Posts Tagged ‘Pop Art’

Remembering the Artist-Robert De Niro Sr.The other day I watched the HBO documentary Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr., a film produced by actor Robert De Niro to better illuminate the work of his late painter father.  Robert De Niro, Sr. had been a rising star in the New York art world of the 40’s and early 50’s, working in a style that was expressionistic and abstract yet still representational, very much influenced by earlier painters such as George Rouault and Henri Matisse.

He gained some fame early with an acclaimed solo show at the Art of the Century Gallery ran by Peggy Guggenheim who later began the museums bearing the Guggenheim name.  But fame was fleeting as the art world’s flavor of the month changed from the figurative Expressionism which he maintained as the primary vehicle for his artistic voice  to Abstract Expressionism in the 50’s  to the Pop Art of the 60’s.  He was left toiling in a style that was viewed as outdated  while others who he may have viewed as inferior talents or at best equals were lifted in the spotlight, earning the fame and fortune that he sought and  thought his work deserved.  This left him bitter yet to his credit, he remained faithful to his style and his own artistic voice.

It’s an interesting portrayal of the artist in general, touching on many areas that resonate with anyone who works in a creative field and struggles to make their work visible to the world.  His resentment in having his work, which represents everything he understands himself to be,  marginalized is a feeling that many artists will find familiar.  I know that I have felt that same bitterness, that same resentment at times in my career.  But I have come to recognize that it is simply part of the deal I bargained for in becoming an artist, that my work would sometimes find itself as a flavor of the month and at other times simply exist as a possible favorite for a few.

An artist in the film explained this with a great analogy, saying that artists are like characters on a stage in a play.  The spotlight moves around the stage and sometimes falls upon you but soon passes on to the next character and that moment in the spotlight is gone.  But if you persist and stay consistent and in character, eventually the spotlight will cycle around to you again.  He felt that much of De Niro’s life was in between those moments in the spotlight.  And for some, like De Niro, that can be a very difficult thing with which to live.

For me, that was the thing I took from this film, that as an artist you cannot control, the spotlight, cannot control how your work is received or perceived.  You can only do that work that comes from your core– staying consistent and in character, true to your inner voice– and bide your time on the stage, hoping that the spotlight will once again come around.  I fit does, great.  If it doesn’t find you, you have the solace of the work itself, knowing that you have maintained your vision,  and the hope that it will find a champion, as De Niro Jr, is for his father,  in its life after you are gone.

I encourage you to watch the film.  It’s an interesting look at an interesting painter in an interesting era.

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Richard lindner Double PortraitI’ve been going through some books on my shelves that I haven’t looked at for some time and came across a smallish book on the work of Richard Lindner, who was  a German born  (1901)  painter who moved to New York during World War II.  He taught at the Pratt Institute then later at Yale before his death in 1978.

His work was obviously a big influence on the Pop Art movement of the 60’s.  If you remember the artwork for the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film,  you can easily see how Lindner’s work Richard Lindner The Coupleguided the hand of the film’s  artist who most people think was Peter Max.  However, the artist was Heinz Edelman .  This misconception probably shows Lindner’s influence on Max as well.   I also can see Lindner in some of Terry Gilliam‘s animations for Monty Python.  The Beatles  paid tribute to Lindner  by inserting his image  in the group of figures on the cover of their classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.  He’s  between Laurel and Hardy in the second row.

I am really attracted to Lindner’s colors and use of forms.  His colors have gradations and complexities that give his work added dimension.  His shapes and lines are strong and sure.  It’ demands an immediate response, even if it’s negative, and I really respect that.

Richard Lindner  FBI On East 69th StreetOne of my favorites is shown to the left here,  FBI On East 69th Street.  I have no idea whether he was influenced by Lindner’s work (although I wouldn’t be surprised), but when I look at this painting I can only think of  David Bowie, especially in the early 70’s in the Glam era.  Again, the strength of the color and shape,s as well as how his figures fill the picture frame, excite me.  How I might take this excitement and make it work within my own work is something that remains to be seen.  It may not be discernible but seeing work that makes your own internal wheels spin will show up in some manner.  We’ll have to see if this comes through in the near future.

Richard Lindner The Meeting

Richard Lindner Rock-RockRichard Lindner Telephone

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I was going to write about last week’s election here, about the runup to the election and the aftermath, particularly the awful spinning by Karl Rove and his ilk who try to justify their deceitful tactics and the ridiculous expense of these campaigns (from which they profit very nicely) with a continuance of their takers versus makers argument, one that drives me mad.  But I’m too fatigued by the whole thing.  So I set out to seek something that might catch my eye and, as I often do, headed over to Luminous Lint where I came across this striking image, a blaze of color and shape that filled the frame  like a Pop Art vision.  Indeed, in the thumbnail as it was shown I thought that it was a painting.

It wasn’t until I clicked on it to see the larger image that I realized that this was actually a person in costume.  Titled Junkanoo #1, it was an image taken by photographer Edward Yanowitz around  1979 in the Bahamas.  This image was actually used as a postage stamp for the Bahamas in 1979.  Junkanoos are street parades, much like a Mummers-type event,  that are common in the Bahamas and about which Yanowitz wrote when describing this image:

“It takes place once a year on two nights, Boxing day (26 Dec.) and New Years morning. It starts at 3 or 4 in the morning until about 8am. Groups called “gangs” compete against each other for the best costume designs and rhythm sounds, there are hundreds of people dancing around, playing on goat skin drums, beating cow bells together, whistles and various instruments. It’s a very powerful sound. When I photographed it during the seventies there were very few street lights so it was in complete darkness. I had to wait for the slides to come back just to see if I got anything, and if you discovered something in your work, you had to wait another year before you could utilize it the next time.”

I immediately thought Pop Art at first but the more I looked at this the more I realized that this really reminded me of some pieces by one of my favorite Modernist painters, Marsden Hartley.  His Portrait from around 1914 is shown here.  He did several of these colorful pieces with strong shapes and lines that are juxtaposed on dark backgrounds.  As I was searching for my own voice, these pieces were deeply influential.  The darkness underneath  both gave the color a boost and created a different subtext for how the viewer might take in these colors,  not simply as being bright and joyous.  This was one of the things I wanted so much in my own work.

Maybe that’s why this image of the Junkanoo parader stopped me in my tracks.  I don’t know for sure.  But it is definitely a great image.

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Many of us are familiar with the work of Stuart Davis (1892- 1964), the American Modernist whose paintings presaged the Pop Art of the 60’s.  They were bold and colorful abstracted collages that use imagery from the landscape of the popular culture at the time they were created, creating works that immediately evoke a time.  When I see them I a transported to the New York or Paris of the 40’s and 50’s, with Jazz and poetry blossoming in the aftermath of a devastating war that really changed our perceptions of the world.

But it is Davis’ early work that always intrigues, particularly a small group that was painted not to far from where I live.  There are three landscapes painted just over the state line  in rural Tioga, Pennsylvania in 1919 that are very different from the work for which Davis is best known.  They show a young artist still working in the style of those artists who inspired him, trying on their style and brushstrokes in an effort to find his own voice. 

You can see how  he had been affected by seeing the work of Van Gogh and Picasso for the first time at the legendary Armory Show in 1913, where his own work hung among the emerging giants of modern painting.  Davis was then a student of Robert Henri and painted in a style associated with the  NYC Ashcan school of painters , of which Henri was a leader.  These three pieces have thick. expressive stokes of paint and scream of Van Gogh and have few hints at where Davis’ road would eventually lead him.

The pieces are very accomplished and have a certain charm but it is obvious that they are still derivative and that Davis is still in the midst of his evolution from talented mimic to an original voice.  To me, they are an interesting insight to how we synthesize our broad spectrum of  influences into something truly original.  I would be hard-pressed to say that the man who painted these pieces would eventually become a leading light of abstract modernism but they somehow moved him along in his search for his own distinct voice.  It only goes to show that we should take in everything that excites us even if it seems out of our normal area of comfort.  It may open new and exciting worlds to us that we could never foresee.

Stuart Davis--Self Portrait 1919


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I wrote last week about the work of the Chicago-based artist Roger Brown, who was part of the Chicago Imagists which were a group of artists who were inspired by the pop imagery of comic books as well as surrealism.  Another artist who was in this circle was Jim Nutt, born in 1938 in Massachusetts and educated at a variety of universities including the Art Institute of Chicago, where he met his wife, artist Gladys Nilsson.  He has lived and painted in the Chicago area since the 1960’s.

Nutt’s early work in the 60’s and 70’s was very much in the comic book/pop art style with bold, flat colors that were often harshly contrasting and fantastic imagery bordering on the bizarre, as can be seen here in the image to the left.  It’s strong, exciting  work but for me the more interesting part of Nutt’s career has been his obsessive, repeated painting of a single imaginary female portrait over the past twenty-five years.  He spends nearly a year neticulously painting  each of these portraits of a woman with a hairdo that evokes the 1940’s and a most unusual large nose that is typically colored in direct contrast to the rest of the woman’s face.  He paints these works in thin acrylic paint with tiny brushes which accounts for the long time frame for each piece.  The resulting work, as a result of this technique, is meant to be seen up close where they reveal their refined surfaces and subtle tones, revealing beauty that belies the sometimes grotesque appearance of the image from afar.

I am always drawn to the artist who repeatedly revisits a form, finding something new in each new foray.  This subject of Nutt’s may be the same image he sees in his mind but each piece is decidedly different  in presentation and feel.  And, while I feel his early work is interesting and distinctive, it is this obsession that has held Nutt for the past 25 years that defines Nutt for me.

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