Thursday, May 29, 2008

forget your theories

American Impressionist and painter of beautiful landscapes, Willard Metcalf spent most of his time in New England but also captured scenes in other lands. Additionally, as a young man he hung around the Zuni Indian tribe to observe them and illustrate a series of magazine articles, going along on an ethnological expedition with anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing. There's an interesting article in Antiques & the Arts magazine about Metcalf and this self-portrait done in 1890, noting how the half-shadowed look to it indicates that he wasn't quite sure about his artistic future. It might also seem like there was a darker, troubled side beyond Metcalf's lovely style that he subconsciously or consciously was showing us--an inner restlessness and tendency to drink a bit more than he should have--ironically all part of a man who painted such calmly inviting scenes.

"Go out and paint what you see and forget your theories." Willard Metcalf (1858-1925)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

being beatrice

Over and over I'm on the point of giving it up. (Beatrice Wood)

Well, obviously she didn't give it up and always managed to find a fresh spark of enthusiasm somewhere--or at least she didn't give it up for some time. Potter, artist, muse, actress, writer, The "Mama of Dada" and lover of chocolate and men, Beatrice Wood was still casting her spell even toward the end of her life when she became the inspiration for the character of Rose in the 1997 film Titanic. Beatrice never saw Titanic, because she knew how sad the ending would be, and she died in March of 1998, just about a week after her 105th birthday.

(Pictured: Artists Beatrice Wood, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia in 1917)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

little inventions

The art of an artist must be his own art. It is... always a continuous chain of little inventions, little technical discoveries of one's own, in one's relation to the tool, the material and the colors. (Emile Nolde)

Artist Emil Nolde is called a German Expressionist but in keeping with the above quote, his art was pretty much his own. He was known for his intense use of color and occasionally unusual themes, although sometimes he just painted lovely flowers like these red dahlias. Many of the flower watercolors were done during the Nazi years when Nolde had been forbidden to produce artwork by the Hitler regime. He painted anyway, in secret, and though the Nazis had labelled him and his art "degenerate," after World War II Nolde saw his reputation restored and the secret paintings -- or "Unpainted Pictures" as he called them -- were made public. He died in 1956 at the age of 88, and his former home in Seebul, Germany is now a museum centered around his art and life.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

nelson and edward

Edward Hopper's exhibit ended its stay at The Art Institute of Chicago this weekend, but not before the Chicago Tribune ran an article about a feature they did back in 1972, of then-living author Nelson Algren's impressions of several of Hopper's paintings. The Tribune Magazine editor noted how they thought that Algren and Hopper would be a perfect match, like "light and shadow," but Hopper's art proved to be too void of feeling for Algren. As he described in this excerpt:

Hopper worked from the outside in, his concern being with illumination, horizontals and verticals. In short, Hopper was a designer; one who never permitted his own emotion to divert him from the plan on his drawing board. Thus his women are formed less of flesh than by luminosity, shadow and angle.

It seems like while Hopper's urban backdrops and isolated figures paralleled Nelson's own writing, he also needed more personal character or to have the people within the works define the scenes, and not be so mute and faceless. The full article can be found here -- although no matter what Algren wrote, his fiction and Hopper's pictures will probably still be linked together as examples of lost souls of 20th century America, living on society's fringes or caught up in dark thoughts, never quite sure what the morning will bring or whether it will come at all.

(Pictured above: Detail from Edward Hopper's Automat, 1927 - Des Moines Art Center)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

lively model

One of the many good things about National Poetry Month--which is now chronologically over--is that it really doesn't have to be over on April 30th and can just create more of a heightened focus on poetry that might even last all year. Also, it brings "lesser-known" poets out of the shadows as they share their 30 days with tax returns and confused spring weather. One poet I really enjoyed being introduced to through Knopf's poem-a-day e-mails was Marie Ponsot, with this poem in particular:

Live Model

Who wouldn't rather paint than pose—
Modeling, you're an itch the artist
Doesn't want to scratch, at least
Not directly, and not yet.
You think, "At last, a man who knows
How bodies are metaphors!" (You're wrong.)
First time I posed for him he made

A gilded throne to sit me on
Crowned open-armed in a blue halfgown.
I sat his way, which was not one of mine
But stiff & breakable as glass,
Palestill, as if
With a rosetree up my spine.
We had to be speechless too,
Gut tight in a sacring thermal
Hush of love & art;
Even songs & poems
Were too mundane for me to quote
To ease our grand feelings
So I sat mute, as if
With a rosetree down my throat.
Now I breathe deep, I sit slack,

I've thrown the glass out, spit,
Evacuated bushels of roses.
I’ve got my old quick walk
& my big dirty voice back.
Why do I still sometimes sit
On what is unmistakably like a throne?
Why not. Bodies are metaphors
And this one's my own.

Also thanks to Knopf's daily poetry e-mail, you can hear Marie reading her poem in her "big dirty voice" by clicking this link.