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).