Sunday, November 30, 2008

painting of the month

Cedar -- Emily Carr, 1942 (Vancouver Art Gallery)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

portrait of a president

Artist Elaine de Kooning at work on one of the many studies she did for her final portrait of then-President John F. Kennedy. De Kooning was connected to the New York School of Abstract Expressionism (and married to abstract kingpin Willem de Kooning), but she veered away from their non-figurative principles to create portraits that were more intuitive than abstract. Because JFK was generally too busy to pose, EDK would often just observe him on the sidelines. She was of course greatly upset by his assassination 45 years ago to this day, but her depiction of Kennedy remains one of the most vivid and unique presidential portraits ever done. The 1962 photo of her working is from the Smithsonian Museum Archives, and the portrait itself can be found at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


"[Tod] was determined to learn much more. They were the people he felt he must paint. He would never again do a fat red barn, old stone wall or sturdy Nantucket fisherman...neither Winslow Homer nor Thomas Ryder could be his masters and he turned to Goya and Daumier."

That excerpt is from Nathanael West's 1939 novel The Day of the Locust, and describes the new creative focus of Tod Hackett, a Yale School of Fine Arts grad hired by a major movie studio to design sets and costumes. The novel takes place during the 1930s and gives a strange and seamy view of Hollywood and California at the time. Tod's East Coast friends fear that he's selling out and wasting his talent just to create a fake Movieland world, but Tod knows that this specific fake world and its weird, twisted, sometimes hapless, sometimes cruel inhabitants are exactly what he needs to paint to fulfill his artistic vision. The painting pictured here from The Whitney Museum -- The Twenty Cent Movie (1936) -- is by Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), who liked to celebrate the bawdier side of American life and seems like an artist of the Tod Hackett-type. However, since Tod's great planned masterwork in The Day of the Locust is called "The Burning of Los Angeles," his visions are a bit more violent than Marsh's. Click here to read more about Nathanael West, and here for more info on Reginald Marsh.