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Archive for the ‘Video’ Category

George Bellows painted everything like it was raw meat. Even his more pastoral pieces have this feeling, one of freshly ripped fiber and blood. One of the earliest blogposts I wrote here focused on his boxing scenes from the early part of the last century. I have included it below along with several more of his paintings and a video I came across that couples  Rhapsody in Blue from George Gershwin with the paintings of Bellows. Take a look: 

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Bellows Stag at SharkeysThis is Stag at Sharkeys, painted by George Bellows in the early part of the 1900’s. Bellows was part of the Ashcan group of artists who depicted the reality of the time in their paintings, creating gritty scenes of city life and all that this entailed- street scenes, nightclubs, tenements, etc.Bellows Both Members of this Club

I’ve always been drawn to Bellows’ work, particularly his several scenes of club fights. There is such great movement and rawness in these pieces that you get the real sense of the fury of the violence taking place. This is enhanced even more by the high contrast between the brightness of the fighters’ skin and the great blackness of the open space above the ring. It all creates a great feeling of drama.

These paintings always bring to mind my grandfather, who was known as Shank. This was his time and this was his world. He had been a club wrestler which was the predecessor to professional wrestling except that it was real wrestling where one competitor might put a painful leg lock on the other and hold it for a long time until his opponent gave in. This ability to clamp on and not let go was how Shank came to his nickname.

The matches could last an several hours. I found an article in the local newspaper from that time, around 1907, documenting a match of his that went for four hours without either wrestler winning a fall. The match was suspended and they came back the next night to wrestle for another two and a half hours. Shank wrestled professionally for several years then later went on to be a stage manager at on of the many vaudeville theaters that once populated our city.

I remember as a kid, going to play bingo at the American Legion and this old city cop, Sailor Devlin, who was at the time the oldest active police officer in the country as recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Serving as security for the event in his late 80’s, Sailor would amble over to our table to talk with my dad.  He had known Shank, who was at this point dead for several years, and would always comment on him, calling him the toughest guy he ever met. That really resonated with me and I always valued toughness after that, putting high regard for those who could, as they say, take it.

Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to these images.  The guys in these paintings can take it.

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“You stumble into the forest and wend through the pines that finally open up, and there–before you, above you, around you–a sea of granite soars straight off the talus, stunning for its colors and sheer bulk; and terrible for the emptiness that sets in your gut as your eyes pan up its titanic corners and towers…

We were over 2500 feet up the wall now, into the really prime stuff. Here the exposure is so enormous, and your perspective so distorted, that the horizontal world becomes incomprehensible. You’re a granite astronaut, dangling in a kind of space/time warp. And if there is any place where you will understand why men and women climb mountains, it is here in these breezy dihedrals, high in the sky.”

– John Long, Nose In A Day, First person to climb El Capitan in single day, 1975

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It’s a really busy morning but I did find time to watch a film on the record breaking climb up the face of El Capitan in Yosemite that took place in October of last year. Climbers Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds scaled the granite icon, once considered an impossible climb, in a mind boggling 2 hours 19 minutes and 44 seconds. To give you an idea of the speed we’re dealing with, most climbers, who must be very experienced just to make such an attempt, spend 3-4 days on the wall before reaching the summit.

Pictures don’t do justice to the sense of awe El Capitan inspires. The idea of someone walking up to its formidable base and basically just climbing up it seems ridiculous. The imagery in the film brings a sense of scale, with the climbers appearing like mites running along the back of a huge hairless beast. It also gives you an idea of how many people are on the face of this monolith at any given time even though it appears completely devoid of life from a distance. I had to laugh to see these two men as they seemingly fly by traffic on the wall.

Take a look. There is something very mesmerizing, even centering, in this short film. Not a bad way to start your own busy Saturday.

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When you think of painting as painting it is rather absurd. The real world is before us – glorious sunlight and activity and fresh air, and high speed motor cars and television, all the animation – a world apart from a little square of canvas that you smear paint on.

–Wayne Thiebaud

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These words from the great contemporary painter Wayne Thiebaud ring completely true for me. I have talked and written many times before about those moments in the studio when I suddenly find the whole idea of painting, of smearing paint on some surface, completely absurd. The whole idea of making these two-dimensional things that represent inner feelings about the outer world seems suddenly abstract and, to be honest, a little ridiculous.

It’s a little like waking up one day to find yourself standing in your yard with a forked stick in your hand. You began by thinking it was a divining rod that would mysteriously lead you to something valuable but in that moment you realize you’re just a fool standing in your yard with a stick.

Believe me, there are days when I feel like a fool standing in a room with a stick in my hands. Of course, my stick has bristles with paint on them but it might as well just be a stick in those moments.

But somehow that feeling passes and I find myself immersed back in my own little world and that stick returns to being a divining rod.

Wayne Thiebaud has long been a favorite of mine.  Most people associate his name with his paintings of  cakes, ice cream and confections with their bold colors and beautiful thick brushstrokes. They are wonderful but for me, his most striking work are his landscapes, often set from a high perspective.  They have such great color and their compositions feel as much like abstraction as they do realism.

Just plain good stuff.

I always feel inspired by this work, moving me to try to find that same balance in my own work.

Here’s a video of his confectionery works, which is, as I said, his more popular work. I haven’t found video with his landscapes but this is still a good intro to his best known work.

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One of my favorite paintings is the one above, a depiction of the biblical Tower of Babel painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, the Flemish painter around 1563. It is probably the image that jumps to mind for many folks when they think about that tower. It is an iconic image.

But it also spurred many generations of other artists to render their own vision of how they thought the tower may have appeared. I am fascinated by the hundreds of different, yet in many ways similar, ways in which the Tower of Babel has been depicted and have scanned over numerous iterations.

All are captivating to me, filled with all sorts of compositional possibilities that always seem to have me on the verge of painting my own tower. I may have already attempted and haven’t even realized it, like the characters in Close Encounters of the Third Kind who are compelled to by their visions of Devil’s Tower to recreate that landmark in whatever is at hand, such as the mashed potatoes in the case of the Richard Dreyfuss character.

Here are just a handful of other paintings of the Tower of Babel along with a short video I came across that contains a few more.

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Along with the photo of the drum major that was featured in yesterday’s blog, I also came across another Alfred Eisenstadt photo. Shown above, it is of one of my painting heroes, Thomas Hart Benton, standing in front of a self-portrait. It’s a face that definitely belongs in one of his paintings. It reminded me of the post I’ve included below from a few years back that contains a video about the making of one of his famed murals. If you have ten or eleven minutes and are interested in the painstaking efforts that went into the making of this masterpiece, give it a look. 

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Thomas_Hart_Benton_-_Achelous_and_Hercules_-_SmithsonianBack in June, I wrote about going to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum to see the painting shown above,  Achelous and Hercules, a wondrous mural from the great American painter Thomas Hart Benton.  It was commissioned to hang in a now-defunct Kansas City department store in 1947 and after the store closed in 1984 this masterpiece was given to the Smithsonian.

The photo of this mural doesn’t do it justice. Its size and scale, 5′ high and 22′ on a wide wooden panel that Benton painted in egg tempera, is lost in fitting its image on a small screen.  Take my word, it’s imposing and grand, a piece I could stand in front of for hours, losing myself in the rhythms and colors.

That being said, I came across a video taken from an old film that shows the incredibly elaborate process that Benton used in the making of this mural, which took about eight months.  It is fascinating and unusual to see a known masterpiece all the way through the process and coming together in all its stages.  It makes me appreciate this painting even more.

Here is that video.  It’s about 11 minutes long and worth the time spent.

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Rockwell Kent- The Trapper

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Force against reason: reason, because it has the power

of enlisting force to fight for it, will win.

From the recognition of that truth has come democracy.

 

-Rockwell Kent

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There are a lot of things that could be said this morning, especially with a governmental shutdown taking effect overnight. This shutdown is the symbolic culmination of the political attitudes of the past twenty years that have led us away from compromise and reason as a means of governance.

I am not going to go into my own grievances here. I’ve done that enough. But I will say that for all the anxiety this government produces as it tries to force itself closer and closer to some form of autocratic authoritarianism, I am somewhat optimistic. And that may be because I agree with the premise of the quote above from one of my favorite artists, Rockwell Kent.

I do feel that we are in struggle right now between force and reason, that the direction in which we are being directed via deception and fear-mongering– the force here–goes against the ideals and virtues that we have long professed as the basis for our democracy– reason.  The idea that reason is enduring because it has the ability to enlist those who will fight for the truth of it is reassuring to me and seems to be backed by history.

What we are experiencing is reminiscent of the way other empires have ended, when the beliefs that grew these empires are set aside by rulers who see themselves as being above those ideals and virtues. But I believe we are still a nation with enough reasonable people to resist the forces of greed and nativism that have descended upon us.

And that gives me hope, even on these days that seem so dark. So, thanks for reminding me of that, Mr. Kent.

Here’s a video of some of Kent’s landscape work, primarily of the Adirondacks, Vermont and Greenland. The format of the video is a little cutesy for my taste but it shows a lot of great work from Kent and features the music of Edgar Meyer and Joshua Bell. Have a good day and stay reasonable.

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I wanted to play a Christmas song for this week’s Sunday music and thought I’d replay a song that first ran here back in 2009. It’s Must Be Santa from Bob Dylan. It’s a great song, a polka with a klezmer feel and in the the entertaining video you get the bonus of seeing Dylan dance. Good fun for the day before Christmas.

While looking for an photo or two to accompany this post, I browsed through masses of images of Santas from the past and was amazed how many of them crossed that line into outright creepiness. It made me believe that Santa is just about on par with clowns in creep factor. You might see a rogue clown in the woods but Santa is, simply put, a bearded home intruder ( and flamboyant dresser) who slides down your chimney in the dark of night. He knows when you are sleeping, for god’s sake!

I picked a few that are pretty strange. I left out some that actually made me cringe and feel a little queasy. I have a feeling that many of their photos are also in some sort of registry somewhere.

Anyway, enjoy the song and have a good holiday evening. And don’t worry about the weird old man hovering around your home tonight…

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