Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Richmond Barthe

Richmond Barthe at work on his sculpture
of Toussaint l'Ouverture, 1950.
Success in life is a three-legged stool--talent, hard work, and persistence. Take away any of those three and the enterprise tumbles. Art is no different, with the possible exception having to do with the quantity of the other three. Of course ones definition of "success" is a factor as well, but that's true of any goal. Let me give you an example--Richmond Barthe. He was born on the gulf coast, in the small port community of bay St. Louis, Mississippi in 1901. He was barely a month old when he was hit by one of the worst calamities which can befall a child. His 22-year-old father died. His mother took the boy to New Orleans where, as early as the fourth grade, his artistic talent was noticed and encouraged by his parish priest. By the time he was twelve, young Richmond was displaying his work at county fairs. As a teenager he worked as a houseboy and continued to develop his portrait skills, donating his work to various charities in helping with their fundraising efforts. His future as an artist looked bright, except for one problem. It was 1919 and Richmond Barthe was black.

Africa Awakening, 1959, Richmond Barthe
At the time, there were no black art schools in the south and few anywhere else accepting aspiring artists such as Richmond. It took the combined efforts of his priest as well as Lyle Saxon, an activist writer for the Times Picayune, and several others in eventually persuading the Art Institute of Chicago to let the talented teenager, having no formal training nor high school diploma, attend classes there. During the next four years, Barthe majored in painting while working as a café busboy. The talent, hard work, and persistence came together as the graduating young artist came under the patronage of Dr. Charles Thompson, a patron of the arts, who helped Barthe land several lucrative commissions portraying members of the city's affluent black community. However, as important as these were, the turning point in Barthe's career was when his anatomy teacher urged him to begin modeling his portrait figures in clay. From that point on, Richmond Barthe gave up painting.

The Boxer, Kid Chocolate,
1942, Richmond Barthe
After graduation from AIC in 1928, Barthe moved to New York where he established a sculpture studio, obtained gallery representation, won several important awards, joined the Harlem Renaissance, and by 1934, had his first solo exhibit at the prestigious Caz Delbo Gallery, thus cementing his reputation as one of the city's most important sculptors. Though accepted into the National Sculpture Society in 1946, Barthe became disillusioned with the rapidly developing New York School and its non-representation proclivities. So he packed up his bags and moved to Jamaica where he worked for the next eighteen years until the growing violence there caused him to once more move on. For the next several years he lived and worked in Switzerland, Spain, and Italy before finally settling down in a small apartment in Pasadena, California. The city welcomed him by naming the street out front in his honor. In California, where he worked in semi-retirement on his memoirs, Barthe met and became friends with "Maverick"--James Garner. The Rockford Files actor helped support him financially until his death in 1989.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines, 1952,
Richmond Barthe
It would be meaningless to crown Richmond Barthe as some kind of "greatest black sculptor" of the 20th century, or any other century, in fact (there simply weren't that many of them). For the same reason, placing him on a list of "top ten" black artists would be largely pointless. The greatness of an artist is best represented by his legacy. Barthe's legacy lies not in exalting his own work, but in uplifting that of leaders, movers, and shakers of his own race the world over. His 40-foot-tall monument to Toussaint l'Ouverture (top), the leader of the Haitian freedom movement, which stands in front of the presidential palace in Port au Prince, is said to be among Barthe's most outstanding works. His similar monument to Jean-Jacques Dessalines (right), one of Toussaint's generals, also occupies a place of honor in the capital city of the country they helped bring into existence. Other black leaders brought to life in bronze by Barthe include Booker T. Washington, actress, Rose McClendon, Cuban boxer, Kid Chocolate (above, left), and actor Paul Robeson. The list of his works also includes one actor not of his own race, his friend, James Garner (below).
James Garner as Maverick,
Richmond Barthe

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Disney's Greatest Masterpiece

Walt Disney proudly displays for TV Peter Ellenshaw's 1954 concept map of Disneyland.
A couple years ago about this time I wrote a piece on "The Most Successful Artist of All Time" (07-26-11). I discussed the man, his career, his cartoons, his movies and a few months later, his groundbreaking 1940-41 Fantasia (10-14-11). What I failed to mention was Walter Elias Disney's greatest masterpiece. If someone asked you, "How would you like to be in a movie?" Your reaction might be, "what do I have to do, look up in the sky at an NSA spy satellite and wave?" Flippancy aside, beginning in 1955, all you had to do was visit Disneyland. Long before Universal Studios turned their back lot into an amusement park, Walt Disney and his moviemaking geniuses created a huge movie set where all you needed was an 8mm Kodak "Brownie" movie camera and the one-dollar price of admission to, in effect, star in your own Hollywood (Anaheim, actually) production. (No, that's not a typo, the original Disneyland admission price really was one dollar bill, though each of Disney's other four "lands" was a separate one-dollar ticket.)

Disneyland literally had its roots in Walt's backyard (and his wife's flowerbeds). A friend's miniature locomotive (above) spawned a Disney-built 1/2 scale model for his own backyard amusement in 1950. He spent $50,000, for what was to be the
forerunner to that which, even today, encircles Disney parks.
As with virtually every artistic masterpiece, this one grew and evolved. Disney's greatest achievement started with an idea for an eight-acre recreation area for company employees and their families across the street from Disney Studios in Burbank. Disney's greatest talent was that of dreamer. When you have a good idea you run with it. The company recreation area grew into Mickey Mouse Park, and then gradually, over a period of ten years following WW II, into 160 acres of "fun and games" for children and adults alike--the first modern day amusement park. This long gestation period, along with the budding era of television, and Disney's own showmanship and enthusiasm, were the critical ingredients in the park's immediate success.
How Disneyland grew, this map dates from the late 1940s--16 acres on the
banks of the Los Angeles River. The project got strangled in red tape.
Disneyland did not pop out of its creator's head in a "eureka" moment of visual clarity. Disney recalled his father having worked at the Great Chicago World's Fair in 1893, his visits with his daughters to Griffith Park in Los Angeles, Tivoli Gardens in Denmark, as well as similar sites in the Netherlands, and the United States. His own small-town memories became Main Street, USA. His boyhood fascination with the frontier West, and an optimistic outlook on the future contributed to two of the "little" amusement parks within the BIG amusement park. His company's ventures into wildlife films and, of course, their mainstay, wholesome children's cartoons, rounded out the four Disney themed neighborhoods.
There were still a lot of orange groves and farmhouses as late as May, 1955 as Disney rushed his brainchild toward an opening date of July 17th.
As important as the inspiration for his masterpiece may have been, it was Disney's (along with brother, Roy's) mastery of corporate management and finance, which made it happen. Disney Studios was, by the early 1950s, no fly-by-night animation sweatshop, but neither was it a major Hollywood player with untold millions to cast about. Snow White, their first feature film, had nearly bankrupted the company, an experience Disney did not soon forget. Though heavily invested, (both personally and through the studio) Disney did not "bet the ranch" in bringing his artistic masterpiece to life. As with every great entrepreneur, he used OPM (other people's money). He and Roy had to sell the idea to Western Publishing and other media firms. It was a "hard sell, for Disney had neither a track record nor a bevy of other wealthy investors beating down the door to Sleeping Beauty's (proposed) castle. What he did have was a contract with the ABC TV network for a weekly, hour-long, showcase of old and new film footage. This quickly became a sparkling stage for each new bright idea as Disneyland came closer and closer to reality.
The Disneyland centerpiece, opening day--101 in the shade and no drinking water.
What was more than 100 acres of orange and walnut trees in early 1954, became the Magic Kingdom just over a year later. Disney unveiled his masterpiece on Sunday, July 17th, 1955, exactly one year after construction had begun. The day was a disaster. The drinking fountains didn't work. The temperature was a balmy 101 degrees, TV technical snafus mounted into a comedy of errors, traffic jams delayed guest celebrities, while newly laid asphalt (from the day before) made walking in 1950s era high heels an experience akin to leaving ones footprints in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater (a nice Hollywood touch unless you were a mother herding a 1950s era family of 3.5 baby booming kids).
Moving mountains (note the Matterhorn in the background),
not to mention thousands of orange trees.
Perhaps the truest mark of a creative masterpiece lies in the works of those it influences. Following Disney's lead, other movie companies jumped in. Universal's studio tours grew to encompass back lot thrill rides, while MGM moved to Las Vegas and set up an adult version of Disneyland with its Grand hotel and casino. Sea World, Anheuser Busch, and Six Flags copied and adapted the Disney model in their own ways. And of course, in the grand Hollywood tradition, Disney itself created a huge, blockbusting sequel among the orange groves of central Florida. In more recent years, the Disney sequels have been translated into foreign languages, French, Japanese, and Hong Kong Chinese, with more sure to come as the spirit of Walt Disney ventures into its real life corporate Tomorrowland.

Disneyland Hong Kong suggests a Disney Tomorrowland filled with parks, hotels, monorails, space travel, as well as floating versions featuring all of the above.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Emile Bernard

Women in the Meadow (le Pardon de Pont-Aven), 1888, Emile Bernard. The content came from Gauguin. The style was his own, sometimes termed Synthetism or Cloisionnism, as seen in the dark outlines and the simplification or elimination of tradition modeling.

Self-portrait with Portrait of Gauguin,
 1888, Emile Bernard
Art styles and movements throughout the centuries are fairly easy to understand, progressing more or less in a linear manner from cave painting (up or down, take your pick) through to Impressionism. There are some curves in this continuum of artistic development, particular in the area of painting, but for the most part, it's pretty straight forward. Then, came the year 1888 and the passing of Impressionism from cutting edge into "old hat." Okay, that's a bit strong, but you get the idea. This period came to be called Post-impressionism. The catchall term itself is an attempt by critics and art historians to simplify it all. The problem is, it oversimplifies, and in so doing, muddies the water further. What happened after Impressionism lost it's luster (insofar as artist were concerned, at least) was neither simple nor simplifiable. What happened was Modern Art.

Self-portrait, (les Miserables),
1888, Paul Gauguin. That's a
sketch of Emile Bernard
in the upper right corner.
Emile Bernard was a key figure in the birth of Modern Art. He, himself, was born in 1868, about the same time as Monet and a couple others began daubing away on the banks of the Seine, giving birth to the Impressionist movement. That would make him a young man of twenty when he met separately, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, the same-sex parents of the bastard art movement inadequately dubbed Post-impressionism. The year, 1888, was the year during which van Gogh and Gauguin co-habituated in Arles, in the south of France, for a mere two months (October though December). This pairing was every bit as significant as that of Braque and Picasso some thirty years later, though briefer and a good deal more tumultuous. Bernard had as much to do with the birth of modern art as either van Gogh or Gauguin, not so much in what he painted, but for what he wrote about what he (and they) painted. Though some twenty years older than Bernard, Paul Gauguin not only admired his work, but admired even more the fact that the young man could express himself so easily regarding the truly new art he, Gauguin, and van Gogh were starting to create. 

Breton Women and Children, 1888,
Vincent van Gogh's watercolor copy
after Bernard's Pardon at Pont-Aven
Nowhere is this tri-partite relationship more fascinating than in their exchange of portraits. Vincent wrote his young friend, Emile, asking for a portrait of Paul. Perhaps because of their age differences, Emile did not feel up to the task. What Vincent got was a self-portrait of Bernard with a sketch of Gauguin tacked up on the wall behind him. Vincent was delighted, nonetheless. Vincent was, no doubt, doubly delight when, a short time later, Paul returned the gesture, sending Vincent a self-portrait with a sketch of Emile tacked up on the wall in the background. When Paul eventually joined Vincent in Arles later that year, he came packing a work by Emile which so impressed Vincent he made a watercolor copy (above) to send to his brother, Theo, in Paris. Actually Emile's painting, Pardon at Pont Aven (top) , though not a copy, was heavily influenced by Paul's now famous Vision After the Sermon (below) from earlier that year.
The Vision after the Sermon, 1888, Paul Gauguin's painting
which so inspired Bernard and van Gogh
Thus, modern art had a rather promiscuous conception. Its "DNA" contains strains of Divisionism, Pointillism, Symbolism, Cloisonnism, Synthetism, even something called Neo-impressionism (whatever that might be). Emile Bernard was not only familiar with all these branches of the Impressionism family tree, he embraced and painted many of them. Most importantly he wrote about them--nearly two dozen books, articles, and essays on the subject, and that's not counting the dozens of letters he wrote over the next half-century to, not just his friends, Vincent and Paul, but to Cezanne, Redon, Apollinaire, and others in which he expressed himself quite clearly and eloquently on having been part of the birth of modern art. If you've ever looked at a piece of 20th century Modern Art and wondered: "WHAT were they thinking?" Read Bernard. Never once does he refer to Post-impressionism.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Federico Barocci

Descent from the Cross, 1567-69, Federico Barocci
Federico Barocci Self-portrait,
ca. 1600 
Very often art historians write disparagingly of those artists who followed the Renaissance greats, whom they dump ignominiously into what has been termed the Mannerist era. And, indeed, there are those from this period who deserve all the negativity and even ridicule leveled at them. It's not that these artists were incompetent. From a technical standpoint, they invariably excelled. Their downfall all too often involved a penchant for trying to surpass their artistic influences and instructional masters (a natural inclination). However, in doing so, they frequently jettisoned the compositional clarity and proportional excellence of their Renaissance masters in favor of showmanship or inappropriate elegance. Moreover, being sandwiched between the classicism of the Renaissance and the theatrical brilliance of the Baroque, these artist, in effect, get "squished." Federico Barocci was no exception in this regard. However, in discussing these interim painters, we must also remember that they were the teaching masters responsible for the incredible painting and sculptural achievements of the early Baroque era.
Last Supper, 1599, Federico Barocci. Though painted toward the latter part of
his career, when Barocci lapsed into the then-popular mannerist mode, he could
easily be as pointlessly colorful, as flagrantly melodramatic, and as aimlessly
convoluted as the worst of them.
Though a few of his works bear a few of the worst hallmarks of Mannerism (above), Barocci's influence upon the next generation of artists should not to be understated. Peter Paul Rubens saw his Martyrdom of St. Vitale (now apparently lost), even going so far as to make color sketches from it, the results of which can be seen in Rubens' Martyrdom of St. Livinus. Likewise, Bellini and the sculptor, Bernini, are among a dozen or more artists Barocci is said to have influenced during his career of some 65 years. (Born in 1526, he lived to be 86 years old.)

Francesco della Rovere, 1572, Federico Barocci
Despite having lived well into old age, even by today's standards, Barocci was quite the hypochondriac--perhaps not without good reason. Working in Rome in the early 1560s decorating the Vatican for Pope Pius IV, Barocci came down with a stomach ailment he blamed on having been poisoned by jealous peers (it was a salad, probably just unsanitary lettuce). In any case. fearing his imminent demise, Barocci fled Rome, leaving a papal ceiling unfinished. He never returned. Instead, Barocci set up shop in his native city of Urbino where he came under the patronage of the wealthy Duke of Urbino, Francesco della Rovere, whom he painted in 1572 (above). There he found all the work he could handle, mainly painting numerous altarpieces.

A colored chalk study for the hands of Barocci's Virgin of the Annunciation (below).
Barocci was not the most prolific artist to ever move paint from palette to canvas. Personally rather morose and constantly complaining of ill health, Barocci was, however, nothing if not thorough. Clients often complained as to the length of time he took and his tardiness in delivering finished paintings. Before ever starting, Barocci did dozens of color sketches (as above, in colored chalk) and even went so far as to make clay models of his figures to study the effects of various lighting configurations much as artists today use photographs. Though persistent, the sizable body of his work which survives is more a tribute to his having survived so long himself...despite some bad salad greens.

Virgin of the Annunciation, 1592-96, Federico Barocci


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Peculiar Still Lifes

...Next, Steve Strode
I love'em. I've even painted quite a few. Strange, weird, funny, peculiar, odd, however you describe them, still-lifes need not be boring. Let's face it, if you look, down through the annuls of art history, probably about 95 percent of all painted still-lifes are so tiredly mundane as to justify the old saying, "if you've seen one, you've seen them all." One of the reasons still-lifes seem so universally boring involves why artist paint them in the first place--to show off. That is, when you have as your subject objects that never move, seldom change much from day to day, manifest interesting colors and textures, and can be easily arranged in an almost infinite number of compositional arrays, the artist is free to concentrate on the painting's technical aspects to the exclusion of all else. In most cases, the objects mean little. They may be quite attractive, even beautiful, but they are, in the final analysis simply meaningless shapes.

Vanitas Still Life, 1625, Pieter Claesz
BUT...they need not be. Perhaps the earliest "peculiar" still-lifes were those concocted by the Dutch in the 17th century, which they called "vanitas" still lifes. For the first time, the objects had meaning beyond their simple existence. In this case, it was a matter of life and death--burned out candles, wilted flowers, crude time pieces, over-ripe (or just plain rotten) fruit, and human skulls--always human skulls. Morbid, yes, but never boring...well, perhaps after a time, in that they painted so damned many of them.

A Pair of Shoes, 1887, Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh's Chair,
1888, Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh had a penchant for the peculiar. Or maybe it was sheer boredom and limited finances as he sat shivering in his tiny, frigid, rented room in Arles, contemplating his meager surroundings--a bed, a chair, his shoes... He painted them. No artists had ever painted an empty bed before, or a nearly vacant chair with only a pipe, some crumpled paper, and a bit of tobacco. His A Pair of Shoes (above) are surprisingly naturalistic. The fact is, he painted shoes on at least five occasions. Actually, counting his many flowers, Vincent painted as many or more still-lifes as he did landscapes. And though many are quite traditional in terms of content, on several occasions his choice of objects might have raised a few eyebrows in his day.

I'm not sure just what kind of statement the painter here may have been trying to make, but it is either lost, or so obscure as to convey little more than shock value.
Of course today, the peculiar still-life is more often the bailiwick of photographers than painters. Painting a really odd assortment of objects takes no small amount of commitment and confident faith in their validity on the part of the painter as to the investment of time and supplies. The photographer, especially in today's digital age, makes no such investment. Thus, he or she feels free to experiment to a far greater degree. Yet, by the same token, the juxtaposition of the unexpected among the mundane can sometimes become jarring, as meaningless as it is silly.

Two Cats Playing with Fish, ca. 1708, Jan van Kessel
For painters today, often the most valid goal in rendering the peculiar still-life is one of humor. We can always use more humor. Sometimes it may seem harsh, sometimes uproariously funny, sometimes just gently amusing. Steve Strode's ...Next (top) fits somewhere in between one of those categories, or perhaps in a niche all its own--overkill. Jan van Kessel, the Dutch artist of the 18th century, eschewed the prevailing vanitas subject matter in favor of what appears to be a very lively still life, his Two Cats Playing with Fish, has turned what may have initially seemed a still-life debacle into an amusing feline romp. He painted at least two versions of this scene.

Although I've painted several still-lifes which might reasonably be considered a bit odd as to choice of subject matter, two in particular come to mind. Painted when I was on a dieting kick, together, the contrast between them, Before (left) and After (right) is where the humor resides, emanating from both the content and the three-dimensional aspects of the attached (fake) veggies and (real) candy.

After, 2001, Jim Lane

Before, 2001, Jim Lane

Friday, July 26, 2013

Art Parody

Move over Mona, you have competition in the parody parade.
Duchamp may have been the
first, but certainly not the last.
Marcel Duchamp may have been the first, in 1919, when he took a pencil and impudently violated the artistic sanctity the Mona Lisa by decorating her upper lip with a handlebar moustache. He then retitled his postcard image L.H.O.O.Q. (in French èl ache o o qu). You don't get it? It's a bad pun. Also, it helps to be French. When pronounced in French it comes out "Elle a chaud au cul", which, translated into English, comes out: "She is Really Horny." Even for Duchamp, it's a long way to go for a joke. Thirty-five years later, Salvador Dali, whose trademark happened to be Duchamp's handlebar moustache, couldn't resist the temptation to paint his own parody version, Self-Portrait as the Mona Lisa. Since then, poor Mona has been the butt of more desecrating bad jokes than any art in history, perhaps even any lady in history.

The Persistence of Cookies, Joel Schick
Marge Simpson as seen by Vermeer?
Actually, it's the work of Dave Barton.
But, Mona has competition. Grant Wood's American Gothic pair are huge, obvious targets (top). Of course, Dali has taken his hits too with Joel Schick's parody The Persistence of Cookies (above). Schick mainly specializes in ripping off Sesame Street characters; Dali was simply a convenient vehicle. Vermeer's lovely Girl with a Pearl Earring has taken on the persona of Marge Simpson (right). It would appear Marge prefers pearl necklaces to earrings (or at least artist, Dave Barton, does).

Rockwellian parody--Some parody
art has more bite than humor.

With all due respect to Grant Wood, Norman Rockwell (left) may well be the most parodied American artist of all time. Some of the satirical images of his Thanksgiving Freedom from Want have become nearly as familiar as the original painting. The first key element in any art parody is familiarity; and Rockwell is nothing if not familiar. Actually, going beyond that, perhaps over-familiarity might be a better term. Second, is that the desecration of the sacrosanct work of art must be unexpected, which translates into humor, yet have a degree of topical relevance. Third, it must be technically adept. Clumsy art of any kind gets no respect. In parody, it becomes pretentious. Perhaps one of the most parodied works of art to be found anywhere involves Leonardo again, his Last Supper. However, as overly familiar as it is, the work is first of all too easy a target; and beyond that, too reverently beloved to carry with it the requisite humor, which parody demands. Glen Tarnowski's The Gathering (below), is a recent controversial example. The term, "sick," comes to mind.

The Gathering, 2012, Glen Tarnowski. This is mild compared to some I've seen.
Below is an example of art parody that lacks all these key ingredients. The original art is not only unfamiliar but quite Christmas card mundane. The attempt at parody bears no humor because it lacks relevance, not to mention any element of surprise. Not only that, it's crudely presented. With today's photo doctoring software, the technical end is often seen as fairly simple; but as with all art, the headwork is far more important than any "mousework."

Original                                         Parody

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ernie Barnes

In Remembrance,  2002, Ernie Barnes
If the name above doesn't exactly ring a bell as an artist, perhaps it might if you're a football fan. Ernie Barnes was an artist who became an athlete; who became a professional football player; and then in retirement from a sport which literally eats young men for dinner with hardly a satisfying burp, Ernie Barnes once more became an artist. As his father might have put it, that's a "rough row to hoe" for any man. But for a talented black artist, struggling to overcome the Jim Crow era of the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s, rising from the all-black community of Hayti, just outside Durham, North Carolina...remarkable seems an inadequate expression.

The world of Ernie Barnes. At left, Sugar Shack, the cover
art for singer, Marvin Gaye's album of the same title.
Ernest Eugene Barnes was born in 1938, the son of a tobacco company shipping clerk. His mother was a maid for a wealthy attorney. Ernie's first exposure to art came as his mother took him to work with her where he bided his time carefully paging through all the art books in the lawyer's extensive library. As a growing child, Ernie was the chubby, gentle sort, bullied by other boys his age in his segregated elementary school. There he withdrew with his sketch pad, sharpening his drawing skills while escaping the hardships of growing up black in a white world that detested his presence and a black street world in which sameness was a vital virtue. His art, however, was to serve as the key to a new life.

Sunday's Hero, Ernie Barnes--the brutal struggle within the struggle.
In the early 1950s, his school weight-lifting coach saw Ernie's work and embraced, both it and the artist behind it, inspiring the boy to hone his hefty body mass into that of an athlete; at the time, one of the few opportunity pathways opening up for young black men from the South. By the time Ernie graduated from high school in 1956, the football team captain and state champion discus and shot-put thrower had amassed a total of 26 college scholarships, giving him free rein to pursue an education as an artist in virtually any school he chose...provided it was black. He chose North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University) which happened to be just across the street from his high school. Once more he was as outstanding in football as art. On a field trip to the North Carolina Museum of Art, he inquired as to where the work of black artists might be found. The response: "Your people don't express themselves that way."
Ernie Barnes, the official artist for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
After college, Ernie Banks was drafted by the Washington Redskins...until they found out his skin was the wrong color. The Baltimore Colts weren't so prejudice. Over the course of his football career, Barnes also played for the Los Angeles Chargers (now San Diego Chargers), and the Denver Broncos, ending his career playing in the Canadian Football League in 1965. Then he went back to the NFL as a salaried player, though this time in position before an easel as the league's official artist. A few years later, in 1984, Barnes became the official artist for the XXIII Olympiad Los Angeles games. In fact, Ernie Barnes achieved much more fame and success as a painter than he ever did in football. His first one-man show at a prestigious New York gallery in 1966 sold out. Barnes' distinctive, slightly elongated style has been termed by critics as "Neo-mannerist," influenced by artists such as El Greco, Raphael, Michelangelo and the more recent sports artist, George Bellows. Likewise, if lawsuits for copyright infringement are any indicator, Barnes work has influence numerous other sports artists seeking to imitate the artist turned football player turned artist's success. Incidentally, the same North Carolina Museum of Art, which had spurned black artists as late as the 1960s, in 1978, opted to host a solo-exhibition of the artwork of Ernie Barnes.

Ernie Barnes' art, Growth Through Limits, formed the basis of a billboard following the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Art Books

Copyright, Jim Lane
No, I'm not writing this because I've written an art book myself (at right). Likewise, having hit the virtual shelves of, does not make me an expert on the subject. Speaking of the shelves of Amazon, one might get the impression that there are more people out there writing about art than there are producing it. Probably not the case, but there was a time in Paris, during the 1800s, when such might have been close to the truth. There were some 5,000 writers covering a mere 12,000 working artists. That's one art critic for every 2.4 artists. If only writing were that lucrative today...
Copyright, Jim Lane
I just checked, has just short of two million art book titles available. That's two million titles, not copies. Naturally art, like the ocean, is both broad and deep; those kind of numbers rival the quantity of titles on God, Health, History, Politics, and Justin Bieber. With that much breadth and depth, I'm not about to start naming titles (other than my own, Art Think). Art books, like the ocean, are divided into "areas" not unlike seas. Probably the largest of these "seas" is the "how to" category, followed by biographies and exhibition catalogues. Closely related, though separate, art history comes next. Somewhere down the line are books on children's art, military art, fantasy art, and ethnic or national art--native American, Italian, British, French, and probably the art of Lichtenstein. Following those, the listing of art titles breaks down into thousands of micro-topics--puppy art, naked art, feline art, food art, flower art, and for all I know, rhinoceros art. Add to all these the huge category of books which fall into no category--simply about art in general (such as mine).
Copyright, Jim Lane
Then there are the writers of art books. TV has played a major role here with names like Bob Ross, Ben Alexander, and Sister Wendy (highly recommended), who were as much personalities as art experts. As for true art experts, often they come with university credentials, or are affiliated with museums or art galleries. Often too, like myself, they have art and/or art books to sell. (Be wary of this type of expert, those who earn their primary income from selling art stuff. Unfortunately, perhaps because of their numbers, most authoritative writers with any real depth of knowledge in the field, few people have ever heard of. (I guess I fit this category too.)

Copyright, Jim Lane
In shopping for art books, I like to pick them up (often from the discounted table) and thumb through them., for all their numbers (likely because of all their numbers) doesn't always allow this hands-on approach. (My own book has sample text available on line). Okay, that's the next thing (literally)--on line. This is the avenue where things have changed the most. Art books, even the best of them, have always been slow to move. There are just too damned many of them for any of them to stand out from the crowd (but a boon to art lovers who also happen to be bargain lovers). Publishing a high-quality art book means fine paper, expensive color printing, hiring an editor, binding, shipping, profit margins, promotion, graphic design, even royalties to living artist for citing and (in effect) promoting their work. Most (though not quite all) of these costs are either eliminated or greatly reduce in putting out what has come to be known as the e-book. Thus, the hundred-dollar, coffee table, dust gathering, impress-your-guests, art tome of the past is in danger of being relegated to display only in art museums or art libraries. In general, the average e-book art book can be purchased for roughly one-fifth the cost of even the paperback version of the same book. Not only that, downloaded onto one of close to a dozen different e-readers, it weighs about one-fifth less as well. However, with this new technology and publishing costs plummeting, artists like myself now have the never before, economically viable, opportunity to see their words and thoughts in print. Of course, that only adds to the flood of titles seen on


Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Picasso's Compotier avec fruits, violon et verre (left) and Braque's Fruit Dish and Glass
 (right), both from 1912. There's no indication they fought over who inspired whom.
There's a persistent myth among those who know a little about art, as well as those who think they do, that Pablo Picasso invented collage. Perhaps, in a technical sense, he did, or at least first applied the word to the art technique of gluing "stuff" to canvas then painting around and/or over it. The year often cited is 1912 and the works, Compotier avec fruits, violon et verre or possibly his Still Life with Chair Caning (Nature-morte à la chaise cannée). Of course even that is questionable as to it's "firstness" in that his colleague at the time, Georges Braque, is said to have inspired Picasso by applying wallpaper with a faux wood grain to one of his charcoal cubist drawings. The work (above, right) is dated September, 1912. Let's just say, in celebrating just over one-hundred years of the collage, that they (Braque and Picasso) invented collage in the modern use of the term.

Chinese paper said to be 2,500 years old.
Of course, there are no existent Chinese
collages of that age.
I had to add that last phrase above because collage, as an art form, is said to be as old as paper itself, invented by the Chinese around 500-200 BC. In fact, collage may actually have evolved as part of the process of making paper. Of course we're splitting hairs in this case as much as the one above. Inasmuch as Picasso and Braque worked together for several years, and are usually both credited with having "invented" cubism, it's probably fair to also credit them with having jointly "invented' collage (with all due respect to the Chinese).

Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly
Cultural Epoch in Germany, 1919, Hannah Hoch.
If our team of Picasso-Braque legitimately first used paper and glue in their paintings and drawings, it was the Germans involved in the Dada movement, shortly after WW I, who moved this art forward to its next logical progression--the photo montage. By now, who was or wasn't "first" makes no difference. Perhaps most outstanding from this era is the work of Hannah Hoch, such as her Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (above), dating from 1919. (She might well have titled it, "Pictures May Be Worth a Thousand Words, but a Few Thousand Words Don't Hurt None Either.") Hoch's work, along with that of Raoul Houseman, Max Ernst, Kurt Schwitters, and others embraced collage as more than a cubist decorative element, using it instead to make important political and social comments; a trend which has taken on a life of its own in the digital age when paper, scissors, and glue have given away to "cut and paste."

As with virtually every other art form, digital technology has invaded the
art of collage as well, though this manifestation has come to be known as "mosaic."