative/destructive empowering act.
With his wife Barbara Emberley, Ed Emberley illustrated "Drummer Hoff" which won the 1968 Caldecott Award. Emberley lives near Boston and is the father of another noteworthy illustrator, Michael Emberley." Ed Emberley website
Today is the birthday of one of my greatest heroes: Maya Lin. I suppose that the Culture Wars are part of our human DNA but my heart still breaks a little when I remember the saga of Maya Lin's Vietnam War Veteran's Memorial. The protagonists in these culture conflicts strive for an antagonistic stasis because destruction of one or the other would force either party to make real contributions to humanity or risk complete nullification. As a result we have two Vietnam Memorials: Lin's searing and soothing name-encrusted wall and the bravely heroic nearby bronze "Three Servicemen Statue" by Frederick Hart. (There's also an additional statuary grouping: "The Vietnam Women's Memorial"). I like the fact that Lin's work was emotionally large and supportive enough to accommodate opposing aesthetic solutions. In the process, a near perfect memorial was achieved. It's awkward but it doesn't paper over the differences the nation still feels about the war and it's rationale or sacrifices. Her sculpture may not convince hawks that war is bad, but no one can come away without an appreciation of the preciousness of Life. The other culture war idea I have is that in 1981 when Maya Lin reluctantly shot to fame, we were unaccustomed as a nation to hear the voice of an articulate, young, Asian American, female voice. Today, there is so much celebrity and blurring of faces, voices, and motivations that we've become deaf to the truth being spoken in the civic world. Maya Lin has that constant and truthful artistic voice that the best, real artists possess.
Today is the birthday of Caspar David Friedrich. He was born in Sweden (later Germany) in 1774. He would easily be classified as a Romantic painter. Caspar David Friedrich should be better known. Perhaps he is as several signature painting are widely reproduced. I get shivers when I view many of his works and they have a way of sticking in my memory.
Maybe it's my predisposition to benign melancholy that attracts me to the Romantic gloom and frigid winter clarity of his pensive views. A lingering, a malingering, a grimness that seeks solace in high windy places and deep verdant hollows that give way to rock and ice. Clarity such as we are ever capable of achieving.
Can we illustrators and artists bring this fact of human personality, this fact of human existence into our sunniest and well-paid works. We can only hope!
detail from a poster for Krazy Kat cartoons by George Herriman
Bow your heads guys and gals and observe the day that George Herriman entered the world (August 22, 1880).
I have prepared a short testimonial:
Oh boy… George Herriman: the brilliant cartoonist responsible for Krazy Kat. I'm one of those people who totally love anything Herriman. He is the Shakespeare of comics. You have to read Krazy aloud (your less appreciative friends will eventually leave you) to capture the brilliance and wit of Herriman's poetic patois. There are a few good web sites with many strips reproduced and very good books so there really is no excuse not to do a survey.
Herriman was a humble, superb (and laid back) designer. His layouts and inventive typography and his sense of timing in the Krazy Kat strips is masterful. I think his artistic influence is obvious but even more so is his artistic persona: quiet, shy, deep and steady, full of sharp but gentle humor, perceptive and psychological, male (the loner and laconic cowboy who loved "Injun Country" (Kayenta, Arizona).
I've actually spent a lot of time in the Kayenta area (college summers working for Peabody Coal Company archaeologists on nearby Black Mesa) and it's easy to imagine Herriman and his pals rummaging around the Navaho Reservation trading posts and Monument Valley vistas acting silly and poetically inspired by turns. George Herriman was a brilliant original artist who's timeless insight celebrated the foibles of human behavior in a uniquely American vernacular space.
Today is the birthday of Jean Dubuffet the wine merchant turned artist who coined the term "Art Brut". Dubuffet's abrasive celebration and passionate exploration of marginilized art makers inspires many of us with it's direct approach to materials and emotional immediacy. He was born in 1901.
Today is Philip Guston's birthday. He would be 103 (!) years old. Sounds ancient for having produced work that sends shock waves through the newly-initiated and old-timers on a daily basis.
Here's my birthday banner blurb: "Yes, it's true: Philip Guston saved Painting. His "late" works ventilated the art world back in the 60's and 70's and artists the world over have been rejoicing ever since. I'm always thinking about them and stumbling over them. It's impossible for me to make an oil painting that includes oafish, cigar-smoking, sausage-fingered men from old comics without being accused of swiping from Guston. It's not fair!
You have this problem too no doubt?!"