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Illuminating Arts And Letters
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    This quiet field is more than it appears, as so many photographs turn out to be when you dig into the particulars.  . Sixty years after a Frenchman, Victor Segalen, took this photograph of a farm field in northern China, some local farmers digging a well made an astonishing discovery.  What they unearthed among the meandering watercourses were larger than life-size figures, thousands of soldiers carved from terracotta, that had gone undetected for two thousand years, the funeral army of China's first Emperor, accompanying him to the afterlife.   The Terracotta Warriors, as they are now called, have become one of the wonders of the world, a comparable feat of the imagination to the  Buddhas of Bamiyan, destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

    The afterlife of Victor Segalen (1870-1919) has been longer than his time on earth.   Segalen, born in the French department of Finistiere (end of the land), at the western-most point of the Atlantic coast, grew up to become a naval doctor, but no single profession could contain him.   He wrote novels, poetry, and literary criticism, and on his travels around the globe he morphed into an explorer and an archeologist.  For all his accomplishments, Segalen's name is inscribed on the wall of the Pantheon in Paris.  
    Segalen would surely have been delighted by the excavation of the terracotta warriors, and the afterlife they brought to his photograph.  His novel Rene Leys, published in 1911, is a kind of spiritual adventure story, in which a young foreigner becomes obsessed with the mysterious Forbidden City and and the Imperial Palace at the heart of Peking.  Another foreigner, Rene Leys, becomes his guide, weaving threads of historical events and magical tales together, leaving the reader to wonder what kind of book they have in their hands, a detective story or an allegory.  The book, like the Forbidden City and the field in Lintong guard their secrets well.

    An extensive biography of Victor Segalen (in French)
    About the novel Rene Leys (in English)

    Image: Victor Segalen - Lintong, Shaanxi Province, China, 16 February 1914, Musee Guimet, Paris.

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    Ethel Sands (1873-1962) is one of those artists whose paintings have always impressed me  as being very well executed (they should be; she studied in Paris with Eugene Carrere and was deeply imprinted by the early works of Edouard Vuillard) but rather too amiable, content to portray the interiors of comfortable homes  with few overt signs of  the world outside.  The sort of paintings you might expect from one who took her position as a London society hostess as seriously as any of her other many interests.  Sands was born into money in Newport, Rhode Island and moved easily between France and England, sharing multiple homes with another woman for most of her adult life.

    In recent decades, critics have begun to detect the filaments of tension in Vuillard's domestic scenes, based on biographical material that had been revealed since the artist's death in 1940.   No matter how guarded Vuillard and those around him were, his life was not "marked by not a single external  incident."    The romantic/erotic aspects of Vuillard's life may be encoded in his paintings, and who better to have recognized this than a woman who, by the standard of today, would be described as a lesbian?  And who might prefer to present scenes from her own domestic life indirectly?

    But then there is this anomalous Ethel Sands painting Still Life With a View of a Cemetery.  It is painted in "early" Vuillard, that is the style he was painting in the 1890s when Vuillard was admired as the leader of the Nabis (or Prophets of a new art) and Pierre Bonnard was his sidekick.   It is all pattern and flat surface, but Sands uses the primary colors (blue, red, and yellow), unlike the muted tones Vuillard favored or her own preferred pastels.  The room that is the still life appears to be a bathroom and the cemetery outside, what we can see of it, seems that of a poor church yard, not the sort of place where the offspring of  haute Newport would have been buried.    Sands had nursed wounded soldiers in France during the war and this painting may allude to the intrusion of the outside world on her domestic life. And yet this interior,  with its tactile curves in the blue and white bowl and pitcher counterpointed by the glass bottles filled with yellow and red liquids, sparkling in the sunlight, is a complete story in itself if we choose to spend time with it.  Disparate shapes are organized around a shelf, with curves below and verticals (the bottles, the curtains, the crosses, above).  On its own terms, this is quite brilliant I think.

    Image: Ethel Sands - Still Life With a View Over a Cemetery, 1923, Fitzwilliam Museum, London.

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    A tribute from an expected quarter.  Blue and red, water and blood, bursting with life., a force that moves the spirit and the world.
    The late Alfred Manessier (1911-1993) is not a familiar name to most Americans.  When Sonia and Robert Delaunay were commissioned to decorate air and rail stations with murals for the Paris International Exposition in 1937, Manessier and three of his friends who were also students at the  executed the designs.
    After going on retreat in a Trappist monastery in 1943, Manessier experienced a spiritual awakening.  Pondering the connections between the monks' spiritual practices and the nature of the cosmos, he changed his practice of painting,  jettisoning  the decorative elements he had absorbed from the Nabis via his studies at Academie Ranson and the Delaunays in favor of stronger colors (as seen here) and more dramatic forms.  He also left  teaching to paint full time.   Manessier held the unusual belief that the abstract and the figurative were merely two sides of the same coin in art.  He went on to receive many commissions for public art, from theater costumes to tapestries and stained glass windows  Where we may see vaguely familiar shapes, Manessier often intended crosses and crowns for churches.
    Manessier painted this homage to the American Civil Rights leader in 1964 when King became the youngest person (at that time) ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Alfred Manessier - Homage a Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964, Pompidou Center, Paris.

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    "I have no more more ideas on art in my head, and I am obliged to make flowers. In doing so, I think of  Michelangelo,  in front of peonies and roses. This cannot last. " (translation by J.L.)

    « Je n’ai jamais eu plus d’idée sur l’art dans la tête, et je suis obligé de faire des fleurs. En le faisant, je pense à Michel-Ange, devant des pivoines et des roses. Cela ne peut durer. »  - Henri Fantin-Latour, Lettre à Edwin Edwards, 15 mai 1862

    Fortunately for us, the artist was wrong in this case.  Henri Fantin-Latour is one of the great painters of flowers, able to combine such disparate elements as calm amidstthe stages of vegetal life.  If there was any strain involved in creating these works, the artist has prevented us from seeing it.  
    Something else we might not be aware of is the lowly status that still life painting had in the hierarchy of genres in Fantin-Latour's day, although he was keenly aware of it both as reflected in the quote given here and in the many portraits he painted, works that he hoped would secure his reputation.    For a still life to command attention it needed some religious or literary reference to lift it above the ordinary, so you could say that these flowers, stripped of alljustification but their own aesthetic loveliness, are the early flowers of modern art.
    The Fage series on the words of the artists is a good resourcefor anyone who wants to know how artists see their own works.  However, once the work is released to the world, like a bird, it may take a surprising path and who knows where it will light?

    To read more Words of the Artists (in French).
    Henri Fantin-Latour  - untitled, possibly 1872 (see writing in upper left corner), Louvre museum, Paris.

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    " (T)he lack of understanding of the work of Beaudin constitutes one of the greatest injustices of our time." - Pablo Picasso, translation by J.L.

    Whether his paintings were figurative or abstract, Andre Beaudin's pictures shows the influence of  his background as a tapestry designer and his training in decorative arts.   Although he was living and working in Paris  during the 1920s when Cubism was in style, Beaudin found it too formulaic and too rigid for his purposes.   He excelled at  using form and color,  making lyrical canvases that seem to move before our eyes.  As an example of his boundary-pushing work, La cloture (The Fence) could hardly be more exemplary.  If this is a fence, it is a peculiar one, wayward, inconsistent, and even anarchic.

    Andre Beaudin (1895-1979) studied at l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  In 1919 he married the painter Suzanne Roger.   Writing for an exhibition at the Pompidou Center in 1970, Re4ynold Arnould had this to say about Beaudin's magical colors: " His color has a kind of transparent quality, that of reflection..." - translation by J.L.

    The Greek philosopher Plato wrote that an orderly landscape was the cornerstone of political stability.  The Romans agreed, elevating Terminusas the  god  of boundaries, the keeper of property and agriculture.  Boundary stones, called termini in his honor, often contained his carved image in the walls thatprotectedfarm fields against trespassers and thieves.  Even the feast of the New Year was dedicated to Terminus, celebrated with gift-giving of wine and stones. To show how seriously the Romans took their boundary lines, the punishment for violators who moved the stones was to be burned alive, along with their livestock.   ( This ghoulish bit of information comes from one of the great histories of the 19th century, The Ancient City (1864) by Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges.)   Today, the jack o'lantern is a secular descendant of the termini.
    Roman law fixed the sacred boundary space at two and one half feet, wide enough for walking, worshiping, and patrolling. Mayhem aside, evidence left to us in the paintings of numerous  19th century artists  show  the Italian landscape still bisected by these antique walls, but in this more settled agrarian state, serving as resting places for humans and their dogs.  

    Anrde Beaudin - La cloture (The Fence), 1941, Musee des beaux-Arts, Troyes.

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    At the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan a Picasso, a Picabia, a Matisse, an Ensor, and a Boccioni have been put in storage while seven works by other artists have been interpolated into a gallery of the permanent collection.  This sort of thing happens often,  a rehang that refreshes the relationships between works of art on museum walls.  But  six  of the works brought out of storage are by Iranian artists and one is from Sudan.   While the the museum's curators made a point about the inclusiveness of art at a highly charged political moment, they have had the art works  to illustrate the connections between European modernism and art from other continents for decades.   Matisse and the Cubists hanging side by side with works that Europeans studied, imitated, and mined for  their own art,  coming from a museum that has, from its beginnings in the 1930s, appointed itself the narrator of  modernism, is a retelling long overdue. 

    Is the history of art a European invention and, if it is, what does it matter? This question may seem rarefied or trivial but when large pots of money and  intellectual prestige are involved the question becomes loaded.  Whose painting hangs next to whose is provokes similar angst to who gets into an exclusive club.  James Elkins,  who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has been worrying this bone for quite some time in books like Stories of Art (2002) and Is Art Global? (2007) and he is still immersed in the subject, having completed some 300,00 words on  his newest (unnamed)  project.

    These two works are not new nor are they new to the Museum of Modern Art.  Mon pere et moi by the Iranian Charles Hossein Zenderoudi (b. 1937) is a large work that uses bright colors to depict an intimate relationship.  Alfred H. Barr, Jr., bought the work for the museum the year Zenderoudi created it, in 1962.  Zenderoudi studied both fine arts and decorative arts in Tehran. Ibrahim  ElEl-Salahi's  The Mosque, painted in 1964 and purchased  for the permanent collection the following year, is small, its colors muted while the artist's use of Islamic  calligraphy  suggests the mosaics used to decorate architecture in Arabic countries.   Even without knowing the calligraphy's lexicon, it is easy to see a sense of uplift in the juxtaposition of forms and gestures that run across the midsection of the canvas.  Born in Sudan in 1930, Ibrahim El-Salahi came to New York on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1954.  He became friends with the African-American painter Jacob Lawrence, whose monumental Migration Series is divided, half at the Museum of Modern Art and half at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

    1. Charles Hossein Zenderoudi - Mon pere et moi (My Fatherand Me), felt tip pen and ink on paper, 89" X 58.6", 1962, Museum of Modern Art, NYC.
    2. Ibrahim El-Salahi, The Mosque, oil on canvas, 12.12" x 18.12", 1964, Museum of Modern Art, NYC.
    (One thing that the internet is not  good at is suggesting the relative sizes  of the images reproduced.)

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  • 02/14/17--12:09: Le monde de la douceur

  • It's not exactly what you may be thinking about today.  However, there is a phenomenon French call le monde de la douceur, meaning a world of gentleness and sweetness,  a phenomenon they associate with the new year. Superficially it seems similar to Valentine's Day but its meaning extends  to the  romance of everyday life, something as real as our darker thoughts, even in the middle of winter.  A boy regarding a dandelion puff with singular concentration, for instance or blowing soap bubbles through a wand.

     A little harder to see,  perhaps, is the harmony in a landscape that humans share with waterbirds and grazing animals (just visible on the hillside).   
    Two different photographers with two different ways of showing us this douceur (the French word is more expansive than the English translation.)  French photographer Daniel Boudinet composes an expansive landscape, an exercise in the symmetry that we can see in the natural world; in contrast the American Sharon Core's  recent series of photographs of found compositions in nature, the things we pass by without noticing, draws our attention to the charms of asymmetry.  

    1.Vincenzo Balocchi - Young Boy Looking at a Dandelion Puff, c.1960, Museo de Storia della Fotografia (Museum of the History of Photography), Florence.
    2. Daniel Boudinet  - untitled, a wide view of water and animals before a mountain horizon, 1988, photograph from the series Voyage en Asie (Travels in Asia), Mediatheque, Paris.
    3. Sharon Core - Untitled #3, 2015, archival pigment print from sharon core

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  • 02/21/17--12:58: Fly-Over Season
  • In the world of aerial photography the flyover season is about to begin.  Thanks to the unusually warm winter temperatures in the Northeastern United States, snow on the ground is already patchy or the ground is bare, and the leaves will not come out on the trees for some time.  Under these conditions, the lines etched on the land by human effort are at their most visible.
    More than a century ago much of upstate New York was farmland, cultivated and sectioned off; but the combination of easy farming on the flatlands,  of the Midwest, improved transportation (think: connecting waterways and railroads) and industrialization in the Northeast left fallow fields, ripe for reforestation.   Now some of the old farms  that lie south of the Erie Canal are being taken up again, often by Amish and Mennonite families  who have moved up to New York from neighboring Pennsylvania.  Drive along the Cherry Valley Turnpike (U.S. Route 20) or N.Y.S. Route 80, both roads running more or less from east to west and you can identify these houses  by the lack of electrical wires  running from the roadside poles.

    By the time President Thomas Jefferson was took office in 1800, the American farm had already assumed the outlines still in evidence today.  The best farms were situated on hillsides facing south, with barns and other sheds forming a screen around the house, the kitchen garden located nearby for protection from the elements, and a wood lot to the north that acted as a windbreak.  There were trade-offs, of course, between the richer soil in the valleys versus the longer growing season on the sun-soaked hills.  Farms on the north slope of hills often failed to prosper because of the shorter growing season and even today these lots are more likely to be timberland than farmland. A sheltered site for the house also lessened the need for firewood. A farmhouse was located near the top of hill so that a well with pure water would be protected from farm water runoff.

    Avoiding the  cold  was uppermost in the minds of European settlers  accustomed to milder winters, followed closely by the belief that the fog and mist that hung over the valleys carried disease. Charles Estienne, author of the popular manual Maison rustique or The Country Farme (London, 1616), certainly thought so.  "If ever there be a hill, build upon the edge thereof,making choose to have your lights toward the east but if you be in a cold country, open your lights on the south side, and little or nothing toward the north ....recoup the liberty of the air and a goodly prospect..."

    The land is a palimpsest, written on again and again, written over until details of previous times are obscured.  By comparison with cities and suburbs, rural areas still offer a rich visual story for those who take the time to look.  Now is a good time to take a ride in the country.

    John Pfahl (b.1939) is an American photography, a graduate twice from Syracuse University, who now lives  and teaches in Buffalo, New York.
    For further reading: Common Landscape of America, 1580-1845 by John R. Stilgoe, New Haven, Yale University Press: 1983.

    1. John Pfahl - Nursery Topsoil - Winter + Lancaster New York, 1994, Janet Borden Gallery, NYC.
    2. John Pfahl - Blue X, Pembroke, New York, 1975, Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
    3. John Pfahl - Pingry Hill Road, Andover, New York, 1979, Joseph Bellows gallery, NYC.
    4. John Pfahl - The Very Rich Hours of a Compost Pile, 1994, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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  • 02/28/17--12:31: A Day Of Rain
  • "I am not in front of nature, I am inside it."
    ("Je ne suis pas devant la nature, je suis dedans.")
    - Pierre Tal-Coat, translation JL.

    Rain trickling down an invisible window in white rivulets intensifies the green world on the other side., or so it seems to me.   Among abstractions in art - and almost anything can become an abstraction if you look at it from a certain angle - the French called their version Tachism for its lyrical qualities and to distinguish it from the crudely testosterone- and alcohol-drenched productions of the American Abstract Expressionist painters.
    Tal-Coat (1905-1985), born Pierre-Louis Jacob in Finistere, (the end of the land) the westernmost part of the French mainland, was a self-taught artist who worked in a pottery factory in Quimper.  It was only when he was obliged to go to Paris for his military service that he found a group of supportive fellow artists for the first time and absorbed the dominant cubist style.  Tal-Coat's portrait of Gertrude Stein won a prize in 1935.

    Everything changed when he encountered the antique Chinese landscape paintings from the Song Dynasty (900-1279).   Here, centuries before landscape emerged from the background of religious and court paining in Europe, was a full developed genre that used the technqiues of the brush to express human emotions.  Under its influence,  Tal-Coat  turned from portraying nature through visual perception  to using paint to record his immediate emotional responses to nature4's ephemera, foam breaking on a rock, raining falling on a hillside.   In contrast to the unrelenting pessimism of Samuel Beckett, who saw nothing but negations in the artist's later work, I am reminded of some lines  from The Outermost House, the naturalist Henry Beston's bestseller  first published in 1928.   "The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach."  
    In 1961 Tal-Coat moved to a building at a Carthusian monastery in Normandy where he worked and lived  quietly until his death.

    Tal-Coat - Jour de pluie (Day of Rain), 1965, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Quimper.

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    "The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach."
     It was an American naturalist, Henry Bestoon, who included those words in his book The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod(1928).  When I look at this early spring landscape by the Frenchman Paul Serusier, it seems an apt epigraph in every way.  Serusier lived much of his artistic life in Finistere (from the Latin finis terae meaning the end of the earth), the westernmost  point of the Breton peninsula and the French outpost on the north Atlantic.  Surrounded on three sides by water, Finistere is a place where the ocean is always present even when unseen.  As for a primeval wood,  archeological evidence shows that Brittany has been inhabited for  hundreds of thousands of years.  Indeed, one of the oldest hearths ever unearthed is located in Finistere, dating back at least 45,000 years.

    We can see evidence of extreme age in Serusier's Landscape; the little roadway is recessed, sunken by untold years of use.   The pastels and colored pencils Serusier used on grey paper contribute to the sense of the diffuse, returning light typical of early spring.  The bones of the trees are still visible through the haze of buds, but not for long.  Treasure this moment, the artist seems to say to us.  Like all the others, it cannot last.

    Paul Serusier (1864-1927) was born in Paris, but it was during the eventful summer of 1888, when he and a group of artists gathered around Paul Gauguin at Pont-Aven, on the south coast of Finistere, that Serusier's artistic career really began.  The other painters considered the lesser known Serusier as the real leader of the Nabi (Hebrew word for Prophet) ggroup rather than the flamboyant Gauguin.  The next year when Serusier wrote to Maurice Denis, he expressed an almost religious commitment to the group: "I dream for the future of a purified fraternity,made of of only committed srtists, lovers of beauty and truth,  who combine in their works and their lives, than indefinable quality i translate as Nabi."  Yes, they were all of them young and earnest, and  Serusier, having a philosophical bent, would go on to create a theoretical system - or two -  to organize the random ideas  by Gauguin.  Eventually Serusier moved from the increasingly popular art colony to Morlaix, a commune on the north coast of Finistere, where he enjoyed the quiet

    Paul Serusier - Landscape, 1912, pastel and colored pencil on grey paper, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

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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 that the 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 late 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 work was  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 Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey;  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. 

    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.

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    Gabritscevsky is an « esprit singulièrement lucide » dont la vie a été « dérobée ». - attributed to Pierre Chave

    My introduction to the art of Eugen Gabritschevsky was through seeing this portrait of his dog Luce almost ten years ago, and  its radiant affection and stylistic panache have  colored my responses to what I have seen and learned since.  Gabritschevsky has long been pigeonholed as an outsider by art critics, which gives permission to give short shrift to his work or condescend to him.  Now, the first major exhibition of Gabritschevsky's work  in New York City is on view.

    I am not convinced that the term ‘outsider art’ explains much about Gabritschevsky's work or anyone's.  The term and its French equivalent (art brut or rough art) were coined by critics and artists  for purposes of marketing and exclusion exclusion, more thanfor aesthetic purposes. It's a hair-splitting distinction for describing much of 20th century art.  I suspect that artists - or anyone else - are called outsiders when someone is uncomfortable with sharing their corner of the universe with them.  Gabritschevsky was a tormented man but, as is often true when confronted with human vulnerability, this is about us, as much as about him. A brilliant man, confronted with a bleak diagnosis, who chooses a new outlet for his energies, is someone I want to share my corner with, just as he shared his with his beloved dog, Luce.

    Why not call Odilon Redon an outsider artist?   Redon declared"Everything is done by the submission to the coming of the unconscious”  and that art was "the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible." Redon created hybrid creatures that floated in air or grew from unlikely hosts.    Like Gabritschevsky, Redon drew freely on dreams and nightmares for his imagery and, again, like Gabritschevsky, he was keenly interested in evolutionary theories and in insects, botany and the world revealed under a  microscope. You could argue that Redon’s imaginationwas voluntary, whereas for Gabritschevsky's was the stuff of  emotional disconnect,  but how much of this is rooted in our expectations?   

    Gabritschevsky’s  gouache images of winged insects, and fantastical butterflies,  are magical creatures, not monsters.. A series of precisely detailed abstract and geometric forms that blend into a harmonious whole, convey benign emotions unlike the artist's anxiety-filled paintings of human or hybrid human-plant forms,with their air of menace.  The backgrounds, filled with subliminal reminders of earth and sky, ground these extravagant flyersin a recognizable world.  The Russian-born Eugene Gabritschevsky (1893-1979) knew these flying creatures well.


    He was a precocious student, drawn toentomology, the study of insects. Forms, their appearance, their adaptation, their evolution  or their disappearance  were the stuff of his researches,the same ideas that preoccupied contemporary artists.  After earning  advanced degrees in biology and genetics in Moscow, he did postdoctoral research at Columbia University in 1925.  His work on mimicry and genetic mutations in insects earned him a post at the  Pasteur Institute in 1927 but  his  mental state deteriorated.  After being diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1929, Gabritschevsky was confined to a mental hospital in Munich.  Without a laboratory, he still hadart

    Even after two decades spent mostly confined and  and in relative isolation, Gabritschevsky could still summon imagined worlds other than the phantasmagorical ones he created using a signature device of his (seen here in attenuated form) the  prosceniumor theatrical arch that distanced himself and the viewer from his more frightening visions.   Sometimes, they have seemed to me as though Gabritschevsky used - seriously and/or tongue in cheek, - the Rorschach tests (ink blot) that came into vogue during the 1920s, tests he might have undergone himself.   Although their validity has since been questioned, their ambiguity has kept them alive in the netherworld of pseudo-science, never quite debunked but never quite acceptable.  Rather like 'outsider art.'
    For more about Eugen Gabritschevsky at The Blue Lantern read Artist Of Loneliness.

    Eugen Gabritschevsky: Theater of the Imperceptible, on display at the American Folk Art Museum  in New York City is the first in-depth exhibition of Gabritschevsky’s art,  composed of more than eighty artworks (gouaches, drawings, and watercolors on paper), a film, publications, and archival documents.

    Images: are by Eugen Gabritschevsky are from the Museum of Modern Art, Toulouse, France, uhnnless otherwise noted.
    1. Luce the Dog, 1947. 
    2. Papillon, 1941.
    3. untitled butterfly, 1941.
    4. untitled, 1950, Galerie Chave, Vence, France.

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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 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.

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

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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.

    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.

    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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  • 04/21/17--12:47: Neri Oxman: A New Daphne
  • "Daphne has escaped the god's embraces, which promising love would but result in ungraceful fertility." - T. E. Hulme

    Like a ray of light from an unlikely source, comes this quote from T.E. Hulme.    Only the fanatic reader of English poetry or the dogged scholar now remembers  T(homas) E(rnest) Hulme today. This surprised me when I went looking for his poems recently; I remembered Hulme from my high school English literature studies.   More familiar is the term Imagism, invented by Ezra Pound to describe a new kind of poetry,  but it was Hulme who supplied the theoretical ballast.  Not that Hulme wrote that much poetry, but that he did write impressed the right people:  Ezra Pound and Robert Frost, who attested to Hulme's influence on his own work after they met in London in 1913.

    That same ray of light is captured in  Imaginary Beings (Daphne) a sculpture recently created by  Neri Oxman using colored digital powders and other materials that were programmed through a 3-D printer.  Daphne appears in several ancient Greek texts, including in Ovid's Metamorphosis, but all agree that she was a water nymph who attracted the amorous god Apollo, a misfortune that led this sworn virgin  to appeal to her father to rescue her so, being a god himself, he turned her into a tree. 

    Oxman's Daphne glows from within,  usually portrayed as a woman with branches sprouting from her head and arms, here she becomes a source of light herself, the thing that makes photosynthesis possible, and bursts forth in ruffles of leaves.  When you realize that glass is composed of particles of silicate it is not so surprising that Oxman's bits of colored powders looks so much like glass.  You could think of this as a 21st century form of alchemy.

    Oxman, who is an architect, has thought long about what makes for good design. At the MIT Media Lab, she  has created digital versions of morphological objects, combining the forms and structures of biological organisms with elements from architecture  to create objects that Oxman has characterized as 'Material Ecology.'  So common that we barely notice it, much less give it a name, designers have long used elements from nature  as their inspiration in  a process known as biomimicry.  But now, using computer assisted design programs (CADs), people like Neri Oxman and the Mediated Matter Group at MIT are able to produce algorithms that translate their two-dimensional ideas into three-dimensional art objects,

    Oxman grew up in Haifa, Israel,  among architects and engineers so, from an early age she saw her American father and Israeli mother designing things.  She enrolled in medical school but then switched to architecture.  At MIT, Oxman has been  developing 3-D printers that can layer molten glass, in the way that they currently work plastics or polymers.  Her work was featured in a 2016 exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York,

    For further reading;
    1. Tashima Etsuko: Learning From Nature, at The Blue Lantern, 25 March 2016.
    2. Survival of The Beautiful by David Rothenberg, New York, Bloomsbury Press: 2011.

    Neri Oxman & Mediated Matter Group, Imaginary Beings (Daphne), 2011, Museum of Modern Art, NYC.

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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.

    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.

    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

    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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  • 05/17/17--09:21: Springtime In The North

  • The first time I looked at this photograph, I thought it might have been made by Daniel Nyblin (1856-1923).  Nyblin is known outside his home country of Finland mostly to fans of early photography but there is something about his  images of flat lands and buildings, anchored at water's edge, made small under a vast vault of sky that stays with you once you have seen them.   In spite of that characteristic suggestion of endless space, St. Petersburg is only three hours away.
    But, pleasant as it is to be reminded of Nyblin's  work, I had jumped to a wrong conclusion, two of them actually.  The photographer was an American named Aubrey Bodine, who worked for many years at the Baltimore Sun.  The photograph, taken along the coast of Nova Scotia, isof another continent altogether.  Still, a northern landscape, at least!   

    1. Aubrey Bodine - Springtime in Nova Scotia, 1952, Minneapolis Institute of Art.
    2. Daniel Nyblin - Overrsvommelse i Borsesje i Leirkup Gjerpensdalen, February 1923 (?), Telemark, Museum, Ragnvald.

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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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    The little town of Tortona is off the regular tourist path that runs through the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy.  True, it was the oldest Roman settlement in the Po Valley, established more than one hundred years BCE.    But today, it is also home to Il Divisionismo Pinacoteca Fondazione, The Art Foundation for Divisionism, housed in a defunct bank building.   Because few of the artists shown here have been collected outside Italy, their work comes to us with an unexpected freshness.

    Divisionismis the name given to a group of artists active in late 19th and early 20th century Italy, during and after the time of Italian unification, a period known as the Risorgomento.  It is a group in a looser sense of the term than historians are comfortable with;  many of the artists were committed to the betterment of society and the alleviation of poverty but style and emphasis varied.  Some of the best-known of them were  Vittorio Grubicy de Dragon (1851-1920). Angelo Morbelli (1853-1919), Plinioi Nomellini ((1866-1943), Emilio Longoni (1859-1932), Giueseppe Pellizza da Volpedo (1868-1907), and Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899).   What they knew, mostly, about their French contemporaries came through reading about them in the French press, rather than seeing their paintings.  It fell to Grubicy de Dragon to become explicator of the new art to his countrymen. This has the happy effect of allowing a variety of styles to be shown side by side, in harmony  - a fascinating visual dialogue.

    You can explore the collection in full  here (in Italian).

    One of the best known works in the collection and, indeed, one of the most representative of the Divisioinist movementis Emilio Longoni's Reflections of a Hungry Man.  Its colors and its mood are reflected in another Longoni wokr, this one the landscape Winter Melancholy.

    To read more: Radical Light: Italy's Divisionist Painters, 1891-1910, Simonette Fraquelli et al, National Gallery, London: 2008.

    1. Victor Grubicy de Dragon  Quando uccelletti vanno a dormire (When the little birds go to sleep), c.1891-93.
    2.  Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo - L'Albero (The tree), 1892.
    3.  Emilio Longoni - Malinconia Invernale (Winter melancholy), c.1894.
    4.  Emilio Longoni - Riflessioni di un affamato (Reflections of a hungry man), 1894.
    5. Plinio Nomellini  -  Mattina in officina (Morning at the workshop), 1894.
    6. Giovanni Segantini - Malven / O Malvoni (Hollyhocks), 1881.

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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. 

    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.