Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


From flight to armaments to hydraulics, Leonardo was constantly bedeviled by a lack of an adequate of power for his inventions.
Sometimes I get tired of writing about art. Sometimes I like to "lighten-up" a little. Today I guess you'd say I'm doing both. Actually I'm not leaving art in the closet of my mind. Art is, at its heart, all about being creative. Yet, unless your name is Leonardo da Vinci, artists do not have a monopoly on this trait. Though Leonardo was a consummate artist I would contend that he was a scientist first, who mostly used art, inasmuch as he had no other technical means to illustrate his scientific and technological experiments. For the most part, Leonardo's art was a means to an end (technically and financially). One look at his journals and you can see he channeled much of his creativity toward inventing, even though few, if any, of his inventions really worked. Leonardo's problem was he lacked a light compact, fuel-efficient source of power to drive his inventions. It wasn't until the advent of liquid fuel, internal combustion, and advanced metallurgy that such a vital element was available.
Thomas Edison, 1890, Abraham Archibald Anderson
The Industrial Revolution saw advances
in transportation and heavy industry, but
was too awkward, heavy, and dangerous
for many applications.
In modern times, the consum-mate inventor would probably be Thomas A. Edison. Like Leonardo, he too lacked an appropriate source of power. Steam was too heavy. The internal combustion engine was largely still on the drawing board. So, he invented elec-tricity (a gross over simplifi-cation). Without it, his invent-ions would have sunk in the same boat with Leonardo's. Today, artists, scientists, en-gineers, sociologists, and mark-eters turn their creative "gen-ius" toward adapting, improv-ing, and selling variations of that which others have invent-ed. The results range from the "uhh...maybe" to the patently ridiculous. Today we'll look at a few low-key winners, some modest failures, and some hil-arious creative catastrophes.

I'd sooner go down the steps in a wheelchair.
1955 invention for the pack-
a-day smoker without limited
time on her hands for her habit.
The age old key to invention is said to be, "find a need, then fulfill it." It would appear that inventor of the accessibility ramp (above) had a hearing handicap. He must have thought they said "kill it." The in-ventor of the wind-powered clothes dryer (below) recognized the need for an environmentally friendly clothes dryer and attempted to fulfill it. However it's doubtful any self-respecting BMW owner would ever rig such a contraption to the roof of his or her car. Likewise, some inventions, fortunately, become antiquated by social restrictions before they "caught on" as with the device for inhaling twenty cigarettes at one time (right). Like the wheelchair ramp, this invention could also prove fatal.

I wonder how you would prevent someone from stealing your
clothes while you're shopping for more clothes at Walmart.
Some of the greatest creative efforts to be found today go into the design of footwear. That's especially true of women's shoes where very often comfort and safety play a secondary role to style. Runway models have actually fallen down on numerous occasions as they attempted to elegantly "strut their stuff" for the sake of high-fashion wholesale buyers. However that's a visual bonanza for another time. Below I've dealt with the need for barefoot footwear (an oxymoron if there ever was one) and shoes for the nature lover yearning for grass between their toes.

Barefoot shoes.
If you want to see the flowering of real invention and the creative genius behind it, simply take a stroll down the toy aisles of any major store having more than one such aisle. Despite the ludicrous premise behind it, the marshmallow gun (below) looks like a lot of fun. Just be sure to keep your mouth open. However, in the case of the toothache candy, it might be best to apply a little duct tape to your child's oral cavity. The other items are too silly to even discuss. That means your kids would love-em.

All I can say is, where was all this stuff when I was growing up?
Most of the creativity involving inventive minds and items which we use today are not what their inventors produced or even envisioned. Computers, automobiles, television, planes, and trains we enjoy now are improvements, reinventions, revisions, adaptations, and the results of cost reductions involving mass production, mass marketing, and the increased productivity of men, machines, and capital. The items below are examples of this, but not typical examples. They're more on the order of solutions to problems we never knew we had.

Improvements in tray technology.  Don't try using the one just
above while driving.
I confess that as I was researching this article I began seeking out the weirdest, stupidest, funniest, craziest dumb-ass inventions I could find. Believe there were hundreds of them, which I've culled to a couple dozen. I was surprised to find that in a few cases, there were items I really wouldn't mind trying out on my own (once, at least). The visor with its own hair looks promising (with some modest grooming). I've definitely been in situations (haven't we all) where I could have made use of the silly-looking wrap-around umbrella. And I had the misfortune to be served pizza when the combination fork and roller blade cutter would have been welcomed.

I'd bet that the guy in the second shot above is wishing he had
such a ridiculous looking, but undoubtedly practical, stormy day invention.
I've saved the best (or worst) for last, the really, really stupid flashes of inventive creativity causing one to consider whether such creativity is really such a good idea after all. I love the diet water but it's not exactly as advertised. I've been using it all my life and still managed to gain weight.

Yes, there really is an edible gold in a spray can for days
when you run short of the traditional gold leaf.
Those creative Japanese think of everything,
including a combination breakfast table
comforter complete with an electric heater
built in to keep both you and your food warm.

Sometimes inventions happen by
accident. Just ask Pfizer (the
makers of Viagra).


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Giovanni Antonio Galli

Christ Displaying His Wounds, 17th-century, Giovanni Antonio Galli
Every so often in writing about art I refer to a generic group I call "art experts." That's quite unprofessional of me in that such a designation is very much a layman's term. Lumped into this group are museum curators, restorers, investigators, historians, all manner of critics, and for my purposes today, let me include those who attribute art to individual artists. Let's call them attributors. I'm not sure there is such a word, but let's run with it anyway. The attribution process can be complex, time-consuming and costly. Thus the work of attributors usually occurs only when a painting has the requisite artistic merit. Such professionals are not to be confused with another type of art experts--appraisers. The two frequently work hand in hand but they are not usually one and the same, though some may share certain areas of expertise. All these people are highly trained in their specialties and are paid quite well for their efforts, but believe me, they earn their money. The reason being that when there is fine art there is also fine money which does not much care for uncertainties. Carelessness or an error of judgment can cost an investor millions.
The Denial of St Peter, 1615-18, Giovanni Antonio Galli
The Guardian Angel
(Rieti, St. Rufo Church),
Early 17th-century,
Giovanni Antonio Galli
Let's take the 17th-century Italian painter, Giovanni Antonio Galli as a case in point. First of all there's the family name "Galli." The first question to arise is which Galli. When you lump in the intermarriage of the Bibiena family deriving from papa Giovanni Maria Galli, who was born in Bibbiena, (just outside) Florence, Italy, around 1625, with the even older name of our Giovanni Antonio Galli, (also called lo Spadarino), born in 1585, who may or may not have been related, you have your first layer of complexity. The Galli-Bibiena family has a roster of exceptional artists numbering a dozen or more stretching well into the 18th-century (who are all related). That's a second layer of complexity. When you add to that another Giovanni Galli, who is a retired Italian footballer (soccer) goalkeeper, now a politician; and still one more Giovanni Galli, born in 1954, who paints in an Art Brut style, there looms a third layer of complexity. So much for the family tree (more akin to a hedgerow, actually).
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, 1620, Giovanni Antonio Galli
Saint Sebastian, 17th-century,
Giovanni Antonio Galli
(What? Only one arrow?)
Giovanni Antonio Galli was a Baroque painter, also a Caravaggisti (followers of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio). Right there is a fourth level of complexity. So powerful was the influence of Caravaggio that he had followers numbering in the hundreds sprinkled about in virtually every art capital in Europe. He would probably have had even more except that the Black Plague of 1656-57 wiped out a good many them and marked the decline of his anti-Michelangelo (Buonarroti) style. Moreover, Giovanni Antonio Galli was among the best at painting in the manner of Caravaggio. Ironically, after Caravaggio's death in 1610, he was largely forgotten. Many of his painting came to be misattributed to his followers (including Galli). Some 20th-century art attributors have made whole careers out of correcting the attribution errors of their forbearers. That would easily constitute the fifth and most complex layer of difficulty Galli's work presents.

Roman Charity, 1620-52, attributed to Giovanni Antonio Galli
Three Boy Martyrs,
Giovanni Antonio Galli
One particular art historian, Roberto Longhi, was one who made a career straightening out the Galli family mess. You see, Giovanni Antonio Galli had a lesser-known brother, Giacomo Galli, who was a gilder, picture framer, and artist. In 1943 Longhi identified Giovanni Antonio Galli as the painter of a number of works previously attributed to his picture-framing brother. He based his reattribution on stylistic comparisons with The Miracle of Saint Valerie and Saint Martial, the Giovanni Antonio's only surviving documented work before the discovery of his frescoes in the Palazzo Madama. That, in effect, adds a sixth level of complexity to the Galli saga. Giovanni Antonio Galli died around 1651 (approximately sixty-six years of age). Had he lived longer, the work of today's "art experts" might well have taken on still more layers of complexity.

David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1650, Giovanni Antonio Galli

Heads of Cherubs, Giovanni Antonio Galli


Monday, May 29, 2017

Akseli Gallen-Kallela

The First Snow, Korpilahti, 1928, Akseli Gallen-Kallela
There was a time, up until about ten years ago, that I was only interested in American art. Having taught some art history I was, of course, aware of the big names in European art from several different eras, but as has always been the case, what I didn't know about art far outweighed that which I did know. I have the feeling that's largely the case with most artists, and definitely applicable to virtually everyone else. Even when people go in search of art to cover their own walls, they choose only what they like without much regard for who they might like, or learning to like art with which they're not familiar. There's the old quotation from an art buyer: "I don't now much about art but I know what I like." The retort to that is: "No, you don't know what you like, you only like what you know."
An important reason I like Akseli Gallen-Kallela's work
Until about a week ago I didn't know the work of the Finnish painter, Akseli (sometimes called, Axel) Gallen-Kallela. So, of course, there was no way I could "like" his work. Having traveled the Baltic area, I've gained a good deal of appreciation for the art from that region(including Finnish art). Though most of the countries are relatively small, taken as a whole, it's still a HUGE area. Add to that the fact that each country has it's own distinctive culture, history, customs, styles, and tastes in art stretching over four or five centuries in some case. And even though all the factors mentioned above tend to overlap some, there are still a tremendous number of highly skilled artists from each country, both living and dead, to come to know and like (or possibly dislike).
From nineteen to
Akseli Gallen-Kallela was born Axel Waldemar Gallén in 1865 near Pori, (southeastern) Finland. Even though his family were Finns, they spoke only Swedish. His father, Peter Gallén, served as the town's police chief and lawyer. As a young child, the boy showed exceptional promise in drawing. At the age of eleven, Axel Gallen was sent to by his father to a grammar school in Helsinki to, essentially, unlearn art. He opposed his son's ambition to become a painter. However when Akseli's father died in 1879, though Axel was only fourteen at the time, he took the opportunity to switch majors--to art.
The land of Finland
Madonna (Mary and Marjatta),
Akseli Gallen-Kallela
With all the rugged beauty to be found in virtually every Scandinavian county, an artist could hardly grow up in Finland and not become a landscape painter (above). Yet Akseli Gallen-Kallela was primarily a painter of Finnish history, myths, and folklore. After attending drawing classes at the Finnish Art Society during the early 1880s, in 1884 Gallen-Kallela moved to Paris, to study at the Académie Julian. There he married Mary Slöör in 1890 to become the father of three children. The couple spent their honeymoon in East (Russian) Karelia where the artist began sketching and painting preliminary work to be used in romantic paintings of the Kalevala, such as the Aino Myth triptychs, the first of which was completed in 1889, and a second version in 1891 (both seen below).
Aino Myth (triptychs), 1889 and 1891, Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Joukahainen's Revenge, 1897,
Akseli Gallen-Kallela
In March, 1895, Akseli receiv-ed a telegram telling him his daughter, Impi Marjatta, had died from diphtheria. Her death proved to be a turning point in his career. Until then, his works which had always been romantic, became more aggressive as seen in paint-ings such as The Defense of the Sampo (below), Joukah-ainen's Revenge, (left), Kuller-vo Cursing and Lemminkäin-en's Mother (both below). I should note that the paintings seen below are relatively mild as compared to others from this period having downright suicidal themes.

Compare these with those of his Romantic period.
(The triptychs and those above them.)
the Paris World Fair of 1900 secured Gallen-Kallela's stature as the leading Finnish artist. Gallen-Kallela officially changed his name to the more Finnish-sounding Akseli Gallen-Kallela in 1907. In 1909, Gallen-Kallela briefly moved with his family to Nairobi, Kenya, where he painted over 150 expressionist oil paintings. However, after two years he returned to Finland realizing Finland was the source of his main inspiration. Between 1911 and 1913 Gallen-Kallela designed and built a home studio in Tarvaspää, about 10 km northwest of Helsinki. However he spent three years in the early-1920s in the United States, where an exhibition of his work toured several cities. He also visited New Mexico's Taos art-colony to study indigenous American art. Back in Finland, in 1925, Gallen-Kallela began the illustrations for his Great Kalevala. Unfortunately, the were unfinished when he died of pneumonia in Stockholm on in March of 1931. Today, Gallen-Kallela's studio and home at Tarvaspää have become the Gallen-Kallela Museum (below), which houses some of his works and research facilities.

Gallen-Kallela Museum, Tarvaspää Finland


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Fede Galizia

Cherries in a Silver Compote, 1610, Fede Galizia
I try never to pass up a chance to write about an outstanding woman artist, especially those of the distant pass. Women artist now, and especially then, are highly underrepresented in the annuls of art history set down by predominantly male writers (now and then). I know from my own biographical pieces on artists written over the past eight years how easy it is to automatically think of past artists in the masculine gender, even though I'm quite aware of the feminine gender's important contributions to the arts. Likewise, when I do write about women artists, I come across like a broken records in that, while their art my differ substantially, their struggles to gain acceptance in the male dominated art world are all quite similar.
Still-life, Fede Galizia. The scale, complexity and variety of produce and producers almost defy the definition of a still-life.
Almost without fail, women artists have suffered from poor art educational opportunities, gender prejudice, sexual assault, the impositions of motherhood, domineering husbands, and dozens of forms of adverse stereotyping. It's rare indeed to read about a woman artist who has not encountered all or most of these struggles in managing to gain some degree of recognition and success.
Noli Me Tangere, 1616, Fede Galizia
And then there's the Italian painter, Fede Galizia, born around 1574 (but no later than 1578). Somewhat strangely, perhaps, she encountered virtually none of the negative factors mentioned above during a career of some thirty years. It would likely have been much longer and more illustrious had she not succumbed to the Black Plague pandemic which struck her hometown of Milan (and indeed, most of Italy) in 1630. She died at the age of fifty-six.
A modern-day miniature painter. In the past, many
miniature painters had their careers cut short with

Nunzio Galizia, Fede Galizia,
portrait of her father

Fede was the daughter and pupil of Nunzio Galizia (right), a miniature painter who worked from about 1573-95. Like many other female artists of that era, it is presumed that she learned her artistic skills from her father. If so, this very early training in the art of painting miniatures, and the level of detail the genre requires, provided the basis for Fede Galizia’s career as an artist. She first came to notice at the age of twelve. By 1596 she was well known for her portraits and religious works. The style of her portraits derived from the naturalism of the Italian Renaissance, as seen in the work of such artists as Moretto da Brescia, Giovanni Battista Moroni and Lorenzo Lotto. However, the most important part of her oeuvre, for which she earned her place in art history, are her still-lifes which are among the earliest examples of this genre.
Judith with the Head of Holophernes, 1596, Fede Galizia.
Galizia's Judith with the Head of Holophernes (above) is a rather tame, and notably bloodless scene, especially as compared to that of Artemisia Gentileschi (below), or Caravaggio (bottom). She was not an artist well suited to paint such a brutal scene. As might be expected from an a portrait artist, Galizia's emphasis is on Judith's rich, highly detailed dress and jewelry rather than the anger and gore of a coldblooded murder. (Note the pristine knife blade.) Galizia's Judith is said to be a self-portrait.
Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1611-12, Artemisia Gentileschi
During much of her lifetime, Fede Galizia was recognized and praised mostly for her portraits such as that of Paolo Morigia (below), from 1596, and several religious works. However, she is now mainly remembered as a still-life painter as seen in her gorgeous (and delectable) Cherries in a Silver Compote, (top) from 1610. She worked on a small scale and her paintings are executed with exquisite finesse on wood panels. Her naturalism was an inspiration to subsequent Italian still-life painters, most notably Panfilo Nuvolone, also from Milan. Little is known about Galizia’s personal life despite her enduring importance as a pioneer of Italian still-lifes. She never married, had no children, and had successful career as an artist in Milan. Unlike so many other women artist of her time and talent, except for her untimely death, I'd be tempted to say she "lived happily ever after."

Portrait of Paolo Morigia, 1596, Fede Galizia.
Notice the precise attention to details.
(Yes, they had spectacles in 1596, but in
a style only Harry Potter could love.)

 Judith Beheading Holofernes,
1599, Caravaggio


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Agnolo Gaddi

Chancel Chapels seen from west, 1385-87,
Frescoes, Santa Croce, Florence, Agnolo Gaddi
If I were to ask about the top painters of the 14th-century, most people, including those who presumably know something about art, would probably only shrug and reply, Leonardo maybe...Michelangelo perhaps? You'd be wrong in both cases. Leonardo was born in 1452 but was only active from roughly around 1480 until his death in 1519 at the age of sixty-seven. Michelangelo wasn't even born yet in the 14th-century and would have been a mere child during much of the 15th-century, coming of age as a sculptor around 1500, before painting and carving his way into and beyond the Italian Renaissance until his death in 1564 at the age of eighty-nine. Thus, both of these landmark artists were predominantly of the 16th-century art world, not that of the 14th-century, and almost missing out the 15th-century.
The Three Gaddi family painters, Taddeo, the father,
Giovanni, and Agnolo or Angelo, his sons.
If we are to give credence to Giorgio Vasari, the first and best art historian of his time, and his authoritative tome, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Agnolo Gaddi was an influential and prolific artist, also the last major Florentine painter descending from Giotto, his father's painting master. Agnolo Gaddi studied under his father, Taddeo Gaddi, as did his less talented older brother, Giovanni, working at various times as his brother's assistant. After the death of Giotto in 1337 Taddeo Gaddi and somewhat later, his sons, became the most prominent artists in Florence.
Madonna Enthroned with Saints and Angels, 1380-90,
Agnolo Gaddi.
The Crucifixion, 1390, Agnolo Gaddi.
Agnolo Gaddi was born in 1350. I think, one of the reasons so many artists fail to recognize the name of such a prominent family of important artist may well be that they take one quick look at what is, in fact, medieval art, perhaps briefly admiring its elegance and delicate beauty, but also noting its apparent crudity as to style (paint-ing as well as draughtsmanship) then get on to the good stuff coming down the road a hundred years later. The reaction would be that, "They couldn't draw very well, or paint much better." Al-though that may tend to be true at times, such as Gaddi's Crucifixion (right), little note is taken that some painters from this era (the Gaddi family among them) were surprisingly good at both. Agnolo Gaddi's Madonna Enthroned with Saints and Angels (above, center), is obviously medieval, but crude it's not.
Discovery of the True Cross, 1380s, Agnolo Gaddi
Agnolo Gaddi's Discovery of the True Cross (above) dating from the 1380s, is an even more complex depiction of not just a single event, but a sequence involving the finding of the true cross, all skillfully blended into a single painted image. This technique was common in later years with Christian narrative paintings such as Masaccio's The Tribute Money from 1426-27. Gaddi's work could easily be considered a precursor to that of Masaccio and may have influenced his narrative composition. Agnolo Gaddi died in 1396 at the age of forty-six.
Madonna col Bambino, 1374, Agnolo Gaddi
Like father, like son. Portraits from this
period were nearly always in profile.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Fence Art

The tromp l'oeil neighbor.

"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

                                                      -- MENDING WALL, Robert Frost

Making fences look "friendly"
If the best that can be said of fences is that they make "good neighbors" then they must not be all that good, and quite possibly in need of an artist's touch. Moreover, if the Mexicans are any indication, even the best fence President Trump could build (regardless of who pays for it) would likely make us rather bad neighbors. Notwithstanding Robert Frost's dissertation on the subject, the whole concept may be flawed.

Think of a fence as a blank canvas.
Sometime ago I wrote on the subject of walls. At the time, we were having a retaining wall I'd designed built in our front yard in order to mitigate a steep area in which we'd been unable to grow presentable landscaping. There is a world of difference between walls and fences. Walls today are mostly used to tame topography for a more attractive appearance and to accommodate extreme difference in elevations for all sorts of practical reasons. Fences, on the other hand, as Frost suggests, are designed to keep living beings in their place. With few exceptions, fences are ugly both figuratively and in fact. I suppose they do have their place and a valid purpose, but seldom are they attractive, much less artistic.
The key to a "good" fence is ingenuity.
Unlike the item I wrote on walls, this is now a "how to" discourse on building fences. Instead, this is about taking something that is often inherently unsightly, and using an artist's creative impulses to make it less so...perhaps even a thing of beauty. Such an effort has two approaches. The first is the most difficult, designing the fence itself to be a work of art while still serving its purpose. The second approach is to simply decorate, as with live plants and/or recycled items (above) aiming to somewhat mitigate the inherently unappealing fence in an attempt to mitigate its natural repulsiveness.
Such an image might be framed and hung on a fence,
or perhaps better still, painted on the fence itself.
Often such goals can be accomplished with a simple bit of sophisticated humor as in the nosy, tromp l'oeil bovine (top), or a mural akin to Pere Borrel del Caso's 1874 street urchin Escaping Criticism (above). Modernizing the boy might be fun, or if the artist can pull it off, perhaps painting a portrait of a particularly obnoxious neighbor (of any age). Artists today can even purchase indoor-outdoor stretched canvases (below) designed to resist weather conditions. Just be sure they're firmly attached to the wall making theft less likely. Such items are available with or without images and range upward from $200 in price.
The upper-left image is a painting, the one at lower-right
is a photograph.
The paintings above are Giclee prints on canvas, from high-resolution photographic images, gallery-wrapped over poly vinyl stretchers. The canvas images are said to withstand sun, wind, and rain. They also have a special UV coating to protect against fading. Giclee artworks are created using fade-resistant "archival" inks. Such artwork is scanned or digitally photographed, then printed individually using a high resolution printer. Canvases may be cleaned with any non-abrasive wiping material. These two and others are featured at

The effect is both fascinating and disconcerting...
not to mention dangerous when intoxicated.
Another new development in the art of fencing is the work of Brooklyn, NY artist Alyson Shotz (above). With her mirror surfaces, Shotz attempts to make her picket fences virtually disappear. Simple in its execution and an interesting as a work of art, (though far from inexpensive), the concept of the mirror fence would be useful in any situation where there is need for a separation of space, but with a conflicting desire for subtlety from a visitor’s perspective. Whether disguising, decorating, or mitigating a fence, artists such as Strotz have a distinct advantage over the ordinary DIY homeowner. Perhaps not every artist could handle a tromp l'oeil mural on a board fence, but most could draw and paint a scene involving cartoon cats and dogs (below).

Another advantage artists have--vivid imaginations.
If you own a swimming pool you need a fence, for the sake of safety, if not privacy. Walls are difficult top enhance. Fences around a pool are near impossible to disguise. Moreover, anyone who can afford the money pit of a swimming pool, is going to be hard pressed to afford much more than butt-ugly chain link fencing. One answer to such a dilemma might be sturdy wooden or masonry posts flanking plywood screens as seen below. They might not afford much privacy but they would serve the purpose of keeping out unaccompanied neighborhood munchkins.

This pool screen includes a wall but treated wooden
posts (4"x4") could also serve as supports.

Fence supports as functional as they are attractive.

I know, it's not a fence, but it would make
any fence or wall it might decorate much
more attractive. And it absolutely screams
a creative art genius lives here.