For the 75th anniversary of American Gothic, Harvard historian and social critic Steven Biel has written a book, American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting. The painting portrays the artist's sister and his elderly dentist (photo taken in 1942).
Biel summarizes the significance of the image:
"During the Depression, it came to represent endurance in hard times through the quintessential American values of thrift, work, and faith. Later, in television, advertising, politics, and popular culture, American Gothic evolved into parody—all the while remaining a lodestar by which one might measure closeness to or distance from the American heartland."
NPR's Melissa Gray offers this audio commentary of American Gothic Gray explores the composition of the work: "The three-pronged pitchfork is one obvious example, but look more closely and you'll see echoes of the design on the face of the man, the bib of his overalls, and the lines on his shirt. In fact, the straightforward Gothic style extends to the directness of the painting itself... In addition to its architectural connotations, "Gothic" can also mean crude or underdeveloped. It's an implication Wood was likely aware of when he titled the painting, though it's unlikely that this was his sole observation about the pair."
In 1942, Gordon Parks provided the first parody American Gothic. It is a parody without humor though:
"American Gothic," considered to be Parks's signature image, was taken in Washington, D.C., in 1942, during the photographer's fellowship with the Farm Security Administration, a government agency set up by President Roosevelt to aid farmers in despair. "It's the first professional image I ever made," Parks says, "created on my first day in Washington." Roy Stryker, who led the FSA's very best documentary photographers—Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Carl Mydans, etc.—told Parks to go out and get acquainted with the city. Parks was amazed by the amount of bigotry and discrimination he encountered on his very first day. "White restaurants made me enter through the back door, white theaters wouldn't even let me in the door, and as the day went on things just went from bad to worse." Stryker told Parks to go talk with some older black people who had lived their entire lives in Washington and see how they had coped. "That's how I met Ella," Parks explains.
Ella Watson was a black charwoman who mopped floors in the FSA building. Parks asked her about her life, which she divulged as having been full of misery, bigotry and despair. Parks's simple question, "Would you let me photograph you?" and Ella's affirmative response, led to the photographer's most recognizable image of all time. "Two days later Stryker saw the image and told me I'd gotten the right idea but was going to get all the FSA photogs fired, that my image of Ella was 'an indictment of America.' I thought the image had been killed but one day there it was, on the front page of The Washington Post ." At the time, Parks couldn't have realized that the image would go on to become the symbol of the pre-civil rights era's treatment of minorities. "
"American Gothic could not work as parody if the original did not have power of its own. Biel is not an art critic, and he hesitated to comment on the painting, apart from the myriad understandings others have had. But when pressed to do so, he gazed up at it over his desk and mused, 'It's haunting -- creepy in a lot of ways. Look at those faces. They're disturbing. Why isn't she looking at us? He is -- why isn't she? What does he want, peering into our souls? He is holding a pitchfork, but there's no dirt on it. Is he posing with it because this is Sunday afternoon and this is one of the tools of his trade? Or is there something -- more sinister?'"
"I paint because I am a woman.
(It's a logical necessity.)
If painting is female and insanity is a female malady, then all women painters are mad and all male painters are women.
I paint because I am an artificial blonde woman.
(Brunettes have no excuse.)
If all good painting is about color then bad painting is about having the wrong color. But bad things can be good excuses. As Sharon Stone said, "Being blonde is a great excuse. When you're having a bad day you can say, I can't help it, I'm just feeling very blonde today."
I paint because I am a country girl.
(Clever, talented big-city girls don't paint.)... "
The above is part of a postcard by South African born artist, Marlene Dumas. New York Times article, Marlene Dumas's Number Comes Up brought her to my attention with the startling and refreshing news: "...Marlene Dumas, a 51-year-old South African-born painter who now bears the odd distinction of commanding the highest price for a living female artist at auction.
In 2002, the record for Ms. Dumas's paintings, only a few of which had come to auction, stood at about $50,000. Yet last month at Christie's in London, after a bidding war between two dealers, her 1987 painting "The Teacher," a rendering of a posed class photograph, went for a startling $3.34 million." Wow!
This is good news for those of us who see the high art world as (traditionally) dominated by white men. Dumas is a foreigner and paints blatantly erotic imagery. These two factors do lower the bar for entry into the men's club of high dollar art. Europe has long been comfortable with buying the works of women artists and - sex sells. But there is much more to Dumas' work than a simple formula of sexual exploration. She is an artist who is successful at getting others to glimpse the world through her world view. She creates head-shot portraits and are riveting and revealing.
"...Dumas has cultivated a unique position within the world of figurative painting since the early 1980s, focusing on how the human body is translated into an image. Dumas does not use models, but instead takes her images from mass media and popular culture sources, particularly newspapers and television. According to Dumas, "what interested me was to make a statement about peoples' frames of mind and the relationships between them." Dumas' pictures impress with their urgent realism--but within their provocative energy lurk provocative questions about gender, identity, oppression, sexual and ethnic violence, and the situation of women and minorities; Dumas is always seeking to initiate new thought processes and critical strategies." from the book One Hundred Models and Endless Rejects
For a 2002 show of Dumas' works, The New Museum wrote, "Dumas's words and images refuse singular meaning, yet they frame serious political and ethical questions about apartheid, race, gender, and sexuality. By retaining- even insisting on- ambiguity, Dumas skillfully keeps complicated, open questions just that: questions."
Joyce Kozloff is a painter commonly associated with the Pattern & Decoration movement of the 1970s. The movement was an effort to challenge the stigma that modern art had put on ornamentation. The artists of this movement drew inspiration form arts and cultures outside the mainstream of modern art: Islamic, Celtic, and Arts and Crafts. In an interview in 2000, Kozloff says of this cultural melding: "I would not enjoy a world in which cultures became homogeneous and lost their singularity. All my work is appropriated from outside sources; I create a hybrid, a fusion of diverse materials, but I don't disguise their uniqueness or stylize them beyond recognition. We are flooded with imagery from everywhere: in our museums, our libraries, our media. For years, I've been trying to put it together for myself."
Kozloff explains her new work in a recent interview in Raleigh's News & Observer "Decorative is associated with functional, and things that are functional, at least in the West, are not often viewed as high art. And also the decorative arts are associated with women and people of color, non-Western people. Mainstream art history is a series of white male geniuses who paint or sculpt."
Kozloff's most recent work, Crossed Purposes, explores map making and the human elements that are hidden within these maps. The press release reads: "Her recent works retain an overall decorative scheme, but now they are inscribed with "quotes" from books, recipes, images of movies, and popular art. These fragments are, in turn, layered into map mutations that explore the effects of empire, namely British, French, Spanish, and American, upon the conquered. Each of her pieces is complex, witty, packed with thoughtful allusions, and highly visually engaging."
Roberto Gil de Montes is a painter, sculptor and a photographer. Often his work deals with the illusion of textiles. In particular, he uses the painted illusion of lace curtains to make a statement about artifice in life. A 1996 review in Arts Scene California describes Gil de Montes work: "A series of male portraits are simultaneously a celebration of the male figure--an homage to the male--which in Gil de Montes' work is as much an acknowledgement of a time-honored theme in the history of painting as it is a personal statement. They are as well a reflection on the process of growth, maturation and transition, mainly through fantastic interplays between a decorative and figurative language, specifically through the psychological and illusionistic device of the screen and the veil.
In two of these, Screen and Boy Behind Screen, Gil de Montes utilizes a characteristic variation of a thick and thin painting surface to play with the image of the personage. In the first of these, a matinee-idol-like figure looks at us through a veil, a decorative surface that obscures and tantalizingly reveals him to the viewer. In the second, Boy Behind Screen, the same approach reveals a younger man and, as with the veil, serves as a screen eliciting references to bridal veils, curtains, Chinese screens, and shutters--all allusions to a coquetry that demands our attention while hiding and shielding the object of our desire. And yet the screen creates an intentional barrier distancing the viewer even as it attracts him or her to the painted image. It is also a painterly reference to Gil de Montes' constant fascination with the cinema."
Gil De Montes painting, Screen was featured in a 1996 Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibition entitles Arte Latino. The catalog describes the work: "In Screen a man stands in front of a green wall gazing out at the viewer, his features and expression veiled by a floral lace curtain. Originally from Mexico, Gil de Montes lived with his family in various U.S. cities before moving to East Los Angeles. Conflicted about his own cultural identity, he went back to Mexico. When he returned two years later, he began addressing identity and place in universal rather than personal terms and here invites questions about the veils we use to shield ourselves from the world."
Fabric as an illusion....
More from the National Gallery of Art (it's seeming like a DC vacation is in order): a retrospective of Jim Dine's drawings. Drawing is definitely back in style. After the lean minimalist years, the Whitney Biennial featured several drawings and now the National Gallery focuses on drawing. A review in ArtNet by Tyler Green (who appears to dislike Dine and not be too fond of drawing in general) sums the situation up clearly: "No doubt drawing is ubiquitous these days. Many artists are embracing making work with their hands and not with their Duchampian cortex. " Yes!!! A return to craft. I, for one, am ready to celebrate!
From the exhibition overview:
"Dine's regard for the work of earlier artists--Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, among others--deepened when he lived abroad between 1967 and 1971. At the same time, he distanced himself from emerging movements such as minimalism, with its emphasis on simple geometric forms. When Dine returned to the United States in 1971 he began to draw regularly, and by 1974 he had embarked on a self-styled course in life drawing. For an artist so steeped in the avant-garde, it was a dramatic, if not defiant, shift."
"Drawing is not an exercise.
Exercise is sitting on a stationary bicycle and going nowhere.
Drawing is being on a bicycle and taking a journey.
For me to succeed in drawing, I must go fast and arrive somewhere.
The quest is to keep the thing alive..."
--Jim Dine, 2003
image: Tree (The Kimono), 1980 by Jim Dine
Currently at the National Gallery in Washington DC: " The Cubist Paintings of Diego Rivera: Memory, Politics, Place.
Who knew that Rivera was a cubist. When I consider his work, I think of politicized narrative murals. This overview of his early cubist-influenced work gives insight into the development of his stylized mural designs. The volume and density of the cubist compositions seems to have changed his portrayal of the human figure from the exaggerated slenderness of the foppish Adolfo Best Maugard (1913) to the dense, fractured Portrait of Martín Luis Guzmán, painted in 1915, after the beginning of World War I.
The press release reads "Rivera's work has been studied and shown in depth, yet his cubist period remains a less understood aspect of his career. The Cubist Paintings of Diego Rivera will include some 20 works that demonstrate his distinctive approach to synthetic cubism--his use of complex structures of transparent planes, with a particular emphasis on sensory and memory association." I just think it is interesting to look at the early experiments and to observe the growth and change of the artist.
image: No. 9, Nature Morte Espagnole, 1915 by Diego Rivera
NPR's Susan Stamberg recently reported on a new exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago entitled Seurat and the Making of "La Grande Jatte" NPR has an recording of this radio piece, which is well worth the four minutes of listening.
Stamberg makes the revelation that pointillism and the pointillist style is not refering to dots of paint. Instead point in French means stitch. The word was coined to describe the tapestry-like effect of Seurat's paint as it played across the canvas.
The artcyclopedia explains: "Pointillism is a form of painting in which the use of tiny primary-color dots is used to generate secondary colors." Which ties in neatly with the Art Institute of Chicago's explanation of the inspiration for pointillism (birth of color theory): " These early paintings were informed by the law of contrast as articulated in the writings of M.-E. Chevreul. A noted 19th-century color theorist, Chevreul observed that just as dark and light oppositions enhance each other, any color is likewise heightened when placed beside its “complement”—located on the opposite side of the color wheel. When the complements red and green are put side by side, for instance, the red will seem redder and the green, greener.
Seurat was also aware of how the optical mixture of colors in the eye was different from their mixture on the palette. Juxtaposing related shades of a color on a canvas (yellows and greens for example) will create a more vivid and luminous effect than if the colors had been mixed on the palette."
A page of selected works viewing of the study cards that Seurat used in composing the painting.
If you would like to apply pointillist theory in fiber art, you might want to begin with some exercises written for painters, but they could be done in thread or fused fabric, for example: Tapestries of Color by Tina Tammaro or Create a pointillist painting from Keppel Union School District in California.
The National Gallery of Art recently organized a retrospective exhibition of the art of Romare Beardon. This exhibit will be traveling through April of 1995. Currently the exhibit is at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which has created a multimedia Flash-based presentation that uses film, music and reproductions of the paintings. Many of the artworks are accompanied by spoken commentary on Beardon's technique and significance.
Beardon's work seems to be of significance to fiber artists through the similarities of collage and building up of textures and meaning. In the 1960's Beardon was using photographic techniques to insert images into his collages, much in the way that Laury brought to the art quilt world. Additionally, SFMOMA cites Harriet Powers' Pictorial Quilt as an influence on Beardon's image making.
The Art of Romare Beardon, by The National Gallery of Art is an online exhibition that has fewer broken links and technical complexities than the SFMOMA's site. It is possible to view the pieces at a more contemplative pace. The work selected seems to enforce the similarities of Beardon's work to quilting, such as in Tomorrow I May Be Far Away, 1966/1967 (right).
"Why did Frida paint herself? Her preferred exercise seems to have been shaping and perpetuating the image the mirror returned, enriched by her own art and imagination. Her friend, Alejandro Gomez Arias, a Mexican writer, to whom she gave her first self-portrait, commented: "Frida painted as a final means of surviving, of enduring, of conquering death." On the other hand Frida herself answered this question by saying, "I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone. Because I am the person I know best." "
[Espacio, Art Magazine 1983] reprinted from Artdaily.com
image: Frida Kahlo; self-portrait with monkey, 1938 Albright Knox Museum Scroll down on the museum's web page for art exercises relating to the image and Kahlo.
Sarah McEneaney is a Philadelphia painter who creates "creative non-fiction" paintings of her life and environment. The works are small, and created in egg-tempera, a medium made famous by Andrew Wyeth and also used by the early Renaissance painters. Her images are realistic, in the sense that they are identifiable and use naturalistic colorings. But they are fantasies in the distortion and emotion that they convey. Particularly poignant are the paintings reliving her rape: June 15, 1998 I and June 15, 1998 II
McEneaney says of her work: "I have been painting for over twenty years. My paintings are autobiographical narratives. They describe life experiences, physically and emotionally. I paint looking out from within and back inside from my own particular place in the world. My aim is to be honest and straightforward in the subject matter I choose and in how I paint it, to make the personal universal."
New York Times article Self-Portrait With Epiphany states "Ms. McEneaney's works belong to a prolific tradition of painting that has flourished worldwide for centuries, in blissful ignorance or willful rejection of the vaunted vanishing point of High Renaissance art. It is a longer and wider tradition than that of Western realism, one that has arguably succeeded more consistently at achieving pitch-perfect balances between form and narrative — between the telling and the tale."
With the scale and the liberation of the expressionist realism, Sarah McEneaney's work might be a path of inspiration for fiber artists looking to create representational portraiture.
For those going to Philadelphia for the Art Quilts at the Sedgwick show, McEneaney's paintings will be showing at the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art until April 4, 2004.
Don Nice is a photorealist painter who has demonstrated amazing staying power in the fickle world of art. His work is included in almost every book on the "new realism" in painting that began to emerge in America in the late 1970s/early 80s. The pieces back then were simple images, often with pop art iconography, candy wrappers or soda cans. Eventually Nice moved into a fascination with nature, a subject he has explored for the past twenty or so years. A clip below from the review by Carter Horseley gives a glimpse into how this process has evolved.
"For a while, Nice produced large "portraits" of animals like buffaloes but it is not until he began his "totems" that his art really begins to resonate. At first, he did vertical "totems," but more recently he has experimented wildly and very effectively with their form, sometimes using a star form and often far more complex forms, sometimes perforated. The "predellas" at first were at the bottom of rectangular pictures, but now often surround the central image and even, in the "spinners," are not always right-side up. Whereas traditional predellas on Renaissance altarpieces were usually different scenes from the subject's life, Nice's predellas are often single animals, like a bird or a squirrel, and while the Renaissance masters were deeply involved with quite specific symbolism of animals and objects that they included in their works, one gathers that Nice does not have a specific iconographic hierarchy and is content to let viewers of his works free-associate."
Images by Don Nice; "Hudson River Series" (top) and "Montana Spinner, 2002"
Joan Erbe is a Baltimore treasure. She has been painting seemingly forever. Erbe has achieved legendary status in her hometown, yet her works remain undiscovered by a wider audience.
Erbe's paintings transport viewers into a fantasy world of kewpie dolls and circus freaks. Both are startling, yet neither is a cause for nightmares. From a review of her works: "Erbe's striking images seduce the viewer. With subject matter that ranges from dreamily uplifting to eerily disquieting, Erbe is willing to see the darker side of life, but does so with an undercurrent of humor. An Erbe painting is simultaneously funny and alarming. It simultaneously draws viewers in and keeps them at bay. It is this quality --- the push and pull of the beautiful, the bizarre, and the macabre --- that makes an Erbe, 'an Erbe.'"
Erbe's layering and flattened images are created with paint on panel, yet offer an insight into some of the layering and blending that the fiber community might aspire to. Her colors are rich and the patterning indicate, often repeating elaborate fabric patterning. Fiber artists looking to explore figurative or surrealistic imagery will find much to explore in Erbe's paintings.
image: Baby and Dog, 1996, hand-colored collagraph, 42" x 30" by Joan Erbe
Stuart Davis' early painting career (1910-1930) produced 'ashcan school' images: gritty realistic social commentary. After a trip to Paris, Davis began to explore the power of color and shape. A synopsis from the Metropolitan Museum explains: " Report from Rockport is considered among Davis's most important canvases from the 1940s. It is a pivotal work, as it was the first in which he utilized his newly articulated "color-space" theory. Davis postulated that color could be used to indicate spatial relationships through its positioning next to other colors. Some colors advance, while others recede, which suggests the illusion of a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface."
image by Stuart Davis
Simone Martini, Vitale da Bologna and Jacopo Bellini
I admit it, I am a fool for the early Renaissance painters. All that gold, the stiff, symbolic gestures, the embellishment on every surface - all of it used to tell a wordless story. Vivian Vakili has written an accessible history of these painters. But better yet, it is posted on the web with magnificant illustrations of the works.
The Simone Martini portrait of a duke, riding on horseback from these prefect Italian Hilltown city-states while tiny armies camp in the corners, is such a wonderful summary of the era in which he lived. Some folks were rich. They got the horses and nice clothes. Everyone lived in beautiful walled cities. War was constant. Another favorite that she has displayed is the Annunciation. This version is not namby-pamby. The angel and Mary are livid and throwing visual daggers at each other. This is not a quiet woman who was jumping on the opportunity.
Don't stop scrolling before you get to Pieta by Jacopo Bellini. The anguish is palpable. The hilltowns in the background of this image are rich with fertile fields and quiet, safe roads. But the tree is chopped down in midlife as Mary weeps over her son. Pretty heady stuff.
image: Jacopo Bellini's Pieta
Jennifer Bartlett: painter, printmaker and sculptor, has been active on the New York and California art scenes since the early 1970s. Her work is dominated by systems and grids, which provide a means of organizing explorations into lively chaos, such as her series of overgrown gardens or 'elements' (investigations of the four elements: air, water, fire and earth.) Most of her works have been explorations of theme and variations. The beginnings of Bartlett's paintings are often one foot square 'canvases' (sometimes steel plates), which she then assembles in the grid to form the final images.
The Smithsonian's description of her artistic ambitions "Her early work, which was strictly limited to grids, graphs, and dots, has evolved to include an expanded view of the possibilities of classifying and cataloging." Classifying and cataloging ... there seems to be lots of room for explorations there.
The MIT student loan art program describes Bartlett's process: "Bartlett's approach was more idiosyncratic and she would violate the systematically determined series when it suited her purposes to do so. Each series of plates creates a wall full of exuberantly rhythmic patterns.
According to Bartlett, the evident fascination with the series in her art can be explained by the fact that, "The series permits a range of possibilities; it reminds us that things can change." In the words of critic Maurice Berger, Bartlett's art "juxtaposes the raw and the cooked, examining the way the world is filtered through the human mind and is encoded into cultural conventions or sign systems."
image by Jennifer Bartlett from the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Linda L. Uphoff creates paintings that dance with color. Abstract shapes swirl in a snowstorm of energy and vivid color creating a mesmerizing composition. "Uphoff uses acrylic paint, watercolor, ink, pastel, conté assorted pencil, and fiber to create many of her works. Recent pieces emphasize the rectangular image, the softened edge, combinations of subtle and intense color, atmospheric ambiguous space, moving energy, musical rhythms and the theme of human relationships."
image by Linda L. Uphoff
Whimsical painting with lots of energy, color and movement from Kansas City artist, Mike Savage. Being in a room with one of these paintings just makes me smile. The colors and textures are so rich and almost seem to be dancing; a happy dance - some sort of spirited free form polka, maybe.
image by Mike Savage
Storer's paintings have been labelled as "theatrical Realism". Her subject matter is realistic, yet distorted as seen through a veil of emotion or meaning. The setting are dreamlike, with unlikely objects taking visual precedence. People float or contort or drift through the compositions. The effect is too grounded, and the subject matter too simply rendered to become surreal. The paintings are images from a dream or a recollection - indistinct and evocative at the same time.
From an article on Storer's life work: "Storer’s dream-like paintings posess a charming naïveté that belies the complexity of their production. Storer says that she is “fascinated by process,” and her work often incorporates collage elements and found objects layered atop painted images and text. "
image by Inez Storer