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Monday, July 16, 2018

London Museums

About three months ago my wife and I spent a week in London, England. London was the last major European capital which I had not visited. Some people when they visit London go "bar-hopping" (or pub-hopping), which requires, of course, no great effort--the pubs are everywhere...everywhere! However, I have never been one to imbibe. Instead, in visiting, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, St. Petersburg, and other major art centers, I go museum hopping. Having taught about art for almost thirty years, I think I should check to see if I knew what I was talking about. Like Paris, London has so many art museums even in narrowing down the most important ones to five was quite a challenge for a six-day schedule. I shot lots of pictures just for the purpose of sharing them here, only to find that a number of videos which cover these revered art venues far better than my best efforts with my beloved pocket digital. I'm using both here, and in covering the art of a city like London, you can expect more in images than words. My choices began with the venerable British Museum in Bloomsbury area of London, followed by the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Britain (the original), and the Tate Modern a mile or two down the Thames. My museum hopping concluding with a look at the Crown Jewels Museum within the walls of the Tower of London (see map below).
The London museum trail. Our hotel is marked with an "H". I neglected to mark the Tower of London, but it sits at the far right overlooking the Thames.
The British Museum is the oldest existing museum in the world, dating from 1753, which makes it older than the Louvre. It's also where some of the oldest art in the world is displayed, dating back to prehistoric Egypt. In fact, the British Museum is second only to the Cairo Museum in the quantity and depth of its holdings. However, the star of their eight-million-piece collection is the Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799 and dating from 196 BC. Under the same roof can be found the Elgin Marbles, a sculptural grouping which once crowned the tympanum of the Parthenon in Athens. (Greece just called. They want their rocks back.)

The Elgin Marbles, kidnapped in 1801 by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin.
In the middle of the British Museum is the modern-day (2001) Great Court, the central focus of the museum, which encompasses the space once occupied by the British Library. Today, only the circular reading room of the library is preserved (below). This domed area covers about two acres of cafes, souvenir shops, monumental sculpture, and classical, facades. It serves as a hub for accessing the various historic periods. Admission to the museum is free but everywhere can be found receptacles for a donation (usually five pounds).

The British Library Reading Room was "home" to such important literary figures as Sun Yat-sen, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Mahatma Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Vladimir Lenin, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Rimbaud, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, H. G. Wells, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The National Portrait Gallery is directly south of the British Museum bordering the theater district. Theoretically, it displays works (mostly portraits) from the 18th to early 20th-century, though the British frequently find it convenient to blur such lines. It's here you would find works by Canaletto (mostly his London cityscapes), Goya, Turner, Constable, Ingres, Degas, Cézanne, Monet, Van Gogh, and other pioneers in painted art. Located on famed Trafalgar Square, in the shadow of a giant column topped by the larger-than-life statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson, it's one of the most congested areas of London.

Copyright, 2018, Jim Lane
Trafalgar Square on a rainy afternoon. The dome of the National Gallery can be seen at far left.
The National Gallery, founded in 1824, houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th-Century to 1900 (give or take a few years). Like the British Museum, admission is free. The National Portrait Gallery, right next door is free too, unlike such Museums in other European cities. It differs too from comparable museums in continental Europe, in that the National Gallery was not formed by nationalizing an existing royal collection. It came into being around 1824 when the British government bought 38 paintings from the heirs of John Julius Angerstein, an insurance broker and patron of the arts.

Regatta on the Grand Canal, 1740, Canaletto.
The Gallery was shaped mainly by its early directors, notably Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, and by private donations, which comprise two-thirds of the collection. As a result, the collection is small in size, compared with many European national galleries, but encyclopedic in scope. Most major developments in Western painting from Giotto to Cézanne are represented by important works. The gallery at one time claimed that it was one of the few national galleries having all its works on permanent exhibition. Today, this is no longer the case.

Copyright, 2018, Jim Lane
Eve, 1900, Thomas Brock
The Tate Museum is located a little ways south of Westminster Cathedral, overlooking the Thames between the Lambeth and Vauxhall bridges. The museum is also admission-free and boasts the works of British painters such as Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Sir John Everett Millais, Andre Breton, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, J.M.W. Turner, and the photographer, Nan Goldin. The Tate Gallery is one of the largest museums in the U.K and part of the Tate network of galleries which includes the Tate Modern, the Tate Liverpool, and the Tate St Ives. It is the oldest gallery in the network, yet the youngest of the five major London galleries, having opened in 1897. It houses a sub-stantial collection of the art of the United Kingdom since Tudor times, and in part-icular has large holdings of the works of J.M.W. Turner, who bequeathed all his own collection to the nation.

The Tate Modern, just down the river and on the opposite side, (and directly across from St. Paul's Cathedral) is about as opposite as its parental counterpart as one could imagine. It is housed in a former power station, in the Bankside area of the London Borough of Southwark. The Tate Modern holds the national collection of British art from (approximately) 1900 to the present day along side international modern and contemporary art. I found it quite comparable to the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (except for the fact that, once again, admission is free).

Copyright, 2018, Jim Lane
The Tate Modern is said to be the largest all brick structure in the world.
As with the other museums of modern art mentioned above, the visitor must come to the Tate Modern with an open mind. And even at that, there will be many works you don't like...or even detest. Valiant creativity and experimentation abound, but then too, so does conceptual art. Here the modern and the post-modern have drawn up a fragile ceasefire. Here you'll find work by John William Waterhouse, David Hockney, John Singer Sargent, Salvador Dalí, and Henri Matisse, next to Tracey Emin's unmade bed. As for myself, I visited as much to see the building as its contents. Ever since Wright's New York Guggenheim, most such new museums fall into that category, often overwhelming visually the art within. But, what the hell, it's free.

Copyright, 2018, Jim Lane
At the Tate Modern, one can literally descend into a Modern Art abstraction.
The Bankside Power Station, was originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, and built in two stages between 1947 and 1963. The power station closed in 1981. The brick-clad structure was roughly divided into three main areas each running east-west--the huge main Turbine Hall in the center, with the boiler house to the north and the switch house to the south. For many years after closure Bankside Power Station risked being demolished by developers. However, a grassroots campaign to save the building came up with suggestions for possible new uses. In April 1994 the Tate Gallery announced that Bankside would be the home for the new Tate Modern. In July of the same year, an international competition was launched to select an architect for the new gallery. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron won the competition. The £134-million conversion to the Tate Modern started in June 1995 and was completed in January 2000. The Tate Modern attracted more visitors than originally expected so in 2004, plans were drawn up to expand the museum. These plans focused on the southwest of the building in order to provide 5,000m2 of new display space, nearly doubled the original amount.

In visiting London, if one gets "burned-out" tromping through endless art museums (each of which deserve a full day of art appreciation), there's one museum unlike any other in the world--the Imperial Crown Jewels Museum located behind the ancient, historic walls of the Tower of London. The infamous tower is among the oldest buildings in London, dating back to the 11th-Century. It is located on the north banks of the Thames roughly across the river from the Tate Modern. Just over its stone ramparts can be seen the iconic Tower Bridge (below).

The monarch and her exquisite headgear. The coronation crown weighs some two-and-a-half pounds.
In visiting the site, I was torn between touring the original White Tower, absorbing all its tragic history of British political and religious intrigue, and ogling the crown jewels. This museum, by the way, is NOT free. (Guarding the royal trinkets costs a lot of pounds.) The tower's endless stairways to the top quickly led us to bail. The crown jewels are all on one dimly lit level, the displays sparkling with theatrical lighting and centuries of extravagant luster. Pity the queen having to decide which diamond-encrusted, solid-gold, endlessly-polished crown to wear. Actually, only one (pictured above) is worn regularly, and then only once or twice a year.

I had long wanted to visit London, its museums, and historic venues. My patient, loving wife...not so much. As I wore myself out ingesting all the museum art I could see, she remained at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel during the day, relaxing, looking forward to a night on the town, including dinner at a British pub or fine dining at a posh restaurant capped off with a West-End musical--School of Rock, Kinky Boots, and her favorite, Momma Mia. Getting around London is easy if you don't mind the cab fare. Forget about renting a car. London streets are a horrendous maze of narrow, confusing, driving-on-the-"wrong"-side-of-the-street madness. By the same token, the London Underground is world renown, but the map looks like a diagram for my desktop's motherboard.

Copyright, 2018, Jim Lane
This gallery in the Tate gives some idea as to
what it was like to go "gallery hopping" in the
past--floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall art.

Master Crewe as Henry VIII,
1775, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Can
you imagine a parent doing this


Monday, July 9, 2018


The traditional image most folks have of a working caricaturist.
Over the years during which I've become more writer than artist, I've noticed that one of the artforms readers seem to find most consistently fascinating is that of the caricature. In my book, Art THINK (available at right), I devoted an entire chapter to making friends (and enemies) by making people look funny. As a high school art instructor, I taught a ten-week unit on cartooning aimed primarily at my ninth-grade students. Before starting, I used yearbook photos from the year before as the basis for a caricature of each student. Then, on the first day of the cartooning class I surprised them with a bulletin board filled with their caricatures. The kids loved it, and at the end of the unit they got to take home their caricature as a "souvenir."
Leonardo's "grotesque" caricatures.
If you're a half-decent artist with a basic understanding of facial anatomy and a little practice, you can probably turn out a recognizable caricature. In fact, most caricaturists are, self-taught (which is good, in that insofar as I know, there's no school for such training). Some of the greatest artists in history practiced caricature as a means to develop their skills. Leonardo da Vinci (above) was one of the first artists to use caricature, in the “grotesque” sketches of unusual faces and heads that populated his notebooks. A surprising number of artists from the past have followed Leonardo's lead--a list that includes Claude Monet, Honore Daumier, Norman Rockwell, Paul Gauguin, Salvador Dali, Albrecht Durer, Picasso, and Andre Pijet. Today, it's not unusual for striving art students to be found at local street fairs trying to make a few extra bucks on the side (top).
Capturing a personality through caricature.
Caricatures have been defined as "portraits with the volume turned up." Yet they are seldom mean-spirited. Caricature is a depiction of someone in a humorous way, but at its best it also involves pointing out something about the subject's presence, rather than just ridiculing features.” Caricaturist like to make their subjects smile or laugh. However, just because caricaturists strive to capture a personal "essence" doesn't mean the client is going to like it. People can be in denial about their appearance, with a radically different idea of their weight, for instance, or even whether they have freckles. In such cases, the caricaturist can do little more than say, “I’m sorry," then move on to the next person. When a caricaturist is drawing a quick sketch for $15, the occasional bad portrait is bound to sneak in. Sometimes the client may refuse to pay, or even come back later and want their money back. Live caricature can be hair-raising trade.

Exaggeration run amok. Would you want to pay for this?
Caricature as entertainment.
Experienced caricaturist working in am-usement parks aim to churn out black-and-white portraits in three minutes. Working at a wedding reception, and ad-ding color, six minutes is about average. The need for speed means caricaturists have to go with their instincts. Working quickly means caricaturists develop a "sixth sense" in attempting to capture expressions--whether they’re energetic and outgoing, or more quiet. The caric-aturist's worst nightmare is the customer who comes in looking exactly like the girl (or guy) next door. The most difficult sort of person to draw is one that is com-pletely average looking. When faced with a bland-looking individual caricaturists us-ually try to focus more on things like clothes, hair, or jewelry to get a decent likeness. On the other hand, people who are naturally distinctive-looking are often artists' favorites.

Computer software can simplify exaggeration for the digital artist.
Exaggerating head shapes digitally.
Some contemporary carica-turists paint portraits, much like traditional satirical mast-ers once did (below). They may also be adept with other analog media, like bullet-tip markers, color sticks (basically colored pencils with no wood casings), pen and brush on paper. But thanks to the chan-ging needs of publications in an online age, which want all files sub-mitted electronically, caricature artists working in their studios have also gone dig-ital. Many digital caricatur-ist like the iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil using Procreate. A tablet is more convenient, because it’s like having unlimited amounts of paper, your pencil never needs to be sharpened, and all your tools fit in a tiny bag. Computer software can even simplify some aspects of the exaggeration process (above and above-right). Yet it’s still about the creativity behind it. Computers can’t do it all on their own...yet.

Sample work by Judy Atkin

And of course, caricature is the stock-
in-trade of the political cartoonist.


Monday, July 2, 2018

The Past Meets Pop

Unknown title, unknown artist, unknown date.
If I were start off cold writing about anachronisms, most art-loving readers' fingers would either click "next" or go scurrying to Google to find out what the word means. Let me save you the bother. An anachronism is an object appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists (or is depicted), especially an item that is conspicuously out of its historic context. An antique car among present day vehicles parked in an urban parking garage would be an anachronism. That would involve a natural anachronism, one that is possible but not necessarily likely. Above is a rather bland, bucolic, 19th-Century landscape having little or no bearing as to present day art. Below is the same image having been visited by the imagination and brushstrokes of New York artist, David Pollot.

Psycho--Bates Motel Parody, David Pollot
David Pollot paints unnatural anachronisms; that is, modern-day elements injected into tired, outdated, long-forgotten scenes from the past. Thus Pollot gives old, unwanted thrift store art a new lease of life, by painting amusing 21st-Century pop culture figures into the scenery of discarded canvases (or prints). With an affinity for all pop culture, the New York-based artist Dave Pollot dedicates his time to transforming unloved works of art into modernized masterpieces, featuring some of his favorite characters. From Pennywise the clown to Walmart. Then he has his modified image photographed and turned into modestly-priced copies of his "originals." Dave’s artwork has proven to be a huge hit online, with his sales on the Artisan site, Etsy, reaching over 14,000 units. And all along we thought Pop Art died in the 1970s.

Pollot's anachronism (upper image) and my own version from the Baltic city of Tallin, Estonia. The wall in the background is over one-thousand years old.
David Pollot is thirty-nine. He left a well-paying job as a software engineer to pursue his passion full-time. For Pollot, no modern-day pop icon is safe. His work features a wide variety of contemporary characters and corporations within his parody mash-ups. Incorporating the characters in the exact style of his chosen backdrop, his juxtaposition of historic eras are all the more startling when, as with his Old Market Expansion (above, upper image) their subtlety causes them to "surprise" the viewer. My own version falls under the realm of a "natural" anachronism--the scene actually exists.

The Forfeit, David Pollot, based upon The Death of Socrates, 1787, by Jacques-Louis David
Dave has been drawing and painting most of my life. He was always encouraged by his family to explore his creativity however he could. His forays into art of the past armed only with the pop icons of the present began in 2010 when his wife returned home with a charity shop painting she'd bought for pennies on the pound. She urged him to paint "something funny" on it. Today Pollot (or his wife) continues to pick up art for pennies while selling it for as much as 500 GBP. He regularly showcases his latest work on his Instagram page, @DavePollotArt. He spent some 15 years writing software during the day and painting at night. Eventually Pollot decided to pick just one passion [painting] and go for it. Pollot notes, “There’s always a place for all art, and it’s interesting that we put an expiration date on some pieces, no longer seeing their value." Pollot grew up in the 80s and 90s. He tries to seamlessly combine pieces of abandoned or forgotten artwork with the elements of pop culture that he came to love, changing the meaning of both in an effort to make both relevant to new groups of people. His The Forfeit (above) is subtle yet the discovery of the "Number One" glove icon invites the viewer to explore the work for deeper contextual meanings.

Bleed, David Pollot
Not all of Pollot's cross-cultural anachronisms are as subtle as his tribute to Jacques-Louis David at the expense of our old friend, Socrates. Very often Pollot's anachronistic adventures with art, pop, and history smack the viewer up the side of the with all the subtlety of s bulldozer in a china shop. His Bleed (above) comes naturally to a Big Apple artists totally out of synch with pastoral way fares. The work is as jarring as it is humorous.

Space parodies, or perhaps, "Kirk's Worst Nightmare."
Pollot appears to have grown up with an infatuation with Star Trek, judging by the frequency with which the Enterprise recurs in his work (above). Or, perhaps, his favorite movie as a kid was Spielberg's Jaws (below). In seeing a Pollot reworking of an old master (not necessarily masterpieces), the first reaction is to laugh at the joke, then to marvel at the artist's daring, followed by a more serious search for some hidden meaning (if there is one).

Starboard Clean, David Pollot. Or, perhaps, "You're gonna need a bigger racing yacht."
Every artist has had a role model, whether they would admit it or not. David Pollot's artist inspiration stems from the (often deprecated) TV painter, Bob Ross and his "happy accidents" approach to painting. Pollot has paid tribute to Ross in a painting almost bursting with super hero adoration (below) shown in three stages of completion. It offers an interesting insight as to how Pollot both thinks and paints.


I often think that art these days may have become a little too serious. Pollot see his work as a "stepping back." Pollot urges us to lighten up, it's only art. It’s kind of nice to look at art and laugh. Pollot's work is meant to allow the viewer an escape, if only for the few moments, looking mischievously at some bit of pop culture inserted into something that might have hung in their grandmother’s house.

Officially untitled (as far as I could determine), but dozens of possibilities no doubt buzz around in a viewer's head.
Do the Disney "legal eagles" know about this?


Monday, June 25, 2018

Dolphin Art

Ocean Paradise, Robert Wyland
One of the most consistently popular content areas for painters and other artists is that of wildlife. That being the case I've written of and highlighted some of the best images artists have created broken down into generic categories such a tigers, bears, giraffes, and zebras, just to name a few. I've even done pieces on skunk art and fishy Art. Today I've chosen to look at Dolphins--one of the most gracefully beautiful creatures God ever created. Before you think I've started repeating myself, keep in mind dolphins are not fish but mammals, which bear their young alive (calves) and "mother" them much as do other mammals. Someone had the bright idea to call mother dolphins "cows" and their philandering mates "bulls" (I can't see the resemblance.) It must have been a zoologist with a crude sense of humor--a mammologist, perhaps.
Fresco of Dolphins, ca. 1600 BC, from Knossos, Crete
If you go looking for the first use of dolphins by artists, you might be surprised to find they go back to at least 1600 B.C. as seen in the Knossos Frescoes on the island of Crete (above). Moreover, the images are quite accurate. Though it's unlikely that these playful aquatics have enjoyed consistent popularity with artists as is the case of more aggressive wildlife, we find a resurgence in dolphin interest beginning about 1960, and likely not by coincidence just a year after Hawaii became a state. Hawaii doesn't have a state mammal but if it did, the Dolphin would probably be the first choice.
Who could resist a face like that.
No, van Gogh didn't paint dolphins,
but if he had they might have looked
like Wayne Cantrell's Starry Night
There are some forty extant species of dolphins, all of whom are part of the Cetacean family. Strangely, their closest living relative is the ungainly (not to mention ugly) hippopotamus. The porpoise is also considered a dolphin though they differ slightly in facial appearance and are much less common. Dolphins have long been credited by scientists and writers as having exceptional intelligence, even riv-aling that of man. Dolphins’ rev-ered status among mammals probably began with John Lilly, a 1960’s era dolphin researcher and psychotropic drug enthusiast who was the first to popularize the idea that dolphins are intelligent, later suggesting that they were even more so than humans. In 1978, Douglas Adams’s hilarious classic, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, suggests there are several animals said to be more clever than humans. Among them were dolphins that knew about the intergalactic bulldozers which eventually vaporized the planet. They tried to warn us of the impending doom: "The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the Star Spangled Banner, but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for all the fish."
Dolphins by Moonlight, Adrian Chesterman--dolphins a metaphysical beings

Dolphin Dance, Stephen Anderson
As with most art, dolphin art can be broken down into traditional style categories. Dolphins by Moon-light (above) would be considered meta-physical, or spiritual, perhaps even surreal (take your pick). And given the graceful simplicity of their shapes and body movements, dolphins invite no small number expressionist render-ings such as that of Stephen An-derson's Dolphin Dance (right). And as for us who tend toward naturalism we need only look at the work of Howard Hall and Iris Sand (below).

Iris Sand and Howard Hall. If you like Dolphin art, you had better also like the color blue.
If you like dolphin art, you'd best
like sunsets as well.
I should also note that dolphin art is prone to sunsets, often highly exaggerated to the point of gaudiness as seen in the touristy dolphin mani-festation (left). Serious tropical artist often more accurately refer to such work as an in-festation. And for those who really, really REALLY like dol-phin art, you might want to invest in one of those new-fangled ceiling aquariums sim-ilar to that seen below.

Just hope the ceiling doesn't leak.
A Dozen Swimming Dolphin, artist unknown.

It's surprising what you get when
you Google "Dolphin Art."


Monday, June 18, 2018

Liu Bolin

Liu Bolin visits the cereal aisle.
No doubt there have often been times when we've all endured some awkward or embarrassing situation in which we'd like to simply disappear. As a child my vivid imagination and I liked to pretend I could, in fact do just that (a feat even my hero, Superman, couldn't do). Star Trek once built an entire movie on the premise that a hijacked Klingon ship could use a Romulan cloaking device to make itself invisible while visiting Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. During their visit to the 20th century, Captain Kirk, Bones, Spock, and Scotty took it upon themselves to hijack a whale in order to save Earth (no kidding, that was the plot). More recently Harry Potter came by a similar "cloak" to cover himself in order to achieve the same aim. The Chinese artist Liu Bolin doesn't have to go to the movies to become invisible. He simply disappears into the background.
Bolin must remain very still as he gets painted. The process can take up to 10 hours at a time.
Bolin has an amazing talent. He can blend into any surroundings he chooses, making himself, or his subjects, practically undetectable to the human eye. Bolin, sometimes referred to as the "Human Chameleon", decorates the body and clothes with color, painting himself and his subjects into the surroundings, making them almost imperceptible at first glance. He sees his work as a type of political protest, and a way of hiding from the authorities. Above, Bolin is being painted by his assistants to match the wall of an old temple in central Beijing.
Liu Bolin: the painted and the painter.
Liu Bolin is an artist born in 1973 in China's Shandong province. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Shandong College of Arts in 1995 and his Master of Fine Arts from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 2001. His work has been exhibited in museums around the world. Bolin's most popular works are from his "Hiding in the City" series; photographic works that began as performance art in 2005. His work can be seen in his book Liu Bolin: The Invisible Man. Bolin most recent works can be found in the Klein Sun Gallery.
Bolin, seen or not seen in a London metro station (two upper images), spends uncounted hours preparing for his images.
Bolin is interested in the relationship between objects and the people who use them. Some of his pieces are more intricate than others. Above (third image), Bolin stands in front of the Hollywood sign in California. Graffiti and street art play an important role in Bolin's work. Above (fourth image), he is in front of Queens' famous graffiti mecca, 5 Points, which has unfortunately since been knocked down.
Some of Bolin's painted figures take on a sort of "ghostly" appearance as if the subject is only partially visible.
In many ways, Bolin's art is akin to that of the "fool-the-eye" street artists working in various media. That is to say, his art demands the use of carefully staged photography in order to be effective. If the camera is moved only a few degrees right or left of center, the illusion is quickly lost. Thus Bolin's paintings, and that of all sidewalk illusionist art, can only be classed as "temporary" art with photography the one and only means of preserving it. Thus, the photo becomes the work of art, with the painted Bolin and his background, merely the content.
Sometimes, as in the upper three images, the non-representational aspects of Bolin's chosen backgrounds work to confuse the eye and heighten his invisibility.
In general, the more highly complex the background, the more effective become the photographic image. Although most of Bolin's works fall into the realm of realism, he does not reject abstract expressionist images as seen above in his tribute to Jackson Pollock. Liu Bolin belongs to the generation that came of age in the early 1990s, when China emerged from the rubble of the Cultural Revolution to enjoy rapid economic growth and relative political stability. He followed up his Beijing series of "Hiding in the City" with derivative series in Venice, Milan, Rome, Pompeii, Verona, and New York City. Following the method of painting himself into the cityscapes, Liu chose Italy for its significance within the Western art tradition and New York City for the potency of the underlying conflicts between humans and the objects they create.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Relearning Art History

University of Cincinnati archaeologist, Sharon Stocker, stands in the grave of the Griffin Warrior, discovered near the Palace of Nestor in Pylos, Greece.
One of the more frustrating difficulties in most areas of learning is having to discard what you know in favor of the tentative ambiguity of newly discovered or invented common knowledge. Those in the medical professions, for example, constantly find themselves in a footrace to absorb all the new treatments and procedures looming on the horizon, or coming into practice. The same is true in electrical engineering, especially that having to do with computers. Even mechanics, school teachers, taxi drivers, and virtually all designers face the same or similar problem (add changing tastes and styles in the case of designers). Perhaps one of the most "stable" bodies of knowledge might well be human and natural history in general and art history in particular. Yet even these areas are not without new understandings of their "who, what, when, where, how, and why." Moreover, such novel "relearning" often has direct causes and effects stemming from discoveries and innovations far afield from art. Just look what the advent of computers has brought to dozens of contemporary art forms.
Where it all began. Hardly much bigger than a pebble, the archaeological "dig" team might easily have discarded their unexceptional looking, Limestone encrusted Pylos discovery.
During the past two or three years, researchers from the University of Cincinnati have unearthed a 3,500-year-old tomb in the southwest of Greece. The tomb belonged to a Bronze Age warrior they nicknamed the “Griffin Warrior.” The tomb yielded many treasures, such as four gold signet rings, that have challenged previous notions about the origins of Greek civilization. Perhaps one of the most important and visually captivating finds from the tomb occurred a full year after its discovery. Researchers uncovered a carved sealstone (above)no larger than an inch and a half wide. The “Pylos Combat Agate” meticulously displays two warriors engaged in battle with bodies strewn at their feet. Some details were less than a millimeter wide. The carving is perhaps most astonishing because it predates artistic skills that were not associated with Greek civilization for another millennium. The representation of the human body is at a level of detail and musculature not to be found again until the classical period of Greek art 1,000 years later.
the Griffin Warrior, was uncovered in an olive grove near the ancient Greek city of Pylos in 2015.
Sharon Stocker, a senior research associate in UC's Department of Classics, and her husband, Jack Davis, professor of Greek archaeology, note that even more extraordinary is the meticulously carved combat scene was painstakingly etched on a piece of hard stone measuring just 3.6 centimeters, or just over 1.4 inches, in length (below). Indeed, many of the seal’s details, such as the intricate weaponry ornamentation and jewelry decoration, become clear only when viewed with a powerful camera lens. Some of the details are as incomprehensibly small as a half-millimeter.
Shown in the top image at about three times actual size, the detailed carving can best be seen only through a microscope.
Though the seal and other burial riches found within the tomb suggest the Griffin Warrior held an esteemed position in Mycenaean society, inasmuch as the artifacts are Minoan-made. This raises intriguing questions about his culture. Scholarly consensus has long theorized that mainlander Mycenaeans simply imported or robbed such riches from the affluent Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, southeast of Pylos. Although the Minoans were culturally dominant to the Greek mainlanders, the civilization fell to the Mycenaeans around 1500-1400 B.C. or roughly the same time period in which the Griffin Warrior died. The discovery of four gold signet rings (below) bearing highly detailed Minoan iconography, along with other Minoan-made riches from the tomb, indicates a far more complex cultural interchange took place between the Mycenaeans and Minoans. Researchers point out that the skill and sophistication of the Pylos Combat Agate is unparalleled by anything uncovered before from the this era in art history. That raises a bigger question: How does this change our understanding of Greek art in the Bronze Age?
A diagram of the combat image found on the Pylos agate. In a testament to the anonymous artist’s skills, it should be noted that magnifying glasses were not believed to be used for another thousand years.
Given the magnitude of the Pylos find, it may be necessary to rethink when the wider area around the city began to flourish. It may have been earlier than previously thought since, somehow, whether via trade or force (raiding), its inhabitants had acquired the valuable objects found within the tomb. Many of the tomb’s objects were made in nearby Crete and show a strong Minoan style and technique unknown in mainland Greece during the 15th-century BC. This new discovery, may be a catalyst leading to a complete reevaluation the timeline and development of Greek art. More recent probing of the 3,500-year-old tomb of the Bronze Age warrior has rendered an incredible trove of riches, including four gold signet rings which likewise have challenged accepted wisdom among archaeologists about the origins of Greek civilization.

This gold ring with a Cretan bull-jumping scene was one of four solid-gold rings found in the tomb. That's more than found with any other single burial anywhere in Greece.
A specialized team reconstructed
the face of the Griffin Warrior by
layering facial tissue over his skull.
So, whose tomb did Davis and Stocker discover? The tomb may have held a powerful warrior or king. Perhaps he was a trader or a raider who died at about 30 to 35 years of age. Whoever he was, he helped to lay the foundations of the Mycenaean culture that later flourished in the region. Davis speculates, “He seems to have been celebrated for his trading or fighting on the nearby island of Crete and for his appreciation of the more-sophisticated and delicate art of the Minoan civilization (of Crete), with which he was buried.” A remarkable store of riches was deposited in the tomb with the warrior at the time of his death. The mere fact that the vessels in the tomb are of metal (rather than ceramic pottery) is a strong indication of his great wealth.

The 3,500-year-old shaft grave has revealed more than 3,000 objects arrayed on and around the warrior’s body, including four solid gold rings, silver cups, precious stone beads, fine-toothed ivory combs (seen here), and an intricately built sword, among other weapons.
"It seems that the Minoans were capable of producing art of the sort that no one ever imagined,” explained Davis. “It shows that their ability and interest in representational art, particularly movement and human anatomy. Such work is beyond what it was imagined to be. Combined with the stylized features, that itself is just extraordinary.” The revelation, he and Stocker say, prompts a reconsideration of the evolution and development of Greek art. Sharon Stocker predicts that, “This seal [will] be included in all forthcoming art history texts, and will change the way prehistoric art is viewed.”

The Stocker-Davis discoveries are already making waves in the areas of archaeology and art history.