Posts Tagged ‘Smithsonian’



2016 Smithsonian Photo Contest Winner- The China Red- Jian Wang

2016 Smithsonian Photo Contest Winner- The China Red- Jian Wang

I came across the photo above this morning which is titled The China Red.  It was shot by photographer Jian Wang at Olympic Forest Park in Beijing, China and is the winning image in the Mobile Category of the Smithsonian’s 13th Annual Photo Contest.  I spent about five minutes just staring at it, transfixed by the pattern of the shadows and colors.  Just a great image.

The color and forms incorporated in the photo reminded me of some of the work from the Precisionist painters such as DeMuth and Sheeler.  I thought I would share the following post from back in 2009 about Demuth:

demuth-number-5I’ve been a fan of Charles Demuth since the first time I saw his work.  He was considered a part of the Precisionist movement of the 20’s, along with painters such as Charles Sheeler and Joseph Stella among many others, with his paintings of  buildings and poster-like graphics such as this painting, I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold.  He was also one of the prominent watercolorists of his time and while they are beautiful and deserve praise in their own right, it’s his buildings that draw me in.

Demuth’s work has a tight graphic quality but still feels painterly to me.  There’s still the feel of the artist’s hand in his work which to me is a great quality.  There are photorealist painters out there whose craftsmanship I can really admire but who are so precise that they lose thatdemuth-my-egypt feel of having the artist’s hand in the work.  I like seeing the imperfection of the artist.  The first time I saw one of the Ocean Park paintings from artist Richard Diebenkorn, it wasn’t the composition or color that excited me.  It was the sight of several bristles from his brush embedded in the surface.  To me, that was a thrill, seeing  a part of the process.  The imperfect hand of the artist.  I get that feeling from Demuth.

He also had a great sense of color and the harmony and interplay of colors.  His colors are often soft yet strong, a result of his work with watercolors.  His whites are never fully white and there are subtle shades everywhere, all contributing to the overall feel of the piece.  His work always seems to achieve that sense of rightness I often mention.

His works, especially his paintings of buildings, have a very signature look, marked by a repeated viewpoint demuth-after-all where he views the buildings above him.  His paintings are usually fragments of the building’s upper reaches.  There’s a sense of formality in this view, almost reverence.  I don’t really know if he was merely entranced by the forms of industrial buildings or if he was making social commentary.

Whatever the case, do yourself a favor and take a look at the work of Charles Demuth.  It’s plain and simple good stuff…

Buildings, Lancaster 1930demuth-from-the-garden-of-the-chateau


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John Singer Sargent El JaleoSunday morning and I am in need of a little kick.  Maybe a little flamenco music?  There something in the energy and precision of the music and the dance that makes it invigorating while still feeling calm.  And that seems right this morning. Just want I want and need.

Sargent_John_Singer_Spanish_Dancer Study for El JaleoFlamenco always reminds me of El Jaleo, the huge  ( it’s about 8′ by 11′ in size) masterpiece shown above  from John Singer Sargent. that hangs in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  The very large painting at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum in Washington, shown here on the right, is actually a study for the dancer in El Jaleo although I think most people who see it think it works very well as its own painting.

If we’re going to have some flamenco this morning I think we should hear from the late great Paco de Lucia, king of flamenco guitar and one of the great guitarists of all time.  Here he is a year or two before his death in 2012 with his Buleria por Solea, the buleria referring  to the 12 beat rhythm of flamenco.  Enjoy and have a great Sunday as your Thanksgiving holiday winds down.

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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.  It is a 5′ high and 22′ wide wooden panel that Benton painted in egg tempera.  It’s 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 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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Baseball  Helen West HellerI was looking for woodcuts that had baseball in them and came across a couple that were by an artist with which I was not familiar, Helen West Heller.  I liked the design and look of the pieces that I had found, more modern and stylized than the others.  Unique.  I began to look up the artist, who lived from 1872 to 1955,  but found little.  No Wikipedia page and a few scant biographies that mainly listed her exhibits and the collections in which her work – both woodcuts and paintings-  was included.

Baseball2 Helen West HellerAnd it was a pretty impressive resume.  A retrospective at the Smithsonian.  Awards from the Library of Congress. Shows at the Brooklyn Museum and other galleries around the country.  Looking at the Metropolitan Museum website, I found that she had over 170 pieces in their permanent collection.  Why wasn’t there more on her?

HellerBut then I came across a site devoted to her life and work, The Extraordinary Life and Art of Helen West Heller.  It’s a rambling website full of references and writings devoted to Heller but even as Heller’s most ardent fan and champion, Dr. Ernest Harms, wrote in 1957, just two years after her death: “Helen West Heller has lived the life of a full blooded personality striving and fighting for an artistic ideal . . . Far too little is known even among artists about this amazing woman.”

The tragedy is that when she did die, she did so alone and as a pauper in  Bellevue in NYC.  Her body remained in the morgue there for over 10 days until Artists Equity arranged for burial in NJ.  There’s a lot more on her in the rambling site devoted to her, much of it quite interesting but never completely revealing.  She lived at a time when there was still room for mystery and mythology in one’s life.  Perhaps that mystery, as well as the personality of her work,  is what makes her  so intriguing to me.




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Renwick Museum Catlin GalleryThis is a shot from the George Catlin Gallery which was contained in the Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.  It was one of my favorite exhibits in a tremendous space and always fills me with a new inspiration to create when I think of it.  It was primarily filled with portraits of Plains Indians by George Catlin  and the sheer number of the pieces and the scale of the room was overwhelming when you first entered.renwick-gallery

These photos don’t really capture the scale or feel of the room.  Although it seems at first immense, there’s a very comfortable atmosphere there, one that beckons you to sit on the benches there and just ponder.

For me, I think about the lives of those in the paintings, their day to day existence as well as the plight of their people.  I think about Catlin painting this huge group of work over the years and the passion and drive it must have taken to complete such a task. I think about basking in such a great space and feel quieted, although deep inside it makes me itch to have a brush in my hand.

If you’re in DC sometime, look up the Renwick Gallery. There’s a new exhibit featuring selections from their American collection.  You’ll be glad you did.

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