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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Alphonse Legros

The Tinker, 1874, Alphonse Legros.
One of the factors we often fail to think much about in contemplating the art world of today is how much the art and science of art instruction have changed over the past couple hundred years (never mind the centuries before that). Roughly two-hundred years ago, the basic, academic framework of art instruction was well-established (some might call it entrenched). Paris was the capital of the art instruction world, with Rome, Amsterdam, and London rivaling for second place. Of course many other smaller cities had their art academies (some of them quite outstanding) including Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, Venice, Florence, Milan, Madrid, etc. Each tended to proclaim their strengths as reflected by the strengths of their instructors, while minimizing deficiencies. Hey, there's nothing new in the area of marketing strategies where art instruction is concerned. Paris' Ecole des Beaux-Arts was, strong in virtually all areas while Amsterdam tended to specialize in landscapes and still-lifes. Rome is where you went to learn to paint history. London' Royal Academy was strong in portraiture.
Cupid and Psyche, 1867, Alphonse Legros, one of his few mythological works.
Alphonse Legros Self-portrait, 1898.
It was behind the classroom doors where the greatest difference between now and then have developed. Two hundred years ago, the emphasis was on teaching the technical aspects of drawing and painting--highly disciplined, highly supervised instruction, instructors bent on turning out carbon copies of themselves as if art were a static world where change was to be looked upon skeptically, indeed, often with fear. Today, in art schools around the world, there is little of that. Newness, novelty, and negativity prevail. Weird is wonderful. Art is seen as ineffectual if it doesn't make the viewer uncomfortable. Two hundred years ago, there was little taught in the way of art philosophy. Today, even in a painting class, the emphasis is on teaching about art much more than the rules and regulations as to creating it. One of the major forces in moving art instruction from "then" on the road to "now" was the French painter and etcher, Alphonse Legros.
Canal with Fisherman, 1865, Alphonse Legos--pretty, but not much happening.
A bronze medal designed by Legros
bearing the profile of Charles Darwin
If you simply start looking at Legros' modest number of paintings, you will not be impressed. His painted portraits are few and far between, his landscapes tend to have an "empty" feeling, and his religious works are about as exciting as a geriatric Sunday School class. His best work came almost by accident as Legros learned the art and craft of etching and engraving by simply watching a friend and fellow artist practice his trade. Though we tend not to think much about etchings today, they were a strong, lucrative enterprise two-hundred years ago as an inexpensive means of providing outstanding art to the growing middle classes of the day. Legros did hundreds, of them, mostly portraits or "head studies" that were what we'd call "top of the line" for his time. Today, of course, this entire line of work has been replaced by photography and various forms of print media, both of which are in line to be replaced by digital reproduction.
Rehearsing the Service, 1870, Alphones Legrose
Ex Voto, 1861, Alphonse Legros
Alphonse Legros was born in 1837 near Dijon (eastern France southeast of Paris). His father was an accountant. He grew up in rural, agricultural environment, which later came to be reflected in many of his early paintings. His The Tinker (top), from 1874, is typical of his limited number of genre paintings. Most of his other paintings are what we might call "religious genre" centering upon devout Catholics and church officials solemnly doing their duty to God and church (above). His Ex Voto (right) from 1861 exemplifies this content compartment of his work.

The Triumph of Death, Alphonse Legros
Bust of Rodin, 1850s, Alphonse Legros
In 1851, Legros left home for Paris to study art. On the way, he apprenticed himself to various second-rate artists he met, absorbing scene painting, church wall painting, and etching. In Paris he first studied at the Lecoq de Boisbaudran (the "Petite école") before starting night classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. During the 1850s Legros had some success with portraits entered in the Salon, but like so many "starving" artists in Paris at the time, he was very much a "small fish in a BIG pond." Though his Realist friends liked them, his church scenes were not much noticed by the academic establishment of the time. Although he met there Auguste Rodin and fell in with the Courbet-loving Realist rocking the Paris art scene at the time, in 1863 he moved to London where he found a wife, took a position teaching at the South Kensington School of Art, and later at the University College in London. It was in England, that Legros began to have an impact in the staid old art of teaching art.

The Blessing of the Sea, Alphonse Legros
The Honorable Penitent, Alphonse Legros
It was during his seventeen years at University College (until his retirement in 1892) that Legros began to exerted his influence as he worked to encourage a certain distinctions, severity, and truth of character in the work of his pupils. Experimentation was highly valued, even when it failed. New techniques were mastered by students and teacher alike. He devoted part of his salary to help support deserving students in their studied abroad. While not jettisoning respect for the traditions of the old masters, he began teaching a simple technique which was then somewhat foreign to English art. He would draw or paint a torso or a head before his class in an hour or even less, keeping in mind the attention span of his students. Until that time, students had been known to take weeks or months laboring over a single drawing. To combat this, Legros changed the positions of the plaster casts in the Antique School once a week. In the painting school he insisted upon a good outline, preserved by a thin rub in of umber. That done, the work was to be finished in a single painting session. As I've often noted in teaching art, some students give perfection a bad name. Legros was one of the first to proclaim that student emphasis should not be so much upon producing art, but on learning to produce art.
The Dead Christ, Alphonse Legros

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Woody Allen

Heywood Allen
Allen plays a robot on the lam.
I'm not sure what year it was, but the first Woody Allen movie I ever saw was Sleeper (right) which came out in 1973 so it was probably not long after that. I liked it. What's not to like about a movie with an "orgasmatron." (Yes, it's exactly what it sound like.) On the whole, though I'm not that great a Woody Allen movie fan though I have a great respect for him as a moviemaker. Of his nearly fifty films, I don't think I've seen more than three or four. I think I've seen Casino Royale, Bananas, and maybe one or two more (Manhattan, perhaps). I think one reason most of his films have never appealed to me is that, while they are everywhere from hilarious to merely amusing, I think they appeal more to women than men, and in any case are a little too neurotic for my tastes. My respect for his talent, however has few bounds. The man has proven again and again that he can do (and do well) just about every creative aspect of the motion pictures as an art form. He can write (perhaps his strongest suit), act, direct, provide the music, produce, and no doubt even edit all that when the need arises. He's a "one-man band" on a level with Kubrick, Wells, Spielberg, Cameron and a very few others.

A Banana Republic gone "Bananas."
Woody as "Jimmy" Bond
The problem with writing about Allen is that, with the exception of Annie Hall, virtually any of the man's movies are films most directors would be proud to claim as their best work. That is to say all of them are good, but few stand apart from the rest or deserve the designation as "great" movies. Allen wrote the script for his first film, What's New Pussycat, in which he also played a roll, back in 1965, almost fifty years ago. He didn't much like the results, which caused him to vow to direct himself everything he wrote from then on. The following year he directed his first film, What's Up Tiger Lily, a Japanese spy comedy, then played none other than James (Jimmy) Bond himself in Casino Royale, a spoof of the entire international spy genre based very, VERY loosely on the Ian Fleming novel. He didn't write or direct it, but he had a lot of fun with it in any case (who wouldn't playing opposite David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Ursula Andress).

The 1969 movie based upon
Allen's 1966 play.
Allen was born Allan Stewart Konigsberg in 1935. His mother was a bookkeeper, his father a jewelry engraver and waiter. Allen grew up in Brooklyn in a fairly dysfunctional family speaking Yiddish, Hebrew, and German. He changed his name to Heywood Allen and left home at the age of seventeen. He had a tendency to flunk out of colleges and was thus mostly self-taught. His natural talent and weird, dry sense of humor got him a job at $25 a week writing for comedian Herb Shriner. Soon he was also doing scripts for Ed Sullivan, the Tonight Show, and Sid Caesar, earning $1,500 per week, more than both his parents combined. Around 1961, using his own material, Allen tried his hand at stand-up comedy himself, working out of clubs in Greenwich Village. Several comedy albums followed, as well as guest shots on Candid Camera. He wrote short stories, cartoon captions for New Yorker magazine, a book, From A to Z, and plays. The book became a Broadway musical starring Hermione Gingold. His second Broadway effort, Don't Drink the Water, he wrote himself. It ran for 598 performances. By the end of the 1960s, when he first came to my attention, he was writing for both stage and screen, while also finding his niche as a comic actor.

Allen is haunted by the ghost of Bogart.
Mia Farrow, as Alice, one of
twelve films made with Allen.
Allen's career in the movie industry can, with some limitations, be charted by his leading ladies, starting with his marriage at the age of nineteen to sixteen-year-old Harlene Rosen, which lasted five years. She later sued him for a million dollars for using her as the butt of his stand up comedy jokes. His second marriage in 1966, to actress, Louise Lasser, (who appeared in three of his films) lasted just three years. Although they were never married, Allen and his Annie Hall star, Diane Keaton, were often linked romantically. Starting with Play it Again, Sam in 1970, they made seven films together, the last being Manhattan in 1993. Then, around 1980, came Mia Farrow. They too were never married but she appeared in twelve of Allen's thirteen films over the next nine years (1983-92). Today, despite something of an overblown scandal, Allen is married to Mia's adopted daughter (with Andre Previn), Soon-Yi Previn. That marriage has lasted seventeen years. Soon-Yi has appeared in none of Allen's films, which might account for their longevity together.

Diane Keaton (in her Annie Hall fashion statement) along with Allen, 1977.
Annie Hall, despite the title, was a
portrait of Allen.
In a few more days, Woody Allen will be seventy-nine years old. That means he's been writing, directing, producing, and acting in motion pictures for around fifty years. Annie Hall brought him two Oscars, Best Screenplay and Best Director, ratified by identical awards by the British (BAFTA). The film also brought home gold statuettes for Best Picture of 1977 and one for Diane Keaton as Best Actress. Altogether, Allen has crafted roles leading to fourteen Oscar nominations for his other female stars while being nominated seventeen times himself. He's been nominated for thirteen Gold Globe awards, winning twice for his screenplays, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Midnight in Paris. On top of that, he's a damned good jazz clarinet player. In fact he took his name from the famed clarinetist, Woody Herman.

There is an autobiographical element to many of Allen's films.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Henry Lamb

Death of a Peasant, 1911, Henry Lamb

Henry Taylor Lamb Self-portrait, 1914
Artists have always had a tendency to search for beauty. They also like to tell a story, not so much in paint today, but through film and video. In search of beauty, artists have long dwelt on stories and themes such as love, honor, duty, physical beauty, even eroticism. The last place one might go in search of beauty is to war. War, by its very nature, is ugly. It's destructive. It's wasteful. It's the very embodiment of hatred. But as recently as Vietnam, art and war were called together by the military in seeking a lasting tribute to duty, honor, and memorialized tribute to those who died. There are those who would claim quite rightly that art and war are diametrically opposed. Indeed, when war came to Europe in the 1940s art suffered tremendously, some of the greatest art treasures from the past having yet to be recovered. All of the past conflicts between art and war must have weighed heavily on the British painter, Henry Taylor Lamb as his government called upon him to, in essence, paint two war.
The Artist's Wife, 1933, Henry Lamb. He often painted his portrait subjects reading, perhaps to keep their minds occupied during the long hours of posing.
Breton Boy, 1911, Henry Lamb.
The painting, for which this was a
preparatory drawing, recently brought
sixty-thousand pounds at auction.
Henry Lamb was born in Adelaide, Australia, the son of the mathematics professor, Sir Horace Lamb who was teaching at Adelaide University at the time (1883). When offered a position at Victoria University in Manchester two years later, the elder Lamb moved his family to England. There young Henry grew up and trained first at Manchester University to be a doctor, but his heart wasn't in it. He wanted to be an artist. He transferred to the Académie de La Palette in Paris where he studied until about 1908. Following graduation, the young artist spent three years working in Brittany where he painted his first major work, and perhaps his best, Death of a Peasant (top) from 1911. The work is striking because it incorporates the mind of an artist with the pathos of a doctor, one who has not yet grown immune to the inevitability of death.
Advanced Dressing Station at the Struma, 1916, Henry Lamb.
Notice the doctor literally works in a trench.
Felicia, 1947, Henry Lamb, (his daughter).
With the coming of WW I, England needed doctors on the front lines. Lamb returned to his medical studies and became on. He served with the Royal Army Medical Corps as a battalion medical officer with the 5th Battalion, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was awarded the Military Cross. Serving in the British protectorate of Palestine as well as on the Western Front, Lamb was badly gassed toward the end of the war. He was demobilized in 1919 and took up painting again as he recovered from what was probably German mustard gas (the most common gas used during the war).

Military Exercises, Devonshire, ca. 1941, Henry Lamb

Neville Chamberlain, 1939,
Henry Lamb.
In 1928, Lamb married Lady Pansy Pakenham, a British novelist and daughter of the 5th Earl of Longford. They had three children, a son and two daughters. When the next war came along around 1940, Lamb was fifty-three years old and still suffering the long-term effects of having been gassed. He was no longer suitable as a doctor on the front lines. By then he was a much sought after portrait artist as seen in his impressive portrait of then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (right). Lamb was appointed a full-time war artist by the War Artists' Advisory Committee for whom he painted numerous portraits of high ranking officers. Lamb also painted ordinary servicemen and women, many of them Canadian, while stationed at the Old Sarum aerodrome. There he also painted tank training exercises.

 The Command Post, 1942, Henry Lamb
Boy with Toy, 1944, Henry Lamb.
After fulfilling his duties in a second world war, Lamb was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1949, and during the remainder of his life until his death in 1960, served on various museum boards of trustees while continuing to paint portraits of war heroes, friends, and family. Lamb is said to have been a very gentle man. This trait is evident in both his service to his country during two wars and in the faces and figures of those he painted. It's unlikely he ever managed to come to terms with the disparities of art and war. That may well be an impossibility. But his love of humanity very often shines through his works, even those involving the inhumanity of mankind's greatest tragedy of the spirit.

Boy Reading, 1956, Henry Lamb.
Is this the same boy as above?


Monday, November 24, 2014

Duck Tape Art

A new art form emerging bursting upon the scene.                                         
Vase of Duct Tape Roses
by Duck Tape Bandit Amanda
It's always exciting to be on hand to observe an emerging art form. Just in my lifetime (don't ask how long) I've seen the explosive Abstract Expressionism with its total freedom of pigmented expression. I've seen the fruition of color photography as an art form. Picasso may have invented collage about the time my father was born but it wasn't until my own lifetime that it emerged as a popular means of expression. Add to those video art, digital photography and creative imaging, virtual reality, and probably some more that don't immediately come to mind. Of course such newness usually come from the young, "outside-the-box" creative types. The most recent example of the emergence of a new art form came to my notice from my granddaughter--Duck Tape. She and her mother created and entire fashion ensemble of the stuff for her to wear at some kind of school function. She was about twelve at the time. More recently, she's been manufacturing Duck Tape accessories--wallets, "jewelry," iPhone covers, (and those are just the ones that stick in my mind).
Duck Tape--just think outside the box and add color.
Notice the difference in duct
tape and DUCK Tape (above)?
I think I should stop here and clear up the difference between two similar terms--Duck Tape and duct tape. Uhh...there is none. The only difference is mostly in the history of the stuff. And despite what you might guess, DUCK tape is actually the older of the two. It refers to tape made from a light, canvas-like material long called cotton duck. The stuff has been around since the days of sailing ships, though in its rubber-based-adhesive-backed form, only since the early 1900s. Duct tape, on the other hand, came out of WW II when it was developed by the Revolite division of Johnson & Johnson in sealing crates of ammunition to keep out moisture. Powdered aluminum pigment gives traditional duct tape its silvery gray color. It's now made by 3M. The modern day name came from its use in also sealing heating and cooling ductwork. Basically duct tape replaced the generic duck tape.
Leonardo the Lion Fish--paper-mâché and Duck Tape sculpture,
Tape art, coming soon to an
art gallery near you.
That is, until about 1975, when a guy named Jack Kahl rebranded the duct tape made by his company. Because the previously used generic term "duck tape" had fallen out of use, he was able to trademark the brand "Duck Tape" and market his product complete with a yellow cartoon duck logo. In 1979, the Duck Tape marketing plan involved sending out greeting cards with the duck branding, four times a year, to 32,000 hardware managers. This mass communication combined with colorful, convenient packaging, helped Duck Tape become popular. Starting from near-zero, Dahl's Manco Company has now come to controlled as much as 40% of the duct tape market in the U.S. mostly by changing its color and with the addition of simple print and design elements. Last Christmas, we sent our granddaughter a whole carton of the stuff. (No, I don't own stock in the company.)

Even in traditional gray, Duct or Duck, this sticky stuff in the right hands can be impressive as well as expressive.
Coordinating prom fashion ensembles
of Duck Tape.
Is Duck Tape the wave of the future? Already museums are taking notice of this largely 21st-century art phenomena (above, right). The same seems to be true of interior designers who use the relatively inexpensive material to cover entire walls to accent their rooms (above). Teenaged fashion designers love Duck Tape for its virtually unlimited creative possibilities. Teenaged girls, who couldn't (or wouldn't) sew a stitch can now create and wear their own designs for less than fifty dollars. Unfortunately, in the case of the less gentle sex, they can also do the same for their prom dates (left). I wonder how uncomfortable such outfits are. Even portrait artists are embracing this new medium as a certain Crafty Soccer Mom named Nicole demonstrates in her tribute to Lucille Ball (below, right).

Lucille Ball, Crafty Soccer Mom
However, in something of a class by himself, a Dutch artist in Amsterdam named Max Zorn creates portraits and other figural art using a tape medium similar to Duck Tape in many ways, only different. He uses tan, semi-transparent packaging tape mounted on Plexiglas then cut away with a scalpel. His works are lit from behind much like a stained glass window without the glass...without the color...without all the work. Light areas are cut away entirely, with darker areas utilizing a varying number of successive layers of tape. His brooding smoker (below) displays the results. The video just below that show's how it's done.

The work of tape artist Max Zorn, Amsterdam, packaging tape on clear Plexiglas.
Check out the video below for details.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rainer Maria Latzke

The work of Rainer Maria Latzke (and his crew).                                 
Rainer Maria Latzke
Virtually all artists dream of their art making them rich and famous. Artists are good at dreaming, which may explain why they're artists in the first place. Most have to be satisfied with creating illusions of their dreams in their chosen media--paint, print, film, pixels, etc. Most of us lack sufficient talent, daring, education, and drive to make our dreams anything more than imaginary images. I'm guilty of this. I create imaginary 3-D architecture for my own enjoyment using Will Wright's Sims 3 software (the Sims are just to keep me grounded in some degree of reality). We all know two or three British painters and one or two Americans paint-pushers who have done reasonably well financially, but for the most part, the money has gone to those artists able to utilize various forms of mass media to bring their art to either a few people with lots of money or lots of people with a little money (as in the case of filmmakers). Then there's the German-born painter, Rainer Maria Latzke. You could say he's done both.

In this 1985 photo, Latzke is seen with his son working on a mural for Mercedes Benz.
Venice Bathroom, Rainer Maria Latzke.
How much? If you've gotta ask,
you can't afford it.
Latzke is a muralist, which is something like calling Michelangelo a plasterer. In fact Latzke has often been called a "Modern Day Michelangelo." Although he doesn't reject the designation outright, it does require some explanation and qualifications on his part. Michelangelo was a creative genius, but he also used state-of-the art fresco techniques to mollify Julius II and his grandiose edifice complex. Latzke has gone a step further. He has invented state-of-the-art technology in painting murals; and in the process, satisfied some of his own edificial tendencies. His patented software and associated mural techniques he calls "Frescography." (My spell-checker just accused me of making up that word myself.) Basically it's what you might call computerized, digitalized, aggrandized fresco painting. The indoor pool space (top) displays the results, the photo of Latzke and his son (above) suggests how it's done.

A "fool the eye" eyeful, Rainer Maria Latzke (the girls are part of the mural).
Rainer Maria Latzke was born in 1950. He was one of eight children born to Alfons (who was an art teacher) and Lisa Latzke (also an artist). He grew up in Cologne, Germany, though the family is of Polish descent. Rainer Latzke began his studies at Gutenberg University in Mainz, training to be an art teacher like his father. From there he went on to study at Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts where he encountered Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter. He displays Richter's photorealistic style, from Beuys, he got his work ethic and flair for self-promotion. Armed with such traits, Latzke first tried taking on private students in his hometown, with only modest success. Giving that up, he took off for Italy to study the Renaissance, where he picked up his Michelangeloean yearnings (I did make that word up myself).

Mediterranean Port, Rainer Maria Latzke
A Latzke Dreamworlds fresco mural for Maserati
In 1981, his career as a muralist starting to take off, Latzke married and started a family (two sons and a daughter). His early clients included names like Harrad's (London Department Store), Mercedes Benz, and a German rock band called the Scorpions. By 1984, Latzke was ready to "settle down." He bought a dilapidated chateau in Belgium where he began restoring its 38 rooms while teaching the finer points of mural painting to a growing group of post-graduates grouters. That was his first house. Ten years later, he moved on to Monte Carlo and a similar domestic edifice also in need of restoration, the Villa Paradou overlooking the sea, which had once been owned by the guy who invented Cinemascope. While working, teaching, and painting there, Latzke began exploring better ways of doing all three.

An oriental flavored bedroom by Latzke. Is it any wonder the Chinese love him.
Each mural is signed by the artist.
As the 1980s merged into the 1990s Latzke wrote two books on mural painting emphasizing the digital revolution blooming brightly before him. Unlike many traditional artists of his time, Latzke embraced the new technology, especially that having to do with computer graphics and the development of large-format inkjet printing. In the years that followed, computers became commonplace, software became more powerful, and printers simply grew. Do you realize they now make high-quality inkjet printers more than 100 inches in width? That's eight feet or more! Latzke discovered that not only could he design his tromp l'oeil murals on a computer screen, he could also transfer them to paper (I didn't even know they made paper that wide). Then, going beyond simply drawing and printing "cartoons" by computer for use in drawing on the wall (an intensively laborious task in mural painting), he pioneered techniques to allow the printing of the mural itself on surfaces such as canvas, vinyl, even glass. Latzke invented Dreamworlds Design Studio software and the Institute of Frescography (Utah State University) to train budding young muralists how to use it.

Latzke's Dreamworlds Design Studio--Photoshop for murals.
With continuing technical and digital improvements, Frescography allows the design of a mural in but a few hours, the finished project ready for installation in as little as two weeks. Yes, there's still a little painting involved, the system is not perfect; though Latzke claims the finished murals are. Today, this "Modern Day Michelangelo" divides his time between four or five homes (restoration projects) around the world, the latest being in Shanghai, China, where he teaches and has a studio at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts (SIVA). You want to know the most distressing aspect of Latzke's success? He's a multi-millionaire and he's five years younger than I am (sigh).

The mural comes with the hired help.

Take a look at Latzke's lavish digs in the videos below: