Sunday, January 28, 2007

Cincinnati on my mind

Ok -- I have to admit it -- I've got Cincinnati on the mind tonight -- well -- not all of Cincinnati -- just a few of my father's friends -- who populate my memory as well

The designer of all these logos is Noel Martin who had have the coolest office in the world: right in the middle of that hilltop castle called the Cincinnati Art Museum

Maybe he's not still there -- but back in the 60's the museum gave him space (behind a secret door in the Mughal painting gallery) in exchange for designing the museum brochures -- and wow -- it was very cool -- filled with aromatic pipe smoke and the continuous sound of jazz guitar on the record player.

Mostly he works for clients in publishing and industry

-- but here's the painting he does for himself -- pretty lively aren't they ? He'd make a great folk artist ! wouldn't he?

And here's the only piece I could find online from "Wild Bill" Gebhardt -- the local portrait painter, who ran an art school in downtown Cincinnati above the Empress Chili Parlor. (home of the famous Cincinnati chili )

The artist, the school, and even the chili parlor are long gone -- but not my memories of that free-wheeling academy where my father taught drawing and I saw a nude woman for the first time in my life. (she was -- shall we say -- Rubenesque -- and about sixty years old -- with long red hair -- and fold-upon-fold of white flesh)

Here's a painting by one of the students he had back at Gebhardt's, Carin Hebenstreit, who has developed a beautiful, and very successful, portrait style for Cincinnati's aesthetic bourgeois.

Do you notice how it resembles the 18th C. English portraiture of say, Gainsborough or Reynolds ? The local museum has many fine examples -- and my father has always spoken of them with great admiration -- applying his favorite term of aesthetic appreciation: "it swings"

Maybe this one's a little too cute for me -- but my opinion might be different if I ever had children.

Carin, however, HAS had children -- and here's one of them (grown up by now) standing beside a statue that he's just made for the Biltmore estate -- and as one reporter has noted "The day I visited Hebenstreit's studio he was worried about one side of George looking more relaxed and natural than the other. He planned to bring in mentor and sculptor Dick Miller to look at it: "Dick will know.""

Kind of gives me goosebumps.

For an artist/teacher who has been -- shall we say -- rather marginal in the artworld of his lifetime -- he still seems to have left a legacy.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


At my instigation, Robert has been writing about his neighborhood on the lovely Dorset coast, beginning with the spectacular Athelhampton House which served for a while as home to the noted Cubist painter Mareva.

I confess --- I never heard of her before -- but actually -- I have been looking at (and enjoying) her portrait for many years (above) painted by her husband, Diego Rivera and later collected by Alfred Stieglitz and donated by his wife, Georgia O'Keefe, to the Art Institute.

It's just that --- well -- I'm not sure that even her mother would have recognized her in this portrait.

Did Diego really like her ?

He gave more attention to this lovely pattern across her chest.

I guess it's no surprise that the marriage didn't last very long -- Marevna moved on to Chaim Soutine, and and as everyone knows, Diego eventually married Frida -- whose reputation has finally eclipsed his own. (this is beginning to sound like a soap opera isn't it?)

Say what you will about Diego (Wikipedia calls him "a known womanizer of violent temper") -- but he did like women who were smart, tough, and creative. How many of Picasso's girlfriends are at the Guggenheim and Tate ?)

But not everyone thought Marevna was ugly:

Above is Modigliani's portrait of her -- so yes, maybe she did look a little -- ummm -- focused.

Regarding her own career as an artist -- her paintings can be found in several major museums -- but above is the only online image that I've liked -- and I'm not sure you could call it cubist

More Women in Bed

Thanks to Leif Peng's wonderful blog, I've discovered the American illustrator Coby Whitmore (1913-1988)-- who among other things, seems to have specialized in bedroom tableaux.

This young lady is being provocative -- but she seems so comfortable in that comfy bed --- she clearly must be beckoning a husband rather than a lover (or customer).

And is that a bible on the floor that she's just been reading ?

Yes --as she's waking up the next morning- it does appear to be a bible.

Good girls in bed !

I think this is a uniquely American theme. (especially if the bed looks like it's on display in a mail-order catalog)

And sometimes we have our little tiffs, don't we ?

Whitmore is, I think, just a few steps behind Utamaro -- but then, what graphic designer isn't ?

I just wish that American popular illustration -- like American popular music -- could have been accompanied by a high-art version ( like having both a Doris Day -- AND a Billie Holiday )

But I guess it was not to be.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The 2007 Drawing and Sculpture Show

Every year my art club, the Palette and Chisel, shows the sculpture of its members - and as you might expect -- a few views of a few pieces are enjoyable -- and the rest is more like a multi-car pileup on the interstate.

But since sculpture shows don't cover gallery walls --- and there's not that many sculptors anyway --- about ten years ago we began putting drawings up on the walls -- and I'm afraid that's become the show's main attraction.

Well.. who wouldn't be attracted to the Marci Oleszkiewicz drawing shown above? Her volumes are so solid -- her articulation of details is so precise -- and it's such a sweet, dreamy little scene - I can understand why someone bought it as soon as it went up.

But here's a piece I find more compelling -- because it seems poised to enter a dramatic painting -- like this one from the Quattrocento:

You see, our era has lots of nice drawings/paintings of pretty young women stretched out on bed sheets -- it's a wonderful theme -- and I hope we get many more.

But dramatic painting tanked during the last century -- and Stuart Fullerton (who spends his working life immersed in the human drama of criminal litigation) has such a feeling for form, space, and that most delicious of all pictorial qualities: gravitas.

If this man were kidnapped by the Italian Secret Service -- flown by private jet to Florence -- and locked into a chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine until he produced a painting worthy of Masaccio -- I think he could do it ! (isn't there someone else who could be prosecuting the corrupt politicians of Chicago ?)

And what's especially nice about this exhibit -- is that the good drawing here doesn't begin and end with the cunning lines drawn by Phil Renaud -- our retired illustrator and drawing instructor. His work echoes a great,lost world of figurative art -- and if I had his ability -- this is the kind of drawing that I'd be making.

Yet another pretty girl stretching out on a bed (but can there ever be too many?)--this one in a more dramatic setting by Lenin Del Sol---a professional illustrator and occasional cartoonist. This figure would go nicely into a Titian painting -- with Jove, perhaps, erupting as a shower of gold coins from the upper left corner.

Peggy Sanders is a draw-a-holic who comes to my open workshop every Monday night - and here has shown a very strong head -- fit for some Baroque scene -- perhaps this is Marsyas ?

You can see the rest of the drawing and sculpture here,but the only sculptures I liked were the above piece by Leslie Dinelli

..and this wonderful little Roman head by Lois Raub.

Both of these women are about a generation older than myself -- but Leslie is especially interesting to me because she only began to sculpt after retirement from a career of teaching art in the public schools. (obviously her work ethic is much stronger than my own)

On our popular theme of women in bed -- I'd also like to mention this drawing by Rich Bloomfield -- because -- obviously -- it's very different -- lending itself not so much to male fantasy as to the dramatic reality of gravitas in the bedroom -- where it's not just the body that's naked.

Can you imagine the kind of story this might illustrate ? (I don't want to -- it's too close to reality)

Monday, January 22, 2007

I apologize

I apologize to those readers looking here for my usual astute commentary on the visual arts -- but our lives in this world are so temporal -- and time, at least in Chicago -- is marked so consistently by the success of its football team -- that I had mention this milestone in passing: i.e.


Alright -- you're from other cities -- you could give a damn -- but for me, no image could be more compelling than that of a man in an orange and blue jersey barreling through the snowflakes into the endzone (the snowflakes being evidence of that notorious "bear weather" that so confuses and disorients opponents from warmer, more hospitable climes.


ahhh -- I've got that out of my system now -- and don't worry -- it won't happen for another 20 years (and if, perchance, it does -- I don't think I'm going to care.)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

From Here to Apostasy

So many of the talented figure sculptors I have followed in the 20th C. have bitterly disappointed me. Unlike today's art students -- many got to study with world-class masters -- but when the artworld tanked in the 50's and 60's, they went down with the ship.

But Gerald Laing, who had an early career as a Pop-artist , went the other direction -- and professes his conversion to the path of truth and light here.

After spending time with writers and engineers and others whose creativity I admired, but who could not, with the best of will, get as much from my work as I could from theirs, I had to face the fact that my system of communication was at fault. I realized that if I was not to be marginalized then I must make fundamental changes. An epiphany occurred when one dawn in 1973, after a long party, I found myself standing contemplating the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Comer in London.

I realized then that no abstract art could contain a fraction of the love, passion, pain, pride, sorrow, beauty and acceptance that this great work of art effortlessly projects. It is intricate and grand, of its time and timeless, so abstract and formal, so realistic and human, sprung from the great tradition and yet new-born.

Isn't this a sweet thing to say ? I love this guy !

At last I understood that the process of creation, the aesthetics of form and composition which give this monument its strength and staying power are the artist's essential tools. They are the means by which these qualities are achieved to make concrete and convincing the content of the work; they are not an end in themselves, but their quality governs the quality of the work. They are the artists' business, or rather it is the artist's business to master them; but they need not necessarily even be apparent. It is the re-stating by each generation of the same truths and perceptions which must be the main purpose of an artist's endeavor, so that in each generation they are once more accepted, and the fact that this has been done repeatedly is understood and becomes a source of comfort and a means of orientation, a lifebelt in the chaos.

And.. on top of all these fine words .. I even like some of his work -- like the above garden statue and the monument to Sherlock Holmes. But why doesn't he show more of it on his own web page ? Why does he emphasize his -- gulp ! --- recent political-cartoon-paintings ?

Perhaps we'll have to post an inquiry to 211B Baker Street to solve this puzzle.

(Robert has found a piece of the puzzle here ,revealing, perhaps, a highly eccentric temperament)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I've had such a hard time finding 20th C. things (I like) from Mexico. I know there's plenty there -- but American museums just don't show much beyond Zuniga, Frido Kahlo, Rivera, and a few other famous muralists.

The library at the Art Institute has practically nothing -- and even the National Museum of Mexican Art, here in Chicago, has been a big disappointment.

I guess it's all a matter of taste -- and since mine is strange -- I'm never going to be satisfied --- until NOW ! --- with the personal collection of Andres Blaisten, who has graciously put his fabulous collection on the internet for everyone to enjoy.

Why don't collectors share their collections more often ? My friend,Conrad has the reason: "the pleasure of belonging to a few—especially if that few is just oneself". It's that special royal pleasure of finding an exceptionally beautiful woman and then locking her up in a tower.

" Towers and battlements it sees
Bosomed high in tufted trees,
Where perhaps some beauty lies,
The cynosure of neighbouring eyes."

The Andres Blaisten collection seems to be limited to the high-end artworld --- so even that folkish looking piece at top was made by an American woman, Rosa Rolanda, who moved in the social world of Frida and Diego. In fact -- many of artists being shown were only half-Mexican -- revealing the international quality of that county's upper classes.

But that's OK with me -- because Blaisten just seems to have picked things at which I like to look -- and when I searched the internet for the sculptors he's collected -- I found nothing as good (if I found anything at all)

Carlos Romero

Juan Cruz Reyes (1940) had a long career (1914-1991)-- but like many American sculptors over that same era, he kept up with the changing fashions of the international artworld -- and left me behind.

Olivero Martinez (1901-1938)had a tragically brief career (not enough time to change styles!)

Olivero Martinez -- a very horse, isn't it ? Or maybe it's a female centaur ?

"Victory" -- Luis Ortiz Monasterio (1906-1990) (there's not many good anti-war monuments in the world -- I assume there's a larger, more public version somewhere ?)

Francisco Zuniga (1951) later developed a genre of large, mysterious, Indian women that made him an art star -- but I'm glad that Blaisten chose to collect this earlier piece.

Luis Nishizawa

Masaru Goji (1943-) -- I wish Masaru would show more of his work on the internet

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ma Qingxiong

Where are the blogs/websites by people who love landscape painting? (I mean .... not just their own )

I hope I can find some --- but on that search --- I've found the site of Ma Quingxiong , who - so far -- though I haven't seen that many -- is my favorite living painter in a traditional Chinese genre.

Regretfully, his landscapes exemplify his "signature style of blending the philosophy and technique of Chinese painting with western art concept" (maybe they look better in person ?)

But, fortunately, he allows his paintings of flowers and birds to remain more Chinese.

Doesn't the above painting feel fresh and sweet -- like a young bird about to fly?
(I'd like to feel that way every morning)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Illustration art

David Apatoff singled out this scene around a WWII monument for special recommendation -- for though "executed with a dull crayon,it conveys astonishing subtlety and sensitivity."

Which got me thinking about graphics of Goya -- and what qualities they might share -- or not.

Goya doesn't give me the immediate feeling of the marking-crayon --- and Briggs doesn't give me the delicious color of value or profound sense of space.

There's also a different moral/spiritual world view here, isn't there ? Goya still seems to be in that sacred, mythic world of Baroque painting -- where drama is cosmic -- while Briggs lives in a world where drama is more personal (as the hunched-shoulders character seems to say "we met the monster of war -- and we're still here, baby !"

Maybe if Briggs hadn't drawn such an ugly statue, I would have enjoyed him more -- but if the statue isn't ugly -- and if the design doesn't have a consequent sense of smallness -- it would be presenting a much different feeling -- from a much different world.

BTW -- I can't make out the text on the statue's plinth -- but then, I'm never sure I've got the right translation of the text appended to Goya lithographs either)

BTW II --- David's post on Briggs was inspired by Leif Peng who also has a wonderful blog about illustration - though limited to the 40's and 50's.

I can't believe that there's only two illustration blogs in English -- and where are the blogs for magazine illustration in Spanish, German, French etc ? Where are the blogs for editorial cartoons ? Aren't there more people who love and want to talk about these things ?

At least I've found a blog for comic books - for those who still nourish the pre-adolescent-child-within ('nuff said)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Copying Michelangelo

I found a new blog -- well, new to me anyway -- David Apatoff's "Illustration Art" -- and since the author is a notorious "Grumpy old man", I'm sure to be visiting it often.

This post caught my attention first -- since I agree -- in the world of famous European drawings -- Michelangelo's Sybil is the most incredible -- and I probably wasn't the first art student to try to copy it -- and fail.

But I remember an exhibit of drawings that passed through Chicago about 12 years ago - and it had a 17th C. copy of the "Ignudo" --- another great study for the Sistine Chapel -- and I've never forgotten how good it was -- but how it was still unmistakably different from the original.

Can you see how the copy is different ? -- in the way that one performance of a Beethoven sonata HAS to be different from another -- as long as the copyist is re-imagining the forms -- and filling them with his own spirit (and not just doing a point-to-point mechanical copy)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Warrior Women Artists

Still On the trail of the women warriors ....I just discovered this sculpture -- made by California sculptor, Jason (Jessie) Emerson Herron (1900-1984).

(She'd collaborated on the multi-piece "Power of Water" monument in Los Angeles with Armenian sculptor, Henry Lion, who was the teacher of Apache sculptor, Armando Baeza who shares his many opinions on the Aesthetics-L listserv. -- that's how I found her)

I wonder.... was the above piece meant to sit on the floor ? It seems to belong up in a niche --- perhaps in the lobby of an art deco movie theatre ?

But the web doesn't have much on Ms. Herron -- beyond the above suffering figure.

Well... she seems to have specialized in female figures -- and she lived a long time --where are all the others ?

Oops -- here's one more that Marly found -- so far, this is my favorite -- and I might even be convinced this relief was excavated from a lost civilization in central Asia.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Day at the Galleries

It being an unseasonably warm, sunny day -- I put the bicycle on the train and went gallery biking through the city today.

The first stop turned out to be Robert Adams , since I saw something like the above in the window -- the artist turning out to be George Josimovich (1894-1986) -- a Chicago boy who went to Paris in the twenties and mostly got forgotten.

He was good -- and he could draw the figure too -- not great -- but nice.

Here's one of the "Chicago River" that an anonymous visitor recommended (on behalf of Steve). It looks like a battle scene, doesn't it ?

But the special surprise here was a ceramic figure by Paul Bogatay (1905-1972) -- my introduction to the Cleveland school of ceramic artists

..who was obviously caught up in the wonderful world of Tang sculpture.

The horse is just a little too goofy - and the figure a little too stiff for me -- but just a little. If he had made a few thousand more of these -- I think eventually he'd get there

But I think he spent most of his time making ceramic pots -- and once again -- his adoption of the Asian forms is nice -- but he's playing in a very tough league.

My next stop was the Maya Polsky gallery -- where I found the above wacky "Portrait of an artist" by their resident Russian, Vasily Shulzhenko.

The jpg doesn't do justice to this big, ominous nightmare of a painting. (and the big black lump in the right foreground is a shaggy dog) (note to self: thank destiny you weren't born in Russia)

Moving on to my own gallery -- the Palette and Chisel -- where our annual "Gold Medal Show" was taking place -- the above being my pick who will (and should) win: Marci Oleszkiewicz's "Emerging"

..which seems to be about the same theme that I present in my sculpture of "Desire"

I love suffering women !

Moving on again -- next to Richard Love Galleries to see the Scott (Tallman) Powers show (our artclub member who beginning to have quite a career)

Why does it seem that it's always about to rain in his plein-aire paintings?
His atmosphere feels so thick and melancholy --- I can see him tucking each of his paintings under his arm -- and running for the nearest shelter.

Then it was off to the Chicago Cultural Center -- for "Material Difference: Soft Sculpture and Wall Works"

I'm not the world's biggest fan of the soft-fuzzy-wandering edge of fabric art -- but - I really like Medieval tapestries -- so maybe I am a fan -- who knows ?

My favorite piece being a string-painting by an Egyptian woman, Ghada Amer.

From a distance -- like the view shown above -- it's just a maze of colored string -- suitable for the dentist's waiting room.

But close up -- those tangles of thread conceal some really sharp line drawings of young women masturbating -- which I admit to finding an attractive theme.

(I'd feel somewhat guilty about it -- but as the artist said in an interview:"They are having too much pleasure themselves,within themselves, as to be exploitative."

Finally arriving at the Art Institute (and finding the Ryerson library closed) I decided to do a tribute to Martin A. Ryerson -- a founder of that institution who served as treasurer for it's first 30 years -- and who is still the largest donor to its collection.

What kind of taste did he have ? This issue is more important than you might think -- since attribution is basically a gallery con game. Lots of "old master" paintings were available -- but only a few are worth major museum wall space -- and somebody has to do the picking.

As I went through the collection finding the ones from his collection -- usually I thought he did good -- as with that "Master of Moulins" fragment shown above

(which was recently augmented by another fragment shown above - apparently by the same hand -- who is now called "Jean Hey" -- at least in some art museums)

Ryerson was the largest contributor to the collection of old masters -- but he also gave the museum quite a few of the Moderns -- like the Monet shown above

.. like this Renoir -- and many more paintings by these two painters -- and several American moderns as well.

He was also an early benefactor of my art club and the art library that bears his name. Thankyou Mr. Ryerson ! (that almost makes up for destruction of the Michigan forests by your lumber-baron father)