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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Who is this Artist?

Romeo and Juliette
How much can you tell about an artist just by looking at his or her work? As they say on American TV when they test the Emergency Broadcasting System, "This is a test. This is only a test." I have an ulterior motive in presenting this artist's work. The fact is, I have never displayed the work of an artist for which there seems to be so little personal information. Except for the briefest of curriculum vitae, there is virtually nothing upon which I can write. I've encountered this problem before and usually discarded the artists as being too incidental to warrant a second look. That's not the case in this case. I like the work. Although the artist is academically trained, no degree has been earned.
After a Hundred Years...
In the past, when I've played games with my readers in identifying unnamed artists I've had feedback that the effort was too easy. Here, even though I know the name and a little about the artist, I'd like to know far more. Anyone who can help me in this regard to fill in the missing pieces of this painter's life would be greatly appreciated and adequately credited as an expert art researcher far beyond my meager skills. I'll show the work, even give each piece a partial title, but from there on, I'd like to see how astute my readers can be.


No title for this one.
Portrait of...


Please do not post responses in the comments section below. Send them to:


Friday, September 29, 2017

Annie Murphy-Robinson

Annie Murphy-Robinson amid the panorama of her studio.
I think it would be safe to say that all parents take pictures of their children, especially in the day and age in which cameras have become as much a part of the cell phones as the communication device itself. Where once cameras were the tools only of professional photographers, and later toys of the wealthy, today even in underdeveloped countries, virtually all parents have, or have access to, some sort of photographic device with which to document the inherent, evolving beauty of childhood. If parents are also artists, they likely carry this penchant for recording visually the lives of their offspring into the realm of painting, drawing, perhaps even sculpture. California artist, Annie Murphy-Robinson has two young daughters, and has done just that with her poignant drawings in charcoal and pastel.

Emily Recumbent on Rattan Furniture, Annie Murphy-Robinson
Annie Murphy-Robinson creates sketches in charcoal with the use of sandpaper as a tool. Her subject matter is usually herself or either of her two daughters. Her current work consists of three different subjects: her children, antique childhood toys, and self-portraits. The self-portraits have changed over the years, from being surrounded in white, empty space to being surrounded by nature (below, right). One of her most recent works is of her daughter Emily. Titled Trophy, it is a large-scale charcoal on paper drawing mea-suring 42 by 20 inches (right).

                                                    Trophy, Annie Murphy-Robinson

Among the tools of the trade.
Annie Murphy-Robinson draws furiously, hour after hour, in a small cubicle her hus-band built for her in their garage. Her "cell" is close to, but a world apart from, the couple’s otherwise happy, toy-strewn, daughter-cluttered, ranch-style home in Carmichael, California (a Sacramento suburb). A pastel scene of convention. In her studio, however, tread carefully on the cold, concrete floor. There is a lone, naked bulb burning from the rafters. There is a dollhouse inhabited by some kind of feathery taxidermy specimen. Off to the side, appearing playful and in-nocent, is an apple-red bicycle with chubby training wheels (above).
Annie Murphy-Robinson

Not your typical suburban housewife and mother.
Casey and the Quilt, 2009,
Annie Murphy-Robinson
Here are to be found the tools of her trade--a belt sander, pads of fine-grade sandpaper, a soft, white, smudged gym sock, stubs of charcoal, gobs of erasers, and a seemingly inexhaustible inkwell of dread, joy, pain, mem-ory, exaltation, anxiety, and fear. She draws standing up, on the garage’s back wall, which is painted white. There, in hazy silhouette, the accumulated margin residue of earlier work. Viewed darkly, it appears as the chalked outline of a crime scene pinned to the wall. Some of her drawings, lined in tissue, are piled hap-hazardly on the floor. She peels them off, one by one, like layers of skin. Most are large-scale but highly intimate drawings of her two daught-ers, Emily and Casey. Both are towheaded cherubs.

Emily and the Fur Hat, Annie Murphy-Robinson
All of the artworks are drawn from photographs, the portrait sittings of which are austerely lit by a single light source. In many of the drawings, one can see an electrical cord trailing in back like a slithering serpent. The drawings are intense, the subjects invariably solemn. They are far removed from a family scrapbook. They're more of a personal journal. “I always feel guilty when I look at this,” Annie comments as she gazes at her daughter’s expression of longing and appeal. “Like I should be spending more time playing with her than in my studio.” It's the litany of working mothers everywhere.

Dragon Fly Eyes, 2010-2016, Annie Murphy Robinson

Kewpie, Enlightened,  pastel drawing
Annie Murphy-Robinson


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Brandywine River Museum

Housed in a repurposed, 19th-century, brick mill, the
museum is as pleasant as it is unpretentious.
If I had a dollar for every artist I've written about associated with the Brandywine River Museum...I'd have about five bucks. A couple days ago, still on our way home from two days in New York City, my wife and I detoured a few miles west of Philadelphia to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, to pay our respects to one of the most famous and respected painting dynasties in America--the Wyeths.
Self-portraits of four generations of Brandywine School painters.
Actually the colorful (in more ways than one) saga of this family begins not with the famed Wyeth patriarch, N.C. Wyeth, but his not so well-known mentor, the turn-of-the-century illustrator, Howard Pyle, born in 1853. He considered N.C. Wyeth, born in 1882, to be his best student. N.C. Wyeth was best known as an illustrator of such classic novels as Treasure Island, King Arthur, several patriotic paintings, and the occasional Saturday Evening Post cover.
Four generations of Brandywine painting.
N.C. Wyeth and his wife had two daughters and a son. All three became painters though none matched in quantity or quality the work of the son, Andrew Wyeth, born in 1917. They did, however marry two of their father's more outstanding students, Peter Hurd and John McCoy. Andrew Wyeth's most famous work was undoubtedly Christina's World, painted in 1948, and now in New York's Museum of Modern Art. And finally, comes Andrew Wyeth's son (and my personal favorite of the clan) Jamie Wyeth, born in 1946. His most famous works include a much acclaimed portrait of President Kennedy painted when the artist was just twenty years old, and a similarly acclaimed Portrait of a Pig (below), painted in 1970.
Portrait of a Pig, 1970, Jamie Wyeth. Legend has it that when the artist took a break, he returned to discover that the pig had eaten some 32 tubes of oil paints Jamie had left unattended.
Jamie Wyeth is the last remaining heir to the hundred-year-old Brandywine school. He divides his time between a home near Chadds Ford and another in Maine. Despite his family name, his heritage, and painterly skill (and sometimes the result of all three), Jamie Wyeth has not had a smooth ride to art world recognition. His style has often been labeled as outdated, and overburdened with a kind of effete rural nostalgia. His content is unabashedly that of his father who, in fact, has suffered the same criticism. The best, or worst (depending upon your point of view) that can be said of both father and son is that they were out of step with their times.
Trading self-portraits, 1976.
Yet, in the art world, many accomplished painters have been accused of similar sins. Say what you will about Jamie Wyeth's style, his work has a very contemporary look as he walks a thin line between his family's past and his own strikingly Postmodern style and content. His Screen Door Sequence portrait, dating from 2015 (below, on display at the museum) of his now-deceased friend and idol, Andy Warhol (above), demonstrates his embrace of a past Realism applied in a Postmodern mode. The full-length portrait of Warhol is seen through an actual half-opened screen door.
First of the Screen Door Sequence, 2015, Jamie Wyeth
Postmodernism is on display not just in the broad spectrum of Jamie Wyeth's work on the walls of Brandywine, but inherent in the wall themselves. The highly functional, and strikingly contemporary architecture of Baltimore architect, James R. Grieves, over the years, has more than doubled the size of the original mill where the Wyeths once made their home. Grieves and his firm have spent some thirty-five years growing the museum from the original commission in 1968, its opening in 1971, an addition in 1984,  and yet another, $17.5 million expansion, in 2004. The museum was created by the nonprofit Brandywine Conservancy utilizing a converted grist mill off U.S. 1 in Chadds Ford to house the works of Andrew Wyeth and other members of the Brandywine Valley school of painting.

The influence of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim
can be seen throughout the interior of Grieves'
Brandywine River Museum.
The Brandywine, some eighty miles north of Baltimore, has grown in other ways besides square footage. It opened with 20 works of art. Now it has more than 3,000 by a variety of artists, including Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth, Winslow Homer and Horace Pippen. More than 4.5 million people have visited over the past 30 years. With many art museums today the building seems to be in constant combat with the art to gain visual dominance. Grieves Brandywine Museum never upstages the art. Phases come together seamlessly. In addition, the architects solved difficult problems with building in a flood zone, while using mirrored glass to make the addition blend in with the landscape.

Fall at Archie's, 1937, Andrew Wyeth
An entire curved wall documents the impression
the museum has had on visiting school children.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Kendric Tonn

The Tenth Year, 2013, Kendrick Tonn
Can a young, reasonably good-looking, male artist in his mid-thirties today paint predominantly male nudes without being labeled gay? That's the quandary I face in admiring, reading, and writing on the Columbus, Ohio, painter, Kendric Tonn. In doing so, I'm not going to attach such a designation to such an outstanding artist even though, as the Jerry Seinfeld gang used to proclaim repeatedly, "...not that there's anything wrong with that." Normally, I don't mention an artist's sexual orientation unless it has a more than passing influence on his or her art. Of course influence, like sexual orientation is a relative entity. An influence of any kind might be so slight as to be all but unnoticeable. Likewise, most gays, not to mention most psychologist, would readily agree the same applies to sexual orientation.
Bacchanal: Being Held Back by Hesitation, Kendric Tonn
That being the case, why mention sexual orientation at all? I probably wouldn't except for one fact of life such artists face--there is a third leg...perhaps I should say a third factor...every artist must contend with--his or her fans. In reading posted comments from Kendric Tonn's many admirers, it could easily be assumed that the majority of his art lovers are either slightly, somewhat, predominantly, or totally gay. The question next arising is, does the artist cater to this fan base or beat his or her own path through an inevitable thicket of preferred content. And if so, what does that content say about the nature of that artist? In Tonn's case, that line of reasoning brings us full circle back to the original question--does predominantly gay oriented content indicate a predominantly gay artist?
Painting men for men, with or without trousers.
The Monk,
Kendric Tonn
Tonn writes about this element of his work: "Although they are intended to be self-supporting as individual pieces, when taken as a body of work, my paintings of the figure are meant to dissolve the common categories of the nude figure and create a sensitive, humanistic view of the model which is both individual and egalitarian. The nude in contemporary art has certain normal categories: the erotic female nude intended for male viewers, a category too common to bother with examples; the bloodless heroic male nude, regularly seen in sports photography and notably in the 2006 film 300; [and] the erotic male nude intended exclusively for gay male viewers. It is my intention as a figurative painter to dissolve and unify these (and other) categories, a task that has particular relevance to me as a gay artist in a heterosexual world. I present, I hope, paintings of male and female models in a state of radical equality: humanized, but with attention to the aesthetic qualities of the figure; aware of the erotic potentiality of the nude, but without prurient interest or appeal limited to any specific sexuality; and most of all, as individuals with a sense of internal life, equal though never identical."
The nude male--mundane and mythical.
Kendric Tonn was born in 1982, a native of Phoenix, Arizona. He earned a BA in English from Sewanee: The University of the South, in 2004. Uncertain about his future, he then lived in Japan for a year, traveling, teaching, and--most of all--drawing, before deciding to seek formal artistic training. Tonn was trained in a traditional manner, one might even say a classical manner and style. Though his work has a naturalism that would never be mistaken for that of antiquity, his art training at the Florence Academy of Art, culminated in a masters degree in 2010. Florence has, since the Renaissance, been a bastion of humanism. The human experience has always been at the center of Kendric Tonn's work, reflecting enduring human concerns, themes, and stories, central to the most universal of all subjects, the human figure. His paintings, whatever other content they may have, depict individual people with common human feelings.
Art and humanism.
Needless to say, Kendric Tonn is a highly representational oil painter, working mainly with the nude figure. However his secondary painting interest is still-lifes. He is intensely occupied in the expression of form and the creation of visual patterning in his painting subjects, whether animate or inanimate. His work, particularly with the model, is also highly driven by the attempt to create a kind of three-way emotional sympathy, between the model, the artist, and the viewer as he tries to express a human presence, of a specific soul embedded in a specific body. Despite his love of painting, Tonn frequently returns to the pure drawing he learned as a neophyte painter. With these studies of the figure in pencil, or portraits in charcoal, he relishes the chance to concentrate on questions of line, shape, and value--pure drawing, the hard skeleton that will give structure to a painting or teach one to produce subtleties and variety in lines that expresses form with elegance and economy.

Would you believe, the same artist who mostly
paints nude men (and women) also paints

...and dirty dishes?


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Art Museum Guards

Guarding millions in art for minimum wage or less. Nationally, museum security guards earn about $24,000 per year, but some earn as little as $16,000. The workday is often twelve hours long.

The day before yesterday I spent about six hours lost (more or less) in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Having bought my ticket, I next located the elevators and restrooms. Then I set about looking for surprises and photographing them for a future posting dealing with the unexpected treasures of the Met. In the course of doing so, I became aware of an element of the art museum experience that has seldom been discussed, and for many, goes completely unnoticed unless you happen to forget to turn off your camera's flash, or get uncomfortably close to the museum's prized possessions. I'm talking about museum security guards. My first question as I began to make friendly conversation with these underpaid, underrated, underappreciated watchdogs was simply: "How do you stand it?" (pun intended). They stand around, virtually immobile, watchfully alert, stoic, and often keenly knowledgeable as to the art they protect and the human nature which is the key to protecting it.
I talked with guards at the Met and the Guggenheim in
New York, who are paid somewhat above the national average,
yet cannot afford to live in the city in which they work.
It's a weird mix of boredom, authority, and a need to avoid angering visitors. It's a job that attracts odd ducks (or possibly drives normal people mad). It's also a thankless job that gets little appreciation from either the public or the higher-ups. There are a fair share of weirdoes on the team, but with the pay, hours, and working conditions being what they are, it's not likely any museum is going to get the valedictorians of the Ivy League lining up to apply. Yet at least one guard, a young woman I talked to this morning, who worked at the Guggenheim I had a master's degree in art (not art history). She had applied for a rare opening (and promotion) in another department of the museum. She didn't sound too optimistic.
Friendly but firm. Knowledgeable but not all-knowing.
It's a boring job but
someone has to do it.
Most wear clip-on ties.
However, another guard I talked to standing watch over equestrian knights in armor at the Met was optimistic. He was looking forward to retirement in just 14 months. As I watched, he reprimanded a young boy of about five and the boy's father because his son had dared to touch the toe of one of the mounted figures. Even I was not immune to such oversight. I momentarily left my walker unattended to take a photo--an apparent no-no. Who knew? My newfound friend at the Met explained a security guard's worst nightmare--a whole class of art-loving first-graders, too numerous for a single teacher or chaperone to supervise and too young to read the "Do not touch" signs. The guard took note of the fact that the Met even had a art exposure program for toddlers--something about baby carriages. I wasn't taking notes.

"Back off, kids, or I'll tell your dad." Security guards get a sit-down break every 45 minutes.
"What's the most common question asked of security guards?" I asked. He smiled, "Where's the nearest restroom?" I should have known without asking. Several visitors like myself asked directions to various exhibits. I asked, instead, what portion of the Met's holdings were on display at any given time? (approximately ten-percent out of about half a million pieces). I was informed by my uniformed friend that Met had five warehouses in Brooklyn crammed full of art, most of it having never displayed and not likely to ever be. A lot of it, he ventured, is simply junk. The Met, he said, seems never to turn down any donated item. I asked the same question at the Guggenheim and the young security guards there couldn't give me a figure. A computer geek all but hidden behind the information counter placed their figure at about one percent.

When they say no flash photography, they
really mean it. A guard at LACMA once
threatened to confiscate my camera.

Sometimes security guards
are not what they seem to be,
especially those by super-realist
sculptor, Duane Hanson.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Brad Marshall--Watercolors at Sea

Speeding Bullet. Brad Marshall is a freelance artist, illustrator, and instructor working out of New York City (when he's not traveling).
Yesterday morning my wife and I disembarked from Cunard's regal Queen Mary 2 in Brooklyn, New York. Except for the last two days when we were skirting Tropical Storm Jose in the North Atlantic, it was a thoroughly delightful seagoing experience. The Cunard flagship is now some fourteen years old. She is aging quite pleasantly, though due to the fact that cruising and cruise ships have changed a lot in the past fourteen years she exhibits some slightly dated design elements--things you wouldn't find on newer ships and lacking some features which have become standard in today's cruise industry. But that's a matter for another time. One standard practice Cunard has embraced is the inclusion of art classes on board. I first encountered this on the Celebrity Silhouette (a class in acrylic painting) and was excited to find Cunard was offering watercolor classes taught by a highly experienced New York artist/illustrator named Bradley Marshall (aided by his wife).
Brad uses his own, specially prepared images as content for
his beginning students.
Even though I had taught watercolor to kids in the public schools for twenty-six years, I decided to take the class. It was the first time I'd done any concentrated study in that temperamental medium since college some forty-five years ago. The first two days I followed along with the other (mostly beginning) students in painting the QM-2 and the White Cliffs of Dover. Then I struck out on my own with a watercolor based loosely on a Hawaiian photo from one of Cunard's travel publications. Like riding a bicycle, I'd not lost my touch. Brad offered praise, advice, an occasional opinion, and most of all congenial friendship, one artist to another. I've since learned that several other cruise line offer similar classes in watercolor for the benefit of their more creative guests.

Brad's temporary art class room is on the upper level of
the Queen Mary 2 Britannia Restaurant (in reality the tourist class dining room).
Charlie Parker, Brad Marshall
Brad Marshall was born in 1955 in New York City. He studied at the San Francisco Academy of Art, City College of Los Angeles, and obtained a masters degree from the University of Florida, Gainesville, with a degree in Psychology, Suma Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa. If you're impressed with credentials, Brad has a wall full. Apart from framed diplomas, his diverse studies have come to make him an outstanding instructor, able to skillfully impart his art to others. Though he often works from photos, in his landscapes, Brad tries to paint more than just a realistic image of a scene. He is little interested in simply re-creating a photo on canvas. He paints the sublime places he has seen, trying to capture some of the feeling of those places in his paintings. Rather than painting from a single photo, he works from studies and sketches as well as many photos that he's taken at various picturesque sites, using various elements from them along with his personal observations to form a more captivating image. His effort is to create a composition that gives the viewers a sense of place.

The week of watercolor classes ended with an art exhibit
for the benefit of other Queen Mary 2 passengers.
20th-Century art brought us the concept that a painting was not a representation of something, but the thing itself. Once the camera had freed artists from the onus of Realism, this led to the exploration of more abstract and non-representational work. There is, of course a certain genius in Modern Art painting. Yet it's difficult to simply discard more than a thousand years of representational work and disregarding is nascent importance in the history and culture of the many developing peoples and nations of that broad time span. A realistic painting, brings the viewer a frozen moment of an object, scene, or a person, engaging them, so that they bring themselves into the work. Modern Art has not lessened this goal as something to be desired and striven for.

T-Rex, Brad Marshall
Copyright, Jim Lane
A week of Jim Lane watercolors,


Sunday, September 24, 2017

David Piddock

Herox, 2011, David Piddock
If you were to ask most landscape painters to paint the streets, buildings, and citizens of a major urban center, chances are many would make some excuse having to do with preferring the peace and quiet of the lush countryside to the loud, hustle and bustle of the city. Then once your back was turned, they'd double up in a fetal position sucking on their thumb. The point of this imaginary discourse is to underline the tremendous differences in painting the countryside and the "cityside." Cityscapes are far more challenging. I've done a many of the former and a few of the latter over the course of several years, so believe me, there's a tremendous difference. Landscapes, except for a few manmade intrusions, are mostly the art of camouflage. Cityscapes are a lot more than simple geometry with a heavy dose of extremely complex linear perspective. Add to that the vagaries of lighting, weather, reflections, and textures, most of which are manmade and thus subject to exacting standards of naturalism, even when painted in something less than a realistic manner. The British painter, David Piddock, bends to the demands of naturalism while avoiding the acute worship of realism.

Traffic Light Tree, 2008, David Piddock

At first, casual, glance the immaculate, architectural precision and clear, uncluttered surfaces of David Piddock's paintings of London's riverscape seem to place his work very much within a tradition that stretches well back into the 18th-Century, as in the work of Canaletto and Samuel Scott's London views, for example. From there they extend all the way up to the photorealism of modern times, as seen in the U.K. today by the icy glitter of Ben Johnson's paintings of both historical and contemporary interiors, and townscapes; or Clive Head's complex perspective explorations of the London urban scene.

Give Me Strength, David Piddock

Under the Bridge, David Piddock
However, very quietly, something alto-gether different starts to emerge, something warmer and more playful, though still quite thoughtful and ser-ious as to the poetic wonder Piddock's paintings also present. Certainly there are some complex perspective games going on in many of Piddock's larger paintings as in the classic single-point, Renaissance-style perspective of Lon-don's Greenwich Park and the 180-degree viewpoint of Albert Bridge. In addition, the largely mirror-images of works like Give me Strength (above), Samson at Queenhythe, There and Back and Under the Bridge (left)supplement a number of substantial works which rely simply on a rather more straightforward, compositional approach, such as Herox (top) where the artist is clearly preoccupied with the intriguing interplay of architectural forms and odd juxtapositions to be found.

Samson at Queenhithe, 2008, David Piddock
Born in 1960, the now fifty-seven-year-old artist's work has been called Post-Modern, Pre-Modern, Magic Realist, and New Realist. But of all these, individualistic, might be most appropriate. He delights in ignoring current trends in contemporary art. Magic Realism is the term most often used these days to describe a genre of literature with a darkly comic supernatural dimension dealing with themes such as love, grief and obsession. Using this definition, it could be reasonably applied to virtually all of Piddock's work.

Critics seem to have agreed to disagree as to how to
label Piddock's work. How about intriguing?
Many of Piddock's paintings are set in six different areas of London: Tower Bridge, Bankside, The South Bank, Mudchute, Crossharbour, Exchange Square, and a development behind Liverpool Street Station. The places are recognizable to some extent but his versions of them Piddock's penchant for blending fact and fiction. Piddock raids the contents of London's museums and distributes them around town to various ends. For instance, Bankside lV and Mudchute ll use a tiny ivory carving by Pisano in the Victoria & Albert collection. The damaged head in Southbank l is an ancient fragment from the British Museum. The sculpture that appears in Tower Bridge l, on the other hand, is based on a more recent work by Edoardo Paolozzi which has been dragged a few hundred yards up the Thames Path and re-sited at the foot of the bridge.

London as it isn't and never was.
The light in Piddock's paintings, if not magical, is certainly unearthly, bearing so relationship to any quality of light to be found in the streets of London. His spatial qualities vary widely. He seems most interested in the point where the logic of perspective breaks down. Some of Piddock's paintings go far beyond that point using tilting and rotating viewpoints to create an unsettling, even a disorientating effect. Other of his London works employ simple one-point perspectives and are, by comparison calm and detached. A view such as Greenwich Park (below)seems like an impossible mix of old and new, with 18th Century buildings in the foreground framed by a skyline of skyscrapers and the Millennium Dome. This is however a fairly conventional viewpoint with a wide angle view. The people on the viewing platform draw attention to the process of looking and the contrast between ancient and modern.

Greenwich Park, David Piddock
Piddock's work can be read like a contemporary take on Piero Della Francesca in his emphatic verticals and horizontals, strong surface patterns, carefully judged intervals and restrained detail balanced with a broader description of form. Most are bathed in strong light, however, the artist often creates an evocative world of deep shadows and enigmatic content that keeps us guessing.

Art Sabotage, 2001, by David Piddock, based on
an actual incident when a painting by Marcus
Harvey titled Myra was vandalized while on
display at the Royal Academy. Piddock's
painting freely mixes fact and fiction.