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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Martin’

Lawren Harris- Isolation Peak -1931

Lawren Harris- Isolation Peak -1931

I received a copy of the new catalog for the Lawren Harris show that is currently showing at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles before moving to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in the spring of 2016.  The show, curated by comedian/actor/ avid art collector Steve Martin , is the first major show in the US for the Canadian artist, who passed away in 1970 at the age of 85.  It’s a fabulous looking show if the catalog serves as any kind of indicator.

I’ve written a couple of times about his paintings and my consternation that they were somehow not known to us south of the Canadian border.  In his intro Martin writes very much the same thing.  We have embraced so many Canadians as our own in many other fields– Neil Young, Joni Mitchell,  Jim Carrey,  and so many others that it would difficult to list them all– yet for some reason we have either not embraced Canadian painters or Canada has not been willing to share them with us.

I guess I could understand the latter.  After giving us so many musicians, comedians and actors without so much as a thank you note from their neighbors to the south, they might want to keep something that they can call their very own.  Something that speaks of its Canadian identity, its roots and sensibility.

But that may be coming to an end.  You see, great painting, regardless of its origin and subject, transcends boundaries and speaks in a universal tongue.  And the Canadian painters I show here do that.  We may have been shielded from them for a hundred years or so but once they trickle through it will soon be a torrent.  And I’m only talking about a group of painters from the early 20th century.  Who knows what treasures are waiting to be discovered in that land to our north?

Maybe we will see them if we just show them a small bit of appreciation.  Let me be the first to say “Thank You” for sharing your richness with us.

Arthur Lismer-Bright Land -1938

Arthur Lismer-Bright Land -1938

Arthur_Lismer-Olympic with Returned Soldiers

Arthur_Lismer-Olympic with Returned Soldiers

Franklin Carmichael - Autumn in Orillia-1924

Franklin Carmichael – Autumn in Orillia-1924

Franklin Carmichael -Jackknife Village-1926

Franklin Carmichael -Jackknife Village-1926

Franklin Carmichael-Mirror-Lake-1929

Franklin Carmichael-Mirror-Lake-1929

Frederick Varley - Night Ferry Vancouver -1937

Frederick Varley – Night Ferry Vancouver -1937

Tom Thomson- The Jack Pine -1917

Tom Thomson- The Jack Pine -1917

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Lawren Harris- Mountains in Snow 1929

Lawren Harris- Mountains in Snow 1929

The power of beauty at work in man, as the artist has always known, is severe and exacting, and once evoked, will never leave him alone, until he brings his work and life into some semblance of harmony with its spirit.

Lawren Harris

***************

The more I look at the work and read the words of the great Canadian painter Lawren Harris (1885-1970), the more of a fan I become.   His work was never about  capturing the physical reality of place.  No, it concerned itself with capturing the emotional response to the and harmony and spiritual nature of place, to evoke that power of beauty that has moved him.  It reminds me in that sense of  Edward Hopper’s work.

I am totally enamored with his paintings of the great white north in fantastic colors and forms but have been recently looking at his more abstract work and find then every bit as beautiful and engrossing.  They possess that same degree of feeling of his more representational pieces yet move into an even more internal space.  I find them intriguing and inspiring.

There is a book on the work of Lawren Harris coming out in a few weeks, co-authored by actor/comedian/art collector Steve MartinThe Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris,  that will be attempting to take Harris from being portrayed as  just a Canadian painter and place him highly in the larger context of all art.  It’s a book to which I am looking forward.

Lawren Harris The Spirit of the Remote Hills 1957Lawren Harris - abstractLawren Harris- Abstract #7 Lawren Harris- Abstract Painting #20 Lawren Harris abstractlawren harris-mt-lefroy LawrenHarris-Mount-Thule-Bylot-Island-1930

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Beltracchi Working on a Fake Max Ernst (Vanity Fair)

Beltracchi Working on a Fake Max Ernst (Vanity Fair)

This past Sunday, 60 Minutes did a segment on a German artist named Wolfgang Beltracchi.  I would be surprised if you had heard of him unless you know this story.  But you probably have seen his paintings if you have been in many of the great museums of the world.  You see, Beltracchi is an art forger who has dozens of fakes still hanging in many venues around the world.

There was a brilliant twist in his scheme to bring fake paintings to the public and especially to the big money collectors.  Rather than merely copy existing paintings from the masters, Beltracchi would more or less channel the artists, making paintings that he felt that they themselves might have painted if they had had the time to move in a given direction.  They are labeled as  lost masterworks. He would do great amounts of research into the artist’s body of work and biography as well as studying the materials and tools of the time periods so that everything gave it a genuine appearance.  His research was so meticulous that his paints often matched the chemical profile of the originals, making the fake almost impossible to detect with even the most sophisticated of scientific tools.

Helene Beltracchi posing as her grandmother in front of fakes

Helene Beltracchi posing as her grandmother in front of fakes

This genuine appearance made validating the work as original much easier.  But Beltracchi and his wife, Helene, completed the deal with a detailed backstory that made complete sense and was seldom challenged.  They claimed that the paintings were owned by Helene’s grandparents there in Germany and were hidden from the Nazis before World War II .  To make the illusion complete, they would make up Helene as her grandmother and take photos on old period photo paper in front of the paintings.

It was deviously clever deception that stumped the art world for many years.  Museums and high profile collectors (Steve Martin was duped by one of Beltracchi’s fakes to the tune of around $850,000) ate up his works, some being included in books of the best paintings of the last century as well on the cover of a high profile Christie’s Auctions catalog.

The deception was perfect.

Except for one tiny mistake.

On one of his paintings Beltracchi used a tube of white paint that did  not disclose that it included a bit of titanium.  Titanium white was not available as a pigment until 1921 and his use of it made the work instantly detectable.  The house of cards crumbled and both he and his wife were arrested.  They lost everything– the cars, the yachts, the plush homes and the huge stacks of  cash that their con had provided.  They are both serving terms in an German open prison, meaning that they go out each day to work and return at night.

Most of the works , which Beltracchi claims to be well over 1000 and maybe as many as 2000 by over 50 different artists, still hang in many museums around the globe.  It will probably take some time and effort to detect these fakes, if they do it all.  Nobody wants to admit they’ve been conned.

Bellini's "Saint Jerome Reading" at the National Gallery, DC

Bellini’s “Saint Jerome Reading” at the National Gallery, DC

It’s an interesting story.  I was immediately intrigued by Beltracchi’s claim that he could paint in the style of anyone except for perhaps Bellini.  I love Bellini’s work and was glad when this master forger thought it was beyond counterfeiting.  But I wondered how an artist who had this kind of ability, this technical prowess, could have no voice of his own.  The money and the thrill of the ruse were surely big factors in discarding his personal aspirations. For me, painting and art is all about personal expression and emotion.  To see someone with so much obvious talent to be without any personal expression that he would call his own is somewhat sad.

Perhaps he views this whole thing as some sort of performance piece in itself, in which case he may be the greatest artist of our time.  But I doubt it.

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I really don’t have much to say about atheists or anyone’s religious beliefs or non-beliefs.  I see it as a strictly personal choice and whatever works for them to get through their days, so long as it doesn’t impinge on my own beliefs or freedoms, is fine with me.  Actually, if you really think about it, there haven’t been that many wars fought or peoples repressed purely in the name of atheism.  That being said,  I’m only using them as a device for showing a clip of a very clever and funny song that I saw on  another well done and interesting  blogsite, Touch2Touch.  The clip is from Steve Martin, the one time stand-up comic who wears many hats as an actor, writer, playwright, banjo player and world class art collector, possessing one of the finest and most celebrated collections of modern art anywhere.  He’s obviously very talented and smart, to boot.

Martin noticed that all the religions of the world have a rich treasure trove of music and art that celebrate their faiths but also noticed that atheism is sadly lacking.  Therefore, he came up with the first atheist hymn.  Here he is, backed by the Steep Canyon Rangers, singing Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.  The cartoon above is from the always smart and  syndicated Speedbump.

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