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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

I came across the work of Lilian May Miller only recently and was instantly infatuated with her beautiful woodblock prints. The colors and compositions just ring true for me and they seem to create a bridge between the traditional and the modern forms of the woodblock art form. I am showing quite a few of her pieces here but I could easily show many dozens more.

Miller was an interesting person as well. She was born in Tokyo in 1895 to American parents, her father a diplomat. She was enrolled in the atelier of a famed Japanese printmaker at the age of 9 and had her first exhibit at the age of 14. She shuttled back and forth between Japan and  and the United States  (where she graduated from Vassar) throughout her life, including considerable time spent in Korea when her father was stationed there for the State Department.

She saw herself as an envoy or messenger between the cultures of the East and the West. When in Japan, she dressed in a uniquely Western fashion, wearing ties and sport jackets and sporting a cropped haircut. When she made presentation back in the States, she often did so wearing traditional Japanese kimonos.

Miller achieved a degree of recognition for her work in the years leading up to World War II. However, she was devastated by the Japanese attack –which, by the way, occurred on this date in 1941– feeling that it was a personal betrayal of her love for that country. She worked for a counter propaganda unit of the Navy in 1942 until a large malignant tumor resulting from abdominal cancer was found.

She died in January of 1943 at the age of 47.

Her work and her story has slid somewhat into the ashes of art history. But much of her work remains and it doesn’t take much to see the brilliance of it at its best. It will pull its way back to light sometime soon.

This is a very quick and incomplete synopsis of her life. There was recently a more complete article on Miller on the Atlas Obscura site recently that you can read by clicking here. There is also a book, Between Two Worlds, that details her life and work.

For now, enjoy these images.

 

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“There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.”

 — Georges Braque

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This is a quote from artist Georges Braque that I used on the first artist statement I ever wrote many years back. It still pops up in my mind on a regular basis, especially at times when I find myself looking at a just finished painting, wondering what is there that is triggering my emotional response to it.  These words from Braque reminds me that what I am trying to capture is not the subject matter, not a mere representation of reality.  I am trying to capture an indefinable feeling or spirit that is not calculable or even visible.

Definitely beyond the reach of my words.

It is the sum of color and light.

And texture and line.

And the spaces in between.

It is of the spirit and the life force.   When it is there, it is obvious and undeniable. And though I can’t explain it, I can see the purpose and value of that work.

And that is a good day…

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I have never really focused here on the work of George Braque (1882-1963) who is mainly known as one of the major artists, along with Picasso, of the Cubist movement. His work, through all the differing phases of his long career, is always impressive. I thought I’d share the video slideshow below of his work. It’s set to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, better known as the Elvira Madigan concerto, which makes it a most pleasant and calming thing to spend a few minutes with on the first cool morning of November.

 

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Get yourself to a vantage point of seclusion and view the world with your eyes alone. Think of the infinite spaces of the skies and the world beneath.

Charles Burchfield

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Good words for a painter. Or any other human, for that matter.

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The poet Robert Frost wrote a wonderful preface to the 1939 edition of his collected poems. It was titled The Figure a Poem Makes and it described how he viewed his process of unveiling the true nature of his work. Reading it, I was struck by the similarities between his work as a poet and how I view my work as painter.

For example, the following paragraph-I have highlighted individual lines that jumped out at me. I probably could have highlighted them all:

It should be of the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. No one can really hold that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place. It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life–not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion. It has denouement. It has an outcome that though unforeseen was predestined from the first image of the original mood-and indeed from the very mood. It is but a trick poem and no poem at all if the best of it was thought of first and saved for the last. It finds its own name as it goes and discovers the best waiting for it in some final phrase at once wise and sad-the happy-sad blend of the drinking song.

A painting often begin in delight. A certain tone of color, the way a line bends, the manner in which a brushstroke reveals the paint or in how the contrast of light and dark excites the eye.  The delights pull you in and keep you engaged and it is not until you have finished that you are able to understand the sum of these elements, to detect the wisdom, the meaning, behind it all. It is only then that you know what you have uncovered and how it should be named.

The work itself, if left to its own means, knows what it is and will tell you.

Then there is this gem of a paragraph:

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew. I am in a place, in a situation, as if I had materialized from cloud or risen out of the ground. There is a glad recognition of the long lost and the rest follows. Step by step the wonder of unexpected supply keeps growing. The impressions most useful to my purpose seem always those I was unaware of and so made no note of at the time when taken, and the conclusion is come to that like giants we are always hurling experience ahead of us to pave the future with against the day when we may want to strike a line of purpose across it for somewhere. The line will have the more charm for not being mechanically straight. We enjoy the straight crookedness of a good walking stick.

I have often spoke of the need to be have my emotions near the surface when I work, to always need to feel excited and surprised by what I am working on. To recognize things I never knew as being part of me. If I am not moved by the thing I am working on at any given time, how can I expect others to be moved by it? This paragraph speaks clearly to my experience as an artist.

Then there is the final sentences of the essay:

Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting. A poem may be worked over once it is in being, but may not be worried into being. Its most precious quality will remain its having run itself and carried away the poet with it. Read it a hundred times: it will forever keep its freshness as a petal keeps its fragrance. It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.

My translation of this, as a painter, is that the work must be free to move and grow of its own volition. It tells you where it wants to go and, if you don’t constrain it and try to push it to a place where it was not intended to go, will reveal its truth to you. If you can do that, it remain always fresh, always in the present and always filled the excitement and surprise that it contained in that burst when it was created.

I don’t want to bore you too much. It’s a great essay and is a valuable read for anyone who makes art in any form. You can see ( and download) the whole book, The Collected Poems of Robert Frost, with this essay in full by clicking here.

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I ran the post below a few years back, mainly about the quote in it from Fauve painter Maurice de Vlaminck. His attitude as expressed in those words really resonates with me. I, too, find myself not giving a second thought to anyone else’s work when I am in my own. The only concern then is filling my space, creating my own new world. His words are in my mind this morning so I thought today would be a good day to replay this short article with the addition of a video of de Vlaminck’s work and a few more images.

Maurice de Vlaminck- Houses at Chatou 1905

 

When I get my hands on painting materials I don’t give a damn about other people’s painting… every generation must start again afresh.

— Maurice de Vlaminck

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I have to admit I don’t know much about French painter Maurice de Vlaminck (vlah-mink)  who lived from 1876 until 1958.  His work is best known for a short period  in the early years of the 20th century when he was considered one of the leading lights, along with Andre Derain and Henri Matisse, of the Fauvemovement.  Fauve translates as wild beast and the style of these painters was very much like  that to the sensibilities of that time.  It was brightly colored with brash brushwork and little attention paid to detail.  It was all about expression and emotion.

I recognize some of his early Fauvist work, mainly for the obvious influence ofVincent Van Gogh  it exhibits, and none of his later which becomes less colorful and exuberant, perhaps shaped by his experiences in WW I.  But his name is one that I have often shuffled over without paying too much time to look deeper.

Maurice de Vlaminck- At the Bar

But I came across this quote and it struck me immediately.  It was a feeling that I have often felt  when I immerse myself in my work.  All thoughts of other painters– of their influence, of comparisons and artistic relationships– fade into nothing.  It is only me at that moment faced with the task of pulling something new and alive from the void.  I can’t worry myself at that moment about what other painters are doing.  Their whats and hows and whys  are all moot to me then because I am only trying to express something from within.  It might only exist and live for me in that instant, though I hope it transcends the moment, but that is the whole purpose and all of the works of all the painters throughout time can’t change this singular expression of this moment.

This single, simple quote brought me into kinship with de Vlaminck and made me promise myself to explore more deeply into his work and life so that when I come across his name in the future I don’t simply skim past without a thought.  But when I am painting, rest assured I will not be thinking of Maurice de Vlaminck.  And that is as it should be…

Maurice de Vlaminck-The Blue House

Maurice de Vlaminck- landscape with Red Roofs

Maurice de Vlaminck- Landscape of Valmondois

Maurice de Vlaminck- The Gardener

Mauirice de Vlaminck – La Partie de Campagne

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Busy morning here in the studio but I wanted to replay a post from over eight years ago about a painter whose work always dazzles me, Joseph Stella. I’ve added a few images from the original post as well as a video that shows the wider range of his work over his lifespan. Just plain great work…

When I see the paintings of Joseph Stella, particularly his modernist work, I am immediately engaged. They seem dense and complex, almost manic in their compositional content, yet the color and symmetry have an effect that I find calming.  I often wonder how Stella viewed this work, what he felt from it. Not in an artspeak sense. Not academic jargon. Just how it made him feel.

Stella (1877-1946) was an Italian immigrant to this country who has often been linked with several movements- modernism, futurism, and precisionism among them.  There is a contradiction in this in that everything I find about him points to someone with an outsider’s mentality, someone who never felt himself a part of any group  and with an “antipathy for authority” as it has been described, with which I strongly identify.  Joseph Stella Brooklyn Bridge

Maybe that’s what I see in the work.  I don’t know. I do know that I am drawn to the boldness and beauty of it. The strength of the lines. The depth of the colors. The sheer visceral bite of the  image that when taken in as a whole seems to engulf you. Gorgeous stuff. Work that makes me feel smaller, even tiny, for a moment yet inspires me to want to move my own work further ahead. To grow and expand.

Maybe that’s how I classify other’s work in my head- by how much they make me want to do better, by the way their work’s impact becomes an endpoint for me, a goal that I hope to achieve.

The work of Joseph Stella is definitely such an endpoint. Now I must work…
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joseph stella old brooklyn bridge

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“When you feel colors, you will understand the why of their forms.”–Oscar Bluemner

I’ve written several times about Oscar Bluemner, an early and relatively obscure Modernist painter. Since stumbling across him a decade or so ago, I have an affinity to his work and much of his outlook on it. He worked mainly with color and shape but didn’t work in pure abstraction, believing that the subject must be based on the real world in order to fully communicate with the viewer. And the subject itself not nearly so important as the color and forms employed and the emotions they depicted. Those are things that ring with me.

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I look at the work of a lot of artists and usually see something I can relate to in much of it.  It might be the way a color sings or the way the painting is put together or in the expressiveness of a line.  Or just in simple emotion.  But very seldom do I stumble upon the work of an artist who I immediately feel as though I am sharing the same perspective.

Such is the case with Oscar Bluemner.

I came across his work a few years back.  I saw an ad for a piece of his in an art mag and was captivated.  There was something very familiar to me in it which made me want to know more.  But I could find little about Bluemner.  This was strange because he was in the right circles where one would think he would get some attention even if only by association.  The German-born painter, who was born in 1867 and moved to the US in 1893, was part of the Modernist painters group of the early 20th century represented by Alfred Stieglitz , famed photographer/gallerist and husband of Georgia O’Keefe.   His work hung in solo shows at Stieglitz’s famed NYC gallery and in the fabled Armory Show of 1913.  You would think there would be no shortage of material on him or that his name would raise the image of some piece of his work.

But Oscar Bluemner had a knack for failing.  He was trained as an architect and designed the Bronx Borough Courthouse.  However, he was not paid for his services and the seven year court battle that ensued drove him away from  architecture and into the world of art,  where his paintings never garnered the attention or lasting reputation of his contemporaries.  He sold little and lived in abject poverty, which is said to have attributed to his wife’s early death and ultimately to his suicide in 1938.

But there is something in his work that I immediately identify with when I see it.  It’s as though I am seeing his subjects in exactly the same way as he did and would be making the same decision he made when he was paainting them.  His trees feel like my trees is the way they expressively curve and his colors are bold and bright.  His building are often windowless with a feeling of anonymity.  His suns and moons are solid presences in the sky, the focal points of many of his pieces.   In this piece to the right, Death,  he uses the alternating abnds of color to denote rows in the field as I often do and has his twisted tree rising from a small knoll in the forefront of the picture.

I find myself saying to myself that I could very easily have painted these same pictures.  It’s odd because it’s not a feeling that I’ve experienced before even with the artists whose work I think has most influenced me and with which I feel a real connection.  And it feels even odder because I didn’t become aware of Bluemner’s work until long after I had established my own vocabulary of imagery.

There are finally a few things out there online about Oscar Bluemener.  You can see more of his images now than you could even a few years back.  The Whitney in NYC had a retrospective of his work in 2005 (here’s a review) and that seemed to raise awareness of his work.  So maybe a few more people, a new generation, will finally see what I see in Bluemer’s work.
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