Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"The Horror"

6-3/4 x 12"
oil on panel

My newest painting for the show Summer Duet, opening this weekend at Robert Lange Studios features one of my personal favorite paintings The Gross Clinic, by Thomas Eakins.  Inspired by a recent New York Times article, I was reminded of my last visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art years ago.  I strolled into a quiet room, high ceiling, nobody else there.  I walked straight ahead, not sure what was in this room, turned around and there it was.  The Gross Clinic.  Nearly 8 feet high and 7 feet wide.  My mind was blown.

Thomas Eakins was 31 years old when he completed this masterpiece.  31!  He was studying art, completely enamored with the human anatomy, bound and determined to render figures in a realistic, accurate manner.  He followed the rapid advances of medicine and participated in the theater-like demonstrations of one particular physician, Dr. Samuel Gross, a man very well-known in his birthplace city of Philadelphia.  Dr. Gross served as an advisor to the US Surgeon General during the Civil War, wrote "A Manual of Military Surgery" which was the first of its kind - providing medical instructions for Union Army battlefield surgeons.  That manual was later pirated by the South and a Confederate version was released a year later.  Dr. Gross later served as the 20th president of the AMA, going on to publish many surgical text books throughout his long career.

When Eakins revealed his extraordinary painting, critics were brutal.  The New York Times art critic described it as "so dreadful that the public may be well excused if it turn away in horror." much like the only female figure in the painting to the left of Dr. Gross.  Notice no surgical masks, no scrubs, no surgical gloves - that didn't exist at the time. The patient was suffering from an infected femur bone and with no anesthesia, underwent the amputation procedure which was revolutionary and ended the butcher-surgeries performed up until then.

The ridiculous part of the initial criticism of the painting centered around the "violence" and the melodramatic woman's reaction - when in fact, it's one of the most important works of art of the 19th century.  Eakins sold it for a paltry $200 in 1876 and it hung in the medical building and later the alumni building of Thomas Jefferson University until 2006, when the University voted to sell it to the National Gallery of Art and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art for $68 million.  But that's not the end of the story.  

The sale to the two museums was deemed as a secretive act and efforts to keep the painting in Philadelphia, regarding it as an historic object, raised $30 million, with a bank agreeing to float a loan for the remainder.  Other works of art owned by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts were thrown in as part of the final deal.

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Sunday, June 21, 2020

"Road Trippin'"

16 x 6-3/4"
oil on panel

For the upcoming Summer Duet show opening July 3rd - a new painting featuring David Hockney's Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Hockney's painting is a staggering 10' x 7' without the frame, appearing like a colorful wall mural that will take your breath away.

The British-born Hockney has lived in Los Angeles since the '60's and clearly has a deep affection for the city with many, many paintings of sunny landscapes, shimmering swimming pools and friends and lovers memorialized in his life in California.  

Mulholland Drive is a panoramic map of LA based on his daily road trip from his home in Hollywood Hills to his studio on Santa Monica Boulevard - all painted from memory in just a few weeks.  The road curves around the top of the painting, showing the movement and high-altitude of his daily trek, passing trees, power lines, houses and tennis courts.  Amazing work of art.

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Friday, June 12, 2020

"Cruising By"

10 x 10"
oil on panel

You tend to hear more about Claude Monet or Edgar Degas or Auguste Renoir when French Impressionists are named.  The art world, for centuries, was and to a point, still is a male dominate thing.  Back in the 1800's, a daughter was veered towards domestic life or nursing - the rebels became famous writers and poets and a few became painters, like Mary Cassatt.

Cassatt was one of seven children raised in an upper class family.  Her father was a stockbroker, her mother came from money.  They raised their children to be educated with traveling abroad a part of their privileged childhood.  At a young age, she was exposed to artists in Paris and Spain, returned to America and enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 15, where females made up 20% of the students.  That only made Cassatt more determined to make art her career.  She went on to study in Paris under extraordinary painters but it wasn't until she was in her mid-30's when she hooked up with the Impressionists, namely Degas, who became a close friend and important influence.

Cassatt is best known for her paintings of mothers and children, including the painting on the left Boating Party, said to be inspired by Boating by Edouard Manet (on the right).  Her painting wasn't well received and she convinced her friend to buy it, where that collection was eventually bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

"There's Always Hope"

5-3/4 x 12"
oil on panel

My newest painting is timely but not planned that way.  Art imitates life they say.

The Hope poster by Shepard Fairey came to represent Barack Obama's presidential campaign back in 2008 - printed as a street poster with versions stating "hope" or "change" or "progress".  The campaign initially was independent of but later gave their nod to the image and even commissioned Fairey to do official posters and T-shirts.

The following year the National Portrait Gallery in DC acquired the large, mixed-media version then things took a sour turn when it was revealed the reference photo was taken from an Associated Press image without the permission from the photographer.  Fair use of the original was fought in court and both parties settled in 2011.  Fairey got in more trouble the following year when he destroyed and fabricated documents, attempting to hide he used the AP's photo - then admitting to his wrongs, plead guilty, got 2 years probation, community service and a $25,000 fine.

Fairey had worked at redeeming himself since and, along with other artists, is responding to the death of George Floyd.  He recently said "My way of coping when too many people seem indifferent has been to make images spotlighting these issues and injustices.  I use these images to donate to organizations like Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Equal Justice Initiative and #Cut50, all of which do critical work on the social justice front lines."

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