Friday, October 20, 2006

A.I.C. : Charles Sheeler

I've been going to the Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) show every week now at the A.I.C. -- and I'm becoming a fan.

As Gawain wrote about his taste for Chopin here , if my mind is a lock, his painting fits like the key.

Yes -- I know Sheeler is a canonical champion for modernism in America --- there are hundreds, maybe thousands of forgotten painters of his time that were just as good -- and I've always walked right past his works when they're in the general population of a museum.

But now -- in rooms that are nothing but Sheeler -- I'm in heaven -- this guy is so good -- and now that I think about it -- he's from that great generation of artists born around 1880 who grew up into probably the most prolific and diverse artworld any civilzation has ever seen. And he had - in the Pennsylvania Academy of William Merritt Chase and Charles Grafton -- one of the best art educations available anywhere.

One of the problems with writing this post --- is that I can't show jpg's of the paintings I liked the best.

For example, the painting immediately above ("Classic Landscape")was one of my favorites at the show -- but the jpg has lost most of the qualities that I enjoyed. The color is different -- and of course, size is important. In person - this thing is breathtaking and georgeous -- in reproduction, it feels flat, grim, and ugly.

But on the other hand -- the painting at the very top ("Amoskeag Canal") wasn't even in this show -- but it's jpg is gorgeous -- and recalls -- at least for me -- the paintings that I saw -- as wonderful -- delicious -- trip through space -- and given its subject matter -- a loveletter to our urban world that often feels like such a disaster.

... just as Italian painting of the 14th and 15th Century was often a tribute to their urban world -- like this section above, cut from a mural by Massaccio.

And finding ways to love the world is an important, adult activity I think -- because adults are responsible for it -- and it's an inclination that is far removed from the adolescent alienation of contemporary art.

And speaking of contemporary art -- late in his career --- as he was approaching 70 -- the references to actual urban spaces began to sometimes fade away -- leaving just a dance of line and color -- and a very beautiful dance it is !

I wish I could post the ones that I saw ("Incantation" of 1946, posted above, was not in the exhibit) -- especially the miniatures -- which are just about as delicious and eye-popping as Persian miniatures from centuries ago.

But here's a jpg of a very large painting ("New York View") that did hang in the show -- feels a bit surreal, doesn't it ?

I'm thinking these paintings are not just tributes to modern urban landscapes -- but also to those bright, clean, crew-cut, sincere, nerdish engineers who have shaped it.

It's a kind of masculinity that's on life-support in nursing homes around the country now -- but back in its day -- it had its own kind of beauty.

And as I recall --- I once had my very own Charles Sheeler kind of experience -- the first time Beth and I floated down the Little Vermillion River in Northern Illinois.

Being the disorganized slackards that we are -- we always get on the river too late in the day --- so the sun was beginning to set while we are still on the water -- and on this day -- to compound our problems -- a torrential thunderstorm broke out -- just as we were passing the Big Star Cement Factory.

I don't know if you've ever seen a cement factory before -- but believe me -- they are BIG --- everything about them is big -- and simple -- industrial looking --- and just like a Sheeler painting -- completely empty of personell.

We were cold -- wet --- tired --- lost -- in a big, dark, strange (and noisy!) place -- but it was one of the most exciting moments of my life.


Blogger A Conductor said...

I too, lover of colour field painting that I am, am surprised to find myself immensely enjoying those pictures.

The wonders of taste!

October 23, 2006  
Anonymous Regolo Ricci said...

How difficult to do a Sheeler! I came across a steel-yard with giant cranes painted deep yellow and blue and scarlet,surrounded by large iron spheres and bars left to rust. One hour of looking for a motif and I couldn't find it--and yet it was there, hidden away. Charles Sheeler would have seen the beauty where we see the trivial. Incidentally, his composition-- verticals and horizontals etc.-- reminds me of a modern Nicolas Poussin.

November 07, 2006  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Oh yes, an embedded, unconscious Sheeler riff in my Cali-sunny photo!

I like your description of the adult pleasures of an urban landscape. When I lived in NYC, I told friends out west I felt I was living at the bottom of the canyonlands -- similar shafting light angling down to our narrow, lovely worn concrete and stucco and stonework crevasses.

Here's a poem re: some of that as well.

May 29, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home