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Monday, December 2, 2019

Courbet's Burial at Ornans

Gustave Courbet's Burial at Ornans now hangs in Paris' Orsay Museum.
Every artist dreams of creating something "important" at least once in his or her lifetime. For Picasso it was his 1937 masterpiece, Guernica. For Norman Rockwell it was his 1943 series, Four Freedoms. In the case of Leonardo it would be his Last Supper. Michelangelo had several such works but the Sistine Chapel ceiling probably had the greatest impact. Late in the summer of 1849 the French Realism painter, Gustave Courbet began his most "important" work. It is a massive 315 x 668 cm (more than 10 feet tall by almost 22 feet in length) group portrait Burial at Ornans. Ornans is a small town in eastern France not far from the Swiss border. Ornans was Courbet's birthplace in 1819. The funeral scene is that of Courbet's Great Uncle, who died in September of 1848. The painting took over a year to complete. Family members included in Courbet's scene are his mother, his three sisters, and his grandfather, Ouidot. Courbet was not the first to paint a funeral scene. El Greco's 1586 Burial of Count Orgaz comes to mind. Nor was he the first to paint Christian rituals. He was, however, the first to mix history painting with genre portraiture and to do so in such a massive, realistic manner.
Burial at Ornans, 1849-50, Gustave Courbet.
Courbet's Ornans studio.
I've seen this painting. Over-whelming doesn't do it justice. Courbet's painting was so large it would barely fit in his Ornans studio. He complained in a letter to a friend about the lack of space in his studio where he painted this, his largest work ever. “Only a madman could work under the conditions I must put up with. I am groping blindly. I have no room to step back.” Unlike other artists of his time, Courbet did not hire models to pose for him. Courbet used the real people who had actually been at the burial. As it had such a deleterious effect on the Romantic style of painting, Courbet himself said: “The Burial at Ornans was, in reality, the burial of Romanticism.”

This preliminary sketch defines the figures and the manner in
which they are grouped in the painting.
Black is the basis of the Burial at Ornans, and two sequences of color are played against it, over the picture's whole length. First the flesh color of the hands and faces; second, the plain white of handkerchiefs and collars, lace caps, spats, the priest's trimmings, the gravedigger's sleeves, and the glossy hide of a dog. At the left of the picture the same colors are put in negative; the black of the crucifix, caps, and belts against the surplices of the choristers, black crossbones and black tears on the pall itself. The dark tones used in Courbet's work also make it exceedingly difficult to photograph as evidenced by the numerous detail images used below. Courbet's preliminary sketch (above), is far closer to the crude straightforwardness and of the kind of intelligence which went into the work: breaking and turning the long line of heads; drawing the black into dense clusters and making the white area a more positive interval in the picture; creating just enough space, between crucifix and censer, or between priest and gravedigger, to make the various groups distinct. Nothing is enlivened. The forms of popular art show through the picture like a skeleton. No device is strong enough to obscure the basic theme, the faces etched in even light against the mass of black below them."

Courbet 's mother and three sisters--Juliette (whose face is covered), Zoé, and Zélie

This is the picture's structure. It is more complex than it seems at first sight, but it can be described step by step, with some kind of certainty. Beyond this point, when we start to ask about the picture's meaning, the real difficulties begin. What, to put it briefly, is the Burial's affective atmosphere? What are the mourners' attitudes and emotions, and what is Courbet's attitude to the event portrayed? We have to answer such questions in our own minds in the face of an image which deliberately avoids emotional organization. In the Burial there is no single focus of attention, no climax towards which the forms and faces turn. Least of all is the picture organized around the sacrament of burial: hardly a single face, save perhaps the gravedigger's, is turned towards the priest, and the line of heads at the right of the picture looks the other way entirely--away from the coffin and the crucifix.

Grandather Ouidot and the pall bearers, Gustave Courbet
We are not inventing this perplexity. Critic after critic, when the Burial reached Paris late in 1850, asked the same questions, though with more rancor. It was precisely this lack of open, declared significance which offended most of all; it was the way the Burial seemed to hide its attitudes, seemed to contain within itself too many contraries--religious and secular, comic and tragic, sentimental and grotesque. It was this inclusiveness, this exact and cruel deadpan, that made the Burial the focus of such different meanings. It was an image that took on the colors of its context; as it was designed to do. 19th-century France had many political and social issues going on that were conflicting the artists working at that time. Realism was the new style that had emerged into the French art world. Gustave Courbet's paintings embodied historic events that were captured in vivid realism. Burial at Ornans made him one of the most famous 19th century artists in France. The harsh realism of this artwork is what offended the bourgeoisie. Many people were offended that an unheard-of-before great-uncle was given such honor and fame to his death through Courbet's painting.

The landscape attendant

At the Salon in 1850-1851, many people decried "the ugliness" of the people, and the ordinariness of the whole scene. Among the few admirers of the painting, one critic prophesied that it would remain "the Herculean pillars of realism in modern history". The very subject of the painting has been reinterpreted. At first regarded as anticlerical, it was finally believed that, in a composition dominated by Christ on the cross (above), bringing together the clergy, a mayor and a Masonic judge, surrounded by men and women from all walks of life, it was the idea of "universal understanding" which prevailed, a constant preoccupation in the 19th century and for the 1848 generation in particular. Courbet's approach was radically innovative at the time: he used a canvas of dimensions usually reserved for history painting, a "noble" genre, to present an ordinary subject, with no trace of idealization, which cannot pretend to be a genre scene either.

 The grave, and M. Cassard, the grave digger.
Félix Nadar's photographic
portrait of Gustave Courbet
As a prime example of Realism, the painting sticks to the facts of a real burial and avoids amplified spiritual connotations. Emphasizing the temporal nature of life, Courbet inten-tionally did not let the light in the painting express the eternal. While the sunset could have expressed the great transition of the soul from the temporal to the eternal, Courbet covered the evening sky with clouds so the passage of day into night is just a simple echo of the coffin passing from light into the dark of the ground. Some critics saw the adherence to the strict facts of death as slighting religion and criticized it as a shabbily composed structure with worn-faced working folk raised up to life-size in a gigantic work as if they had some kind of noble importance. Other critics such as Proudhon loved the inference of equality and virtue of all people and recognized how such a painting could help turn the course of Western art and politics.


Monday, November 25, 2019

Adam Riches

Adam Riches' Triple Portrait. (my title).
Creativity in the form of graphic self-expression begins quite early in a child's life. It might be something of an exaggeration to say it begins at birth, but quite apart from that creativity might easily be said to be life itself. Sometime during the first year of a child's life he or she is given paper and a crayon with which to entertain themselves,--if only for a few minutes--while the parent enjoys a much-need respite from the more demanding elements of child care. The child begins to experiment and quickly discovers that moving the little stick of colored wax around over the paper leaves a lasting mark (art for art's sake?) Referring to such scribbles as "art" might depend upon how broad ones definition, of the subject might be. Yet if you are broadminded enough to consider art to include all forms of creative self-expression, scribbling with various colored crayons would fall well within the realm of art. You could call this type of work/play primitive Expressionism. Abstract that the child is drawing his inspiration from within. a few short years later this form of art evolves into a form of Expressionism in which the child begins to create imitating his or her environment, drawing inspiration from both without and within.
Not all of Adam Riches scribbled faces are as deep, dark, and brooding
as this example, but most are quite similar.
Adam's scribbled images evolve, the
artist having only a vague idea of
their final appearance.
Adam Riches' art reflects this gradual de-velopment. It's customary to declare that an artist displayed art talent at a young age (whether true, or not). However Riches' art did begin at a young age...a very young age. Before I go further let me inject here that there are at least three Adam Riches, all approximately the same age, which makes researching this artist's life somewhat complicated. To make mat-ters worse, two of these men are artists. The other Adam Riches specializes in futurist illustrations. There's also a com-edian/singer named Adam Riches, al-though the last two may, in fact, be one and the same. In any case the latter is much more well known, perhaps even "famous" while Adam Riches the scrib-bler's reputation rests solely on his art. I looked for a possible self-portrait, but I couldn't even find a reliable photo of the man. Adam lives and works in Suffolk, England.

There is often an unfinished look to
Riche's scribblings.
Rediscovering a childhood interest for "doodling" has helped this Ipswich man forge an art career. As a boy, Adam Riches used to mess around with pens and pencils and draw historical figures. His talent has led him to working as a full-time artist, with his ink-on-paper work selling for hundreds of pounds. "I was always interested in drawing as a child and drawing from my imagination... I feel lucky to take something I did when I was younger and develop that into a career."

Some of Riches scribble
works suggests female faces,
though sometimes it's a very
subtle distinction. 

Adam Riches uses pen and ink to create frenetic por-traits of brooding anonymous figures. The monochrome illustrations emerge out of blank backgrounds, with broad, gestural lines skittering and looping across the paper. Often, pen drawings fall into two stylistic cat-egories: contour drawings that capture the outlines and edges of their subject, or super-smooth ones that seem to defy the fine point of the pen with layered hatch marks. In forging his own style, Riches uses highly varied densities in his mark-making to create volume and suggest shadows, while also utilizing each line as a distinctive shape. In a recent video interview with BBC, the artist explains, “The drawings are quite intuitive and are done spontaneously. They reveal themselves as I’m making them.” Riches has certainly chosen a difficult medium in which to work. With the possible exception of watercolor, ballpoint pen and ink can be a most "unforgiving" medium of expression.

One of Riches more "polished" renderings
However, given his style of rendering and the anonymous, "unscripted" nature of his subject, what otherwise might be con-sidered an error can be encompassed into the overall nature of the work. Riches considers his surroundings as quite important to his creative process. He notes that he works best when alone, although he admits to the importance of being surrounded, with other creative people. He also listens to music through earphones as a means to block out the world and get lost in the process. He favors music by The Smiths, The Clash, David Bowie, Nirvana, The Pogues and several others. Riches admits to a singular weakness that often bedevils many artists--procrastination. But in his defense, he considers his bouts with pro-crastination to be sources of inspiration and motivation. Riches notes that his style evolved out of the idea for a sculpture. In choosing to make a human head from wire he made some preliminary drawings. Ironically. the sculpture never got made, but he continued with the drawings.


Monday, November 18, 2019

The Color Yellow

Yellow Cactus, 1929, Georgia O'Keeffe
What's your favorite color? The chances are it's not yellow. In fact, for many people yellow is their least favorite color. When people list their favorite colors, yellow is chosen by a mere 5% while some 42% of both men and women choose blue, followed by red, green, orange, brown, purple, and finally yellow. Gold (almost yellow) white, and silver round out the top ten. Why is yellow rejected by so many when it denotes youth, fun, joy, sunshine, and other happy feelings? With so much going for it, we might expect yellow to be a much more popular choice rather than hovering bear the bottom of the list. Perhaps it's because yellow can be anxiety producing as it is fast moving and can cause us to feel agitated. Yellow also has a tendency to make one self-critical as well as critical of others.

Yellow is the brightest color that the human eye can see. It is a cheerful and energetic color. The color yellow is often used for children’s toys and clothes. However, designers must be careful when using this color as it is often hard to read when placed on a white background. Although yellow is a bright and cheerful color, it can quickly become dirty and unpleasant, as it approaches the darker shades. When I taught students the art of color mixing, very often they were surprised to find that black, mixed with yellow, did not render them the expected "dark yellow" but various shades of olive green instead. The color yellow is related to learning. It is a color that resonates with the left (or logical) side of the brain, where it stimulates our mentality and perception. The color yellow inspires thought and curiosity and is creative from a mental point of view--the color gives us new ideas. The yellow helps us find new ways of doing things. It suggests a practical thinker and not a dreamer.
Differing subtle shades and tints of yellow are often difficult to discern
especially on a computer monitor. Also, they may very often take on a greenish shade.
Yellow is found between green and orange on the spectrum of visible light. It is the color the human eye sees when it looks at light with a dominant wavelength between 570 and 590 nanometers. In color printing, yellow is one of the three colors of ink used along with magenta and cyan, which, along with black, can be overlaid in the right combination, to print any full color image. A particular yellow is used, called Process yellow (also known as "pigment yellow", "printer's yellow", and "canary yellow") subtractive primary colors, along with magenta and cyan. Process yellow is not an RGB (short for, red, green and blue) color, and there is no fixed conversion from CMYK (short for cyan, magenta, yellow and black) primaries to RGB. Different formulations are used for printer's ink, so there can be variations in the printed color that is pure yellow ink. 
Artists would have a difficult time rendering autumn scenes without an abundant
supply of various yellow pigments on their palettes.

Because it was widely available, yellow ochre pigment was one of the first colors used in art. The Lascaux Cave in France has a painting of a yellow horse 17,000 years old. Ochre and orpiment pigments were used to represent gold and skin color in Egyptian tombs, then in the murals decorating Roman villas. In the early Christian church, yellow was the color associated with the Pope and the golden keys of the Kingdom, but was also associated with Judas Iscariot and was used to mark heretics. In the 20th century, Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were forced to wear a yellow star. In China, bright yellow was the color of the Middle Kingdom, and could be worn only by the Emperor and his household. Special guests were welcomed on a yellow carpet.

Few artists handle yellow pigments well Van Gogh stands out for his mastery
of yellows in all their radiant beauty.
When we think of the color yellow as used by famous artists from the past, Vincent van Gogh immediately pops into view. His golden yellow wheat fields and yellow on yellow sunflower paintings are nothing short of dazzling (the images here do not do them justice, by the way). However, the Impressionist (or Post-impressionist) Paul Cezanne was also lover of the color. Fellow Post-impressionist Emile Bernard lists the yellow pigments making up Cezanne's palette as brilliant yellow, naples yellow, chrome yellow, yellow ochre, and raw sienna (yes, that's considered a "yellow). Works such as Terrace at Cagnes, by Auguste Renoir (below) suggests yet another painter who was no stranger to the color yellow.
Terrace at Cagnes, 1905, Auguste Renoir. There are several versions of this
scene by Renoir. This one uses more yellow than most of the others.
Likewise artists such as Pablo Picasso in his Horta de Ebro - Houses on a Hill, 1909, (below),  Gustav Klimt in his The Kiss (1908) some might consider it gold rather than yellow (It was, in fact, gold leaf). Salvador Dali (with his cold surrealist skies), Piet Mondrian, Georgia O'Keeffe (top), and many contemporary painters have all shown an affinity for yellows. 
Horta de Ebro (Houses on a Hill), 1909, Pablo Picasso
Photographers sometimes pick and choose
content bursting with the color yellow.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Amanda Browder

Is it a quilt, or a tapestry, or a conceptual art installation?
When does a handicraft become art rather than merely a utilitarian fabrication? For centuries quilts have been admired for their skilled workmanship and the fact, of course, they can keep us warm at night. They also add an attractive touch to a neatly made-up bed. In bygone days they served to make good use of scraps leftover as housewives sought not to waste usable material as they made clothing for themselves and their families. However, inexpensive garments imported from overseas where labor and textile costs for our clothes are miniscule as compared to even those sewn in the home; and, as more and more women found well-paying jobs in the American marketplace, the skills associated with sewing have largely fallen by the wayside. No sewing, no scraps, no more patchwork quilts. It's not quite that cut and dried, but insofar as art is concerned, it has only been during the past fifty years or so, once the utilitarian value of quilts began to fade, that quilters began to create original works of art on a par with virtually every style the history of painting encompasses.

Amanda Browder: no longer bedcoverings or wall hangings but more on the order of a sophisticated form of gift wrapping.
Cutting, sewing, fitting, unfurling.
Montana-born artist, Amanda Browder, has taken quilting to a whole new level. Technically, Amanda does not make quilts. Using hundreds of yards of donated fabric with bright colors and patterns, Browder and her volunteer teams stitch together enormous panels that resemble crazy quilts. The panels wrap around bell towers, sheath elevated walkways, and drape from gables and eaves to give passersby a new ex-perience of familiar buildings. Her work occupies a state somewhere in between "soft sculpture" and orchestrated public object installation with a studio affinity for abstraction and minimalism. Quilts have long had a close relationship with ab-stract art--all quilts, even those which grace king-size beds in the master bedroom. Sometimes this relationship is overt; at other times, as with the old-fashioned scrap-laden quilts, the abstract qualities are somewhat hidden, or even acci-dental.
Spectral Locus (2016), Amanda Browder, Richmond/Ferry Church, Buffalo, New York.
Amanda is fascinated by the transformative nature of materials, and how the combination of the familiar creates abstract relationships about place. This relational objectivity generates an open-ended narrative, ambiguous situations defined by the choice of materials with a healthy dose of work ethic. Central to the psychedelic experience, she is drawn to reinventing Pop-Art colors by exploring shifts in scale and sculptural perceptions. Browder received her B.A. in studio arts as well as two master’s degrees in sculpture and installation art. She is now based in Brooklyn and frequently travels to create new works. She was recently awarded an opportunity with the prestigious ArtPrize organization in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The multi-part work, titled Kaleidoscopic, captured the attention of passersby at locations around Grand Rapids.
Kaleidoscopic by Amanda Browder, Grand Rapids Community Center

Amanda Browder’s Future Phenomena
is presented by North Brooklyn Public
Art Coalition.
Amanda's overarching goal is to engage individuals and groups in the mystery of creation. Volunteerism of local citizens and artists is a segue to creating familiarity in contemporary art as well as the individual nature of the neighborhood itself. From material collection to construction and exhibition, Browder hopes to encourage community volunteers to participate in ways that require collaboration and conversation involving city, community, architecture and art. An example of this synergetic force can be found in Amanda's Future Phenomena (right). This large-scale, fabric public art sculpture was temporarily affixed to the façade of an apartment building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where its psychedelic spectacle of bright colors and flowing shapes were a representation of a group effort in a local community.

Amanda's volunteer assistants learn new skills as they work together as a team.
Amanda's "public sewings" usually elicit yards
and yards of unused material for her displays.
Browder supports herself with her artistic endeavors having saved up enough money for a year in order to become a full time artist. She is often ap-proached by institutions to create draped buildings. For each of these commissions Browder receives financial support and a liaison to the community. Browder has exhi-bited at the University of Ala-bama at Birmingham, Nuit Blanche Public Art Festival, Mobinale, Prague; Allegra La-Viola Gallery, NYC; Nakao-chiai Gallery, Tokyo; White Columns, NYC; and No Long-er Empty, Brooklyn. Browder's first large-scale computer-generated digital patterning debut was her project "At Night We Light Up" for the Indianapolis Power & Light Building, unveiled in June of 2016. part of a free interactive light festival hosted by the Central Indiana Community Foundation.
Pelham Art Center, Pelham, New York, 2014, Amanda Browder
Amanda Browder's textile art collaborations accommodate architectural interventions in situ. Using tissue centrifuges for viva and motile couplers, the panels do not contain clothes, alloys, pin and gutters for the passage of a single expanse of familial bits. The changing nature of the materials and the manners of the combination of the family and the abstract relations never cease to amaze bystanders. This objectivity relates to almost all outer space, and of ambiguous situations defined by the choice of materials. At the expense of psychedelic excellence, she is about to reinvent Pop-Art couplets by exploring the changes in sculpture and sculptural perceptions.

Pelham Art Center draped.
In 2016, Ms. Browder received her first National Endowment for the Arts grant to work with the Albright Knox Museum to cover the Buffalo Public Library. She sheathed three historic buildings in Buffalo using hundreds of yards of donated fabric. The three buildings include 950 Broadway, the former Richmond Methodist Episcopal Church at Richmond Avenue and West Ferry Street and Albright-Knox’s Clifton Hall. The pieces were created from fabric collected and donated from all over the Buffalo area, sewn together by a collection of community volunteers. In April 2019 Browder installed "The Land of Hidden Gems" as the inaugural UNLV Transformation Fellow. In June 2019 Browder installed "City of Threads" at the Arlington Arts Center in Arlington, Virginia. In September 2019 she installed "Kaleidoscopic" in ArtPrize's "Project 1" in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It included draping a community center building, and covering four sky walks (top photo) located in downtown Grand Rapids.

Land of Hidden Gems - Amanda Browder from Shahab Zargari on Vimeo.


Monday, November 4, 2019


"Is Graffiti art or vandalism? That word has a lot of negative connotations and it alienates people, so no, I don't like to use the word 'art' at all." --Banksy

Banksy is an unknown artist who has become famous by being an unknown artist. His career has been marked by experimentation, risk, and a daring playfulness. His stencil-heavy motifs—of rats, cops, and kids with bal-loons—have simply become part of our shared cultural vocabulary, reproduced (and ripped off) with abandon. While it’s exceedingly difficult to narrow down a handful of works that define his aesthetic, I've highlighted below a selection of projects that have captured my jaded eye and the artist’s hugely influential practice.
Banksy is a master of site-specific graffiti.

“Become good at cheating and you never need to become good at anything else.”– Banksy

Despite the often-seriousness of his messaging, Banksy has a healthy sense of humor. (The devoutly anonymous artist’s webpage, for instance, includes a photo of someone —purportedly Banksy—being sketched by an outdoor portrait artist, while wearing a ski mask.) A 2013 pop-up in New York City found Banksy offering $60 original stencil paintings near Central Park. As was noted at the time, it wasn’t surprising that most people walked right on by, since Manhattan’s sidewalks are littered with dozens of people selling Banksy rip-offs. It’s helpful to consider this episode as a self-contained performance art in its own right, and a commentary on value, celebrity, and site-specific context. Banksy reprised the concept, in a very different form, in Venice in 2019. There, he (or someone acting on his behalf) set up a street stall to peddle a series of oil paintings depicting the sort of cruise ship that is helping to slowly sink the city.
Is this the anonymous graffiti artist? Banksy photo, Jamaica, 2004.

“People who get up early in the morning cause war, death and famine.” – Banksy

Banksy executed his first work in in the late-1980s. Since Banksy made his name with his trademark stencil-style 'guerrilla' art in public spaces--on walls in London, Brighton, Bristol, and even the west bank walls of Jerusalem--his works have sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds. He has dozens of celebrity collectors including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Christina Aguilera. After a year-long investigation by numerous journalists, London's Daily Mail named Banksy as Robin Gunningham. The search began with a photograph (above) taken in Jamaica showing a man in a blue shirt and jeans, with a hint of a smile on his face and a spray can at his feet. Taken in 2004, it was said to show Banksy at work. When the picture was published it appeared to be the first chink in the armor of anonymity with which the artist has shielded himself ever since his work began to attract the attention of the art world.
Irony permeates much of
Banksy's Graffiti

“There are four basic human needs; food, sleep, sex and revenge.” – Banksy

Robin Gunningham was born in Bristol, England, in 1973, at the same hospital where he later had surgery for a cleft palette. When Robin was nine, the family moved to a larger home on the same street. It was there he spent his formative years and became interested in graffiti. A neighbor, recalls Robin's parents moving onto the street as newlyweds and living there until 1998. They have since separated. In 1984, Robin, then 11, donned a black blazer, grey trousers and striped tie to attend the renowned Bristol Cathedral School, which currently charges fees of £9,240 a year. It's hard to imagine Banksy, the anti-authoritarian renegade, as a public schoolboy wandering around the 17th Century former monastery, with its upper and lower quadrangles and saying his prayers in the ancient cathedral.
"It's not a swipe at Disney." Disney might think otherwise.

"There's nothing more dangerous than someone who wants to make the world a better place."--Banksy

Local authorities, who routinely had Banksy's graffiti painted over a decade ago, now recognize the value of his work. The local North Somerset Council said it was behind "Dismaland", mindful of a show in nearby Bristol that attracted more than 300,000 fans from around the world in 2009. "Welcome to Dismaland" and "Enjoy" was all they would utter, competing with each other in levels of insincerity. While not quite "The happiest place on Earth," "Dismaland" generated a buzz in the resort of Westin-Super-Mare, England and a lot of excitement from locals and Banksy fans worldwide. Britain's newest theme park, "Dismaland," opened with a decrepit castle, a merry-go-round horse set to be cooked and model boats on a pool full of refugees, all courtesy of British street artist, Banksy. The "Bemusement Park" is tagged as "The UK's most disappointing new visitor attraction!" and features work by other artists including Damien Hirst. "It's not a swipe at Disney," Banksy claimed in a press release. "I banned any imagery of Mickey Mouse from the site. It's a showcase for the best line-up of artists I could imagine, apart from the two who turned me down."

Girl with a Red Balloon, Banksy
"Mindless vandalism can take a bit of thought." --Banksy
A Banksy painting titled Girl with Red Balloon was being auctioned at Sotheby’s in London. The spray-painted and acrylic piece depicted a little girl (below, right)extending her arm out for a heart-shaped balloon, floating far beyond reach. The bid-ding climbed to $1.4-million, an amount that tied the artist’s own auction record from 2008. Finally, a hammer pounded to signify the end of the auction. Right then, the painting’s canvas began scrolling down-ward, seeming to pass through its elaborate gilded frame--and reappearing below in neat, vertical strips. Later, Sotheby’s would explain that a shredder was hidden inside the frame. The crowd began murmuring as they realized what was happening. The painting was “self-destructing” before their very eyes. The incident spurred questions about how Banksy had pulled it off and whether he had been at the auction in disguise. Sotheby’s did not publicize who purchased the piece. The next day, Banksy posted a video to Instagram (below) that showed footage of a shredding mechanism being built into a frame for, presumably, Girl with Red Balloon. Did he anticipate that the critics would claim that the work, in its partially shredded state, would climb in value to at least $2-million or that the purchaser would not object and would instead rejoice? Sotheby’s senior director Alex Branczik said in a statement that described the incident, "It appears we just got Banksy-ed.”



Monday, October 28, 2019

Mouse Art

Painting Dinner, Lucia Heffernan
As I was editing the photos for this post, my wife passed by and asked, "Is that the best you can come up with to write on?" My wife hates mice. Most women do. It's not that she would hop up on a chair screaming "EEEEEKKK" as usually depicted in so many stereotypic cartoons. It's just the holes they make in food packaging in the pantry and the nibbling which comes as a result. I tried to explain that she should not be so upset, they are, after all, very small creatures and not likely to eat very much. She was notamused. Despite the painting above titled, Painting Dinner, by Lucia Heffernan, I'm not writing about mice who paint. However, I was surprised to realize the number of artists who paint mice. And, like legions of others who specialize in depicting animal art which I've covered, the range of styles, media, and techniques pretty much runs the gamut from Photorealism to Abstract Expressionism. Incidentally, I also noticed, counterintuitively, that female artists, (despite the stereotype) tend to paint mice more often than their male counterparts. I wonder how much they pay their models?
The Three Blind Mice (upper image) as originally depicted by Charles Folkard,
have come a long way as seen by the contemporary image just above.
In 1609, the famous children’s rhyme “Three Blind Mice” was published in London. The mice have since been featured in multiple cinematic movies and television shows throughout the year, one of the most famous being Shrek. The origin of the nursery rhyme has a somewhat disturbing story behind it. The three blind mice were three Protestant loyalists who were accused of plotting against Queen Mary I. The farmer’s wife refers to the queen who, along with her husband, King Philip of Spain, owned several large estates. Mice were no doubt a recurring problem. The three men were eventually burned at the stake.
Gypsy Mice, David Galchutt
There seems to be no written history of "mouse art" (not surprising, I guess). From "Three Blind Mice," on it's hard to say how much "mouse art" (if any) was created. In most of the images I could find from later centuries, the mice were forced to shared the spotlight with playful cats or kittens. California illustrator, David Galchutt's Gypsy Mice (above), though seeming to be from the 19th-century was actually painted quite recently. It wasn't until 1904 that British writer, Beatrix Potter once more popularized mice as a fitting subject for artists. That was the year in which her children's storybook The Tale Of Two Bad Mice, was published in England. The Mice Hear Simpkin Outside (below) underscores her talent as an illustrator as well as being a writer, natural scientist, and conservationist. From that point on, mice have become a staple of children's literature and fine art.
The Mice Hear Simpkin Outside, 1905, Beatrix Potter 
There were probably other notable mice during the intervening years, but in 1928 Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks first brought a lovable little mouse they called Mortimer to the silver screen in Steamboat Willie (bottom). It was one of the first animated cartoon to feature a soundtrack. Mortimer was an anthropomorphic mouse who typically wore red shorts, large yellow shoes, and white gloves, (later renamed Mickey Mouse). Mickey made his movie debut in a Disney short cartoon titled Plane Crazy, only later hitting his stride as Steamboat Willie. Since then, Mickey has gone on to star in over 130 films, including The Band Concert (1935), Brave Little Tailor (1938), and Fantasia in 1940. Mickey appeared primarily in short films, but also occasionally in feature-length films. Ten of Mickey's cartoons have been nominated for the Academy Awards as Best Animated Short Film, one of which, Lend a Paw, won the award in 1942. In 1978, Mickey became the first cartoon character to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The most successful mouse of all time.
Mickey Mouse was not the only cute little rodent to "make it" as a movie star. After 1942, Paul Terry's Super Mouse made his film debut in a cartoon short titled The Mouse of Tomorrow. Like Mickey and hundreds of other Hollywood movie stars, once he became famous he changed his name. Super Mouse became Mighty Mouse. The character was conceived originally by Paul Terry. Created as a parody of Superman, he was renamed Mighty Mouse for The Wreck of the Hesperus (1944), after Paul Terry learned that another character named "Super Mouse" was to be published by Standard Comics. Mighty Mouse subsequently starred in 80 theatrical films between 1942 and 1961. These films appeared on American television from 1955 through 1967, every Saturday morning on the CBS television network. The character was twice revived, by Filmation Studios in 1979 and in 1987 by animation director Ralph Bakshi, who had worked at the Terrytoons studio during his early career. Mighty Mouse's superpowers included flight, super strength, and invulnerability. In some films he used X-ray vision and psychokinesis. He was also able to turn back time in The Johnstown Flood. Other cartoons showed him leaving a red contrail during flight that he manipulated like a band of solid, flexible matter, as in Krakatoa for example .
Paul Terry's Mighty Mouse. After 1945, dialog in many of his films
was sung by opera singers.
It's hard to say precisely how much Beatrix Potter, Walt Disney, and Paul Terry have had to do with the popularity of mice as subjects for other artists' creative efforts. About the time white mice became test creatures in scientific laboratories, they also became docile house pets, even for small children, and were therefore readily available as photographic models which then led to paintings such as the aptly named White Mouse (below) from Lydia's Wildlife Studio.
White Mouse, Lydia's Wildlife
At the same time, other artists have chosen the common field mouse as seen in Snack From the Garden, (below) by Jai Johnson.
Snack From the Garden, Jai Johnson
Other mouse painters have found the shy little creatures as an outlet for their more whimsical tendencies as seen in Soouris No. 15, (below) by Marina Dieul.
Soouris No. 15, Marina Dieul
Copyright, Jim Lane
This is the point at which I usually display one of my own mouse paintings. That's good since I have only one example, which I called Tom and Jerry (inspired yet another cartoon). It dates from my college days back in 1970.
Tom and Jerry, 1970,
Jim Lane

Living dangerously,
A Cat Peeping Through a Fence,
1966, Cornelis Saftleve
Mickey (Mortimer) Mouse makes his film debut as Steamboat Willie (1928)