Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wayne Thiebaud

I went to hear Wayne Thiebaud speak in San Francisco a couple of years ago. At the time, I was showing my work at Paul Thiebaud - his son's - gallery. The talk was at the Herbst Auditorium, one in a series of talks organized by Wendy Lesser, editor of the Threepenny Review, who also interviewed Mr. Thiebaud.

The stage was arranged in a cozy living room setting, and Mr. Thiebaud was at ease in the wing-backed chair. With his lean frame you could imagine him popping onto the courts the next day for a game of tennis.

One of the best things he said that night was about the physicality of art. "The art department should be next to the gym!"

He was gracious with questions. Someone asked him if he had any favorite colors of paint. After a small pause he answered, "You can make any color with a warm and a cool version of each of the primaries." It was the most succinct, direct, complete explanation I've heard of the color wheel, and I've based my own teaching of color on it ever since.

He was sharp, generous, illuminating, droll, and humble about his own success. You get the feeling he's far more at home as a teacher than as an art star.

In my opinion, he's one of the greatest living teachers of art, in addition to being a deeply inventive, expressive and in my mind consummate artist - one who is both playful and serious. He has always done what he wants to do.

Here he is interviewed for a television channel. If you watch it all the way through, you'll find some quotable moments yourself.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hypocrite and Slanderer

No wonder the Met wanted a Messerschmidt.

When I saw this picture of Austrian artist, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt's sculpture, Hypocrite and Slanderer, in the New York Times this morning, I was sure I was seeing the work of a brilliant contemporary artist. It's frank, raw expression conceived in a sleek, pared down way struck me as modern - like a three dimensional Odd Nerdrum - and made me want to know more.

The piece dates, it turns out, to the 1760's and is one of a series of similar works by Messerschmidt.

One of the things that strikes me in the New York Times's story is the artist's unwillingness to sell the series of sculptures - a clear indication that he made them for his own reasons, with no compromise or commission, and didn't care if anyone got them or liked them or not. Which is of course what made the work so deeply affecting and sought after ever since.

The picture shows a bronze of a powerful, bald man with chin on chest and furrowed brow, seen in profile. The man is seemingly observed in a private moment of deep self-reflection.

In the pose and the cool yet sensitive rendering, the sculpture speaks of simultaneous contempt and compassion for the subject on the part of its maker. He holds up the man's failings, yet he does not judge or condemn. It's a quality common to greatly drawn characters throughout the history of art - Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment, Shakespeare's King Lear, Nabokov's Quilty in Lolita come to mind. In choosing the hypocrite and slanderer as a subject, Messerschmidt acknowledges something dark in himself, and dares the viewer to judge - or do the same.
Franz Xaver Messerschmidt
Hypocrite and Slanderer

Read the New York Times article on the Met's new Messerschmidt sculpture

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mary Heilmann: Tell, don't Ask

This week the Guggenheim held its Art Awards ceremony, and the Artist of the Year was Mary Heilmann. 

I'm enjoying exploring her work. It ranges in approach and concept, but even her most hard-edged, geometric paintings are executed with a painterly vigor.

Instead of asking "Is this okay? Did I do it right?" Heilmann tells us "This is how it is."

She also obviously knows that for a lively, spontaneous-seeming painting to work, it must be rigorously planned.

Here is Mary Heilmann with "Two-Lane Blacktop".

More links:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Helen Frankenthaler's woodcuts

Today while sitting in the reading room of the print studio at Pratt after a long day of teaching, I came across a book of Helen Frankenthaler's woodcuts. 

Frankenthaler's paintings, famous for their poured oil washes and idiosyncratic marks and layers, seem like unlikely candidates to be turned into woodblock prints. 

Yet with the spirit of innovation that can only come from an artist driven by her own vision, Frankenthaler sanded, scrubbed, beat and generally dinged up her woodblocks in a process she dubbed "guzzying" till they rendered the soft washy effects and surprising surfaces she desired.

The image below is just one of many ideas that range in crispness, hard vs. soft edges, washiness and density of marks - and is one in a series of prints that morph as Frankenthaler explores.

Helen Frankenthaler
Radius 1993
colour woodcut printed from six woodblocks on hand-coloured paper
 71.2 (h) x 71.4 (w) cm

Friday, September 4, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Vermeer in Vancouver, but not for long!

There's still time to catch the show of Dutch paintings featuring Vermeer at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Well worth a road trip, ferry ride, or train trek.

May 10 - September 13

The Essential Vermeer is an excellent, comprehensive guide to the everything about the painter, with a complete catalog of his work you can browse through and read about. This painting, called The Love Letter, is featured in the Vancouver show.

Here's a coincidence: just this morning I posted about my own painting called Love Letter (To Mondrian) on my website journal. I had no idea Vermeer's image would pop up when I googled the show in British Columbia...

Perhaps love is in the air?

Johannes Vermeer
The Love Letter
(De liefdesbrief)
c. 1667-1670
Oil on Canvas
17 3/8 x 15 1/8" (44 x 38.5 cm)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ignore Everybody

Hugh McLeod is a nut. That's what makes him sane. Buy his book.
It's a smart, sharp kick in the pants for all our best starved, stalled, or stifled ideas.

Check in to Hugh's blog for the cartoon of the day.

Ice drawings and hamburgers

It was a beautiful day, not windy, not too hot, perfect for Mike and Cathy Casteel's summer art party at their gorgeous home on Vashon Island. The ferry ride  brought that sea air smell, and the drive through the winding, hilly roads made me want to ride my bike.

At the party, I met a number of local artists whose names I've heard - Claire Cowie, Lisa Buchanan, Tom deGroot, Mark Bennion, and Hans Nelsen among them. It was a treat to not only have a conversation with an artist about their work, but then get to visit pieces of their work hanging in the house. Cathy and Mike have built a substantial collection. What I love is that their personalities and genuine excitement about collecting art for the pleasure of it come through in every selection they have made. 

Actual art-making occurred when someone handed Claire and Leo's two year old daughter, Tabitha,  an ice cube to cool off her hot feet on the patio and she immediately started drawing with it. I joined in. If you want one of our creations, you'll have to hire us for a performance. Or make your own...

The hamburger was another highlight, I've been craving one all week. Followed by fresh berry compote on a biscuit, with a brownie on the side. Yum.

Thanks to Cathy and Mike for their generous hosting and for sharing the sublime view and day with all of us. Happy summer.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rembrandt's Nose

The 20th-century painter Philip Guston said that "In the end, there is only Rembrandt". In his book, Rembrandt's Nose, Michael Taylor attempts to get at what makes Rembrandt's portraits so vividly, palpably human. He pins his theory on the nose.

My portrait students in particular will appreciate the subject as we prepare to study what makes a nose a nose. I'll have to read the book to find out how Taylor thinks the nose makes the portrait. And since one of the book's admirers is the poet W.S. Merwin, I am that much more interested to find out.
Self Portrait With Beret And Turned-Up Collar

84.4 x 66 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bauhaus in Berlin: Coming to NY

Bauhaus retrospective  just opened at the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall in Berlin. The show marks the 90th anniversary of the Bauhaus and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. See a slideshow of some of the work in the exhibit here. The show travels to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in November. How exciting is that?

Josef Albers
Homage to the Square: Soft Spoken
Metropolitan Museum
48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm) Gift of the artist, 1972 (1972.40.7)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"Re-": Cardboard sculpture

I went to pick up my work from Sightline Institute recently where it had hung during June as the inaugural show in Becky Brooks's series of curated exhibits, and from down the hall, before I even entered the glass doors, a blaze of red caught my eye and wouldn't let go. 

Up close, Bryan Smith's cardboard constructions are meticulously crafted, bold and intricate at the same time. Abstract compositions reward closer viewing with the complex details of cut shapes, interrupted text, and images printed on what were once ordinary boxes.

On my way out the door I glanced up. Several large, bulbous sculptures of sewn cardboard perching on a dividing shelf almost reached over and tapped me on the head. A simple blanket stitch connects petals of packaging into bulging, organic forms that look as if they are not done morphing yet. As if one might come in one morning to find the room filled with pink, white and green cardboard organisms, still growing...

The show's up through August 27. If you're downtown, stop by the Vance building, take a ride up to the 5th floor, and see what happened to these boxes before they could reach the recycling bin.

Work by Bryan Smith

Weekdays between 10am and 3pm 
Through August 27 

Sightline Institute
1402 Third Ave,
Fifth Floor, Suite 500
Seattle, WA
206-447-1880 ext. 100
After viewing the art, you are invited to respond to the question:

“What thoughts about sustainability are inspired by 
Bryan's art (and by art in general)?”

A notebook to share your response is available near the artwork, 
or you can add your comment
1. Bryan Smith
Cardboard Sculpture
Detail. JH iPhone shot

2. Bryan Smith
Cardboard Sculpture
Courtesy Becky Brooks

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sketching in Tokyo, Florence, Sao Paulo, Paris, Seattle...

Need some inspiration to get out and fill some pages of your sketchbook? How about a global artist community to give you some ideas and camaraderie? Urbansketchers invites us to "See the world one drawing at a time". Through it you can visit the sketch journals of a community of artists around the world who participate in a regular "sketchcrawl" and share the results online. 

Inspired yet?

There is a Seattle post for the most recent sketch day, just this past weekend. Looks like the participants had fun at the zoo. Keep an eye out for the next world wide sketching date on the Sketchcrawl site.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A tale of independence

When I think of fireworks in relation to art, there is one picture that comes to mind - Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, with its smoky sky and cascading dots of light. 

The painting is of a fireworks display at the Cremorne Gardens in Britain, a popular fairground that offered dances, balloon rides and entertainment in the mid 1800's.

Like Sargent's Madame X, Whistler's painting caused an uproar, though for very different reasons.

John Ruskin, the renowned art critic, was apparently affronted by the immediacy of the paint application in Whistler's painting. In a series of pamphlets he derided what he perceived as an unfinished work, calling Whistler a "coxcomb" for "flinging a pot of paint in the face of the public". Whistler, fiesty, witty and famously arrogant, took offense and a stand against what he saw as a dangerous imbalance between the power of the art critic's word and the painter's vision.*

'At the trial, Ruskin's lawyer asked Whistler, "Mr. Whistler, tell me, how long did it take you to paint ‘Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket’?” "Half a day," replied Whistler. "So," queried the lawyer, "you are charging two hundred guineas for half a day's work?" "No," wittily replied Whistler, "For the experience of a lifetime."' **

He was awarded a farthing and ordered to pay court costs, which along with other personal debts bankrupted him, but more importantly, he made his point. In doing so he made a bold stand for the freedom of art from art criticism, and by extension, for the freedom of artists as well as the art-viewing public from ill-considered but publicly expressed opinions of art critics. 

Whistler dissociated himself from the English academic establishment and asserted his autonomy as a painter, a position he maintained successfully for the rest of his career. To this day, by stipulation in his will, Whistler's paintings are prohibited from permanent display in Britain. The Nocturne is currently on loan to the Tate Museum Britain from Detroit.

Happy independence from Britain, America. And happy independence from the art establishment, Whistler. 

James Abbott McNeil Whistler
Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket
Oil on wood
60.3 x 46.6 cm (23 3/4 x 18 3/8 in.)
Detroit Institute of Arts

** (As quoted by Suzanne Hill in her articleWhistler's Nocturne: Falling Rocket Subject of Libel Suit Against Critic John Ruskin in 1878, to which I am indebted for this post).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Up close - really close - at the Prado

In January, the Prado Museum in Milan introduced a feature on Google Earth that allows you to click on one of a selection of paintings that have been photographed in super high resolution ("14,000 million pixels, 1,400 times more detailed than the image a 10 megapixel digital camera would take") and view them close up. Not that anything is a substitute for standing in front of the actual painting, but oh my! Seeing the details of Durer's self portrait down to the individual hairs that make up each curl is thrilling. And it is quite fun to get a virtual sense of the museum itself. Gets that travel bug itching.

Below is a short video of the making of the images and how the feature looks in Google Earth (for a larger image, watch it here). 

To find out how to visit the Prado in Google Earth click here

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sunday studio

This Sunday, four painters arrived at my studio to paint what I am dubbing 'the Eastlake Riviera' (float planes and all) from my windows. 

Our subject: Interior with Landscape View. As we discovered, that simple and common human experience of looking outside from inside presents challenges and endlessly surprising compositional possibilities - which is probably why it has drawn the attention of artists from Vermeer to Bonnard, Matisse to Diebenkorn.

And now, us.

Our time-frame: five hours, with one of those, importantly, devoted to lunch. This was a deliciously successful potluck involving fresh greens and vegetable stew, corn chips with guacamole (which I made from five avocados hand-smuggled by my parents last weekend from the garden of friends in Carpenteria, California), goat cheeses and bread, and last but not least, chocolate-dipped strawberries and fresh cream sauce. 

Post-lunch, a room full of strong drawings developed into painterly paintings that impressively incorporated lessons from some of the artists I mentioned, whose paintings we had looked at earlier. The resulting work was quite beautiful.

Thanks to all who came and especially to Diane for her impromptu suggestion to get together that started it all. 

I think we have a new tradition. Look for upcoming sessions with a bit more lead time, open to anyone wishing to draw or paint, on my Julia's Studio blog. There is room for five people per session. Bring your painting bikini.
Diane Schebel at work on her painting
Julia iPhone photo

Public art

Sometimes a joyful antic is in order. This video was made in Antwerp, Belgium's Central Station on March 23, 2009.

At 8:00am, with no warning to the passengers passing through the station, a recording of Julie Andrews singing 'Do, Re, Mi' begins to play on the public address system. As the surprised travelers look on, some 200 dancers begin to appear from the crowd and station entrances. They created the performance with just two rehearsals.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Michael Matisse for Team Seattle

Michael Matisse is a superb photographer. Currently he is in France supporting Don Kitch's Team Seattle as they venture to Le Mans. Team Seattle's goal is not just to race Ferraris in the most famous car race in Europe, but to raise money for Seattle Children's Hospital. 

From their site: "Thanks to corporate sponsors, including Global Diving, Guggenheim Partners, and Microsoft, among others, the team is moving closer to raising $1,000,000 for infant cardiac care at Children's Hospital". 

Good people racing beautifully designed cars for an excellent cause, documented by beautiful photography. The excitement that comes through in the posts is infectious. News flash: the team just qualified! Go, Team Seattle! 

Michael Matisse 
Don Kitch/Le Mans Day 2*
All rights reserved

* I just emailed MM to ask permission to use this shot, and to ask what I should title it. I will honor his response here, somewhat truncated : TEAM SEATTLE IN LE MANS WAITING PEACEFULLY IN THE CHURCH CARETAKER'S BACK YARD BEFORE FOR THE PRE-RACE PARADE THAT WILL BE A [MEDIA STORM] LIKE NOTHING ANYONE IN LE MANS HAS EVEER SEEN BEFORE.

Solo show downtown through June

Urban Perspective: City Views
13 pieces by artist Julia Hensley
Curated by Becky Brooks

Presented by

Sightline Institute
1402 Third Ave 
Fifth Floor, Suite 500
206-447-1880 ext. 100

Through the month of June

Visit on weekdays between 10am and 3pm
All 13 pieces are available for purchase. You may Contact me for availability. Affordably priced.
The work is a collection of my abstract urban landscapes in oil, acrylics, and gouache-on-pater collage. Most of the images are Seattle-area scenes, with a few of Boston, New York, and Las Vegas. 
Sightline Institute, Cascadia's sustainability think tank, is an important organization to the Northwest region and beyond as they research and communicate trends that are crucial to the region's future: health, economy, population, energy, sprawl, wildlife, and pollution. They provide the research and tools needed to make progress on a range of solutions to these issues. The now familiar term 'green-collar jobs' was coined at Sightline.
After viewing the art, you are invited to respond to the question, “What thoughts about sustainability are inspired by Julia's art - or by art in general?” 

A notebook to share your response is available near the artwork, or you can add your comment in the specially created Wordpress blog, Art and Sustainability. We invite you to stop by and just look, or write a few words. All thoughts are appreciated.
Julia Hensley
Miller Paint; Oil on Panel; 16" x 20"; 2006 
Photo: Michael Matisse

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Book review: Art, chess and murder

A 500-year old murder, that is, with a young art restorer bent on solving the mystery she uncovers while working on a 15th-century Flemish painting. Here's a blog review of The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte. 

I came across the review on Wordpress - the other Blogger - which apparently recommended the book to me since my name is the same as the heroine's. It's a slim recommendation, I realize, but the story sounds exciting. Let me know what you think if you read it. Might be good arty summer reading.

Here is Van Eyck's famously symbol-laden painting of the same era:

Arnolfini Portrait
Jan van Eyck
Oil on oak panel, 3 vertical boards
32.4 x 23.6 inches
National Gallery, London

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


On Sunday, Sue Danielson, Joan Cox, Peter and Jillian Hensley and I sat around my long table spread with books and postcards that related, obviously or obliquely, to narrative in art, drinking coffee and munching carrot cake. From the get-go, the ideas just flew.

One of my favorite moments was when Jillian wondered aloud how the all-white painting she once saw in a museum many years ago could possibly contain a story. She found the piece annoying in its blankness, so carefully and evenly painted, and couldn't see how it amounted to anything. 

After some discussion she surprised herself by musing that for one thing, perhaps the reason she saw only white was because she had zoomed in so far the subject couldn't be made out, and that if she could only draw back a bit it would begin to reappear...this imagining, she suprised herself further by realizing, created in effect a kind of content, and a story.

The eyes of the artists in the room glistened at the recognition of a potentially mineable idea. You could almost hear the little gray cells expanding, along with our definition of narrative. 

But before we got much further down that road, Peter began to express his experience of abstract art - a Mondrian grid painting, for example - as "arresting" his eye and further, his thoughts, because it presents no imagery that can be immediately interpreted. Thus for him, a purely abstract painting effectively interrupts the mind's search for a narrative. Aha. A view, then, in support of abstract art as non-narrative? Joni for one found this idea particularly compelling as a sort of Buddhist approach that enabled her to see the contrast between story and, at least initially, no story.

More expansion. More coffee.

We continued, engrossed, nibbling spanokopita and mushroom turnovers. I held up Mondrian and Velazquez, Asterix and Jacob Lawrence, and we followed our thoughts out loud, ultimately deciding, after three hours, that we had barely scratched the surface. A most satisfying Cafe. Thanks to all who were there.

Wish you had been? Look for Part Two of this topic, I have a feeling it will be back. Comments, thoughts? Post here or Email me.



Suprematist Composition: White on White

Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935)

1918 Oil on Canvas, 31 1'4 x 31 1/4"