Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, July 30, 2018


London, Sergey Kachin, the traditional landmarks in a painterly style of impressionism Monet would have adored. (He spent several months in London painting the city orange and blue.)
Have you ever gone in search of one thing only to find something better? A few days ago, I went in search of paintings of London, England, for another posting. I found the London cityscapes, of course. You'd have to be blind to miss then. Not only that, but my wife and I were intimately familiar with the subject having just returned from a week of gallery-hopping. No, I didn't see Her Highness, but I did get a good look at her hat and a few other sparkling trinkets stowed away at the Tower of London. London, with all its iconic landmarks is a painter's heaven as well as his or her creative hell.

The London cityscape spans some 123 years. Both Dawson and Moore capture the essence of the city, flavored moderately by a necklace of landmarks, old and new. How many can you identify?
Let me explain. Simply painting standard, stand-along landmarks such as the afore-mentioned tower and its companion, the Tower Bridge, Big Ben and Westminster Palace (home to England's parliament), Buckingham Palace (home to England's queen), not to mention newer landmarks such as the London Eye, the London "nose" (the Brits call it the gherkin) and the Shard. Sergey Kachin (top) hardly misses a cue with his Big Ben, Westminster Palace, Westminster Cathedral, even the Westminster Bridge all with a Fauvist palette only slightly tinged with reality. Monet would have been aghast.

Winter in Central Park. Mark Harrison has painted a view of the iconic venue which I dearly love. Any New Yorker would recognize it instantly. Yet there's no Empire State Building, no U.N., no Brooklyn Bridge, not even the city's most famous work of art, Bartholdi's Liberty Enlightening the People.
Distance--Brooklyn Bridge,
Danijela Dan
In choosing representative cityscapes, I've limited myself to cities I've personally explored, and paintings which have not stooped to simple "landmarkism" with which to gain their identity. Robert Finale's Christmas in New York (below), and Danijela Dan's Distance--Brooklyn Bridge, while attractive, and no doubt quite salable, where would they be without the bridge and the Rockefeller Center centerpiece? Although the Brook-lyn Bridge would probably tie with Lon-don's Tower Bridge as the most painted bridge in the world, yet in both cases, there are limitations as to creativity and novel presentations. Lesser landmarks such as Rockefeller Center (minus the tree) offer greater opportunities for freedom of expression.

Christmas in New York, Robert Finale--cityscapes aiming to capture the essence of the city while only referencing the landmarks without dwelling on them exclusively.
The artists of the Parisian cityscapes (below) are unknown (or unlisted). In Paris Cityscape (upper image, below) the artist relies upon ambience with which to identify the city he or she obviously knows well. There's no Eiffel Tower or Arch de Triumph to captivate tourist. The Paris trappings are subtle but effective. However in the watercolor image (below) having the enigmatic title I Love You, (probably I Love You, Paris by John Salminen) the artist "clobbers" the scene with his or her Eiffel Tower, yet presents a novel approach emphasizing the sheer height and engineering magnitude of Paris' number one landmark. In essence, if you feel you must paint urban landmarks, an innovative approach will lift the painting from trite to triumphant.

Two artists, one city, two radically different approaches.
So, where did this infatuation with the urban landscape originally develop and who triggered it? Until the middle of the 17th-century, cityscapes, for the most part, cityscapes were simply landscapes with a few tall buildings. There was little or no recognition as to cities being "beautiful" and thus few attempts to render them as beautiful works of art. What few cityscapes that survive from earlier eras are often negative comparisons to the pastoral beauty of "God's country," as seen in Durer's Innsbruck Seen from the North (below), from around 1496. Strangely, this attitude persists even today. Cityscapes before the 17th century were usually hand drawn in conjunction with maps or as painted backgrounds for religious scenes.

Innsbruck Seen from the North, circa 1496, Albrecht Durer
The Little Street, 1657-58,
(oil on canvas), Jan Vermeer
Most art historians would agree that among the first artists to recognize the urban environment as a viable (indeed, beautiful) subject for the painters art was likely the Dutch painter, Johannes (Jan) Vermeer in his painting The Little Street (left), dating from 1657-58. Here there is no map involved, no peripheral land-scape, no religious content. Some ex-perts have suggested this may have been the scene across the street from his studio (the property on the right in the painting once belonged to Vermeer’s aunt). In any case, what strikes us about the image is its ordinariness. It's not beautiful, inspiring, or in any way a glor-ification of a street in Delft, Netherlands. It's a depiction, nothing more and nothing less, except for the fact that it preceded Vermeer's more famous cityscape A View of Delft (below) from 1660-61, which suggest The Little Street might be considered the first bonafide cityscape ever painted.

Note that the colors differ drastically in the two images above. The upper one would seem to be the more accurate.
Copyright, 1970, Jim Lane
Manhattan Morning, 1970, Jim Lane.
One of my few attempts at capturing
the essence of a city while relying
only minimally on a famous landmark.
The work was done with a palette
knife in oils.


Monday, July 23, 2018

Lynnewood Hall

Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, PA (1897-1900), Horace Trumbauer, architect.
Anyone wanna buy a nice, 110-room mansion? It's located in the northern Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park and occupies some 34 acres of prime real estate. The place is a real bargain, the asking price only $15.5-million, marked down from $20-million just a year ago. What's the catch? Well, if you've got the purchase price, you'd better also have that much more in the bank with which to restore the historic landmark (estimates range from $3-million to $50-million). Lynnewood Hall was designed by the relatively well-known (at the time) architect, Horace Trumbauer, who made his reputation by stoking millionaire egos and building them luxurious, pretentious, Neoclassical Revival mansions steeped with lavish interior details and unholy extravagance.
The original estate included properties more than doubling the area of Widener's showplace.
Built over a span of three years (1897-1900), Lynnewood's flamboyant millionaire patron was the streetcar magnate Peter Arrell Browne Widener (P.A.B Widener for short) founder of the Philadelphia Traction Company as well as an investor in several other public transportation endeavors in major cities across the country. He began his rise to the great wealth during the Civil War by selling mutton (at a substantial profit) to the Union Army. Widener is considered one of the top 100 wealthiest men of his time, leaving a fortune of some $31-million ($763-million today) when he died in 1915. On the side, Widener also put down bets on U.S. Steel, Standard Oil, American Tobacco Company, and (along with J.P. Morgan) the International Mercantile Marine, owner of the White Star Line and thus the ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.

Widener scoured Europe, picking up art bargains with signatures later to become household names.
Although Lynnewood Hall possesses an eye-catching grandeur from the outside, what was inside was even more legendary. After Trumbauer satisfactorily completed his ornate pile of stone, Widener set off to Europe to decorate his palace with the finest paintings his burgeoning bankroll could buy. He picked up on Manet and Renoir before all the other robber barons in America did. His collection grew to more than 2,000 pieces of art, including two Vermeer’s, which would go on to make a significant chunk of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Of course if you’re gonna drop a few bucks on Raphaels and Donatellos you may as well cover up those plain plaster walls with bodacious royal swag. Widener collected in the princely tradition; antique furniture, tapestries, and other decorative art in creating a palatial setting for his Old Master paintings and sculpture. Widener's stash also included more than a dozen paintings by Rembrandt as well as works by Édouard Manet and Auguste Renoir.

The P.A.B. Widener Mansion, Broad St. & Girard Ave., Philadelphia, PA around 1887. It was demolished in 1980.
P.A.B. Widener already owned a massive eclectic Flemish style mansion in the city (above) when he chartered Trumbauer to build him something grander. Later Widener decided to build an addition to his palace just to house his art. So the Wideners built an art gallery for the mansion, which had a Rembrandt Room, a Raphael Room, plus a room dedicated to Anthony Van Dyck. Viewed one of the best collections of Italian art in the world the youngest son, Joseph, Widener bragged that his father got his bust of St. John out of Italy before Mussolini came to power. His guest responded that Mussolini would have gladly let it out if he knew how beautifully Widener planned to display it. Other notables that made house calls to Lynnewood include Beatriz, Infanta of Spain and Alonzo, the King of Spain’s bro. The Crown Prince of Sweden and the Grand Duchess Marie of Russia.

Over the top...several times over.
The walls were covered with red velvet and the floor sported a 17th century carpet from Isfahan. For the ceiling Widener bought a fresco from an Italian palace painted by Tiepolo. When Peter A.B. Widener and his three sons threw a party The New York Times covered it. One particular bash in 1911 included several two-and-a-half mile steeplechase horse races outside (the estate sported its own racetrack), and viewings of those Rembrandt paintings inside. The finest of East Coast socialites attended. One of them even got runover by a horse named Meltonere, which threw its jockey during a fall over a fence, then bolted into the crowd seriously injuring a lady around the scalp. She lived. The jockey died from his injuries.

The Gilded Age house had 55 bedrooms, each with its own bath. There were more than 100 servants.
Today, the once magnificent Lynnewood Hall is a mess. Joseph Widener did his best to maintain the estate until his death in 1943. The art collection was then broken up with pieces going to museums in Philadelphia, New York, and predominantly the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. With an art collection on the prodigious scale of the Wideners, they might well have turned Lynnewood Hall into an art museum to rival Philadelphia's own museum of art. However, it is here that the tragedy of the H.M.S. Titanic comes into play.

Almost eighty years of avarice and neglect have wrecked havoc as Lynnewood was gradually stripped of its interior embellishments by the religious groups which became its owners.
As mentioned earlier, the Wideners invested some of their fortune in the International Mercantile Marine (IMM), parent company of the White Star Line, which built the Titanic. P.A.B. Widener’s eldest son, George, was on the board of directors. Unfortunately, both he and his son, Harry, were on board the ship for its inaugural trip. The night the ship went down, Captain Edward Smith enjoyed a dinner given in his honor hosted by the Wideners. The ship's captain had to leave the party early to check on reports of icebergs ahead. It was the Wideners last meal. Captain Smith survived; the Wideners did not.

Eleanor Elkins Widener is shown in the top row, second from left.
P.A.B. Widener was devastated by the loss of his son and grandson. Despite reports saying there was no way they could have survived, Widener left Lynnewood Hall for New York to personally oversee the search for his family. The only family survivor was Eleanor Elkins Widener, P.A.B.’s daughter-in-law. She was prominent enough to be one of 13 survivors pictured on the front of the April 17 New York Times cover (above). After the disaster, she dedicated her life to philanthropy. P.A.B. Widener died at Lynnewood in November of 1915. Doctors attributed his death in part to, “...the deep sorrow caused by the loss of his son and grandson in the Titanic disaster."

Lynnewood's "chapel," a remnant from the mansion's seminary days.
Today the property has been reduced down from its original 200 acres. The area with the racetrack was sold off long ago, but the track is still clearly visible from above because the developer utilized it as a road. Like the Titanic, Lynnewood Hall slowly began to sink after P.A.B.’s son Joseph death. During the 1940s a developer purchased the bulk of the land (the racetrack area and more) for a little less than $660,000. That area is a housing development called Lynnewood Gardens today. The mansion, (something of a "white elephant" even when new) didn’t sell after years on the market. None of the Wideners wanted it. The same developer purchased it for $130,000 in 1948. He didn’t find a buyer until 1952. The Reverend Carl McIntire plunked down $190,000 for the title and kicked in another $150,000 to update the electrical system and repair some vandalism. Many of the walls were painted war-surplus battleship gray to save money. McIntire, used Lynnewood Hall as a theological seminary. Since 1996, the mansion has been owned by one of McIntire's former students, Richard Yoon and the First Korean Church of New York. Since then, a lot of time has been spent fighting with local authorities over taxes and zoning, as well as proposals for the preservation and eventual restoration of the "Last of the American Versailles."

Every self-respecting Gilded Age mansion had to have
an indoor swimming pool.


Monday, July 16, 2018

London Museums

About three months ago my wife and I spent a week in London, England. London was the last major European capital which I had not visited. Some people when they visit London go "bar-hopping" (or pub-hopping), which requires, of course, no great effort--the pubs are everywhere...everywhere! However, I have never been one to imbibe. Instead, in visiting, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, St. Petersburg, and other major art centers, I go museum hopping. Having taught about art for almost thirty years, I think I should check to see if I knew what I was talking about. Like Paris, London has so many art museums even in narrowing down the most important ones to five was quite a challenge for a six-day schedule. I shot lots of pictures just for the purpose of sharing them here, only to find that a number of videos which cover these revered art venues far better than my best efforts with my beloved pocket digital. I'm using both here, and in covering the art of a city like London, you can expect more in images than words. My choices began with the venerable British Museum in Bloomsbury area of London, followed by the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Britain (the original), and the Tate Modern a mile or two down the Thames. My museum hopping concluding with a look at the Crown Jewels Museum within the walls of the Tower of London (see map below).
The London museum trail. Our hotel is marked with an "H". I neglected to mark the Tower of London, but it sits at the far right overlooking the Thames.
The British Museum is the oldest existing museum in the world, dating from 1753, which makes it older than the Louvre. It's also where some of the oldest art in the world is displayed, dating back to prehistoric Egypt. In fact, the British Museum is second only to the Cairo Museum in the quantity and depth of its holdings. However, the star of their eight-million-piece collection is the Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799 and dating from 196 BC. Under the same roof can be found the Elgin Marbles, a sculptural grouping which once crowned the tympanum of the Parthenon in Athens. (Greece just called. They want their rocks back.)

The Elgin Marbles, kidnapped in 1801 by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin.
In the middle of the British Museum is the modern-day (2001) Great Court, the central focus of the museum, which encompasses the space once occupied by the British Library. Today, only the circular reading room of the library is preserved (below). This domed area covers about two acres of cafes, souvenir shops, monumental sculpture, and classical, facades. It serves as a hub for accessing the various historic periods. Admission to the museum is free but everywhere can be found receptacles for a donation (usually five pounds).

The British Library Reading Room was "home" to such important literary figures as Sun Yat-sen, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Mahatma Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Vladimir Lenin, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Rimbaud, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, H. G. Wells, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The National Portrait Gallery is directly south of the British Museum bordering the theater district. Theoretically, it displays works (mostly portraits) from the 18th to early 20th-century, though the British frequently find it convenient to blur such lines. It's here you would find works by Canaletto (mostly his London cityscapes), Goya, Turner, Constable, Ingres, Degas, Cézanne, Monet, Van Gogh, and other pioneers in painted art. Located on famed Trafalgar Square, in the shadow of a giant column topped by the larger-than-life statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson, it's one of the most congested areas of London.

Copyright, 2018, Jim Lane
Trafalgar Square on a rainy afternoon. The dome of the National Gallery can be seen at far left.
The National Gallery, founded in 1824, houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th-Century to 1900 (give or take a few years). Like the British Museum, admission is free. The National Portrait Gallery, right next door is free too, unlike such Museums in other European cities. It differs too from comparable museums in continental Europe, in that the National Gallery was not formed by nationalizing an existing royal collection. It came into being around 1824 when the British government bought 38 paintings from the heirs of John Julius Angerstein, an insurance broker and patron of the arts.

Regatta on the Grand Canal, 1740, Canaletto.
The Gallery was shaped mainly by its early directors, notably Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, and by private donations, which comprise two-thirds of the collection. As a result, the collection is small in size, compared with many European national galleries, but encyclopedic in scope. Most major developments in Western painting from Giotto to Cézanne are represented by important works. The gallery at one time claimed that it was one of the few national galleries having all its works on permanent exhibition. Today, this is no longer the case.

Copyright, 2018, Jim Lane
Eve, 1900, Thomas Brock
The Tate Museum is located a little ways south of Westminster Cathedral, overlooking the Thames between the Lambeth and Vauxhall bridges. The museum is also admission-free and boasts the works of British painters such as Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Sir John Everett Millais, Andre Breton, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, J.M.W. Turner, and the photographer, Nan Goldin. The Tate Gallery is one of the largest museums in the U.K and part of the Tate network of galleries which includes the Tate Modern, the Tate Liverpool, and the Tate St Ives. It is the oldest gallery in the network, yet the youngest of the five major London galleries, having opened in 1897. It houses a sub-stantial collection of the art of the United Kingdom since Tudor times, and in part-icular has large holdings of the works of J.M.W. Turner, who bequeathed all his own collection to the nation.

The Tate Modern, just down the river and on the opposite side, (and directly across from St. Paul's Cathedral) is about as opposite as its parental counterpart as one could imagine. It is housed in a former power station, in the Bankside area of the London Borough of Southwark. The Tate Modern holds the national collection of British art from (approximately) 1900 to the present day along side international modern and contemporary art. I found it quite comparable to the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (except for the fact that, once again, admission is free).

Copyright, 2018, Jim Lane
The Tate Modern is said to be the largest all brick structure in the world.
As with the other museums of modern art mentioned above, the visitor must come to the Tate Modern with an open mind. And even at that, there will be many works you don't like...or even detest. Valiant creativity and experimentation abound, but then too, so does conceptual art. Here the modern and the post-modern have drawn up a fragile ceasefire. Here you'll find work by John William Waterhouse, David Hockney, John Singer Sargent, Salvador Dalí, and Henri Matisse, next to Tracey Emin's unmade bed. As for myself, I visited as much to see the building as its contents. Ever since Wright's New York Guggenheim, most such new museums fall into that category, often overwhelming visually the art within. But, what the hell, it's free.

Copyright, 2018, Jim Lane
At the Tate Modern, one can literally descend into a Modern Art abstraction.
The Bankside Power Station, was originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, and built in two stages between 1947 and 1963. The power station closed in 1981. The brick-clad structure was roughly divided into three main areas each running east-west--the huge main Turbine Hall in the center, with the boiler house to the north and the switch house to the south. For many years after closure Bankside Power Station risked being demolished by developers. However, a grassroots campaign to save the building came up with suggestions for possible new uses. In April 1994 the Tate Gallery announced that Bankside would be the home for the new Tate Modern. In July of the same year, an international competition was launched to select an architect for the new gallery. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron won the competition. The £134-million conversion to the Tate Modern started in June 1995 and was completed in January 2000. The Tate Modern attracted more visitors than originally expected so in 2004, plans were drawn up to expand the museum. These plans focused on the southwest of the building in order to provide 5,000m2 of new display space, nearly doubled the original amount.

In visiting London, if one gets "burned-out" tromping through endless art museums (each of which deserve a full day of art appreciation), there's one museum unlike any other in the world--the Imperial Crown Jewels Museum located behind the ancient, historic walls of the Tower of London. The infamous tower is among the oldest buildings in London, dating back to the 11th-Century. It is located on the north banks of the Thames roughly across the river from the Tate Modern. Just over its stone ramparts can be seen the iconic Tower Bridge (below).

The monarch and her exquisite headgear. The coronation crown weighs some two-and-a-half pounds.
In visiting the site, I was torn between touring the original White Tower, absorbing all its tragic history of British political and religious intrigue, and ogling the crown jewels. This museum, by the way, is NOT free. (Guarding the royal trinkets costs a lot of pounds.) The tower's endless stairways to the top quickly led us to bail. The crown jewels are all on one dimly lit level, the displays sparkling with theatrical lighting and centuries of extravagant luster. Pity the queen having to decide which diamond-encrusted, solid-gold, endlessly-polished crown to wear. Actually, only one (pictured above) is worn regularly, and then only once or twice a year.

I had long wanted to visit London, its museums, and historic venues. My patient, loving wife...not so much. As I wore myself out ingesting all the museum art I could see, she remained at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel during the day, relaxing, looking forward to a night on the town, including dinner at a British pub or fine dining at a posh restaurant capped off with a West-End musical--School of Rock, Kinky Boots, and her favorite, Momma Mia. Getting around London is easy if you don't mind the cab fare. Forget about renting a car. London streets are a horrendous maze of narrow, confusing, driving-on-the-"wrong"-side-of-the-street madness. By the same token, the London Underground is world renown, but the map looks like a diagram for my desktop's motherboard.

Copyright, 2018, Jim Lane
This gallery in the Tate gives some idea as to
what it was like to go "gallery hopping" in the
past--floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall art.

Master Crewe as Henry VIII,
1775, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Can
you imagine a parent doing this


Monday, July 9, 2018


The traditional image most folks have of a working caricaturist.
Over the years during which I've become more writer than artist, I've noticed that one of the artforms readers seem to find most consistently fascinating is that of the caricature. In my book, Art THINK (available at right), I devoted an entire chapter to making friends (and enemies) by making people look funny. As a high school art instructor, I taught a ten-week unit on cartooning aimed primarily at my ninth-grade students. Before starting, I used yearbook photos from the year before as the basis for a caricature of each student. Then, on the first day of the cartooning class I surprised them with a bulletin board filled with their caricatures. The kids loved it, and at the end of the unit they got to take home their caricature as a "souvenir."
Leonardo's "grotesque" caricatures.
If you're a half-decent artist with a basic understanding of facial anatomy and a little practice, you can probably turn out a recognizable caricature. In fact, most caricaturists are, self-taught (which is good, in that insofar as I know, there's no school for such training). Some of the greatest artists in history practiced caricature as a means to develop their skills. Leonardo da Vinci (above) was one of the first artists to use caricature, in the “grotesque” sketches of unusual faces and heads that populated his notebooks. A surprising number of artists from the past have followed Leonardo's lead--a list that includes Claude Monet, Honore Daumier, Norman Rockwell, Paul Gauguin, Salvador Dali, Albrecht Durer, Picasso, and Andre Pijet. Today, it's not unusual for striving art students to be found at local street fairs trying to make a few extra bucks on the side (top).
Capturing a personality through caricature.
Caricatures have been defined as "portraits with the volume turned up." Yet they are seldom mean-spirited. Caricature is a depiction of someone in a humorous way, but at its best it also involves pointing out something about the subject's presence, rather than just ridiculing features.” Caricaturist like to make their subjects smile or laugh. However, just because caricaturists strive to capture a personal "essence" doesn't mean the client is going to like it. People can be in denial about their appearance, with a radically different idea of their weight, for instance, or even whether they have freckles. In such cases, the caricaturist can do little more than say, “I’m sorry," then move on to the next person. When a caricaturist is drawing a quick sketch for $15, the occasional bad portrait is bound to sneak in. Sometimes the client may refuse to pay, or even come back later and want their money back. Live caricature can be hair-raising trade.

Exaggeration run amok. Would you want to pay for this?
Caricature as entertainment.
Experienced caricaturist working in am-usement parks aim to churn out black-and-white portraits in three minutes. Working at a wedding reception, and ad-ding color, six minutes is about average. The need for speed means caricaturists have to go with their instincts. Working quickly means caricaturists develop a "sixth sense" in attempting to capture expressions--whether they’re energetic and outgoing, or more quiet. The caric-aturist's worst nightmare is the customer who comes in looking exactly like the girl (or guy) next door. The most difficult sort of person to draw is one that is com-pletely average looking. When faced with a bland-looking individual caricaturists us-ually try to focus more on things like clothes, hair, or jewelry to get a decent likeness. On the other hand, people who are naturally distinctive-looking are often artists' favorites.

Computer software can simplify exaggeration for the digital artist.
Exaggerating head shapes digitally.
Some contemporary carica-turists paint portraits, much like traditional satirical mast-ers once did (below). They may also be adept with other analog media, like bullet-tip markers, color sticks (basically colored pencils with no wood casings), pen and brush on paper. But thanks to the chan-ging needs of publications in an online age, which want all files sub-mitted electronically, caricature artists working in their studios have also gone dig-ital. Many digital caricatur-ist like the iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil using Procreate. A tablet is more convenient, because it’s like having unlimited amounts of paper, your pencil never needs to be sharpened, and all your tools fit in a tiny bag. Computer software can even simplify some aspects of the exaggeration process (above and above-right). Yet it’s still about the creativity behind it. Computers can’t do it all on their own...yet.

Sample work by Judy Atkin

And of course, caricature is the stock-
in-trade of the political cartoonist.


Monday, July 2, 2018

The Past Meets Pop

Unknown title, unknown artist, unknown date.
If I were start off cold writing about anachronisms, most art-loving readers' fingers would either click "next" or go scurrying to Google to find out what the word means. Let me save you the bother. An anachronism is an object appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists (or is depicted), especially an item that is conspicuously out of its historic context. An antique car among present day vehicles parked in an urban parking garage would be an anachronism. That would involve a natural anachronism, one that is possible but not necessarily likely. Above is a rather bland, bucolic, 19th-Century landscape having little or no bearing as to present day art. Below is the same image having been visited by the imagination and brushstrokes of New York artist, David Pollot.

Psycho--Bates Motel Parody, David Pollot
David Pollot paints unnatural anachronisms; that is, modern-day elements injected into tired, outdated, long-forgotten scenes from the past. Thus Pollot gives old, unwanted thrift store art a new lease of life, by painting amusing 21st-Century pop culture figures into the scenery of discarded canvases (or prints). With an affinity for all pop culture, the New York-based artist Dave Pollot dedicates his time to transforming unloved works of art into modernized masterpieces, featuring some of his favorite characters. From Pennywise the clown to Walmart. Then he has his modified image photographed and turned into modestly-priced copies of his "originals." Dave’s artwork has proven to be a huge hit online, with his sales on the Artisan site, Etsy, reaching over 14,000 units. And all along we thought Pop Art died in the 1970s.

Pollot's anachronism (upper image) and my own version from the Baltic city of Tallin, Estonia. The wall in the background is over one-thousand years old.
David Pollot is thirty-nine. He left a well-paying job as a software engineer to pursue his passion full-time. For Pollot, no modern-day pop icon is safe. His work features a wide variety of contemporary characters and corporations within his parody mash-ups. Incorporating the characters in the exact style of his chosen backdrop, his juxtaposition of historic eras are all the more startling when, as with his Old Market Expansion (above, upper image) their subtlety causes them to "surprise" the viewer. My own version falls under the realm of a "natural" anachronism--the scene actually exists.

The Forfeit, David Pollot, based upon The Death of Socrates, 1787, by Jacques-Louis David
Dave has been drawing and painting most of my life. He was always encouraged by his family to explore his creativity however he could. His forays into art of the past armed only with the pop icons of the present began in 2010 when his wife returned home with a charity shop painting she'd bought for pennies on the pound. She urged him to paint "something funny" on it. Today Pollot (or his wife) continues to pick up art for pennies while selling it for as much as 500 GBP. He regularly showcases his latest work on his Instagram page, @DavePollotArt. He spent some 15 years writing software during the day and painting at night. Eventually Pollot decided to pick just one passion [painting] and go for it. Pollot notes, “There’s always a place for all art, and it’s interesting that we put an expiration date on some pieces, no longer seeing their value." Pollot grew up in the 80s and 90s. He tries to seamlessly combine pieces of abandoned or forgotten artwork with the elements of pop culture that he came to love, changing the meaning of both in an effort to make both relevant to new groups of people. His The Forfeit (above) is subtle yet the discovery of the "Number One" glove icon invites the viewer to explore the work for deeper contextual meanings.

Bleed, David Pollot
Not all of Pollot's cross-cultural anachronisms are as subtle as his tribute to Jacques-Louis David at the expense of our old friend, Socrates. Very often Pollot's anachronistic adventures with art, pop, and history smack the viewer up the side of the with all the subtlety of s bulldozer in a china shop. His Bleed (above) comes naturally to a Big Apple artists totally out of synch with pastoral way fares. The work is as jarring as it is humorous.

Space parodies, or perhaps, "Kirk's Worst Nightmare."
Pollot appears to have grown up with an infatuation with Star Trek, judging by the frequency with which the Enterprise recurs in his work (above). Or, perhaps, his favorite movie as a kid was Spielberg's Jaws (below). In seeing a Pollot reworking of an old master (not necessarily masterpieces), the first reaction is to laugh at the joke, then to marvel at the artist's daring, followed by a more serious search for some hidden meaning (if there is one).

Starboard Clean, David Pollot. Or, perhaps, "You're gonna need a bigger racing yacht."
Every artist has had a role model, whether they would admit it or not. David Pollot's artist inspiration stems from the (often deprecated) TV painter, Bob Ross and his "happy accidents" approach to painting. Pollot has paid tribute to Ross in a painting almost bursting with super hero adoration (below) shown in three stages of completion. It offers an interesting insight as to how Pollot both thinks and paints.


I often think that art these days may have become a little too serious. Pollot see his work as a "stepping back." Pollot urges us to lighten up, it's only art. It’s kind of nice to look at art and laugh. Pollot's work is meant to allow the viewer an escape, if only for the few moments, looking mischievously at some bit of pop culture inserted into something that might have hung in their grandmother’s house.

Officially untitled (as far as I could determine), but dozens of possibilities no doubt buzz around in a viewer's head.
Do the Disney "legal eagles" know about this?