Thursday, February 26, 2009

"But it's only paint!"

Here's a little more about that 'scandalous' painting. Sargent's Madame Paul Gautreau (or Madame X) caused a furor in its day because of the dress and the way it was worn in the picture by Parisian "it" girl, Amelie Virginie Gautreau. 

In the original version shown in the Paris Salon in 1884, Sargent painted the right strap falling off her shoulder, lending the painting a sexually charged air that had Paris in an uproar. The sitter's family wanted to destroy the work but Sargent whisked it away as soon as the show closed, painted the strap back in place on the shoulder, and the painting hangs in the Metropolitan Museum today.

I find it interesting to compare compositionally what the altered line of the strap does to the painting. Whereas everything seems to flower open from the decollatage up to the lovely head in the original, in the final version there is a closing of the lines. The new angle of the right strap would seem to lead us to her head, but don't you think the lush expanse of bare chest in the original is far more effective at leading us toward her face? If anything is compromised here it is the purity of the line of Amelie's shoulder, not to mention the artist's original vision. Apparently Mme. Gautreau's relatives disagreed.

In the comments below, Sargent begins his painting. From a letter to his friend, Vernon Lee, as quoted in John Sargent, by Hon Evan Charteris, first published by Benjamin Blom, Inc. NY, in 1927:

"'In a few days I shall be back in Paris, tackling my other 'envoi,' the Portrait of a Great Beauty. Do you object to people who are '
farde├ęs'* to the extent of being uniform lavender or blotting-paper colour all over? If so you would not care for my sitter; but she has the most beautiful lines, and if the lavender or chlorate of potash-lozenge colour be pretty in itself I should be more than pleased.'"

* meaning 'disguised' 

John Singer Sargent, Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1884, oil on canvas, 234.95 x 109.86 cm, Manhattan: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I am unable to find source or attribution information for this photograph, taken just before or during the Paris Salon in 1884.

Secret muse?

In class on Thursday, Joan Cox told me how she was admiring the stunning black Elie Saab gown Angelina Jolie wore to the Oscars when she had a flash of visual memory. 

That neckline! And that pose!

Sure enough, she found a sketch for John Singer Sargent's Mme. Paul Gautreau (also known as Madame X)...and there it was, minus the green teardrop earrings and Brad Pitt, but so close as to convince you that the designer must surely have had the famous dress in mind.

Here is Sargent's watercolor sketch - one of many studies he made for the oil portrait - in Joan's book, along with a picture she saw in the Seattle PI of Angelina in a pose so strikingly reminiscent of Sargent's final piece, it's as if Angelina was channeling the painting:

Here is the photo of Angelina side by side with the Sargent oil painting: 

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Oscars 2009, CROP of photo from Getty Images

John Singer Sargent, Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1884, oil on canvas, 234.95 x 109.86 cm, Manhattan: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Charcoal animation

The scene in Acrylic Painting class today as we worked on our charcoal still life drawings. 

I propose the still life be renamed the full-of-life.

William Kentridge

South-African born artist William Kentridge is at the Henry Art Gallery . I've read a lot about him and I'm looking forward to seeing the show.

I'm posting this especially for my students who were recently introduced to charcoal as a medium! Here is one of his animated, charcoal-drawn videos, called Overpass.

Mr. Kentridge creates animation with his charcoal drawings. He is also a sculptor, set designer and director, with two theater pieces opening soon. 

One is a one-night performance, I Am Not Me, The Horse Is Not Mine, March 9 at Kane Hall at 7:30. The other show is at Pacific Operaworks, Seattle’s new chamber opera company, which will premiere Kentridge’s staging of the Monteverdi opera, The Return of Ulysses for the West Coast.
Here's a review of the Kentridge show at the Henry by Jen Graves.

You can also see Mr. Kentridge's prints at Greg Kucera Gallery through the end of February.

Van patchwork

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Denyse Schmidt
Drunk Love in a Log Cabin
Couture Quilt

Here is one of 
Denyse Schmidt's beautifully crafted, Gee's Bend-influenced quilts. It's interesting to compare what effect high craftsmanship has on design. Looking at her handmade "couture" line, are they more, or less, interesting than the Gee's Bend handmade quilts? just as interesting? more beautiful? more impressive? are they art? does it matter? are they something different, with a different intent?  Can we separate the kind (not necessarily 'level') of craft from the work? I think it's fascinating to consider the questions that arise from the issue of craft in relation to art. I don't have it all sorted out in my mind yet, but I'm enjoying musing. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Quilters at Greg Kucera Saturday

Well as you can see I got quite excited about the book I've been reading on African-American quilters, and it has sent me back to my books on the Gee's Bend quilts. I hope you enjoy the quotes below as much as I do. There are so many more that speak to the organic creative process of artists open to the suggestion of accident and surprise, as well as to the characters of the quilters.

The history of the African-American approach to quilt design is deep, with sensibilities rooted in cultural traditions and art forms such as the pygmy bark-cloth paintings in the book Heather brought to share with us. The Africans who came to America as slaves brought their joy in breaking a pattern and embracing happenstance, along with the designs and geometries familiar to them, and these mingled with Euro-American quilt traditions and probably (according to Eli Leon) influenced significantly the quilts American women made - perhaps more so than their quilts influenced those of the slaves.

The visual flights in so many of the Gee's Bend quilts are easily the equal of the most sophisticated color-field painting, with a power that comes not from training but from simply knowing. The designs stand alone. Still, the artists' lives and histories infuse the quilts with something extra, a sure and fiery human grace that cannot be separated from their making.

Which brings me to a reminder: Some of the quilts and their makers will be together at Greg Kucera this weekend. Go if you have the chance. 

Artist talk: Saturday, February 21 at noon
with Lousiana Bendolph, Revil Mosely, and Loretta Bennett

Loretta Bennett
Crazy Quilt, 2003
Quilted fabric
84 x 79 inches
At Greg Kucera Gallery 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Whackin' on it

"If you're cutting out straight pieces, you just figure out how wide you want it an' how long you want it, you just go whackin' on just cut it out."

- Gussie Wells, quilter
as quoted by Eli Leon

Loretta Pettway, born 1942
Medallion, ca. 1960
Synthetic knit and cotton sacking material
87 x 70 inches

Eyeing things

"I really don't like to sit down and do all that measurin'. It just takes the heart outa things."

"I just kinda eye things. Just see how I want it to go together and then put it together."

- Sherry Byrd, quilter
as quoted by Eli Leon

Measuring up

Sally Schintafer was at our Cafe on Sunday. Her words and photos are shared here with her permission.

"The making and discussion of art is a long-awaited experience for me. I didn't know I was waiting, but I was.
One of the death knells in my creative life is the question 'is it good enough?' 'Is it exactly right'? I'm growing away from that gradually and yesterday's discussion illuminated a little more the futility, the loss of trying to measure up.

And to reflect upon the ladies of Gee, their individual and collaborative process; their receptivity to spontaneity and innovation; how they just do it, no matter, and are guided, perhaps partly by genetic memory, to piece in this particular way. Thank you, Julia."

Monday, February 16, 2009

What mistakes?

' "Mistakes" may be acceptable, or not seen as mistakes at all but welcomed as an integral component of craftsmanship. Odessa Doby's daughter, Wanda Jones (Berkely, California), says that when she was learning to quilt and would make a mistake, her mother would say:

It's nothin about makin' it a little different. It's still the same pattern. You just added somethin' of your own to it.'

 - From Eli Leon's Who'd a Thought It: Improvisation in African -American Quiltmaking (San Francisco Craft & Folk Museum, 1987)

Mary Elizabeth Kennedy, 1911-1991
 "Housetop"-- "Logcabin" variation, ca. 1935
Cotton, rayon, 84 x 79 inches 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Points of view

Nancy Pettway
Bricklayer Variation, 2003
Quilted fabric, 71 x 71 inches

Thanks to all who showed up for today's Art Cafe and made it so much fun!

There were so many ideas that resonated.
Receptivity to making changes, or improvising, during the act of creating is to me a very important one.

I noticed that many of our comments pointed to qualities we seemed ready to entertain as culturally especially African. The comparison was made to music and to jazz in particular, partly, I think, because of the elements of improvising and making variations on a theme common both to jazz and the Gee's Bend quilts.

According to Eli Leon in the book that Faith brought to share with us (
Who'd a Thought: Improvisation in African-American Quiltmaking, San Francisco Art & Craft Museum, 1987), the comparison to music is apt and real to such an extent that terms used in African music are carried over to the visual in quilting. For example, "whooping" in the Congo and Angola means a kind of yodeling, breaking from high to low, from a chest to a head voice. To "whoop that down" in quilting means to pull together two contrasting colors.

That's just the beginning. According to Leon, in African culture generally, improvisation on an existing form is actively encouraged from a young age. There are in fact classical forms for dance masks, sculptures, robes, and stools, for instance, but within each form there is enormous scope for individual expression.

"While every society finds its appropriate counterpoise between traditional and individual expression, black African cultures are exceptional in the degree to which they favor individuality."

So our sense of the Africanness of the freedom to mess with a pattern, to allow an accident of placement to remain, or as I like to say, to collaborate with one's materials, turns out to be a culturally reinforced predilection.

The direct quotes from the quilters say it best. Here's quilter Willia Ette Graham:

"When I get it together, well I'm surprised at the quilt that I have made. It's so much different to what it's supposed to have been. It's a new pattern."

And Sherry Byrd: " I don't like to use patterns. I think moreso they're a waste of my time because it's other people's ideas and not that I don't use other people's ideas, but you know , I don't like to do the same things over and over, and so I just kind of build my own quilts as I sit at the machine."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

Quilts and prints in Seattle


Quilts and Etchings
February 19 - March 28

10 Gee's Bend quilts as well as some of the quilters' new prints will be on view. If you haven't seen the quilts in person, this is a great opportunity. In addition, we are lucky to have some of the artists in town. There is a reception with some of the women on Saturday, February 21 at noon.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Gee's Bend: the play

Written by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder
and Directed by Karen Lund
January 30 - February 28

This is a new play based on the women's lives. Mary Lee Bendolph (picture below), whose life is the primary inspiration for the main character, Sadie, will be present with some of the other quilters for post-play discussions on several dates.

Informative blog article about the play)


The first 4Cats Art Cafe event at my studio in Seattle.
Sunday, February 15
Contact me for location information

Coffee, tea, orange juice and pastries are provided.
Additions to the menu are welcome.

Space at my studio is limited, so let me know asap if you would like a spot.

This is the first of many Cafes, so please tell your friends! 
The Quilts of Gee's Bend

The once obscure quilts of Gee's Bend and the women who make them have made a deep impression on countless artists, the art world, and the vast audience of people who are now familiar with their work. What makes these quilts worthy of attention as works of art? What relationship can we find between their work and the work of other artists

Consider bringing:
Books, postcards, reproductions of the quilts, work of other artists to compare them with, or any related images - conventional quilts, photographs, graphics, or other inspirations - that you think just might add to our discussion. 

Leaps of imagination are encouraged.

Loretta Bennett
Blocks and Strips, 2003-4
Quilted fabric
68.5 x 61.75 inches

Richard Diebenkorn
Ocean Park #83 , 1975
Oil on canvas
100 x 81 in.
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

How to participate in 4Cats Art Cafe

Come across an article about cave paintings in Siberia? Rembrandt's mistress? How art expands the neurons in our brains? 

Do you want to share a photograph you think has a stunning composition? 

Or let us know about a great show coming up in a gallery or museum?

Respond to posts here and
email me your links, pictures, or ideas about an art-related subject. A note about what interests you about the subject is helpful. I will curate and post them to share with everyone.

Welcome to the conversation.

Rembrandt van Rijn
Self-Portrait in a Cap, Open-Mouthed
5,1 x 4,6 cm

Welcome to 4Cats Art Cafe

4Cats Art Cafe is a place for students, artists, collectors,  art lovers, and anyone who is interested to share in the ongoing conversation about art.

This blog is an online extension of real-life, Sunday Art Cafe brunches at my home studio in Seattle. Kind of like a book club for art, with a different topic each time. I host and facilitate the discussion and everyone contributes. If that sounds like fun and you live in the Seattle area, send me an email and join us!