Month: November 2009

Art to Get Over the Hump

There is the Temple (Parahi te marae), 1892

I visited the Gauguin exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art today, and in this whirlwind trip through the exhibit (every one of our family members seemed to be on a very different schedule, needing to be three places at once), I was able to latch on to bits and pieces of the audio tour. I was struck by how one’s profession can really turn on a dime, just as Gauguin’s did. Apparently, it wasn’t until 1882, after a stock market crash and recession rendered Gauguin without a job as a broker, that Gauguin decided to abandon the business world to pursue life as an artist full-time.

I wonder, after this recent stock market downturn (which has, though, over the last few months climbed up nicely), how many people in the finance industry turned from their jobs to embrace their inner artiste?  I know that when the going gets tough for me at work, I get out my paints and just paint away. It’s REALLY bad art that appears on my canvas. Really. No, really, it is. But that’s okay. It’s therapeutic, and somehow just fleshing out whatever pops into my head (sort of as a physical manifestation of my inner thoughts) gets me over the hump.

Perhaps the big banks and people on the Street should have invested in an easel, modeling clay, or signed up for an Intro to Glassblowing class.


Oh! The Ideas, Arguments, and Pontifications Out There…

Hungarian National Gallery, 2009

Sometimes when I research ideas to write about in this blog, I’m overwhelmed by the interesting thoughts, analyses, and nuggets of light I find. Art bloggers can launch such deep thoughts! Below are a few I found this morning that I’d love to explore more fully. Good stuff. (I’m also inspired by random travel pics, like that to the left.)

  • From Art 21: In a recent interview in the New Yorker, artist-of-the-moment Urs Fischer said something about how art and memory work together… something about the experience of art not being confined to the present-tense experience of being in a gallery, looking at a thing. Part of art’s test is in its retention in the mind, how it returns and why.
  • From Artworld Salon: Stefan Leijnen and Liane Gabora, researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada, point out that too much creativity may not be a good thing. Their argument boils down to this: Innovation–creativity–is necessary to introduce new ideas. But for any innovation to take root, it must also be copied. Society depends not just on creators but also on followers. If everyone invented and no one imitated, we wouldn’t advance through innovation.
  • From the Guardian: The new Vincent van Gogh – The Letters: The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition reminds us [that] his ambition as a painter depended on words to give it focus and direction. Writing in 1888 to Theo from Arles, he says: “I saw a magnificent and very strange effect this evening. A very large boat laden with coal on the Rhône, moored at the quay. Seen from above it was all glistening and wet from a shower; the water was a white yellow and clouded pearl-grey, the sky lilac and an orange strip in the west, the town violet. On the boat, small workmen, blue and dirty white, were coming and going. Carrying the cargo ashore. It was pure Hokusai. It was too late to do it, but one day, when this coal-boat comes back, it’ll have to be tackled.” The language here is more than just the counterpart to a picture. It is actually a step in the process towards the picture. It’s a different kind of proof of Van Gogh’s practicality – and of the way that practicality is often linked to something like exhilaration.

Can’t Escape Gauguin…

Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven

I felt very cultural this weekend: on Sunday I went to see the symphony AND spent time at the Gauguin exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. And I put the finishing touches on my rockin’ gingerbread house entry for the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s annual gingerbread show (which is actually a fantastical Museum of Contemporary Art made out of gingerbread). Whew!

This was my second trip to see the Gauguin show (first take I wrote about here), and I’m sure I’ll go back several more times before it leaves in January. But my impressions (Take II) were more complex (delightedly!) than the first round.

I’m not sure what other artists are so “self reflecting” — that is, in newer paintings, they physically paint in/allude to previous works — but Gauguin surely is a master. His motifs are bathers, pitchers, the color yellow, the white Brittany hats. I mentioned this in my previous blog, but it was even more apparent to me at Take II.

Gaugin’s use of yellow, particularly in his later years in Tahiti, is prolific. Perhaps it started in Arles with his Yellow House days with van Gogh and transcended time. The show’s catalog states that at first Gauguin claimed credit for van Gogh’s adoption of yellow as a favorite color. But ultimately the opposite was true: Gauguin embraced yellow after being impressed by van Gogh’s yellow-on-yellow paintings of sunflowers. And Gauguin used canary yellow paper for a series of zincographs (medium where an artist draws directly on a metal plate with a black crayon) that chronicled Gauguin’s early career and travels to Martinique, Brittany, and Arles and reiterated his motifs. (Interestingly, the CMA owns a complete set of the zincographs, which is rare, because Gauguin only made an edition of 30.) The zincographs were a watershed in Gaugin’s work: the motifs are resemblant of Claude Monet’s grainstacks and Jasper Johns’ stenciled number paintings.

I also noticed that Gaugin has a tendency to paint mid-pose — he captures a boy fixing his shoe, and blossoms just beggining to bud (rather than in full glory). I was struck by his interest in the non-interesting stages of hum drum daily life. But capturing these humdrum moments makes the viewer stop, go back, and look again. It’s inspiring that the humdrum can, in fact, be interesting.

And he disdained pointilism!


Gauguin’s Gals

Joys of BrittanyThe Cleveland Museum of Art is hosting “Gauguin: Paris 1889”, featuring a recreation of the “radical independent exhibition that Gauguin organized (and shamelessly self-promoted) on the grounds of the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris”.

It was unbelievable.

The exhibition is only exhibiting in two places — Cleveland and Amsterdam — hence the CMA’s insanely awesome marketing: “The man shunned civilization. (So it’s only appropriate that he’s making just one US stop.)”.

What struck me about this exhibit is Gauguin’s sensitivity to the people he saw and painted, much moreso than Van Gogh (and they lived in Arles together, painting for several months). Although I think that Van Gogh’s portraits and subjects are richer, more intense, electrifying, I think that Gauguin had a better way conveying people and their moods, and well, the reality of their lives. In this exhibition, the innocense and movement in his subjects (specifically his primary subject matters in this exhibition, which were the Breton girls dancing and the woman with red hair in the waves) is arresting, and I have thought about these anonymous people over and over again since I saw the exhibit last weekend. And so they are striking in a different way than Van Gogh’s studies.

In this exhibit, Gauguin’s oils, chalks, sculptures, and wood carvings all run central to two themes: his life in Brittany and life in Tahiti. And he keeps dabbing a brilliant red/orange to make a tiny splash on each composition (a single carnation on each of the Brittony girls ‘dresses; the vibrant red hair on the girl in the waves). We walk through daily life in Brittany — largely seen through children’s eyes, and the series aptly named “Voipini Suite: Joys of Brittany” — but we also see very deep, intellectual themes running through, particularly with the violent green waves and the woman thrust in them. Her body takes up the entire picture, so that the viewer feels almost caught up in the waves with her. In the end, when he was in Tahiti, he created a self-portrait with his face very dark (disturbance, insecurity), and in far in the background, off to the sides, are a small white cloth (indicating the white Brittany hats of the women and children there) and a red swath of paint (indicating the woman’s vibrant red hair). In this exhibition, Gauguin came full circle with his themes and his work.

In the waves

Cartography That Inspires Art

Fiona's Wave, 2005

The Map as Art,” a new book edited by Katharine Harmon from Princeton Architectural Press, describes how artists draw on the rich landscape of maps for inspiration. Since I have a degree in Urban Geography, this is an especially interesting topic for me (though my career didn’t exactly follow that path!). While I haven’t read this book, just the reviews and descriptions of it prompt lots of thoughts.

First, the overview:

In a series of chapters—Conflict and Sorrow, Global Reckoning, Personal Terrain, Inner Visions, etc.—the book shows how artists use the map as a tool to investigate identity, political allegiance, economy, the environment. The publisher has a great discussion of why artists would choose maps as inspiration:

[Maps] lead to different destinations: places turned upside down or inside out, territories riddled with marks understood only by their maker, realms connected more to the interior mind than to the exterior world. These are the places of artists’ maps, that happy combination of information and illusion that flourishes in basement studios and downtown galleries alike.

In my classes at the University of Maryland, we studied digital cartography, primarily creating remote sensing images. These were comprised of heat sensitive coloration showing variation in weather patterns, land use, and population. I suppose I struggle with this type of cartography as being art because these images are automatically generated; I wasn’t placing broad swaths of green or blue where I was inclined to do so. The computers are in charge. However, I think that The Map As Art would argue that the value of this map to the artist is that it offers new ranges of color or a means of conceptually interpreting a physical object (which is what artists often do).

Above is an image of another way that artists can use maps: by literally cutting them up to craft a work on paper. From Katharine Harmon, the book’s editor: “[In Fiona’s Wave, 2005] Matthew Cusick creates outsized collaged paintings from fragments of atlases and school geography books published between 1872 and 1945, a time of much mapping and remapping.”

It’s interesting that just as cartographers try to capture movement and change of a culture, environment, and even politics, this seems to be the very thesis of many artists as well.