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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tilo Uischner

Marius, Tilo Uischner
Not just poor drawing,
but poor marquetry too.
One of the art forms I admire most is that of marquetry. It not only demands the eye of an artist, but also the patience of a saint, and the dexterity of a Swiss watchmaker. However, marquetry does have it's limitations. To a great extent, such artists are at the mercy of a massive hunk of organic plant life sometimes centuries older than they are. Then there's the element of happenstance in finding just the right grain and coloration to compliment the intended design. This art form is great for abstract designs, tightly drawn geometric designs even landscapes and still-lifes. What it is not very well adapted for is portraiture. Portraiture being the most difficult and demanding type of painting, it's little wonder marquetry does not lend itself well to creating a recognizable face. All to often, such attempts end up similar to Diana (above, right). Only a precious few marquetry artist even try, and most who do fail...sometime miserably.

Tilo Uischner
Tilo Uischner knows both the strengths of marquetry as well as its limitations. He's also an excel-lent portrait artist. Most of all he knows how far to "push" marquet-ry and then flawlessly switches to acrylics in completing his works, mostly men, women, and quite a number of children. Moreover, he is not hung up on the traditional compositions and style of his Ger-man forbearers. Perhaps most of all, as he paints, he knows when to stop--when to let the wood dominate his photo-based render-ings. He never forgets that it's the gentle presence of the wood which sets his work apart from hundreds of equally adept Ger-man portrait painters.

Can you tell where the wood stops and the paint begins with each one?
Tilo Uischner was born in born in Riesa, Elbe, Saxony (east-central Germany), in 1969. He felt the need to paint at an early age then followed different ways till he became a full time artist. He began drawing at an early age and is mostly self-taught. His family moved to Berlin in 1989 just months before the wall came down. There Uischner studied Economics at Humboldt University. He earned his Diploma in 1995 and started working for a government agency. However, in 2000 he changed jobs to became a creative consultant for event creation. Getting in contact with the fascinating technique of marquetry happened by coincidence almost as he taught himself the technical details by reading books and copying old masters, trusting in trial and error. Today, he combines the traditional craftsmanship of marquetry with contemporary acrylic painting attempting to blur the line between wood and paint.

Usually, only the flesh tones and features are painted.
Uischner focuses intently on his subjects as he tries to portray them in a manner that reveals the truth as to who they are and what they have experienced. He searches for moments of honesty, situations of importance which provoke questions, or answers to all kinds of interpretations he wants to conserve and present in a neutral and subtle manner. Very often these stories are about himself as much as his subjects. Mostly he avoids titles or symbols which explain too much or direct the viewer to a certain interpretation. Always Tilo Uischner searches for ambivalent facial expressions or circumstances which prevent the possibility of a clear or absolutely objective explanation.

I would have been tempted to title Wolf Girl:
"What? You don't like Sushi?"
Tilo Uischner loves to sing the praises of wood: "I'm always asked why I have chosen to work with wood. I can only say that I love this material for so many reasons. It brings its own story into the picture; it reveals its character while you work with it; and it keeps its final secret till the moment you apply the first coat of lacquer. For ages wood has surrounded people to create homes, warmth, or to decorate. I think it is almost exclusively seen as something very positive, and in my pictures it constitutes an inviting familiarity, although one might find something unexpected behind trusted facades."

Tilo Uischner seems to have a great empathy for boys, perhaps because he once was one.

I'll be Back (my title), Tilo Uischner


Friday, August 18, 2017

Giovanni Giacometti

Boathouse with Boats on the Lake, watercolor, Giovanni Giacometti. The fact that the boathouse is unaccountably tilted makes the painting all the more intriguing.
Portrait of Ottilia Giacometti,
1912, Giovanni Giacometti
In this country we've come to call it "The American Dream." That is to say, we've come to expect our grown children to do at least as well in life as we have. Perhaps John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, said it best: “I am a warrior, so that my son may be a merchant, so that his son may be a poet.” In times past, the emphasis was on progeny stepping up to a higher social level with each generation. Today, Adams' words tend to equate to a higher economic plane--bigger house and car, better educated, more invest-ments, and a more secure retirement than what their parents enjoyed. Giovanni Giacometti was not an Am-erican. He was Swiss, but he seems to have instilled the essence of the Am-erican dream in his three sons, Alberto, Diego, and Bruno. Giovanni was a landscape painter who also painted portraits from time to time...mostly his own. He sometimes painted his wife, sons, and daughter too (above, left).

The children of artists frequently get called upon to model.
Alberto (above) and Diego Giacometti both became artist involved in sculpture (bottom), while Bruno became a notable architect. All three did well, although Alberto (above) far surpassed his siblings, even his father, who rather fades into the background among dozens of other outstanding Swiss painters of his time. I guess when you live in a country as scenic as Switzerland, you can't help but want to paint the landscape in its ever-changing seasonal beauty. Such works are the hallmark of Giovanni Giacometti's art. He became a painter so his sons could become sculptors and an architect.

There are ten self-portraits above. Giacometti painted at least that many more (not shown).
Giovanni Giacometti was born in Stampa, now part of Bregaglia in the southeastern corner of Switzerland, in 1868. Encouraged by his teacher, the young Giacometti chose an artistic career, which found him studying in Munich by 1886 where he attended the school of arts and crafts. It was in Munich that Giacometti met Cuno Amiet, who became his close friend as they studied the works of the French impressionists. Supported by his parents, Giacometti moved along with Amiet to Paris in 1888. In visiting the spring salon, the young artist was deeply impressed by some of what he saw. There, Giacometti saw for the first time the works of Gianni Segantini, whom he got to know in person later on.

Giacometti was there when his good friend and fellow painter Gianni Segantini died in 1899. He recorded in various media the man's final days, including a portrait after his death.

Annetta Giacometti, 1911,
Giovanni Giacometti.
As he frequently did, Giacometti ran short of money, forcing him to return to Stampa in 1891. There he suffered a period of loneliness and lack of inspir-ation. However, the showing of his first works in the Nationale Art Exhibition in Bern, along with a commission for a portrait made him a small profit. On the proceeds, Giacometti travelled to Rome and Naples. In 1894 he got to meet his longtime idol, Gianni Segantini, with whom he formed a deep and lasting fri-endship. Giacometti was invited to help Segantini with a mural for the Swiss pavilion at the world exhibition in Paris in 1900. But, again, he ran out of mon-ey. In 1900 he married Annetta Stampa and settled in Borgonovo, where his son, Alberto, was born in 1901, followed by three other children.

Giacometti was a dedicated impressionist, even to the point of
painting his Swiss snowscapes out in the cold wind and snow.
In 1912 Giacometti was invited to exhibit in Dresden with artists of the "Der Brücke". In the same year, Giacometti had a large success with an exhibition in the "Kunsthaus" in Zurich. In 1920 his works were exhibited in Bern, followed by several other international solo-exhibitions. The last years, the artist spent in the quiet of Stampa. Giovanni Giacometti is regarded as mediator of modern French and Italian art assets. He made a substantial contribution to the renewal of Swiss painting in the 20th-century. Along with Cuno Amiet, Giovanni Giacometti belongs to the representatives of Swiss Colorism." He died in June, 1933 at the age of sixty-five.

The Card Players, Giovanni Giacometti, work reminiscent of Cezanne.
Cows in a Mountain Landscape,
Giovanni Giacometti.

The sons' art was nothing like that
of their father. They should have
fed their pets better.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Artists Defining Art

Copyright, Jim Lane
A still-life self-portrait, Jim Lane
It is commonly believed by many that there is no universally accepted definition of art. That may, or may not be true, but the point is, there should be. We might say that art requires thought - some kind of creative impulse - but this raises more questions: for example, how much thought is required? If someone flings paint at a canvas, hoping by this action to create a work of art, does the result automatically constitute art? If you want to know what art is, perhaps the best recourse is to ask those who create art--artists themselves. However, keep in mind the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). That is to say, the best definition is the shortest, simplest, least sophisticated one. The longer the definition, the more complex and descriptive it becomes, and the harder it is to defend. Beware of any definition having the words "beauty" and "skill" in the same sentence. Both words beg many further words as to degree and aesthetic qualities, for which volumes and volumes have been written. That, in and of itself, makes any such definition of art worthless. In fact, beware of any art definition having more than ONE sentence.

A single subject, different definitions of art.
Having discussed and sung the praises of brevity in defining art, I should also mention its pitfalls. Any short, all-encompassing definition of art risks being so broad that, by implication, everything becomes art. Now, having outlined the parameters, as an artist, let me put forth my own, personal definition of art: Art is creative communication. Four words, demanding that art be useful, innovative, and broadly applicable to virtually any product of the human imagination. Notice my definition does not mention beauty. Not all that communicates creatively is beautiful. It does not mention the hundreds of helpful skills an artist can employ in producing art, nor does it try to quantify or qualify them. It does not differentiate between "good" art and "bad" art--that's a matter of aesthetics and personal tastes. Nor does it delve into the realm of morality by injecting the question of whose morality? Most importantly, my definition of art demands that art (and by implication, the artist) has something new to say and says it in a manner others can understand. If an art endeavor does not successfully communicate in a unique manner, then it is simply NOT art. The definition is broad, but not unlimited.

That's my definition. What do other artists have to say? You'll notice that some of the definitions below, while enlightening and thought-provoking, do not offer much practical guidance:

Picasso pretty much said
it first.

"Art is what you can get away with."
                                   --Andy Warhol.

Does he mean purchase, or accept?

"Art is whatever the public will buy."
                                --Pablo Picasso

Harsh, but probably valid.

"Art is either plagiarism or revolution."
                                       --Paul Gauguin.

Unless it's a forgery.

"Art is the signature of civilizations."
                --Jean Sibelius, composer.

Not so much anymore.

"Art is meant to disturb."
                               --Georges Braque.


"Art is vice. You don't marry it legitimately. You rape it."
                                    --Edgar Degas.

Picasso would agree.

"Art is childish and childlike."
                        --Damien Hirst, artist.

What about the king?

Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world."
                           --Leonardo da Vinci.

Yes, Charlie Brown.

"Art does not reproduce what is visible; it makes things visible."
                                     --Paul Klee, artist.

I get up to eat breakfast.

"Art is why I get up in the morning..."
                                   --Ani DiFranco.

There's that word "beautiful"
again. I guess architects
don't do ugly.

"Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use."
                              --Frank Lloyd Wright.

He ought to know.

"Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known."
                                     --Oscar Wilde.

Process over product.

"Art is not a thing; art is a way."
                                --Elbert Hubbard.

And finally, a classic example of a definition that is way too broad:

"Art is anything created, manipulated, or displayed by someone. So, by that logic, everything is art..."--unknown

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Frederick McCubbin

A Bush Burial, 1890, Frederick McCubbin
There's a common misconception that all really great, all really outstanding artists must suffer to attain greatness. Some, such as van Gogh, Monet, Gauguin, Modigliani, and a surprisingly few others have, indeed, had a part in contributing to what I've come to call the "starving artist syndrome." However, that's not the norm. That's not to say that a great many artists, in their early years, haven't let a "hand-to-mouth" existence, some of them even fostering a romantic illusion of extreme privation. But in most cases, if they're any good at all, such periods of deprivation are usually quite short, seldom lasting more than a few years. The Australian landscape painter, Frederick McCubbin is a typical case in point.

McCubbin was one of Australia's most highly respected artists.
McCubbin was born in Melbourne, Australia, the third of five children in the family of a baker named Alexander and his wife, Anne McCubbin in 1855. After graduating from the Australian equivalent of high school, he worked as a solicitor's clerk and a coach painter. He also worked in the family business while attending art classes at the National Gallery of Victoria's School of Design starting around 1876. He sold his first painting in 1880. Thus, though obliged to work outside the realm of a professional artist, neither McCubbin, nor his family, were ever destitute.
By the early 1880s, McCubbin's gained consid-erable stature when he won a number of prizes from the National Gallery, including a first prize in 1883 in their annual student exhibition. By the mid-1880s McCubbin let go of his duties in managing the family business to concentrated more on painting the Australian bush. It is for these works that he became notable. Also in 1883, McCubbin received first prize for best studies in color and drawing.
Old Politician, 1879,
Frederick McCubbin
Down on His Luck, 1889, Frederick McCubbin
By 1888, McCubbin had become instructor and master of the School of Design at the National Gallery. In this position he taught a number of students who themselves became prominent Australian artists, including Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton. McCubbin was around twenty-four years of age when he painted Down on his Luck (above). At the time he was still enrolled as a graduate student in the National Gallery of Victoria School of Painting, under Eugene von Guerard. Von Guerard had a strong influence on the impressionable McCubbin which is evident in these early student works such as Bush Burial (top), dating from 1890.
Frederick McCubbin's, Fountainebleau
Rain and Sunshine,
1910, Frederick McCubbin
Frederick McCubbin married Annie Moriarty in 1889. Together they had seven children. One of their sons, Louis McCubbin, later became an artist and director of the Art Gallery of South Australia. A grandson, Charles, also became an artist. In 1901 McCubbin and his family moved to Mount Macedon. With them they brought a pre-fabricated English style home which they erected on the northern slopes of the mountain which they named Fontainebleau(above). It was in this forest setting, that McCubbin painted his beloved trip-tych, The Pioneer (below), in 1904, along with Rain and Sunshine (right), from 1910, and many other works. The house survived the Ash Wedne-sday fires and stands today as a testament to the artist. It was at Macedon that he was inspired by the surrounding bush to experiment with the light and its effects on color in nature.
The Pioneer, 1904, Frederick McCubbin
During the 1890s McCubbin began creating large-scale pioneering history paintings culminating in On the Wallaby Track (below) in 1896. The title derives from a colloquial term referring to those who lived constantly on the move, camping by the roadside as they travelled in search of work during an economic depression. McCubbin painted close to his home in Brighton, Victoria, using his family members as models. This monumental work represents a tribute to the rural laborers enduring poverty and hardship as the true pioneers of settlement. Even as it embraces a nationalist message in its Australian subject matter, On the Wallaby Track adopts the academic naturalism of French plein-air painters and the new focus on everyday subjects by French painters such as Corot and Millet.

On the Wallaby Track, 1896, Frederick McCubbin
McCubbin was president of the Victorian Artists’ Society from 1893 until 1896. From then on he held several solo exhibitions in Melbourne before travelling to France and England in 1907. There he encountered the paintings of J.M.W. Turner at the Tate Gallery and was captivated by their visions of light and air, an influence manifested in the higher key and looser handling of the paintings such as The Princess Bridge (below) made after his return to Australia.

Princes Bridge, 1908, Frederick McCubbin.
In his final years, McCubbin’s painting developed more intimate scale as evidenced in Interior (below) ca. 1910, which contrast sharply with his earlier, more ambitious paintings. The work depicts his four-year-old daughter, Kathleen, "plunking away" at an old piano. With its looser gestural brushwork animating the surface of the painting with inflections of light and color, the work showcases McCubbin at the peak of his late style.

Interior, ca. 1911, Frederick McCubbin
One of McCubbin's last works before he died of a heart attack in 1917 was a remarkable work in which is portrayed a landscape, which bears a slight resemblance to Arthur Streeton's work Golden Summer, Eaglemont, from 1889, although at this stage of McCubbin's life, it is more likely to be a South Yarra landscape. It was produced on a sized gum leaf (bottom), for sale on Remembrance Day, Friday, December 17, 1915, to help raise funds for the returning servicemen and women. McCubbin also painted scenes on fan shaped pieces of cardboard. McCubbin's works sold for ten shillings (about one dollar), while many other artists taking part sold their works for as little as six pence (five cents).

Gum Leaf (South Yarra Landscape),
1915, Frederick McCubbin


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Jim Carrey

The Prison of Becoming, Jim Carrey
A little over a year and a half ago, I did a piece on celebrity painters. Among artists such as David Bowie, Marlon Brando, Phillis Diller, Bob Dylan, and Dennis Hopper, I showcased a little of the expressionist works by the comic actor, Jim Carrey. Among celebrity artist there are those who take their work quite seriously to the point of establishing for themselves a second career as an artist. The singer, Tony Bennett is an example. Then there are amateurs, such a Johnny Cash, Phillis Diller and others, look upon their art as more or less a hobby--something they do because it's fun and relieves the incredible stress of traveling and entertaining others. At the time, I would have categorized Jim Carrey as one of the latter, a man who used his creative skill at painting as a form of art therapy. Recently, however, I came upon the video, I Needed Color (below) which caused me to reevaluate Carrey as a serious artist, albeit one who has to struggle to find the time in his busy schedule to allow himself the much-needed benefits his "need for color" offers.

Although it may seem strange, Carrey being a comic actor, but like so many others with high-powered show business careers, Jim Carrey suffered from bouts with depression. Also like many others in his line of work, he turned to prescription drugs in an attempt to battle the symptoms of his disease. Eventually, however, that battle evolved into something even more dangerous as he found himself battling the drugs themselves and the effects they were having upon his lifestyle and career. That's when Carrey decided to return to a lifelong joy he'd found as a child in drawing and, to a lesser extent, painting. His art began to replace his reliance on drugs to combat his illness. It wasn't a cure, but his art became an effective treatment.

Jim Carrey doesn't do self-portraits; but then, there's no need to as his mobile face has spawned a whole cottage industry in drawing his caricature, as seen in the work of Simen Rognan, Jon Swartz, Marcos Torres Garcia, and Jeff Stahl.
Jim Carrey was born in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, in 1962, which would make him fifty-five years old. When he was around ten, his parents moved to Burlington, Ontario, for eight years, where he graduated from High School. He later claimed that if his career in show business hadn't panned out, he would probably be working today in Hamilton, Ontario, at the Dofasco steel mill. It was during these formative years that Carey first displayed a natural interest in art, along with his talent for entertaining friends, relatives, and neighbors with an even more prodigious talent for imitations.

Carrey's first solo exhibition "Nothing to See Here."
Carrey explains that: "What you do in life chooses you. You can choose, not to do it. You can choose to try and do something safer. Your vocation chooses you. When I really started painting a lot, I had become so obsessed that there was nowhere to move in my home. Painting[s] were everywhere. They were becoming part of the furniture, I was eating on them. I found myself looking around at one point--a real bleak winter in New York--and it was so depressing. I needed color. I think what makes someone an artist is, when they make models of their inner life...mak[ing} something physically come into being that is inspired by their emotions...or what they feel the audience needs."

Hooray, We Are All Broken, Jim Carey.
Jim Carrey is not a religious man. He claims to be an agnostic, not knowing if Jesus was real or if he ever lived. Yet such words start to fall flat when you take in the Electric Jesus portrait (right). Although uncertain as to what paintings of Jesus mean in a broader sense, Carry sees them personally as part of his desire to convey Christ's conscious-ness. Carrey's Electric Jesus is an attempt to render the feeling that Jesus is accepting of who we are. Carrey has tried to project from Christ's face every race and the ways in which each race imagines Him as one of their own.

              Electric Jesus, Jim Carrey

Carrey's More More More, featuring stacks of gold bullion says as much, or more, than any of his more personal expressionist works.
Carrey is uncertain as to what painting teaches, only that it serves to free him, from the future, from the past, from regret, and from worry. Carrey needs this freedom, not from worldly cares (he's estimated to be worth in the neighborhood of $150-million), but from the stressful strain that comes with mishandled success, to which all too many of his fellow entertainers have fallen prey. He has all the trappings of success--at least three homes (below), cars, cash, friends, and family, but also the wounds of having endured several failed relationships and two Hollywood divorces.

Freedom and success seldom march to the beat of
the same drum.