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Arts Journalism For The Love Of It
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    It may be a long way from Brazil to New Jersey, but not so far as you might think and the trail winds leads through an undeservedly overlooked song, Long Day, Short Night.  
    The words "music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David"  described a  type of song that was  sui generis in the 1960s, complex melodies driven by abrupt  meter changes (from 5/4 to 9/8 in Anyone Who had A Heart, for instance), harmonies  modulated in ways seldom found in American popular music, and insidious rhythms.  All of which are present in Long Day, Short Night. 

    Bacharach wrote the song for the Shirelles in 1965, with every expectation that it would be a hit as  Baby It's You  had been for them in 1962.  Both songs make use of the baião, a style originating in the rural states of northeastern Brazil, less familiar than the urban bossa nova but just as mesmerizing Once you know that the  baião is characterized by percussion-driven melodies dominated by a bass drum, the link between The Shirelles'Baby It's You and Josh Roseman's version of Long Day, Short Night is obvious.

    Trombonist Roseman has been a sideman with a too many jazz musicians to name but his recordings as a group leader suggest a strong connection with some in particular, Art Ensemble of Chicago member and trumpeter Lester Bowie is his Brass Fantasy phase and his collaboration with Don Byron on the clarinetist's klezmer project.

    Bacharach had studied composition with French composer Darius Milhaud whose Le Boeuf sur le Toit (1920) is a melange of popular  tunes lifted from Brazilian well known musicians, put through a French press of Parisian urbanity.   For more on this subject - lots more! -  check out the website of Daniella Thompson, a jazz programmer at KPFA, 94.1 in Berkeley, whose Boeuf Chronicles is just one of her many explorations of Brazilian music.

    The Shirelles were a vocal group from Passaic, New Jersey.  They won a high school talent contest in 1957, attracting the attention of Florence Greenberg, a record producer who eventually brought them to Scepter Records where they had the good luck to work with Burt Bacharach, before his collaboration with Dionne Warwick captured the pop public's attention.

    Long Day, Short Night
     Josh Roseman Unit, trombone, Treats For the Nightwalker,2003, Enja Records

    Baby It's You
      The Shirelles

    To read more : Education By Stone: selected poems by Joao Cabral de melo Neto, translated from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith, New York, Archipelago Books: 2005.  One of the finest poets writing in Portuguese in the 20th century, Melo Neto (1920-1999) was a native of Permanbuco, one of the Brazilian states that make up the 'nose', the country's most eastern outpost on the Atlantic Ocean.

    Image: unidentified photographer for BBC - Josh Roseman



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    "I'm gonna leave you, yes I'm gonna
    I'm gonna leave you  'cause I want to
    And I'll go where people love me
    And I'll stay there 'cause they love me"

    For anyone familiar with the outlines of singer Nina Simone's biography, it would be easy to imagine that she wrote these lyrics but, in fact, they were written by her guitarist who, on the evidence, was a keen observer of the artist who first became known as 'little girl blue' but was well on way to becoming the 'high priestess of soul" when they began working together.   An angry, wounded song from the 1960s has recently been given new currency from an unexpected quarter - a Belgian singer and songwriter who knows a good song even when it arrives smothered by a Broadway pit orchestra.

    Rudy Stevenson, who wrote "I'm Gonna Leave You",  joined Nina Simone's band in early  1964, while  Simone was recording I Put A Spell On You, her finest studio album for Phillips Records, in New York City.   Stevenson, also a  composer and arranger, wrote a song ("One September Day") and an instrumental number ("Blues On Purpose") for the occasion.  Buried on Simone's next release High Priestess Of Soul was another Stevenson song "I'm Gonna Leave You."  It sounds as though it was recorded in a hurry, without much thought or care, in an  uptempo Broadway-style arrangement.   Simone herself was famous for introducing her own incendiary civil rights anthem "Mississippi Goddam" with the comment, "This is a show tune, but the show hasn't been written for it yet."  Still, the song has presentiments of a more intimate meditation laced with payback than what usually gets belted out across the footlights.

    Melanie De Biasio (b.1978) is a Belgian jazz singer who writes many of the songs she sings, so her inclusion of a song recorded by the American Nina Simone in the 1960s De Biasio knew she would not be able to afford much studio time to record  No Deal, which she produced herself,  so she spent weeks working out the ambiences she wanted for each track  in three short days.


    I'm Gonna Leave You
      Melanie DeBiasio, 2013
    I'm Gonna Leave You
      Nina Simone, 1966.

    Image:
    Melanie De Biasio, courtesy Worldwide FM, Gilles Peterson.

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    Forty years have passed since the death of Jacques Prevert on April 11, 1977.   Prevert, a lyric poet in a country that reveres its masters of song, going all the way back to the medieval troubadour Francois Villon (1413-c.1463), the French  are marking the occasion with numerous celebration.  Although Prevert's name may be somehwat vague in North America, French children learn Prevert's songs as soon as they begin school. 
    Like Villon,  Prevert's poems were passed around on handmade copies and by word of mouth during the German Occupation, much as the peripatetic Villon's verses  were sung in taverns by people who probably could not read them.   When Prevert's poems were  collected in book form for the first time  in Paroles (Songs, 1946)  they caused a sensation.  He had experienced something similar the year before when he collaborated with the Hungarian composer Joseph Kosma on the song Les feuilles mortes.  Autumn Leaves, as it is known in English, has become the most recorded song of all time.  For their part, Parisians and all the French, even those who had escaped the Occupation, were   ready to celebrate and Prevert gave them what they needed - romantic nostalgia, in song with Les feuilles mortes and in the film Les enfants du Paradis, a romance among theater people set in the 1820s.

    Fortune smiled on the boy Jacques, giving him a loving mother and an unconventional father.    After leaving school, Prevert served in the French army during World War I, getting as far from home as Constantinople.  Returning to Paris,   he was introduced to the Surrealist circle, and their leader Andre Breton, by his friend Raymond Queneau in 1925.  Their abhorrence of war and the utter absence of what the French reverently refer to as la gloire  drew the circle together.    But within three years Breton expelled Prevert from the group; the younger man's anarchic sense of humor was no match for Breton's heavy-handed leadership.  For his part, Prevert considered Breton too "grave." In what counts as a surrealist move, Prevert went to work for an advertising agency and began to write the poems that eventually became Paroles.

    Prevert's gallery of usual suspects included clerics ("Poetry is everywhere as God is nowhere") and the military  but, unlike others he named names, never hiding behind abstractions.  That was the kernel of his "anti-intellectualism,"  his scorn for the typical scholar  who would "expend his life erecting a self-glorifying  monument of theories."   Prevert called out the "religious insincerity" of the Popes, especially during war times, and social injustices in the persons of Marechal Petain and the French colonials in Vietnam.  His youthful encounters with the poor, introduced through his father, led t Prevert to join the Ocotber Group, a troupe of amateur actors in the 1930s.  The plays they put on may not have been much more than "agit-prop" but Fabian Loris, a Prevert biographer syas, "It was not a theater, it was a way of life,  with Jacques Prevert as its strong foundation, his humor corroding like acid on a plate."   The Communist Party was not amused but the public was and this kept the group members safe.  Meanwhile Prevert also put his politics to work in  screenplays, among them Le crime de monsieur with Jean Renoir (1935), an idyllic story of a publishing cooperative in the days of the Popular Front and Quai des brumes with Marcel Carne (1938), the story of an Amry deserter.

    Abstraction, in words or images, meant little to Prevert who believed that "everything starts from something."  According to Prevert, if you paint a bird and the painting doesn't sing, "it's a bad sign."    In Gilbert Poillerat's  Portrait of a Bird that Doesn't Exist   bird song is made visible, a sunny version of the shadows on the wall of Plato's cave.   Remember that Plato believed sensations are the vehicle that allows us to experience what is universal; ideal forms he called them.   A fanciful picture of a child at the beach on a summer day anchored, so to speak, by ontology.
    So who was Gilbert Poillerat, an artist who never seems to get more than two paragraphs to himself in any written forum?    Poillerat was a maitre- ferronnier, a specialist in metalwork who studied for eight years, from 1919 to 1927 with the Art Deco master, Edgar Brandt.  According to journalist Mariana Paul-Bousquet, it was his graceful iron balustrades that made Poillerat's name and fortune.  In 1943, she wrote: "They are like a winged language,  crossing from the present to sweet visions from childhood."  (translation JAL)   There are those wings again! 

    Paris-Prévert by Danièle Gasiglia-Laster was just  published by Editions Gallimard in Paris.

    Images:
    1. Israel Bidermanas - Jacques Prevert in Paris, 1954,Pompidou Center, Paris.
    2. Gilbert Poillerat (1902-1988)  - Portrait-de-l'oiseau-qui-n'existe-par, 1979, Pompidou Center, Paris.


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  • 04/25/17--08:45: Chaud Lapin !

















  • "To the carrot, the rabbit is the perfect incarnation of Evil."  - Robert Sheckley. 

    Add marigolds to that thought and start a list.  When I was little I was taken aback by my mother's frustration at finding her newly planted marigolds serving as lunch for the neighborhood rabbits .  "Why can't they eat the dandelions instead?" she wailed to no one in particular, certainly not the rabbits who continued nibblingly contentedly until she chased them away.  They hid under the family sedan parked in the driveway and stared up at us with what, to my six year old eyes, looked like mingled sorrow and reproach.   Why else plant luscious, low-growing flowers, if not for them?   I was so upset by this early encounter with adult insensitivity; eventually my mother promised to plant more marigolds ins spite of the predictable results.   And there were other little adversaries in the garden.  From my mother I learned that squirrels dig up spring bulbs; they eat the sweet tulip bulbs but, disdain the bitter taste of  daffodils, so they replant the bulbs in incongruous locations.  My mother was so attached to her gardens that we had to drive by houses where we had once lived just for her to see how the flowers were being cared for.

    Chaud lapin translates literally from the French as 'hot rabbit' but its meaning is metaphorical; something along the lines of 'randy devil.'

    The late Robert Sheckley (1928-2005) was that rare exception among science fiction writers, one who had a sense of humor, albeit sometimes a dark one.  He gave one of his books the title Bring Me The Head Of Prince Charming;  I can imagine the outrage if a woman dared to use that title.

    Image:
    A detail from The Lady And The Unicorn, wool and silk tapestry, c.1495-1505, (Musee nationale du Moyen Age) Musee de Cluny, Paris.
    The tapestries were deisgned in Paris and woven in Flanders.  They disappeared from puiblic view, only to be found by Prosper Merimiee, author of the novel Carmen, in 1841.  Merimee, it should be noted was an archeologist, among other things, when he discovered the tapestries moldering in a castle in central France.  Three years later, after George Sand saw them she began to publicize their existence.

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  • 05/01/17--07:53: Marisol, Our Contemporary
  • When the current Whitney Biennial opened on March 17 in Manhattan after three years of preparation, its theme  "(the) creation of the self" seemed  hermetic and out of touch, especially coming from people who think of themselves and their preoccupations as driving the culture.   This moment, as it turns out, calls for a kind of engagement with the world.
    A month before, the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood had asked  What Art Under Trump?in The Nation, reopening an old debate.  Artists, she pointed out,  have often been lectured on their moral duty.  Atwood didn't invoke The Metamorphosis Of The Gods bythe late Andre Malraux but she could have.   Malraux traced the path taken by the divine aura from the ancient world to art museums as our relationship to the divine has been transformed into a a veneration of objects. The sacralization of contemporary art is about money.   Paintings, books, theater, and films, are not inherently sacred, no matter what price  they command in the marketplace, although they have in the past served religious  functions, in ancient Greek theater and medieval cathedrals, to name two instances.  


    A recent bequest to the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo seems like a more response to the moment.   When Marisol Escobar died last year, she left  more than 100 of her sculptures, some 150 works on paper, thousands of photographs and slides, and a small group of works by other artists that she collected to the Albright-Knox. The bequest also includes the artist’s archive, library, tools, and the artist's New York City loft apartment. The sale of the apartment, worth an estimated $4 million to $5 million, will bolster the art gallery's operating endowment.
    Why the Albright-Knox Gallery, located some 450 miles from New York City, the place where Marisol lived for decades?  It was the first museum to acquire Marisol's work for its collection when Seymour Knox purchased The Generals in 1962.  The artist and the museum director became friends with Marisol making frequent appearances at  openings and events there. "She was incredibly grateful to Mr. Knox for his purchase of The Generals and Baby Girl. said Carlos Brillembourg, Marisol's longtime friend and co-executor of her estate with Mimi Trujillo.  Baby Girl  also  became an instant hit when the museum purchased it in 1964.  The little girl (who is very big) dwarfs her tiny doll-like mother.  And Marisol had another link with the Queen City: throughout her career,  Marisol was represented by the gallery of Sidney Janis, a Buffalo native.

    I had to crane my neck to get a good look at Simon Bolivar and George Washington  whenever I visited The Generals;  it stands seven feet three inches tall.  The brightly painted wooden sculpture evokes a smile and memories of toy soldiers, but there is serious business going on here.  Washington and Bolivar were both leaders of independence movements in the Americas, but their imagined appearance together suggests a  satirical viewpoint; these mounted leaders with their feet hanging in air may be out of touch with reality.  A Marisol sculpture, I soon recognized, is always about more than one thing at a time.

    About Marisol there is the lingering sense that her successes as an artist were never commensurate with her achievements.  Born in Paris to Venezuelan parents, growing up privileged on three continents, possessed of   unusualtalent  and beauty, she arrived in New York to study with Hans Hofmann in 1951.  Sizing up the male art world of Abstract Expressionism, she learned to navigate its prejudices, her determination to create unbowed.  At age twenty-seven, Marisol created a series of wooden sculptures she named The Hungarians; whenit was featured in Life magazine,the  artist sitting surrounded by the wooden figures struck a nerve.    At her left was a family on a wheeled platform that could have been a train or perhaps a bus.  An image of attempted escape is implied; a mother cradles an infant while the father stands behind a toddler, but where will they go?  The Soviet Army had recently invaded Hungary and  the world  watched in horror but failed to respond to tanks rolling through the capital city Budapest, crushing bodies and spirits alike.  Surely it is no accident that in Marisol's work, the people who are trapped are looking at us.
    Because the art world caught up with Marisol in the 1960s, her work has often been pigeon-holed with pop Art - and left there when styles changed - but her work has not dated.  Marisol  But her astute mimicry of human behavior was much deeper than a silk screen of a soup can.   Dubbed a "Latin Garbo" for her beauty, the feminist nature of her social critique has  become clearer with time. 
    “Marisol was an important figure, subtly affecting change by her silence and the particularity of her position … She was the female artist star of pop art, [but] she dramatized it in a very subdued way, through her intensely quiet manner.” – Carolee Schneeman
    “Marisol was among the most highly respected artists of the 1960s. As the decades passed, she was inappropriately written out of that history. My aim was to return her to the prominence she so rightly deserves.” – Marina Pacini, curator, Memphis Brooks Museum

    In 2014, the Museo del Barrio was the first New York museum to present a solo  exhibition of Marisol’s work.

    Images:
    1.  unidentified photographer - Marisol touches up The Generals at the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, 1963, courtesy Albright-Knox Gallery.
    2. unidentified photographer -  Marisol and a guest with The Generals, November 18, 1963,  courtesy Albright-Knox Gallery.
    3. unidentified photographer, Marisol - The Generals, c.1961-62, courtesy Albright-Knox Gallery.
    4. unidentified photographer -  Marisol - Baby Girl, 1963, courtesy Albright-Knox Gallery.


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    I first heard the music of  Alice Coltrane when I was a student, doing my homework by the radio; she had recorded several times before and I had certainly heard the music of her (by then) late husband, saxophonist John Coltrane, but until I heard her album Eternity I had no idea what she did.  As varied and impressive as the music was - from the Afro-Cuban percussion propelling Los Caballos, Coltrane's musical tribute to the elegance and playfulness of a horse's movements, to Spring Rounds, her orchestral version of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring  with   shimmering washes of harmony - nothing affected me like the opening piece Spiritual Eternal.  
    Here Coltrane  plays the Wurlitzer organ, an instrument that, until she adopted  it, got even less respect from  jazz musicians than the Hammond B-3.  It begins with a series of modal arpeggios that move seemingly at random until they are resolved by a large orchestra entrance and they all join in playing a jazz waltz.  No Dixieland band this, the orchestra's  blend of brass and strings takes some inspiration from the Society Orchestra of James Reese Europe (1891-1919), the man Eubie Blake christened "the Martin Luther King of jazz."   Coltrane's solo playing soars with the jagged drive of bebop, a music she heard growing up in Detroit, deployed in her quest to make  universal music, along the way incorporating  Indian classical raga, blues, and the occasional Viennese twelve-tone row.   This is definitely not dance music but by the time  the last glorious long-drawn out note fades, I am never sitting.

    I never wanted to miss the Wednesday evening  program on WAER-FM,  the  Syracuse University radio station.  Hosted by a woman, something unusual in 1976, the hour was crammed with music I still love:  harpist Dorothy Ashby,  heard on Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key Of Life, pianist and composer Jessica Williams, then in her San Francisco phase recording as Jessica Jennifer Williams,and vocalists Esther Satterfield (The Land Of Make Believe) and from Brazil,Flora Purim (Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly, Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow).

    From Spiritual Eternal, I worked my way backward to her first recording as a leader, A Monastic Trio (1968) and the transcendental Journey In Satchidananda (1970), discovering along the way her other instruments, the harp played with feather-weight glissandi (remember those arpeggios), so different from the strong melodic line of Dorothy Ashby, and the piano.  Coltrane, I learned, had replaced the titanic McCoy Tyner in John Coltrane's quartet  the year before his death, something that certain Coltrane fans equated with the snake in the garden. For this, and for her experiments with the note-bending capabilities of modular synthesizers, she remained outside the jazz mainstream for the rest of her life.  That Alice Coltrane needed to become a leader in order to have a group to play with after her husband's death in 1967, seemed unworthy of comment at the time.  It makes me think of an exchange between contemporary trio leader Michele Rosewoman and a an unnamed male musician: who he asked her  "What's with this all-woman thing?" as her group was setting up for a performance.   Rosewoman turned and gestured toward his band with the reply "What's with this all-man thing?". 

    A strong spiritual element of one sort or another had been in Alice's musical life from childhood.  Born Alice McLeod in Alabama in 1937, she joined  her mother i playing pinao and organ for their church choir after the family moved to Detroit.  At the same time,  Alice  played jazz dates in local clubs.  Sister  Marilyn McLeod became a songwriter for MotownRecords; her hits include Love Hangover for Diana Ross and Same Ole' Love for Anita Baker.  

    When Alice met John Coltrane, the two joined were joined togetherin seeking  transcendence innon-Western religious books such as  the Quran,the Bhagavad Gita, and writings on Zen Buddhism Alice would ultimately find a home in Hinduism and founded a Vedantic Ccnter in California, where she lived until her death in 2007.   Musicians Herbie Hancock and Sun Rapursued a similarquestfor a system of belief that could free black people from the oppressionthey were subjected to in America.  This is what Su Ra meant when he declared, "Space is the place."

    After 1978, and the move to Los Angeles, Alice Coltraneseldom recorded but, thanks to the encouragement of her son, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, she recorded one finalalbum, Transilinear Light.
    Listen to Alice Coltrane - Spiritual Eternal from Eternity, 1976. 
    World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda 2017,  has just been released  by Luaka Bop Records

    Images:
    1, unidentified photographer - Alice Coltrane, from Journey In Satchidananda, 1970, Impulse Records.
    2. Jeff Dunas, photographer - Alice Coltrane, from Translinear Light, 2004, Impulse Records.




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  • 05/23/17--08:39: Laziness: A Primer
  •  "I could have a job, but I'm too lazy to choose it;
    I have got land, but I'm too lazy to farm it.
    My house leaks; I'm too lazy to mend it.
    My clothes are torn; I'm too lazy to darn them.
    I have got wine, but I'm too lazy to drink;
    So it's just the same as if my cup were empty.
    I have got a lute, but I'm too lazy to play;
    So it's just the same as if it had no strings.
    My family tells me there is no more steamed rice;
    I want to cook, but I'm too lazy to grind.
    My friends and relatives write me long letters;
    I should like to to read them, but they're such a bother to open.
    I have always been told that Hsi Shu-yeh
    Passed his whole life in absolute idleness.
    But he played his lute and sometimes worked at his forge;
    So even he was not as lazy as me."
    - Po Chu-I, 811 C.E., from The Importance Of Being Idle by Stephen Robins, Prion Books, Ltd., London: 2000
    Laziness (La Paresse) by Felix Vallotton, 1896.

    Neil Philip of Idbury Prints comments: "This is great, isn't it? The translation is by Arthur Waley, though the last line has been altered, to its detriment. Waley's line reads as follows, with the "he" in italics which I can't do:

    So even he was not so lazy as I.

    Hsi Shu-yeh is the Taoist poet Hsi K'ang (223-262 C.E.). No doubt the transliteration of all these names has changed since Waley's day. "

    And I replied:  "The editor of the anthology didn't include any source credits, but I was so taken with the poem that I hoped the spirit of Po Chu-I wouldn't mind."


    Image: Vincinzo Balocchi  - Young Girl Sleeping In A Chaise Lounge, 1960, Museum of the Story of Photography, Florence.

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    Poor Camillo Inoocenti (1871-1961).  Unlike some of his fellow painters, Innocenti gets no entry in the Grove Dictionary of Art, even in the wake of the ground-breaking 2008 exhibition Radical Light: Italy's Divisionist Painters, 1891-1910 at London's National Gallery.   One reason often given for the neglect of the Italian painters is their lack of group cohesion, sometimes also know as self-promotion.  Of course, some of the cohesion attributed to other  groups of artists has been applied to them by critics, the artists themselves being busy with more pressing concerns like where to apply the paint brush.

    In The Cottagers Innocenti painted something he had seen frequently while growing up.  Before air-conditioning,  it was the custom among the bourgeoisie for the wives, children - and even pets - of to decamp from the heat of the summer months in the cities to the countryside in search of  cool air  and relaxation. Still,  women and girls  were careful to shield their skin from the effects of the sun, hence the hats and stockings; relaxed though their postures may be as they lounge on lawn chairs, to our eyes they are dressed for company more than for  an intimate family tete-a-tete.  Innocente  was known for his  portrayals of women,  turning from the conventional female figure in elegant déshabillé, to more sensitive and nuanced images.  The Cottagers, an inter generational gathering, is one of Inncenti's finest meditations on the stages of women's lives, captured in the doldrums between  the defining seasons of education and marriage.  An element of that fineness is how the artist managed to rise above his own rather conventional ideas about women with his brush: " ...woman is  mysterious,  fragile,  mutable,  impassioned and also artificial ."(translation by JL).

    Like innumerable other aspiring artists, the young Innocentei was encouraged to pursue a less uncertain career.  His father thought the classics would be a more suitable field for the son of successful architect, but  at age twenty-four, Camillo realized that he preferred drawing, working as an assistant  to  the decorator of the Candelabra Gallery at the Vatican. Three years later he was admitted to the Rome Institute of Fine Arts Rome.  Disappointed by his academic studies, he began searching for a fresher style.  In 1901 in Spain, he encountered the paintings of Goya and Velazquez,  but it was as much  popular scenes and landscapes that attracted him as the old masters.

    Back home in 1903, Innocenti gravitated to the divisionist painters, their youth and their sense of liberty from the old rules of paining.   Following World War I, he did set decoration in the up and coming Italian film industry on such projects as Cyrano de Bergerac and Ben Hur.  Had he not detoured to Cairo for a fifteen year stint as director of its School of Fine Arts (from 1925 to 1940), he might not have been so easily forgotten by his countrymen.  As for them, the next years of war were a time of poverty and uncertainty.  Innocenti showed his work at the 1905 Venice Biennial  and in 1909 he introduced a solo show of his works as well as participating in the Biennial group showing.  His work is the collection of   the National Gallery of Modern Art, and in several other Italian museums. 

    Image:
    Camillo Innocenti - The Cottagers, 1912, National Gallery of San Luca, Rome.

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    He was a prodigy, there was not doubt; certainly his father believed in him from the beginning.  He did poorly in school, being the kind of student that teachers described as being adrift with the clouds.  When one of his art teachers humiliated him in class, Cascella stopped going to school entirely.  This caused a crisis in the family: the boy's mother wanted him to make a religious vocation but his father, who supported the boy's artistic ambitions, won out. 

    As an adult, Michele Cascella (1892-1989) credited Vincent van Gogh and Raoul Dufy as his artistic influences and, while it makes a good parlor game to tease out visual bits he took from them, no influence is sufficient to explain his skills in painting, drawing, lithography, and ceramics.   When I look at Orangerie, painted when Cascella was just eighteen, I see the lines used to describe the girl's skirt as coming straight out of Dufy, the lines and the colors work together but not in the usual academic way.  Cascella is fearless in using bright colors (blue, purple, yellow, orange) without ever letting them overwhelm this tranquil, workday scene.  The house in Abruzzo,  clad in stucco, is shown here in stark white, probably an indication of the midday sun.  The country house and the orange grove was a  subject Cascella often returned to, but seldom more effectively than in Orangerie

    Caseclla was born in  Ortona, a city on the Adriatic Sea,  in 1892. His father Basilio, a polymath, was an engraver, ceramist, lithographer and illustrator, was the boy's first teacher.  Basilio's career was given a boost when he given  a plot of municipal land to build a laboratory and art studio for his lithography business.  Michele's first job at his father's business was the painstaking task of filling in backgrounds on lithographic stones.  But his father also gave him more traditional art projects such as copying  drawings of the old masters.  Unable to draw well himself from nature, Basilio sent Michele and his brother outdoors, supplied with a box of pastels, chocolate and cheese, to paint for the day.
        
    Basilio judged that the boy was ready to exhibit in public and so a show was arranged in Milan for the fifteen year old (this was in 1902), followed by a show in Paris the next year where Michele sold his first painting.    At eighteen he had already taken his place as a regular among the cultural set in Milan.   

    In another prodigious move, the now twenty year old artist began an affair with the thirty-eight year old Sibilla Aleramo, one of Italy's most famous writers and already the author of the feminist classic A Woman (1906). (I read the novel in college but confess to only a vague memory of it at this point.) 

    Cascella's career would be long and varied, not a footnote to youthful achievement as are some who succeed early.  Cascella won a gold medal for painting at the 1937 Paris Exposition Universelle, where Raoul Dufy created a sensation with his multi-panel mural La fee electricitee.  He made his first visit to the United States in 1959 and thereafter spent six month of each year at Palo Alto, California. In 1977 the City of Ortuna re- dedicated their art museum  to Cascella; more than five hundred works by three generations of the family are included in its collection.  When he died at age ninety-seven in Milan, he was buried in his hometown of Ortona.

    Image: Michele Cascella -Orangerie, 1912, Cascella Museum, Ortona.


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    It is the kind of tromp l'oeil picture that many an amateur has accidentally produced, but in this instance the result  is so perfectly achieved that you want to know who is the photographer  - and where exactly is he in relation to the other elements in the photo?  Has he risen from some watery deep just beyond the frame?  And when you learn that his name is Luigi Ghirri, you wonder why  that name is not familiar.

















    Luigi Ghirri began his career with a sense that everything that could be done with photography had already been accomplished.  He spoke often of how deeply affected he was by the view of Earth photographed from the Apollo 11 spacecraft.  "It was not only the image of the entire world, but the image that contained all other images of the world."   From this, Ghirri extrapolated the idea of the image-within-image, a framing technique he would use in his photographs.  He brought the eye of an anthropologist to bear on the seemingly unremarkable sights that we see everyday but with an intensity that has been described as metaphysical, a word often applied to artists of Emilia-Romagna region, like Giorgio de Chirico and Giorgio Morandi.    Ghirri called them his "sentimental geography" but that does not exhaust the interest of, say,  those yellow traffic lights bobbing in the fog


    Luigi Ghirri (1943-1992) grew up in the northern province of Emilia-Romagna.   A  temperate area of broad fertile plains, fed by the Po River, it  was created millennia ago  when the sea retreated, leaving  marshlands as it retreated.  The young  Ghirri moved to Modena, a small city but no  backwater, located near Bologna, the regional capitol and home of the oldest university in the world.   His studies in surveying and graphic design coalesced in a new hobby -  taking pictures - that quickly became his chosen work.

















    Conceiving his photographs mostly in series, Ghirri presented them in books more often than in exhibitions which may have limited their initial  impact.  His first book Kodachrome, published in 1978,  featured the tightly cropped images that would familiar in his work. 
    Ghirri's last home was at Roncosesi, not  far from where he was born.  Although he traveled,  he found all that he needed for his work there.   Formal, cerebral, witty, Ghirri always intended his photographs to explore rather than merely represent what was before him.


     “Everything has a blighted, faded quality about it now. Still, if you look at it for a long time, the old charm reemerges. And that is why I can see that I will lose absolutely nothing by staying where I am, even by contenting myself with watching things go by, like a spider in its web waiting for flies. You need to look at things for a long time…” – Vincent van Gogh 
     Ghirri copied this quotation from a letter written by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo in his own journal.  

















    Although admired during his lifetime, Ghirri's work has only grown in importance since his untimely death from a heart attack at the age of forty-nine.  "...(N)ow, in their faded and aging present state, Ghirri’s prints from the 1970s and ’80s signal themselves as relics of the first wave of the then-new colour photography, carrying with them both prescience and nostalgia.." Christy Lange wrote for Frieze in 2011.
    In 2009, the Aperture Gallery in Manhattan hosted the retrospective It's Beautiful Here, Isn't It?, devoted to the work of the Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri (1943-1992).  Then, in 2013,  Matthew Marks Gallery, also in New York, devoted an exhibition  to Luigi Ghirri: Kodachrome.  This exhibition coincides with the republication of Ghirri's much admired book Kodachrome, by MACK, London, UK: 2012., a book he originally published himself in 1978.

    Images: The estate of Luigi Ghirri is represented by Matthew Marks Gallery, NYC.
    1. Paris (self-portrait in reflection), 1976, reprinted from Kodachrome, 1978, reprinted London: 2012.
    2. Valli Grandi - Veronese, undated.
    3. Fagnano Olona - elementary school designed by Aldo Rossi, 1985, Pompidou Center, Paris.
    4. Reggio Emilia, 1973, Pompidou Center, Paris.


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    ...so that is where I will be for now, not a vacation but more like out for repairs.    In recent months my gait has been less of a walk and more like am old Tuscan dance, the saltarello; the name means "hopping step."
     While I'm away from the keyboard,I hope you will explore the archives here and, if you find something that interests you, please comment and I promise to respond to each one as soon as I am able.

    In the meantime, for summer reading I can recommend nothing funnier than American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis.   Ellis is a southern transplant to New York City who, when her writing career stalled after the publication of a novel some fifteen years ago,  became a housewife/ professional poker player.   Beginning with "The Wainscoting War," a tale of decorative mayhem in an upper east Side co-op, to "Dumpster Diving With The Stars," a reality show run amok in the Hudson Valley's antiques alley, and ending with  a woman who rescues pre-pubescent beauty contestants in "Pageant Protection,"  the fun never abates. Published by Doubleday & Company: 2016.

    Image:
    Original photograph by Peter Librizzi, restoration by Renee Ing Akana at 28moons

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    "You're clear out of this world
    When I'm looking at you
    I hear out of this world
    The music that no mortal ever knew

    You're right out of a book
    The fairy tale I read when I was so high
    No armored knight out of a book
    Would find a more enchanted Lorelei than I

    After waiting so long for the right time
    After reaching so long for a star
    All at once from a long and lonely night time
    And despite time, here you are

    I'd  cry, out of this world
    If you said we were through
    So let me fly out of this world
    And spend the next eternity or two with you

    After waiting so long for the right time
    After reaching so long for a star
    All at once from a long and lonely night time
    And despite time, here you are

    I'd cry, out of this world
    If you said we were through
    So let me fly out of this world
    And spend the next eternity or two with you" 

      - Out Of This World, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Harold Arlen.


    It feels odd to have to introduce Johanna Grussner to American audiences considering the warm reception her Naxos release No More Blues received from both the critics and listeners.  Grussner who  lived  in the U.S for eight years,  attended the Berklee School of Music on scholarship and then earned a Master's degree in jazz performance from the Manhattan School of Music in 1998.   She then taught at Public School 86 in The Bronx where she developed a program of vocal and instrumental instruction and music theory.  Oh, and she was born on the Aland Islands, off the east coast of Finland in 1972.  She returned  home in May 2001 when she brought a group of fifth grade students to perform gospel concerts in Helsinki.  Since 2001 Grüssner has lived in Stockholm, Sweden.

    Her musical ambitions are expansive.  As a child, Grussner and her sisters Ella and Isabella formed a folk group  Daughters Of The Wolf.   The year before graduating from Berklee she recorded her first cd; the year after she formed her own nineteen piece jazz orchestra which toured Scandinavia, performing at jazz festivals and clubs, sometimes joined by the New York Voices.   Since moving to Sweden, Grussner has recorded not only jazz but Swedish and Finnish folk songs and even a record of Moomin songs for children based on the popular characters of author Tove Jansson.

    Out Of This World is usually classified as a ballad because it lacks a pronounced rhythm.  Grussner turns this received wisdom upside down.   Her agile vocal technique and near perfect command of English paired with  accompanist Ulf Karlsson,  whose work on both six and twelve-string guitars is impeccable, combine to give a rhythm to the song that it has not had before, something between a walk and a bossa nova-ish lilt.  Unlike some singers with crystal clears voices, Grussner is also capable of deploying colors in her phrasing.  Thanks to her version, I will never think of Out Of This World as a standard again.  It lives.

    The song is structured  without a verse; it has four sections – A, a variation of A, B, and back to the A variation in conclusion.  The elegance of the lyrical conceit demands it:   The Lorelei of Germanic legend was a beautiful maiden who threw herself into the Rhine River in despair over a faithless lover.   In recompense, the gods turned her into a siren whose voice was irresistible to all who heard it.  Alec Wilder (in his History Of American Popular Song, 1972)  heard in its melody  echoes of the mixolydian mode of Gregorian chant.   Mixolydian was the seventh  of eight modes (similar to key signatures ) in  medieval church music.  Arlen also used  melisma in Out Of This World, scoring two notes for the word “knew.”  

    Melisma is a technique familiar to us from  its use in gospel music;  its use originated in early Christian plainsong.  Unlike  syllabic singing where  each syllable is accorded one note,  when a singer moves from one note to another on a single syllable, that’s melisma.  When Johnny Mercer came to write  this lyric in 1944, he had been working in Hollywood for almost ten years and it shows in its style; this was no Tin Pan Alley show tune to be belted to the rafters for applause.  Rather, it existed on an altogether more  intimate emotional plane.   Wilder was certainly right to describe Out Of This World as not being typical of Harold  Arlen's songs, but then it is not typical of anyone else's that I can think of either.  

    P.S. Other standouts on No More Blues are a sultry version of Hallelujah, I Love Him So and Desafinado.


    Listen to Johanna Grussner sing Out Of This World
    Visit Johanna Grussner's website
    No More Blues, a recording by Johanna Grussner, Naxos Jazz: 2005.

    Image:
    Photograph of Johanna Grussner, 2010, courtesy of Allaboutjazz.com.

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    "What birds plunge through is not the intimate space,
    In which you see all Forms intensified.
    (In the Open denied, you would lose yourself,
    would disappear into the vastness.)

    Space reaches from us and translates Things:
    to become the very essence of a tree,
    throw inner space around it, from that space 
    that lives in you.  Encircle it with restraint.
    It has no limits.  For the first time, shaped
    in your renouncing, it becomes fully free." 
      -  Rainer Maria Rilke, (the favorite poet of Ernst Haas), translated from the German by Gabriel Caffrey

    Alfred Eisenstadt, Yousef Karsh, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon - and Ernst Haas. Haas  belongs  in their company as one of the great photographers of the  20th century but Ernst Haas has been, if not neglected by the critics, then  somewhat  overshadowed by the photographic avalanche we now live with.  The Viennese-born Haas, who was a member of the Magnum Photo Agency, and later its fourth president, gradually moved from photojournalism to an increasingly personal art.  


    It is this element of Haas's work that I want to look at.  The photos here were included in a book, The Creation, published in 1971, as Haas visualized the natural world to the accompaniment of texts, mostly drawn from the Old Testament. (The book became a surprise bestseller, making for the largest print run ever for a photography book.) Although Haas was captivated by the possibilities inherent in color film,  you can see that he deliberately avoided the high contrasts that caused the word 'garish' to attach to Kodachrome.  A heap of petals or an intact hydrangea and what difference does it make in this world of intimate space?   And what marvelous coincidence led Haas to an ice formation that resembles a design from the shops of the Wiener Werkstatte or the spermatozoa that Gustav Klimt flung across his "decorative" portraits of the wives of Viennese aristicrats?


















    Ernst Haas (1921-1986) did not always want to be a photographer; he vacillated between a painter or  an explorer, wishfully looking for a way to combine the two.   But World War II came to Europe and everything, including the education of a young man from Vienna.  It was his introduction to the photography of Werner Bischof  in Bischof's native Switzerland after the war that set him on course at last.   It was thanks to sponsorship by the Magnum Agency that Haas finally obtained a rare visa to come to the U.S.

    Images:
    1. Ernst Haas - Hydrangeas
    2. Ernst Haas - Ice formation

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  • 09/07/17--13:41: Artichokes & Ardor




















  • The nubbed leaves
    come away
    in a tease of green, thinning
    down to the membrane:
    the quick, purpled
    beginnings of the male.

    Then the slow hairs of the heart:
    the choke that guards its trophy,
    its vegetable goblet.
    The meat of it lies, displayed
    up-ended, al-dente,
    the stub-root aching in its oil.
     -"Artichoke" by  Robin Robertson

    That is one tumescent flowering artichoke, you may be thinking after reading this poem by Robin Robertson.   I thought of furniture, specifically the old custom of decorating the four posters of a bed with finials shaped like artichokes, as a symbol of hope.  What makes the pairing of this poem and that woodblock print uncanny is that both Robertson and the artist Mabel Allington Royds share Scottish roots; Robertson was born there and Royds moved there to teach at the Edinburgh College of Art.
    It turns out that Robin Robertson is far from the first person to connect the artichoke with male potency.   In the 16th century, for a woman to east an artichoke was scandalous; this aphrodisiac thistle was reserved for men.   It was Catherine de Medici who married King Henry II of France at the age of fourteen in 1533 who announced a change in mores: " If one of us had eaten artichokes, we would have been pointed out on the street.  Today young women are more forward than pages at court."  
    And if you decide to enjoy an artichoke, why not prepare it as the ancient Romans did, with a combination of honey, vinegar, and cumin. 

    Image:
    Mabel Allington Royds (1874-1941)- Artichoke, 1935, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.

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    As you can see, these are very old photographs.  If the little blonde girl with the Mary Jane shoes sitting at the left end of the front row is four years old then the date is 1920.   Her name is June Williams and she was my mother.  She was named for June Tolliver, the heroine of a Broadway play that my grandparents saw at the New Amsterdam Theater on West 42nd Street.  The Trail of the Lonesome Pine had been adapted from the wildly successful novel (1908) of the same name  by John Fox, Jr.  Florence Williams, or Billie as she was affectionately known, decided that if she ever had a daughter, June would be her name, and so it was.  Florence is the woman standing at the left end of the back row in this picture. 
    Billie was an apt nickname for this woman, I think, although she died before I was born so I never think of her as my grandmother; she had her own kind of insouciance and her daughter adored her for that.   She knew  what forms of birth control could be found in the city, she liked to make gin in the family bathtub during Prohibition, and she sent Norman, her husband, scrambling around a movie theater to search for bugle beads when one of her sheath dresses popped a thread.   Her friend Kay married a wealthy bootlegger named Ray from the north shore of Long Island, a location that allowed rum runners to ply their trade with relative impunity and lots of nice chateaux to be had, especially after the movie industry migrated to Los Angeles.

    The tennis courts in the background were part of the summer home at Lake Success, in the Town of Great Neck.     The name Lake Success is not a descriptor as I once imagined; it is a corruption of the name Sukut, taken from the Lenape Indians along with their land by people like my ancestors.  There are no men in this picture because they were back in the city working during the week while the women and children enjoyed a respite from the heat, a custom of the time before air conditioning among the fortunate classes.  
    Speaking of whom, William K. Vanderbilt purchased the land around Lake Success in 1902 for a summer home for himself and his new bride.  Vanderbilt was  an enthusiastic yachtsman but by 1904 he had become smitten with anything motorized, be it bicycle, motorcycle, or racing cars, and he set a land speed record at Daytona Beach.   He infuriated his Island neighbors with his noisy drag racing ways.  One of my mother's uncles was killed in an automobile accident; newly married in 1904, he was thrown from a car he was driving on Christmas Eve of 1905 and hit his head on the curb.   Such accidents were not yet common when most people didn't have cars; his bride Rose never got over the shock.















    Something about the children in this next photograph has always reminded me of John Singer Sargent's painting Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.  Yes there are four children here and only two in Sargent's painting but for me the two children, June at right holding a bouquet of wild flowers and her cousin Ruth at the left, a year older and taller are the story in this picture.  Both girls would narrowly escape death from thyroid cancer as adolescents and their relationship was so close that Ruth, who died first, was the last person  my mother called  for on her own deathbed.  This early summer day must have meant something special to the girls; all the photographs taken that day are precisely dated June 28, 1919.

    Although this last picture is not dated, on the visual evidence  June appears to be about eight years old.  This was taken at home in West Orange, New Jersey, in the house built by Norman for his family, and these are Billie's sisters, Lottie and Lillie posing with their niece.    Lillie was the caboose baby of the family and the story is rather sad and typical for its time.  After begetting two daughters, their father deserted the family for eleven years, indulging his wanderlust for sailing around the world, while knowing that his wife and children would have to return to her parents' home for support.  When he reappeared, they made her take him back and there are no photographs ever after that show a smile on her face, and yet Lillie was, by all accounts, a delightful person and her niece's favorite.   June  was nicknamed Chick for her yellow hair; I still have an envelope of it and  after all this time the hair still glows.  As for me, I still hope to learn someday what kind of touring car that is parked  in the driveway. 



    Images: from the author's personal collection.

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  • 09/24/17--17:42: Elusive Brenda Bullion
  • When I walked into the Corners Gallery last October I had no idea that the owner would turn out to be related to an artist who had made a vivid impression on me on a visit to Ithaca eight years before, a long time to remember an image with no information other than a dry wall text.  A single watercolor drawing, the untitled one at left, had been included in an exhibition of prints and drawings Shared Experience at the museum at Cornell University in November, 2008.

    The charm of this romantic figure resides in her specificity as much or more than in her self-consciousness and introspection.  How the horizontal movement of the scarf softens the otherwise relentlessness of the multiple verticals.

    The charm of both drawings and watercolors is their customary intimate scale.  They are suited to domestic spaces and invite the viewer to live comfortably with them at length.  The gigantism of many recent paintings renders them more suitable to public spaces; how to relate to something that pushes the viewer away, maybe even out the door, makes them arrogant companions.
      
    During the intervening years I made occasional efforts to learn about Brenda Bullion (1939-1992) to no avail.  Her early death and the undervaluation of drawing and watercolor when Bullion was working were woven into the scrim obscuring her work.
      
    Ariel Bullion Eklund, the gallery owner,  is the daughter of Brenda Bullion.

    Visit Corners Gallery

    Image: Brenda Bullion - untitled, 1973, crayon and watercolor, Steven Barbash Collection, Herbert F. Johnson Museu, Ithaca, NY.

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  • 10/01/17--18:20: Essex Moonrise













  • I've written about this landscape before, one of the much loved and still missed landscapes of my childhood: the coastal marshlands of  Essex County, Massachusetts.   The Great Marsh, as it fittingly called,  enchanted me long before I saw it through the eyes of the artists Arthur Wesley Dow and Martin Johnson Heade.
    To name the towns and beaches that border the Great Marsh is, for me like fingering a string of beads, each  one more beautiful than the last" Newburyport, Plum Island, Ipswich, Crane Beach, Essex, The Dragon.  Moviemakers concur: The Thomas Crown Affair was filmed at Castle Hill in Ipswich and The Witches Of Eastwick at Crane Beach, while The Crucible was shot on nearby Choate Island.

    Salt marshes are nature's  lungs, their grasslands and tidal estuaries filter out storm water and pollution, thus protecting the fish, insects, mammals, and sea birds that live there and, not incidentally, their human neighbors.  But more than that, they are beautiful to behold; the air really does shimmer with a luminance I have seen nowhere else.
    John Leslie Breck (1859-1899), who was born at sea near Hong Kong and spent his final years in and around Ipswich, made his most evocative paintings of the littoral zone, that restless, shape-shifting place between land and sea, a objective correlative to his favorite time for painting - the crepuscular hour between day and night.  And so it is that the blue marsh estuaries have turned violet and pink.  I wonder if Breck had ever had the twilight experience of seeing the earth's shadow in the eastern sky as the sun sets in the west, a demarcation between blue and violet that is a product of particles of the earth's atmosphere.  I first saw this as a child living in Newburyport one evening when my parents pointed it out to me from our backyard.

    Claude Monet  settled his family at Giverny in 1883, just beginning to enjoy some commercial success in his forties, thanks to the efforts of his Parisian dealer Durand-Ruel.  He began by renting the house at Giverny, only becoming able to purchase it seven years later when he turned fifty.   It was no part of his intention to establish an art colony in  the picturesque Norman  village but by 1887 the first group of his American admirers had descended on him for the summer: Willard Leroy Metcalf, Theodore Robinson, and John Leslie Breck.   Breck  became an especially close friend of the artist.  However a  romance with Monet's stepdaughter Blanche ended badly and sent Breck home in 1890.  But Breck returned an altered painter, his colors brighter, his brushwork looser,  having cast his lot with the plein air or outdoor painters,  He died, an apparent suicide, at thirty-nine years old just as critics reckoned that he had come into his own as an artist.

    Image:
    John Leslie Breck - Essex  Massachusetts Moonrise, Breck family estate,  courtesy of Boston Center for the Arts.

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    This little beauty, Sunrise-Autumn  by Childe Hassam (1859-1935) is not in a museum but how well it would look paired with one that is - Charles-Francois Daubigny's Fields in the Month of June at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum at Cornell University.  At the time he painted Sunrise-Autumn Hassam  was still a young artist under the influence of the Barbizon School, fresh from his first trip abroad in 1882 and not yet ready to immerse himself in study in Paris at the Academie Julian.  In contrast, the Daubigny comes from the last years of a long, successful career, one that has been curiously overlooked until the recent exhibition Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape.

    I had never thought much about Daubignyuntil I saw Fields in the Month of June.  But there it was and I came to relish the times I sat on a bench in front of it, absorbing it or being absorbed into it, the light coming down from a window high above, my own personal floating world of meadows and agriculture, made seamless by the drive to Ithaca through other similar meadows.  It hardly matters whether Hassam painted his meadow in England or the United States, any more than that Daubigny's meadow is French; there is something charming and familiar in this vision of agriculture as human handwriting on the land.


















    From a family of artists, Charles-Francois Daubigny (1817-1878) had his first lessons at home with his father.   Like Hassam after him, Daubigny apprenticed with an engraver; indeed his first exhibited works were prints.  His attentiveness to landscape was intensified by the year Daubigny spent with his friend Jules Breton aboard Le Botin, a houseboat converted into a movable studio; the two artists floated along the rivers of northern France, the Seine the Marne, and Oise, on an unmatched peripatetic painting trip.

    Without Daubigny, the man who inspired Claude Monet to establish a studio in 1872, the development of Impressionism would have been different.  In his day, Daubigny's landscapes were often dismissed as "mere impressions" for his use of rapid brushstrokes to depict fleeting aspects of light. Theophile Gauthier, the author doubling as critic lamented, "His pictures are no more than sketches barely begun."   Understanding backward, the specialty of art historians, we now think of Daubigny and his cohort as being more romantic and less naturalistic while it is the Impressionists who are considered more objective in light of what we have since learned of visual perception.

    You can read The Georgics by Virgil courtesy of MIT.

    Images:
    1. Childe Hassam - Sunrise - Autumn, 1884, oil on canvas, 12in. x 18in. Sullivan Goss: An American Art Gallery, Santa Barbara.
    2. Charles-François Daubigny, Fields in the Month of June, 1874, oil on canvas,  88in. x 53in., Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Ithaca, NY.

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    The first question most art-minded people ask about Harry Van der Weyden (1868-1952) is whether he was descended from the great Flemish painter Rogier Van der Weyden (c. 1399-1464).  Art historians answer with a resounding  "Maybe."
    He was born in Boston, won a scholarship to the Slade School in London at age nineteen, and studied at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1890-1891.  Until World War I, he lived near Etaples  at Montreuil-sur-Mer on the Normandy coast.  During the war Van der Weyden worked as a camouflage officer with the British Royal Engineers from 1916 to 1918 when Etaples was a major transit point and storage depot for the British.  He died in London in 1952. Most of Van der Weyden's paintings are in private collections and tonalism, although a small part of his work, showed him at his best. 
    The sun was almost below the horizon on the evening in 1898 that Van der Weyden set out to paint.   In the shadow of the cliffs at left,  two men anchor a boat while another man rows toward shore and into  the shadows. Looking closely, you find a varied palette of tones has went into the making of this lavender-blue image.  The affinity with early photography is obvious in tonalism's monochromatic effects.  James McNeill Whistler and George Inness are the two American artists best known for their atmospheric paintings (and in Whistler's case, also prints).

    For further reading, visit a review of the exhibition  American Tonalism.
    Image: Harry Van Der Weyden - Landscape, 1898, Museum of Franco-American Cooperation, Blerancourt.

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    Kathleen Gilje's Linda Nochlin in Manet's Bar at the Olympia is a  tribute to a great historian that is as layered as Manet's original; a young woman stands in the public eye, meeting the gaze of all comers.  As an aspiring scholar, Nochlin looked beyond the popular Impressionists to their forebears, the Realists,  who offered a revolutionary reinterpretation of art history:  'II faut etre de son temps'[“It is necessary to be of one’s time.”]  In her studies of the French painter Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), Nochlin saw more than just a magnificent recording eye  but more, an encyclopedic knowledge of visual prototypes.  Like Courbet, Nochlin would make her mark on history by reinventing it.   Gilje began her career as a conservator at the Capodimonte Museum in Naples Italy. From restoration to reinterpretation seemed a natural progression; her 'revised' version of Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Wedding would bring a smile to the face of all but the most hardened aesthetic sensibilities.   

    She was born Linda Weinberg to a family of secular Jewish intellectuals living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. And  lucky to grow up just as New York City was becoming the center of the art world, usurping the place long held by Paris, then recovering from the twin devastations of war and Nazi occupation.   Vassar College, even in 1947, was no artistic backwater on the Hudson; its campus galleries were hung with paintings by artists as various of Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, Georgia O'Keeffe, Kay Sage, Florine Stettheimer and Veira da Silva.   Just as important for a developing aesthetic awareness was the presence on campus of women teachers and the school's brilliant background as a feminist institution.

    When Nochlin posed the question "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?"  in Art News (January, 1971), she was already moving beyond its stated premise toward  a visioon more complex and more exciting than any previously dared.  Nochlin knew that she was creating a new version of art history that would require new materials as much or more than a new theory

    Nochlin, together with Ann Sutherland Harris, curated Women Artists 1550-1950, an exhibition that premiered at the Los Angeles County Museum in 1976, followed by a satisfying appearance on Nochlin's home turf at the Brooklyn Museum  the following year.  If ever an exhibition deserved to be called earth-shaking,  this was it.  The doubters were forced to take notice. "The history of Western art will never be the same again" wrote John Perrault in Soho Weekly.     Even the reflexively misogynistic Robert Hughes, averred called it "one of the most significant thematic shows to come along in years."  Museums that had been asked to loan works for the exhibition began to brnig them out of storage for display more often after Women Artists was so enthusiastically received by critics and public alike.

    Her interest in art history made Deborah Kass  obviously keen to the ways Linda Nochlin turned art upside down and gave it a salutary shake.   A cursory look at images from The Warhol Project might lead the viewer to include Deborah Kass in the category of art appropriators that Andy Warhol  perfected with his Brillo Boxes.  In place of Warhol's cool detachment, Kass offers up heartfelt admiration for her subjects.  Orange Disaster - Linda Nochlin is, like others in The Warhol Project,  a series of variations on her chosen theme; its title is Kass's smiling critique of Andy Warhol's dead-ended irony.  Thank you. Linda Nochlin, you turned us upside down and made us infinitely more than we would have been without your work.

    Read an obituary for Linda Nochlin (1931-2017) at New York Times.

    For further reading:
    Realism by Linda Nochlin, New York, Penguin Press: 1971.
    Women, Art and Power by Linda Nochlin, New York HarperCollins: 1988.
    Bathers, Bodies, Beauty: the visceral eye by Linda Nochlin, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press: 2006.
    Courbet by Linda Nochlin, New York, Thames & Hudson: 2007.

    Images:
    1. Kathleen Gilje - Linda Nochlin in Manet's Bar at the Folies Bergere, 2005, courtesy of the artist.
    2. Deborah Kass  - Orange Disaster - Linda Nochlin, 1997, Paul Kasmin Gallery, NYC.


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  • 11/07/17--12:31: Bacchus In Autumn
























  • What a melancholy sight Bacchus and  his four sleepy little satyrs make on a cold November day.   The enigmatic smile on his face resembles no one so much as the Mona Lisa.  The party's over and even morning's natural light is low.   Until March, when the Maenads will gather to celebrate with rituals of wine and  liberation.  As for the ice crystals on the grapes, they suggest this early morning followed a night of serious drinking.  

    This Bacchus was sculpted in lead and gilded with plomb dore by the Marsy Brothers according to a design by Charles Le Brun, court painter to Louis XIV, a man the king described  as "the greatest French artist of all time."  And who would dare to argue with a king?   Be that as it may, the quartet of fountains depicting the four seasons were among the glories of the first progress of  water features to be installed at Versailles.  If Bacchus was a god of excess, Louis XIV was his fervent acolyte.  Fully a third of the cost of the improvements to Versailles was spent on the waterworks to supply its fifty fountains. And the town that gave the palace its name has been the sole supplier of water ever since.  Thanks to Louis XIV,  water is a recurring problem at Versailles to this day; the fountains can be turned on for visitors only one Sunday each month.

    The Marsy brothers, Balthazar (c. 1624-1681) and Gaspard (1628-1674) were among dozens of sculptors employed by Louis XIV.   Along with the fountain of Bacchus (Autumn), they executed Basins for Flora (Spring), Ceres (Summer), and Saturn (winter).

    Like the devastation Jupiter rained down on the giants who attempted to storm Mount Olympus, a hurricane swooped down on the palace  of the Sun King on Christmas night of 1999.  Morning revealed that some 100,000 trees had been felled including many of the oldest  specimens dating from the 17th century.    Initial fears that the gardens would never recover were proved untrue thanks to heroic  efforts by the French government, led by an army of helicopters that landed even before power could be restored.  And then, just as in the Sun King's day, once again Versailles became a construction sight, full of dirt and noise.

    For his stewardship of the restoration, Alain Baraton, head gardener of Versailles then and now, received so many awards from a grateful nation that he wrote "I have more decorations than a Christmas tree."  Baraton's memoir of his life in the world's "grandest garden" was a best seller in France and its charm is evident in translation.   A middle child in a family of seven children, Baraton did not excel at school;  he recalls his time at horticultural school as being more servitude than liberation.  An impromptu visit to Versailles in the summer of 1976 resulted in the dream job he hadn't even imagined: gardener to the Gods.

    For furthers reading:
    1. Alain Baraton - The Gardener of Versailles: My Life in the World's Grandest Garden,  translated by Christopher Brent Murray, New York, Rizzoli: 2014.
    2. Thomas Hedin, The Sculpture of Gaspard and Balthazar Marsy, Columbia (University of Missouri Press) 1983.
    Image: Jean-Baptiste Leroux - Le bassin de Bacchus en automne -Chateau de Versailles,  c.1672-75, photo from the collection of Jean-Baptiste Leroux, Paris.

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  • 11/21/17--13:25: Stagedoom
  • "El si pronuncian y la mano alargan/
    Al primero que llega."

    "They swear to be faithful yet marry the first man who proposes."
    Sometimes the way in to a picture begins with an emotional frisson.  Aesthetic appreciation or  historical underpinnings may add layers to the experience but the visceral response never lets go.   Stagedoom by Bob Thompson (1937-1966), one of several works the artist made  based on Francisco Goya's Los Caprichosof 1795-97, is that kind of work.  

    In Goya's original (below), all the participants are morally compromised, from the nubile woman offering herself to the highest bidder and the church fathers who guide her, to the watching crowd.   Thompson made significant alterations to the image for Stagedoom.   Her nakedness emphasizes the young woman's vulnerability at the same time that the mask she wears dehumanizes her by hiding her facial expression.  The priests offer no comfort; their teachings imprison her.  And who could doubt the evil intentions of the hovering bird-like creatures, a frequent feature in Thompson's paintings.  The smiling death's head gives the game away.

    Stagedoom, painted in 1962, the year Thompson visited Spain, exhibits a marked understanding of  the painful road to womanhood with its potential for physical and emotional violation.   In Goya's acerbic prints, Thompson recognized "the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance or self-interest have made usual " he had experienced during his Kentucky childhood.
    In an alternative  history of post-war art the paintings of Bob Thompson  would occupy a prominent place.  Though only thirty-nine when he died from a heroin overdose, Thompson (1937-1966) left behind more than a thousand paintings and drawings.   Based in New York during the 1960s when the city was the undisputed center of the art world, he was also close to avant-garde jazz musicians Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden, whose likenesses appeared in his works.

    Stagedoom, typical of  the intimate scale of his watercolors,  is reminiscent of such 19th century predecessors as Granet or Harpignes, while his oil paintings combine the influences of Abstract Expressionism with  the  saturated colors of Pop Art.  Unlike Andy Warhol, whose appropriation of advertising images constituted a poke in the eye to all but a knowing few when they were made, Bob Thompson worked in utter, bold seriousness.   The artists he revered, Piero della Francesca, Titian, and Nicolas Poussin, all masters of classical European art,  gave him a symbolic vocabulary.  Their compositions provided Thompson a ready scaffolding for his technicolor nightmares where humans and animals  interact,  often interchangeably, to illuminate human folly.

    I began to think, my god, I look at Poussin and think he's got it all there.  Why are all these people running around trying to be original when they should just go ahead and be themselves and that's the originality of it all...You can't draw a new form... [the] human figure almost encompasses every form there is...it hit me that why don't I work with these things that are already there...because that is what I respond to most of all.” - Bob Thompson
    I think...painting should be like the theater, a presentation of something...To relate, like painters of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance... painters were employed to educate the people...they could walk into a cathedral, look at the wall and see what was happening...I am not specifically trying to do that...I have much more freedom, but in a certain way, I am trying to show what' happening, what's going on,,,in my own private way.” - Bob Thompson

    Images:
    1. Bob Thompson - Stagedoom, 1962,  opaque watercolor and charcoal on woven paper, approximately 21 x 18 inches, Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute, Utica.
    2. Francisco Goya - El si pronuncian y la mano alargan, plate number 2 from Los Caprichos, c. 1795-97,  intaglio print, Brooklyn Museum.


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    Drops of water pearled on pale blue flowers ... rain blossoms.   In March all flowers drip with rain  but capturing the phenomenon in photographs requires a deft touch.  The Viennese photographer Ernst Haas (1921-1986) was an early enthusiast of color photography, a medium he discovered shortly after he moved to the United States in 1951.  Haas became  a member of the Magnum Agency in 1949, the same year as that other underappreciated photographer, the Swiss Werner Bischof (1916-1954).  

    Unlike some of his contemporaries who turned their noses up at color, considering Kodachrome a dirty word, Haas quickly became adroit at catching temporary effects, becoming the first photographer to receive a solo exhibition of his color work at the Museum of Modern art in New York City in 1962; there would not be a second such show for another fourteen years.  Prejudices, however baseless or silly, fade slowly.  Just look at the Cosmo (below), its rain-drenched petals mimicking the shape of an iris for a moment.
    The Errant Aesthete, subtitled Essentials for the Cocktail-swilling Set,was a website that  often featured the work of Ernst Hass, and although the website no longer publishes, you can still  explore Suzanne's archives.

    Images:
    1. Ernst Haas - untitled, date not given, Ernst Haas Estate.
    2. Ernst Haas - Cosmos, California, 1981, Ernst Haas Estate.

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    This charming portrait of the artist's wife, like the better known portrait of their two children, was painted just a few month's before Mariano Fortuny's untimely death at age thirty-six.  Although the finished picture shows evidence of elaborate planning, the effect is restrained.  It is not clear whether the location is outdoors (is that a patch of blue sky reflected in the glass of the window above the door?) or in a salon or somewhere between, say a patio.  The placement of the potted plant behind the seated woman appears as perfectly natural as it is deliberate, as are the folds of her striped skirt.  The splash of bright blue provided by her sash helps to anchor the palette the artist chose.  Like John Singer Sargent, with whom he has frequently been compared, Fortuny preferred to lavish attention on details such as fabric, thereby creating an impression of greater spontaneity in his subject's features.  The trope of a space opening into another space is also familiar from a number of Sargent's Venetian paintings.  How curious then to remind ourselves that the influence flows in one direction - from Fortunty to Sargent.

    When the paintings of the young John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) were first exhibited in Europe, viewers were reminded of the recently deceased Spanish artist Mariano Fortuny y Marsal.   Fortuny had died unexpectedly from malaria in 1874; already he was the most renowned  Spanish artist on the international stage.  One reason he may be less well known today is because of that very brevity.  Also, his short life was bookended by two giants of Spanish art: Goya had died ten years before Fortuny was born while Picasso would be born seven years after Fortuny's death. 

    His contemporaries prized the elegance of Fortuny's work,  his command of elaborate detail, and the insinuations of the exotic, characteristics  that are now collected under the catchall term Orientalism.   Spain's Orientalism was a secondhand acquisition, acquired through centuries of Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula.  For Fortuny, as for Sargent after him, realism was more a philosophy than a technique  and, in its service, he was on his way to developing a style that we now think of as Impressionism.  Cecilia de Madrazzo (1846-1932), survived her husband by almost six decades.


    Image:
    Mariano Fortuny y Marsal - Cecilia de Madrazzo, 1874, British Museum, London.

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    What is it about accomplished women that makes them disappear like the Cheshire Cat, leaving behind their works to be sure, but barely a trace of a shadow?

    Consider the case of Mary Hiester Reid (1854–1921).  She was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, the same place where novelist John Updike was born.  Updike, whose interest in art was kindled by childhood drawing lessons, became an art critic for The New York Review of Books in the 1980s.  The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where Mary Hiester studied and where she met her future husband, the Canadian painter George Agnew Reid, also exerted a decisive influence on Updike's experience of art.  Yet I can find no mention of Hiester Reid's work anywhere in Updike's writing. 
    Although women were not not encouraged or even allowed to study art during the 19th century, and although they were denied access to the all-important anatomy classes, Mary Hiester, persevered.  Not only did she graduate from the Academy but she became an accomplished  painter in the then avant-garde Tonalist style, paintings characterized by the subtle  use of color to create intimate moods, even in broad landscape vistas.

    Furthermore, after Hiester Reid moved to Canada with her husband, she was not confined to the world of home and children.  One of the first women to have her work included in the collection of  the National Gallery of Canada,  her paintings were admired by critics and earned her a good. living during her lifetime. The Reids eventually made their home at Uplands Cottage in the Wychwood Park section of Toronto, an enclave similar to Roycroft in East Aurora, New York;  they spent their summers in northern New York State at Onteora and traveled frequently around Europe.

    Hiester's painting of her Wychwood studio contains the flowers and light-capturing objects that so impressed viewers in her work.  There is no way to denigrate her mastery of such subjects as 'women's work.'   After all, no one apologizes for such flower painters as Pierre-Joseph Redoute and Henri Fantin-Latour.  The year after Hiester Reid died, a  retrospective of more than three hundred  paintings was mounted at the Art Gallery of Ontario in her adopted home of Toronto. 
    Recent decades have seen such renewed interest in Tonalism that its origin has even become a subject of debate. Do the French get to claim it for the Barbizon school or the Americans lay claim through James McNeill Whistler?  May someone soon lay claim to Mary Hiester Reed>  she deserves the accolades.

    Images:
    1. Mary Hioester Reid - The Inglenook in My Studio, c.1905-15, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
    2. Mary Hiester Reid - At Twilight - Wychwood Park, c.199, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. 
    3. Mary Hiester Reid - Chrysanthemums - A Japanese Arrangement, 1895,  Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.