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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Francis Danby

Shipwreck, Francis Danby
Very few creative individuals choose to become artists. Still fewer do so for the money (try to restrain your laughter). Although the money may be a part of any such incentive, the more common reason is a deep-seated personal need to create. Other motives may involve a hope for praise and recognition of ones work, and perhaps some degree of fame (which, of course, is the least likely of all to be realized). Anyone choosing to become a professional artist who doesn't ponder these career factors is quite naïve and almost certainly destined for failure. Relying on natural talent, seeking academic training in some art form, and exhibiting a dogged persistence in the face of adversity are all important. But taken alone, none of these advantages and attributes are sufficient to guarantee success. I think I can safely say that the most important item in an artists lifetime success is simply, daring to be different...VERY...different.
A View in Wales, 1826, Francis Danby
Every day I search through dozens of biographies of artists of every era and type. Again and again I see this one, single, personal attribute (or its lacking) standing apart as the key element as to where an artist resides in the pantheon of greatness. Those lacking it get trod under foot on the front steps--a law of nature, as it were, carved in the stone of those temple steps. Moreover, it's not enough to simply be "different." Most artist are a little odd, either personally or through their work. The glue that binds talent, training, hard work, and all the other artistic success factors together resides in the one word boldly printed above--VERY.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Real America, 1970, Jim Lane. Different, yes, but not VERY different.
Dutch Windmill, 1828,
Francis Danby
The British painter of the early 19th century named Francis Danby, despite his best efforts, was one of the steps leading to the art pantheon who was trod under foot for the very reason I mentioned above. I must confess, I re-present one of those well-worn steps as well. I like to think my work has been both technically proficient and creatively "different." However, for various rea-sons, some due to my own lacking and some not, my work has not been different enough. It has not been VERY different. Danby was mostly a landscape painter painting in a Rom-antic style, but of insufficient means to be able to ignore his family's financial needs in order to break free from the norm as did his far more successful peers, J.M.W Turner, John Constable, John Everett Millais, and those of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who were VERY different, each in his own way.

The Delivery of Israel--Pharaoh and his Hosts
overwhelmed in the Red Sea, 1825, Francis Danby

Francis Danby, 1860
Francis Danby was Irish, born in Killinick, County Wexford, in 1793. He moved with his family to Dublin during the 1798 Wexford Uprising. After being left penniless by the death of his father in 1807, he went on to study land-scape painting at the Royal Dublin Society art schools. At the age of 20, he visited the Royal Academy Exhib-ition in London with his artist friends George Petrie and James Arthur O'Connor, and was much impressed with Frosty Morning by J.M.W. Turner. However, this expedition was under-taken with such inadequate funds, it quickly came to an end. The three ended up having to walk back to Bristol. They paused at Bristol when Danby found they were unable to pay for a single night's lodging. Danby managed to raise the cost of their room and board by selling two sketches of the Wicklow mountains for eight shillings. Later, he continued to get trifling sums for watercolor his drawings. He remained there working diligently, sending to the London several exhibitions pictures of some importance. There his large pictures in oil The Delivery of the Israelites (above) from 1828 quickly attracted attention. In fact, it and others gained him election as an associate of the Royal Academy. He left Bristol and moved to London in 1828. Danby was well on his way to greatness. His work was different, though not VERY different from that of other landscape painters of the era.

View of a Lake in Norway, Francis Danby
Francis Danby suddenly left London around 1829, declaring that he would never live there again. For one reason or another Danby felt that the Academy, instead of aiding him, had used him badly (the exact details have never been made known). Then an insurmountable domestic difficulty overtook him (his wife ran off with the painter, Paul Falconer Poole). For the next eleven or twelve years Danby lived an impoverished Bohemian lifestyle in Switzerland on Lake Geneva painting only now and then. He returned to England in 1840, when his sons were growing up. Danby exhibited his powerful (15-foot-wide), The Deluge (below) that year with great success, which served to revitalize his reputation and career.

The Deluge, 1840, Francis Danby
Considered to be one of the great Irish artists of the 19th Century, Danby spent the last 15 years of his life in Devon, where he died an unhappy man, aggrieved by a life of financial insecurity and lack of acclaim. Both of Danby's sons became landscape painters. The elder, James Francis Danby, exhibited at the Royal Academy. Like his father, he excelled in depicting sunrises and sunsets. The younger son, Thomas Danby, specialized in watercolors of Welsh scenes. In 1866, the latter was nominated as an Associate of the Royal Academy, but missed election by one vote. Francis Danby died at his home in Exmouth in 1861 at the age of sixty-seven. As a man Danby lived and died under a cloud, made deeper because the imputations against him were never made public. It is doubtful, however, if he would have gained much by publicity. The steps leading to a pantheon, are largely anonymous.

Shipwreck, 1858, Francis Danby.
A symbolic self-portrait perhaps?


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Daniel Ridgway Knight

Chrysanthemums, Daniel Ridgway Knight--pretty, but so irrelevant.
Generally speaking, I don't much like Victorian art. Like its counterparts in architecture, fashion, furniture design, and interior décor, I find it the ultimate in fussiness. Moreover, I'm not crazy about decoration for the sake of decoration, nor the pseudo-morality often seen in Victorian painting content. I do find it interesting for the social milieu it reflects, but to me, that way of life, that uptight, overdressed, "prettiness" is so far removed from 21st-century living as to be uncomfortable at best and intolerable at worst. Even worse (if that's possible) are the eclectic compromises made by those who treasure this era in trying to accommodate Victorian antiquarianism into modern-day living. Inevitably, they fail to authentically follow through. It's pretentious to mentally embrace a dollhouse perfection, by pretending to be living in the late 19th-century.
The Harvesters Resting, Daniel Ridgway Knight. Millet would have (and did) paint his field hands hard at work.
Now, having imparted that diatribe, let me say that in the case of a few Victorian painters (damned few) I can make exceptions, forgetting about my distastes for the life and times in which they lived, as I admire their quiet, provincial depictions of honest, unpretentious, peasant existence. Perhaps the most typical of that type of painter would be the American artist, Daniel Ridgway Knight. For one thing, though an American, his aesthetic roots were lodged deep in the French soil along the banks of the Siene. Chrysanthemums (top) is a prime example of what I mean. Yes, it's a pretty picture, a pretty maiden, pretty flowers, and a lovely flowing river (undoubtedly the Siene). But it is neither fussy nor pretentious. In 1874, while painting in Barbizon, Knight went to visit the French Realist painter, Jean-François Millet, whose work he admired. However, Knight found Millet's view of peasant life to be too fatalistic. As opposed to Millet, Knight focused on depicting the rural classes in their happier moments.
Knight shows off his innovative, for its time (1885-90) glass studio.
Daniel Ridgway Knight was born in 1839 in Pennsylvania. He studied and exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he was a classmate of Mary Cassatt and Thomas Eakins. In 1861, as the American Civil War loomed on the horizon, Knight went to Paris to study at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Cabanel. Later he apprenticed in the atelier of Charles-Gabriel Gleyere (both Victorian academics). In 1863, not one to shrug off his patriotic duties, Knight returned to Philadelphia to serve in the Union Army. During the war, he practiced sketching facial expressions and capturing human emotion in his work. He also sketched battle scenes, recording the war for history.
The Burning of Chambersburg, 1867, Daniel Ridgway Knight
After the war, Knight founded the Philadelphia Sketch Club, where he showed works that dealt with the Civil War. A Chambersburg citizen and a Union soldier, Knight decided to pay tribute to the Confederate burning of his city some three years before. By that time he had left the army and set up his studio in Philadelphia. Knight chose not to represent the violence itself, but the effects of it, with the result being a memorable history painting. On July 28, Confederate Brig. Gen. John McCausland demanded a ransom of $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in U.S. currency to save the city from being burned to the ground. However, the skeptical town leaders refused to pay it. So two days later, the Confederates fulfilled their threat, although some southern soldiers refused to participate, considering it to be barbaric. The Burning of Chambersburg depicts exhausted Chambersburg civilians who had fled for safety from their burning city in 1864.

Wash Day, Daniel Ridgway Knight
In 1871 Knight married, and after the wedding, began working as a portrait painter in order to earn enough money to return to France. Nine years after returning to the U.S., Knight had saved enough to buy two steamer tickets back to France. Once settled near Paris, Knight befriended Renoir, Sisley, and Wordsworth, all of whom influenced his work. He also enjoyed a close relationship with Meissonier. In 1875 Knight painted Wash Day after a sketch by Meissonier for which Knight received much critical acclaim.

Food in the fields...
Knight's works during the 1870's and 1880's focused on the peasant at work in the field's or doing the day's chores--collecting water or washing clothes at the riverside. Around the mid-1890's, Knight established a home in Rolleboise, some forty miles west of Paris. There he began to paint the scenes that have made him famous and his work so sought-after by contemporary collectors. His home had a beautiful garden terrace that overlooked the Seine--a view he often used in his paintings. Coffee in the Garden (below) is typical of his works during this period. Collectors from around the world vied for these works which featured attractive local girls in his garden.

Coffee in the Garden, Daniel Ridgway Knight
In 1889 Knight was awarded a Silver Medal at the Paris Exposition and was knighted in the French Legion of Honor, becoming an officer in 1914. In 1896 he received the Grand Medal of Honor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Daniel R. Knight died in Paris in 1924 at the age of eighty-four.

Preparing the Meal, Daniel Ridgway Knight

Elegant Figures in an Interior,
Daniel Ridgway Knight--Victorian
living looks like oh so much fun,
doesn't it?


Friday, June 23, 2017

Matthijs Naiveu

Carnival Scene, Mathijs, Naiveu

Surgery, Matthijs Naiveu
If you mention genre painting to most people today you'd probably be met with a blank stare. And even those who know the general definition of "genre," likely wouldn't have a clue as to what it means as applied to painting. However, they'd probably be too embarrassed to ask simply, "What's that?" For the ben-efit of such individuals, generally speaking, genre is a system of clas-sifying items or qualities that bear similar features (a sports car is a genre of the automobile). Taking it from there, the word "genre" can be applied to various and sundry types of art. But it's usually not (for the reasons I've just mentioned). Usually it's applied to only one type of art; that depicting scenes from common, everyday life such as a visit to the doctor similar to the one at right (the actual title is Interior of a Surgery with a Surgeon Treating a Wound in the Arm of a Man, with a Boy and Five Other Figures). Other genre scenes depict the calling upon a newborn baby, playing cards, people enjoying a community festival (above), etc. Taking that into account, you don't much see genre painting anymore. Unfortunately, it has largely been replaced by genre photography (or perhaps genre TV, as in sitcoms).

Candle Lit Interior, Matthijs Naiveu
Although genre painting probably existed to some degree earlier, it was the Dutch, during their "Golden Age," (the 17th- century) who have been credited with first popularizing it. Genre draws from various other types of painting--history painting, portraits, landscapes, even still-life--though it's probably most closely related to history painting. History painting deals with the triumphs, trials, and tribulations of national leaders in the act of leading. Genre is, in effect, the history of the lower and middle classes--nothing earthshattering--but important as a visual record of how the "common man" (women and children too) actually lived their lives of small joys and quiet desperation.

A genre scene that hasn't changed much in four-hundred
years--except for disposable diapers.
Zelfportret Matthijs Naiveu
Matthijs Naiveu was one of the better Dutch genre painters. By that I mean he was better than average but far from the level to have left a glowing legacy of unforgettable works. Although genre painters were well down the status ladder from history paint-ers, art took virtually all the same skills and demanded a technical virtuosity and compositional sense nearly as well defined. Naiveu was born in 1647 and died in 1726 at the age of seventy-nine. The artist was born in Leiden (eastern) Holland, and died in Amsterdam. Naiveu was probably trained in drawing by Abraham To-orenvliet, a glass painter and drawing instructor. His painting skills he picked up in studying under Gerrit Dou. Until the advent of color printing genre painting was often far from a full-time job. Quite likely Naiveu made his living from his numerous portraits such as seen below. Unlike most Dutch Golden Age artist Naiveu also had a "day job" as a hop inspector for Amsterdam brewers.

Double Portraits Of A Married Couple, Matthijs Naiveu
Matthijs Naiveu's largest work was a Seven Works of Mercy, which the art historian, Arnold Houbraken found to be his best work as well. In 1671 Naiveu entered the Leiden Guild of St. Luke and was highly productive. As a painter of signed work, his earliest dated painting is from 1668, while his last was from 1721. I should note that the reference I came upon to Seven Works of Mercy (listed below) was new to me. In researching it further I found the list to be a Roman Catholic theme (I'm not Catholic); and that it was actually two lists, one corporeal, one spiritual. While not exactly a common theme among artist, there were other examples mentioned. Unfortunately I could not find unified images for either Naiveu's painting(s) or that of any other artists. I've included the lists here in that, Catholic or Protestant, they appear to represent Christian ideals at their best.

There's no indication as to which set of Works of Mercy Naiveu painted (perhaps both).


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sally Mann

Candy Cigarette, Sally Mann
When you first saw the photo above, before reading the title, what's your first reaction? Does the fact that the photo was taken by the girl's mother change your attitude? Are you outraged that such a pretty, young, preadolescent girl should be pictured smoking a cigarette? Or are you caught up in the adult look and pose she projects? How does your realization that she is "smoking" a candy cigarette effect your thoughts? Are you amused that your mind has been "tricked," or are you angered that your mind has been manipulated? Sally Mann has illustrating the bittersweet tragedy of children maturing too quickly in a world of ever-accelerating change. Her daughter, Jessie, is a captivating child who will one day grow to be a strikingly beautiful woman. Yet, it seems that the purity of her childhood is already fraying at the edges. The ease and familiarity with which she mimics adult behavior is jarring. Her crossed arms and defiant gaze convey a rebellious nature, Her eyes suggest a weariness that is beyond her years. She exudes the sensuality and worldliness of the woman she has yet to become. Candy Cigarette is as beautiful as it is unsettling. It depicts an entire generation, too eager to grow up too quickly.
Do photos augment memories...or replace them?
Candy Cigarette dates from 1989. Jessie is now nearing forty years of age (she has never smoked real cigarettes, by the way.) Sally Mann dates from 1951. She was born in Lexington, Virginia, the third of three children and the only daughter. Her father was a general practitioner, and her mother, ran the bookstore at Washington and Lee University in Lexington. Mann was introduced to photography by her father, Robert Munger, a physician who photographed his daughter nude as a little girl. Sally Mann herself took up photography when she was sixteen. Most of her early photographs are tied to her hometown. Mann graduated from The Putney School in 1969, and attended Bennington College and Friends World College. She earned a B.A., summa cum laude, from Hollins College in 1974 and a MA in creative writing in 1975. She began studying photography seriously at Putney, where, she admits her primary motivation was to be alone in the darkroom with her boyfriend.
Jessie, Emmett, and Virginia, 1989, Sally Mann,
Sally Mann creates large-scale, black-and-white photographs. Her pieces have evolved greatly over the years sparking much debate among art critics and historians. Many of her earlier photographs deal with childhood and young children, while later subjects include landscapes dealing with decay and death. Mann’s work appears regularly in various venues, and has won a number of prestigious awards over the course of her career. Mann’s popularity exploded after the release of the Immediate Family and At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women collections, in which the main subjects are her three children (above).

The Perfect Tomato, Sally Mann from her book, Family Pictures.
With the success of these and other collections came controversy. Many of the photos depict her children in the nude, prompting some people to question whether or not these images bordered on child pornography. In addition, there are several photos, such as Battered Child, which caused people to question whether Mann was neglecting her children for the sake of art. Though the photos of her children are undoubtedly Mann’s most famous images, her range includes subjects from further taboos of decaying corpses to the simple beauty of Southern landscapes (below).

Deep South, Sally Mann
Sally Mann has been spared the litigation that surrounded the Robert Mapplethorpe shows. And, unlike Jock Sturges, whose equipment and photographs of nude prepubescent girls were confiscated by the F.B.I., she has not been pursued by the Government on child pornography charges. But a Federal prosecutor in Roanoke, Va., from whom she sought advice, warned Mann that no fewer than eight pictures she had chosen for the traveling exhibition could subject her to arrest. Beyond issues of creative license and freedom of speech, Mann’s work raises personal concerns. The shield of motherhood can quickly become a sword when turned against her. Assuming it is her solemn responsibility to protect her children from all harm, did she knowingly put them at risk by releasing nude photos into a world where pedophilia exists? Can young children freely give their consent for controversial portraits, even if—especially if—the artist is their own mother? Quite apart from legal matters, and creative expression; is the work any good? Are these sensual images a reflection of the behavior of her subjects or are they shaped by the taste and fantasies of the photographer for an affluent audience? Is it pandering or bravery, her photographs of what other adults have seen but turned away from?

Faces, Sally Mann

Emmett Munger Mann, son of Sally Mann
at age twelve. In June, 2016, at the age of
thirty-six, suffering from schizophrenia,
he took his own life.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window

Moral, social, and legal questions are as thick as the suspense.
With the dense concentration of urban city life today, very few city dwellers, at one time or another, have not glanced out their apartment windows, searching for signs of life in other high rise apartment complexes nearby. I live in a rural area in which I can hardly see my neighbors' houses, much less see in them, so I can ask with a clear conscience, does such a quick glance constitute voyeurism? Few would disagree that peering out a window at people living nearby with binoculars, a telescope, or a telescopic camera lens goes too far. People value their privacy which, in turn, is protected by laws and social values in which such nosey neighbors fully deserve the designation "peeping Tom."

Jimmy Stewart as L.B. (Jeff) Jeffries.
In his classic 1954 suspense thriller, Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock tackles both the positive and negative elements of voyeurism leaving his breathless audience to contemplate whether an illegal means (voyeurism) justifies solving a murder, bringing a murderous husband to justice, while incidentally preventing a suicide. The film is an intriguing, brilliant, macabre Hitchcockian visual study of obsessive human curiosity and voyeurism based on John Michael Hayes' screenplay, which was based on Cornell Woolrich's original 1942 short story, It Had to Be Murder. For about one third of the film you see an immobilized man looking out. The second part details what he sees, while the third part exposes how he reacts.

At what point between a glance out the "rear window"
and breaking out the binoculars does voyeurism raise
its nosy face?
Although Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, and Thelma Ritter were all equally outstanding in their parts, and if you'll notice, received equal billing (top), right beneath that of the star, Jimmy Stewart; the real star is director Alfred Hitchcock. He was the only one nominated for an Academy Award (he didn't win). Years later, Roger Ebert put it best: "[Hitchcock] develops such a clean, uncluttered line from beginning to end that we're drawn through it (and into it) effortlessly. The experience is not so much like watching a movie, as like...well, like spying on your neighbors. Hitchcock traps us right from the first...and because he makes us accomplices in Stewart's voyeurism--we're along for the ride. When an enraged man comes bursting through the door to kill Stewart, we can't detach ourselves, because we looked too, and so we share the guilt..."

Hollywood set design and lighting at their best.
Set as complex as this are modeled
before being built.
Quite apart from Hitchcock's astute directing, his massive outdoor set designed and built entirely inside an enormous Paramount soundstage deserves a round of kudos for set de-signers, Hal Pereira, Joseph MacMil-lan. All the drama in the movie takes place in a block of Manhattan apart-ments in buildings surrounding an inner courtyard. Most of the buildings surrounding the central courtyard are typical American city brick apart-ments. Though all were constructed inside, lighting was ingeniously de-signed to create the effects of night and day (above) over the course of the four days during which the story evolves.

Jimmy Stewart may well be one of the few, perhaps
the only, actor to do an entire film sitting down.
A man confined to a wheelchair needs all the help he can get. That's where the supporting cast comes in. Thelma Ritter plays Stella, who sees to all Jeffries physical needs while passing out wise advice whether the man wants it or needs it or not. Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly, is Jeffries' mild love interest (far milder that she would like); while Wendell Corey as Tom Doyle, is Jeffries police detective friend, who for some reason overlooks the fact his friend is breaking the law (one of the few weak performances in the film). A gray-haired Raymond Burr, before he became a high-priced attorney, plays Lars Thorwald, who...well, we wouldn't want to give away the plot in a who-done-it murder mystery.
Character actress Thelma Ritter with Jimmy Stewart.
She's always a joy to watch, whatever her role.
It's hard to divorce Burr from his later TV roles as Perry Mason, and Robert T. Ironside.
The movie was released worldwide on September 1, 1954. The film went on to earn an estimated $5.3 million (with a budget of one-million) at the North American box office in 1954. The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and is considered one of Hitchcock's best. On the website Rotten Tomatoes, the Rear Window has been universally praised, garnering a 100% certified fresh rating, based on 61 reviews, with the consensus stating that "Hitchcock exerted full potential of suspense in this masterpiece." Grace Kelly (below) didn't do too bad either.
From fashion model to damsel in distress, Grace Kelly played Lisa Fremont with cool grace.


If you see REAR WINDOW twenty times.
This motion picture has enough merit to
stand up under any number of viewings.

But please do not anticipate those
deliciously terrifying scenes that make
you scream. Hold your breath until
the scenes actually appear on the
screen. Then let go.

--Alfred Hitchcock


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Charles Leval (Levalet)

Accumulation, 2015, Levalet
I suppose there's several instances of street art from the 20th-century, or even before, but it seems to me that such artwork, as we know it today, is quintessentially 21st-century. Street art grew out of urban graffiti, which most people would agree takes far too much stretching of the definition to be considered art. Thus, it's hard to say precisely when and where street graffiti became street art, probably, as Picasso once suggested, when people started buying it ("Art is anything the public will buy"). That would be about the time New York City graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat and others, began displaying on the hallowed wall of that city's SoHo district around 1980; which would be about a decade before the Paris street artist, Charles Leval, was even born.
Like many street artists, photos are rare
...self-portraits even more so.
Charles Leval goes by the name Levalet. He was born in Epinal (northeastern) France. He grew up in Guadeloupe, one of the Leeward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean where he came into contact with urban culture and later with the visual arts. Levalet trained initially in Strasbourg (eastern) France, where he studied painting and an-imation. He began to develop a style which focuses on an interaction between the subject of the artworks and the environmental space they’re in. Levalet considers urban art as part of the identity of the city.

Need More, 2016, Levalet
Brooklyn street art, 2014, Levalet
Effraction, 2015, Levalet
Levalet likes to explore the architectural diversity of Paris, with its alleys and passages which create an intimacy with the viewer. A lot of thought goes into location too, as each piece visually interacts with its environment in one way or another. His dry sense of humor is never far beneath the surface. Architecture supports his work. Then he stages his artwork with photo-graphs. Levalet's work is, basically an installed drawing. He draws his characters in Indian ink in the public space much like a game of visual and semantic dialogue with the environment. His fig-ures interact with the architecture and involve themselves in situations sometimes bordering on the absurd as seen in his Brooklyn street art (above).

The Course, 2013, Levalet

Street art has had a huge upswing during the 21st century and we’ve truly seen some rather astonishing pieces adorn the streets of cities throughout the world. Levalet's work began appearing on the streets of Paris around 2012. He has since displayed in numerous exhibitions and several solo shows, as well as participating in international meetings of street artists like himself. Born in 1988, at twenty-nine years of age, Levalet is still quite young for a full-time pro-fessional artist, though not so young as street artist go.

Information, 2014, Levalet

Levalet averages about twelve to twenty street art installations per year, but he does not limit himself only to the streets of Paris. At some exhibitions his work can be seen both on the street and in a gallery setting. His Information (above, left) is one such piece. Levalet sells limited edition prints and photos of his street art as well. The Fall (above) is a variation of a street art image.

 Service After the Sale, 2014, Levalet

The Rescue, 2017, Levalet