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Friday, September 1, 2017

September Paintings

 City Building from America Today, 1930-31, Thomas Hart Benton. Ten-panel mural cycle at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The month of September is home to Labor Day, back-to-school, football, soccer, falling leaves, and the greatest tragedy (so far) of the 21st-century. Thomas Hart Benton may have painted the greatest tribute to the hard-muscled, middle-class, American workers who built the country we enjoy today when he created the ten-panel America Today mural cycle (one panel, City Building can be seen above). The mural now resides in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was originally created for New York's New School for Social Research to adorn the school's boardroom in its International Style modernist building on West 12th Street. It depicts a sweeping panorama of American life throughout the 1920s. America Today ranks among Benton's most renowned works and is one of the most remarkable accomplishments in American art of that period. The mural is a gift to the Met from the AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company. Despite the fact the mural was created in 1930-31, during the darkest days of the Great Depression, it is steadfastly optimistic in its theme and content (perhaps even unduly so).

Snap the Whip, 1872, Winslow Homer. The first day of school?
It must be September, they're all barefooted.
Although many schools now start a week or two earlier, day following Labor Day has long been the traditional start of the school year, whether that of the energy-to-spare kids on the playground as depicted in Winslow Homer's 1872 Snap the Whip (above), or Norman Rockwell's awkward farm boy so touchingly portrayed in his 1954 Breaking Home Ties (below). Incidentally the long-lost painting was discovered about ten years ago behind a false wall in a Vermont Home. (The deceased owner had been hiding it from his ex-wife.) In 2006, it sold at Sotheby's for $15.4-million (a record for a Rockwell painting).

Breaking Home Ties, 1954, Norman Rockwell, his second
most popular Saturday Evening Post cover. In first place is
one titled Saying Grace dating from 1951.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Tackle!, 1973, Jim Lane
If it's September and college students are back in school, that can only mean one thing-- FOOTBALL! Being from Ohio, even though I'm a Ohio University alumni, I'm also partial to Ohio State. Several years ago now, I did a series of OSU football paintings for an art gallery in Columbus that was representing me. The OSU Mon-tage (below) was the centerpiece of that exhibit flanked by paintings of numerous individual players in action. Though the one below was not, all the others were painted with the rough texture afforded by a palette knife. This one sold, but a few of the others I still have (if anyone is interested). Of course, one need not drive all the way to Buckeye Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, to see a good football game, as evidenced by an earlier football painting I titled Tackle (above, left) from 1973.
Copyright, Jim Lane
OSU Montage, 2007, Jim Lane
Copyright, Jim Lane
Soccering, Jim Lane
I'd probably hear a chorus of comments from my international readers if I failed to mention that there is more than one game of football. Not only that, as popular as it is in this country, American football comes in a distant second to the worldwide sport we here call soccer. There was once a time during the early 1900s when European soccer was actually more popular in the United States than American football. However internecine conflict between the various leagues, and probably more importantly, the hard times of the 1930s, nearly killed off the sport in this country. It has only been in the last fifty years that athletes in short pants and long socks one more began kicking a round ball up and down a grassy field. When I was growing up during the 1950s, soccer had not yet made a comeback. My high school didn't even have a football team. Where I lived, the number one September sport was raking autumn leaves (mostly of the colorful maple variety). September Garden (below), by Steve Sanger, pretty well captures the nature of that "game." Though few municipalities continue to allow the burning of leaves, I can still recall the distinctive aroma.

September Garden, Steve Sanger
From sporting events to September aromas, much about September has changed just in my lifetime. Labor Day, football, soccer, and leaf raking aside, perhaps the greatest change in the month of September occurred in just a few horrifying seconds on the eleventh day of this month in 2001. A great many artists have tried to capture that day, commemorating the lives lost, the bravery seen, the shocking horror, and the monumental changes it brought to our American way of life. A total of 2,996 people died that day in three different location while another 6,000 were injured. Property damage alone mounted to at least $10-billion. It's estimated the attack caused a total economic loss in the neighborhood of $3-trillion.
The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy: September 11, 2001, Graydon Parrish
In combing through the dozens (if not hundreds) of painted tributes to those who died (411 of which were police and firemen), I searched for more than a simple depiction of the dastardly event itself. Eventually I came upon The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy: September 11, 2001 (above), by Graydon Parrish. The painting is imbued with the predominant gray of ground zero with the twin towers represented by the blindfolded twin human figures in the center (not buildings but suffering individuals). Everywhere there is destruction, death, and chaos far too deeply steeped in symbolism for me to either understand or adequately explain. Unlike most other such paintings I found, this one has real depth and significance. Though on a somewhat smaller scale, the death and destruction of 9/11 was not limited to New York's World Trade Center. The military at the Pentagon also took a direct hit. Casualties there alone totaled 189. F-16 over the Pentagon, 9-11-01 (below), was apparently a joint effort by aviation artist, Gil Cohen, and Air National Guard historians Susan Rosenfeld, and Charles Gross.

F-16 over the Pentagon: 9-11-01, Gil Cohen


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