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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Alhambra

Alhambra is never more beautiful than in the early morning twilight.              
The Andalucía province of southern Spain
After some ten days at sea in crossing the Atlantic aboard the Allure of the Seas, our first port of call was the city of Malaga along the southern coast of Spain. The next province to the west is Andalusia and the city of Granada, the last stronghold for the Moors before they were driven from Spain in 1492 (a coincidental date having little to do in this case with Christopher Columbus). There, high in the hills, overlooking the city, was the fortress palace of Alhambra, where rests more than 1300 years of Spanish history, Moorish art, and architecture. It's a soothingly beautiful place with lush, sunny gardens, fountains, and reflecting pools which I've wanted to visit for many years. It was a warm, sunny, tiring day, but I wouldn't have skipped the two-hour trip to and from Malaga to Grenada for any major degree of personal discomfort--one less item on my bucket list.
 
Alhambra circa. 1492 with the 16th-century Palace of Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V (Charles I of Spain) indicated at bottom, center.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Alhambra today.
Alhambra saw completion as a sultan's palace towards the end of Muslim rule of Spain, in the person of Yusuf I (1333–1353) and Muhammad V, Sultans of Granada (1353–1391). However, it was, in fact, a gradually enlarged complex (above) of defensive towers, palaces, gardens, and encompassing walls, the earliest of which dates back some five-hundred years earlier. Around 889 the site featured only a small, primitive, reddish tower of unknown age and origin which largely laid in ruins until the 11th-century when the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar built most of its current palace and walls. Thus there is no single, overall style or plan even insofar as the Moorish construction is concerned, only a consistent theme which has come to be termed "Paradise on Earth." Moreover, the physical development of Alhambra did not end when the Muslim ruler, Muhammad XII, surrendered the Emirate of Granada in 1492 to the overwhelming forces of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, without Alhambra itself ever being attacked.

The 16th-century Palace of Charles I of Spain (Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) intrudes
obnoxiously upon the ancient, medieval grace of Alhambra's Moorish palace architecture.
The royal Spanish couple immediately took up residence in the vanquished sultan's Moorish digs, and it was there, in the Sultan's former throne room, that Christopher Columbus bid his royal benefactors farewell shortly before setting sail to explore the "far east." Later, the king and queen moved their capital to the more centrally located city of Madrid. A later Spanish King, Charles I, had built adjacent to the Moorish palace (and overtop some of the Moorish wings) his own Mannerist architectural vision of "paradise on earth." Alas, not only was it a lame attempt by his Spanish architect, Pedro Machuca, but then and now, sticks out like a sore thumb amid the feminine grace of earlier Moorish sections. It was never used as a palace, its intended dome never even begun, and today serves only as a museum (above) and a vivid object lesson in what an architect should not to do with Renaissance design elements.

The pool of the El Partal Palace. The beauty of water and
delicate, architectural refinement--"a pearl set in an emerald."
Copyright, Jim Lane
The Court of the Lions.
Gothic influences?
Though the palace is often referred to as "Moorish" in style, the term has come to be something of a catchall for Arabic architecture originating in the Medieval period mostly in southern Europe and northern Africa. That of Alhambra is sometimes called the Mudéjar style as a means of differentiating it from Byzantine and other Muslim styles. Slender, column arcades, fountains and reflecting pools (above) contribute to the aesthetic and functional complexity. The exterior was often quite austere. Sun and wind were freely employed, playing upon blue, red, and a golden yellow, though somewhat faded by time and exposure. Decoration consisted most of Arabic inscriptions (bottom) manipulated into geometrical patterns creating graceful arabesques. Other decorations consisted mostly of painted tiles covering the rugged brick and stone walls. Contrary to many popular images of Arabic architecture, most windows were simple, rectangular holes in the wall with wood or metal screens featuring geometric motifs used to mitigate the harsh, Mediterranean light and heat. Arches were frequently hemispheric (below), though heavily-ornamented pointed arches were sometimes employed (above, right), though not to the extremes of the Gothic style seen in northern Europe during much of the same period.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Patio de los Arrayanes leading to the Hall of the Ambassadors (throne room).
The years of the modern era have been a mixed blessing for Alhambra. As if an unfinished Italianate palace weren't insult enough, Napoleon Bonaparte and his invading army inflicted a different sort of invasive destruction, destroying several of the palaces of the western sections of the complex which today, can only be imagined base upon surviving foundations. Earthquakes (the most severe in 1821) have likewise contributed to the destructive forces imposed upon the ancient beauty of the sultans and their builders (Islamic architects are almost always anonymous). The Christianized Alhambra was deemed worthy of a major church (Our Lady of Alhambra) which has further muddled the architectural skyline. After decades of neglect, the first restoration efforts date from around 1828, supported by the Spanish monarchy sporadically during much of the 19th-century. The effort probably could be credited with saving the structure for us today, though the quality of much of the work is uneven at best, primitive and misguided at worst.



Copyright, Jim Lane
The Court of the Lions. The fountain was a gift from the Granada Jewish community.
Needless to say, during the 20th century, the Spanish Civil War, and the somewhat more significant dustup that followed, delayed more serious efforts to preserve and conserve the palace environs. The return of the Spanish monarchy with the death of Ferdinand Franco and the relative peace and prosperity since then, have allowed still-scarce resources to be applied in an the ongoing process of enhancements. If you haven't already, add Alhambra to your bucket list.

Alhambra wall detailing.






























 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Scott Bauer

Myself and Scott Bauer with his painting Allure, on board the Allure of the Seas.
Having spent some twelve days aboard Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas on our way to Barcelona, Spain, and from there to Paris, many of the upcoming entries here may have a tendency to sound more like travelogues than articles having to do directly with art. Be that as it may, that's not the case in this case. While on "the boat" I met an engaging painter named Scott Bauer. While I spent my time resting, playing trivia, eating some incredibly flavorful ice cream, and enjoying high-end entertainment, Scott painted. Virtually every day of the cruise, he could be seen at his borrowed easel with a medium-size canvas painting his own private tribute to Abstract Expressionism. That's what some have called a "busman's holiday," (a cab driver going for a "drive" on his day off).

Allure, 2015, Scott Bauer
On White II, 1923, Wasilly Kandinsky
In first seeing Scott at work at his easel my first reaction was to look about for what it was he might be painting. He faced one of the ship's elevator lobbies which, while quite attractive in a polished glass and chrome sort of way, would not be the choice of most artists as to subject matter. My first question evolved, "Who or what is your inspiration?" It was a dumb question on my part in that Scott's work had Wasilly Kandinsky written all over it. In that we had a lot in common, Scott and I struck up lively conversation regarding his work, my work, and art in general. We are both roughly the same age (he was born in 1954), and we are both struggling artists with outgoing personalities. However, our differences were as notable as our similarities. Scott was Midwestern born (Nebraska) and currently works out of Austin, Texas. I'm totally Ohio. I'm academically trained while Scott's art training has been limited to a matter of weeks at a local Florida art center. He thought such classes would be a good way to meet women. He readily confessed, they weren't. His meager classes were, however sufficient to ignite the spark of creativity which had lain dormant within him for more than thirty years as he pursued a successful career as a chemical engineer (he even has a few patents).

One of Bauer's rare departures from Kandinsky geometry.
Forest Sunrise, Scott Bauer
Scott Bauer's work is almost entirely Abstract Expressionism; and as limiting as that sounds, it isn't, really. Anyone who has studied this style and era (1945-60) knows there were almost as many permutations as there were artists exploring them. Bauer had dabbled in virtually all of them (some with more success than others). He's been painting for only five years, mostly in acrylics, and for the most part completely eschews any representational elements in his work. They do, at times, creep in however, especially words as seen in his Allure (top) and his Impressionistic Forest Sunrise (left). Both are interesting in that they are not typical of most of Bauer's work. That is to say, they look nothing like Kandinsky.

Construction Project, Scott Bauer
Descent into Chaos, Scott Bauer
Kandinsky died in 1944. Abstract Expressionism, while it has never really died, has certainly fallen into the realm of passé during the latter years of the 20th-century. Abstract Expressionism marked the crescendo of Modern Art with Minimalism being imbued with the closing strains. With the advent of Pop Art and all that has followed in the more than fifty years since, Postmodern art with all the complexities, eclecticism, and absurdities unveiled by cutting-edge artists today, takes issue with the mined-over styles of the past, marking them as either "retro" or "tributes." Bauer's work could probably be considered both, but certainly not in any way breaking new ground. What Bauer is doing in 2015 has already been done nearly ninety years ago by Kandinsky and the other Abstract Expressionists his work unleashed. That's not to say that Bauer's work is not without moments of breathtaking beauty, as seen in his Construction Project (above) and his Descent into Chaos (above, right).
Serenity, 2015, Scott Bauer,
his second painting endeavor aboard
the Allure of the Seas.


It is quite acceptable for an artist to know his or her limitations and work within them. Bauer appears to do both. Nonetheless, an artist cannot show significant growth while working within stringent, self-imposed limitations as to style and/or content. An artist needs to work and study aimed at expanding those limitations. Having said that, Bauer's painting, Allure, done on the ship, sold for a good price to a couple also traveling on the Allure of the Seas, bringing the artist to the realization that: "I got more international exposure in two weeks than I got in the past 3 years. Why did I not think of this before?" Indeed. This public relations/marketing ploy, while somewhat costly, marks Scott as cutting-edge in that regard. Whole careers have been built on less.

Scott Bauer at work on the early stages of his painting, Allure.
Like most of us, Scott Bauer has high hopes of one day being a "rich and famous" artist (well, famous, anyway) if not during his own lifetime than in the decades and centuries after his death. There are millions of artists on this earth pursuing a few thousand wealthy, erudite, art buyers. Each of those artists has their own peculiar strengths and weaknesses. Fortunately, in Scott's case, few of them are still pursuing the tired art of Kandinsky's brand of Abstract Expressionism. There's likely a good reason for that. Kandinsky and his followers eventually found it to be a dead end.

Scott Bauer enjoying the attention as the only
working artist aboard the Allure of the Seas.























More of Scott Bauer's work can be seen at: www.sjbauer.com








 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Fred Zimmerman's High Noon

The classic western but with a distinct difference.
Stanley Kramer, 1955, producer
Although I grew up watching movies and TV shows about the "old West," and I'm something of a history buff, the entire genre of western movies has never appealed to me. I suppose one reason is that there's such a sameness to the look, feel, and plots of so many films of that type. I do have a couple favorites though. I've always enjoyed watching the 1963 Cinerama classic How the West Was Won, starring...well, just about everyone in Hollywood at the time (24 major stars). Directed by John Ford and a couple others, this multi-generational tale sought to be the ultimate western. And though it had it's faults, it more or less succeeded in that goal. It should have, it cost $14.4-million 1963 dollars to make. Another favorite western is the classic, Stanley Kramer-Fred Zimmerman-Carl Foreman collaboration, High Noon. It cost a mere $730,000 1952 dollars to make. Yet the budget is the least of their differences. High Noon stands apart as the diametric opposite of How the West Was Won. Though only eleven years separate the two films, the former told the broad story of western development spread over roughly eighty-five years of dynamic American history, while the latter dealt with a very narrow focus, some eighty-five minutes in the static history of a single town, Hadleyville, New Mexico.
 
Grace Kelly as Amy Fowler
Kane, his newly-wed wife.
Gary Cooper as
Sheriff Will Kane
High Noon at Hadleyville
High Noon is the story of one man, one woman, and the people of one town, told in real time as the film runs out the ever-present ticking clock. In a nutshell, the sheriff, played by Gary Cooper, gets married, to a very lovely Quaker pacifist played by the great film beauty, Grace Kelly (only her second film role). The plot thickens as the town learns that an outlaw the sheriff sent to prison has been released, and is returning on the noon train with two henchmen to seek revenge. The whole town and the sheriff's new wife urges him to leave as planned to start a new life elsewhere as a storekeeper. He does, then begins feeling like a coward and returns only to find that no one in the town will stand with him in defending it. The clock ticks away, there's an iconic gunfight at high noon, with an ironic ending.
 
Eighty-five minutes of frustrating suspense.
High Noon posters
Though High Noon bears the oft-recurring elements of traditional western movies, this one is different. It has only one fist-fight, only one gun-fight, only one hero, confronting a complete cast of cowering cowards concerned only with their own self-interests. He pleads for help. They plead for him to again leave town. John Wayne hated the movie so much he and director Howard Hawks made the movie Rio Bravo in direct response to High Noon. Yet others have loved the film, including Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton (to name only a few presidents). Clinton screened the film seventeen times while in the White House. Conservatives disliked the negative symbolic portrait it painted of a complacent American society unwilling to risk their peaceful lifestyle in defense of their "homeland." However Reagan, though a conservative, liked the film because "...the main character had a strong dedication to duty, law, and the well-being of the town despite the refusal of the townspeople to help."

Some of the townspeople of Hadleyville following the wedding scene early in the film.
Gary Cooper, Fred Zimmermann, and
Grace Kelly on the set of High Noon.
If political leanings had an impact upon the film's reception, they were relatively minor insofar as he public was concerned. The film took in $3.4-million in its initial North American release and since then has grossed more than $12-million worldwide. However, the conception and making of High Noon took place in the political maelstrom of the McCarthy era of the early 1950s. Senator Joe McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was besieging the entertainment industry with it's infamous "blacklist" in search of those who would not answer, "no" to the question, "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?" The screenwriter and co-producer of High Noon, Carl Foreman, was one of those blacklisted, though his association with the party had been some ten years earlier. Stanley Kramer, Foreman's co-producer was so alarmed he tried to force Foreman to sell his share of their company until director, Fred Zimmerman, and Gary Cooper intervened on Foreman's behalf. Nonetheless Foreman's role as screenwriter and co-producer is uncredited and he was forced to move to England. He never worked on this side of the Atlantic again.


High Noon was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. It won an Oscar for Gary Cooper as Best Actor as well as awards for Best Film Editing and Best Film Score for the Russian composer, Dimitri Tiomkin, and Ned Washington for the theme song, "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin' ", sung by Tex Ritter (above). The story of High Noon takes place in the Old West, but that's almost incidental to the fact that it is really a story about a man's conflict of conscience. It was a conflict played out in front of the camera, behind the camera, as well as on the larger political stage of a tense, paranoid nation as a whole.

Look carefully, you might recognize some of the supporting cast.











 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Waldo Peirce

Peirce (left) painted himself and Hemingway (pointing) as two                           
spectators in his famous Pile up in the Encierro at Pamplona, 1924-25.                       
 
There's an old saying, "People are known by the company they keep." It was drummed into my head by both my parents, and it's especially apropos here. You may never have heard of Waldo Peirce, but I'm sure you've heard of the company he kept. His best friend was Ernest Hemingway. They were what you might call, two of a kind. In 1937, Peirce painted Hemingway for the cover of Time magazine (right). The magazine called him, "The Ernest Hemingway of American Painters." Peirce refuted that claim, noting, "They'll never call Ernest Hemingway the Waldo Peirce of American writers." It's uncertain when the two first met but it was likely shortly before, during, or after WW I when both men were in and around Paris. Peirce served in France with the American Field Service ambulance corps. Hemingway did too, except he served in Italy. In the years after the war, he worked in Paris as a foreign correspondent. That's probably when he met Peirce.

For the Cause, Waldo Peirce,
painted during the war.
Hemingway Time Cover,
October 18, 1937, Waldo Peirce.

Peirce and Hemingway had far more in common than similar service in the same war. Both were the products of a privileged upbringing, Peirce in Bangor, Maine; Hemingway, Oak Park, Illinois. Peirce, born in 1884, was fifteen years older than Hemingway (born in 1899). Both men had four wives. Peirce was the indulgent father of five incorrigible children whom he doted upon excessively as seen in his Trimming Dad's Beard (below, left). Hemingway wrote from his home in Key West, Florida, of a visit by Peirce and his family:
"Waldo is here with his kids like untrained hyenas and him as domesticated as a cow. Lives only for the children and with the time he puts on them they should have good manners and be well trained but instead they never obey, destroy everything, don't even answer when spoken to, and he is like an old hen with a litter of ape-hyenas."
Outdoor Classroom, Treehaven School in Tucson, 1930s, Waldo Peirce
(where his ill-mannered children attended classes).
Trimming Dad's Beard,
1935, Waldo Pierce
Hemingway had a way with words. Likewise, Waldo Peirce had a way with paint. He always claimed, "I am a painter, not an artist." Perhaps a more apt description of the man would simply be, he was quite a character. A massive bull of a man, Peirce was drafted by Harvard into their football team solely because of his size, which was fortunate in that he probably would have been kicked out of the university because of his grades otherwise. He did managed to graduate in 1910, however (just barely, and three years late at that). Peirce claimed he much preferred playing pool to studying. It was at Harvard where Peirce met the American Communist writer, John Reed (as played by Warren Beatty in the 1981 film, Reds). Together they booked passage to England on a cattle boat. However, before they were even out of Boston harbor, Peirce decided he didn't much care for his accommodations. So, without telling anyone, he jumped overboard and swam to shore. When he came up missing at dinner, the captain of the ship arrested Reed on suspicion of murder. Fortunately, Peirce took a faster, and presumably more comfortable, ship to England where he met Reed on the dock, clearing him of homicide charges.

Legends of the Hudson, Troy, New York, post office mural,1938, Waldo Peirce.
Waldo Pierce Painting a Self-portrait.
Like Ernest Hemingway, Waldo Peirce was an adventurer. Peirce's Pile up in the Encierro at Pamplona (top), depicts both men in the crowd, making it the first "Where's Waldo?" painting in the history of art. Likewise, their past experiences found their way into the work of both men. The main difference was that Hemingway's experiences were apparently much more interesting than were Peirce. At a time when Hemingway was being touted as one of the greatest literary forces of the 20th century, Peirce was working for the Depression era WPA painting murals on a post office wall in Troy, New York (above). His self-portrait (left) captures very well the warm, loving, good-natured bear of a man virtually everyone loved.

Silver Slipper, 1930s, Waldo Peirce. The scene is Key West.
Pierce's Silver Slipper (above), from the 1930s, also fleshes out the man while exposing the artist. Pierce is said to have painted almost compulsively. He was never without a sketchbook, his devotion to his art second only to that for his children. When the alarm sounded reporting a fire, while other men rushed off to fight the conflagration, Peirce set up his easel and painted the scene, his Fire at East Orrington (below), from 1940. That's the kind of man he was. Though fifteen years older than his friend, Hemingway, Waldo Peirce outlived him by some nine years. Hemingway died of a self-inflicted gunshot in 1961. He was sixty-two. Peirce died in 1970 at the age of eighty-six. The two can be seen together enjoying their great gusto for life in Peirce's Sloppy Joe's (bottom) from 1936.

“Fire at East Orrington, 1940, Waldo Pierce

Sloppy Joe's, 1936, Waldo Peirce. Hemingway is pictured in the lower-right corner,
Waldo Peirce is seen above and behind him with pipe and beer.
Waldo's wife, Alizra, is sitting at the bar.











 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

William McGregor Paxton

The Breakfast, 1911, William McGregor Paxton
William McGregor Paxton Self-portrait
We seldom think much as to how our way of life has changed in the past one-hundred years. Most of those changes fall into two major area--social changes and technological changes. It's hard to say which has had the greatest impact on the way we live today. I've been arguing with myself over the matter all day long. Sometimes the argument has gotten rather heated. On the one hand there's everything from computers, digital coffee-makers, microwave ovens, and the internet. But then, on the sociological side, we have equal rights for women, African Americans, gays, even our four-legged friends now have rights. Virtually none of these changes could have been foreseen in their present form in 1915. Take the family of the New England artist, William McGregor Paxton and his wife, Elizabeth Vaughn Okie Paxton, for instance. She was his former student and a first-rate artist in her own right, though one who bent to the times and promoted her husband's career over her own (and likely did so better than he could have). They married in 1899, summered in Cape Cod and Cape Ann, while living in Newton, Massachusetts. They were a proper, white, middle-class family, childless, and about as progressively modern as any to be found at the time.

The White Veranda, 1902,
(Elizabeth Okie Paxton)
William McGregor Paxton
Paxton's The Breakfast, (top) from 1911, gives us a feel for what their quiet, restrained, home life was like. Though far from wealthy, they dressed well, breakfasted together; she somewhat pensive (perhaps bored) in a long, cotton "day" dress; he in a business suit before moving on to his studio where a client will soon arrive for a portrait "sitting." A maid tends the couple's needs as silently and proper as the presumably happily married couple. There is no rush to gulp down hot coffee, no Pop Tarts, no breakfast bars, or Kellogg's Corn Flakes (though they were becoming popular at the time). As many young couples did back then, the young Mr. and Mrs. Paxton lived with his parents (below, left and right) until he obtained a teaching position at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts School. The young artist, having studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts and later at the Academie Julian in Paris, was ideally suited for the academic life, though he taught for only seven years.

Portrait of the Artist's Father, 1902,
(James Doherty Paxton)
William McGregor Paxton
Portrait of the Artist's Mother
 (Rose Paxton), 1902,
William McGregor Paxton
In the Studio, 1905, Elizabeth Paxton
poses for her husband.
With his attractive young wife both managing his career and posing for many of his paintings (left), Paxton rose to prominence in the Boston art world. He was commissioned to paint President Grover Cleveland, and two decades later, President Calvin Coolidge. Wealthy Bostonians took a liking to his somewhat impressionist portraits, though if fact, Paxton was more influenced by the Dutch artist, Jan Vermeer than any painter in his own time. Though society ladies made up the bulk of Paxton's commissions, his portraits of their daughters are some of the most enchanting of all his works. Paxton's Portrait of Elizabeth Blaney (below, left) from, 1916, and his Portrait of Eleanor Anne Schrafft (below, right), from 1926, are two of his best--distinctively different yet similar.

Portrait of Eleanor Anne Schrafft,
1926, William McGregor Paxton
Elizabeth Blaney, 1916,
William McGregor Paxton
The Kitchen Maid,
William McGregor Paxton
However, adding an extra dimension to Paxton's work is his attention to their service staff, the young women who made their quiet, laid-back life possible a hundred years before modern technology filled that function. His paintings in this regard remind me somewhat of the PBS series, Upstairs, Downstairs with their duality of classes, sympathetically portrayed, originally on British TV during the 1970s, and later in the U.S. (now recently revived). Though the TV series was set in the 1930s with a distinctly English storyline and characters, the Bostonian family, as seen in both Paxton's "upstairs" and "downstairs" portraits have much the same ambience translated to the early 20th-century. His Kitchen Maid (left) seems every bit as dignified in her own way as any of his society matrons and their daughters. Paxton's The Housemaid (below, right) from, 1910, and his The Waitress (below, left), from 1929, are seen dutifully at their work, yet, portrayed with a warmth and humanity leading one to believe the Paxton household was one of quiet efficiency, patience, and love.

The Housemaid, 1910,
William McGregor Paxton
The Waitress, 1929,
William McGregor Paxton
 
Despite all this dignity and social rectitude there was an erotic, sexually laden aspect to Paxton's work. One has to wonder almost if his wife knew about his copy of Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres' famous Odalisque with a Slave (below, left), dating originally from 1839-40. It was acquired by a Boston millionaire named Carroll S. Tyson, a friend of Paxton's in 1932. Paxton's copy (below, right) is surprisingly faithful to the original painting by Ingres (below, left). However Paxton's erotic streak was not limited to merely copying famous masterpieces from the not-too-distant past. He also produced quite a number of languid, nude, beauty cuties on his own as seen in his Glow of Gold, Gleam of Pearl (left), from 1906, or his blockbuster Nausicaa (bottom), from 1937. It's doubtful his wife posed for any of these.


Glow of Gold, Gleam of Pearl,
1906, William McGregor Paxton



L'Odalisque L'esclave, 1839-40,
Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres
Copy of Odalisque with a Slave, 1932,
William McGregor Paxton





Nausicaa, 1937, William Paxton.
(Paxton died in 1941. All this nude pulchritude must have been too much for him.)