Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Albert Joseph Moore

Dreamers, 1875, Albert Joseph Moore. All three figures are the same model.                 
A Girl, Albert Joseph Moore--barely conscious.
What do you do when you can't go to sleep? Count sleepy sheep? Take a pill? Warm milk, anyone? Watch an old "B" movie? Myself, I have the opposite problem. I'll be sitting at my computer and doze off when I should be writing a blog entry. I often do my best writing late at night, if I can stay awake. If I'm really in need of sleep I'll sometimes read or pray or conjure up some fantasy, any of which will usually put me to sleep within minutes. Today, I discovered a new sleep aid. His name is Albert Joseph Moore. He was an English Victorian painter of beautiful women. And judging by his work, he must have required long settings of his models, the vast majority of whom seem to be sleeping, barely awake, or daydreaming in languorous boredom. Even some of this portrait subjects (above) seem to be battling the sandman head on. In any case, just looking at them, paintings such as Dreamers (above) from 1875, make me sleepy. His A Summer Night (below), from 1887-90, though not depicting sleeping women, has largely the same effect.
A Summer Night, 1887-90, Albert Joseph Moore
Silver, Joseph Moore
I suppose we today who paint people have gotten so used to using photos rather then live models that we give little thought to the hours upon hours of stillness many artists once demanded of their models. Personally, I haven't painted from a live model since I was in a figure painting class in college (about 1970). I'm sure if I were the model, I'd have trouble staying awake. However in Moore's case, I think there may have been a little more to it than that. Women during the Victorian Era in England were admired for their idle beauty and seductive perfection. Moore's work, perhaps more than most from that time, capitalizes upon this erotic ideal. In most cases, the eroticism is subtle, more a matter of body language and gauzy gowns such as seen in his Silver (right) than outright nudity, though the semi-nudity of A Summer Night (above) seems to have been okay. Apples (below) is simply...unconscious.

Apples, Albert Joseph Moore---ZZZZZZZZ

Dancing Girl Resting, Joseph Moore
Seldom did Moore paint male figures into his carefully staged scenes, and when he did, they were usually in secondary roles as seen in his The Loves of the Wind and the Seasons (bottom) from 1893. The style seems a cross between obvious Romanticism and Academic Classicism. Even at that, his male figure seems slightly effeminate. And where there is no sleep actually involved, as in Moore's 1867 A Musician (below) you get the feeling the man with the harp must be playing a lullaby. Moore's Dancing Girl Resting (left) while not suggesting more than a momentary pause in her activity, does present a contrast when compared to the sleepy indolence of the slave girl at her feet.

A Musician, 1867, Albert Joseph Moore--wake me when it's over.
Albert Joseph Moore, ca. 1867
Albert Joseph Moore was born in 1841. He was the thirteenth son of the York painter, William Moore and his second wife. They had fourteen children...only one daughter. Four of the elder Moore's sons became painters, one, Henry Moore, became a noted marine painter. The painting patriarch of the family died in 1851. From the age of ten Joseph was raised by his older brother, also a painter, John Collingham Moore. He eventually attended the Royal Academy in London, where he was heavily influenced by John Ruskin, before moving on to France in 1859 to study under the architect, William Eden Nesfield. That influence is also seen in his paintings, their being rife with architectural details.

Elijah's Sacrifice, 1863, Albert, Joseph Moore
While in Paris, Moore turned to religious works, painting The Mother of Sisera looked out of a Window (left), in 1861, Elijah running to Jezreel before Ahab's Chariot, and Elijah's Sacrifice (above) in 1863. The latter is quite atypical of his work--heavily male, heavily melodramatic, and lacking in the naturalistic qualities seen so strongly evident in The Mother of Sisera looked out a Window painted earlier. Moore's The Quartet (below) may be one of his best works, encompassing both French and English influences in a single work. In returning to London, Moore found his sleepy little niche in the British art world while doing a respectable number of outstanding portraits and major murals. He died in 1893 of a painful and incurable illness shortly after completing his final painting, The Loves of the Winds and the Seasons (bottom)

The Quartet, Albert Joseph Moore.

The Loves of the Winds and the Seasons, 1893, Albert Joseph Moore.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Super Art

Superman 2015                                
The New Superman comic book.
We got our first TV set when I was in second grade, 1952. I was seven at the time. Every weekday after school, I would rush home to be in front of it by four o'clock when my favorite show came one--The Adventures of Superman. I grew up with Superman. I've grown old with Superman. And, while he's changed a good deal over the past sixty years, he hasn't seemed to age at all. Actually, the "Man of Steel" was already approaching middle age by the time I came to know him. He was born in 1933, his "parents" were Jerry Siegel (the writer) and Joe Shuster (the artist). As the photo below depicting the original character concept dating from about that time, is compared to his newest incarnation (right) it's plain the original super-hero has lost a little weight, updated his costume (ridding himself of the silly red briefs), and refined his logo. Otherwise, he's not changed much over the years.
Joe Shuster (left) and Jerry Siegel (right) with "birth" drawing of Superman.
Some might find this hard to believe, but the original Super Man was two words; and he was no hero. He was, in fact, a science fiction villain (below). Jerry Siegel (above, right) and Joe Shuster (above, left) were students at Glenville High School in Cleveland, Ohio, when they first conceived a Super Man. He was a bald telepathic villain bent on world domination. The character first appeared in "The Reign of the Super man", a short story from Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization #3 (below), in 1933. Later, they "reimagined" their creation, as a sort of combination of Samson and Hercules, turning him into a recognizable facsimile of the Superman we know and love today.
The first Super Man, 1933.
Worth up to  $3-million today.
The "new" Superman they modeled after Douglas Fairbanks Jr. while Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent, was a composite name derived from movie actors Clark Gable and Kent Taylor. The creative pair originally intended their Superman to be a daily comic strip. They offered it to two publishers, both of whom turned it down. Then, they worked out a deal with a new company, called Action Comics, who wanted to use the superhero in a comic "book." Siegel and Shuster were asked to reformat their work to eight panels per page. However the pair ignored the request, laying out each two-page spread to suit themselves and the story line. They thus evolved a freedom of expression new to comic art. Action Comics No. 1 (left) debuted in June, 1938. A year later, Superman got his own comic book series (below, right).

Superman comes to TV: George Reeves as Superman, with Phyllis Coates, who played Lois Lane in the first season. Noel Neill stepping into the role in the second season (1953). In the back row are John Hamilton as Perry White and Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen.
Superman No. 1, 1939.
The Superman I first came to idolize was several layers removed from the 1930s comic books. By 1940, Superman had made it to The Mutual Broadcasting Company's radio, show, The Adventures of Superman, where the series lasted for more than ten years. It was on the radio that Kryptonite was born as a means temporarily incapacitate our hero in order to allow the voice of Superman, Bud Collyer, some vacation time. There was also a B-movie in 1951 titled Superman and the Mole Men. It was intended to be the first episode of a movie theater serial, but the series was never produced, in that it was seen as more appropriate for the brand new medium of television. It was a smart decision. The Superman TV series, sponsored by Kellogg Cereals ran from 1952-1958 (104 episodes). Since then there have been numerous TV revivals, an animated series, a stage play, four movies (and one more in the works, not to mention dozens of parodies.

George Reeves' TV Clark Kent
The comic book Clark Kent
Quite apart from the radio, TV, and movie storylines, the comic book plots have often taken some pretty wild (not to mention illogical) turns. In one issue Superman fought Muhammad Ali. They even killed off Superman in one controversial issue. Despite all the wild and crazy plot devices promulgated over the life of the comic book series, one of the most fascinating, realistic, and humanizing features of Superman is Clark Kent. Bland and bumbling as he is, he makes Superman believable. What's unbelievable is that a simple pair of glasses have, for nearly eighty years, kept all of Clark's friends and colleagues from identifying him as Superman.

Even Lois Lane (no relation) and Jimmy Olsen briefly landed their own comic books.
And what about the two creative geniuses who gave birth to the Man of Steel? They became rich and famous, right? They lived happily ever after on the royalties derived from their high school brain child, right? Unfortunately, no. Early on, about 1939, not fully realizing what a goldmine they'd created, Siegel and Shuster sold the Superman copyright to Action Comics for a mere $130. As part of the deal, Action Comics would hire them for $75,000 each per year (an enormous sum in the 1940s) to write and draw Superman. The first hitch in that deal came in 1943 when Jerry Siegel got drafted into the army, thus reducing his presence in the enterprise. Meanwhile, National Comics (who'd bought out Action Comics) was making millions from the series. Siegel and Shuster renegotiated their salaries but their relationship to the company remained raw. Eventually, they sued to get the 1938-39 contract declared null and void. They lost, and not only that, the company fired them.

And the super money just keeps rolling in...
In one form or another, Siegel and Shuster spent most of the rest of their lives in litigation. Sometimes they won, most of the time they didn't. Joe Shuster died in 1992, Jerry Siegel in 1996. To this very day, their heirs are still involved in legal battles trying to claim some of the enormous riches Superman has generated from comic book, TV, movie, video games, and merchandising deals. The fact that copyright laws have changed (and keep changing) have further complicated court proceedings. The moral in all this? Artists, be careful where you write your name.


Relive the memories:

Action, Adventure, Mystery!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Stone Carving

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington D.C.
A little over three years ago, August 22. 2011, a new stone monument opened to the public next to the tidal basin, in Washington, D.C. Though often referred to as being on the National Mall, its actual location, halfway between the Lincoln Memorial and that dedicated to Thomas Jefferson would barely be considered so. The monument is a thirty-foot-tall granite representation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. titled The Stone of Hope. It stands between two cleft Mountains of Despair. The $120-million memorial represents twenty years in the planning, fundraising, and construction. It's the first memorial on the Mall not dedicated to a war, a president, or a white man. And though it has generally been well-received by he public, the memorial has not been without controversy.

Chinese stone carver Lei YiXin works on full-scale clay model of his sculpture.
The most controversial aspect was the choice of Lei Yixin, a 57-year-old master stone sculptor from Changsha in Hunan province, China, to carry out the work. Critics cried, "Couldn't they find a black sculptor to do the work, or at least an American?" Others complained the figure "looked Asian" whatever that means. Stoneworkers in Vermont complained about the use of Chinese granite. However, King's son, Martin Luther King III, said it best: "I've seen probably 50 sculptures of my dad, and I would say 47 of them are not good reflections — that's not to disparage an artist. This particular artist — he's done a good job." However the most telling comment may have come from Ed Jackson Jr., executive architect of the project, “Not only did we need an artist, we needed someone with the means and methods of putting those large stones together. We don’t do this in America. We don’t handle stones of this size.”

Despite the shipping cost, Lei YiXin was seen as doing it cheaper and better.

Although there were some who begged to differ, therein lies a major new development in the world of art, and specifically monumental sculpture. Few such artist live and work in the United States of America; and (apparently) none were deemed by the selection committee to be "up to" such a "monumental" undertaking. Despite the protests, the truth is, there's no money to be made in the now all-but-forgotten lost art of carving Mt. Rushmore or Stone Mountain type sculptures. (The descendants of Korczak Ziolkowski are otherwise occupied with Crazy Horse and his mountain. The U.S. still has artists who carve stone, but much of what they create is more apt to end up on a coffee table than the National Mall. Moreover, what they carve tends to be a fairly simplistic modernism, or, in fact, Abstract Expressionism. Not that such work is bad, but it's hardly appropriate for a memorial celebrating an iconic civil rights leader.

Walter Arnold, Chicago, Illinois,
Gate, Roger Hopkins
Walter Arnold (above) is typical. Born in the 1950s, he started carving at the age of twelve. Having studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, as a young man, he sought and got classical training in the cradle of Renaissance stone carving, Pietrasanta, Italy, (west coast, north of Livorno) from whence Michelangelo got his marble. His background is classical. He's versatile, his style spanning virtually every art era, backed by some thirty years of experience as a stone carver. Yet he seldom carves anything larger the life. He's especially well-known for his gargoyles. Roger Hopkins and his son of California do work with larger stones, but in a highly abstract style. His Gate (left), typifies his work.

There's no artist or even a title associated with this grouping (Judgment of Paris, perhaps?).
I could find nothing comparable coming from the U.S. or anywhere else in the world.

No, they're not plaster, they're sitting in water, in fact.
Made in America, abstract stone sculpture.
Having sampled a little of what American stone sculptors are doing, now take a look at what the Chinese (usually un-named artists) routinely create in what amounts to, in effect, sculpture factories (above). China is also blessed with large quantities of the nearly flawless white marble such work demands. These pieces contrast sharply with the abstract sculpture American carvers (and buyers) tend to prefer (right). Both are quite beautiful--intriguing in their own way. However, if you go back a century and a half, you'll see how far carved marble has spiraled downward. Take a look at the work of the Italian master, Giovanni Strazza (1818-1875) and his Veiled Virgin from before 1856, or his Ismael Abandoned in the Desert from 1845. I'm not sure, but I doubt there's a single stone carver working anywhere in the world today who could manage to carve a veiled face. Strangely though, despite Strazza's amazing aptitude with a mallet and chisel, he's virtually unknown today.

Two views of The Veiled Virgin, before 1856, Giovanni Strazza
Ishmael Abandoned in the Desert, 1845, Giovanni Strazza


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lisa Milroy

Banquette, Lisa Milroy
Lisa Milroy, ca. 2000
It's not often I write about living artists. Even less often do I write about artists younger than myself. Most often such artists don't have a sufficient body of work to accurately place them within the greater realm of the current art world, much less the broader context of art history. I consider such artists to be "works in progress." All that is true of British painter, Lisa Milroy. Of course, born in 1959, she's not exactly what you'd term an "up and coming" young artist. By virtually any criteria, she has "arrived." At the seasoned age of fifty-six, she's far from "over the hill," but by the same token she no "spring chicken." I guess you could say she's at that "awkward stage" in her life. Tired of the parade of geriatric clichés? Very well, let's look at her work.

Fruits and Vegetables, 1999, Lisa Milroy.
One of the major factors Lisa Milroy has going for her, aside from a great degree of maturity in her work, is the fact her and I share a similar taste in content. We both like food. We are both fond of still-lifes, and we both tend toward untraditional handling of content in all our work. At first glance there is really nothing all that untraditional in Milroy's Banquette (top). It's attractive enough to look appetizing, but bears a kind of organized, chart-like composition. Notice that rarely does on dish hide any part of that which is next to it. It seems to say, "Help yourself, but don't drip on the pristine white tablecloth." If you want to see a less traditional version of much the same content, take a look at her still-life titled simply Fruits and Vegetables (above) dating from 1999. In that Lisa Milroy tends to work through various content "series," I'm guessing both paintings were done around the same time. It's of little consequence which came first.

I could find no reliable title for this overwhelming floral assault on the senses, but a similar work by Milroy titled simply Flowers dates from 2000, which helps place it in context.
Rain, 2011-12, Lisa Milroy
Lisa Milroy was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, which I guess actually makes her Canadian. But having lived, worked, and taught in London for so long she's at least half British. At the age of eighteen Milroy went off to study art at the Sorbonne University in Paris. From there she crossed the channel to the Saint Martin's School of Art. Then, in early 1979, she transferred to Goldsmiths College, and later to the University of London. She remained in London to become the Head of Graduate Painting at the Slade School of Fine Art. She was elected to the Royal Academy in 2005, becoming a Tate Gallery trustee in 2013. Thus, she has steadily risen in stature and academic acceptance well past the point of my having any qualms about including her amongst the august body of famous (and sometimes not so famous) painters whose works have graced these pages.

Light Bulbs, 1998, Lisa Milroy

Shoes, 1985, Lisa Milroy.
One of Milroy's "breakthrough" pieces was her 1985 painting Shoes (left), a subject she periodically returns to (women tend to have a special fondness for footwear). She also paints them individually and in smaller groups featuring various styles, shapes, and sizes. I wonder if she has anything for men in a gray suede? However, more akin to her Fruits and Vegetables is her Light Bulbs (above) dating from 1998. Perhaps she painted it for men with a fondness for electrical illumination.

Tokyo, 1993, Lisa Milroy
Seamless, Lisa Milroy
In judging from her work, my guess is that Lisa Milroy, like myself, is somewhat more "left-brained" than most artists. Artists like myself have a tendency to try to "organize" stuff, both in our paintings and in real life. In more recent years, however, Milroy has veered away from non-traditional painted still-lifes, breaking toward three-dimensional, sculptural still-life installations, though most still involve some use of acrylic paints. Her more recent pieces have involved clothes (right), Japanese clothes, storefronts, paintings featuring store merchandise displays (above), and the accouterments involved in being a woman, as suggested by her Taming Session (below) from 2007. My own version of a non-traditional still-life, titled To Err Is Human is not as highly organized as those of Lisa Milroy.

Taming Session, 2007, Lisa Milroy
Copyright, Jim Lane
To Err is Human, 1994, Jim Lane


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Norman Jewison's In the Heat of the Night

In the Heat of the Night--Poitier and Steiger                          
It's been almost twenty years now, but back during the latter part of the last century when I still taught school, I had a unit in each of my art classes I called "Movies as an Art Form." Each semester I taught an age appropriate classic film, which I played from VHS tapes in half-hour segments accompanied by a study guide with around a dozen questions tied to each segment as a means of helping students take notes. Once they'd viewed each segment I went over the study guide with them to help them stay on top of what they'd just seen. At the end there was a test allowing students to use the study guide they'd filled out while watching the film.
Philadelphia homicide detective, Virgil Tibbs and Sparta Police Chief, Bill Gillespie.
Heat movie poster, 1967
For the tenth grade (Art II) class we studied two films, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night. It was no accident both starred Sidney Poitier (filmed back to back in 1966-67) nor that both dealt with civil rights and race relations. The approach was different. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was a relatively short, intelligent, drawing room comedy, dealing with interracial marriage, the last pairing of film icons Spencer Tracey an Katherine Hepburn. (Tracey died shortly after filming was completed.) In the Heat of the Night, by way of contrast, was a raw, sharply honed, murder mystery set in the deep South during the early 1960s. It paired Poitier and Rod Steiger in two of the best roles either actor came by during their entire careers. Steiger won an Academy Award as best actor for his portrayal of a deeply flawed, highly prejudiced, small town police chief. Poitier had already won an Academy Award for his role in Lilies of the Field in 1963 (the first African-American to win a Best Actor Oscar).
Actress Lee Grant, the vulnerable widow and powerful heiress.
Actress Lee Grant's portrayal as the widow (above) of the murder victim, a wealthy Chicago industrialist, is pivotal, yet understated. She is, in fact, the driving force behind the unlikely, and highly contentious pairing of Tibbs and Gillespie. Two scenes stand out in the film, the greenhouse confrontation with plantation owner, Eric Endicott, and Tibbs' outnumbered standoff with Endicott's thugs in an abandoned railroad shop (below). The film broke new ground in that it was the first in which a white man (Endicott) slaps the face of a black man (Tibbs) only to have him return the favor with impunity (click on the film clip at the bottom).
Tibbs: outnumbered, his back literally against the wall.
Producer, Walter Mirisch
Both of these civil rights era films dealt with controversial topics. The racial content of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was easier to take, set as a light comedy, and boasting such important film stars from previous generations. In the Heat of the Night was tough drama, dealt with in frank, hard-edged, even offensive terms so packed with controversy the film almost didn't get made. The major studios wouldn't touch it. Only the independent production company of Walter (right), Marvin, and Harold Mirisch was daring enough to take on such a hard-edged handling of what was, essentially, a crime drama laden with multiple layers of racial prejudice. With a $2-million budget, the film was a sizable risk. The screenplay, written by Stirling Silliphant, of The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure fame, pulled no punches (or more accurately, slaps). This was a man's movie as compared to the more feminine approach of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Steiger, as Police Chief Bill Gillespie, though having the occasional "human" moments in the film, was not a character easy to like. Poitier, as a Philadelphia homicide detective simply passing through town, though somewhat warmer, but just as tightly wound, was only slightly more likable. Neither played people you'd want to cross.
The "heat" In the Heat of the Night.
Jewison, Steiger, and Poitier
Director Norman Jewison came to In the Heat of the Night with a pair of pretty decent hit films in his pocket: The Cincinnati Kid (1965), and the hilarious The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming! (1966). Later he would add such hits as The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), F.I.S.T (1978), ...And Justice for All (1979), A Soldier's Story (1984), Agnes of God (1985), Moonstruck (1987), Other People's Money (1991), The Hurricane (1999) and The Statement (2003). Virtually all his films have dealt with important religious, ethnic, or social issues.

The movie (top) the TV show (bottom)
In the Heat of the Night, with it's tense, southern musical score by Quincy Jones, was released in August, 1967, putting Poitier in the position of competing with himself at the box office. His previous film, To Sir with Love, was still playing in theaters. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture, Steiger's Best Actor Oscar, Best Screenplay (Silliphant), Best Sound, and Best Editing. Jewison was nominated as best Director but lost to Mike Nichols for The Graduate. The Mirisch Corporation did well for their $2-million risk, reaping not just a Best Picture Oscar but some $24-million in ticket sales. Two sequels followed, They Call Me MISTER Tibbs (a line from the original film) and the less successful, The Organization. The television series, In the Heat of the Night, produced by Fred Silverman, starred Carroll O'Connor as Gillespie, and Howard Rollins as Tibbs. It ran for six seasons, but was a pale ghost of the movie. I always thought Carroll O'Connor smiled way too much.

The expressions and the body language in the final scene speak volumes.
"Virgil? You take care now, y'hear",
The famous "slapping" scene: