Tag Archives: art

On the Embrace


There’s been plenty of reaction to the above sculpture, “Embrace”. You can get a sample of the it in places like the Washington Post, NBC, and the artistic website hyperallergic.. Not all of it, but a lot of the reaction has been….not good.

If you are unaware, the city of Boston unveiled “Embrace” just this month. The work is based on a photo of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King and it represents part of that photo. Conceptually that’s a great idea. In reality, it’s not, at least according to many who’ve seen it.

Having read a number of reactions to it, I think the problem can be seen if I ask myself  the question: is it a monument or a sculpture? It has elements of a monument: it is a large realistic work in bronze of a famous and celebrated couple. It also has elements of a work of art: it is symbolic and abstract in a way. As a result, it falls somewhere in the middle between monuments and  sculptures. And in falling in the middle, people get unsure of how to process it, I believe.

Of course, monuments can be abstract and non-representational: take the Washington monument in D.C.  And sculpture can be bronze and representational: think of anything by Rodin. Even monuments that are abstract and non-representational can be controversial, as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial showed when it was first unveiled. There is no formula for what works that will guarantee that a monument or sculpture will win acceptance.

I do believe, though, that if the Embrace was realistic like the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, it would be more liked. Likewise, if it were made of something other than bronze and made more abstract, people might be confused but less vitriolic about it. Alas, it is what it is.

I feel in the long run this work will come to be accepted and even loved. Works like this weave into the lives of people, and as they do, they become parts of the best of them. I also hope we see more sculptures and monuments of great African American leaders such as the Kings. That’s an idea we should all embrace.

Advertisement

On the art at Toronto’s Union Station and the people who don’t like it


According to BlogTO, there’s some chatter over on…

…a recent Reddit thread that has amassed hundreds of comments, one user wrote, “Union Station has the most depressing, unsettling art. No part of it sparks joy. Will they ever change this?”

I understand why would you would think the work is bad if you think it is trying to spark joy or some positive feeling. If you think that, I’d like to give you a different viewpoint.

My view of the work changed when I started thinking about it in comparison to what I typically see in the subway. What I typically see is…advertising. This work is everything ads are not. Ads promise a better life: this work shows life as it is. Ads are often unrealistic: this work is grounded. Ads are often polished and simple images: this work is rough and complex. To me it is refreshing to see this art in comparison to the overwhelming commercial imagery everywhere else in transit.

Art can spark joy, but it can do much more than that. This work, called Zones of Immersion by Stuart Reid,  may seem depressing to some people. For me it causes reflection and it gives me some perspective of my time underground. And because of that, I think it’s great. I look forward to see it when I’m at Union Station. I hope someday more people feel that way.

On twitter and art and the aesthetics of a Canadian painting by Chris Flodberg

In mid November the Twitter account Canadian Paintings posted the above work by artist Chris Flodberg. At the time I said: “I see some people don’t like this painting but I think it’s fantastic. Just like the Gare St Lazare paintings of Monet are fantastic. They reflect our lives. I even like the palette of this one – it’s a muted palette that goes well with the subject matter. Good composition too.”  That tweet led to a good discussion on the work and to aesthetics in general.

I really do think it is a great painting. For one thing, I love the idea of it. The viewer is on the precipice of entering the painting in their car. If you have ever driven on such a road, you can easily imagine going down the hill and merging with the traffic and then heading over the horizon. Flodberg has positioned the viewer so that the go down and to the left, then up and under (a bridge) and then to the right, giving the painting a dynamic feeling.

There’s almost a danger too, with the concrete walls everywhere. Plus the fact you are about to enter a high speed highway. The dynamic and the danger make the painting exciting to me.

It’s interesting to me what he has put in the painting: the office buildings to the right and a jumble of stores to the left. The objects that make up the painting could be anywhere in a big suburb in Canada (or the US). It has a universality in that regard. I thought it was of a part of the 401 near me: turns out it’s near Calgary. (Fun exercise: compare the painting with the images in that link…how does it make you think differently about the painting.)

Flodberg is not the only Canadian to paint a highway. If you do a search like this on Christopher Pratt or this on Jack Bishop, you can easily see that. Canadian landscapes contain many things, including highways: it makes sense good painters want to paint them.

Speaking of Pratt and Bishop, I get why some people don’t like Flodberg’s painting: his colors are dull and dark in comparison. But I think they perfectly capture many a day I’ve driven along stretches of the 401. Some of those days were mundane, and some were magical. They all get stirred up in my imagination when I take time to look at the work above. A great work, I believe.

I don’t think I would have come across this work if it wasn’t for twitter. Nor would have thought about it deeply if it weren’t for the comments people tweeted. Twitter has many flaws, but there are times when it does things no other site does. I am grateful for that

For more on the work of Flodberg, you can check out his site, here: Chris Flodberg – artist

On Michael Snow, Toronto’s artist

Michael Snow died last week. It’s hard to think of an artist whose work is as well known and as well photographed as his. Even people who know nothing about art have likely seen his sculpture at the Skydome, not to mention his Canadian Geese sculpture at the Eaton Center. His work is spread throughout the city of Toronto, and the city would lose some of its luster without his creations.

Of course you can read about his life and career in wikipedia, but I also recommend taking some time and read this: Michael Snow, Prolific and Playful Artistic Polymath, Is Dead at 94 in The New York Times. The Times piece has more on his role as a filmmaker and how influential he was there.

R.I.P. Michael Snow.

(Top image is from Wikipedia: bottom image is from the New York Times. Attribution for the Wikipedia image here)

The best movie posters of 2022….


According to CreativeReview.co.uk…

the best movie posters of the year once again demonstrates a wonderful array of traditional techniques and styles – photography, painting, collage – and a refusal to homogenise into any singular form. One pleasing commonality: as yet, the world of film poster design has resisted any incursion from AI-generated art. Whether their creation was through physical or digital means, by one hand or many, each of them is a product of human creativity.

I thought the AI reference was noteworthy. More noteworthy are the posters themselves. You can find them, here: Movie posters of the year 2022.

Drawing is underrated. Let me and Henry Moore (but not Francis Bacon) convince you to rate it higher

I believe drawing is underrated. One of my favorite painters, Francis Bacon, was one of many who was dismissive of it. If you are one of those people, I have some links for you.

First off, Modern Met has this: 10 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso. While they are known for more than their drawings, their works of pen and pencil are inspiring.

More great drawing (to me) can be found here: Moore drawings of coal miners during wartime. You can see one of them above.

Finally, here’s a fine drawing by Van Gogh to serve as an inspiration and a reminder of how great drawing can be: Landscape in Stormy Weather 1885.

Seeing all these images makes me want to draw again. (This was an especially good link, as I have been enjoying drawing with charcoal: everything You Need to Know About Drawing (a nude/figure drawing) With Charcoal.) I hope you are inspired as well.

On the new subway mosaics by Yayoi Kusama and Kiki Smith (and other works by fine artists)

Over at the New York Times they have a write up on the Yayoi Kusama and Kiki Smith’s Grand Central Madison Mosaics. They look fantastic. Very few art installations can achieve the viewing that those in subways achieve. It’s important to have really great work there, and in this case, I think the work is great. But see for yourself: check out that Times article. Better still, go to the subway in person.

Speaking of mosaics, this piece on how  Chicago artist Jim Bachor fills potholes with mosaics is great.

Also great:  Sheree Hovsepian’s Poetic Assemblages now showing at Rachel Uffner Gallery.

Why not take a look at the  Household Surrealism art by Helga Stentzel?

Tom Phillips died recently. I’m a fan of Austin Kleon and he was influenced by Tom. I can see why. For more, see Tom Phillips obituary  in The Guardian. Also this  Tom Phillips – Works and Tom Phillips – A Humument.

Finally, two extremes: this, At Art Basel Miami Beach the ATM is the new banana, vs this which is “an exhibition in Berlin shines a light on class, showing how social and financial inequality affect how art gets made, sold and displayed”. I was moved by the latter.

(Images: links to the Times story on the subway art installations)

The fine photography of Jared Bramblett, London and elsewhere


My friend Jared Bramblett was recently in London, and as he does, he took some fantastic photographs of his visit, which you can see here:  5 Days in London – Jared Bramblett.

Once you check that out — and you should — take some time to look at the rest of his site. It’s wonderful.

(Image: link to image on his site.It looks so much better on his site.)

On the wrongness of vandalizing famous paintings


Well, attacks on famous paintings continue. Since the initial throwing of  tomato soup on VanGogh’s Sunflowers, we have had vandalism on a number of works, including someone recently pouring black liquid on a Gustav Klimt painting in Vienna .

I have to say that I hate these acts. I think they achieve little and the idea that we need this form of protest to gain attention to climate change is ludicrous. As they attacks continue what I fear is this: people who resort to destructive means to gain attention will resort to more drastic forms of destruction once the spotlight moves on.  So far the works have not been seriously damaged: there’s nothing to say it won’t escalate to that point.

In response to this, some museums are bringing on undercover cops. The people who targeted  Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring are going to jail. Needless to say, all museums are being much more strict about what can be brought into the galleries they provide.

That’s leads me to the other fear I have. Long after these protests have moved on, museums may end up becoming a much less open space for people to view works. One thing I love about museums is that I can walk right up to works of art and examine them closely for as long as I want. Others can take in their own art supplies and study and copy the works to become better artists. All that is due to the openness of museums. That could all be lost due to these protests.  And that would be a great loss for anyone who loves the visual arts.

Great advice for anyone from 6 to 66, from Nick Cave (be foolish and be basic)

So someone named Chris wrote to Nick Cave and asked, “I’m 62 years old and decided to learn how to play guitar. Rock guitar. Is such an endeavour a fool’s errand for someone of my age?” To which he replied “Yes… AND…”. I think anyone considering starting something new should read it. (It can be found here: Nick Cave – The Red Hand Files – Issue #210 – I’m 62 years old and decided.) It reminds you that you can suck and you may be too old (or too short, tall, thin, fat, shy, awkward, etc.) but that good things can come out of it if you keep at it.

Reading it, I was reminded of the classic three chord recommendation: learn three chords and form a band! Why not? If this got you thinking hey maybe I should learn to play the guitar, then you might find this useful: Guitar card cheat sheet. Start with E. 🙂

BTW, I think the advice “learn the basics” and then get out there and make something is good for any creative endeavour, be it drawing or making a web page. Don’t try to learn a lot at first. Learn enough to get started and go from there.

P.S. I think “Yes….AND…” is a great way to answer things. It acknowledges the concerns someone might have while opening them up to possibilities they might not have considered or appreciated.

(More on three chords and form a band, here (and where I got the image from))

 

13 good pieces on 12 good artists (and Damien Hirst :))

I’ve been reading much on artists lately. (If you follow this blog, you know.) I thought these 13 pieces on different artists were all good, even the one on Damien Hirst.

Was Andy Warhol a Lame Copier? Some judges think so. I think that this is crazy, but read it and just for yourself.

Gone and once overlooked, but overlooked no more: here’s something worth reading on Lee Godie, the eccentric Chicago Street Artist.

If you are interested in Keith Haring, this talks about a new showing of his work in LA

For fans of philosophy and art, you might want to read about the links between Nietzsche and Rothko. Intreguing.

This is for fans (and there are many) of Hilma af Klint .

A good obit on a fascinating painter: Pierre Soulages, who painted in one colour ( black).

Ho hum: Artist Damien Hirst just burned 1000 of his paintings and will soon burn more. 1000 paintings? More like 1000 photocopies. Anyway, Hirst continues to do what he does best: make money.

This is a good question: How Did a Minister Come to Own Hundreds of Edward Hoppers?

As a fan of John Atkinson Grimshaw, I recommend this 5-Minute History.

This is a good piece on General Idea.

And this, on Maud Lewis forgeries, is a sign her work is bringing in big money.

I don’t know too much about Rodney Graham but this obit made me want to learn more.

There was lots of buzz recently about how a Mondrian painting has been hanging upside down for 75 years!

(Image is of Paintings by Soulages at the Musée Fabre (photo by Fred Romero via Flickr) – linked to in the piece on him)

It’s Sunday. Let’s make some art. Here’s some links to help with that.

First off, if you are stuck on the the never ending question:  Why make art ? then read that. Austin Kleon has an answer: art gives you a chance to study something you love in depth.

Ok, let’s talk tools. I love these pens. If you’re wondering how to use them: How do you use a Micron pen to draw? | In My Sketchbook. Speaking of tools, I love conte…more on that hereConte Crayon – Drawing Techniques – Joshua Nava Arts. and  Drawing with Conte crayons.

Instagram has some good advice for artists. For example: here’s some good drawing advice from Instagram. Also from IG: how to make flesh color with paint.

For people struggling with this: draw a head with a 5×8 box, read that. If you are  drawing on toned paper, then read that.

You may not be Andy but you can silkscreen like Andy Warhol.

This is helpful if you are stuck wondering what to paint: DPW – The DPW Painting Challenges. This is a good way to get better: get faster …How to draw faster 

I just like these: Amy Beager’s Dreamy Paintings.

Finally, a cool way to turn photos into images you can collage with Photo Editor: BeFunky.

The great Steve Keene is having a moment

As Fineartsglobe.com says, Steve Keene is having a moment. Perhaps it’s because there is a new book on him: The Steve Keene art book. Whatever the reason, I am glad that he is getting more attention and recognition. Not that he is unknown. There’s been profiles done on him in Garden and Gun , Gothamist.com, BKMAG.com, Artsy.net…even the the New York Times.

if you don’t know him and wonder why you should care, read any of those pieces. In a nutshell, he’s an incredible artist who is the direct opposite of people like Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons. Keene makes a lot of art and sells it for next to nothing. Despite that, he is a good painter with a strong technique and a fine use of colour. I admire him. I hope he and the book continue to have success.

For more on the book, see Pitchfork. Image above is a link to a page from the book.

What do Brad Pitt, David Salle, Steve Keene and Diane Arbus have in common?

What do Brad Pitt, David Salle, Steve Keene and Diane Arbus have in common? They all are artists I’ve been reading about over the last few weeks and months. Now you can too.

In addition to reading about those four, there are additional pieces below on other artists of note. Most of them are painters but there are some sculptors too. Quite a mixed bag! Enjoy!

(Images linked to those in the Washington Post and Colossal).

Andy Warhol, or thinking about when an artist is influential and young vs when they are older


Watching the Warhol Diaries documentary on Netflix, I started thinking about when an artist is influential and young vs when they are older. Like many, I am aware of the early Andy Warhol. If you think of Andy at all, you likely have some of these  Warhol works in mind. When I read references to Warhol and his influnce, these are many of the works cited.

One of the things I liked about the documentary is that it spent time on his later works. Two later commissions in particular I did not know much about. One of these was his Last Supper paintings. And the other was a group of portraits he did called Ladies and Gentlemen.

In both commissions, the Netflix documentary dives into the complexity of Warhol’s life at the time and how it affected the creation of these works. The religious nature of Warhol and his thoughts on death in the era of the AIDS crisis really comes through in the Last Supper works. While with Ladies and Gentlemen, the paintings take on more layers of meaning when you think of all the things going on in Andy’s life at the time, from the commercial celebrity portraits he was producing to the increasing openness of being gay in NYC in the 70s to his desire to be a model.

In some ways, I prefer these later works to the paintings and sculpture he made in the 1960s. There’s a depth to what came after later, a richness. They aren’t as influential as the Brillo Boxes or the Marilyn Monroes, but they are better.

Perhaps that is the case with many great artists. Even someone like Rembrandt. There is more of the artist in the later works,  but the works that made them famous are the earlier works, and those are the works that are mostly remembered. It makes sense in some ways, and is a shame in other ways.

It makes me wonder what would have happened to Basquiat or Haring if they had survived into the 1990s and beyond. What works they would have made. How they would have matured. Perhaps we can look to Warhol for this. Warhol too should have died when he was gunned down and almost killed, only to be resurrected on the operating table. We know how he turned out. I’d like to think of Haring and Basquiat doing the same.

If you have the time, watch the Warhol Diaries on Netflix. It’s a good series.

For more on this, the Tate has a good piece on the people who modelled for Ladies and Gentlemen. The Guardian has more on Ladies and Gentlemen, here. Finally Christie’s has something here on the Last Supper paintings.

 

Like Basquiat, Keith Haring painted on walls. Now those walls are highly valued.

Years ago Keith Haring cut out a painting Basquiat created on a wall. And it’s a good thing he did! You can read about that drywall painting here.

Now Haring is getting the same treatment. The painting above was on a wall of his old home. It was cut out by the home’s new owners and sold at auction. The people who bought the house and did this have easily paid for the house many times over as a result. Quite the find!

Here’s two pieces in the Guardian on it. This piece tells the story behind the find. And this piece reflects on what it means.

On fear of art: thinking about Lum, Gaston, Schutz

So Edmonton has gotten cold feet and cancelled the installation of Ken Lum’s sculpture for reasons you can ready about here and here.

You might conclude there’s some irony here, because Lum has expressed support of toppling monuments. There is a fine distinction between the nondescript monuments of historical figures and Lum’s unique art. Too fine, perhaps. The tide sweeping out statues of Ryerson and Cornwallis have ignored such a fine distinction and swept out his work also.

This rejection of Lum is not unique. It’s one of many examples of fear of art. To be precise, fear of how some will respond to art.

For example, in reviewing the recent Guston exhibit, John Yau writes:

A lot of issues are raised by the museum’s presentation of Guston, which have been eloquently discussed by Barry Schwabsky in The Nation and Sebastian Smee in The Washington Post. My complaint is cruder. I got sick of the museum’s defensiveness, such as the “Emotional Preparedness” card by health and trauma specialist Ginger Klee, that preps visitors for the show, and of being repeatedly told by the the wall labels that Guston’s hooded figures are about America’s racist history, because I think they are more than that, and that is what makes them so powerful, necessary, urgent, and, most importantly, relevant to whatever present they live in.

Galleries are adopting a defensive crouch to avoid provoking any one from protesting the work on display. Perhaps they are thinking of what happened to Dana Schutz’s  and her 2017 work titled “Open Casket,”  of Emmett Till, and all the controversy concerning that.

Whatever is driving them, sponsors of works of art are afraid. This fear is leading them to pull works or to water them down, in a sense. And that’s a shame.

P.S. Ken Lum was recently at the AGO and it was a good show. You can see more of Ken Lum at that link.

How the Obama paintings differ (Six or so minor thoughts on the Obama portraits)

The latest pair of portraits of the Obamas were unveiled last week. This pair was hung in the White House, while the others went to the Smithsonian. Looking at them, I thought:

  1. All four paintings are great in many ways. They capture the subject well, they are strong images, and they are superbly painted.
  2. His paintings have an almost surreal quality to them: hers less so. That’s neither a pro nor con, just an observation.
  3. There is a contrast in the poses. Her hands add to the composition: his not as much. Her body is more engaged, his is neutral.
  4. His clothing is simple, almost austere. Hers are rich and eye catching.
  5. One thing that caught my eye was the finish. Both of his paintings have a gloss to them, while hers have a matte finish.
  6. I like how in one of her paintings, blue is in the background, while in the other, blue is in the foreground.
  7. Watching a video of the painters of White House paintings, I was struck by how painstaking the work was. It took them months and months to complete. It shows in the painting, but it is also a good reminder to me of how long a great work takes to do.

I am still thinking of them. I’ll come back her later if I have any more insights.

Thanks to this piece in Hyperallergic for the images (links) below.

It’s Labour Day. Put away that computer and make something creative

It’s Labour Day. Take a well earned break from your work. Perhaps you plan to relax and take it easy. That’s a good choice. If you are itching to be more active, though, why not do something creative?

If you are looking to make something, the Washington Post has a section on beginner diy projects.

Perhaps you always wanted to learn to paint? If so, Domestika has this creative watercolor sketching for beginner course.

If you have already started painting and you want to improve your skills, these
YouTube videos by Ian Roberts on Mastering Compostion are good. Likewise, if you can go to the artistsnetwork.com and get guides like this: how to thin acrylic paint and more.

Another source of education is My Modern Met Tutorials.

If you fantasize about going to art school but can’t imagine how you could pay for it, read this: Don’t Want to Pay for Art School? Here’s a Streamlined Syllabus for Getting your MFA.

If you want to do something musical instead, check out patatap, a fun way to make noises and visuals with your keyboard.

Finally, if writing is your thing, you can start a blog here at WordPress. If you want more people to read you though, consider writing for a larger audience and see if they will still take first person articles at The Globe and Mail.

There’s lots of ways to be creative. Have fun!

Jeff Koons is going to the moon! Also Katz, Bacon, Guston and Taueber-Arp

Jeff Koons is going to the Moon, according to the NYTimes. Which knowing Koons, is not that surprising. He’s doing more things that are fascinating as well. Read that Times piece for all the details.

I love this work by  George Shaw. They make me think of Christopher Pratt in some ways. Worth a look. Also worth a look are the  Visual Diaries of Pep Carro.  Fascinating.

Here’s two good pieces on Sophie Taeuber-Arp. One is from the perspective of a reviewer and one from the perspective of a viewer. In both cases, they are raising the question of why did the curators not bring forth the African and other influences that infuse her work? I was unaware of that, and I think anyone who loves the work of ST-A would benefit from knowing that.

Here’s a good piece on “The Brilliantly Nightmarish Art & Troubled Life” of Painter Francis Bacon. I put quotes around that because I felt that was over the top. But yes.

This, on Alex Katz is good. I find it hard to believe anyone thinks he is anything other than great, but there are such people. And such people inspire him in an interesting way.

A good critique on curators who would put blinders on gallery visitors witnessing the later work of Philip Guston.

You may not know this artist, but I love his work: Pavement Picasso…on the trail of London’s chewing gum artist.

On the lost work of gay artists of the AIDS era. Sad but worthwhile.

Flaming heck! Damien Hirst is setting his art on fire. A public service, no doubt.

Finally, the Rosalind Hobley Flower Cyanotypes are gorgeous (see below). See Collosal for more.

Sunday reads: on how to deal with racist art, Critical Race Theory, and more

I collect thoughtful pieces on a wide range of topics to educate myself, to change my mind, and to see the world in a new and better way. Pieces like those below that revolve around race, racism, anti-semitism, and related topics. They are not easy reads, but worthwhile ones, I thought.

On the topic of Critical Race Theory and educating students on race and racism,  this was good: Inside Mississippi’s only class on critical race theory – Mississippi Today, as was this Teaching about racism. More on CRT, here: What CRT is.

You may not think too much about this incident, but this essay on it is very good:  Whoopi Goldberg’s American Idea of Race in The Atlantic.

This was insightful:  Slavery and the Rise of the Nineteenth-Century American Economy. As was this: Why Southern white women vote against feminism in The Washington Post.

Speaking of race and education, this was informative to me: Segregated schools in Ontario.

There was a discussion earlier this year on whether or not Darwin was racist. On the surface, he may seem so. But to me it doesn’t seem to be the case when you dig down deeper. You can read this and judge for yourself: Was Darwin a racist and does evolution promote racism? – #DarwinDay, and Quote-mining Darwin to forward a political agenda?

Here were two pieces on anti-semitism I found worthwhile:  Art and anti-semitism and Socialism without anti-semitism.

Finally, this piece got me thinking about racism within art: Tate’s “unequivocally offensive” mural to have new work alongside it. I don’t have a problem removing public statues. For art, I think it is better to put it in context. That seems to be what the Tate is doing.

(Image: link to the image in the piece on the Tate).

 

 

 

 

 

On the exciting White Album exhibit at the AGO

Almost a decade ago I read about this project Rutherford Chang: We Buy White Albums over at hyperallergic. I remember thinking at the time: I would LOVE to see that. 

Back in 2013, Chang had set up a store/exhibit in Soho, NYC, where

the only thing in stock here is the Beatles’s White Album, and the store doesn’t sell any of them, it only acquires more….(it included) 700 copies of the 1968 double-LP first edition of the White Album, all the personal collection of Chang. Each album is marked with a distinct serial number on the bottom corner of the starkly designed cover by Richard Hamilton, a totally white cover that’s readily attracted the wandering drawings of (possibly stoned) listeners, the visible stains of coffee cups, and some mold.

I never did get to see it, but the idea captivated me and I never forgot it.

Needless to say, I was excited and delighted to see that it was on the road and recently at the AGO! You can see part of the exhibit above. It wasn’t the same as being in the store, but it captured the essence of that 2013 event. Chang even made a new recording that consisted of 100 copies of the album all playing at the same time. The AGO had it on display and for sale, too:

 

As a big fan of conceptual art and the Beatles, I loved this project. I’m glad I could experience it through the AGO.

For more details, I recommend you go to that hyperallergic link and read more about it. You can also read more about the exhibit at the AGO, here.

(Images: top two mine, bottom image is a link to the hyperallergic article)

On art, being rescued, and George Westren


You could say art rescued George Westren. In discovering op art, he found a way to deal with his addiction troubles and get his life to a better place. The idea of being rescued plays out again in his life, when his neighbor saves his artwork from being thrown in the trash.

It’s a remarkable story. I highly encourage you to read about it, here: the  rescued works of George Westren, at the Washington Post.

Then go check out his work, here: georgewestren.org

(Image: link to an image in the Washington Post)

One way to be an artist is to add extra to the the ordinary

There is no particular way to be an artist and to make art. There are many ways. One of those ways is to add extra to the the ordinary to make it extraordinary. (See what I did there? :))

I thought of it when I came across this post on Cup of Jo called Four Fun Things. Among other things was a feature on an Instagram account:

The Instagram account Subway Hands by Hannah La Follette Ryan is surprisingly moving, don’t you think? (This one looks like a Michelangelo sculpture.)

I agree: the photo on the bottom left does look like sculpture! But all the images are good. What Ryan does, by paying extra attention to the ordinary (“hands on the subway”) is make something extraordinary. That is her art, and it is fine art indeed. She pays extra attention to something common and gets us to pay attention and think more about it. If you can do that too, you will be making fine art, indeed.

As Austin Kleon wrote: “The ordinary + extra attention = the extraordinary”.  (He writes about the concept in a few posts.)

P.S. Now, this is a formula, but if you just use a formula without putting much of your heart and head into it, then you will get art that is formulaic. And that ain’t good. So keep that in mind.

On the Basquiat work at the AGO in 2022

The AGO had a good show called “I AM HERE” packed with a great many works, including the one above. There were some other works like these…

There were even some drawings of food

For a Basquiat fan such as myself, it was all very exciting to see so much of his work here in Ontario.

It wasn’t until sometime later that I noticed the fine print besides the work:

That doesn’t mean to say that these are forgeries. It just says his family doesn’t vouch for them.

I can’t say one way or another. Basquiat was known to draw on all sorts of things, which made the food drawings seem real enough. To me only the head / portrait painting seemed a bit off. Not his typical pallet. But I think it seems like him in many other ways.

Given how much his work goes for and how much he produced, I think we might see more potential issues with works of Basquait on display. something to keep in mind the next time his work is on display.

On art and artists being bad. From Gormley, to Hirst and more


So Antony Gormley is in the news for his  “phallic” statue which students are worried about. This is not the first time he’s made statues associated with sex, as this piece shows: Sex on the beach? This could be made into a story about artist freedom and prudishness, but I think the easier case could be made for communities being forced to deal with ridiculous sculptures of oversexed middle aged artists. It’s like the artist is an exhibitionist and what he flashes his stuff, tries to make it about you being a prude. Anyway, stuff like this makes me grumpy. Stick the goddamn stuff in a garden or something. Sculptures like Gormley and Serra who subject the public to their difficult work are jerks.

That’s Sex. Moving on to Death, Damien Hirst recently got into trouble for a work that consisted of killing flies. He really should avoid dead things and stick to what he is good at: money. Here he is burning his art to show art as currency. When it comes to money, that’s where his true talent lies. Stick to that, Damien.

Speaking of money and greed, you can read about how a company is trying to trademark a colour. Just what we need. We can thank Anish Kapoor for fostering that bad idea. Thanks, Anish.

How about some art and racism? Here’s a story of how art critics perpetuated racism with their reviews. And here’s a piece on a white artist stealing the work of a black photographer. Not surprising; still awful.

Then there is sexism, such as this: The female body under the female gaze poses a monster problem

Finally there is ridiculousness: artist asks $10,000 for McDonald’s burger ingredient flung to the ceiling.

Art can do many good things for us. But not everything about art is good, as these pieces show.

On the late great Claes Oldenburg

The great sculpture artist Claes Oldenburg died recently. He was a fine artist, and I was always pleased to see his Floor Burger sculpture when I went to the AGO in Toronto.  His work seems so pleasant and carefree now, but back in the day it provoked controversy.

For more on him, the Times has a good write up here, Claes Oldenburg Captured a Carefree (and Consumerist) America.

For a good review of some of his sculptures, check out this in the Guardian, Claes Oldenburg’s most incredible sculptures.

(Image is of Binoculars Building, a collaboration between him and Frank Gehry and taken by Bobak Ha’Eri)

On the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in London

I am fascinated by the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in London. While there has been many a fine artist and their work displayed there, I am especially glad to see the work Antelope by Samson Kambalu going up next. To see why I think so highly of it, read this: Anticolonial hero statue to occupy Trafalgar Square fourth plinth from September in The Guardian.

The Guardian has been covering the work that has been placed on that plinth for some time. You can read about that, here: Fourth plinth in the Art and Design section of The Guardian. I was recently in London and saw The End by Heather Phillipson and that was good, but I’d love to see this work by Kambulu.

To learn more about The Fourth Plinth, go here. It started off empty due to lack of funds for a sculpture of William IV to fill it. I’m glad that happened. Londoners and tourists have benefitted ever since. (No offense to William IV.)

My belief is that a statue of Elizabeth II will go there once she dies. We shall see. Meanwhile check out the various artists who have had pieces there.

 

On General Idea at the National Gallery of Canada


One of my  favorite Canadian artists are General Idea. Living in Toronto in the 80s and 90s, there work was often on display and often on my mind. If you want to see how great they are for yourself, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa has a big exhibit of their work that is running until the Fall of 2022. Well worth a visit to take that in.

For details on it, go here: General Idea | National Gallery of Canada

On Fountain, and the power of Duchamp, a century later

I witnessed the power of Duchamp recently when I came across the above piece at Tate Modern in London. There was an show of surrealism with dozens of works, but that work, Fountain, had people stopping and talking as they came across it. The talk was a mix of shock and humour and admiration of the chutzpah of it.

Fountain is coming up on its centenary. Despite a century of art, this readymade still has the power to have people talk about art and aesthetics in a way few other pieces can do. It’s remarkable to me that an object so low in everyday status has such a high place in the history of art. Perhaps that’s part of its power. I think Duchamp would smile at that.

For more in the history of the piece, see this.

Still Life is underrated. Let this interactive piece help with that

Still life is underrated. You won’t see crowds of people blocking the view of paintings of food and drink and plates. That’s somewhat understandable, but also too bad. To help promote the greatness of this painting genre, I’d encourage people to take this in:  Dutch Still Life – an interactive guide from the New York Times. It’s a fantastic study of one painting and what it can tell us. What all still life can tell us, really. A feast.

(Above image of Dutch still life taken at the National Gallery in London by me.)

Two pieces on people Doing the Thing despite Difficulty

Some people find it motivating to see people doing the thing (in this case art and running) despite challenges. If that’s you, then you may find these pieces worthwhile:

I admire people struggling and working to do the thing they love, despite their physical challenges. But I don’t romanticize the physical challenge. And I wish them (and all of us) the best of good fortune in overcoming it.

On Cabaret, 50 years later

1972 was a very good year for film. Many of the films listed at that link are now seen as classics. One of them, The Godfather, is getting much of the focus this year for its 50th anniversary. While I’m glad people are revisiting and paying attention to that great film, another great film celebrating that milestone that people should also revisit is Cabaret.

Like The Godfather, Cabaret is a period film set in around World War II. Perhaps because of that, neither film feels dated / stuck in the 70s, the way a film like The Candidate might. You can watch them as if they were made in any decade. You can also watch and rewatch both of them because they remain great, half a century later.

To get a sense of what makes Cabaret so special, I recommend this piece: Cabaret at 50: Bob Fosse’s show-stopping musical remains a dark marvel. For fans like me, here are two pieces that allow you to do a deeper dive on the film and its background: 1) Is Bob Fosse’s Cabaret An Unfaithful Adaptation? | by Keith Schnabel | Medium and 2) That Controversial Cabaret Lyric Change – The Official Masterworks Broadway Site.

If you want to stream it but don’t know how, check this out: Cabaret streaming: where to watch movie online?

 

The Surprise of Rousseau (be surprising too)

Henri Rousseau is the Great Outsider. An outsider to the Establishment of the Art World, from the Salons to Picasso. Despite rejection and mockery, he persevered and painted and exhibited.

Recently the Guardian featured one of his masterpieces, Tiger in a Tropical Storm (also known as Surprised!). It is seen here. (That National Gallery link provides a nice interface you can use to zoom in and out of.) You can read more about the painting here. I highly recommend you check both of those sites out.

In some way Rousseau surprised his fellow artists. Artists like Picasso were fans but mocked him too. You can read about that here (Le Banquet Rousseau: Picasso and Rousseau’s Friendship) and here (When Henri met Pablo, The Guardian).

Keep Rousseau in mind whenever you are doing something you love with little encouragement and even mockery. You may not be making something great, but you never know. Keep going nonetheless. Surprise them.

 

 

 

On the great painter, Christopher Pratt

Last week the great painter and printmaker Christopher Pratt died.

I was going to say Canadian or Newfoundland painter — for he was that — but it is better to leave off the modifiers. His greatness can stand against any painter of any time or place.  I am especially drawn to his hyperrealist paintings of roads and boats and houses. How the light in them changes, how your mood changes as you absorb them. There’s an abstraction to them, despite clearly recognizable imagery.

I’ve been a fan of his ever since I read Jay Scott write so eloquently of him back in the late 80s, early 90s and which was captured in this book, The Prints of Christopher Pratt 1958-1991 by Jay Scott; Christopher Pratt – 1991.

Canada has had many great painters. While many people say Colville is their favorite — especially when it comes to east coast artists —  I have always preferred the work of Pratt.

Though he lived and painted in Newfoundland, for decades he’s been represented by the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto. If you want to read more about him or see his fine work, go there.

(The image above, Summer on the SouthEast, is a link to the Mira Godard website. I can just feel the heat of the east coast summer as I look at it. I can hear the drone of flies, see the brightness of the sun. It’s perfect.)

 

 

The water works of Maya Lin


The last few days have been taken up with blogging about artists. Here’s one last one from Colossal: The Precious Nature of Water Ripples Through Maya Lin’s Sprawling Installations.

You may know Lin through her memorial work, but she is a brilliant artist as well. The image above is just a taste of her work featured in Colossal: you really want to go to that site to get the details.

After that, go visit her site for more fine work.

 

Six pieces on six fine artists


Sticking with yesterday’s them, here are seven good pieces on artists that I’ve read recently that are good and worth reading:

  1. Unlike the Basquiats, these art works of  Francis Hines really were found in storage and have been released to the public (hooray)
  2. This is a happy story:  Ernie Barnes’s Sugar Shack Painting Brings Big Price at Auction
  3. This is a sad one: Matthew Wong’s Life in Light and Shadow.
  4. David Shrigley is always interesting. I see his work everywhere on social media. You may have as well.
  5. Gilbert and George, here talking about their epic Covid artworks are also interesting, not the least because of their conservative views. Unlike most conservative artists, they’re brilliant.
  6. Last but not least,  Ema Shin. That beautiful image above is of her work. You can click on the link to see more of them and to learn what is the thought behind them.

On Basquiat and Recent Crimes

Basquiat has been in the news this week on account of two alleged crimes: theft and fraud. In the first instance, this “Brazen” Couple Tries to Walk Out of Manhattan Gallery With a Basquiat. Nice try, brazen couple.

The other alleged crime is fraud, although the owners of these works deny that in this instance: Is the Orlando Museum of Art Displaying Fake Basquiats?

All I can say is to anyone buying these “new” Basquiats: caveat emptor.

(Image from this tumblr, which has quite a few good images of the man, including the one above.)

July 1, 2022: update. Looks like the FBI have decided to step in and deal with the works at the Orlando Museum. You can read about that here and here.

Basquiat 101

People in New York City have the great pleasure of having not one but two exhibits dedicated to him at the moment. (Not to mention his works being on display at MoMA.) If you are not familiar with him or would like to know how to better appreciate him, this piece, How to Look at a Basquiat in The New York Times is worth a read. It’s like Basquiat 101.

Better still, read it and then go check out the shows.

On the Smiths and those album covers

The Smith’s were (are?) great for many reasons. One reason in particular was their album covers. Looks like the folks at NME agree, because they put together

an exhaustive guide to each and everyone of their 27 single and album releases’ sleeves, and what they mean

You can find here. Fans of the band will enjoy that. I did.

Speaking of the Smiths, this piece by Doug Coupland, Morrissey will never be cancelled is worth a read.