Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Julian Martinez escultore

Since search engines are finally finding my website -- and I seem to be on hot-streak --- I think I'll press my luck --- and hope that someone, somewhere can connect me to more work by Julian Martinez --- the Mexican sculptor whose work I discovered on Michigan Avenue, here in Chicago, a few years ago.

This is the kind of dignified,public, history-as- mythology presence that American sculpture aimed for 100 years ago. Staid -- Ok -- it's staid --- but this little guy in the big coat doesn't feel small, weak, histrionic, or cartoonish. He feels sturdy, thoughtful, and full of public purpose. He completely dominates the dark, urban canyon into which he was dropped -- and I'd sure like to more of what Julian Martinez can do.


In response to my above appeal, the owner of the maquette for a monument (in Segno Italy) to the 17th C. Jesuit missionary/explorer , Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, sent me the following pictures:

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Two Living Sculptors

Great excitement from the internet last week, as viewers of my website introduced me to two living sculptors, Per Ung (Norway) and Casto Solano (Spain)

This is Solano's monument in Bilbao, Spain -- a wonderful medition on Mercury -- the god of (classical) learning -- as a child toying with a little classical statue -- ready to grow up and support/inspire the arts to a second Renaissance. This picture was sent to me by the artist himself -- accompanied by the following poem.(What greater honor can a blogger receive ?)

"Despacio, lee despacio el mensaje y despuees detente a pensar .. Si el mundodes ordenado cabe en tan solo dos cajones, ? como podemos convivar con differentes evoluciones, alimentando el sub sistir de primitivas razones que enajendan a las mentes y permiten a tiranos regalarnos sus traiciones ?

Deprisa, Ileva el mensaje depris, Pero en alas de la brisa, que no en los vientos rasantes que van rozando las gentes, que van calentando mentes, que van rompiendo do los brazos, que van dejando pedazos.

Despierta, no des la espalda. Regala al nino experiencia, pon la sonrisa en su cara y espantara la tristeza. Que lleve alegre el mensaje, elevando alto su vuelo, buscando un mundo feliz."

Per Ung (born 1933) is evidentally a black sheep in a nation of black sheep (Norway). Judging from a catalog published in Oslo, 20th Century Norwegian sculpture joined the modern classical movement in 1900 (Gustav Vigeland) -- but did not follow the rest of the art world down the primrose path after 1950 --- they stuck to a plastic expression that was figurative, powerful, and in the case of Per Ung, maybe too powerful (Per Ung was omitted from the catalog).

Look at his Adam ! Not the big, simple, gentle Adam of the Renaissance --- but a wild Adam who has just sinned and fallen. (whose features seem to resemble Mr. Ung himself) Just like the bleacher bums when a their baseball hero has blasted another baseball into the stands --- on my knees in reverence, I am chanting "We are not worthy .. we are not worthy"

His website is at: http://www.galleri.com/English/

(where the excellent animal sculpture of Elena Engelsen (born 1952) can also be found.)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lachaise - another long time favorite

Here's an unconventional view of this figure. It's usually seen with a full top-to-bottom shot that shows the balance coming down to those strong and delicate ankles --and that view can easily be found with google (or on my website).

But this photo presents the view taken by a supplicant.

There's so much to like here -- made with the loving care of Shaker furniture -- so elegant-- so finished -- so balanced -- but also sexy -- though in a formidable way. This is some kind of goddess -- and not especially a benign one. What's that gesture all about ? "Look at me and grovel, little man"

I am groveling, oh great and mysterious one. Please cast your sightless eyes upon me. (and don't eat me for lunch)

Here's a more gentle divinity -- something of a mermaid. It's always the same figure for Lachaise -- his zoftic American wife -- but playfully turned upside down, she's less threatening.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Another Sanford Gifford

Done in 1866 -- the same year as the "Morning in the Hudson" shown in the last post -- "Hunter Mountain" looks more like a reclining woman than a mountain -- at least to me. The pink breasts -- the full belly -- the pubic bush -- peacefully sleeping with a warm little cabin at her heart -- and a skinny young man driving the cows home as the sun sets behind her head and the moon and planets (Venus ?) rise in the sky. This was a disappointing week for the
Chinese gallery -- as mediocre paintings took over the display cases -- but this is the best Chinese painting I can imagine -- Heaven/mountain/valley --- it's like a trigram from the I Ching. This is the painting of which Thomas Kinkade makes such a cheap, pathetic characature. This is the America worth loving.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A few American luminists

I was on my mission to complete the tour of 19th C. American sculpture at the A.I.C.-- but I couldn't help noticing some of the paintings in the gallery that day -- and -- well -- maybe -- these appealed to me more.

John Kensett (1816-1872) Almy Pond, Newport , 1857

I don't remember any of this genre from Cincinnati -- but I do remember being stopped by Kensett at the Met -- and stopping viewers at the Met is the most that any painter can aspire for. There's the glowing -- there's the minimalism --there's, let's face it -- Puritan art -- a bit more geometric and a bit less sensual than its Dutch counterparts. And lack of sensuality provokes sensuality -- at least in me.

Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880) Morning in the Hudson, Haverstraw Bay, 1866

I don't remember ever seeing Gifford before -- but I like him just as much - maybe more -- because the severe geometry begins to feel mystical: i.e. that big boat in the middle of all those triangles should be boring, but it's not. It turns out that late in their careers, Kensett and Gifford traveled together to view the wild west. Ahh --those were the days. I wonder if they ever made it into an episode of "Maverick" or "Gunsmoke". In Cincinnati, I grew up with the French landscape painters of that day (Daubigny, Rousseau, Corot etc)-- but now I guess I like their American peers as much if not more. These painters are the worthy compatriots of Hawthorne and Melville.

(Note: these two paintings are on loan from the Terra Foundation -- and a sad reminder of what the Terra Museum was -- and could have been if it's board of directors had not pulled the plug.)

Bruno Surdo "Cycles"

I've been going to Bruno Surdo exhibits now for several years -- and I still don't like them. The paintings are ugly -- which I guess doesn't distinguish them from most of contemporary painting -- but since it's obviously connected to the European renaissance figurative tradition -- and some of the skills that it required -- it's doubly painful.

It feels like a marriage (made in Hell) between the Spanish Baroque and the Chicago Imagist school -- adding the spirituality and cultural prestige of the one to the trendiness and ugliness/despair cultivated by the other.

From the traditional point-of-view -- the problem is that Surdo gives his figures volume, but does not create a space within which they can operate, so the figures feel like the awkward cut-and-paste jobs that comprise so much of contemporary figurative painting. (the difference being that Surdo can and does draw his own figures -- while usually the figures are photographic fragments)

And I also have an issue with the high-falutin titles given to the resulting pastiche:"Prophesy of Man" or "Seek me Not" or "Splintered self" or "psyche of man" etc. --- where fine ideas are pulled into the mud of despair.

But considered as single figure or portrait studies -- liberated from their mangled compositions and pretentious titles -- I think the fragments present some very engaging portraits of contemporary people (including some models whom I know personally)

So I'm thinking that the final verdict is positive -- a good painter who has undertaken a very ambitious program. (even if, I think, it's a spectacular failure)

Monday, January 09, 2006

R.H. Love gallery of American art

Richard Love has a gallery of American painting (and some sculpture)
from the 19th C. up to 1950. It's been around since the 70's -- and hearing a radio ad for it's 're-discoverery' of the painter, Augustus Dunbier -- I finally paid a visit -- a total delight. Most of the paintings are 20th C. landscapes -- many of them midwestern - and there were many endearing moments. ( The Union League Club also has a large collection of this genre -- but I remember them as dim and murky -- maybe they just needed cleaning.)

Overall -- the collection was similar -- but a step above the best of my art club --
while being a step below the Twachtman or Hassam from the A.I.C.. The paintings were like beautiful women seen passing on the street --- their particularities enjoyable for a moment -- but not needing to be seen week-after-week.

The star of the show, Dunbier, had a fine masculine aesthetic -- and the effects of his thick paint are mostly lost in reproduction. In person, the above painting is magic -- but in reproduction it looks less than ordinary. The thick-paint-daubing approach dominated American landscape painting in the late 19th and early 20th century -- it doesn't reproduce very well -- and I admit to never having liked it much. But now that it's a relic of the past -- I'm starting to enjoy it more.

I didn't see this portrait on display -- but I think it shows the quality of his figure drawing - even if the arrangement feels a bit like a jumble.

The sculptor who caught my eye was Boris Lovet-Lorski (1894-1973) -- a Latvian aristrocrat who fled the Soviet Union after the revolution and ended up mostly in New York.The show had two over-life-size heads of famous men (Schweitzer and Stokowski)whose monumental feeling is not communicated by the photos provided by the gallery. (the images seen below were found on various websites)

I think this head of Ike shows he was a sensitive and idealistic portraitist.

while his figure studies have unique proportions and seem to hover at the delicate boundary between simply powerful and simply boring. Like me, I think he had difficulty designing a free standing figure in space.

Here's what must have been his respone to Brancusi ("Bird at rest"). He
joined many NY sculptors of his time (like Zorach) in carving simplified figures in stone -- until arthritis drove him back to clay modeling. This one looks like Eskimo art -- doesn't it ? (except that it feels cold instead of warm --Eskimos are into warmth)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

19th C. American sculpture at A.I.C.

Ship's figure-head -- I know a badly near-sighted, very intelligent woman who looks just like this -- eyes half blind but they don't miss a thing -- just like the eyes of a ship should be -- on dark, misty, moonless nights in treacherous waters half way around the world. And you'll notice that since she's now in a museum, she brought her crew home safely with her.

Preacher, c 1830 -- a medieval old-testament prophet --
re-imagined by some back-woods dreamer -- severe but gentle,his mind far, far away in the words of scripture - bound to the service of the lord - I wish the sculptor had carved an entire cathedral - or - maybe he didn't need to.

Hiram Powers (1805-1873) is an Ohio boy who ended up carving
marble in Italy. He's classical -- but you'd never mistake him for Greek, Roman,or Renaissance Italian. - the sensuality is only on the surface -- underneath, he's hard as iron. He's a tough but vulnerable American - and I don't really like him - but he has the determination and the skill to do anything.

Horatio Greenough (1805-1852) is another American who moved to Italy -- and he's got that dreamy, airy idealism that feels more British than American to me. This figure is not human, it's a mathematical formula, ornate, complete, and fully proven -- and it seems to be made out of sugar.

Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908) I first heard about Harriet while vacationing in the Mississippi river town of Lansing, Iowa -- where a local bluff was given her name after she won a footrace to the top back in good old steamboat days. A tough little woman, she moved to Italy, where there's a cute photograph of her diminutive self surrounded by a dozen, brawny Italian stone cutters. Then later, I heard about this piece when it was discovered in a dump in my current home town of Forest Park Illinois. A hundred years ago, my town
had a race track where this monumental bust of Queen Zenobia was on display -- but when the race track was demolished (and replaced by a WWII torpedo factory (!)) , Queen Zenobia went into a stone dump in the adjacent cemetary. Ten years ago she got fished out -- cleaned up -- and put on display at the Art Institute. So the old girl has quite a colorful history -- but I still think she belongs in some kind of amusement park -- maybe a casino in Vegas ? or a museum of contemporary art ? Harriet Hosmer was an early conceptualist.

Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) The "dean of American sculptors" - and I suppose the most fluid practitioner of the beaux arts style in America -- buoyant, dramatic,important -- but not quite profound -- again, just a little too much like mannekins on a stage instead of sculpture in a temple -- witness his "Lincoln" (1916), which just comes off to me as puppetry for a parade -- rather than the dignity that a sculptor like Houdon could give to George Washington. The center of this piece is emptiness -- which would not be a problem if it were only intended as a float for Mardi Gras.

Look at the detail of Lincoln's head -- if ever nature made a head for dramatic sculpture, ugly old Lincoln had one. But French has normalized and aestheticized it -- I suppose so as not to frighten school children and their matronly teachers.

Frederick MacMonnies ( 1863-1937) -- After 1860, American sculptors adopted the naturalism and dramatic surface of the Beaux Arts program, but Nathan Hale (1890) is less like mythology and more like an editorial cartoon found on an op-ed page of a newspaper. Compare this bound-victim with Rodin's "Burghers of Calais" . Whatever else might be said, this one is certainly more sexy : The cute face, pouting lips, bare chest, dischevelled frillery, innocent look, and the arms helplessly tied to his side.

Laredo Taft (1860-1936) - I'm sweet on Laredo Taft because legend has it that his students are responsible for beginning my art club, the Palette and Chisel. He's down-home kind of guy -- Illinois native born to free-thinking parents with a penchant for colorful names. He went to Paris and became
a beaux-arts sculptor. But what's wrong with that school is what's wrong with him: he makes tableaux, not sculpture -- so all the dramatic elements are there and the actors are well made and dramatically posed --- but the inner life of form has eluded him. Maybe formal resolution is innappropriate to the subject here --"Solitude of the Soul" - where each actor -- and each form -- should be lonely and apart. Maybe this makes him another early conceptualist -- but compare this piece with George Gray Bernard's contemporary monumental marble at the Met -- and I'm afraid we see why Taft's reputation has not traveled far from the 'second city'.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Gold Medal Show

These are my picks for the annual Palette and Chisel Gold Medal Show. I know it sounds like a joke -- an artist's co-op awarding each other gold medals -- but I don't think we're any worse than the O.P.A. -- and I know most of the people involved -- so it's important to me regardless.

This was my favorite painting in the show -- Kathleen Putnam's landscape just sucked me in and made me feel uplifted. I've seen other contemporary landscapes in local galleries that feel a little stronger -- but no matter who you are, there's always someone better, isn't there ?

Romel De la Torre's high-chroma figure sunscapes remind me of early 20th C. American Impressionists like Frieseke or Miller --- but they also feel saccharine like Qing dynasty painting ( or Bouguereau) . I used to consider that period decadent -- but now that I know something of the history -- I've made my peace with sweetness.

Like all the best paintings at my club -- this one comes so close to being first-class -- but just barely cannot clear the bar. Let's face it -- this is a really tough genre in which to stand out. Everything is right - it just needs that extra little kick.

George Clark is a pervert -- there I've said it -- but --- is there any better reason (than voyeurism) for painting or sculpting the nude figure ?
His set-up is always the same: the young, way-too naked woman perched uncomfortably, and vulnerably, on a meticulously drawn stool. This one looks like she's waiting to perform in some Pagan Spring ritual (perhaps as the sacrifice) (note: actually, George Clark is NOT a pervert -- he's a very thoughtful, devoted artist whom I've known for 30 years -- and he should not be held accountable for the imagination of those who like his paintings)

I consider this a rather clumsy effort by Scott Tallman, one of our most admirable young painters --- but it nails how we all feel about Mary Qian, the Chinese girl painting at the top of the pyramid. The club has a long history of paintings depicting members at work --and this is one of the most endearing.

This is Mary Qian's entry in the competition -- and it's the one I voted for -- not because I enjoy it the most -- but because dramatic, volumetric, figurative work is the highest calling in European painting -- and she's got the drive and talent to answer it. Thomas Eakins has a challenger.

Every weekend, throughout the year, a hardy crew of fanatical plein-air painters descend upon the streets and parks of Chicago to capture the feeling of a time and place in a briefly done painting -- and this one by Tim Leeming works pretty well for me -- almost like one of those psychological confessionals of Vincent Van Gogh -- with a toned-down, mid-western mood. Maybe I like it because I've spent my share of time wandering aimlessly off-the-path through humble urban parks.