Monday, March 31, 2014

Benton, Thomas Hart

Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire)
oil and tempera on canvas mounted on panel
35.5 x 47.25 in.
private collectio
-Fair use-

Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was a notable American muralist in the Regionalist movement. He is perhaps the best known muralist associated with the American Scene Painting movement of the 1930s. He achieved fame in Paris and New York.

He was born into an influential family of politicians. His father was a lawyer and four times elected as U.S. congressman. He was named after his uncle Thomas Hart Benton, one of the first two United States Senators elected from Missouri. Given his father's political career, he spent his childhood shuttling between Washington D.C. and Missouri. His father sent him to Western Military Academy, hoping to shape him for a political career. Growing up in two different cultures, he rebelled against his father's plans.

Benton wanted to develop his interest in art, which his mother supported. As a teenager, he worked as a cartoonist for a local newspaper in Missouri. Then, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago in 1907. He eventually transferred to the Julian Academy in Paris, where he was influenced by the style of Diego Rivera, a prominent Mexican muralist. He joined the Navy in 1913 as a draftsman and in the 1920s, he returned to New York and began teaching at the Art Students League.

Benton's fluid, sculpted figures in his paintings showed everyday people in scenes of life in the United States. Though his work is strongly associated with the Midwest, he lived in New York City for more than 20 years and painted scores of works there; summered for 50 years on Martha's Vineyard off the New England coast; and also painted scenes of the American South and the American West.

He is best known for his association with the American Scene Painting movement, but he was also active in the Social Realism, American Modernism, and Synchromism movements.

After traveling the country extensively, he settled down in Kansas where he remained until his death in 1975. Two years after Benton passed away, his home and studio was designated as the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site; the site is now open for public tours.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tanner, Henry Ossawa

The Thankful Poor
oil on canvas
90.2 x 112.4 cm
Private collection

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was an African-American artist who was the son of a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was raised in an affluent, well educated family. Although reluctant at first, his parents eventually responded to their son's unflagging desire to pursue an artistic career and encouraged his ambitions.

In 1879, Tanner enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He moved to Atlanta in 1889 in an unsuccessful attempt to support himself as an artist and instructor among prosperous middle class African-Americans. In 1891, he move to Paris. Illness brought him back to the United States in 1893, and it was at this point in his career that he turned his attention to genre subjects of his own race.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, who sought to represent black subjects with dignity, wrote: "Many of the artists who have represented Negro life have seen only the comic, the ludicrous side of it, and have lacked sympathy with and appreciation for the warm big heart that dwells within such a rough exterior."

After the painting of The Thankful Poor, he abandoned subjects of his own race in favor of biblical themes. When he returned to Paris in 1895, he established a reputation as a salon artist and religious painter but never again painted genre subjects of African-Americans.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wood, Grant

American Gothic
oil on beaver board
74.3 cm × 62.4 cm
Art Institute of Chicago, IL, USA

"the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." (Wood)

The painting is one of the most familiar images in 20th-century American art, and has been widely parodied in American popular culture. It shows a farmer standing beside his spinster daughter. The woman is dressed in a colonial print apron evoking 19th-century Americana, and the couple are in the traditional roles of men and women, the man's pitchfork symbolizing hard labor, and the flowers over the woman's right shoulder suggesting domesticity.

Grant DeVolson Wood (1891-1942) was an American painter born in Iowa. He was one of the major exponents of Midwestern Regionalism, a movement that flourished in the United States during the 1930s. He is best known for his paintings depicting the rural American Midwest. He was trained as a craftsman and designer as well as a painter.

After spending a year at the Academie Julian in Paris, he returned to Iowa, where he was commissioned to do a stained-glass window. Knowing little about stained glass, he went to Germany to seek craftsmen to assist him. While there he was deeply influenced by the sharply detailed paintings of various German and Flemish masters of the 16th century. He subsequently abandoned his Impressionist style and began to paint in the sharply detailed, realistic manner by which he is now known.

In 1930 his American Gothic caused a sensation when it was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago. The hard, cold realism of this painting and the honest, direct, earthy quality of its subject were unusual in American art. The work ostensibly portrays a farmer-preacher and his daughter in front of their estate farmhouse, but Wood actually used his sister, Nan, and his dentist, B.H. McKeeby, as models. As a telling portrait of the sober and hard-working rural dwellers of the Midwest, the painting has become one of the best-known icons of American art.

Wood was married to Sara Sherman Maxon from 1935-1938. He taught painting at the University of Iowa's School of Art from 1934 to 1941. During that time, he produced a variety of his own works, and became a key part of the University's cultural community. He died at the University of Iowa hospital of pancreatic cancer, one day before his 51st birthday. When he died, his estate went to his sister, Nan Wood Graham, the woman portrayed in American Gothic. When she died in 1990, her estate, along with Wood's personal effects and various works of art, became the property of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pollock, Jackson

Stenographic Figure
oil on canvas
101.6 x 142.2 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA
-Fair use-

Stenographic Figure is presumably a restaurant scene. Pollock implies that he's taking dictation from his unconscious. Yet it is a figurative picture. It seems to have two figures in it, even though the title says only one. They are, in effect, stick figures, made up of coiling lines. They're very loosely constructed, but with heads and arms and bodies.

This painting was first shown in 1943, at the Spring Salon for Young Artists held by Peggy Guggenheim at her gallery Art of This Century. It garnered praise from, among others, artist Piet Mondrian, who described it as "I have the feeling that this may be the most exciting painting I have seen in a long, long time, here or in Europe."

"When I am in a painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc, because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well." (Pollock)

Paul Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), American painter, known as Jackson Pollock, was an influential and the commanding figure of the Abstract Expressionist movement along with Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Mark Rothko. Instead of using the traditional easel, Pollock affixed his canvas to the floor or the wall and poured and dripped his paint from a can; instead of using brushes he manipulated it with sticks, trowels or knives, sometimes obtaining a heavy impasto by an admixture of sand, broken glass or other foreign matter. This manner of Action painting had in common with Surrealist theories of automatism that it was supposed by artists to result in a direct expression or revelation of the unconscious moods.

Pollock was born in Wyoming and grew up in California and Arizona. He was expelled from two high schools during his formative years, the second one being Los Angeles Manual Arts School, where he was encouraged to pursue his interest in art.
In 1930, at the age of eighteen, he moved to New York to study art, and secured a job under the WPA Federal Art Project, a New Deal project, which allowed him to earn a living from his painting. This provided him the opportunity to develop his techniques. As he was gaining professional and social success, Pollock fought the addiction of alcoholism and recurring bouts of depression. He began psychiatric treatment for alcoholism in 1937, and he briefly suffered a nervous breakdown next year. He was subsequently under the care of psychoanalysts who used his own drawings in therapy sessions. Peggy Guggenheim contracted with Pollock to hold his first showing at her gallery in New York in 1937.

He married Lee Krasner in 1945, a painter, and moved to East Hampton on Long Island, where he would remain the rest of his life. In the barn behind the house, which he converted to his studio, Pollock developed a new and completely novel technique of painting using what he called his “drip” technique. Using hardened brushes, sticks, and turkey basters, and household enamel paints, Pollock squirted, splashed, and dripped his paint onto canvas rolled out over his studio floor. In 1956, Time magazine gave Pollock the name “Jack the Dripper,” referencing his unique style of action painting.

Pollock had become a symbol of the new artistic revolt, abstract expressionism, and he enjoyed considerable fame. He had a volatile personality, struggled with alcoholism for most of his life, and he died at the age of 44 in a single-car crash in his Oldsmobile convertible, killing himself and one of his passengers, while driving under the influence of alcohol, which occurred less than a mile from his home.

"On the floor I am more at ease, I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting."  "The method of painting is the natural growth out of a need. I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them." (Pollock describing his painting on the floor)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Krasner, Lee

oil on canvas
45.7 x 96.5 cm
The Jewish Museum, New York, USA
-Fair use-

"It's been said that without Lee Krasner, who for a time kept her volatile husband sober and productive, there wouldn't have been a Jackson Pollock. But without Jackson Pollock, there might have been a more self-confident, centered Lee Krasner." (Lee Rosenbaum of the Wall Street Journal)

Lee Krasner (1908-1984) was born, in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian Jewish immigrant parents from Bessarabia. She was an influential American abstract expressionist painter in the second half of the 20th century. She married artist Jackson Pollock.

Her early art training was at The Cooper Union, Art Students League, and the National Academy of Design in New York. After graduating from the academy, Krasner took college courses toward a teaching certificate and worked as a model and waitress. In spite of the onset of the Great Depression, she did not give up hope of becoming a full-time professional artist.

Krasner had met Jackson Pollock, with whom she had taken part in an exhibition in 1941 organized by John Graham to demonstrate that American art was now equal in stature to European art. She responded immediately to Pollock’s work, believing that he was ‘a living force’ with whom others would have to contend and introducing him to numerous artists and critics who could help him further his goals. Their involvement during the early 1940s in the Surrealist circle of Peggy Guggenheim was fruitful for both of them.

On October 25, 1945, she married artist Jackson Pollock. She was rigorously self-critical, and her critical eye is believed to have been important to Pollock's work. Their marriage and the move to the rural village of The Springs, near East Hampton, Long Island, turned out to be artistically rewarding. Krasner and Pollock gave each other reassurance and support. The daily give-and-take of Pollock and Krasner stimulated both artists. They fought a battle for legitimacy, impulsiveness and individual expression. They opposed an old-fashioned, conformist, and repressed culture unreceptive to these values, which was put off by the intricacy of Modernism in general.

The influence of Pollock was important in the development of Krasner’s mature style, in which her ability to give key modernist concepts a personal inflection finally emerges as the leitmotif of her work. Lee Krasner died in 1984, age 75, from natural causes. She had been suffering from arthritis. Her will established the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, set up in 1985 to aid artists in need.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Johnson, William Henry

Commodore Peary and Henson at the North Pole
oil on paperboard
70.1 x 90.3 cm
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, USA
-Fair use-

This painting chronicles the men’s exploration of the North Pole on April 6, 1909. Commodore Peary's claim that his party is the first to reach the North Pole was widely credited for most of the 20th century, rather than the competing claim by Frederick Cook, who said he got there a year earlier. Modern historians generally think Cook did not reach the pole. Based on an evaluation of Peary's records by Wally Herbert, also a polar explorer, he concluded in a 1989 book that Peary did not reach the pole, although he may have been as close as 5 miles (8 km). His conclusions have been widely accepted.
Matthew Alexander Henson was the member of the 1909 expedition to the North Pole. Henson was the first African American voted into the Explorers Club in New York (1937). He received recognition by Presidents Truman and Eisenhower before his death in 1955 at the age of 88.

William Henry Johnson (1901-1970) was one of the great American artists of the 20th century. Johnson, an African American from the rural South, born in Florence, South Carolina, overcame poverty, racial prejudice and a grade-school education to become one of the country's leading artists.

After deciding to pursue his dreams as an artist, he attended the National Academy of Design in New York and met his mentor, Charles Webster Hawthorne. After graduating, he moved to Paris, traveled throughout Europe and was exposed to new kinds of artistic creations and artists. Upon his return to the United States, Johnson used a primitive style of painting in conjunction with what was considered a "folk" style, using of bright colors and two-dimensional figures. He spent his final 23 years of life in a mental hospital in Central Islip, New York, where he died in 1970.

Through the force of his personality and with a steadfast belief in himself, Johnson created an art entirely his own, original and fresh. In 2012, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in Johnson's honor, recognizing him as one of the nation’s foremost African-American artists and a major figure in 20th-century American art.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Grandma Moses

Sugaring Off
oil on canvas
size unknown
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY, USA
-Fair use-
Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses; 1860-1961) is a self-taught renowned American folk artist. She did not begin painting until her late 70s. Her paintings provide nostalgic glimpses of daily life in rural New York and Virginia. This one was painted when she was at the age of 85.

She was born on a farm in Greenwich, upstate New York, one of a family of 10 children. She left home at a young age to work as a hired girl at a neighboring farm. Marrying in 1887, she eventually gave birth to 10 children (5 of whom survived past infancy). In addition to her work as a farm wife and mother, she helped support her family by selling various homemade foods.

She disliked spending time knitting and sewing, but she began entertaining herself and her friends by making needlework pictures and quilts portraying colorful scenes of farm life. At 78, when arthritis rendered her unable to embroider, friends suggested she try painting these scenes instead. She worked with whatever materials were at hand, used house paint and leftover canvas or fireboard for her first paintings. As a self-taught artist, she had little concern for perspective or proportion. Although familiar with the hardships and sorrow of farm life, she illustrated happy childhood memories of fields and storms, barn dances, and holidays in rural New York and Virginia. She deliberately omitted telephone poles, tractors, and other elements of the effects of industrialization.

A New York collector chanced upon her work and helped her begin exhibiting professionally. She gained the nickname “Grandma Moses” from a reviewer at New York's Herald Tribune. Her paintings became immensely popular and were appreciated for their nostalgic charm. She exhibited her work internationally into her 90s and painted until a few months before her death. By the time she died at age 101, she had produced over 3,600 paintings.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Pippin, Horace

Old Black Joe
oil on canvas
61.0 x 76.1 cm
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, USA
-Fair use-

"The pictures ... come to me in my mind, and if to me it is a worthwhile picture I paint it ... I do over the picture several times in my mind and when I am ready to paint it I have all the details I need." (Pippin)

Horace Pippin (1888-1946) was a self-taught African-American painter who worked in a naive style. The injustice of slavery and American segregation figure prominently in many of his works.

Pippin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, moving to Goshen, New York as a small child. He developed a love for creating art, winning accolades and developing a reputation in his neighborhood for his craft even with limited illustrative tools. With his mother poor in health, he left school in his early teens to earn income, working for years at a hotel and subsequently holding other jobs. Upon joining the army, he was sent overseas to France to fight in World War I as part of the African-American Infantry. He was badly hurt and lost the use of his right arm after being shot, returning to the states in 1919. He eventually used a poker to hold up his right arm, which he had used to make art, and began to draw again as a therapeutic outlet.
After his work was featured in a home county show, he became part of a traveling group exhibit with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1938. He was also known for historical, politicized output with a series of paintings about abolitionist President Abraham Lincoln.
He was completely self-taught as an artist outside of a limited stint of classes at the Barnes Foundation and was featured in publications like Newsweek and Vogue.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rothko, Mark

No. 5/No. 22
oil on canvas
297 x 272 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA
-Fair use-

"The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you are only moved by color relationships, then you miss the point. I'm interested in expressing the big emotions - tragedy, ecstasy, doom."(Mark Rothko)

Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was an American painter of Russian Jewish descent. He is generally identified as an Abstract Expressionist, although he himself rejected this label and even resisted classification as an "abstract painter." With Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, he is one of the most famous postwar American artists.

Mark Rothko immigrated to the United States (Portland, Oregon) from Russia with his family in his youth.
He studied the liberal arts at Yale University 1921-3, moved in 1925 to New York and studied for a short time at the Art Students League under Max Weber, then began to paint on his own. In the mid-20th century, he belonged to a circle of New York-based artists (also including Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock) who became known as the Abstract Expressionists.

By the 1950s, Rothko's art was completely abstract. He even preferred to number his canvases, rather than giving them descriptive titles. He had arrived at his signature style: working on a large, vertical canvas, he painted several colored rectangles of color floating against a colored background. Within this formula he found endless variations of color and proportion, resulting in different moods and effects. He used simplified means to evoke emotional responses. His later works became more sombre in color.
Rothko committed suicide in New York on February 25, 1970.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Wesselmann, Tom

Still Life #30
oil, enamel and synthetic polymer paint on composition board with collage of printed advertisements, plastic flowers, refrigerator door, plastic replicas of 7-Up bottles, glazed and framed color reproduction, and stamped metal
122 x 167.5 x 10 cm
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York, NY, USA
-Fair use-

"I'd never painted anything before. I was quite content to take other people's work since I didn't care anyway about the subject matter. I approached subject matter as a scoundrel. I had nothing to say about it whatsoever. I only wanted to make these exciting paintings." (Wesselmann)

Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004), born in Cincinnati, OH, was a central member of the Pop Art movement in America, who worked in painting, collage and sculpture.

He attended the University of Cincinnati before serving in the army from 1951 to 1954. While he was in the service, he began drawing cartoons, a hobby which he decided to pursue as a career when his two-year tour ended. After graduating from the Art Academy of Cincinnati, he was accepted into Cooper Union in New York, where he was encouraged by faculty members to pursue painting and printmaking. The powerful work of Willem de Kooning provided both inspiration and inhibition as he attempted to find a new direction centred around a tangible subject.

In the early 1960s, he began to make small collages and assemblages, which included everyday imagery from magazines, advertisements, and consumer culture.
In the late 1960s an increasingly dominant eroticism emerged in works, with its more literal but still intense colours and tight, formal composition. The pictorial elements, exaggerated in their arabesque forms and arbitrary colouring, became significantly larger in scale in his works of the 1970s. Later in the 1970s, he created cut-out compositions in aluminum, enamel, and steel. In the 1980s he returned to works for the wall with cut-out steel or aluminium drawings, which replicate his familiar, graceful line in enamel on cut-out metal. In the last two years of his life, he returned to the female nude that had become so iconic in his work. Although stylistically similar to the flattened females of his earlier series, the women in his later years appear more abstracted and playful, alluding to the famous nudes of Henri Matisse and Man Ray.

Tom Wesselmann was also an innovative printmaker, adapting his imagery to lithographs, screenprints, aquatints and multiples in relief.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Man Ray

La Femme et son Poisson (Pisces)
oil paint on canvas
60.0 x 73.0 cm
Tate Gallery, London, UK
-Fair use-

Pisces was based on an image from Les Mains libres (Free Hands), a suite of drawings that Man Ray published with poems by Paul Eluard in 1937. ‘In these drawings my hands are dreaming’, he later remarked. The woman lies alongside a fish to create what the artist described as ‘a contrasting of similar and different forms at the same time’. Man Ray strengthened the identification of woman and fish by choosing Pisces, the zodiac sign of paired fishes, as the English title. (Tate) The name of this painting derived from a short poem by Paul Eluard entitled 'La Femme et son Poisson'.

Man Ray (1890-1976) was an American modernist painter, photographer, draughtsman, sculptor, and film-maker, born Emmanuel Radnitsky to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. The family adopted Ray as their surname in about 1911 and Man is an abbreviated version of his forename; he preferred to treat his pseudonym as a single unit, so it is customary to list him under M rather than R.

He was born in Philadelphia. He worked in an advertising office and then part-time as draughtsman for publishers of books on engineering, atlases and maps. By 1921 he was eager to experience his European influences first-hand. A timely sale of paintings to industrialists provided him with the funds for a trip to Paris. In Paris, he was an influential member of the international Dada and Surrealist circles of artists and writers, which included Tristan Tzara, Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst, Dali, Paul Eluard, Picasso and Andre Breton. Man Ray left Paris at the onset of World War II and spent the war years in Los Angeles, where he concentrated on painting and making objects. There and on his return in 1951 to Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life, he continued to pursue the many strands of his art that had already marked him as one of the century’s most innovative artists.

He produced major works in a variety of media but considered himself a painter above all. He was best known for his photography, and he was a renowned fashion and portrait photographer. Ray is also noted for his work with photograms, which he called "rayographs" in reference to himself.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Johns, Jasper

Encaustic, oil and collage on fabric mounted on plywood
107.3 x 153.8 cm
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA
-Fair use-

"One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag," Johns said, "and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it."
A critic of the time encapsulated this painting's ambivalence by asking, "Is this a flag or a painting?"

Flag is arguably the painting for which Johns is best known. Created when he was 24, two years after he was discharged from the US Army. This painting was the first of many works that Johns has said were inspired by a dream of the U.S. flag in 1954. It is arguably the painting for which Johns is best known.

Jasper Johns, Jr. (1930-), born in Augusta, Georgia, and raised in South Carolina, is an American contemporary artist who works primarily in painting and printmaking. Together with Rauschenberg and several Abstract Expressionist painters of the previous generation, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Barnett Newman, Johns is one of the most significant and influential American painters of the twentieth century. He also ranks with Durer, Rembrandt, Goya, Munch, and Picasso as one of the greatest printmakers of any era.

Johns' early mature work, of the mid- to late 1950s, invented a new style that helped to engender a number of subsequent art movements, among them Pop, Minimal, and Conceptual art. The new style has usually been understood to be coolly antithetical to the expressionistic gestural abstraction of the previous generation. This is partly because, while his painting extended the allover compositional techniques of Abstract Expressionism, his use of these techniques stresses conscious control rather than spontaneity.

The American flag subject is typical of his use of quotidian imagery in the mid - to late 1950s. As he explained, the imagery derives from "things the mind already knows," utterly familiar icons such as flags, targets, stenciled numbers, ale cans, and, slightly later, maps of the U.S. As Johns became well known - and perhaps as he realized his audience could be relied upon to study his new work - his subjects with a demonstrable prior existence expanded. In addition to popular icons, he chose images that he identified in interviews as things he had seen - for example, a pattern of flagstones he glimpsed on a wall while driving. Throughout his career, Johns has included in most of his art certain marks and shapes that clearly display their derivation from factual, unimagined things in the world, including handprints and footprints, casts of parts of the body, or stamps made from objects found in his studio, such as the rim of a tin can.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kooning, Willem de

Woman, I
oil on canvas
147.3 x 192.7 cm
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA
-Fair use-

"Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented" (Kooning)

Woman, I took an unusually long time to complete. He made numerous preliminary studies then repainted the canvas repeatedly, eventually arriving at this hulking, wild-eyed figure of a woman. An amalgam of female archetypes, from a Paleolithic fertility goddess to a 1950s pinup girl, her threatening gaze and ferocious grin are heightened by Kooning’s aggressive brushwork and intensely colored palette.
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) was a Dutch American abstract expressionist artist who was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Kooning's parents were divorced when he was about five years old, and he was raised by his mother and stepfather. In the 1920s he worked as an assistant to the art director of a Rotterdam department store. In 1926 he emigrated to the US, where he worked illegally in New York as a commercial artist, window dresser, sign painter and carpenter. There he worked for the Federal Art Project, for which he did murals. He was one of the thirty-eight artists chosen from a general invitation to New York City metropolitan artists to design and paint the 105 public murals at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

In 1938, he met Elaine Marie Fried, later known as Elaine de Kooning, whom he married in 1943. She also became a significant artist. In 1938, he embarked on a series of male figures, while simultaneously embarking on a more purist series of lyrically colored abstractions. As his work progressed, the heightened colors and elegant lines of the abstractions began to creep into the more figurative works, and the coincidence of figures and abstractions continued well into the 1940s. During the 1940s, he became increasingly identified with the Abstract Expressionist movement and was recognized as one of its leaders into the mid-1950s, while notoriously stating: "It is disastrous to name ourselves."

In the post-World War II era, he painted in a style that came to be referred to as Abstract expressionism or Action painting, and was part of a group of artists that came to be known as the Gestural branch of the New York School. His early pictures were influenced and inspired by Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

In 1950, he was one of 17 prominent Abstract Expressionists and avant-garde artists to sign an open letter to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art accusing it of hostility towards "advanced art". From 1950 he developed his first "Women" pictures, which are notable for such vehemence of handling that they at first caused a scandal. He retained this type of figuration until the 1990s. At the same time he also worked on fairly abstract landscapes.

Kooning has been regarded as a leading exponent of Abstract Expressionism. His exceptional oeuvre is suffused with the duality of traditional figuration and Gestural Abstract painting. Naturalised as an American citizen in 1962, he left New York the following year to settle at Springs on Long Island. In 1964 he received one of the greatest distinctions awarded in America, the "Presidential Medal of Freedom". In 1970 he turned to sculpturing in bronze. He died in Springs, USA on 19 March 1997.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Warhol, Andy

Gold Marilyn Monroe
Silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint on canvas
other detail unknown
-Fair use-

Warhol painted the canvas an iridescent gold and silkscreened the star's face in the center of the composition. This work is based on a publicity still for the 1953 movie Niagara. By duplicating a photograph known to millions, Warhol undermined the uniqueness and authenticity characteristic of traditional portraiture. Instead he presented Monroe as an infinitely reproducible image.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987), born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, PA, was an iconic and versatile Pop artist. His works explore the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture and advertisement that flourished by the 1960s.

After studying design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, he moved to New York City in 1949 to pursue a career as a commercial artist. Though successful, he wanted to be an independent painter, and in the early 1960s began to create paintings based on advertisement imagery.

As his fame grew, he built a studio called The Factory on 47th street in New York City, and collected a group of eccentrics he called the "Superstars", with whom he created a number of experimental films, such as Sleep, Chelsea Girls, and Empire, which were often banned by the police for their vulgarity.

In 1968, a former member of Warhol’s entourage, attempted to kill the artist and others outside of The Factory. Narrowly surviving, Warhol withdrew from his bohemian circle and occupied himself in the 1970s creating celebrity portraits, which brought him considerable earnings, but weakened his critical approval. He died in 1987 due to complications following an operation. As per his desire, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was established after his death.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hopper, Edward

Chop Suey
oil on canvas
81.6 x 96.8 cm
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, USA

"Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world." "I don't think I ever tried to paint the American scene; I'm trying to paint myself." (Hopper)

Edward Hopper (1882-1967) was a prominent American realist painter. He painted American landscapes and cityscapes with a disturbing truth, expressing the world around him as a chilling, alienating, and often vacuous place. Everybody in a Hopper picture appears terribly alone. Hopper gained a widespread reputation as the artist who gave visual form to the loneliness and boredom of life in the big city. This was something new in art.

He showed the modern world unflinchingly; even its gaieties are gently mournful, echoing the disillusionment and the sense of human hopelessness that swept across the country after the start of the Great Depression in 1929. He painted hotels, motels, trains and highways, and also liked to paint the public and semi-public places where people gathered: restaurants, theaters, cinemas and offices. But even in these paintings he stressed the theme of loneliness - his theaters are often semideserted, with a few patrons waiting for the curtain to go up or the performers isolated in the fierce light of the stage. Hopper was a frequent movie-goer, and there is often a cinematic quality in his work.

As the years went on, however, he found suitable subjects increasingly difficult to discover, and often felt blocked and unable to paint. With Hopper the whole fabric of his art seemed to be interwoven with his personal character and manner of living. When the link between the outer world he observed and the inner world of feeling and fantasy broke, Hopper found he was unable to create. In particular, the rise of Abstract Expressionism left him marooned artistically, for he disapproved of many aspects of the new art.
He died in 1967, isolated if not forgotten. His true importance has only been fully realized in the years since his death.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

O'Keeffe, Georgia

Lake George
oil on canvas
size and location unknown

“I wish you could see the place here,” O’Keeffe wrote to a writer from Lake George, “there is something so perfect about the mountains and the lake and the trees-Sometimes I want to tear it all to pieces - it seems so perfect-but it is really lovely.” O'Keeffe's much beloved Lake George, whose solitude and wild nature she depicted on numerous paintings throughout her life. 

"One can not be an American by going about saying that one is an American. It is necessary to feel America, like America, love America and then work." (O'Keeffe)

Georgia Totto O'Keeffe (1887-1986) was an American artist. She was born in a farmhouse on a large dairy farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. She distinguished herself as one of America's most important modern artists, a position she maintained throughout her life.

Known for the flower paintings which encompass a quarter of her work, O’Keeffe was originally inspired by nature during her childhood in rural Wisconsin. Shunning her artistic education in favor of expressing her emotions, she enlarged flowers until they became abstract artforms whose sheer size commanded attention. "Precisionist", is the term most widely used to describe her work. O’Keeffe’s great clarity in painting is what identifies her well-known paintings of urban architecture, mountains, bones, and flowers. The simple, clear forms in her masterpieces made her a pioneer of a new modernism in the USA. Although O’Keeffe used her subject matter representationaly, the starkly linear quality, the thin, clear coloring, and boldly patterned compositions give the effect of an abstract design. She was the first woman honored with her own exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. New York Times described her paintings as both "bold and hermetic, immediately appealing and unnervingly impassive." O’Keeffe's goal as a painter was to “make the unknown - known. By unknown I mean the thing that means so much to the person that he wants to put it down - clarify something he feels but does not clearly understand.” (O’Keeffe)

In her later years, she became totally blind and died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on March 6, 1986, at the age of 98. In accordance with her wishes, her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered to the wind at the top of Pedernal Mountain, over her beloved "faraway". The brilliance of her art work has proven timeless. O'Keeffe, not only carved out a significant place for women painters in an area of the American art community that had been exclusive to and is still dominated by men, but also she had become one of America’s most celebrated cultural icons well before her death. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe opened in 1997.

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not." "I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty." (O'Keeffe)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Homer, Winslow

The Herring Net
oil on canvas
76.5 x 122.9 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, USA

Homer moved from New York to Prout's Neck, on the coast of Maine, in 1884. The paintings Homer created after this focused almost exclusively on humankind’s age-old contest with nature. Here The Herring Net, Homer depicted the heroic efforts of fishermen at their daily work, hauling in an abundant catch of herring.

"Look at nature, work independently, and solve your own problems."

Winslow Homer (1836-1910) was one of the most authentic and important American artists of the 19th century. He is remembered for his landscapes, many featuring scenes of the sea, boats, and coastlines. He did not receive formal art training. He began his art career as an apprentice for a commercial lithographer. In the late 1850's he began doing work for Harper's Weekly. His early work for Harper's was primarily to create line art drawings from photographs. At the time pictures were printed by "stamping" them from a large wood block.

Born in Boston, from a parent from long lines of New Englanders, he spent his adolescence in Cambridge, Massachusetts, surviving the absence of a father who rushed out to California to pan for gold. At nineteen he learned how to draw on the job at a lithography shop by illustrating or copying of photographs for sheet music covers of popular songs. He subsequently took up oil painting and produced major studio works characterized by the weight and density he exploited from the medium. He also worked extensively in watercolor, creating a fluid and prolific oeuvre, primarily chronicling his working vacations.

Homer's mother was a gifted amateur watercolorist and his first teacher, and she and her son had a close relationship throughout their lives. Homer took on many of her traits, including her quiet, strong-willed, terse, sociable nature; her dry sense of humor; and her artistic talent. He was an average student, but his art talent was evident in his early years.
His father was a volatile, restless businessman who was always looking to "make a killing". When he was thirteen, his father gave up the hardware store business to seek a fortune in the California gold rush. When that failed, his father left his family and went to Europe to raise capital for other get-rich-quick schemes that didn't materialize.

Homer's career as an illustrator lasted nearly twenty years. He contributed illustrations of Boston life and rural New England life to magazines, at a time when the market for illustrations was growing rapidly, and when fads and fashions were changing quickly. His early works, mostly commercial engravings of urban and country social scenes, are characterized by clean outlines, simplified forms, dramatic contrast of light and dark, and lively figure groupings - qualities that remained important throughout his career. His quick success was mostly due to this strong understanding of graphic design and also to the adaptability of his designs to wood engraving.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Rousseau, Henri

The Football Players (Les Joueurs de Football)
oil on canvas
80.3 x 100.5 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA

"I cannot now change my style, which I acquired, as you can imagine, by dint of labor." (Rousseau)

Rousseau said to Picasso in 1908... "We are the two great painters of this era; you are in the Egyptian style, I in the modern style."

Henri Julien Felix Rousseau (1844-1910), French Post-Impressionist painter, was the most celebrated of naive artists. He was, from the first, entirely self-taught, and his work remained consistently in Naive, Primitive and imaginative manner. He is known as Le Douanier (the customs officer) because before he retired to paint, he held a minor post in the Paris customs service, although he never actually rose to the rank of Douanier. At age 49 he retired from his job to work on his art.

Rousseau was an outsider, and he was not familiar with the rules of the artistic establishment. His character was extraordinarily ingenuous and he suffered much ridicule as well as enduring great poverty. However, his faith in his own abilities never wavered. He was a regular contributor to Paris exhibitions, but during his lifetime, was viewed with amusement and condescension by both the public and fellow artists. Although he worked in traditional genres, producing landscapes, portraits, allegories, and exotic scenes, they were transformed in his hands. Flattened shapes and perspectives, the freedom of color and style, the subordination of realistic description to imagination and invention are the hallmarks of his work. He never left France or saw a jungle. His jungle landscapes derive from his visits and studies at the Paris Botanical Gardens.

Rousseau was buried in a pauper's grave, and soon after his death his greatness began to be widely acknowledged. he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality, though ridiculed during his life. His work exerted influence on several generations of vanguard artists, starting with Picasso, including Leger and the Surrealists.
"If you remove these lines in the painting, the colors are no longer effective." (Rousseau)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Delvaux, Paul

Phases of the Moon
oil on canvas
139.5 x 160 cm
Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA

The man in the back leading the nude women a la the Pied Piper is Delvaux himself. Jules Verne was always at the center of Delvaux’s ideas. Delvaux said: My overriding passion was the books of Jules Verne. I was completely fascinated by the engraving of Riou showing Otto Lidenbrock the wise geologist from Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I reproduced this for the first time in 1939 in the Phases de la Lune (Phases of the Moon).

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) was a Belgian painter and printmaker. He was, with Rene Magritte, one of the major exponents of Surrealism in Belgium, although he never officially joined. He was the son of a lawyer. The young Delvaux took music lessons, studied Greek and Latin, and absorbed the fiction of Jules Verne and the poetry of Homer. All of his work was to be influenced by these readings, starting with his earliest drawings showing mythological scenes.

He began his training in 1920 at the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, albeit in the architecture department owing to his parents' disapproval of his ambition to be a painter. Nevertheless, he pursued his goal, attending painting classes.
In his earliest works, he was strongly influenced by the Flemish Expressionism of painters. In the mid-1930s, however, he turned decisively to Surrealism, not as an orthodox member of the movement but to a large extent under the influence of Giorgio De Chirico. His paintings are primarily nostalgic scenes in which women often appear in the nude. The painstakingly detailed nature of his works manages to convey an unreality, a world of his own imagination. His combination of photographic realism with unusual juxtapositions and a sense of mystery, places him in the same surrealistic category as Rene Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico. He is considered an important contributor to modern art of the mid 20th century.

Delvaux acknowledged his influences, saying of de Chirico, "with him I realized what was possible, the climate that had to be developed, the climate of silent streets with shadows of people who can't be seen, I've never asked myself if it's surrealist or not." He did not consider himself "a Surrealist in the scholastic sense of the word." "Delvaux ... always maintained an intimate and privileged relationship to his childhood, which is the underlying motivation for his work and always manages to surface there. This 'childhood,' existing within him, led him to the poetic dimension in art."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Masson, Andre

Path with a Blue Cart
oil on canvas
other details unknown

Andre Masson (1896-1987) was one of the major early French Surrealist painters. His early works display an interest in cubism. He later became associated with surrealism, and he was one of the most enthusiastic employers of automatic drawing, making a number of automatic works in pen and ink. Masson would often force himself to work under strict conditions, for example, after long periods of time without food or sleep, or under the influence of drugs. He believed forcing himself into a reduced state of consciousness would help his art be free from rational control, and hence get closer to the workings of his subconscious mind.

A close friend of Andre Breton, Joan Miro and Max Ernst, he joined the Surrealist movement in the early 20s, then disassociated with it in the early 30s, focusing instead on the human condition -  the fundamental impulses of love and hatred - and reacting to the Spanish Civil War.

Under the German occupation of France during World War II, his work was condemned by the Nazis as degenerate. In the early 40s, he escaped the Nazi regime on a ship to the French island of Martinique from where he went on to the United States. Upon arrival in New York City, U.S. customs officials inspecting Masson's luggage found a cache of his erotic drawings. Denouncing them as pornographic, they ripped them up before the artist's eyes. In America, he became interested in mythical imagery. Many of his paintings from this period show a focus on African American and Native American myths, and the style of his expression and brushwork influenced many young American painters.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Roy, Pierre

The Cauliflower    
oil on canvas
60 x 73 cm
Private collection

Pierre Roy (1880-1950) was a French painter, illustrator and designer, born in Nantes. One of the original surrealists and a relative of the famous French writer Jules Vernes, Roy's paintings, often inspired by memories of his childhood, show some affiliation to Surrealism and Magic Realism.

After working briefly in an architect's office in Nantes, he moved to Paris and studied at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs and the Academie Julian. He first exhibited in 1906 at the Salon de la Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts and in 1907 and 1908 at the Salon des Independants. In 1910 Roy came into contact with the Fauves and the circle of writers around them, such as Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire, an association that influenced his style away from its earlier academicism. In 1913, he met and quickly became a friend of De Chirico who introduced him to Andre Breton , Louis Aragon, Max Ernst and the other Surrealists. Unusual and "mystere onirique" are the keys to his work which represents, in meticulous detail, recognizable scenes and objects which are taken out of natural context, distorted and combined in fantastic ways as they might be in dreams. He died while on a visit to Milan.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Klee, Paul

Rose Garden
oil on cardboard
49 x 42.5 cm
Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany

"Color possesses me. I don't have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour: Color and I are one. I am a painter." (Klee)

Paul Klee (1879-1940) was born in Switzerland, into a family of musicians, and is considered both a German and a Swiss painter. His childhood love of music was always to remain profoundly important in his life and work.

His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. He was, as well, a student of orientalism. Klee was a natural draftsman who experimented with and eventually mastered color theory, and wrote extensively about it; his lectures Writings on Form and Design Theory, published in English as the Paul Klee Notebooks, are considered so important for modern art that they are compared to the importance that Leonardo da Vinci's A Treatise on Painting had for Renaissance. He and his colleague, the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the German Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture. His works reflect his dry humour and his sometimes childlike perspective, his personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality.

Klee went to Dusseldorf to teach at the Akademie in 1931, shortly before the Nazis closed the Bauhaus. Forced by the Nazis to leave his position in Dusseldorf in 1933, Klee settled in Bern the following year. Klee died on June 29, 1940, in Muralto-Locarno, Switzerland.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Miro, Joan

The Tilled Field (La terre labouree)
oil on canvas
66 × 92.7 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, USA

During the summer of 1923 Joan Miro began painting this. This is a view of his family’s farm in Montroig, Catalonia. This painting is the first example of Miro’s Surrealist vision. While working on the painting he wrote, “I have managed to escape into the absolute of nature.” The Tilled Field is thus a poetic metaphor that expresses Miro's idyllic conception of his homeland, where, he said, he could not “conceive of the wrongdoings of mankind.”

Miro’s spirited depiction of The Tilled Field also has political content. The three flags - French, Catalan, and Spanish - refer to Catalonia’s attempts to secede from the central Spanish government. Primo de Rivera, who assumed Spain’s dictatorship in 1923, instituted strict measures, such as banning the Catalan language and flag, to repress Catalan separatism. By depicting the Catalan and French flags together, across the border post from the Spanish flag, Miro announced his allegiance to the Catalan cause.

"What I am seeking... is a motionless movement, something equivalent to what is called the eloquence of silence..." (Miro)

Joan Miro i Ferra (1893-1983) was a Spanish Catalan painter, sculptor, and ceramicist born in Barcelona. He attended a commercial school and worked as an office clerk until a mental breakdown persuaded his artisan father to permit him to study art. From the beginning he sought to express concepts of nature metaphorically. From 1919 on he lived alternately in Spain and Paris, where he came under the influence of Dadaism and Surrealism. The influence of Paul Klee is apparent in his dream pictures and imaginary landscapes of the late 1920s, in which linear configurations and patches of color look almost as though they had been set down randomly. His mature style evolved from the tension between this fanciful, poetic impulse and his vision of the harshness of modern life.

Miro was never closely aligned with any movement and was too retiring in his manner to be the object of a personality cult, like his compatriot Picasso, but the formal and technical innovations that he sustained over a very long career guaranteed his influence on 20th-century art. A pre-eminent figure in the history of abstraction and an important example to several generations of artists around the world, he remained profoundly attached to the specific circumstances and environment that shaped his art in his early years. An acute balance of sophistication and innocence and a deeply rooted conviction about the relationship between art and nature lie behind all his work and account in good measure for the wide appeal that his art has continued to exercise across many of the usual barriers of style.

Earning international acclaim, Miro's work has been interpreted as a sandbox for the subconscious mind, a re-creation of the childlike, and a manifestation of Catalan pride. In numerous interviews dating from the 1930s onwards, he expressed contempt for conventional painting methods as a way of supporting bourgeois society, and famously declared an "assassination of painting" in favor of upsetting the visual elements of established painting.

Miro worked extensively in lithography and produced numerous murals, tapestries, and sculptures for public spaces. A museum dedicated to his work, the Fundacio Joan Miro, was established in his birth city in 1975.

"Perhaps the events of the moment, especially the drama of the war in Spain, I did feel the need to penetrate reality. I used to go every day to work at the Grande Chaumiere (art school in Paris) in nature. At that moment I felt a need to control things through the reality" (Miro)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Arp, Jean

Mustache Hat
27.3 x 33 cm
The Museum of Modern Art of New York, NY, USA

Jean Arp / Hans Arp (1886-1966) was a German-French abstract sculptor, painter, poet and abstract artist in other media such as torn and pasted paper. When Arp spoke in German he referred to himself as "Hans", and when he spoke in French he referred to himself as "Jean". Many people believe that he was born Hans and later changed his name to Jean, but this is not the case.

Arp was born in Strasbourg as the son of a French mother and a German father, during the period following the Franco-Prussian War when the area was known as Alsace-Lorraine (Elsass-Lothringen in German) after France had ceded it to Germany in 1871. Following the return of Alsace to France at the end of World War I, French law determined that his name become Jean.

In 1904, after leaving the Ecole des Arts et Metiers in Strasbourg, he went to Paris where he published his poetry for the first time. From 1905 to 1907, Arp studied at the Kunstschule in Weimar, Germany and in 1908 went back to Paris, where he attended the Academie Julian. In 1912, he went to Munich, called on Kandinsky, was encouraged by him in his researches and exhibited with the Der Blaue Reiter group. Later that year, he took part in a major exhibition in Zurich, along with Henri Matisse and Kandinsky. In 1915 he moved to Switzerland to take advantage of Swiss neutrality. Arp later told the story of how, when he was notified to report to the German consulate, he avoided being drafted into the German Army: he took the paperwork he had been given and, in the first blank, wrote the date. He then wrote the date in every other space as well, then drew a line beneath them and carefully added them up. He then took off all his clothes and went to hand in his paperwork.

Arp was a founding member of the Dada movement in Zurich in 1916. In 1920, he, along with Max Ernst set up the Cologne Dada group. In 1926, Arp moved to the Paris suburb of Meudon. In 1931, he broke with the Surrealist movement to found Abstraction-Creation. Beginning in the 1930s, Arp expanded his efforts from collage and bas-relief to include bronze and stone sculptures. Throughout the 1930s and until the end of his life, he wrote and published essays and poetry. In 1942, he fled from his home in Meudon to escape German occupation and lived in Zurich until the war ended. He died in 1966, in Basel, Switzerland.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ernst, Max

oil on canvas
80 x 67.5 cm
location unknown

Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. He was a major contributor to the theory and practice of Surrealism. His work challenged and disrupted what he considered to be repressive aspects of European culture, in particular Christian doctrine, conventional morality and the aesthetic codes of Western academic art. Until the mid-1920s he was little known outside a small circle of artists and writers in Cologne and Paris, but he became increasingly successful from c. 1928 onwards. After 1945 he was respected and honored as a surviving representative of a "heroic" generation of avant-garde artists.

He was born near Cologne as the first son of a teacher of the deaf and amateur painter. He studied philosophy and psychiatry at Bonn University, but he never received any formal artistic training, though he had a deep interest in painting.

In 1914 Ernst got acquainted with Hans Arp, and their lifelong friendship began. With the outburst of the First World War Ernst was conscripted to the army, where he served in the field artillery till the end of the war. He fought in France and Poland, and recovered from clinical death, an experience which was to deepen his decision to take up art. After demobilization he settled in Cologne, where he founded a group of Dadaists. The exhibition of 1920 at the Winter Brewery in Cologne was closed by the police on the grounds of obscenity.

In 1922, Max Ernst, following an invitation of his Dadaist friends, Paul Eluard, Tristan Tzara, Andre Breton, and others, moved to Paris. In the paintings of his early Parisian period he was able to successfully combine the techniques of painting, assemblage and collage in large-scale paintings with enigmatic plots. In 1924 Andre Breton published the First Surrealist Manifesto. Ernst was among those who shared the views and aims of the Surrealists and took an active part in founding the new movement. In the late 1920s he turned to the beloved motifs of German Romanticism and revived them in a new, Surrealistic, manner. Between 1929 and 1939 he began producing books of collages.

In 1937 Ernst distanced himself from Breton and the Communist group of Surrealists, though he remained true to the chosen methods of work. In 1938 he left Paris and settled in Saint Martin d'Ardeche in the South of France. With the outbreak of the Second World War he was arrested by French authorities for being a "hostile alien". Thanks to the intercession of Eluard, he was discharged a few weeks later. Soon after the French occupation by the Nazis, he was arrested by the Gestapo, managed to escape and flee to America with the help of Peggy Guggenheim, a sponsor of the arts.

In 1941-1945 he lived in New York, where he not only worked but also shared his knowledge and experience with younger American colleagues, thus leaving a lasting and profound influence on the development of American modern art. In 1946-52 he lived in Arizona, surrounded by landscapes that resembled his own pictorial phantasmagorias. In the USA he got interested in sculpture. In 1953 he returned to Europe and settled in France. In the 1950s he got world acclaim. In his late works he returned to the subjects of his early, Dada period. He died on 1st April 1976 in Paris, one day before his 85th birthday. His paintings, steeped in Freudian metaphors, private mythology, and childhood memories, are regarded today as icons of Surrealist art.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Magritte, René

L'Invention de la vie (The Invention of Life)
oil on canvas
81 x 116 cm
location unknown

Magritte, in this painting, gives visual form to the notions of life and death. Using two female figures set in a somber landscape, one shrouded in gray fabric as the other eerily stares out at the viewer, Magritte evokes the very fragility of human life. As it has been noted that the female figure resembles the artist’s mother, who committed suicide(*) when Magritte was a boy, this work may conjure Magritte’s own struggles with the death of his mother. (*) In 1912, his mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the River Sambre. Magritte was present when her body was retrieved from the water. The image of his mother floating, her dress obscuring her face, may have influenced a series of paintings of people with cloth obscuring their faces, but Magritte disliked this explanation.

"If the dream is a translation of waking life, waking life is also a translation of the dream." (Magritte)
Magritte described his paintings as "visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, 'What does that mean?'. It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable."

"Everything leads us to believe that there exists a state of mind where life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, no longer seem contradictory" (Andre Breton, The Surrealist Manifesto, 1924)

Rene Francois Ghislain Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian surrealist artist. He became well known for a number of witty and thought-provoking images that fell under the umbrella of surrealism. His work challenges observers' preconditioned perceptions of reality. His Belgian brand of Surrealism deals in clear visions with unclear meanings. Unlike the fantastic dreamscapes of Paris Surrealists such as Salvador Dali, his settings are strangely normal, and his protagonists are bourgeois gentlemen in ties and bowler hats. Yet he specialized in permanent irresolution, in mysteries without a key.

He was born on the 21st November, 1898 in Belgium. His father was a tailor and a merchant. As his business did not go well the family had to move often. Rene lost his mother early and tragically, she committed suicide by drowning herself in the River when Rene was only 14 years old. This was not her first attempt; she had made many over a number of years, driving her husband Leopold to lock her into her bedroom. One day she escaped, and was missing for days. She was later discovered a mile or so down the nearby river, dead.

After studying in the Royal Academy of Arts in Brussels, he became a wallpaper designer and commercial artist. His early painting works were executed under the influence of the Cubism and Futurism, then he was inspired by the Purists and Fernand Leger. The acquaintance with Giorgio de Chirico and Dadaistic poetry constituted an important artistic turning-point for Magritte. In 1927-30 Magritte lived in France, where he participated in the activities of the Surrealists, establishing a close friendship in particular with Max Ernst, Dali, Andre Breton and especially with Paul Eluard. In Paris, Magritte's system of conceptual painting was formed, it remained almost unchanged until the end of his life. His painting manner, intentionally dry and academic, "polished in the technical sense" with precise and clean draughtsmanship demonstrated a paradoxical ability to depict trustworthy an unreal, unthinkable reality. He was fond of philosophy and literature. Many of his paintings reflect his impressions of literature works, illusions and philosophical metaphors. Magritte died of pancreatic cancer on August 15, 1967 in his own bed in Brussels at the age of 69, and was interred in Schaerbeek Cemetery, Evere, Brussels. Popular interest in Magritte's work rose considerably in the 1960s, and his imagery has influenced pop, minimalist and conceptual art.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tanguy, Yves

The Lovers (Les amoureux)
oil on canvas
100 x 81 cm
Museum Folkwang, Hagen, Germany

Raymond Georges Yves Tanguy (1900-1955), known as Yves Tanguy, was a French-born American surrealist painter, originally a merchant seaman.
He was born in Paris, France, the son of a retired navy captain. In 1918, he briefly joined the merchant navy before being drafted into the Army. At the end of his military service in 1922, he returned to Paris, where he worked various odd jobs. By chance, he stumbled upon a painting by Giorgio de Chirico and was so deeply impressed he resolved to become a painter himself in spite of his complete lack of formal training.

Tanguy had a habit of being completely absorbed by the current painting he was working on. This way of creating artwork may have been due to his very small studio which only had enough room for one wet piece. In around 1924 he was introduced into the circle of surrealist artists around Andre Breton. He quickly began to develop his own unique painting style. During this busy time of his life, Andre Breton gave Tanguy a contract to paint 12 pieces a year. With his fixed income, he painted less and only ended up creating eight works of art for Breton.

Throughout the 1930s, Tanguy adopted the bohemian lifestyle of the struggling artist with gusto. In 1938, after seeing the work of fellow artist Kay Sage, he began a relationship with her. With the outbreak of World War II, Sage moved back to her native New York, and Tanguy, judged unfit for military service, followed her. He would spend the rest of his life in the United States. Sage and Tanguy were married in Reno, Nevada in 1940. Toward the end of the war, the couple moved to Woodbury, Connecticut, converting an old farmhouse into an artists' studio. They spent the rest of their lives there. In 1948, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1955, Yves Tanguy suffered a fatal stroke at Woodbury. His body was cremated and his ashes preserved by Kay. Badly affected by the sudden death of Yves Tanguy in 1955, Kay went blind, little by little, but nevertheless did finish the Complete Catalogue of Yves Tanguy’s work before committing suicide in 1963. Later, Yves Tanguy's ashes were scattered by his friend Pierre Matisse on the beach at Douarnenez in his beloved Brittany, together with those of his wife Kay.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Malevich, Kasimir

Landscape Winter
oil on canvas
size unknown
Museum Ludwig, Koln, Germany

"No phenomenon is mortal," Malevich wrote in an unpublished manuscript, "and this means not only the body but the idea as well, a symbol that one is eternally reincarnated in another form which actually exists in the conscious and unconscious person."

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich (1879-1935) was a Russian painter, born near Kiev. He was a pioneer of geometric abstract art and the originator of the Avant-garde Suprematist movement, which brought abstract art to a geometric simplicity more radical than anything previously seen. The style of severe geometric abstraction with which he is most closely associated, Suprematism, was a leading force in the development of Constructivism, the repercussions of which continued to be felt throughout the 20th century. His work was suppressed in Soviet Russia in the 1930s and remained little known during the following two decades. The reassessment of his reputation in the West from the mid-1950s was matched by the renewed influence of his work on the paintings of Ad Reinhardt and on developments such as Zero, Hard-edge painting and Minimalism. He died of cancer in Leningrad in 1935. His influence on abstract art, in the west as well as Russia, was enormous.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Kandinsky, Wassily

Composition IX
oil on canvas
113.5 x 195 cm
Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France

Composition IX reflects Kandinsky's exposure in Paris to Surrealist imagery. Although he denied any Surrealist influence in his work, the biomorphic shapes distinctly recall the pictorial language of Miro in particular. There is an almost dream-like quality to the rhythm and unfurling of the forms. According to his wife Nina Kandinsky, the artist at this stage of his development was able to visualize a painting entirely in his head and then translate it directly to the canvas.

"I really believe that I am the first and only artist to throw not just the 'subject' out of my paintings, but every 'object' as well.""Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, and the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul." (Kandinsky)

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was an influential Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with painting the first purely-abstract works. Born in Moscow, Kandinsky spent his childhood in Odessa. He enrolled at the University of Moscow, studying law and economics. Successful in his profession - he was offered a professorship (chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat - he began painting studies (life-drawing, sketching and anatomy) at the age of 30.

Kandinsky named works after musical terms. He saw color when he listened to music, and believed color could visually express music’s timber, pitch and volume. At age 30, Kandinsky’s artistic career began when he left a legal career to pursue artistic studies after seeing Monet’s “Haystacks.” Passionately compelled to create, Kandinsky believed that the purity of this desire would communicate itself to viewers of his work.
He was fascinated by music's emotional power. Because music expresses itself through sound and time, it allows the listener a freedom of imagination, interpretation, and emotional response that is not based on the literal or the descriptive, but rather on the abstract quality that painting, still dependent on representing the visible world, could not provide. Music can respond and appeal directly to the artist's "internal element" and express spiritual values, thus for him it is a more advanced art. In his writings Kandinsky emphasizes this superiority in advancing toward what he calls the epoch of the great spiritual.

He was never solely a painter, but a theoretician, and organizer at the same time. He expressed his views on art and artistic activity in his numerous writings. In the 1920-30s Kandinsky's name became world famous. He was proclaimed the theoretician and leading figure of abstract painting. In addition to teaching courses, Kandinsky became actively involved in delivering lectures; his exhibitions took place almost yearly in Europe and America.
In 1921, Kandinsky was invited to go to Germany to attend the Bauhaus of Weimar by its founder, architect Walter Gropius. Kandinsky taught the basic design class for beginners and the course on advanced theory at the Bauhaus; he also conducted painting classes and a workshop in which he augmented his color theory with new elements of form psychology. In 1933, the Nazis having come to power in Germany and closed down the Bauhaus, he took refuge in France where he spent the last eleven years of his life. In 1939 Kandinsky and his wife became French citizens. He continued painting almost until his death. He died on 13 December 1944 in Neuilly-sur-Seine at the age of 78.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gris, Juan

The Open Window
oil on canvas
65 x 100 cm
The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain

The theme of the open window dominated his production in 1921. The interior and exterior spaces are distinct. The interior, characterized by music, is evocative of the human world of art and intellect. The landscape has direct, visual, and sensuous qualities typical of nature. There is perhaps implicit a yearning for that natural simplicity.

Jose Victoriano Gonzalez-Perez (1887-1927), known as Juan Gris, was a Spanish painter and sculptor who lived and worked in France most of his life. His works, which are closely connected to the emergence of an innovative artistic genre?Cubism, are among the movement's most distinctive.

Though not the inventor of Cubism, he was one of its most able practitioners and evolved a very personal variety of it, combining elements which he had learned from Braque and Picasso with others which were his own personal invention. Typical of his approach was his remark about Cezanne, the universally acknowledged father of Cubism: 'Cezanne made a cylinder out of a bottle. I start from the cylinder to create a special kind of individual object. I make a bottle out of a cylinder.'

Unlike Picasso and Braque, whose Cubist works were monochromatic, Gris painted with bright harmonious colors in daring, novel combinations in the manner of his friend Matisse. His preference for clarity and order made Gris an important exemplar of the post-war "return to order" movement.
He was the Third Musketeer of Cubism, and actually pushed Cubism further to its logical conclusion until his death in 1927 at the age of 39.
He died of renal failure, he was frequently ill with bouts of uremia and cardiac problems, in Boulogne-sur-Seine (Paris) .
Juan Gris had a special sympathy for poets, and collaborated with a number of distinguished writers.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Marc, Franz

oil on canvas
87 x 65 cm
Kunstmuseum, Dusseldorf, Germany

Franz Marc (1880-1916) was a German painter, and one of the key figures of the German Expressionist movement. He was born in Munich, then the capital of the Kingdom of Bavaria. His father was a professional landscape painter; his mother was a strict Calvinist.

In 1900, he began to study at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich. In 1903 and 1907, he spent time in France, particularly in Paris, visiting the city's museums and copying many paintings, a traditional way for artists to study and develop technique. In Paris, he frequented artistic circles and was able to meet artists, including the actress Sarah Bernhardt. He discovered a strong affinity for the work of Vincent van Gogh.
In 1910, he developed an important friendship with the artist August Macke.
In 1911, he founded the The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) journal, which became the center of an artist circle, along with Macke, Wassily Kandinsky, and others who had decided to split off from the Neue Kunstlervereinigung (New Artist's Association) movement.
In 1912, he met Robert Delaunay, whose use of color and futurist method was a major influence on his work; fascinated by futurism and cubism, he created art increasingly stark and abstract in nature.
But in August of 1914, at the outbreak of the war, he volunteered. Kandinsky visited him to say "Auf Wiedersehen." but he replied "Adieu." Within two months, his first personal indication of the war's magnitude occurred; August Macke died in battle in September at the age of twenty-seven. After mobilization of the German Army, the government identified notable artists to be withdrawn from combat for their own safety. Marc was on the list but was struck in the head and killed instantly by a shell splinter during the Battle of Verdun, France while in his military service, on March 4, 1916 at the age of thirty-six, before orders for reassignment could reach him.

Marc made some sixty prints in woodcut and lithography. Most of his mature work portrays animals, usually in natural settings. His work is characterized by bright primary color, an almost cubist portrayal of animals, stark simplicity and a profound sense of emotion. Even in his own time, his work attracted notice in influential circles. Marc gave an emotional meaning or purpose to the colors he used in his work: blue was used to portray masculinity and spirituality, yellow represented feminine joy, and red encased the sound of violence. After the National Socialists took power, they suppressed modern art; in 1936 and 1937, the Nazis condemned the late Marc as an entarteter Kunstler (degenerate artist) and ordered approximately 130 of his works removed from exhibition in German museums.