Jasper Johns was one of the most influential American painters of the 20th century who produced over 40 versions of the American flag. Johns created the first, Flag, in 1954 at the age of 24, two years after he was discharged from the Army.
To give you some context, the US flag was often the news headline in 1954 - then President Dwight Eisenhower signed an amendment to the pledge of allegiance on Flag Day to add the words 'under God', the McCarthy hearings took place three days after Flag Day, the year was the 175th anniversary of the birthday of Francis Scott Key, who composed The Star Spangled Banner. The Iowa Jima Marine Memorial was dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery. Johns and his father were both named after Sgt. William Jasper who saved the fallen flag of the Americans in the Revolutionary War. And in 1954, our country had 48 states - the 49th and 50th, Alaska and Hawaii, would join the United States of America in 1959.
To appreciate Johns' Flag, you must get close up. It is made using oil paints, encaustic (wax mixed with pigment) and newsprint, which is visible under the red and white stripes. There is no hidden meaning in the texts of the newsprint, purposely Johns selected non-political or national news. Jasper Johns aimed to paint 'things the mind already knows', relieving him of creating new design and focusing on the execution instead.
The painting was exhibited in Johns' first solo show in 1958 where the director of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Barr, wanted to buy it but was worried how it may look so he persuaded a friend to buy it instead, and he donated it to the museum in honor of Barr when he retired.
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I'm home from a road trip up to Virginia to visit with family and got to visit the National Portrait Gallery in DC while we were there. This museum, connected to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art is somewhat overlooked by visitors because it's not on the Mall with numerous other great museums, but it is SO worth it.
Credit to my sister-in-law, who took the photo for this new painting - a young man viewing an abstract expressionism painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which I can't find the title to.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a young, prolific artist who created most of his work during the 80's. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1960, he was a talented artist at a young age, encouraged by his mother, fluent in French, Spanish and English. His parents separated when he was eight, returned to his mother's home in Puerto Rico for a couple of years then returned to New York City. He was 13 when his mother was committed to a mental institution and Jean-Michel's troubled teen years began. When he dropped out of high school, his father banished him from the family's home and he stayed with friends, supporting himself by selling artwork and T-shirts.
Basquiat went from homelessness and unemployement to selling his paintings for up to $25,000 in a matter of several years. He produced around 600 paintings, 1500 drawings and sculptures in his short life and died at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose.
To summarize Basquiat's life, his experiences, the magic of pure fate that shaped his future, would take up an entire book. I think he was a genius way before his time, but he lived in the right time for his artistic talents to be seen and heard. He once described his art as 80% anger and to be described from then on by critics as "80% anger and 20% mystery".
Just one more plug for if you're in Washington DC - go to the National Portrait Gallery. The museum redid the President's portraits gallery and it's most excellent. Especially the portrait of President Obama, by Kehinde Wiley. It brought tears to my eyes.
Andy Warhol created many versions of the Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung, from small to enormous. In the Art Institute of Chicago, his Mao, 1972, which measures nearly 12 feet wide by 15 feet tall, can't be missed.
To understand why Warhol painted Chairman Mao is to know the artist and his fascination with celebrity and fame. He created silk-screens of Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and Elvis to name a few. He contemplated what it meant to be famous and what it could possibly be worth to the world.
Warhol had read in Life magazine that Mao was the most famous person in the world and the forced ubiquity of the Chinese leader's image throughout his country inspired Warhol - also considering his image would lend itself to silk-screen.
Mao is said to be Warhol's first political portrait, even though he never openly stated his political views. His widely known works had a focus on condemning the relentless consumerism of an American capitalism and the advertising giants who hammer these images into our brains - think Campbell soup cans, Coca-Cola, etc. - and his Mao portraits virtually said the same thing. Controlled propaganda selling Communism in China.
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My oh my, I'm glad to be back to painting a few small pieces. I've
been working on several projects for future group shows which you'll see
down the road.
Okay... about this new painting....
Eakins is best known for his paintings of athletic rowers on the
Schuylkill River in Philadelphia and his extraordinary painting The
Gross Clinic. He taught at the Pennsylvania Academy and those
paintings brought him fame and transformed the school into the leading
art school in America.
Eakins found the study of
anatomy to be essential in his teachings, however, it was frowned upon
by the academy and Victorian Philadelphia in the 1880's.
After treading on ice, during one of his live model classes, he removed a
loincloth from a male model to show the trace of a vital muscle and all
hell broke loose. Protests by students and parents forced Eakins to
resign at the request of the Academy's board.
Model by Thomas Eakins is part of the collection in the Crystal Bridges
Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. Get to this museum if
you can. It's so worth the trip.
The two paintings featured, The Annunciation by Gerard David, were part of a multi-storied polyptych (typically an altarpiece consisting of more than three panels) commissioned in the early 1500's by a wealthy Italian banker and diplomat - for the high altar of the Benedictine abbey church of San Gerolamo della Cervara.
Gerard David was a Netherlandish painter and manuscript illuminator, born around 1460 in Bruges, where he became the leading painter around the age of 34 and was known as one of the town's leading citizens. He became dean of an artist guild, taught for years and around 1519 he and one of his students got into a dispute over a number of paintings and drawings the student has collected from other artists. David was owed a large debt by this man, took hold of those works of art, only to be sued, ordered to return the artworks and served time in prison.
The two panels The Annunciation hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
You might have run across Edgar Dega's sculpture of the young ballerina in several different art museums. You're not crazy. This Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen resides in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. When I visited the museum, it was not encased in a glass box, which made a huge difference in appreciating this perfect figurative sculpture. And I mean perfect.
Degas painted young ballet dancers numerous times. At rehearsals, stretching exercises and lessons in ballet studios. He drew them in pastels and charcoal, painted them in oils. The model for Little Dancer was Marie van Goethem who posed for the only sculpture exhibited in Dega's lifetime in 1881. Little Dancer was originally executed in wax and later cast in bronze around 1922, after Dega's death. Which is why you maybe have seen one yourself.
It's been my observation that men really like this Portrait of Balzac by Auguste Rodin. The sculpture stands in the large French Impressionism gallery in the Art Institute of Chicago, strikingly bolder than the oil paintings by Renoirs and Degas, to name a few.
The Portrait of Balzac was one of several bronze sculptures commissioned by a literary society in the 1890's, in honor of the famous French novelist Honore de Balzac. Rodin immersed himself in studying the writer - reading all his books, visiting his birthplace and studying all known existing portraits. It took Rodin seven years before he created this particular one - intending to stress Balzac's 'vitality and candor' in a full nude portrait that was immediately rejected by the literary society and the public at large.
This rejection, among others, didn't prevent Rodin from becoming the most famous artist in the world at the beginning of the 20th century. He is best known for the marble sculpture The Kiss and the bronze, The Thinker. Not to mention there's an entire museum in Philadelphia, the Rodin Museum, devoted to the man.
A Rembrandt painting is always recognizable. Often a portrait, often dark, warm tones and dramatic light cast on the face - and in the case of his 1631 portrait Old Man with a Gold Chain, a repeated, favorite sitter. The unidentified man, often mistaken for Rembrandt's father, is ennobled in an outfit of all the trappings of the wealthy - a steel gorget around his neck, a dark-purple robe, a plumed hat with peacock feathers and a gold chain and medallion over his cloak. This is what he did. He simply wanted to portray a straggly, old man appearing more interesting and colorful.
Old Man with a Gold Chain hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.
The woman here is seemingly taking a cue from Pointing Man by Alberto Giacometti in the Museum of Modern Art. My mom, who was a painter, printmaker and occasional sculptor, L-O-V-E-D Giacometti. I was introduced to this artist at a very young age, by my mom, who taped up dozens of his works on the wall of her studio.
Giacometti was born in Switzerland in 1901, took on formal training in the arts during the era of Cubism and the craze of tribal art - much like Pablo Picasso. He dabbled in Surrealism for a while, broke off from that to the emergence of Existentialism. He created small, thin figurative sculptures which took off because of the overall dismal, suffering atmosphere from World War II, and he became quite the popular artist of that time.
His works evolved all through the 50's and 60's, during which time he painted numerous portraits, which my mom was crazy over. I am too.
This new painting is a smaller study of one I'm thinking of doing larger. I wanted to test out the woman's skirt. I like her skirt.
She stands in front of a crowd-pleasure in the Art Institute of Chicago - Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Two Sisters (On the Terrace) which hangs in the French Impressionism gallery. Renoir named the painting Two Sisters, the first owner of the painting titled it On the Terrace.
Like Renoir's famous Luncheon of the Boating Party, the setting for Two Sisters was at a restaurant with outdoor seating. In 1925, it was sold to a woman from Chicago for $100,000. She requested the Renoir be donated to the Art Institute after her death where it has hung since 1932.
You may remember Donald Trump had a reproduction hung in his jet, before he ran for President. The New York Times reporter Timothy O'Brien interviewing Trump was told it was the real thing. O'Brien replied "Donald, it's not. I grew up in Chicago, that Renoir is called Two Sisters (on the Terrace) and it's hanging on a wall at the Art Institute of Chicago. That's not an original."
Yes! I have my Mac back in my studio. Turned out I had to replace 'the body' with a refurbished iMac and put my old hard drive, 'the heart', into the new body. Thanks to Ben at Onyx. You saved my sanity and my career. Lesson today, ALWAYS BACK UP YOUR STUFF.
I painted this new piece with my little, old laptop helping out.
9 x 12"
oil on panel sold
My new painting features one of my favorite Edward Hopper's, Hotel Room. I saw it at an exhibition of Hoppers at the Art Institute of Chicago a few years ago. It, like many others, expresses solitude, in a hotel setting which was the first in a long series of paintings set in different hotels.
Hotel Room depicts a woman lost in her own thoughts, too tired to unpack, checking the time of her train the next day. I particularly love the stark vertical, horizontal and diagonal shapes surrounding her. And it's a scene we can all relate to - pooped out from traveling, plopping ourselves on the bed surrounded by luggage, wondering what the next day brings.
My painting will be part of the grand opening of the Red Piano Art Gallery in their new home in Bluffton SC, a quaint little area filled with galleries, restaurants and markets.
They have moved from Hilton Head Island, just a few miles away. The expected date is June 1st - stop in if you're in the area.
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Anyone who has been in the Art Institute of Chicago knows when you walk through the lobby and up the marble stairs, you walk straight into the large, open French Impressionism gallery and see the huge painting by Gustave Caillebotte Paris Street, Rainy Day front and center. Most likely, there's already a dozen people standing in front of it. It's one of the museum's prized possessions.
Gustave Caillebotte was a French painter and member of the Impressionists, distinctly different from the others with his more realistic manner of painting. He was also known for having an early interest in photography as an art form. Notably, he was a generous contributor of his fellow artists and friends - paying their rent if they needed and purchasing their work in support, largely due to his large inheritance after his father and mother's death when he was in his 20's. Caillebotte also used his wealth to pay for various hobbies - stamp collecting, growing orchids, yacht building and textile design.
I took a break from a larger painting and enjoyed a looser, more painterly scene in the Art Institute of Chicago. Edouard Manet's Woman Reading is in the company of other French Impressionists in a very popular gallery at the museum - frequently mixed up with Claude Monet, another famous Impressionist.
Woman Reading was painted in Manet's later years, a very quick-brushstroke, almost plein-aire quality of a young, modern woman taking a break at a cafe with a magazine and a beer. If you're ever standing in front of this painting, look close, the brushstrokes are numerous and somewhat frantic - as if he was trying to capture the woman before she gets up and leaves the cafe. And multi, multi, colors layered on top of other colors - the definition of Impressionism. I tried my best to let loose - loving the form of the woman viewing the painting.
When you think of the French artist Henri Rousseau, you envision paintings of imaginery jungle settings and various animals. My new painting features his deviation from the norm - The Sleeping Gypsy - described by Rousseau this way: 'A wandering Negress, a mandolin player, lies with her jar beside her (a vase of drinking water), overcome by fatigue in a deep sleep. A lion chances to pass by, picks up her scent yet does not devour her. There is a moonlight effect, very poetic."
Rousseau was a self-taught artist, an artist before his time in many ways. In The Sleeping Gypsy he incorporates key items from different countries - the African woman wearing an Oriental frock, the Italian mandolin - items customary to their respective cultures. That was different in the world of painting.
Stand next to this painting in the Museum of Modern Art and no doubt you'll eavesdrop on someone who points out the symbolisms - the lion representing power, the sleeping gypsy representing peace, the moonlight representing calm and possible unity. Interestly, Rousseau had a difficult time selling this painting. It changes hands several times - first to a French charcoal merchant, then to an art dealer until a controversary arose whether the painting was a forgery. I mentioned it was a deviation from the normal paintings Rousseau was known for - that was the basis of the claim, albeit a stupid one. It was finally purchased by the art historian Alfred Barr Jr. for the MOMA.
We are the fortunate ones here in the United States. We can see Vincent van Gogh's iconic The Starry Night in person in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. We're lucky that way.
In 1888, Vincent van Gogh was hospitalized at Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, an asylum for the mentally ill, after a breakdown. During his stay, he was encouraged to paint - and although he rarely ventured far from the building, he painted landscapes from his view through a window in his private room. The Starry Night was an amalgamation of church spires and cypress trees and small villages and night sky constellations he drew from his memory of paintings done in the past.
His brother Theo thought the painting to be too stylized, too exaggerated but it has become one of the most recognized van Gogh masterpieces for decades. Seeing a van Gogh in person is special - the colors are vivid and saturated, the thickness of the paint, the swirls and movement of pigments all give it motion and life. There's nothing like it.
A good day to paint a woman viewing Savior of the World by Leonardo da Vinci.
Da Vinci painted Salvator Mundi (Latin for Savior of the World) around 1500, depicting Jesus giving a benediction with his right hand while holding a crystal orb in his other hand - said to convey his role as savior and master of the cosmos. Da Vinci painted another 20 or so versions of this work.
Thought to be the original, it was restored and exhibited in London in 2012. Although its authenticity was disputed by some, it was sold at auction by Christie's in New York for - wait for it - $450.3 million. The purchaser was Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Farhan and will be displayed in the new Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum.
My new painting features Edward Hopper's New York Movie which I last saw at the Art Institute of Chicago, on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in an exhibition titled America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930's. The exhibition included my very favorite painters - Hopper, O'Keeffe, Grant Wood to name a few - depicting scenes during the Great Depression. It was unforgettable.
The Art Institute has several fun facts about New York Movie:
- Hopper painted the work in 1938 after a long dry spell of not painting anything.
- The location is the Palace Theater, now the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, chosen after scouting out the Strand and others.
- The woman on the right was modeled after Hopper's wife, Jo. He had her stand under a hallway light in his building for sketching and studies.
- The outfit Jo is wearing was based on the wide-legged jumpsuits actually worn by the Palace Theater's staff.
- The theme on the movie screen was thought to be from a 1937 movie Lost Horizon by Frank Capra.
- The poet Joseph Stanton wrote an ode to the painting.
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I once stepped into a gallery in the Smithsonian American Art Museum that had four or five or six, I can't remember how many, grandious landscapes by Albert Bierstadt. It was crowded with patrons and you could hear a pin drop.
That is exactly what Albert Bierstadt strived for - the awe and amazement from the viewer. Bierstadt was a showman. A self-promotor. He held theatrical events, sold tickets and presented his newest masterpiece by unveiling it from behind a curtain - with dramatic lighting - followed with a tall tale of his explorations in the West and how he came upon this very scene. One critic described him as the 'vast machinery of advertisement and puffery'.
Bierstadt's paintings were wildly popular and commanded high prices during the time of 1860's - 70's. People had a thirst for images of the frontier - especially people who lived abroad and had never seen anything like it.
In 1862, Bierstadt's studio was destroyed by a fire, including many of his paintings. He struggled financially, as the demand for these massive landscape paintings waned - replaced during the Gilded Age with portraits of prominent tycoons and their family members. Interest in his work was reborn in the 1960's and thanks to his prolific life as an artist, there are hundreds of paintings held by museums around the world.
Now I know it's not nice to stare but I have this thing about fabrics. Especially patterned, colorful fabrics. I followed this woman around the galleries - enamored by her sari and layers of different jewel-toned wraps. She reminded me of how elegant Georgia O'Keeffe was in her later years.
From the Art Institute of Chicago, a woman stands besides O'Keeffe's Church Steeple, 1930. The painting belongs to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Speaking of Presidential portraits.... my painting features John Singer Sargent's Theodore Roosevelt.
In February 1903, at the invitation of the first family, Sargent was a White House guest for a week - there to complete Teddy Roosevelt's official Presidential portrait. It apparently wasn't easy - Sargent had trouble choosing a suitable place to paint, with good lighting and wanted to check out the second floor's options. As the President and the artist climbed the stairs, Roosevelt told Sargent he didn't think the artist knew what he wanted. Sargent replied that Roosevelt didn't realize what was involved in posing for a portrait. At the top of the stairs, Roosevelt swung his body around, placing his hand on the newel and bellowed 'Don't I!'. At that moment, Sargent told the President not to move, that would be the pose and the location for the sittings.
Despite a frustrating week for Sargent, in the end, Roosevelt considered the portrait a complete success.
This painting will be included in my solo show Sargentology, opening March 2nd at Robert Lange Studios in Charleston.
"You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is... unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far." ~ Alice Neel
"If I had the energy, I would have done it all over the country" - Edward Hopper
"It's what you carry to an object that counts." - Andrew Wyeth
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"When I'm old and gray, I want to have a house by the sea. And paint. With a lot of wonderful chums, good music, and booze around. And a damn good kitchen to cook in."