Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Millennium Park, Chicago

Millennium Park, Chicago. Michigan Avenue is to the right,
Columbus Drive to the left. The Art Institute is seen in the
top center of the photo on the left side of Michigan Ave.
In the spring of 2014 my wife and I spent three days in Chicago seeing the sights and sites I had read about and written about over the past few years. We saw the Art Institute, the Willis (Sears) tower, Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, ate at the top of the John Hancock Tower while staying in one of the city's oldest and grandest hotels, the Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Since then, I could kick myself for not doing a more thorough canvas of all there was to see and do in the city. We missed Chicago's two most popular attractions, the Navy Pier (not entirely by accident); and one of the most outstanding urban parks, not just in Chicago, or even the U.S., but the entire world--Millennium Park.
A map of the lakefront area (top) featuring the Art Institute, Grant Park, Maggie Daley Park, and Millennium Park. The lower map indicates the
layout of Millennium Park. (Both maps are oriented the same direction.)
What makes this omission all the more aggravating is that the Art Institute of Chicago is practically in Millennium Park--just across East Monroe Street. The aerial image (top) is oriented toward the south, just the opposite of the map, but still gives some idea as to how close I was to this community treasure without realizing it. Our hotel was a couple blocks south of the Art Institute. The aerial photo of the park (top) depicts mostly the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Great Lawn (center), the Serpentine Bridge (left) and Cloud Gate (right).
The architectural and cultural centerpiece of Millennium Park
Located near the center of the park, built over the Illinois Central rail yards (as is the entire park almost), is the architectural and cultural centerpiece of the park, the Pritzker Pavilion (above). The pavilion is an outdoor concert shell which stands some 120-feet high, with a billowing headdress of brushed stainless steel ribbons that frames the stage opening, while also connecting to an overhead trellis of crisscrossing steel pipes. The trellis supports the sound system, which spans the 4,000 fixed seats as well as the Great Lawn, which accommodates an additional 7,000 people. The state-of-the-art sound system, the first of its kind, was designed to mimic the acoustics of an indoor concert hall by distributing enhanced sound equally over both the fixed seats and the lawn. Jay Pritzker Pavilion was designed by the famed architect, Frank Gehry, and is classified as a work of art to avoid legal restrictions as to its height. All concerts are free.
The bridge is closed in winter due to the difficulty
in removing ice from its wooden floor.
Also designed by Gehry is likely the most unique bridge in the world (some might also say the most beautiful). Called the BP Pedestrian Bridge (the park was largely finance by corporate sponsors, everything from chewing gum to jet aircraft) it is clad in brushed stainless steel panels, intended to complement the Pritzker Pavilion in function as well as design by creating an acoustic barrier from the traffic noise below. It connects Millennium Park to the old Daley Bicentennial Plaza (now Maggie Daley Park), to the east. The 925-foot-long winding bridge, provides incomparable views of the Chicago skyline, Grant Park, and Lake Michigan while also providing access to a subsurface parking garage.
Cloud Gate, 2006, Anish Kapoor. How do they keep it so shiny?
Flanking the Pritzker Pavilion and the Great Lawn to the west, just off Michigan Avenue, is the park's most famous attraction, British artist Anish Kapoor's 110-ton elliptical sculpture he called Cloud Gate. The shiny sculpture (financed by AT&T)is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect Chicago’s famous skyline and the clouds above. A twelve-foot-high arch provides a "gate" to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see themselves reflected back from a variety of perspectives. Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture is among the largest of its kind in the world, measuring 66-feet long by 33-feet high. I regret missing this more than anything else.

Crown Fountain, 2006, Jaume Plensa.
Just south of Cloud Gate, bordering Michigan Avenue, is another major addition to Millennium Park, further augmenting what amounts to a massive outdoor art museum. The Crown Fountain (above) was designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. The fountain consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video of the faces of a broad social spectrum of Chicago citizens, with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out. Plensa uses the faces of Chicago citizens projected on LED screens, having water flowing through an outlet in the screen to give the illusion of water spouting from their mouths. Plensa's fountain references the traditional use of gargoyles in fountains, where faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths spouting water. His images were taken from a cross-section of a thousand Chicago residents.

The Boeing Galleries feature the work of living artists.
When I referred to Millennium Park as a massive outdoor art museum, I wasn't kidding. The Boeing Corporation has sponsored two sculpture galleries (above) while the three Chase (Bank) Promenades are used as outdoor (and waterproof) fine arts displays featuring flat works, both aimed at promoting the work of living artists (below). If you've ever had the urge to visit an art gallery while under an umbrella, Millennium Park has you...uncovered.

Since Chicago is known as the "Windy City," I wonder how
such displays stand up to a stif breeze off Lake Michigan.
In addition to these truly unique features of the 25-acre park, Chicago's urban landscaping masterpiece also contains those delights which have traditionally made such community rest and recreation areas so attractive. The Lurie Gardens (below) supplies the flowers. Designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd, Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel, this five-acre garden pays homage to the City's motto, "Urbs in Horto" (City in a Garden), which refers to Chicago's transformation from its flat and marshy origins to a bold and powerful city. Highlights include dramatically lighting, and a fifteen-foot-high “shoulder” hedge, a visual representation of Carl Sandburg’s famous description of the “City of Big Shoulders,” which encloses the garden on two sides and protects the delicate perennial plants. A graceful hardwood footbridge over shallow water divides the garden diagonally between “light” and “dark” floral areas.

Millennium Park's Lurie Gardens, a refuge among the city's
soaring towers keeping Chicago's skies "well-scraped."
Along with the ubiquitous flowers, fountains, and footbridges, Millennium park also boasts a theater (indoors), a monumental peristyle of columns dedicated to the park's many founders and sponsors (Wrigley Square), a bicycle rental center (McDonald's),and four welcome centers (one at each corner of the park). It's far from the largest urban park in the world, nor is it, by any stretch, the oldest (actually, probably the youngest). It was first proposed in 1997 with construction starting the following year. Cost overruns brought the city's total investment to $270-million with private donations approximating a similar figure. Millennial park was officially opened in 2004, though some might argue that it's been "under construction" ever since.

The Harris Theater, located on Randolph Street behind
and adjacent to the Pritzker Pavilion.
In memory of all those who died supporting the park.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

John Huston's The African Queen

It's hard to imagine a more unlikely couple, but it worked.
There is a phenomena in moviemaking commonly referred to a "chemistry." It has to do with a certain, largely indefinable, personal magnetism between two stars (usually of the opposite sex) that lifts a film from the ordinary to the exceptional. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh had it. So did Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Winslet and DiCaprio nearly saved the Titanic with their steamy formula. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman also come to mind as do Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise (on screen, if not in real life). Perhaps one of the best known and oft-repeated examples of film chemistry was that of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn; or perhaps topping even that, Bogie and Bacall. Speaking of these two couples, perhaps the strangest chemistry experiment of all time was Director John Huston's mixing Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn together in his 1951 film classic, The African Queen.
Two powerful screen talents. Mixing them could just as easily
have blown up in John Huston's face.
Director, John Huston, 1951.
It would seem that some film stars got better grades in chemistry than others in that Bogart could be mentioned as the male half of several such couplings (Casablanca with Ingrid Bergman and Key Largo with Bacall, for instance). Had it not been for this unexpected combination, and an excellent script by Huston and James Agee, which brought them together, The African Queen would have been little more than an overblown, second-rate, adventure film. Of course, we can't slight Huston's role as chief chemist, given his long, illustrious careers on both sides of the camera. The best reasoning as to why there sometimes develops this chemistry between two stars (but more often does not), has to do with the talent of the two and their ability to convincingly pretend to fall in love. And of course, sometimes (as with Tracy and Hepburn) it's not pretend. It's interesting also to note the Bogart's wife, Lauren Bacall, never left her husband's side during the long, arduous filming of African Queen, especially when he was around Hepburn.
The chemistry at work.
The book, by C.S.
Forester, 1935
Referring to the on-location filming of The African Queen in what was then the Belgian Congo (today, The Democratic Republic of Congo) as "arduous" might be considered an understatement. Treacherous might be more accurate. The cast and crew had to battle perils including dysentery, malaria, bacteria-filled drinking water and several close brushes with wild animals and poisonous snakes. Most of the cast and crew were sick for much of the filming, except for Bogart, who drank only whiskey. Huston tried hiring local natives to help the crew, but many would not show up for fear the filmmakers were cannibals. The script, based on the 1935 novel of the same title by C.S. Forester, has the couple also surviving harrowing rapids, a trip over a waterfall, an attacked by a horde of mosquitoes, and becoming lost in stagnant shallows. Thick reeds bog down the boat, forcing Charlie Allnut (Bogart) to pull it through the water only to find, when he boards the boat again, dozens of leeches covering his body. Then there's the constant threat of the Germans with forts and gun emplacements along the river. The movie is set in 1914, during the prelude days of WW I.
Heat, humidity, dysentery, flies, wild animals, snakes--
fun and games mid-summer on the Congo.
Most of the action takes place aboard the African Queen. Scenes on board the boat were filmed using a large raft with a mockup of the boat on top. Sections of the boat set could be removed to make room for the large Technicolor camera. This proved hazardous on one occasion when the boat's boiler – a heavy copper replica – almost fell on Hepburn. It was not bolted down because it also had to be moved to accommodate the camera. The small steamboat depicted in the African Queen was built in England in 1912, for service in Africa. In April of 2011, it was fully restore and is now on display as a tourist attraction at Key Largo, Florida.
The steam boiler amid ship in the film has been replaced with a diesel engine in the restored version.
The African Queen opened on December 23, 1951 in Los Angeles, just in time to qualify for the 1951 Oscars. The New York City premiere had to wait until February, 1952. The film earned an estimated £256,267 at UK cinemas in 1952, making it the 11th most popular movie of the year. It earned an estimated $4 million in US and Canadian box office receipts. The film was budgeted at one-million but ended up earning some ten times that. Although The African Queen was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Direction, only Humphrey Bogart took home an Oscar.

Robert Morley played the missionary brother of
Rose Sayer  (Hepburn). He's killed by the Germans
in the early part of the movie.

Check out the film's trailer below.

Katherine Hepburn as you've never seen her before...or since.
Wading through the weeds...and the leeches.

Dumping Charlie's gin
 (it was really just water).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Jacopo de' Barbari

A maze of narrow streets and waterways
--even Venice loses much of its charm when it rains.
Imagine, if you will, visiting the city of Venice, Italy, around 1500, and attempting to make your way around this urban Renaissance landscape, on foot, without the aid of a map. Not only is there a veritable maze of narrow waterways zigzagging their way through the city, but overlying it all is a second, equally complex, maze of narrow streets (some barely what we'd call alleys), which cross over the canals via dozens of nearly identical arched stone footbridges (above). The city is divided into two main areas separated by the winding Grand Canal over which there is but one (at the time) bridge--the Rialto. Although there are a plethora of treacherous gondolas at your service, there are times when you might have the feeling you could get where you want to go easier by swimming...assuming you didn't mind taking a dip in an open sewer. Of course, your sojourn is made somewhat easier by the towering campanile of San Marcos which serves as an orienting landmark. But still, frequently getting lost is more the rule than the exception. Asking directions in such an unfamiliar environment is quite acceptable...provided you speak the Venetian dialect of Italian. And traveling about the city at night...forget it. Yes, the streets are dimly lit by torchlight (some of them, anyway), but then, as now, there is always the danger of getting mugged...provided you don't stumble into a canal first.

Virgin and Child Flanked by St John the Baptist and St Anthony Abbot, 1490s, Jacopo de Barbari
Jacopo de Barbari, around 1497, decided to do something about this sorry state of affairs. De Barbari was a consummate woodcut artist and so-so painter (above) as compared to the many other Venetian painters of his day. Virtually nothing is known of de Barbari's early life. Art historians have no idea where he was born and can't seem to come within twenty years as to when he was born (between 1450 and 1470 is a best guess). Some argue he may have, in fact, been a German immigrant. At any rate, he turned up in Venice apparently in the late 1490s, paint, brushes, and woodcutting tools in hand, whereupon he took it upon himself to draw a map of the city for the benefit of the growing tourist trade just starting to become noticeable at the time. This was no small undertaking even for such an experienced artisan. The work required six blocks and the printed map measured about six feet horizontally and some four feet vertically. Moreover it was also exceptional for its time in that it took the form of an aerial perspective. Rather than clutter the work with street names, de Barbari simply drew them in along with detailed views of each and every building in the city (below). It was as if he'd hovered over the city in a hot air balloon to draw his map. Actually its likely he relied on detailed surveys drawn at ground level. In any case, the results, having taken more than three years to create, are stunning in their details and accuracy, especially for a time more than five hundred years ago.

King Neptune is likely just a fanciful decoration.
Although, given its size, the map may have been a bit unwieldy (not to mention expensive) for the city visitors of his day, having been there, done that a few years ago, there were times when I would have welcomed de Barbari's map despite its size and publication date. Just as a contrast, compare the map image and details (above) with a modern-day map similar in details (below).

For orientation purposes, start at San Marcos on this and
Barbari's map in comparing the two.
Portrait of Hendrik
(the peaceful) Graaf
van Mecklenburg,
1507, Jacopo de Barbari.
Perhaps, having seen far more of Venice than he ever wanted, Jacopo de Barbari took the profits from the sale of his maps and departed the city for Nuremberg, Germany, becoming the first artist of the Italian Renaissance to take his talent to the Teutonic tribes to the North. For about a year he worked for the Emperor Maximilian I. He then worked in various places for Frederick the Wise of Saxony in 1503-05, before moving to the court of the Elector Joachim I of Brandenburg during the years 1506-08. He may have returned to Venice with Philip the Handsome of Burgundy, for whom he later worked in the Netherlands. However by 1510 de Barbari was back in Germany, then on to Brussels where he worked for Philip's successor Archduchess Margaret. In January of 1511 de Barbari fell ill and made up a will. In March of that year the Archduchess gave him a generous pension for life, due to his age and infirmities. By 1516 he was dead, leaving the Archduchess in possession of twenty-three engraving plates, some of which have not survived.

Portrait of Luca Pacioli, ca. 1500, Jacopo de' Barbari. The artist's work
fits much more neatly into German traditions of portrait painting than those of the Italians. Notice the cut-glass
Still-Life with Partridge and Gauntlets, 1504,  Jacopo de' Barbari,
considered the first fool-the-eye still-life since the time of
ancient Rome.

Allegory, (verso) Portrait of a Man,
1497-1500, Jacopo de Barbari.
While in Venice, the artist seems
to have had a sideline of erotic
art. The title, for some unknown
reason, seems to ignore the feminine
element of his so-called "Allegory."


Monday, August 22, 2016

Vladimir Baranov-Rossine

The Village, 1916,  Vladimir Baranov-Rossine
We don't usually think of artists as inventors. The one exception to that in most people's minds would, of course, be Leonardo di Vinci, even though most of his inventions remained on paper. Also, most had fatal flaws within their designs, some of which would have, indeed, proved fatal had he tried to build and operate them. The best we can say for the great painting master was that he was inventive in a conceptual manner but lacked the patience and disposition to pursue his inventive nature to the point of their practical application. There have been others, of course; Samuel F.B. Morse comes to mind as does Buckminster Fuller and Louis Daguerre. However, we don't often think of the Ukrainian-Russian painter, Vladimir Baranov-Rossine, in that context. Perhaps that's because what he invented is not among the common household inventory of today, nor was it an exceptional milestone among the more wondrous achievements of modern-day science and technology. You see, Vladimir Baranov-Rossine invented the optophonic piano.
Vladimir Baranov-Rossine's original optophonic piano prototype.
Notice the image projected on the wall.
Now, if you know your Latin, you may have already have guessed that Baranov-Rossine's invention had to do with vision (opto) and sound (phon); and of course we all know what a piano is. Thus the artist/inventor was able to create a piano that combined and synchronized sounds and light (above). Today we most often think of this combination in terms of fireworks displays, but Baranov-Rossine's device stopped short of pyrotechnics in favor of a concert-type musical instrument which, in having a piano keyboard, could be made to play existing musical scores (sort of). Except for the keyboard it wasn't much of a musical instrument at all. The original version, dating from around 1916, emitted only a single, continuous tone which could be modulated. Instead, Baranov-Tossine's invention was more on the order of a primitive, psychedelic light show, projected on a wall, which also made a sound some might broadly interpret as musical. In terms of phonics, when first demonstrated in 1924, it was groundbreaking only in the fact that it was the first ever synthesized musical instrument. However, Baranov-Tossine, being a painter, was far more interested in the visual aspects of his invention than in developing the device's full potential as a sound machine.
A later, more portable version of Baranov-Rossine's invention.
For the techies aboard, the optophonic piano generated sounds and projected revolving patterns onto a wall or ceiling by directing a bright light through a series of revolving painted glass disks (painted by the artist himself), along with filters, mirrors, and lenses. The keyboard controlled the various combinations. Variations in opacity of the painted disks and filters were picked up by a photo-electric cell which controlled the pitch of a single oscillator. The instrument produced a continuous varying tone which, accompanied by the rotating Kaleidoscopic projections, was used by Baranov-Rossine at exhibitions and public events. He was known to have given two concerts at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. The film clip (below) from Strange Encounters (of the Third Kind) captures something of the amazement Baranov-Rossine's light and sound machine may have generated when it was first encountered. Incidentally, the artist also invented the photochronometer which allowed the grading of the color qualities in precious stones. And, in another field altogether, Baranov-Rossine perfected a machine that mixed, sterilized, and distributed fizzy drinks. He called it the “Multiperco." Don't laugh, it received several technical awards at the time.

Click above for a memorable light and sound
show, Hollywood's version of Baranov-Rossine's primitive machine.
Shulim Wolf Labe Baranov was his Jewish birth name. The
hyphen and the name, "Rossine," came later, around 1912, when
he began working in Paris under his nickname, Daniel Rossine.
 Polychrome Sculpture
Symphony Number One,
1913, Vladimir Baranov-
Vladimir Baranov-Rossine was born in 1888, in Kherson, (southern) Ukraine. From the age of fourteen, he studied at the School of the Society for the Furthering of the Arts in St. Petersburg before moving on to the Imperial Academy of Arts. In 1910 Baranov-Rossine moved to Paris. He lived and worked there until 1914, becoming a resident in the artist's colony, La Ruche, where he met fellow Russian, Alexander Archipenko, Sonia Delaunay, Nathan Altman, and others. While in Paris, Baranov-Rossine worked closely with Ar-chipenko experimenting with abstract sculpture constructions such as Polychrome Sculpture Symphony Number One (left), dating from 1913. So negative was the public reaction and ridicule when the piece was first displayed that, in despair, the artist heaved the thing into the Seine River. A few days later, he though better of his rash act and retrieved it from the riverbank. Today it rests in the National Modern Art Mus-eum in Paris. Vladimir Baranov-Rossine exhibited regularly in Paris after 1911. He returned to Rus-sia in 1914 where he had numerous exhibitions of his work there and in Oslo, Norway. By 1922, he was working as an instructor at the Higher Artistic-Technical Work-shops in Moscow.
Michel Baranov-Rossine,
the artist's son, who died at
the age of seven.

After the February Revolution, Baranov-Rossine returned to the motherland where he joined in the Russian avant-garde move-ment. In 1918 he organized an art studio in the building of the former Imperial Academy of Arts in Petrograd. In 1925 he immigrated to France and stayed in Paris. There he married (twice). His first wife died in child-birth. He and his second wife had three children, the second of which, Michel (right) was killed in a freak accident. Following the fall of Paris to the German army in 1941, and the subsequent round-up of Jews, Vladimir Baranov-Rossine was arrested by Gestapo in 1943. He was deported to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp where, a year later, he was among the millions murdered by the Nazis.

Adam and Eve, 1912, Vladimir Baranov-Rossine
Variation of a Mobius Band, 1918-19,
Vladimir Baranov-Rossine


Sunday, August 21, 2016

William Barak

The William Barak Bridge, Melbourne, Australia
When we think about the art of a country foreign to us, most of us have a tendency to think only about that of the current culture and population. Very often, of course, that body of work may extend back several centuries. Yet most countries have within their art museums many examples of the artistic cultural remnants extending into the past a thousand years or more. For instance, when we consider "American" art often we think of the beginning of the European presence on this continent starting around 1600. I guess we know in the back of our minds of Native American art before that, but given the fact that there is so little of it still existing, and it seems to bear no direct connection to our own art, we tend to leave all thoughts of it at the museum in which it resides. However, that's not the case in Australia or when discussing the art of Wurundjeri painter, William (King Billy) Barak.
"Ngurungaeta" means elder, by the way.
Although William Barak is mostly remembered today as an artist, he was actually in his mid-fifties when he first began to paint. Barak was born along Brushy Creek near Croydon, which is near Adelaide, South Australia (before any of those places were founded), around 1825. He was a member of the Wurundjeri clan. He died in 1903, thus his seventy-eight-year lifespan embraced much of the founding history of Australia. Barak was said to have been present when John Batman met with the tribal elders to purchase the Melbourne area in 1835. The Batman Treaty actually didn't so much purchase the Melbourne landscape as to "borrow" it for a few centuries. In this regard, the dealings with the Australian Aborigines, though less violent, parallels that of the U.S. government's repeated incursions into Native American ancestral lands.
The sculptor's name seems to have been long forgotten.
Barak attended the government’s Yarra Mission School for two years starting in 1837. After that he joined the Native Mounted Police around 1844. It was about this time that he acquired his Christian religion and a Christian name to go with it--William Barak. In early 1863, Barak moved to Coranderrk Station, near Healesville, Victoria, with about thirty others. Upon the death of their leader in 1875, Barak became the Ngurungaeta (elder) of the clan. He worked tirelessly for his people and was a successful negotiator on their behalf. He was a highly respected by indigenous people as well as the European settlers. Today, there stands a bronze statue of the man titled Between Two Worlds in a shaded nook of a park near where Barak spent much of his life.

Traditional culture before it could be overwhelmed
by modern-day art.
As might be expected, William Barak's artworks, record traditional Aboriginal life, but they also depict encounters with Europeans. Most of Barak's drawings were completed at Coranderrk during the 1880s and 1890s. Most also record traditional Wurundjeri ceremonies (above), often in exceptional detail. In some cases, his color drawings and paintings represent the only such records. Barak was adept at adapting his own life to the changing conditions, yet he maintained balanced ties with his own culture. He was an accomplished painter in ochre and charcoal and a source on Aboriginal customs for both tourists and serious anthropologists. He was the chief informant for central and south-west Victoria and elsewhere. Writers such as Lorimer Fison and Alfred Howitt drew heavily on Barak's knowledge and opinion. Howitt's notes cover a wide range of customs, beliefs and kinship patterns, related by Barak with deep respect and feeling while reflecting maturely his Christian faith.

Americans carve mountains to commemorate their great
leaders while Australians embed theirs on the side of buildings.
Perhaps because their ties to the land are considerably shorter than that of Americans, Australians seem to have a deeper respect for the leaders of the natives they encountered. Barak's paintings and drawings are highly prized and exhibited in leading public galleries in Australia. His work is on permanent display in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. In 2005 a 1,700-foot-long footbridge designated the "William Barak bridge" (top), was constructed stretching from Birrarung Marr (a park) to the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, improving the link between some of Melbourne's biggest sports and entertainment venues and the heart of the central business district. Moreover, in 2015 a 279-foot-tall image of William Barak was used to form the facade of a luxury apartment building called Swanston Square (above) in Melbourne. The image of William Barak is a part of the building's form. Using halftone line-art reduction (much like the lines on an old black and white TV), the builders have configured the balcony profile to render the image discernable at a distance. The portrait is formed by white concrete and glass balcony railings seen against a black wall. However, Swanston Square is more than a landmark piece of architecture. Anchoring the northern end of the Swanston Street axis, it marks the strong presence of a shared identity and heritage--an homage to the first Australians as well as those of today.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Vladimir Kush

Love, Vladimir Kush
Descent to the
Vladimir Kush
Most often, when a style or art movement fades from prominence, it doesn't so much die, or "pass away" into art history, but instead goes into a period of hibernation. Sometimes this "resting" can be rela-tively short as when Dada reawakened, metamor-phosed into the Conceptual Art just a few decades later. In other cases, as with Romanticism, and the Pre-Raphaelite movement, the reawakening took nearly two generations. In the human realm, when we reawaken each morning, we're not quite the same as when we fell asleep. The same is true of art movements put to rest by the artists and critics of one era; when they are revived dozens of years later, they're usually somewhat, or even quite dif-ferent. I suppose the one exception to this "rule" would have to be Realism, which could almost be deemed eternal in that, if it gets any rest at all, it's barely more than a short nap. Be that as it may, we could be seeing today the reawakening of an art movement which has lain dormant since 1989 and the death of Salvador Dali. Today, with the advent of digital art, Dali's Surrealism seems poised for a revival. There's certainly no shortage of it on the Internet. It's hard to say for sure at this point, but one artist seems to be leading this revival, the Russian-born painter, Vladimir Kush.

Always Together, Vladimir Kush, about as close
to Dali as he ever ventures.
Arrival of the Flower Ship,
Vladimir Kush
Kush doesn't consider himself a Sur-realist. If we accept the fact that art movements change while hibernating, perhaps we should also accept Kush's preferred designation of his work as Metamorphic Realism. Certainly, he's no Salvador Dali, though at times, his works, such as Always Together (above), and Descent to the Mediterranean (above, right) in which he dabbles in Dali's favorite colors, might suggest his being a distant relative. In most cases, Dali's work had a hard, indefinable, "edge" to it. Kush's paintings seldom do. Like Dali and the other Surrealists, Kush's work deals with the subconscious, what the layman might call "dreams." But unlike the Sur-realism, Kush's subconscious renderings seldom rise to the level of nightmares. They are wanderings, appearing at times almost like chance encounters. Rarely does Kush depart from a search for some form of truth and beauty. If his work has a fault, it would be that sometimes he finds beauty but then doesn't pursue it to the depth at which truth resides. His gorgeous painting titled simply, Love (top), is such an example while his Arrival of the Flower Ship (above, left) is not so much surreal as simply "pretty." It's cargo bears no eternal truths but childlike fantasies instead.

Kush may claim not to be a Surrealist, but his
photos say differently. Notice the eyes painted
on his glasses and on the knee of his jeans.
Vladimir Kush was born in 1965, raised and educated in Moscow, graduating from the Surikov Moscow Art Institute. After two years in the Soviet Army painting murals, and a number of years working as an artist in Moscow, he emigrated to the United States, eventually establishing his own gallery on the island of Maui in Hawaii. His popularity led to his starting two more galleries, one in Laguna Beach, California, and another in Las Vegas. In 2011 Kush won First Prize in Painting at the Artistes du Monde international exhibition in Cannes. Today he makes most of his income from the sale of original oil paintings, Giclee prints, and suing record companies for stealing his work.

Here Kush seems to have goin in search of
beauty and found the truth as well.
Hibiscus Dancer, Vladimir Kush
In addition to painting, Kush also fashions bronze-colored sculptures, small-scale versions of the imagery from his paint-ings. Walnut of Eden (above) and Pros and Cons are examples. Despite not want-ing to be considered a Surrealist, Kush cites the early influence on his style of Salvador DalĂ­'s Surrealism as well as landscapes by the German romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich. Going back to an earlier manifestation of Sur-realism, another influence on Kush's work was the 16th-century Dutch painter, Hier-onymus Bosch, known for his fantastic imagery and sometimes characterized as "the pre-Surrealism Surrealist." Wings, ships, exotic flowers, and color-saturated seascapes are frequent themes in his paintings, exemplified in Arrival of the Flower Ship and Hibiscus Dancer (left) Flowing water is another recurrent theme, exemplified by Fashionable Bridge (below). Other works such as Behind the Trees and African Sonata (also below) merge human and animal forms with inanimate objects.

Vladimir Kush's Metaphorical Realism
With other paintings Kush likes to dabble in history and the passage of time, a type of work he calls Horometry (below-left). His Golden Anniversary (bottom-right) gives a whole new meaning to the term "banana hammock." As mentioned earlier, it's questionable as to whether some of Kush's work falls into the traditional range of Surrealism or whether, instead, Metaphorical Realism is simply influenced by the lingering presence of Salvador Dali. We might even wonder if what we're seeing is, in fact, a reawakening, or simply Dali rolling over in his grave.

It looks a lot like Surrealism, but is it really?
Chess, Vladimir Kush

Atlas of Wander, Vladimir Kush