Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In the Beginning: Chuck Close

Self-Portrait II - 2011

Chuck Close (1940 - ) is noted for his monster-size portraits. But during the years around 1960, he followed the Abstract Expressionist path that was more or less expected of "serious" art school students at that time.

Useful references: his WIkipedia entry is here, a student painting (shown below) is appraised on PBS here, and some paintings from his University of Washington days (also below) along with commentary can be found here. It seems that Close is afflicted with limited ability to recognize faces, which might account for his emphasis on portraits since the late 1960s. He became crippled due to a spinal problem in 1988, but this did not curtail his productivity.

Close interests me for two reasons. One has to do with the fact that he attained fame as a modernist / postmodernist while painting what are essentially representational images. The other is because he and I overlapped one academic year (1960-61) at the University of Washington's School of Art. We did not formally cross paths there, though it's quite possible that we might have been in the basement student coffee shop at the same time on occasion. (His specialty was painting, mine was commercial art and we were both upperclassmen at the time.)

Gallery

Student work while at Everett Community College - 1960

Untitled - c. 1961-62

Blue Nude - c. 1961-62

Untitled - 1962

Photo of Close while at Yale

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ernst Kirchner: Messy Life, Messy Art

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) threw himself into modernist painting styles and the related bohemian lifestyle, making a name for himself as an Expressionist, Fauvist and (organizationally) Die Brücke artist. Considering the generation he was born into, this is understandable. It also meant that his art usually wasn't very good and, from my point of view, is destined to increasingly become a matter of historical curiosity.

A lengthy Wikipedia entry is here, detailing his fragile mental and physical state, numerous visits to sanitariums, and ultimate suicide.

Gallery

Berlin women...

Berlin Street Scene - 1913

Five Women at the Street - 1913
I think this series of paintings is the most interesting of his earlier works.

Self-portraits...

Portrait as a Soldier - 1915
His most famous self-portrait. His right hand is shown severed, though it remained intact in reality.

Selbstbildnis als Kranker (Self-Portrait as a Sick Man) - 1918

Self-Portrait - 1925
I suppose we are supposed to ignore the drawing and focus on the composition and colors.

Paintings of women...

Sitzende Dame (Dodo - Doris Grosse, a favorite model) - 1907

Portrait of a Woman - 1907
Two portraits featuring Fauvist color schemes.


Two portraits of Gerda - 1914
Gerda seems to have appealed to Kirchner, because she is drawn with more care than ususal.

Erna (Schilling, Kirchner's companion for much of his life) - 1930

Cityscapes and landscapes...

Nollendorfplatz - 1912

Brandenburg Gate - 1915

Bridge in Wiesen - 1926

Violettes Haus vor Schneeberg (Violet House before Snowy Peak) - 1938
This is one of his last paintings. It's more carefully composed than his previous works.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Disaster and Chaos as Depicted by John Martin

"If it bleeds, it leads" is an old newspaper saying, a comment on the taste of the general public when it comes to news. That's just human nature: how much might daily circulation increase if the top front page headline stated "Crocuses are Now Blooming?"

Before the advent of photography and even after, painters had the option of depicting scenes of mayhem and destruction. One artist who did quite well at this was John Martin (1789-1854). A lengthy Wikipedia biographical entry on him is here. In 2011-12 Martin was the subject of an exhibition at the Tate Britain, in London.

Actually, Martin's painting were more epic than gory, as can be seen below.

Gallery

Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion - 1812

Fall of Babylon - 1819

Belshazzar's Feast - 1820

The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum - 1822
This painting was badly damaged in the 1920s and required a restoration much more extensive than usual, as this Guardian piece indicates.

Pandaemonium - 1841

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah - 1852

The Great Day of His Wrath - 1851-53

The Last Judgement - 1853
Painted not long before Martin suffered a debilitating stroke.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jean-Louis Forain: Painting as Commentary

Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931) forged a successful career as a painter and illustrator, though he is not very well known today. His Wikipedia entry mentions that he was a friend of Degas (not always an easy task) and followed or admired by Lautrec. The article classifies his art as Impressionist, though I can't quite buy that. Rather than focusing on effects of light and color, his work strikes me as being closer akin to that of a sketch artist -- setting down that kind of impression.

Forain was happy to depict both French society's highlights and lowlights -- from courtroom scenes to fancy dress occasions, often with satirical intent. This link has a lengthy commentary on an exhibit of Forain's work that took place a few years ago, and offers another perspective regarding his work.

Gallery

Courtroom scenes...

Legal Assistance - 1900
Avocat et accusé - 1908
Witness Confounded - 1926

In the gardens...

Jardin de Paris c. 1882
The Public Garden - c. 1884

High life...

A Soiree at the Opera
The Buffet - 1884

Outdoors...

The Fisherman- 1884
La cavalière

Here and there...

Cafe Maxim, Paris
Dans les coulisses
Behind the Scenes

... and some portraits

Jeanne Forain
Anna de Noailles

Monday, April 14, 2014

Doris Zinkeisen: Even More Elegant than Her Art

Doris Clare Zinkeisen (1898-1991) was born in Scotland, but like many others, made her career in England. Her sister Anna was also an artist, perhaps a better one. Doris' Wikipedia entry is here.

From what I can tell from photographs and portraits, the young Doris was a real beauty. More beautiful than many of her paintings, I have to say.

Zinkeisen's subjects ranged from portraits to social scenes to wartime art, the latter being rather sketchy, given the circumstances.

Gallery

Doris, portrayed...

Photo by Beryl Cazeneaux - 1929

Photo by Harold Pierce Cazeneaux - 1929

Doris decorating the Queen Mary, by Madame Yevonde - 1936

Doris, by her sister Anna

Self-Portrait - 1929

Portraits by Zinkeisen...

Elsa Lanchester - 1925

Margaret Duncan

Lieutenant Murray Johnstone, the artist's son - 1966

Mrs Sanders Watney

Here and there...

Dressing Room

Bois de Boulogne

War art...

British Red Cross Issuing Comforts to Prisoners of War at Brussels - 1945

Air Ambulance being Unloaded near Bruges - 1945
She got the basic shape of the Dakota nearly correct, but couldn't depict the rounded fuselage correctly. Drawing mechanical objects is difficult for many otherwise competent artists.