"I paint every day. Sometimes I hate painting, but I keep at it, thinking always that before I croak I'll really learn how to do it – maybe as well as some of the old painters." Thomas Hart Benton
A gray day and a feeling of unease as we move forward and begin to deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic. While reading about Jackson Pollock I took a detour over to one of his early influences Thomas Hart Benton a midwestern painter and muralist who became famous as a Regionalist painter, focusing on American people and culture. Reading about his 1930s work made me think about what the artists response to this time will be like.
Benton's main contribution to 20th-century American art might be his thematic emphasis on images of ordinary people and common lore. His expressive realism stands out for its exaggerated curvilinear forms and shapes, and bold use of key colors. By shifting attention away from New York and towards the Midwest, Benton expanded both the scope of possible artistic subject matter, and the potential public for American art.
About the painting from theartstory.com
Commissioned by New York City's innovative and progressive New School for Social Research, Benton's America Today murals joyfully celebrate an America before the full impact of the Great Depression had been realized. Here, a multi-racial labor force - this in itself is modern and utopian image because of heavily segregated labor in America - busily build the city. Emphasis is placed on the producer, rather than on material consumption. Benton pictures high skyscrapers, which were markers of the new modern city, urbanism, and industrialism. The presence of a ship recalls Benton's earlier work for the US Navy, and reminds us of New York's prominence as a port city. Benton applied wood molding to the canvas to separate one vignette from the other, which gives a modern, cinematic quality to the overall composition. (Benton had earlier worked in the film industry as well.) His rapid compositional shifts in depth between the foreground and deep background recall cinematic effects. In addition to Benton's murals, the New School also commissioned the great Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco to paint a suite of frescoes which complement Benton's tribute to the national by focusing on the international. Standing in front of this monumental and brightly colored image, one senses the city humming and pulsating with new energy.
About the Artist from Wikipedia
Thomas Hart Benton (April 15, 1889 – January 19, 1975) was an American painter and muralist. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement. The fluid, sculpted figures in his paintings showed everyday people in scenes of life in the United States. His work is strongly associated with the Midwestern United States, the region in which he was born and which he called home for most of his life. He also studied in Paris, 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 West. read more
"It was in the 1920s, when nobody had time to reflect, that I saw a still-life painting with a flower that was perfectly exquisite, but so small you really could not appreciate it." Georgia O'Keeffe
I have lost count of the days and settled in to a routine of sorts. I find myself in the studio working with a simple theme and familiar shapes. I am focusing on pattern to evoke the repetitive nature of this time. I selected Petunia 2 painted by Georgia O'Keefe in 1924 because it marks the beginning of her exploration into the subject that she is famous for. She stated that "nobody really sees a flower - really - it is so small - we haven't time - and to see takes time... So I said to myself - I'll paint what I see - what the flower is to me but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it."
About the Painting from theartstory.com
Petunia No. 2, one of O'Keeffe's first large-scale renderings of a flower, represents the beginning of her exploration of a theme that would mark her career. In this painting, she magnifies the flower's form to emphasize its shape and color. She stated that "nobody really sees a flower - really - it is so small - we haven't time - and to see takes time... So I said to myself - I'll paint what I see - what the flower is to me but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it." Her flower images often received interpretations that O'Keeffe disagreed with, particularly from feminist critics who saw these paintings as veiled illusions to female genitalia. For O'Keeffe, there was no hidden symbolism, just the essence of the flower. In fact, the anatomy of the petunia is incredibly detailed, and O'Keeffe may have been emphasizing the androgyny of the reproductive parts in order to counter the idea that her subject matter was connected to her gender. Though American and European artists had experimented with abstraction for at least a decade, O'Keeffe, like Dove, focused on images from nature and O'Keeffe was the only artist to consistently use flowers as a motif.
About the Artist from Wikipedia
Georgia Totto O'Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986) was an American artist. She was known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes. O'Keeffe has been recognized as the "Mother of American modernism".
"Most of our lives we live closed up in ourselves, with a longing not to be alone, to include others in that life that is invisible and intangible. To make it visible and tangible, we need light and material, any material. And any material can take on the burden of what had been brewing in our consciousness or subconsciousness, in our awareness or in our dreams." Anni Albers
Today's artist and piece is German-American Textile Artist and Printmaker Anni Albers 1899-1994 and her piece Dotted from 1959. I harbor a secret desire to be a weaver, to have a loom and to turn colorful materials into fabric. Catastrophes seem to help clarify things and I think I should stop thinking about it and do it. So I started thinking about textile artists. One of the most revolutionary textile artists was Anni Albers.
"Albers made her mark on the Bauhaus, the weaving art form, and the conception of "women's" crafts with her innovations. Beyond the integration of abstract modernism into textile weavings, Albers also introduced new technologies to the weaving workshop. When the Bauhaus won a commission for the Bundesschule des Allgemeinen Deutschen Gerwekschaftsbundes (ADGB) School, it was a testing ground for their ability to craft industrially feasible designs. Albers developed a set of textiles for the ADGB auditorium, using different types of synthetic fibers and cellophane to create acoustic panels. Her research into these materials influenced the manufacturing of similar panels and led to new innovations in theater design." Read more about Anni Albers here.
Being creative is not so much the desire to do something as the listening to that which wants to be done: the dictation of the materials. Anni Albers
"In general it can be said that a nation's art is greatest when it most reflects the character of its people."
Since we began living with so much uncertainty there is one thing I know for sure. The sunny days are better. That made me think of Morning Sun painted by American artist Edward Hopper (1882 - 1967)
I can relate to the woman feeling the sun through the window instead of outside. It feels hopeful and wistful at the same time.
About the painting from theartstory.com
This work was produced late in Hopper's life, when he was nearly 70 years old. Nevertheless it embodies the same themes of existentialism noted throughout his oeuvre, connecting him with the parallel efforts of contemporary artists such as Andrew Wyeth. The latter's exploration of Christina's world shares much of the same sentiment and effect. In Hopper's painting a woman (his wife Jo at age 68), is noted sitting upright on a neatly-made bed, staring out the window. The morning sun streams through the window, raking over the figure and onto the blank wall behind. The artist obscures details of her aging face and figure by a distinct lack of detail; her expression is ambiguous, perhaps pensive, perhaps regretful. As in much of his work, the figure is included to capture a mood or suggest a psychological effect, rather than to serve as the portrait of a specific individual. Beyond embodying dramatic means of delineation noted in other works of early modernism, including stark light, he adopts the window motif in order to add psychological weight, open to varied interpretation, as was done a century earlier by Romantic artists such as Caspar David Friedrich.
About the Artist from Wikipedia
Always reluctant to discuss himself and his art, Hopper simply said, "The whole answer is there on the canvas." Hopper was stoic and fatalistic—a quiet introverted man with a gentle sense of humor and a frank manner. Hopper was someone drawn to an emblematic, anti-narrative symbolism, who "painted short isolated moments of configuration, saturated with suggestion". read more
"Life is a farce if a person does not serve truth." Hilma af Klint
Hearing that the Crown Princess of Sweden has trained to become a medical assistant so that she may volunteer in the fight of covid -19 in her country made me think of Swedish painter Hilma af Klint 1862 -1944. Specifically the feminine and bold No. 7, Adulthood 1907.
About the Artist from Wikipedia
Hilma af Klint was a Swedish artist and mystic whose paintings were among the first Western abstract art. A considerable body of her abstract work predates the first purely abstract compositions by Kandinsky. She belonged to a group called "The Five", a circle of women who shared her belief in the importance of trying to make contact with the so-called "High Masters"—often by way of séances. Her paintings, which sometimes resemble diagrams, were a visual representation of complex spiritual ideas.
About the piece from thearrtstory.com
No. 7 painting, of the The Ten Largest series of the Paintings for the Temple, is at once meditative like an ancient mandala (a geometric pattern of Buddhist and Hindu origin said to represent a microcosm of the whole universe), and dynamic like a changing piece of music. The large painting, over three meters in height and two meters wide, is composed of free-flowing organic forms of different sizes and colors (bright yellow, red, green, light blue, and white) set against a lilac background, punctuated by lines at once diagrammatic and scripted.
"Any art worthy of its name should address life, man, nature, death and tragedy." Barnett Newman
Today seems empty and quiet but also divided and chaotic. I chose Barnett Newman's painting Onement to illustrates how I feel about the current pandemic situation.
About the piece from Artstory.com
"Newman saw Onement I as a breakthrough in his work. It features the first full incarnation of what he later called a "zip," a vertical band of color. This motif would play a central role in many of his subsequent paintings. The painting's title is an archaic derivation of the word "atonement," meaning, "the state of being made into one." For Newman, this unevenly painted zip on a flat field of color does not divide the canvas; rather, it merges both sides, drawing in the audience to intensely experience the work both physically and emotionally. Some have compared the zips to Alberto Giacometti's slender figures, reinforcing Newman's own connections between his paintings and the viewer's body.
About the Artist from Wikipedia
Barnett Newman (January 29, 1905 – July 4, 1970) was an American artist. He is seen as one of the major figures in abstract expressionism and one of the foremost of the color field painters. His paintings are existential in tone and content, explicitly composed with the intention of communicating a sense of locality, presence, and contingency.
I have been binge watching Call the Midwife on Netflix so that is probably why I have been thinking about babies. My pick for today is American painter Mary Cassatt 1844 - 1926.
About the Artist from theartstory.com
"By the 1880s, Cassatt was particularly well known for her sensitive depictions of mothers and children. These works, like all her portrayals of women, may have achieved such popular success for a specific reason: they filled a societal need to idealize women's domestic roles at a time when many women were, in fact, beginning to take an interest in voting rights, dress reform, higher education, and social equality. Yet Cassatt's depictions of her fellow upper-middle-class and upper-class women were never simplistic; they contained layers of meaning behind the airy brushwork and fresh colors of her Impressionist technique. Cassatt herself never married or had children, choosing instead to dedicate her entire life to her artistic profession."Mary Cassatt shared and admired progressive attitude of Bertha Honore Palmer, a businesswoman and philanthropist who invited Cassatt to paint a mural for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and who felt that "women should be someone and not something."
About the painting from Wikipedia In 1891, Mary Cassatt created the oil painting with two subjects, a mother figure and a young child. The genre scene is based on the everyday bathing of a child, a moment that is "special by not being special". The female figure holds up the child firmly and protectively with her left hand while the other hand carefully washes the child's feet. The small and chubby left arm of the child braces against the mother's thigh, while the other hand is clamped firmly on the child's own thigh. The mother's right hand presses firmly but still gently on the foot in the basin, mimicking the child's own pressure on her thigh. To indicate depth, Cassatt painted the faces to recede into space. The paint strokes are layered and rough, creating thick lines that outline the figures and stand them out from the patterned background. The hand of the artist is evident through the roughness of the strokes and can be better viewed from a distance.
"There are two ways for a painter: the broad and easy one or the narrow and hard one."
A rainy Monday morning and difficult death tolls from NY and NJ made me think of connection. Specifically the way each death is a person connected to others. Looking for a visual representation of underlying connections I picked Broadway Boogie Woogie 1942-1943 by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian 1872 -1944
About the Artist From Wikipedia
"Mondrian's art was highly utopian and was concerned with a search for universal values and aesthetics. He proclaimed in 1914: "Art is higher than reality and has no direct relation to reality. To approach the spiritual in art, one will make as little use as possible of reality, because reality is opposed to the spiritual. We find ourselves in the presence of an abstract art. Art should be above reality, otherwise it would have no value for man."
About the painting from thrartstory.com
This canvas presents the viewer with the culmination in Mondrian's life-long pursuit of conveying the order that underlies the natural world through purely abstract forms on a flat picture plane. Broadening the use of his basic pictorial vocabulary of lines, squares and primary colors, the black grid has been replaced by lines of color interspersed with blocks of solid color. This, and his other late abstract paintings, show a new, revitalized energy that was directly inspired by the vitality of New York City and the tempo of jazz music. The asymmetrical distribution of the brightly colored squares within the yellow lines echoes the varied pace of life in the bustling metropolis, one can almost see the people hurrying down the sidewalk as taxi cabs hustle from stop-light to stop-light. Broadway Boogie-Woogie not only alludes to life within the city, but also heralds New York's developing role as the new center of modern art after World War II. Mondrian's last complete painting demonstrates his continued stylistic innovation while remaining true to his theories and format.
“Curves are so emotional.” Piet Mondrian
In the face of catastrophe. A beautiful light filled morning with a sense of peace. Happy Easter.
Newell Convers Wyeth (October 22, 1882 – October 19, 1945), known as N. C. Wyeth, was an American artist and illustrator. He was the pupil of artist Howard Pyle and became one of America's greatest illustrators. During his lifetime, Wyeth created more than 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books, 25 of them for Scribner's, the Scribner Classics, which is the work for which he is best known. The first of these, Treasure Island, was one of his masterpieces and the proceeds paid for his studio. Wyeth was a realist painter at a time when the camera and photography began to compete with his craft. Sometimes seen as melodramatic, his illustrations were designed to be understood quickly. Wyeth, who was both a painter and an illustrator, understood the difference, and said in 1908, "Painting and illustration cannot be mixed—one cannot merge from one into the other."
He is the father of Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of Jamie Wyeth, both well-known American painters.
"If you paint a man leaning over, your own back must ache." N. C. Wyeth
When I was thinking of a visual representation of how today feels, these Japanese wave paintings came to mind. There is a glimmer of hope that we are on the top of the curve here.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa is a woodblock print by the Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai. It was published sometime between 1829 and 1833 in the late Edo period as the first print in Hokusai's series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. It is Hokusai's most famous work and one of the most recognizable works of Japanese art in the world.
The image depicts an enormous wave threatening three fishing boats off the coast of the town of Kanagawa (the present-day city of Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture) while Mount Fuji rises in the background. While sometimes assumed to be a tsunami, the wave is more likely to be a large rogue wave. As in many of the prints in the series, it depicts the area around Mount Fuji under particular conditions, and the mountain itself appears in the background. Throughout the series are dramatic uses of Berlin blue pigment.
“If heaven had granted me five more years, I could have become a real painter.” Hokusai Katsushika