Saturday, August 25, 2007


I was showing Kristin Krimmel
some pictures I recently posted here of
her countryman,
the Canadian painter,
James William Morrice,
when she told me about another one of her
historical favorites,
Marc-Aurele Suzor-Cote (1869-1937)

.. who doesn't have much on the internet

.. until now !

Isn't there something about him,
that just feels Canadian ?

A country with a little too much forest,
and not quite enough sun ?

Nothing Romantic about this rural scene,
just hard, back-breaking work

Could you imagine this piece
coming from south of the 49th parallel ?

There's just too much grim determination,
so you feel
that maybe that trapper
never will get these furs to market

Sad, hard lives can be lived anywhere,
but doesn't this life
seem especially French,
and beyond that,
especially French Canadian ?

More sadness,
even in the bedroom,
and couldn't those sheets
be cut-and-pasted
into a frozen river
winter landscape ?

Is it just my imagination
that this girl
is making a brave face,
but she really
wants to tell us
a sad story ?

She's not so sad,
but still
rather reserved


I just can't imagine
this nude ("The Itch")
coming from anywhere else
except the great north woods.

(where so many things love to bite)

I think this what you call "regionalism",
i.e. an art that expresses
how it feels to live, hope, and dream
in a specific time and place,
rather than addressing
the possibilities
of that universal,
mysterious practice
called "art"

(note: most of the above come
from the 1920's)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mountshang,
I must object!
I'm glad you've taken a look at Suzor Coté's work and like it. But I ask you, Were there no trappers in the United States, from the State of New York to all along the 49th parallel to the wilds of the States of Washington and Oregon? Have Lewis and Clark evaporated from American history?
Did not Astor make his fortune from the American fur trade?
Is there no snow in the United States that chills the bones of Americans in winter?
Did not the mighty pioneers of America drag tree stumps out of the primal forests when they first came to settle and create farms?
It's good talking to you and thanks for a great post of good art.

August 26, 2007  
Blogger chris miller said...

Well.. yes .. and though contemporary art museums pretend it doesn't exist, America still has a thriving genre of "Western Art" --with plenty of attention paid to the legendary pioneers.

But... I don't think we have a taste for that hard edge of determination (or is it desparation?) that I feel from the pioneer pieces of Suzor-Cote.

And personally -- though I admire it's intensity - I would never want to own a cast of something like the "Stump puller".

I hate hard work ! --- and prefer to join the poet who imagines that:

"the wandering orange, and curious peach, into my hands themselves do reach"

August 26, 2007  
Anonymous suburbanlife said...

As to "regionalism" - perhaps one can say that Sargent is a regional painter, so is Toulouse-Lautrec as well as scores of other painters one might name? G

August 29, 2007  
Blogger chris miller said...

Regarding regionalism -- I guess the criteria would be how closely the image can be identified with a specific time in a specific place.

Lautrec ? Yes -- definitely -- the dancehalls and bistros of Paris c. 1890.

But Sargent ? Just what region would you have in mind ? He's hardly even American -- or Italian -- or wherever else he lived and worked.

OK-- call him American -- but it's an America of the mind -- not of a place (just as Morrice was a Canadian of the mind)

Boy, I'd love to see a show with these three painters (Suzor Cote, Morrice, Sargent -- I've seen enough Lautrec to last me for a while)

August 29, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though he was an American citizen, Sergent spent most of his life in France but we never think of him as French. The rest was travelling. What a watercolourist and portraitist he was! Exceptional. I saw his exhibit in Seattle with Suburbanlife and another friend.I didn't want to leave .
My point on the first comment was perhaps only half expressed, so let me ask you this question -
How would you distinguish stump pulling in America from stump pulling in Canada, at the same period in time? Similarly, what would distinguish a Quebec or Canadian trapper from an American one? Same question about snow.
I think that Suzor-Coté speaks of the pioneer experience, the North American landscape and happened to live in Quebec.
I guess I got a bit hissy about it because the word Regionalism is often used as a dismissive term in art as if the work is cute but not important because it only speaks about restricted area of geography. It implies that the work is therefore less important to the rest of the world because only the people of that region could find resonance in the work because it was so area specific.
I like to think that Suzor-Coté's work is universally understood by anyone in the world who has experienced snow; by anyone who has had to clear a forest to make arable land or has had ancestors in the last 200 years who carved out a farm from wooded land or their progeny; by anyone who has studied figure drawing and portraiture.

OK. Now I can let that go (unless you decide to stir up the pot again).
Or then again...
I think of such work as the Haida or Maori artwork as being Regionalist since it is very culture and area specific.
But I looked up Regionalism in Art and found that it is a specific American art movement from the 1930's (try Googling it). Interesting.

August 30, 2007  
Blogger chris miller said...

Regarding stump removal: I'll be keeping an eye out for any American versions of that or any other back-breaking work.

(I'm sure that it's no easier to remove a stump in Iowa than it is in Ontario -- but there may be some differences in how that activity has been expressed on either side of the border)

Regarding Regionalism: Yes, it is a specific genre or period in American art history -- and I have nothing against those born after 1880 who chose to express something particular to their specific geographic or cultural area -- rather than participate in the international modernism project.

In more recent times, the modernism project has pretty much crashed and burned -- but regionalism , of one kind or another, is still going strong -- and I'd even apply that word to what both you and I are doing -- and the entire contents of my web museum of 20th C. figure sculpture.

None (or few) of those pieces have any place in the history of modern art -- and that's why if they're in museums, they're in the basements.

But all of them communicate so much about what it's like to grow up in Spain or Italy or Russia or Armenia or UK or Japan etc.

August 30, 2007  
Blogger Otto van Karajanstein said...

As a Canadian, I think Chris makes a valid point in the sense that these kinds of works define Canadian art in a way that they do not American art.

If one looks at what is considered to be paradimatic Canadian art, it's safe to say that these kinds of depictions, of forests, of people living hard lives, are a fairly constant feature.

Now that's not to say that Americans lack this, rather that it is a subset of America's artistic heritage where is would be central to the Canadian one.

September 11, 2007  
Blogger chris miller said...

That's also what I've sensed about "what is central" to the Canadian heritage, Otto -- though the closest I've come to living in Canada is Buffalo, New York.

Americans just don't have this thing about people living hard lives. Instead, we'd prefer to meditate on the elation and danger of violence.

September 12, 2007  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

I dearly love Marvell, and I think you mean not a "wandering orange" but a "nectarine." That poem does seem right for you! As do several others by Marvell...

Loved your comment about the bed and snow--certainly the idea that a woman may be freezing to death in her own home is evocative.

No doubt--as art schools turn back to the idea of training students to have basic skills and people decide that they don't want to pay for or contemplate merde in a can--all that stuff in the basement will some day be dragged up to the life and looked at with fresh eyes. Someday.

"Naturalism" is the literary period most enmeshed in work and grind, though it's also violent. But I note that it seems unpopular in our time.

However, isn't Faulkner a regionalist? And yet would A Hundred Years of Solitude have been written and called forth its own progeny without Absolom, Absolom

October 04, 2007  
Blogger chris miller said...

How did I ever come up with "wandering orange" ? Does it abuse the meter ? (if "wandering" is "wand-ring" ?)

It's a good thing that poem was written down -- because if depended upon me for oral transmission -- I would have changed it !

Regarding regionalism in literature - I'm sure that I'll remember your comments whenever I get around to reading the books you've mentioned
(if I ever return from Asia)

Thankyou so much for your comments.

October 07, 2007  

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