Friday, February 29, 2008


I'm guessing that
art history doesn't yet have a place for
the early 20th C. Japanese artists like

TOBARI Kogan (1882-1927)

because they're in a kind of nether world
between Europe and Japan,
and now, a hundred years later,
they have no place in either the history of modern art
or in Japanese traditional arts.

Tobari, in particular,
pursued a genre that feels like
a figurative variant on that rough
unfinished quality of Wabi Sabi

and maybe sometimes not so rough

and sometimes feeling like a Japanese variant of Rodin.

But often his pieces seem to be
like ceramic pots
that are morphing into figures.

(and this is such a fine portrait -- and pot !)

i.e. it's more about clay,
and less about flesh

And we also have graphic work from this artist,
like the above drawing
which I think is less crude
than it first appears

And he made woodblock prints !

In a style I've never quite seen before at the print galleries ...
something approaching magazine illustration.

He even published a "how to" book on the subject

What to make of these things ?

They're kind of down-scale
from the elegance of Japanese tradition,

more like

"what do women really look like "

rather than

"here is a fantasy paradise of beauty


It's too bad he died so young,
just like his teacher,

OGIWARA Morie (1879-1910).

Both of them traveled to France and America.
Ogiwara had met Rodin -- and he eventually encouraged
Tobari to switch from painting to sculpture.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Contemplating Homer

On Guard - 1864

Homer (the painter, not the poet)
is at the Art Institute for the next few months,
so here's a record of my first visit
(and maybe my last -- if it keeps being so crowded)

is the first painting that grabbed me,
and if Homer had stopped there,
he would have accomplished enough for me.

He was 28 when did that oil,
with plenty of experience in
narrative engraving for magazines,
but not many paintings
(at least that have survived)

A dark, somewhat foreboding foreground,
but beyond it,
the peaceful contemplation of boundless opportunity.
The land - the sky - the young life- the stillness
everything is possible - and delicious!

And what a sky!

("what a day for a daydream,
custom made for a daydreamin' boy")

There's a lot of Homer that doesn't send me.
I don't care for his clean little calvary charges,
or for most of his solitary figures.
Yes -- I get the point -- he's lonely.
Those figures usually have little sense of volume
and they feel cut-and-pasted onto their background.

The one shown above,
is the only one I liked.

(apparently -around 1880 he took
a long trip to England
where he saw the seascapes of Turner --
with their inclusion of multiple figures.
This set him out in a new direction,
but I don't think he was very good at it)

Homer also had this thing for studious young women,
especially school teachers.
(actually -- those are the paintings of his
that I remember the most,
especially that one inside a school house --
and unfortunately, these were not included
in this exhibit)

Sunset at Gloucester - 1880

But then we have the seascapes !

Sunset Fires, 1880

Especially this one -- I screamed when I saw it.

Prout's Neck Evening - 1894 (M.A.R.)

And the bleakness !
Oh -- I love bleakness

Breaking storm - 1894 (M.A.R.)

I just can't get enough of these shimmering
but dreary scenes
(though his birds are just annoying,
he needs to work on that some more)

Sunset and Shade - 1894 (M.A.R.)

Is there a better poet of bleakness ?
(i.e -- a bleakness that's enjoyable)

West Point - 1900

And here's a really big one,
done in oils this time,
and a bit more dramatic,
almost like some kind of battle scene.

In person,
that big cloud of spray
really shimmers.

After the Hurricane, 1899 (M.A.R.)

Like many American artists of his time (and after)
Homer liked to paint in scenic spots
and I'm really glad he went to the Bahamas,
as it opened up a whole different world of feeling.

He's doing a lot better with these figures, too

Water fan - 1898

He treating his figures more like elements of design
and less like actors on a small stage.

Stowing Sail -1903 (M.A.R.)

Homer makes a point of telling us that he painted this
in one afternoon
(no re-working back at the studio)

What an exciting,
quick painting !

I stand in awe.

Interrupted - 1892 (M.A.R.)

Then - he's back in the Adirondacks,
and he feels like a Thoreau,
out in nature,
all by himself.

Can you hear the wind blowing through the trees ?

Waiting for the start - 1889

This was his only painting of dogs in the show,
but I think he could have dominated this genre
if he wanted to.

How can you see this arrangement,
not begin to laugh
at all that canine anticipation ?

Rowing Home - 1890

Here's what Duncan Phillips,
the uber-collector
who founded a modern museum in Washington DC
had to say about this painting in his collection:

"Winslow Homer...was unconscious of pure aesthetic inscription when, instinctively, he laid on those suggestive darks over that luminous expanse … The ripples of water in the wake of the oars required a quick simplification of brush stroke. Quickly he wrote it down, just as he saw it. That is the modern as it differs from the ancient calligraphy."

Maybe that's why I like it so much,
and mostly prefer Homer's later work.

note 1: The National Gallery presents a really nice pictorial chronology
(and take a closer look at the one from 1899,
how I wish that one had traveled to Chicago)

note 2: It turns out that most of my favorites items from this exhibit came
from the collection of the A.I.C.'s great benefactor,
Martin A. Ryerson (1856-1932)
and they have been noted above with the initials: M.A.R.

The role of the wise collector in the history of art
cannot be exaggerated,
and you'll note that Ryerson was born just 18 years after Homer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

ARC Salon: 2008

Jeremy Lipking

What's an un-temporary art lover to do?

(i.e. contemporary --but also timeless)

The art museums won't show our kind of work.
(unless it's earlier than 1900)

If you've got money, you buy the stuff yourself and put it on your own walls.


you're at the mercy

of temporary shows at commercial galleries, or whatever can be found on the internet,
which is something like searching for the needle in a haystack.

Which is why so much depends on

A.R.C.'s annual salon ,

that offers enough prize money ($35,000)
to get a broad response
(650 artists)
ranging from big names
to unknowns.

My counter-critical colleague,
Miles Mathis ,
also reviewed this show,
and disagreeable as we are,
we agree that
the show attracted some pretty good painters
but :

"the judges have presented us with a hierarchy
that is standing on its head.
Once again, the best works score the lowest
and the worst score the highest."

So.... each of us has taken the liberty of
appointing ourselves as judges of this contest,
and actually,
I would encourage everyone who has an interest
to do the same, and publish it
on that vast sea of un-vetted opinion
known as the internet.


For me,
the big winner in this show was the above painter,
Jeremy Lipking.
(or --perhaps I should say that the show was a big winner
for having him in it)

The ARC founder, Chairman Fred, has declared that

"the distinction between art and illustration is artificial, and perhaps basically meaningless."

And so it can be seen --that the paintings and sculptures in this show (indeed, on the entire ARC website) have been judged for how well they perform the limited functions of illustration.

While my favorites, like Lipking, seem to enable a broader experience.
(and satisfy the wild longings that I bring to a picture show!)

As in the above painting,
that creates it's own mood
beyond just being mimetic.

or like this water-logged painting
by Diana Desantis
which, more than a seascape,
seems to be a hexagram from the I-Ching:



and really makes me feel I'm in a particular moment/place
which is the special quality
of plein air painting

same this with this chilly scene
by Peter Fiore.

I love the back-and-forth feeling of balance
where so much depends
on one little fence post
(and my hands are turning blue
just looking at it)

Albert Handell

is one of the more distinguished artists
to have entered the show
(and he's a few generations older than Lipking)


...another great Chinese painting.

You have to ask ... why does a distinguished artist,
at the age of 70,
enter a contest like this one ?
(only to, in his case, not even make it to the winners' circle)

This is an artist
who would have been
in the annual
"American Painting and Sculpture"
shows that the Art Institute of Chicago used to sponsor.

Back when art museums
were art museums.

and finally,
among the landscapes,
I liked this eerie little puzzle
by Marion Hylton

Kind of intensely midwest, isn't it ?
(she grew up in Wisconsin, lives in Minnesota)

Maybe some of the colors are just a little annoying,
but life on these small farms is not always idyllic.


That's it for the
landscape category in the show.

I didn't care for any of the prize-winners ,
which were much more complex, ambitious paintings
but then
unlike an Olympic judge,
I don't give points for difficulty,
only for how much I enjoy the results.


Jeremy Lipking

Moving on to the still-life category ,
I'd only give two awards,
and again,
the top one goes to Lipking.

Not that everyone else
doesn't deserve some credit
for the incredible craftsmanship required
to paint an orange that looks like an orange.

But this is not a hobby show,
and I don't care how the sailor
got the ship to fit into the whiskey bottle.

I want joy !
And that's what Lipking gives me,
in one painting after another.

Every other still-life in this show
feels cluttered or small, and of course they do ...
making small objects in a small space feel grand and convincing
is fiendishly difficult.

It's beyond difficult...
it's nearly impossible.

Ning Lee

I'd also give an award here to Ning Lee,
and if you go to his website,
you can see several modest,
but delicious still lifes.

(but don't look at his portrait commissions -- ouch!)


Jeremy Lipking

Here's my picks from the
Figure Drawing
portion of the show,
and even if you disagree with my choices for first place,
at least I'm being consistent !

The #1 problem in contemporary figure drawing
is relating the figure to the space it's in,
and all the blather about anatomy
just serves to kill that relationship.

The #2 problem -- is making black into a color.

And I believe Jeremy is the only one here who
has triumphed in both areas.

Michael Hall

comes close -- but the overall effect here
just says
"studio pose"

So - Ok -- let's give him an "A" in figure drawing,
but what else does it offer ?

(note: I'd be really interested to see what else this artist has done,
but there are so many Michael Hall artists on the internet,
I can't find his site)

Andrew Lattimore

this one is far tastier,
but there's also a precious quality of fragility
(rather than delicacy)
that just leaves me cold.

And there's smallness here --
so rather than an enticing female figure on a bed,
I'm seeing cold oysters at the end of a spoon.


Jeremy Lipking

And speaking of enticing female figures on a bed....
in order to remain consistent,
I've given the top prize to Lipking, yet again!

(but.. I did have to cheat... since he never entered this
fabulous painting in the contest...
and I don't especially care for the one he did enter)

Alexandra Tyng

I really think she nailed
the drama of this moment

(and it could hang beside
some similar paintings
done by some very famous Americans
about 100 years ago)

Benjamin Wu

Something about the color bothers me,
but I swear
that I can see her hand moving
as she combs her hair

Evan Wilson

The shock of beauty.
(that's what made her fall from the sky)

Not quite Roger Van Der Weyden,
but getting closer

Han Wu Shen

I'm just enough Chinese by now,
to recognize this as nostalgia for the early sixties,
and that's a record of Russian dance music.

(Nothing that I've seen by him on line
comes even close to this painting)

William Bartlett

What a charming double portrait,
I'm sure the parents were blown away

Warren Chang

Hey... I was once that kid on the floor.
I wish him all the best.

(and this is designed to be such a tribute to
expanding mind of the child

Mary Minifie

Is it just my imagination,
or do Americans paint the best portraits of children ?

David Tutwiler

I'm partial to this scene
because this is a gallery in my local museum.

There's a nice feeling of space in the room,
so I'll almost forgive the poor drawing of the sculpture.

Aron Wiesenfeld

Looks like we're entering
the Odd Nerdrum school of fantasy.

There's something creepy about it,
but still I'm finding it enjoyable.


Valentin Okorokov

O.K., I've procrastinated long enough.

I finally have to confess
that I really hated all the
in the exhibit,
including the dismal grand-prize-winner
that smells of formaldehyde.

Though it's not the fault of ARC that
contemporary American figure sculpture is
such a disaster.

Here for example is a gallery full of the stuff.

The energy pushes out
with a wispy Romantic flair,
but it never pulls back,
so there's no tension,
no sense of volume,
no sense of interior movement.

Some of these pieces,
like the one by Van Nielsen,
feel like they're watercolors, not sculptures.

In 6000 years of art history,
there has never been a style of sculpture this bad!

Even including the late 19th Century,
when Lorado Taft

wrote about

"the puerile effronteries of these harlequins,
delighting through their very ineptitude a public avid of new sensations."

A disaster, pure a simple,
the result of the demise of American art education
after 1950.


The only exception in this show,
being the above piece by a septuagenarian
who was trained in Russia 50 years ago.
(and there are many other Russian trained sculptors
much more interesting than him,
some of which are shown here )


So... enough of the ranting,
what are the conclusions ?

We need more shows like this one !
Only bigger and better.

Cultural leaders with deep pockets
need to organize themselves
just as they did in the late 19th C.
to establish our public art museums.
(which have now abandoned this kind of exhibit)

The judges need to be identified,
and solicited
for written opinions
as well as final judgments.

And, as Miles Mathis noted,
it would really be nice
if the work could be seen
on a wall
instead just a computer screen.