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Monday, March 25, 2013

Funny Paintings

Don’t be lost in the weird world of investments, Tiago Hoisel
Artists, like most everyone else, have a sense of humor, though some might consider what we consider funny somewhat warped or weird. Sometimes it comes through in their work; most often, though it does not. I guess most artists wish more than anything else to be taken seriously and humor, by definition, flies in the face of that aim. In art, humor takes many forms. Probably the most virulent is that art which caricatures individuals, or, more often, art itself. Marcel Duchamp probably started it all when he painted a moustache on the Mona Lisa in 1919. Salvador Dali lambasted poor Mona again with his 1954 self-portrait and his own flamboyant moustache. Dali, himself, takes a hit with Brazilian artist Tiago Hoisel's "homage" (above). This genre of art humor has been going downhill at least since Dali with Leonardo taking the brunt of the mischief. In selecting paintings to highlight here today, I've deliberately avoided such work. Art, especially painting, has a tendency to be somewhat pompous and pretentious (the very point Duchamp was trying to make), but which, frankly, makes it too easy a target.

Breakfast in Bed, 1897, Mary Cassatt--love with a side order of cookie crumbs.
I've also excluded cartoons and the risqué or the downright pornographic (though some of it is downright hilarious). And though many of them qualify as highly creative, I've also excluded photos and that art owing its existence to photo editing. Anyone with a Facebook page sees a ton of that type of humor every day. The painted humor I enjoy is that in which the artist displays an inventive, though somewhat subtle sense of his or her own humor. Usually such artists are not famous, though Mary Cassatt's 1897 Breakfast in Bed (above), employs a subtle humor perhaps only a mother could appreciate. Many of such artist probably should be more famous than what the are. I know it's not paint, but sidewalk chalk artist Julian Beever's, human-scaled fool-the-eye work (below) stands up well (lays down, actually) against the best such similar work hanging on the walls of museums.

Julian Beever's temporary sidewalk humor owes much to careful photography.
From the same era as Cassatt, though certainly not in her league, comes probably the most iconic of such "funny" painters, C.M. Coolidge, and his poker playing dogs (below, left). He painted thirteen different versions in a single year (1903). Trite? Yes, but even today it's hard to look at them and not, at least, smile. And to compliment such work, a tastefully nude cat (below, right).

Dogs Playing Poker, 1903, C.M. Coolidge
The feline version of Rembrandt's Danae.
As with the feline femme fatale above, very often the humor of present day artists is inspired by that of past painters as can be seen in the work of Lichtenstein inspired Mathiole and in an effort to one-up Norman Rockwell, artist, Berezhany Oleg Shuplyak, creates a postmodern self-portrait for which the most I can say is, "...wish I'd thought of that."

This painting has "gone viral,"
unfortunately minus the name
of the artist, Oleg Shuplyak

Postmodern humor

Cat in a Can, 1979, Jim Lane, 
my own attempt at feline humor.


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