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Archive for the ‘Neat Stuff’ Category

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I pursue no objectives, no systems, no tendency; I have no program, no style, no direction. I have no time for specialized concerns, working themes, or variations that lead to mastery. I steer clear of definitions. I don’t know what I want. I am inconsistent, non-committal, passive; I like the indefinite, the boundless; I like continual uncertainty.

-Gerhard Richter

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Gerhard Richter, the contemporary German artist born in 1932, is one of those artists whose thoughts about his work have made me appreciate to his work much more fully. He has a way of putting things in terms that are accessible, not just balloons filled with pompous artspeak that says very little.  More than that, much of what he says aligns with how I see art and the purpose of art, even though our work manifests itself in very different ways. I often come something he has said or written that very much echoes my own thoughts, often in a a very similar way. For example, he speaks about the rightness of art, something I to which I also often refer.

His work has moved around through the years through his iconic abstractions to photography and photorealism painting. I tend to gravitate and think of his work in terms of his abstract work, the Abstraktes Bild series from the 1980’s and the 2010’s. I thought I’d share a few of those pieces along with some his thoughts.

At the very bottom is a piece of music from guitarist Bill Frisell. It is from a project that combined Richter’s work, specifically a large book of his art, along with an album from Frisell titled Richter 858. Each track on the album correlates to a piece of Richter’s art. The piece of music below corresponds to the painting directly above it, Abstrakte Bild 858-3. Interesting concept.

 

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I believe that art has a kind of rightness, as in music, when we hear whether or not a note is false.

-Gerhard Richter

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My paintings are wiser than I am.

-Gerhard Richter

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I would like to try to understand what is. We know very little, and I am trying to do it by creating analogies. Almost every work of art is an analogy.

-Gerhard Richter

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I believe that the quintessential task of every painter in any time has been to concentrate on the essential.

-Gerhard Richter

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The desire to please is maligned, unfairly. There are many sides to it. First of all, pictures have to arouse interest before people will even look at them, and then they have to show something that holds that interest – and naturally they have to be presentable, just as a song has to be sung well, otherwise people run away. One mustn’t underrate this quality, and I have always been delighted when my pieces have also appealed to the museum guards, the laymen.

-Gerhard Richter

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Gerhard Richter- Abstraktes Bild 858-3

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I wrote the post below about Earl Kerkam about five years ago. He is an enigmatic character, a painter praised by many of the giants of modern art yet vastly underappreciated by collectors and the general public. I thought I would revisit it today (along with adding a few more images) after going through some auction records of his work from recent years and finding that he is still tremendously undervalued. As I sometimes point out, the artist can only control his creation of the work, not how it is perceived by the outside world. Earl Kerkam is a fine example of that.

earl-kerkam1891-1965-1361546399_orgI am very interested in the painter’s painter, those artists who garner the respect and  admiration of other artists while often not attaining the same sort of attention from the general public. I try to figure out where the disconnect comes in how these artists are perceived so differently by these two groups. I recently came across a prime example by the name of Earl Kerkam, a NY painter who lived from 1891 until 1965.

Kerkam trained in some of the finest art academies here and abroad, studying for a while with Robert Henri. He showed his work in important shows alongside some of the greats of the early 20th century. His work is included in some of the great museum collections of this country. In the aftermath of his death, modern artists of huge stature such as Mark Rothko and Willem  de Kooning proclaimed Kerkam to be one of the finest painters to ever emerge from America.

earl-kerkam1891-1965self-portrait-1361546314_bYet his work is basically unknown outside a handful of art insiders. His work sells at very modest, even low, prices at auction and I doubt if anyone who reads this will have ever heard the name.

There could be many reasons for this relative anonymity. Perhaps his work is too esoteric, too caught up in the dogma of style or too personally narrow in its range of emotional impact. Perhaps his work was caught between eras, never really falling into a classification where he would be swept to the forefront of a wave. This might have something to do with it because, while his work is modern, it never really moved into the realm of the abstract expressionism that was the rage of the day.

I don’t really know and looking at his work I found myself torn between liking it in some instances and being indifferent to others. I can see how both sides, artists and the  general public, might take opposing views on his work. His work remains an enigma to me and I don’t know if I will ever see enough of it, or at least a single piece that could be called a masterwork, to make me say that he deserves to be among the beacons of mid-20th century painting or if he was simply a fine painter who garnered just the attention his work deserved. But for now, the name Earl Kerkam is at least on my radar and I will be open to finding other works from him that will move my perceptions.

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James Ensor- “Intrigue”

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The mask means to me: freshness of color, sumptuous decoration, wild unexpected gestures, very shrill expressions, exquisite turbulence.

–James Ensor

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As has been pointed out here, I have been working recently on some new work with large groups of faces, heads, masks, multitudes or whatever one sees in them. It has been exhilarating, with the work pulling me back into a rhythm where I am eager to see what the next work brings. While that is a great feeling in itself, I am still deliberating over where the work might take me, still trying to decide if it is work that is just meant to cleanse the system or if it is a new path to follow in some way.

I turn for a bit of advice from art history going back to James Ensor (1860-1949), who I featured here a few years back with a post about his famed  painting Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889.  Ensor was well known for his paintings featuring groups people wearing contorted and strange, even grotesque, masks. Many were based on the masks seen at the carnivals and festivals of the time in his native Belgium.  But seen out of context, they were pretty controversial, as you might imagine, in the late 1800’s, given the subject matter and the rough method of much of his painting. This was around the time that the work of the Impressionists was still considered scandalous so you can imagine how the image of a soldier with a skull for a face embracing a maiden with a gigantic nose mask might play.

It’s fascinating work. Wish I could tell you more but the images themselves tell me a lot and inform my own work by providing fresh inspiration for new work. Just looking at this work this morning has me itching to get to the easel.

Take a look at some of the work of James Ensor and see if it does anything for you.

Ensor- “Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889”

Ensor- “Portrait of the Artist Surrounded by Masks”

James Ensor- Squelette Arretant Masques

James Ensor- Old Lady with Masks

James Ensor – ” Death and the Masks”

James Ensor- “Strange Masks”

James Ensor- “Masks Confronting Death”

James Ensor- “The Despair of Pierrot”

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No matter how individual we humans are, we are a composite of everything we are aware of. We are a mirror of our times.

Louise Berliawsky Nevelson

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I am always intrigued by the images I see of the work of Louise Berliawsky Nevelson (1899-1988) who emigrated to the US from Ukraine in the early part of the 20th century. She is best known for her sculpture that is comprised of found objects assembled in large, monumental wall pieces that are often painted in monochromatic tones. There is visual excitement provided by the various shapes of the many bits and pieces contained within the sculptures. They are familiar forms, often dissembled furniture elements, that take on a new meaning in the work.

It makes me want to try to do that sort of thing but the pull is not strong enough to ever get me to actually try. It’s interesting work that makes me try to see a meaning within it that fits my own vision and needs. But I can never quite see a way where it can do what I need it to do for myself. I take that as a sign that it is not my form of expression.

Plus, from a pragmatic standpoint, it looks like it would be a nightmare to dust.

Nevelson’s words above resonate with me. As humans, we are composites of everything we take in. Likewise, artists express this humanness in their work, mirroring their feelings taken from these influences.

I know this is definitely true for myself. I generally can’t help but reflecting my feelings on the world around me. I would think to try to not do so would make one’s work cold and distant. Inhuman.

And that takes us away from the purpose of art as expressions of our humanity.

So, to my artist friends out there, take in all you can and let the world know how you feel it. It’s the human thing to do.

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It’s fitting that on the day of the annual Academy Awards that this week’s Sunday morning musical selection be taken from a movie, a scene from a film directed by the great Stanley Donen, who died yesterday at the age of 94.

Unless you’re a big fan of films you might not know the name but you most likely know his work. It started back in 1949 with his direction of the musical On the Town with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. He went on to direct some of the greatest musicals of the 1950’s– Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Funny Face, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees and Royal Wedding, the film that had Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and ceiling of a room. I note this because Donen  directed Lionel Richie’s Dancing on the Ceiling video 35 years later with many of the same effects.

In a long and interesting career, he also directed non-musical films that I have really enjoyed over the years, films like Indiscreet, The Grass is Greener, Charade, Arabesque and Two For the Road. He even directed one of my favorites, the 1967 cult classic Bedazzled with Dudley Moore as the hapless fool who strikes a deal ( and is constantly baffled by his end of the deal) with the devil played brilliantly by Peter Cook.

But more than any other film, Donen is known for his direction of Singin’ in the Rain from 1952, often called the greatest movie musical of all time. It’s a film I could watch time and time again, always finding something new to focus on- the fantastic dancing, memorable songs, fast paced comedy, and beautiful production with those saturated MGM colors that always excite my artistic senses. I am showing two clips from the film both from a fantasy segment, Broadway Melody, featuring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.

The first, Gotta Dance, has the up and coming Kelly running into and immediately falling for gangster’s moll Cyd Charisse. I love this scene for the rough set design and color employed with the dark reds of the backdrop making Charisse’s brilliant green dress shoot off the screen. That and the sensual dancing between her and Kelly. Just a great scene.

The second is the Broadway Melody Ballet. Kelly after earlier encountering Charisse has gone on to stardom and comes across her and her gangster boyfriend again. It transitions into a dreamlike ballet sequence with a surreal set design that has always fascinated me. It has steps that are camouflaged with colors that appears as soft strips that converge in a vast soft pastel desert. I actually used the concept and color in a few early pieces. Also notable is Charisse’s transition from the hardened moll into a softer dream figure in the sequence.

Take a look if you like. Sadly, you won’t see this kind of thing again but thanks to Mr. Donen and others this great work is still there to be enjoyed.

Have a good Sunday.


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Casey at the Bat- Sean Kane

The feeling is in the air again and brings back sensory memories. Green grass smell. Bright sun light and brown earth. The vocal patter of the players. The plunk of a ball entering a mitt. The sound of bat on ball, sometimes a dull thunk and sometimes a resounding crack that makes you turn your head to see the flight of the ball.

And the path of that hard hit ball in the air is sometimes a majestic arc that immediately ignites a sense of wonder and a brief glimpse of some innate understanding that evades us at all other times.

Aaah, baseball has returned.

First spring training games start today and to be honest, I am a little more giddy than normal this year. It just feels like we need the game to be bigger and even more transcendent in these times. It needs to be a balm, a healing agent for what ails us. As a longtime symbolic shadow of this country, the game has served that purpose in the past and I have hopes it can do so again.

So, play ball. Please.

I am showing some of the work of Sean Kane, an artist who works painting baseball gloves, especially those beautiful vintage gloves that seem like little more than fat work gloves. If you’ve ever tried to play with one of those, you have greater appreciation for the players of earlier days and what they could do with those gloves.

Anyway, I saw his work and was immediately smitten. Just gorgeous stuff,especially for those of us with a soft spot for the history of the game. One of my favorites is the one from the Cuban player Martin Dihigo who played his career in the Negro Leagues and other leagues in Latin America.

And that Jackie Robinson glove, inside and out, and the Casey at the Bat triptych at the top are both masterpieces! Grand slams!

You can see much more of his work at his site,  Sean Kane Baseball Art, by clicking here.

Play ball!

Sean Kane- Martin Dihigo Glove

Sean Kane- Jackie Robinson Glove Outside View

Sean Kane- Jackie Robinson Glove Inside View

Sean Kane- “Say Hey” Willie Mays Glove

Sean Kane- Babe Ruth Glove

Sean Kane- Shoeless Joe Jackson Glove

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Growing up, my siblings and I were what might be considered free-range. We had a lot of freedom to do what we wanted on our own. On any given summer day, I was off on my stingray bike for a full day of totally unsupervised adventure. Most of it was pretty benign but some of it involved some risky behavior. Fortunately, I emerged relatively unscathed and that freedom built nice layer of amount of self-reliance, something I value highly.

But if we thought we were free-range, we were real pikers when you think about the Abernathy Boys from around the turn of the 20th century. They were two brothers born four years apart who lived in Frederick in southwest Oklahoma, a still relatively wild space at that time. Their range was much larger and freer than anything I imagined as a kid.

Their father was a well known cowboy who had achieves notoriety as catch-em’alive” Jack Abernathy for his ability to capture live wolves with only his hands. This feat drew the attention of Teddy Roosevelt, who came to Frederick in 1905 to see Abernathy perform the his unique skill. When Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907 Roosevelt appointed Abernathy to be a U.S. Marshall.

Jack’s sons, Louis “Bud” and Temple, had much of his panache. Their first adventure came in 1909 when Bud was 9 and Temple a mere 5 years old. The two mounted their horses and rode from Frederick to Santa Fe, New Mexico then back home again. Alone. It was a journey that covered more than 1400 miles and had them fording wild rivers and fending off wolves.

The following year had them setting heir sights a little higher. Emboldened by reaching the much more mature ages of 10 and 6, they set off for New York City.

Alone.

Their journey captured the imagination of the country and was soon a national news story. Along the way, they met the Wright Brothers with Orville offering to give them a ride in his plane. Arriving in Washington, DC, President Taft welcomed them at the White House. From their they headed north to NYC where they met up with Teddy Roosevelt again. He was just returned from an overseas expedition and was given a ticker tape parade, which the boys took part in the parade, riding on their horses just behind Teddy’s car in the procession.

When it was time to head home, the boys opted to ship their horses via the railroad and “bought” a Brush automobile to drive home. It’s believed that the Brush company gave the boys the car as part of a PR campaign based on the great attention they were receiving at the time. So they set off across country in their new Brush Automobile. Ages 10 and 6. The idea of the 6 year old cranking that buggy alive seems like a steep task, but, hey, they were the Abernathy Boys.

Two years later, in 1911, the Abernathy Boys were offered a challenge: If they could ride their horses from NYC to San Francisco in 60 days or less, they would receive $10,000. So at ages 11 and 7, they were off. It was a rough crossing but they made it. In 62 days. They didn’t get the cash but did set an equestrian record that still reportedly stands.

Their final adventure, at least the last recorded, took place in 1913 when they were ages 13 and 9. They rode an Indian motorcycle (in the photo at the top of the page) from OK to NYC and back again. I can only think that it would be a long, tough ride for Temple on that little seat in the back. But, hey, when you’re 9 years old and accomplished all he had, it was probably a joyride.

The Abernathy Boys went on to have successful lives, no doubt bolstered by their self-reliance and initiative. Bud went on to become a lawyer and  Temple was an oil and gas man. Bud died in 1979 and Temple in 1986.

Though their journey was relived in a few books and a film of the time and it is still celebrated in their hometown, it’s one of those stories that have faded over time. But it’s a great tale, one that probably could have only occurred at that place and at that time in history. Very evocative of the spirit of that age.

I know we live in a different age, but the next time the kids go out to check the mail box alone, don’t feel the need to watch them from the window. Take it from the Abernathy Boys, most likely they will be okay.

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