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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Carlo Ramaldi's charming little alien creature. Some have called it "ugly cute."
The iconic E.T. poster.
It's no secret that Steven Spielberg is my all-time favorite filmmaker. I've written regarding two other Spielberg films Jaws and Schindler's List, and will probably cover Saving Private Ryan, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind someday. Those four, taken together with his E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, would tend to round out top five on most critics' list of Spielberg's best movies. Although E.T. might not top that list, it's my favorite on so many different levels I would at least deem it the most "watchable" of the top five. As with any movie effort, regardless of the director, the final product is a team effort. Some might call it "art by committee" and indeed, that are any number of films, some by outstanding Hollywood icons, which would very easily fit that bill. But none of Spielberg's films fall into that category (even his sloppy attempt at comedy, 1941). E.T. began in the mind of screenwriter, Melissa Mathison, germinated in Spielberg's fertile imagination, took shape in the work of special effects genius, Carlo Ramaldi, and came to life on screen with the touching pathos of a brave little boy of ten--Henry Thomas.

How Henry Thomas became Elliott.

Spielberg and his alien puppet friend.
Quite apart from a fascinating script, and an enchantingly ugly, but strangely lovable alien creature, Spielberg's tact in selecting and directing talented children was the magic ingredient that made E.T. work. Here he had three to deal with, Henry Thomas, ten, seven-year-old Drew Barrymore, who played Elliott's prankish little sister (age five in the movie), and fifteen-year-old Robert MacNaughton cast in the role of Elliot's older brother, Michael (below). Though all three had worked "in the business" before, none had much in the way of acting experience. (How could they at their ages?) The cast was rounded out by Dee Wallace as the kids' recently divorced mother, and an un-named scientist simply known as "Keys" played by Peter Coyote.
The E.T. Kids: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, and Robert MacNaughton.

A face only a mother
(and millions of children) could love.
Carlo Rambaldi (below), who had designed the aliens for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, was hired by Spielberg to design and build E.T. Its face was said to have been inspired by those of Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein and Ernest Hemingway. Producer Kathleen Kennedy had the Jules Stein Eye Institute create E.T.'s eyes, which she felt were particularly important in engaging the audience. Four heads were created for filming, one as the main animatronic and the others for facial expressions, as well as a costume. Two dwarfs, Tamara De Treaux and Pat Bilon, as well as 12-year-old, Matthew DeMeritt, who was born without legs, took turns wearing the costume, depending on what scene was being filmed. DeMeritt walked on his hands and played all scenes where E.T. walked awkwardly or fell over. The head was placed above that of the actors, who could only see through slits in its chest. E. T. was created in three months and set back MCA and Universal Studios a cool $1.5 million (ten percent of the picture's budget). Spielberg declared it was "something only a mother could love." Though M&Ms were originally intended to be the candy bait in luring the alien creature inside, the Mars candy company found E.T. so ugly that they refused to allow their product to be used in the film for fear the creature would frighten children. This allowed their competitor, Hershey, the opportunity to market Reese's Pieces. (Hershey's profits rose 65% as a result.)

Special effects designer, Carlo Rambaldi, shows off his drawings for the alien puppet.
E.T. was filmed roughly in chronological order, mostly for the benefit of the children. Spielberg felt this would give them a better feeling for the story's progression and their character development as actors while allowing them to gradually bond with the movie's extra-terrestrial star. Spielberg had originally offered the picture to Columbia, who looked at the script and deemed it suitable only for Disney. Spielberg found a more welcome reception at MCA who agreed to fund the picture for a total of $10.5-million. The film eventually grossed just under $792-million, making it, for a time, the highest grossing picture ever. It was later surpassed by Spielberg's own Jurassic Park some eleven years later.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, school for child movie actors.

E.T. was shot at a rather blistering rate--only sixty-one days (it was originally scheduled for sixty-five). Considering the youthful inexperience of his cast and Spielberg's past luck with animatronics (as in Jaws) this feat alone was somewhat remarkable. There was also an air of great secrecy surrounding the filming, done under the cover name of A Boy's Life. The script was kept under lock and key with the actors allowed access to each scene only on the day of shooting. Spielberg was highly fearful of plagiarism and piracy. Indeed, he himself was accused of plagiarism and, despite his precautions, is said to have lost millions as a result of newly developing forms of video piracy. The film was previewed at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival to excellent reviews, then released in June of that year, making back its cost during just the first week. Then it went on to remain number one at the box office for more than seven weeks.

Spielberg found himself teaching seven-year-old,
Drew Barrymore, how to act like a five-year-old.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is something of a spiritual auto-biography of a suburban boy with an uncommon, fervent imagination. References to Spielberg's childhood occur throughout the film as seen in the sibling relationships of the children. Other writers have focused upon the similarities between Elliott and E.T. while still others mention similarities to Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz. Andrew Nigels went so far as to compare E.T. to Jesus, describing E.T.'s story as "crucifixion by military science" and "resurrection by love and faith." It's obvious that Universal Pictures appealed directly to the Christian market, with a touching fingers poster reminiscent of Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam. Spielberg found the Christian comparison amusing in that he's Jewish.

"I'll be here." The final, tear-jerking scene from the movie."
 Click below for the movie's trailer:


Monday, October 5, 2015

Chester A. Arthur Portraits

Chester A. Arthur, official White House portrait, Daniel Huntington
American voters have often displayed the bad habit of not paying much attention to the vice-presidential nominees of the two major parties. Then one dark day, in a state of shock over the death of a president, the nation is faced with a still more troubling shock of realizing they hardly know the man replacing their deceased leader. It's happened again and again, starting with John Tyler, later Andrew Johnson, then Chester A. Arthur, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and finally, Lyndon Johnson (though thanks to Johnson's long career in the U.S. Senate and modern media exposure, his elevation to the presidency was not such a shock to the nation as it was to the Democratic party). Chester Alan Arthur was the second vice-president to occupy the White House as a result of an assassination (the first being Andrew Johnson). Our twenty-first president of the United States was born on this date, 186 years ago--October 4, 1829. His official White House portrait (above) was painted by Daniel Huntington, who also painted that of Rutherford B. Hayes (in the previous post, below).
The 1880 Republican nominees as seen by the printmakers, Currier & Ives.
James A. Garfield of Ohio was elected president in 1880 following the lackluster administration of Rutherford B. Hayes (the item below). Garfield's administration was even more lackluster in that he was shot by a disgruntled office seeker, Charles J. Guiteau, on July 2, 1881, little more than four months after he took office. Garfield was to linger near death for just over two more months until September 19, 1881. A Currier & Ives campaign poster (above) identifies both men as (Civil War) generals, though Arthur never saw combat, having been "appointed" as quartermaster general in the New York Militia. In contrast, Garfield entered the war as a Colonel, leading troops in several major battles before leaving the army as a Major General to serve in Congress. Garfield was a legitimate war hero who, as President, gave his life for his country. The best that could be said about Arthur was that he rose to become an important cog in New York City Republican machine politics. Arthur, being from New York, was selected as Garfield's running mate to "balance" the ticket.

Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur
Despite a somewhat shady past in politics (he was fired from his post as Collector of the Port of New York by President Hayes in 1878), Chester A. Arthur, though serving for less than four years, was probably a better president than historians give him credit. He arrived at the White House as a man in mourning for his deceased wife, the lovely Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur, who had died of pneumonia in January of the previous year. She was forty-two. Thus Ellen Arthur never served as first lady, her role as hostess being filled as needed by Arthur's sister, Mary Arthur McElroy. Ellen Arthur's painted portrait is not among those of the presidents' wives in the White House. Her portrait (right) was painted posthumously from a photo by an unknown artist. Arthur's ascendency to the nation's highest office is treated humorously by Puck cartoonist Joseph Keppler (below) as he faces down the cabinet members of his deceased predecessor. Most of them hated Arthur's guts. The rest merely distrusted him.

Arthur facing Garfield's cabinet, Puck Cartoon, Joseph Keppler. The portrait figures are President Chester A. Arthur, Attorney General Wayne MacVeagh, Secretary of the Treasury William Windom, Secretary of State James G. Blaine, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln's son), Secretary of the Interior Samuel J. Kirkwood, Postmaster General Thomas L. James, and Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt.
Chester A. Arthur had a pleasant, but rather ordinary face. However, he more than made up for this with his rather unforgettable "mutton chop" sideburns which, along with a similarly bushy moustache, completely encircled his head. It was an era, starting with Lincoln, when many, perhaps most, men wore some type of facial hair. Arthur's was distinctive, one might go so far as to say radical, even for the gilded age. Two head-and-shoulder portraits capture this trademark feature quite well, one by the folks at Madame Tussaud's with their three-dimensional wax figure (below, left), and the second by Ole Peter Hansen Balling (who also painted the official White House portrait of James Garfield). Balling's portrait of Arthur (below, right) however hangs in Washington's National Portrait Gallery. In addition to his "stylish" facial hair, Arthur was known to be a natty dresser as well. He owned over sixty different suits and was the first president to hire a personal valet to manage them.

Chester Alan Arthur as seen
at Madame Tussaud's
Chester A. Arthur, NPG portrait,
Ole Peter Hansen Bailing.
After Arthur took office he learned he had kidney disease, though he kept it a secret. Despite his medical condition he managed to survive Garfield's remaining three-and-a-half-year term as a president. Chester A. Arthur died in November, 1886, less than two years after leaving the presidency. And finally, Arthur (left) is also included among the forty-three sculpted busts of presidents (mentioned yesterday, the item below) by the Texas painter/sculptor David Adickes. The sideburns are a bit less "fluffy" than those seen in most of the painted portraits of Arthur; but then again, even carved in stone, there's always the danger of their breaking off if "undercut" too much.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rutherford B. Hayes Portraits

Rutherford B. Hayes, 1884,  Daniel Huntington
Rutherford B. Hayes was born on October 4, 1822. If you uttered out loud, or in your mind, "who?" you're not alone. As suggested by the fact that there are only two major portraits of the 19th President of the United States, any questioning reaction is quite valid and understandable. He was very much an insignificant president. In fact, his wife, Lucy Webb Hayes, better known by the nickname, "Lemonade Lucy," is perhaps better known for never having served alcohol in the White House than for anything her husband did as president. The official, White House Portrait of Rutherford Birchard Hayes (above) is by Daniel Huntington, who also painted Mrs. Hayes (bottom) and her husband's successor, Chester A. Arthur, (whose birthday is tomorrow on October 5th). Huntington was a good choice for both portraits as he was as insignificant as an artist as the two presidents he painted. Both portraits are rather staid, conservative, imminently boring images typical of Victorian era portraiture in the United States.

Rutherford Birchard, Hayes, NPG, Eliphalet Frazer Andrews
Major General Rutherford B. Hayes,
ca. 1870. The artist is unknown.
The choice of Eliphalet Frazer Andrews to paint the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) image of Hayes (above) is equally appropriate. His style is quite similar to Huntington's. Andrews has three portraits hanging in the White House all painted posthumously, the full-length portraits of Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Johnson. None are particularly outstanding, though the one of Martha Washington is modestly charming. The earliest painted portrait of Hayes (left) has him in full uniform as a major general in the Union Army. He earned his rank the hard way. He was wounded in combat five times and cited for his bravery in battle more often than that. Compared to his presidential portraits, this one is a notch above the others with its associated background and nicely lit face. You can at least see his mouth in this painting.
Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes

Hayes came to the White House after one term in Congress and a couple two-year terms as Governor of Ohio. A reasonably good portrait of Hayes as governor (left) is also by an unknown artist. Despite his political background, however, Hayes was very much a dark horse compromise nominee of the Republican party when the frontrunner, James G. Blaine of Maine, could not amass sufficient convention delegate support to clinch the nomination. Hayes was nominated on the seventh ballot. His vice-presidential running mate was William A. Wheeler of New York, whom Hayes had never met. Hayes is said to ask after Wheeler's nomination, "I am ashamed to say: Who is Wheeler?" If the convention turmoil was peculiar by today's standards, the presidential election of 1876 was a nightmare. Hayes lost the popular vote by some 250,000 while Samuel J. Tilden, his Democratic opponent, lost the presidency by one electoral vote. Some twenty electors from three still war-torn states in the South were contested. A bi-partisan Electoral Commission, just days before the March 4th, 1877 inaugural ceremony, eventually awarded them to Hayes in a dark and dirty backroom deal. In return for the 20 electoral votes making him president, Hayes agreed to the removal of federal troops still stationed in those three states to enforce the newly-passed 14th amendment, which had awarded former slaves the right to vote. Nearly one-hundred years of black voter suppression followed.
The new President Hayes (right) is seen in the colorized etching along with
outgoing President Ulysses Grant (left). Hayes had already been
sworn in at a secret White House ceremony two days earlier.
Today, the four years of the Hayes administration are hardly remember for much of any of real historic importance, other than Lucy Hayes' ban on alcohol and the fact that President Hayes had the first telephone installed in the White House (also the first typewriter). It was 1877; the phone wasn't used much. In fact there was only one other party on the line, the U.S. Treasury Department next door. The phone was installed by Alexander Graham Bell himself; the White House phone number was "1". Hayes is reported to have commented, "It's a great invention, but who'd want to use one?" The quotation has since been widely disputed. At right, Hayes is represented in a Smithsonian exhibit commemorating the event. Rutherford B. Hayes, along with all the other presidents, were also commemorated in a sculpture park just outside Williamsburg, Virginia (below).
Rutherford B. Hayes, ca. 2005,
David Adickes
Texas artist, David Adickes, had a dream to create his own Mount Rushmore of sorts, but one people could touch, unlike the mountainside megaliths that reside in South Dakota. Also, he wanted to include more of the Presidents. Formerly a painter, and then with more focus as a Sculptor, Mr. Adickes made some of the sculptures. But, it seemed no one wanted these heads and there was no formality or completeness to their display. Adickes was a man with a dream. He built a park near Williamsburg. Mr. Adickes is now 87 years old and as long as he's alive, he plans to make future heads when new Presidents are elected. (He's yet to do President Obama.) The park opened in 2004, but then closed in 2010. Adickes defaulted on the $3.3-million loan used to create the park. The property was put up for auction in 2012. Today, Rutherford B. Hayes' bust and all the others have been sent to a local farm.

Lucy Hayes' Official White House portrait,
Daniel Huntington


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Gino Severini

Simultaneity of Centrifugal and Centripetal Groups (Woman at a Window),
1914, Gino Severini
There's an ancient Chinese saying of dubious attribution which states: "May you live in interesting times." It first appeared in English literature around 1936 and sounds as if it might have come from a fortune cookie. Of course, the key word here is "interesting," the definition of which varies from person to person. However, most people would agree that we live in interesting times right now. But insofar as art is concerned, with the possible exception of the Renaissance, the most interesting period to have lived may have been during the last quarter of the 19th-century through the first quarter of the 20th--the period 1875 to 1925. As an artist living at that time, one could have witnessed and been a part of the birth of Modern Art. This fifty-year span of time began with a mature Impressionism and saw the advent of Post-impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Symbolism, Dada, Futurism, Surrealism, and probably two or three more "isms" of lesser importance which fail to come to mind at the moment. One of the more interesting of these was Futurism and one of the more interesting artists from this movement, was the Italian painter, Gino Severini.

Severini's Ballerina in Blue (left) and his Dynamism of a Dance (right) both from 1912.
Gino Severini Self-portrait,1909
While Impressionism dealt mostly with technique; Post-impressionism and Fauvism with masses and color; Cubism with shapes; Symbolism with...well, symbols; Dada with anti-art foolishness; and Surrealism with dreams; Futurism, on the other hand, dealt with motion. (The name is a real misnomer here in that the movement had little to do with the future except, perhaps, as a matter of wishful thinking). Futurism emphasized speed, technology, youth, violence, the industrial city, and objects such as cars, planes, and trains, all of which were, first and foremost, about motion. Though Italian in origin, Futurism spread throughout all Europe in the 1920s and encompassed virtually all forms of art. Futurist artists included Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo CarrĂ , Giacomo Balla, Antonio Sant'Elia, Bruno Munari, Benedetta Cappa, Luigi Russolo, and of course, Gino Severini, all of whom had as their goal the glorifying of modernity aimed at liberating Italy from the weight of its past glories. Insofar as Severini's work was concerned, his Ballerina in Blue (above, left) and his Dynamism of a Dance (above, right) both from 1912, were an attempt to suggest (as oppose to render) motion in a medium (oil on canvas) that was far from ideal.

Paris, the Seine, the Barges of the Louvre, 1908, Gino Severini
Gino Severini was born in 1883, his father a minor court official, his mother a dressmaker. Young Gino studied at the Scuola Tecnica located in his hometown of Cortona, (central) Italy, until the age of fifteen, when he was expelled from the entire Italian school system for the theft of exam papers. The following year, he moved with his mother to Rome where he first met the future Futurists, Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla while studying at the Rome Fine Art Institute. However his formal studies ended after only two years when his patron back in Cortona cut him loose claiming, "I absolutely do not understand your lack of order" (a polite way of saying "I hate your art work"). Around 1906, Severini, now twenty-three, left his mother behind and moved to Paris. His Paris, the Seine, the barges of the Louvre (above), from 1908, is one of his earliest surviving works.

The Boulevard, 1911, Gino Severini
In Paris, Severini settle in the Montmartre district where he met and studied the work of most of the great names in Modern Art--his best friend Amedeo Modigliani, who occupied a studio next to those of Raoul Dufy, Georges Braque and Suzanne Valadon. Severini likewise knew most of the Parisian avant-garde, including painters such as Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris, and Pablo Picasso, as well as the writers Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Jules Romains, and Paul Fort. He later married Fort's daughter, Jean. Surrounded by all those struggling artist of the time, it's little wonder Severini's work did not sell well, forcing him to live on handouts from others--the stereotypical starving artist. Severini's earliest flirtation with Cubism, can be seen in his The Boulevard (above), from this period.

Lancers, 1915, Gino Severini
Gino Severini's involvement with Futurism began around 1910 when he was one of six artists to sign Boccioni's and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting. Two years later, Severini helped to organize the first Futurist exhibition outside Italy at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris. He later participated in Futurist shows around Europe and in the United States. Severini's first solo exhibitions came In 1913 at the Marlborough Gallery, London, and Der Sturm, in Berlin. Severini's attempts, mentioned earlier, to capture the movements of dancers on canvas, were likely a part of these shows. Then, with the coming of WW I, Severini went on to produce several Futurist/Cubist works such as his Lancers (above) and Red Cross Train Passing a Village (below) both from 1915.

Red Cross Train Passing a Village, 1915, Gino Severini
After the war, as the future arrived, Futurism faded. Severini divided his time between Paris and Rome, embracing Cubism to a great degree, but also in search of an individual style to call his own. In the process, he moved for a time toward a more naturalist style as seen in his harlequin portrait of his friend, Nino Franchina (below, left), dating from 1938. The harlequin had long been a fascination for Severini so it's interesting to compare his 1938 version with a Synthetic Cubist harlequin (below, right) painted in 1965 just a year before his death.

Gino Severini's Harlequin Portrait of Nino Franchina 
(left), from 1938, and his Cubist Harlequin (right), 1965.
In the years following WW II, Severini found his niche as he gradually settled upon a rather flat, Cubist style with modulated color as seen in his On the Beach (below) dating from 1945. Later, his The Dance of the Pan-Pan at the Monico (bottom), repainted in 1959, is reminiscent of a very complex version of some of the collaged paintings of Picasso and Miro as he fell in line with the then dominant Abstract Expressionist movement spreading from the U.S. to engulf Europe. Gino Severini died in Paris in 1966, at the age of eighty-two. He was buried near his birthplace in Cortona, Italy. As for Futurism, it died long before him. Perhaps Yogi Berra summed it up best: "The future ain't what it used to be."

On the Beach, 1948, Gino Severini
The Dance of the Pan-Pan at the Monico, Gino Severini.
The painting was destroyed during WW II but Severini recreated it in 1959.


Friday, October 2, 2015

The Self-Portrait Still-Life

Acrylic Still Life of Old Shoe and Paint Supplies, Michael Galligan
Still life of my shoes, Rachel Toles
It takes a certain amount of ego for an artist to paint a self-portrait. Most have no shortage of that commodity, some artists leaving us with dozens of such paintings. For those more on the shy side, there are other ways to capture ones "self" other than with mirrors of "selfie" photos. Anyone who has ever had the heartrending task of going through the most personal possessions of a loved one after their death knows that, as emotionally trying as it might be, you come away with a far sharper image of that person as a result. Things reflect who we are. What we save, what we discard, says a lot about our personality and values. For artists, of course, there's the tools of their trade--brushes, tubes of paint, photos, pencils, erasers, etc. But those items are mostly professional in nature. A very wise individual once said words to the effect, "you don't know someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes." Combine the artist's tools and shoes, as Michael Galligan has in his painting, Acrylic Still Life of Old Shoe and Paint Supplies (above), and you have the quintessential self-portrait still-life. Rachel Toles had somewhat the same idea (left) but apparently has better things to do with her shoes than stuff them full of art stuff.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Before, (top, left) 2001; Shafts of Color (left), 2001; Portrait of the Artist (center)
and Painted Paint Painting (right), 1994.
A Vanitas Still Life: A Globe, a Casket
of Jewels and Medallions, Books a
Hurdy Gurdy, a Bagpipe, a lute, a
Violin, a silver Tazza, a Roemer, a
Nautilus Shell, a Recorder, a Shawm a
Print with a Self-Portrait of the Artist
and a Musical Score on a Draped Table,
a Curtain above, 1662, Edwaert Collier
I know of what I speak. Over the years I've made a number of attempts to capture my "self" without painting myself (above). I'm sorry about the quality of some of the images, but all but one of these self-portraits are now "long gone." Inasmuch as the "self-portrait still-life" is far from a recognized painting category, no one has really researched the history of such art. But from what I've found, it would seem they date back at least to the 17th-century and the fascinating Dutch Vanitas still-lifes from the much-touted "Golden Age." Edwaert Collier's A Vanitas Still Life (left), from 1662, stops short of labeling the items cluttering his composition as personal, nor has he included art supplies, but even a cursory inspection suggests this was a very personal statement of that which interested him and things he held dear. The title says it all (boy, does it ever). A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a title more than fifty words long does add a certain air of distinction to the work. Along the same line, Ephraim Rubenstein's Still Life With Books, Mirrors, and Lenses II (below), from 2003, may have a more modern look, but the tendency of such artists to supply a "laundry list" of plainly depicted content still lingers.

Still Life With Books, Mirrors, and Lenses II, 2003, Ephraim Rubenstein
Hand with Reflecting Sphere,
1935, M.C. Escher
Some artists from the past have painted self-portrait still-lifes on a scale far beyond that of Collier and Rubenstein. The French Impressionist, Frederick Bazille, with his The Artist's Studio (below), from 1870, left us a "still-life" the size of an entire room, decorated with some of his paintings and peopled with himself, some would-be clients, and a few of his artist friends. That may stretch the definition of both the self-portrait and the still-life quite a bit, but it nonetheless paints a highly accurate image of the artist with a great deal of detailed depth. The famous etcher, M.C. Escher, in his drawing, Hand with Reflecting Sphere, (right), from 1935, did much the same thing utilizing a crystal sphere, hand-held, which reflects not just his own image but his studio as well. It's undoubtedly the most daringly original self-portrait still-life ever put forth.

The Artist's Studio, 1870, Frederick Bazille
Despite these exceptional, "outside the box" self-portrait still-lifes, most painters (myself included) still tend to cling to their image as professional artists. In researching this presentation I found so my excellent examples, utilizing many different styles, and approaches I've found it impossible to choose among them. So, I'm presenting them all (below) in the hope that one or more may inspire the artists reading these works to paint a self-portrait without their own pretty face.

Nature Morte a la Palette, Andre Vignoles
Work in Progress, Debbie Shirley
My Art Studio, Patti Schermerhorn

Still-life Self-portrait, FrankieCee
Painting Materials,
1949, Fairfield Porter
The Artist's Tools, 2011,
Michael Naples
The Art of Penny Soto


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Jimmy Carter Portraits

Jimmy Carter Official White House portrait, 1982, Herbert E. Abrams.
Happy Birthday, Jimmy. Today, former president James Earl Carter Jr. is ninety-one years of age, the second oldest living ex-president (after George H.W. Bush who is 110 days older). Both were born in 1924. Elected by a very modest majority in 1976, he was defeated for re-election by a very substantial majority in 1980. Historians have not dealt kindly with Carter largely because of the Iranian hostage crisis during the last years of his presidency, and the disastrous rescue attempt in 1980. Recently in an interview, Carter revealed his one greatest regret was that he did not send just one more helicopter (two aircraft were lost, eight servicemen died in the attempt). By and large, artists have been far more kind to the former president than have pundits. His official White House portrait (above) is by Herbert E. Abrams. Abrams has also painted the official portraits of three other presidents--Herbert Hoover, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton--as well as former first lady, Barbara Bush. His work is well-represented in the White House, surpassed in number only by G.P.A. Healy who painted eleven--John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James Polk, Willard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Chester A. Arthur.
Jimmy Carter, 1978, National Portrait Gallery, Robert Clark Templeton
As with all other American Presidents, Jimmy Carter's portrait also hangs in Washington's National Portrait Gallery (above). This one is a full-length depiction by Robert Clark Templeton set in the oval office as it appeared during Carter's four-year presidency. Like most other presidential portraits at the NPG, Templeton's is less formal than those in the White House, which (with a few exceptions) tend to fit a rather conservative model. Templeton's work, as compared to other presidential artists, Templeton is good, though in no way exceptional.
Everett Raymond Kinstler at work on the Carter portrait, 2008.
Another frequent painter of presidents is Everett Raymond Kinstler, who has also painted Carter, though not in any official capacity. His 2008 portrait (above) is interesting because of Kinstler's customary loose, painterly brushwork, but also the fact that he was photographed as he worked on Carter's portrait. The result is a warm, almost glowing, image of the aging former president. I was surprised to find that Jimmy Carter also paints. Like former president George W. Bush, he also paints self-portraits (though not in the bathtub). Judging from Carter's self-portrait (below) set in his woodworking shop, I'd say that both former presidents are about equally talented.

Self-portrait by former president Jimmy Carter in his studio, painted in 2009
As usual, these unofficial portraits of the presidents are often the most intriguing. Visually, Jimmy Carter was probably most famous for his broad, winning smile. Templeton and both the official portrait painters have wisely played down this characteristic facial feature, which veers very close to a caricature. The unofficial artists, usually working from photos, do not, as seen in Lou Ortiz's pencil portrait (below, left) and Robert Peak's lively 1977 watercolor (below, right).

President Jimmy Carter, Lou Ortiz
Jimmy Carter, 1977, Robert Peak

Jimmy Carter, 1976, Andy Warhol
A rather more famous artist than these two also took the time to depict the sitting president as seen in the characteristic style of Andy Warhol, from 1976, shortly after Carter's election. There's no toothy grin in this one, but a rather "deer in the headlights" worried stare as the then newly-elected chief executive began to come to grips with the multitude of domestic and international crises facing the nation. After some thirty-five years, what we call these problems has changed, but the underlying causes remain much the same.
Rosalynn Carter White House Portrait, 1984, George Augusta
Note: G.P.A. Healy notwithstanding, Missouri artist, Andy Thomas, has probably painted more portraits of presidents than any other artists. However, his work is not likely to be hanging in the oval office any time soon. Like the artist, C.M. Coolidge, famous for his dogs playing poker, Andy Thomas, famous for his western scenes, features paintings of presidents playing poker (and pool). To avoid unpleasant political confrontations, Thomas very wisely keeps his presidents separated by political affiliation, as seen in his Grand Ole Gang (below) with its eight republicans seeming to have a raucous laugh triggered by Abe Lincoln's famously dry sense of humor. In contrast, Thomas paints the democratic presidents (all nine of them) playing pool, apparently amused by the wit and wisdom of Andrew Jackson. That's seventeen altogether. If I were president, I'd hang the originals side by side just inside the front door of the White House.

The Grand Ole Gang, Andy Thomas

Callin' the Red, Andy Thomas