Archive for the 'Art' Category

The Lamberts

Lambert-George-AcrossTheBlackSoilPlains-1899

From sometime before 1933 right down to the present day, members of my family have had on their walls reproductions of George Lambert’s 1899 Wynne-Prize-winning painting Across the Black Soil Plains, and so this image is part of my cultural heritage. (Image due to AGNSW.)

George Washington Thomas Lambert (1873-1930) was an Australian artist born, after his father had died, in St Petersburg of an American father and English mother.  The family emigrated to New South Wales in 1887.  In Australia, he is most famous for his painting, Across the Black Soil Plains, now in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which was based on his time living at Warren, NSW.  During WWI, he was an official Australian war artist.

George’s son, Leonard Constant Lambert (1905-1951) was a jazz-age British composer and conductor, and co-founder of Sadler’s Wells dance company.

Constant’s son, Christopher (“Kit”) Sebastian Lambert (1935-1981) was a record producer and manager, and part-creator of rock band, The Who.




Visual pleasure

StBridgetWavertreeLiverpool

Some buildings and spaces provide pleasure to the eye and heart, and an inexplicable lift to the spirits.   One such place is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Chicago, whose intimacy and proportions are ineffably balanced.  Another is the Italianate Church of St Brigid in Wavertree, Liverpool.  This Anglican church was designed by E. A. (Arthur) Heffer and built between 1868 and 1872.    The building can be clearly seen from the inter-city trains approaching and departing Liverpool’s Lime Street station, and seeing it never fails to lift my spirits.

Perhaps the pleasure arises from the stark contrast between the tall bell tower and the flat, surrounding landscape of  two-story Victorian terraces.  Or perhaps it is the shape and size of the tower; certainly, the visual pleasure would be much less if the tower were pyramid-shaped, or conical, or any shorter.




Auburn addictions

LaGhirlandata-Rossetti

I went three times to his studio, and met him at two evening parties – where I had good deal of talk with him, always excepting the times when ladies with beautiful hair came in when he was like the cat turned into a lady, who jumped out of bed and ran after a mouse. It did not signify what we were talking about or how agreeable I was; if a particular kind of reddish brown, crepe wavy hair came in, he was away in a moment struggling for an introduction to the owner of said hair. He is not as mad as a March hare, but hair-mad.”

Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) on the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rosetti (1828-1882), in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton (25 and 30 October 1859).  The image shown is Rossettti’s painting La Ghirlandata (The Garlanded Lady), for whom the model was Alexa Wilding.  Bridgeman Art Library, London.




Dissident graffiti in Czechoslovakia

MustekStationPrague

In August 1984, I saw a display of cartoons by Jan Bernat, at the Mustek Metro Station in Prague, CSSR.   One cartoon showed a crowd of Western Europeans of various nationalities saying “No”, “Non”, “Nien”, etc, to nuclear weapons, with Ronald Reagan in front of them all with a placard saying “YES.

However, some graffitist had scribbled over this “YES” and written “NO.




The Yirrkala Bark Petition

Australia has just commemorated the 50th anniversary of the presentation of the Yirrkala bark panels as a petition to the Australian Commonwealth Parliament in August 1963.   The panels are an example of visual art as argument, as I noted here.

Related posts on visual arguments here and here.  

 




Artists concat

Here is a listing of visual artists whose work I like.    Minimalists and geometric abstractionists are over-represented, relative to their population in the world.    In due course, I will add posts about each of them.

  • Carel Fabritius (1622-1654)
  • Tao Chi (1641-1720)
  • Jin Nong (1687-c.1763)
  • Richard Wilson (1714-1782)
  • Thomas Jones (1742-1803)
  • Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)
  • Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)
  • John Sell Cotman (1782-1842)
  • Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858)
  • Thomas Cole (1801-1848)
  • Richard Parkes Bonington (1802–1828)
  • Thomas Chambers (1808-1869)
  • Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
  • Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
  • Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943)
  • Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack (1893-1965)
  • László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
  • Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912–2004)
  • Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
  • Jackson Pollock (1912–1956)
  • Gunther Gerzso (1915-2000)
  • Michael Kidner (1917-2009)
  • Guanzhong Wu (1919–2010)
  • Carlos Cruz-Diez (1923- )
  • Fred Williams (1927-1982)
  • Donald Judd (1928-1994)
  • Sol LeWitt (1928-2007)
  • Bridget Riley (1931- )
  • Norval Morrisseau (1932–2007)
  • Dan Flavin (1933-1996)
  • Jean-Pierre Bertrand (1937- )
  • Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980)
  • Prince of Wales Midpul (c.1937-2002)
  • Peter Struycken (1939- )
  • Alighiero e Boetti (1940-1994)
  • Cildo Meireles (1948- )
  • Jeremy Annear (1949- )
  • Louise van Terheijden (1954- )
  • Doreen Reid Nakamarra (1955-2009)
  • Peter Doig (1959- )
  • Katie Allen
  • Els van ‘t Klooster (1985- )



100 years ago at the Armory

ArmoryShow-1913

It is 100 years since the Armory Show, an influential exhibition of European and American visual art that toured New York, Chicago and Boston.   Some 70,000 people attended the New York exhibition (which ran from 1913-02-15 to 1913-03-17), and almost 190,000 the Chicago event.    The viewers included former President Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote a review of the show, here.  Although not a fan of the cubists and futurists, he was surprisingly open to innovation.   An excerpt:

The recent “International Exhibition of Modern Art” in New York was really noteworthy. Messrs. Davies, Kuhn, Gregg, and their fellow members of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors have done a work of very real value in securing such an exhibition of the works of both foreign and native painters and sculptors. Primarily their purpose was to give the public a chance to see what has recently been going on abroad. No similar collection of the works of European “moderns” has ever been exhibited in this country. The exhibitors are quite right as to the need of showing to our people in this manner the art forces which of late have been at work in Europe, forces which cannot be ignored.

This does not mean that I in the least accept the view that these men take of the European extremists whose pictures are here exhibited. It is true, as the champions of these extremists say, that there can be no life without change, no development without change, and that to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life. It is no less true, however, that change may mean death and not life, and retrogression instead of development. Probably we err in treating most of these pictures seriously. It is likely that many of them represent in the painters the astute appreciation of the powers to make folly lucrative which the late P. T. Barnum showed with his faked mermaid. There are thousands of people who will pay small sums to look at a faked mermaid; and now and then one of this kind with enough money will buy a Cubist picture, or a picture of a misshapen nude woman, repellent from every standpoint.

In some ways it is the work of the American painters and sculptors which is of most interest in this collection, and a glance at this work must convince any one of the real good that is coming out of the new movements, fantastic though many of the developments of these new movements are. There was one note entirely absent from the exhibition, and that was the note of the commonplace. There was not a touch of simpering, self-satisfied conventionality anywhere in the exhibition. Any sculptor or painter who had in him something to express and the power of expressing it found the field open to him.  He did not have to be afraid because his work was not along ordinary lines. There was no stunting or dwarfing, no requirement that a man whose gift lay in new directions should measure up or down to stereotyped and fossilized standards.”

What with TR’s imperialism and all, it is easy to forget how good a writer he was, being a published author before becoming President.   Like another Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning President.

Reference:

Theodore Roosevelt [1913]: A Layman’s Views of an Art Exhibition. Outlook, 103 (29 March 1913): 718–720. Reprinted in Roderick Nash [1970] (Editor):   The Call of the Wild (1900–1916). New York: George Braziller.




Transitions 2012

Some who have passed on during 2012 whose life or works have influenced me:




Bird cries from the mountaintop

When the wild bird cries its melodies from the treetops,
Its voice carries the message of the patriarch.
When the mountain flowers are in bloom,
Their full meaning comes along with their scent.

I have remarked twice before that modern westerners, even very clever ones, fail to understand the nature of synchronicity in Taoist and Zen philosophy when discussing the art of John Cage.  If you believe the universe is subject to invisible underlying forces, as Taoist and Zen adherents may do (and as Cage did), then there is no chance, no randomness, no lack of relationships between events, only a personal inability to perceive such relationships.  The I Ching is intended as a means to reveal some of these hidden connections.

In a recent essay on Silence in the TLS, Paul Griffiths ends with:

Another of Cage’s favourite maxims, this one taken from Ananda Coomaraswamy and delivered five times in Silence, was that the purpose of art is to “imitate nature in her manner of operation”, which is almost another way of stating his first catchphrase, since natural objects and phenomena have nothing to say. They are not, of course, saying it. We say it for them. And in our doing so, experiencing their voicelessness and taking it into ourselves, a great deal comes to be said. There is no message in the changing pattern of cloud shadow and reflected sunlight on the sea. It may, nevertheless, thrill us, calm us, and fix our sustained attention.”

But, of course, for a Zen adherent there are indeed messages in the changing patterns of clouds and in sunlight reflected on the sea.   Even more so are there messages in human artefacts such as musical compositions, even those (perhaps especially those!) using so-called random methods for creation.    For Cage, the particular gamuts (clusters of sounds) that he selected for any particular one of his random compositions were selected as the direct result of the spiritual forces acting on him at that particular moment of selection, through his use of the I Ching, for instance.   Similarly, under this world-view, the same forces are active in those compositions allowing apparently-random leeway to the performers or listeners.

One can criticize or reject this spiritual world-view, but first one has to understand it. Griffiths, like so many others, has failed to understand it.

 




On a railway platform with no trains departing?

Will Gompertz has a London-Tube-style map of movements in modern art, here. I don’t agree with all his expressed or implied linkages, and he evades the challenge of meaningfully classifying most current art by simply calling it “Art Now”, but the chart does provide a good starting-point for reflection and discussion.