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Monday, October 29, 2018

Nathan Walsh

Evening in Paris, 2014, Nathan Walsh
One of the things I'm quite conscious of in writing about art is that I don't play favorites. That is, I try not to emphasize only artist whose work I really like as opposed to those whose style and content, while often quite fascinating, interesting, and adept, don't garner the respect and admiration I have for painters such as the British artist Nathan Walsh. I love to see hyper-realism and I'm endlessly fascinated by the urban landscape, reflections, movement, and atmosphere. Moreover, Walsh's urban landscapes are huge. One might be tempted to call them "life-size," though given the subject matter, that might be stretching the term a bit.
Walsh's exactitude is incredible.
People who enjoy the type of work Walsh does might often forget that before the first brushstroke, comes hours and hours of research, critical decisions as to scale, viewpoints, and perspective (especially with the eyelevel street scenes Walsh seems to favor. Then there's the drawing. In featuring another urban artist whose work is similar to that of Walsh's, I suggested that that the artist used a projection device to save time and effort. Within days I received an angry e-mail from the artist emphatically stating otherwise and demanding a correction. I can't remember whether I obliged him or simply took down the offensive posting. In any case, let me make it clear, here and now, Nathan Walsh does not use a projector. He's a master at freehand drawing and good old pencil and yardstick draftsmanship as seen in the gif photo of Evening in Paris (top) and the New York City street scene NYC6AM (above).
Though Walsh's immense urban landscapes sell in the low six-figure range (in dollars), the man earns evert dime of it.
Nathan Walsh was born in Lincoln, United Kingdom in 1972. He earned his BFA degree from Liverpool School of Arts and his MFA from University of Hull. He has been painting for approximately fifteen years. His works have been exhibited in Korea, London, Switzerland, United States, and North Wales. He is represented by the Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in New York. He currently lives and works in York, England. Walsh's giant pieces have reportedly been valued at as much as £80,000 ($125,000).

Rockefeller, 2013, Nathan Walsh
Before beginning work on his paintings, Walsh sometimes peruses more than 300 images and photographs of the location before committing to it. The overriding theme behind his works is an interplay between culture and location. He often draws inspiration from European and American art, such as Pointillism, Post-Impressionism, and (of course) Realism. From there he blocks areas with color and, over the subsequent months, layers are built up and sanded away. Though he seems to favor New York City, Walsh has also put together hyper-realistic images of cities such as Paris (bottom image) and Barcelona. For larger works, the entire process from start to finish can take up to a year, while some of his smaller pieces, though still grand in size, can take (only) about six months. Walsh's Rockefeller (above) is some 63 inches x 88 inches. Some of Walsh's paintings are over eleven feet wide.

New York Reflections, Nathan Walsh
Apple, 2011, Nathan Walsh
By using simple mathematical ratios Walsh begins by describe concrete forms within his picture plane. Over a period of time he draws and redraws buildings, manipulat-ing their height, width or nature in relation to other pictorial elements. By intro-ducing spatial recession to these elements the aim is to present a world the viewer can enter into and move around. Some of the more recent works deal with layers of information, such as the de-piction of reflective surfaces or the combination of inside and outside spaces as seen in his New York Reflections (above). Walsh explores the potential for re-resetting reality, sandwiching what's in front of, and behind, the viewer together much like his Apple (above, left). Duplicating the flatness of a photograph or a series of stitched together photographs is of no interest to Walsh. The reproduction in paint of these mechanical processes serves to negate the human experience of responding to the world.

Lake Street, 2018, Nathan Walsh
Of course the urban landscape is nothing new, nor is hyper-realism. However, Nathan Walsh belongs to a new generation of artists who are extending the boundaries of realist painting. His paintings demonstrate an ambitious effort in combining photographic source material with the traditional skills of the representational artist. This is not easy painting but the bracing clarity of his work and the satisfaction we can derive in spending time with it shows a significant achievement. Walsh has managed to combine architecture, painting and photography all into one. His works are not just highly detailed, but full of texture, and an exceptional sense of color. Walsh's Lake Street (above) showcases his adroit translation of atmospheric color to canvas.

Catching Fire, 2016, Nathan Walsh
Photorealism is a loaded and complex term coined by Louis Meisel in 1969. Walsh aims for his work to be as convincing as possible, but only on his own terms. Online or in print his work may seem photographic in appearance, but the actual nature of his paintings is very different. He finds his sketchbook to be of increasing importance even if just for notes on color or whatever he happens to be thinking about at the time. This immediate personal response to the environment plays an important role back in his studio where he is reliant mostly on the photographs he's taken. The end result is a heavily worked surface which aims to maximize the potential of the paint, and present an alternative reality to our own. Over the past three years Walsh's paintings have become more about describing particular weather conditions and atmosphere. He sees this as playing more of a role in future work where eventually the cityscape is just a stage to investigate the weather through paint.

Carousel, 2015, Nathan Walsh

P.S. Walsh also paints Ballerinas (2016)


Monday, October 22, 2018

Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Battle between Carnival and Lent, 1559, Pieter Bruegel (the elder), one of his best works.
Every so often I come to realize that an important artist, mentioned frequently in the past in various contexts, I've never adequately explored in his own right (or write). That would appear to have been the case with the Flemish Renaissance painter, Pieter Bruegel (the elder). His influence can be seen in the works of other Dutch artists such as Roelant Savery, Abraham Teniers, Lucas van Valckenborch, and present day-painter, Paul Gosselin. I guess, having mentioned him so often, it was only when searching for what I assumed I'd written about the man, that I realized I'd actually written very little or nothing about him. Then too, there's the fact that Bruegel's son, Pieter Bruegel (the Younger) was largely responsible for making the work of his father so popular in the years following his father's death in 1569. His son was five years old at the time. Their works have often been confused in the past. They say, "familiarity breeds contempt." Perhaps, but at the very least it breeds oversights.

The Tower of Babel, 1563, Pieter Bruegel (the elder)
Just for the record, Pieter Breughel (the elder) was born around 1525, probably in Breda, a duchy of Brabant (now in the Netherlands). He died in 1569, in Brussels. His The Tower of Babel (above), painted in 1563, is one of his most famous and influential works. It's also the painting of his which I've most often referred to in the past in conjunction with works of other artists. However, Bruegel's best works, such as The Battle Between Carnival and Lent (top) from 1559 are not so well known. It depicts (among many other things) one man straddling a barrel while wielding a skewered pig, another playing a stringed instrument while wearing a pot on his head. However, stirred into this chaotic crowd scene are characters engage in everyday tasks. Women are seen slicing fish, panhandlers begging, and a festive group dancing in a circle in the background. So many bodies populate the depicted village that a viewer might return to the picture again and again, spotting new details each time as though scanning a page from Where’s Waldo?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565,
The Painter and the Buyer.
Without fear of contradiction, I would say that Pieter Bruegel was the greatest Flemish painter of the 16th century. His landscapes and vigorous, often witty scenes of peasant life are particularly renowned. Since Bruegel signed and dated many of his works, his artistic evolution can be traced from the early landscapes, in which he shows affinity with the Flemish 16th-century landscape tradition, to his last works, which are Italianate. He exerted a strong influence on painting in the Low Countries, and through his sons, Jan and Pieter, he became the ances-tor of a dynasty of painters that surviv-ed into the 18th century. In addition to a great many drawings and engravings by Bruegel, 45 authenticated paintings from a much larger output (now lost) have been preserved.

The Peasant Dance, 1568, Pieter Bruegel (the elder).
In contrast to Bruegel's "crowd scenes" such as The Peasant Dance (above), from 1568, his 1565 work The Hunters in the Snow (below), which is much more familiar, offers a more serene winter landscape. Three men and their dogs returning from a hunt trudge through the snow towards a village in the valley below. In this idyllic town, peasants skate and play a type of proto-hockey on the frozen lake. Off to the side, men and women build a fire outside a brick inn. In the cold, life is more subdued. Despite the difference in tone, both paintings convey Bruegel’s defining attention to rustic life in the Low Countries (which then encompassed Belgium, the Netherlands, and French Flanders) during the Northern Renaissance.

Hunters in the Snow, 1565,  Pieter Bruegel (the elder).
Detail, Procession to Calvary.
But there’s much more to Bruegel than his humble peasant scenes. In The Hunters in the Snow, a flat gray-green sky sits heavily above the snowy ground. He captures the chill in the air. He’s able to capture weather like no other artist. His second-largest painting, Procession to Calvary (below) from 1564,  created late in his life, demonstrates the artist's exper-tise allowing him to combine his two greatest strengths. Bruegel's treatment of landscape evolves in the course of his career. In this case, however, his desire to convey the rocky, unfamiliar terrain of the Holy Land causes him to fall back on the ready-made landscape features of the Antwerp school as seen in the detail at right.

The Procession to Calvary, 1564, Pieter Bruegel (the elder).
As evidenced by Bruegel's Procession to Calvary, the subject matter of his compositions covers an impressively wide range. In addition to the landscapes, his repertoire consists of conventional biblical scenes, parables of Christ, mythological subjects as in Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (two versions), and the illustrations of proverbial sayings in The Netherlands (or Dutch) Proverbs (below), and The Battle Between Carnival and Lent (top). Many of Bruegel’s works mirror the moral and religious ideas of Dirck Coornhert, whose writings on ethics show a rationalistic, commonsense approach. He advocated a Christianity free from the outward ceremonies of the various denominations, Roman Catholic, Calvinist, and Lutheran, which he rejected as irrelevant. In an age of bitter conflicts arising out of religious intolerance, Coornhert pleaded for toleration. Bruegel, castigated human weakness in a more general way, with avarice and greed as the main targets of his criticism.

The Dutch Proverbs, 1559, Pieter Bruegel (the elder).
Bruegel’s style most closely resembles that of his fellow Dutchman, Hieronymus Bosch, an artist most famous for his ghastly, chaotic triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights, painted around 1490–1500. The work displays scenes of earth, hell, and paradise, filled with nude bodies cavorting, swimming, and suffering grotesque punishments at the hands of monsters. Although not the primary emphasis in his work, Bruegel did sometimes dabble in supernatural, debauched, and terrifying imagery. In The Triumph of Death (below), painted about 1562–63, bodies topple over one another in an apocalyptic, charred landscape. A skeleton army battles the humans, some of whom hang from far-off gallows. The background is a barren landscape in which scenes of destruction are still taking place. In the foreground, Death leads his armies from his reddish horse, destroying the world of the living. The latter are led to an enormous coffin with no hope for salvation. All of the social institutions are included in this composition and neither power nor devotion can save them. Some attempt to struggle against their dark destiny while others are resigned to their fate. Only a pair of lovers, at the lower right, remains outside the future they too will have to suffer. This painting depicts a customary theme in medieval literature: the dance of Death, which was frequently used by Northern artists. Brueghel casts the entire work in a reddish-brown tone that gives the scene an infernal aspect appropriate for the subject at hand. The profusion of scenes and moralizing sense applied by the artists are part of Hieronymous Bosch´s influence on this work. This deeply disturbing painting brings Bosch’s hellscapes into our world.

The Triumph of Death, 1562-63, Pieter Bruegel (the elder).

Magpie on the Gallows, 1567,
Pieter Bruegel (the elder)
Bruegel’s last works show a striking affinity with Italian art. The diagonal spatial arrangement of the figures in Peasant Wedding recalls Venetian compositions. The figures in such works as Peasant and the Nest Rob-ber, from 1568, have something of the grandeur of Michelangelo. In Brue-gel's last works, the two trends meet. There is the monumental as well as an extreme simplification of figures combined with an exploration of the expressive quality of the various moods conveyed by landscape. The former trend is evident in his Hunters in the Snow. The latter is seen in the radiant, sunny atmosphere of The Magpie on the Gallows (left) and in the threatening and somber character of The Storm at Sea (below). In the past doubts have been raised about the attribution of this painting to Bruegel. The name, Joos de Momper, a landscape painter who became a master in the Antwerp guild in 1581, is often mentioned. However, not only is this painting superior to any by de Momper, its similarity to a drawing by Bruegel, its originality of composition, and its delicacy of execution have made it generally accepted as a late work by Bruegel, possibly left unfinished at his death.

The Storm at Sea,  1569, Pieter Bruegel (the elder)


Monday, October 15, 2018

Tokyo's Mori Digital Art Museum

This entry is augmented by several video clips; please allow extra time for it to fully load.
An old-fashioned digital print of Tokyo's Mori Digital Art Museum
When I was a Junior in high school (1962) I took a typing class which, as it has turned out, was one of the smarter educational encounters I've ever undertaken. We used to enjoy creating pictures with the various numbers, letters, and keyboard symbols available by using the variable density of each character. Of course, that recollection stretches well past any contemporary definition of digital art. However, as early as 1976, I painted what may be the first digital self-portrait using just such computer-generated characters and a rudimentary application of impressionist color principals. As computers have developed more and more power for less and less cost, digital art has developed along side them from photo editing to digital "paintings" printed out on paper or canvas, framed, and hung on a wall in a traditional manner. Running parallel with this evolution has been an expansion of the very definition of art itself, to include virtually all visual forms of creativity.

Perhaps the most important of these has been various imaginative uses of colored lights. I mean, where would art be without the key element of light? It simply wouldn't exist. Going back in history (my own) I can recall disk jockeys with expensive light arrays which eventually came to be keyed into the music they played. Again, computers came along and geometrically enhanced the possibilities. I mention all this in case you happen to be in Tokyo sometime in the future. If so, don't miss the EPSON teamLab Borderless Mori Digital Art Museum. But in doing, don't expect to see old-fashioned, framed, digital art from the past(top). It's not that kind of museum.

As you can see in the videos above, this type of art is all about light, music, color, lasers, sound, even the movement of air. Thus most of the images I'm using demand video presentations to be truly seen and appreciated. It's a whole new and different art requiring a whole different type of image to even write about. Produced in collaboration with local urban landscape developer Mori Building Co. Ltd., the amazing light displays are housed in their very own building, spread out over two floors in a huge space in Tokyo’s Odaiba district. TeamLab, the Japanese art collective behind the world’s first truly digital art museum, has developed a borderless, boundary-breaking future. There are no frames to mark the limits of the art and the real world. The viewer becomes part of the art itself.

teamLab, Universe of Water Particles on a Rock where People Gather (2018)
It’s taken time, but today, the art world is slowly turning its back on analogue and going digital. Nowhere is that clearer than within the huge, 10,000 sq. meter space, of the Mori Building Digital Art Museum. The museum is divided into five zones and utilizes 520 computers and 470 projectors. TeamLab have transformed a traditional museum space into something futuristic, groundbreaking and challenging. For the teamLab collective, their digital art exists on a separate plane, liberated from the constraints of material substance. In their newly defined museum, they hope to transfer the feelings and thoughts that visitors would have gotten from a physical artwork through their own bodies, relationships and experiences. When an artist can put thoughts and feelings directly into people's experiences, artworks too can move freely, form connections and relationships with people, while embracing the same concept of time as the human body. Such art can transcend boundaries, influence and sometimes intermingle with each other. In this way, all the boundaries between artist, people and artworks, dissolve and the world of teamLab Borderless is created.

Visitors walking freely around the museum are expected to lose themselves in an alternate, art- based, borderless world, immersing themselves in each experience. In Borderless World, visitors are invited to understand and recognize the world through their bodies, moving freely and forming connections and relationships with others. TeamLab Borderless is a group of artworks that form one borderless world. Artworks move out of the rooms freely, form connections and relationships with people, communicate with other works, influence and sometimes intermingle with each other, and have the same concept of time as the human body.

In Athletics Forest (above), for example, teamLab have manufactured a “creative physical space” which trains spatial recognition ability by promoting the growth of the hippocampus of the brain. It is based on the concept of understanding the world through the body and thinking of the world three-dimensionally. In a complex, physically challenging, three-dimensional space, the body becomes immersed in an interactive world. The interactive aspect continues in Future Park, an educational project based on the concept of "collaborative creativity, co-creation". It is an amusement park where you can enjoy the world creatively and freely with others.

teamLab, The Way of the Sea in the Crystal World - Colors of Life (2018)
Is teamLab’s museum is an example of the art world becoming more digital in general? Even the collective can't answer that. But, they explain that digital technology allows artistic expression to be released from the material world and for ideas and experiences to change and flow more freely. In art installations with the viewers on one side and interactive artworks on the other, the artworks themselves undergo changes caused by the presence and behavior of the viewers. This has the effect of blurring the boundary lines between the two sides. When the viewers actually become part of the artworks themselves the relationship between the artwork and the individual then becomes a relationship between the artwork and the group. Another viewer, present within that space five minutes before, or the particular behavior exhibited by the person next to you, suddenly becomes an element of great importance.

The digital domain can expand art and change how we view the capacities of art in our world, which can actually help us to create new relationships between people. TeamLab wants visitors to understand how digital technology can expand the conception of art as well as liberate art from a value system based only on physical materials. The museum encourages people to rethink the relationship between humans and nature as well as their relationship with the world. Traditional art museums have tended to treat the existence of viewers as a nuisance. At an exhibition with no other viewers, for example, you are likely to think of yourself as extremely lucky. Yet teamLab encourages people to think of the presence of other viewers as a positive factor. The importance of this shift in thinking stretches even beyond the art world. In modern cities, the presence of other people around us, as well as their unpredictable and uncontrollable behavior, is often seen as an inconvenience to be endured. This is because the presence of each person and those in their vicinity do not have a visible effect on the city. If entire cities were to be wrapped in the type of digital art conceived by teamLab, people would begin to see the presence of other residents in a more positive light.

Described as Tokyo’s most "Instagrammable" spot, the museum is unlike any other experience in Japan. The Mori Building Digital Art Museum is quickly becoming one of the country’s most popular destinations. However, there are a few tips which may help in enjoying the museum. Wear white or light-colored clothing and flat-heeled shoes. Touch everything, enjoying the museum as would a child. Don't rush, and by all means buy your tickets online if you harbor any hope of seeing the museum at a given date and time--or at all.

Mori digital art-museum design room.


Monday, October 8, 2018

John Rankin Waddell

Distorted series, 2015, John Rankin Waddell
Like every other senior graduating from high school, I had a decision to make. What was I going to be when I grew up? I had a lifetime of fifty years (or more, I hope), what was I going to do with it? First, I could do as so many other young males in my class, simply choose not to make such a decision, and instead simply go job hunting. The year was 1963, the Kennedy Camelot era was at its height, the future looked bright, well-paying industrial jobs were plentiful. I could have chosen to leave my working life to chance. Or I could have chosen to pursue a four-year college degree in some field of study.

Jim Lane, Windsor High School,
Class of 1963
Having just graduated from four years of high school, I just couldn't face four more years of college. So, I chose a half-measure, two years at a Cincinnati business college study-ing to be an accountant. (I'd always gotten good grades in high school bookkeeping classes.) To make ends meet, I took a min-imum wage stock-boy job at a local department store. The most important thing I learned in those early education endeavors was that I didn't want to be in retailing or accounting. So, to dodge the draft, I joined the U.S. Air Force for four years, allowing me to grow up and choose a career for which I had both a liking and an aptitude. Those choices came down to two possibilities, journalism, and art. I chose art largely be-cause all forms of literary endeavors required a publisher for success. With painting, I was my own publisher. And since becoming a certified public school art instructor paid better than most art occupations at the time, I got my degree at Ohio University and for the next 26 years endured the joys, trials, and tribulations of bringing art to young people. Later, after retiring, I took up the second of my early career possibilities--writing.

Rankin, celebrity fashion photographer and wristwatch collector.
The British fashion photographer, John Rankin Waddell (above)was born in Glasgow in 1966. He has a similar story to tell. His working name is Rankin. He was brought up in St Albans, Hertfordshire, England. At the age of 21, while studying accounting at Brighton Polytechnic, the young man realized that his interests lay elsewhere and dropped out, taking up the study photography at London College of Printing. As John Rankin Waddell was entering his teenage years, Margaret Thatcher had just begun her stint as Britain’s longest-serving prime minister. Her conservative party was considered by many to be the enemy of the working class and her policies were widely condemned as both vindictive and punitive. In protest, young people turned to art, music and literature as a means of expressing their anger, transforming the Thatcher years into an explosion of cultural rebellion.

Cillian Murphy,
John Rankin Waddell
Although not overtly political in his youth, Rankin was swept up in this new wave of creativity. His artistic eureka moment occurred at the age of 21 when he first laid his hands on a friend’s camera. He knew that was what he wanted to do. Rankin first made his name in publishing, founding the groundbreaking monthly magazine Dazed & Confused with fellow classmate, Jefferson Hack in 1992. The magazine provided a platform for inno-vation for emerging stylists, designers, photographers and writers. The period-ical went on to forge a distinctive mark in the arts and publishing spheres, devel-oping a cult following as to forming and molding trends, while bringing some of the brightest lights in fashion to the foreground.

Hugh Grant, dazed and confused, Rankin
In 2001, Hack and Rankin launched AnOther Magazine with a focus on fashion, originality, and distinction. In response to the expanding menswear market, in 2005 AnOther Man was introduced, combining intelligent editorials with groundbreaking design and style. More recently, the Dazed Group has established itself as an online authority, via, and Rankin celebrated Dazed's 20th anniversary, shooting 20 front covers of Dazed favorites and 20 inside covers of the next generation of talent, for the December 2011 issue.

Queen Elizabeth II of England. Rankin told her, "Just smile."
Tapping into the consciousness of the time with his intimate approach and playful sense of humor, Rankin became known for his portraiture of bands, artists, supermodels, and politicians. Having photographed everyone from the Queen of England (above) to the Queen of Pop, Rankin is often seen as a celebrity photographer. However, his plethora of campaigns and projects featuring "real women" marked him as a genuinely passionate portrait photographer, no matter who the subject. Always pursuing personal projects which pushed his limits, high impact charity projects, and groundbreaking commercial campaigns, Rankin has stood out for his creative fearlessness. His first major worldwide and award-winning campaign--Dove's 'Real Women'--epitomized his approach: to reveal the honesty of the connection and collaborative process between photographer and subject. Personal or commercial, Rankin's images have become part of contemporary iconography, evidence of his frankness and passion for all aspects of modern culture, as represented in the photographed image.

Michael Jackson, Rankin
Rankin has published over 30 books, and has regularly exhibits in galleries around the world, as well as his own in London. His museum-scale ex-hibition "Show Off" opened at NRW Dusseldorf in Septem-ber 2012, pulling in over 30,000 visitors in three months. Rankin has photo-graphed some of Hollywood’s most fam-ous people (left) and has shot some world-renowned advertising campaigns, including Nike, Umbro, Reebok, L’Oreal, Hugo Boss, Levi's, Longchamp, Aussi, Madonna for H&M, Dove, BMW, and Coca Cola.

Tumanni & Lawi, 2008,
John Rankin Waddell

The artist-photographer has created landmark ed-itorial and advertising campaigns. His body of work features some of the most celebrated publications, biggest brands and pioneering charities, including, Women's Aid, and Break-through Breast Cancer. Rankin's affiliation with charities has sent him travel the world, creating powerful campaigns both as a photographer and a director. With Oxfam, he vis-ited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. In 2011, he hosted an Oxglam exhibition, featuring work from some of the world's most tal-ented emerging young photographers, and raising money for the charity.

Medusa, Damien Hirst
and John Rankin Waddell
Rankin has shot covers for Elle, German Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Esquire, GQ, Rolling Stone and Wonderland. His work has always endeavored to question social norms and ideas of beauty. In late 2000, Rankin published the heteroclite quarterly, Rank, an experimental anti-fashion maga-zine celebrating the unconventional. Over the last few years, Rankin has frequently turned his hand to studies of photography through TV productions. Working with the BBC, he has featured in a number of seminal documentaries--The Seven Pho-tographs that Changed Fashion, South Africa in Pictures, Shooting the Stars, The Life Magazine Photographers, and most recently, an in-depth documentary into the modern approach to death in, Alive: In the Face of Death.

Schwarzenegger, Rankin 
As the archetypal modern photographer, Rankin’s industrious work ethic, versa-tility and tireless self-promotion have al-lowed him to thrive in today’s incredibly competitive photography industry. He has established himself as one of the most influential and far-reaching creat-ives working in Britain today. Rankin lives in London with his second wife, Tuuli, and son, Lyle.

Elton John, Rankin


Monday, October 1, 2018

Final Paintings

A Bar At The Folies-Bergère, 1882, Édouard Manet (1832-1883), undoubtedly the artist's last major masterpiece.
There's an old saying, usually attributed to the French film actor, Maurice Chevalier: “Growing old isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.” There are several other permutations of the phrase, which Chevalier uttered in 1959, though it can be reliably traced back to at least 1953. A few days ago I celebrated my 73rd birthday, which is quite an accomplishment in my view, given the number of major health issues I'm coping with and the fact that most of my blood relatives never made it past age 72. However, that was then, this is now. Without getting into an "organ recital," were it not for the miracles of modern medicine, I would have probably been dead a decade or two ago. The other day, as I finished my most recent painting, I morbidly asked myself, will this be my final painting? Probably not, given the fact that history records many great artists still creating up to and including the day they died. Fortunately, art is not a very strenuous activity, ideal for old age.
Lake of Water Lilies, 1917-1920, Claude Monet (1840-1926)
For Example, Les Grandes Decorations (above, 1920-26) are among the French Impressionist, Claude Monet’s most famous works. He had to build a new studio to accommodate the huge, 91 x 2 meter canvases, and in the process almost went blind from cataracts. The paintings were enormous curved murals that depict the famous water lilies that lined his beloved pond. Monet conceived of the idea when he was 70, and it took him ten years to complete the works. The artist painted Les Grandes Decorations when both his eyesight and health were failing. As his eyesight declined, his works turned from vivid, bright colors to blurred mixtures of browns and reds. Monet wrote letters to friends, describing how colors were getting dull and indistinguishable--he even resorted to labeling his tubes of paint. By the time the paintings were finally finished, Monet was on his deathbed. Generously, he donated the fruits of his last ten years to the French government. Today, they hang in l’Orangerie Museum in Paris. Cut from the same cloth was the French painter, Edouard Manet. While still in his mid-forties he began to suffer severe pain and partial paralysis in his legs. In 1879 he began receiving hydrotherapy treatments at a spa near Meudon intended to improve what he believed was a miner circulatory problem. In reality he was suffering from locomotor ataxia, a little-known side-effect of syphilis. In many cases it's difficult to pinpoint even a famous artist's final work of art. In his final years, Edouard Manet painted many small-scale still lifes of fruits and vegetables. However, there is little doubt as to Manet's last major work. He completed A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (top), in 1882. It later hung in the Salon that year. The Folies-Bergère was a popular concert café for a fashionable and diverse Paris crowd. The lively bar scene is reflected in the mirror behind the central figure, the sad bar girl. Her beautiful, tired eyes avoid contact with the viewer--who also plays a double role as the customer in this scene. On the marble countertop is an exquisite still-life arrangement of identifiable bottles of beer and liquor, flowers, and mandarins, all of which anticipate the still-lifes of his final two years of life. From that point on, Manet limited himself to small formats. His last paintings were of flowers in glass vases. In April 1883, because of gangrene resulting from his syphilis and rheumatism, his left foot was amputated. Manet died in Paris eleven days later on April, 30, 1883.

The Sheaf, 1953, Henri Matisse (1869-1954).
Best known as a painter, Henri Matisse was an enormously influential artist who helped define and shape the European visual culture of the early 20th century. His expressive use of color and brush strokes became synonymous with the Fauvist style. In 1941, Matisse, then 72, was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. He underwent surgery that left him unable to walk. Painting and sculpture became physically impossible, so he embraced a new type of medium--cutouts. With the help of his assistants, he began creating cut paper collages, pre-painted with gouache and arranged to compose colorful and lively forms. His last work, The Sheaf (above, 1953), was a piece made from ceramic tile embedded in plaster, completed a year before his death. Even in his final years, Matisse continued to innovate, and redefine the Fauvist movement.

Frida Kahlo loved watermelons. Her husband, Diego Rivera hated them.
The beloved Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, is well known for her magical realist self-portraits, and her vivid and depictions of the female experience. Viva La Vida (upper image, 1954) was her last work, completed just eight days before she died in 1954 at the age of 47. The official cause of death was declared pulmonary embolism, but many believe her death to be a suicide. Having spent months bedridden after a leg was amputated at the knee, Kahlo was dealing with chronic pain, and had tried to take her life before. On the night she died, she gave her husband, the artist Diego Rivera, a wedding anniversary gift (over a month in advance). The painting is a still life with watermelons, a fruit that in Mexico is laden with cultural symbolism as a popular icon in the Dia de los Muertos (the festival of the Day of the Dead). Kahlo’s Spanish inscription on the melons, "viva la vida" is a haunting phrase, meaning "long live life." Kahlo’s husband, was another prominent Mexican painter and cultural critic. Rivera's large frescoes helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement, while his stormy relationship with Frida was the inspiration for many of her paintings. Several years older than his wife, Rivera died of natural causes at the age of 70, just three years after his wife’s untimely death. His last work, The Watermelons (lower image, above) was a strange echo of his wife's chosen image, which also depicted watermelons. The painting was supposedly produced after Dolores Olmedo, one of his greatest patrons, commissioned him to paint it for her. Initially Rivera refused. Only when Olmedo threatened to commission another prominent artist did the ever-proud Rivera agree. The Watermelons (1957) was the last painting he ever completed and signed.

Self-portrait Facing Death,
Pablo Picasso (June 30, 1972).
Although Picasso worked up until the day he died at age 91; literally painting till 3 a.m. on Sunday, April 8th, which was just hours before his death. There is no small amount of dis-agreement among art historians as to which of several late works by the prolific artist was actually his last. His last well-known work, Self Portrait Facing Death (left) was not his last. It was done a little less than a year before his death, June 30, 1972. The piece is done with crayon on paper, and took several months to complete. A friend, tells of Picasso holding up the drawing beside his face to show that the expression of fear was a contrivance. Some three months later, his friend recalled that the harsh colored lines were even deeper, giving the obvious impression that he was staring his own death in the face. There is much com-mentary about this piece having to do with Picasso's fear of death and how terrified his eyes look. According to a complete catalog of the artist's works in sequential order, it appears that he did several other self-portraits after the one above.

Vincent van Gogh's final painting? Three possibilities.
If there exists some controversy as to the final work of a famous painting icon such as Picasso, imagine the questions arising as to the last painting of an almost completely unknown artist (at the time of his death, that is). The ominous and haunting Wheatfield With Crows (upper image, above) is often mistakenly said to be Vincent van Gogh’s final painting. Although it was certainly one among his final works, scholarly analysis of the artist’s letters indicates that Wheatfield With Crows was completed around two weeks before his suicide in July 1890. That means that van Gogh’s actual last painting was probably Daubigny’s Garden (middle image, above), one of three depicting the large garden of Charles-François Daubigny, a painter whom van Gogh deeply admired. The idyllic garden scene is a sharp contrast to the darker Wheatfield With Crows, offering no apparent hint of van Gogh’s mental torment. However another work from the same month is indeed tormented. Tree Roots and Trunks (lower image, above)was painted in July of 1890 when van Gogh lived in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. The painting is an example of the double-square canvases that he employed in his last landscapes. Van Gogh spent the last few months of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise, a small town just north of Paris, after he left an asylum at Saint-Rémy in May 1890. The painting is considered by some experts to be his last painting before his death. In any case, on the morning of July 27, 1890, van Gogh went outdoors to paint, apparently taking with him a loaded pistol. He then attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest, although the bullet failed to kill him. He died two days later at the age of 37 in the presence of his brother. Van Gogh never achieved any real success or fame before his untimely death. As a result, his mother disposed of a large number of his works, making the efforts of art historians doubly difficult.

Riding With Death, 1988,
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988),
died from a drug overdose.