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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Henri’

Brushstrokes/Henri

robert-henri-the-beach-concarneau-1899

Robert Henri- The Beach, Concarneau 1899

Strokes carry a message whether you will it or not. The stroke is just like the artist at the time he makes it. All the certainties, all the uncertainties, all the bigness of his spirit and the littlenesses are in it.

Robert Henri

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I like the idea of this thought from the great artist and teacher Robert Henri, that the strokes on the surface of a painting unconsciously capture the artist as they are at that moment.  This really plays into what I aspire to with my own work even though, to some, the end result may seem like nothing more than a picture made from pleasant colors  that appeals to the viewer on a surface level.

That is fine but more than that, I want it to carry my own fullness forward, want it to proclaim my existence in this universe. Even the smallnesses, flaws and imperfections that pockmark me as a human.  They, as much as the greater attributes to which I aspire, are a part of that existence.

Every visible edge on a thick stroke carries me forward, has meaning and content beyond that surface.  It reflects what I am feeling about what is on the surface before me as well as who and what I am as a person at that moment.  There are moments when I run my hands over the finished surface of a painting and I feel like I am a blind person reading something in Braille.  The bumps and edges have meaning for me that goes beyond is seen.

As Henri so well put it: All the certainties, all the uncertainties, all the bigness of his spirit and the littlenesses are in it.

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Robert Henri- At Far Rockaway

Robert Henri- At Far Rockaway

The man who has honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond, is ready to appreciate good art. He needs no one to give him an ‘Art Education’; he is already qualified. He needs but to see pictures with his active mind, look into them for the things that belong to him, and he will find soon enough in himself an art connoisseur and an art lover of the first order.

-Robert Henri

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A lot of people over the years have made my work their first art purchase which pleases me greatly because I know how difficult it is to make that first decision to spend hard-earned money on a piece of art.  It is tremendously gratifying to me as an artist to have that person find something in the work that belongs to them that allows them to overcome the fear of buying art.

And there is a fear in buying art.  Or even showing one’s appreciation of it.

I hear it all the time from people who come up to me in galleries and say that they know nothing about art, some who are very powerful people who move through the world with a supreme air of confidence about them. They are often afraid of making a mistake that will reveal their lack of knowledge about art.

My first response is to tell them that they don’t have to know anything about art.  They don’t need a wide knowledge of art history or contemporary art.  They only need to first trust their eyes and their emotional response to a piece of work.  No amount of persuasion can make you like those things that don’t stir your emotions.

Ultimately, you like what you like– work that speaks to who you are at your core.   And that is the first requirement and rule for any lover of art, whether you collect or simply enjoy taking in the images when you come across them.

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Robert Henri Quote Boundless

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earl-kerkam1891-1965-1361546399_org I 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 of very modest 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 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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John Sloan Dust Storm Fifth AvenueI was going through a book of painting that focused on New York City and came across an image of the fabled Flatiron Building, its three sided structure which gives it the look of a ship’s prow making it one of the more iconic building in the city.  It has been photographed  and painted numerous times, enough so that there is probably a book of just Flatiron images floating around somewhere.  It’s a striking building and one that I always am intrigued by in images and in person.

But I hadn’t seen this painting by John Sloan, the American artist who was part of the Ashcan School that painted the reality of the urban experience in the early decades of the 20th century.  I am a fan of this loose-knit group of  painters that includes George Bellows, Edward Hopper and Robert Henri, among others.

The painting was titled Dust Storm, Fifth Avenue and was painted in 1906.  It was an image looking down Fifth Avenue to where the Flatiron’s prow stood proudly as a black cloud hovered above.  On the ground below, the people scurried about  in a panic as the wind blew up huge clouds of dust as it funneled down the canyons of the city.  There’s a tremendous amount of movement in the painting that gives it great impact.

It made me wonder how accurate the image was.  Were these dust storms a normal occurrence in old New York?  It turns out that the Flatiron was notorious for the winds that gathered around its base and buffeted the pedestrians who happened that way, taking hats and lifting women’s skirts, exposing their legs to leering young men who would gather on the corner of 23rd Street for just such a purpose. The police would regularly have to disperse the gawkers which is supposedly where  the term 23 Skidoo originated, it being the phrase they would shout to get the crowd moving.

It’s always interesting to see the story behind an interesting image like the one Sloan captured, to see the real history being portrayed.  It makes me appreciate this painting even more. Here’s a short film from 1903 that shows  the mischief that the wind played on the passing crowd.

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This is  a very famous photo by Edward Weston of a nautilus shell that is considered one of the jumping off points for the Modernist movement in art back in the first quarter of the 20th century and one of the great photos of all time, selling a few years back at auction for over a million dollars.  It’s a beautiful and simple image that transcends itself.  I came across it recently along with a mention as to how it came about  when  Weston, on a trip to California,  encountered a painter whose work, particularly in some close up pieces of shell, greatly stimulated him.  Her name was Henrietta Shore.

It was not a name I had encountered  and doing a quick Google search came across a number of striking images that reminded me of Georgia O’Keeffe.   It turns out that she was a contemporary of O’Keeffe and  it was said that Shore’s work had eclipsed O’Keeffe’s when they were exhibited together, something which happened a few times.  Shore also had an incredible painting pedigree, training with the likes of William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri and even John Singer Sargeant.  She had lived in London and New York before moving to California, settling in Carmel around 1930.  Once there, she didn’t show her work much outside of the Carmel/Monterey region  and never really gained the notoriety that came to O’Keeffe.  It was another one of those cases where I have come across amazing talents who have fallen off the wider map for some reason that remains a mystery to me.

There is great sensuality in her work, for instance the human-like twist and feel of her Cypress trees, that I found really appealing, something I try to work into my own paintings.  Looking at Weston’s body of work, I can see the similarity in how he portrayed many of his subjects, finding wonderful beauty in simple twists and curves.

I also liked that she stopped dating her paintings because she  didn’t want them categorized into time frames in her career because she viewed her work and her life as being part of a continuum  that transcended time.  Again, something I hope for in my own work.  How had Henrietta Shore escaped my notice for all these many years?

There’s not a lot of data out there about Shore, at least with a quick search.  She didn’t have a long list of exhibitions after the 30’s and those that she did have were in the Monterey area, so became a sort of regional painter which doesn’t take anything away from her great talent.  It only deprives the rest of us from finding her and finding something for ourselves in her work.  Thankfully, modern technology and the web allows us to stumble across such a wonderful painter long after she has faded from the national stage, even though her work will always live on in the continuum.  Just plain good stuff…

 

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The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture– however unreasonable this may sound.  The picture, if a picture results, is a byproduct and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past.  The object, which is in back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a more than ordinary moment of existence.

— Robert Henri

I love this passage that  Robert Henri wrote in his classic  book The Art Spirit, so much that I’ve taken the key phrase from it as the title for this new painting,  A More Than Ordinary Moment.  It is a tryptych on mounted paper  with the outside panel images measuring 10″ wide by 14″ high and the center 16″ by 14″.   It is set in a large frame with three separate windows that is about 24″ by 58″ in size, giving this piece a real sense of it  being, as its titles implies, more than ordinary.

This piece very much reflects the essence of what Henri was conveying in the passage, that art is not about capturing scenes or mere subjects but was instead about capturing a state of being, the  existential feeling behind the moment.  As I  have maintained for some time, my paintings are not about depicting the reality of the outer world.  They are more about capturing and mapping the emotions and sensations of our inner selves,  those rare things found all of us if we are willing to take the time to look.  They are internal landscapes.

I get a great sense of tranquility from this piece, a feeling that comes from the colors that somehow remind me of  the warmth of the crocheted afghans I knew as a kid with those sometime garish color combinations from the late 60’s and  early 70’s with olive greens, browns and  oranges.  When I think of those afghans, I don’t remember them for what they were as objects but for what they represented with those moments beneath them when I was warm and secure.  I didn’t see this in this painting until just now as I wrote this and now, looking at the painting, it is all I see.  I am instantly transported by it to those moments of supreme security as a kid, huddled under my mother’s afghan in my father’s house, carefree and safe from the world outside our doors.

It’s a feeling that I get less  as an adult and one that I need more often. 

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