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Monday, September 30, 2019

Stéphane Breitwieser

Stéphane Breitwieser, (between prison terms) with one of his most valuable art thefts. François Boucher’s The Sleeping Shepherd was destroyed in a garbage disposal.

Jean-Antoine Watteau.
Whatever else you might say or
think of Breitwieser, he had
 impeccable tastes in art.
Art is a valuable commodity. And, like all com-modities, some art is more valuable than most. Like all things valuable art should be secured. My art, and most other art, is secured by a wire (or bracket) in back and a hook on the wall. That and locks on our doors make my art about as secure as it needs to be. On a few occasions unscrupulous dealers and others have breached that security when my work was on public display. I think I've lost maybe a half-dozen paintings that way. But this is not about me or my art, or even most art. No, I'm talking about art commodities with prices running in the range of seven, or eight, or even nine figures, and specifically one Frenchman who ranks near the top of the list of prolific all-time art thieves--Stephane (the "e" is silent) Breitwieser.
Francois Boucher, one of
Breitwieser's favorite artists.
In an attempt to build a personal collection of priceless art, Stéphane Breitwieser visited small museums, castles, auction houses and private collections which had low security. He would then steal one or two carefully selected pieces. Usually they would be small paintings, sculptures, wea-pons, and musical instruments which could easily to be placed under his jacket. Some of the artwork stolen were from the 16th-18th centuries and in-cluded paintings by the Dutch portrait painter Corneille de Lyon, Flemish Pieter Brueghel the Younger, German Lucas Cranach the Elder (below), as well as French painters François Boucher (right} and Jean-Antoine Watteau (Above, left).
Sybille of Cleves (detail), 1524, Lucas Cranach the Elder.
The painting was valued at between £4.2 million and £4.7 million.
There have, of course, been dozens of major art thefts down through the centuries, some of them far more scandalous than Breitwieser's. In 1911, a Louvre employee, Vincenzo Peruggia swiped the Mona Lisa (which, is priceless). He kept it in his apartment for over two years then foolishly tried to sell it to Florence's Uffizi Museum. He served just six months in prison. In July 2002, Paraguay hosted the most valuable art exhibition in its history. Then a group of criminals broke in and stole five paintings. They gained entry by way of a tunnel some eighty feet long. They made off with over a million dollars worth of art. On February. 12, 2008, three men walked into the E.G. Bürle Foundation museum in Zurich, Switzerland. Their masterpieces didn't stand a chance. In broad daylight, one man pulled a gun while the other two grabbed the four paintings closest to the door. The four paintings together were worth approximately $163-million. On March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as police officers entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the middle of the night, telling guards they were investigating a disturbance. They made off with 13 works of art, worth approximately $163 million including paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Manet. The museum offered a $5-million reward as the FBI launched a massive investigation, but the pieces and burglars remain at large. As astounding as those figures sound, they amount to "peanuts" as compared to Breitwieser's lifetime haul. His take has been estimated at some $1.4 billion dollars.
The Sleeping Shepherd, 1730, Francois Boucher
You read that right...that's BILLION...with a "B". Breitwieser stole 139 works from 172 galleries, auction houses, and museums in Switzerland, France, and Germany, among other places. One would have to draw upon the Nazis plunder European art (1933-1945) of 516,000 pieces worth and estimated $20-billion to surpass the sheer magnitude of Breitwieser's figures. Moreover, Hitler had an entire army scouring the greatest art collections in Europe. In contrast, Breitwieser was just one man (his girlfriend was a part-time accomplice). After the war and in the decades that followed all but a few of Hitler's art booty was recovered. That was not the case with Breitwieser. Unfortunately, following his initial arrested in 2001, Breitwieser's mother, in an attempt to minimize evidence that might be used against her son, is thought to have thrown away dozens of paintings and drawings, and dumped more than a hundred works into a canal (below). Over 100 items were successfully recovered. However, this left over 100 that were lost. The Sleeping Shepherd (above) was ripped to shreds by a garbage disposal.
A painting depicting the scene as army workers scour the banks of the Rhone-Rhine Canal in search of paintings which may have been dumped there by Breitwieser's mother.
Breitwieser's crimes were more in the nature of shoplifting than what we've come to know as daring art heists. Yet, when it comes to stealing from museums, Stéphane Breitwieser is virtually peerless. He was one of the most prolific and successful art thieves who ever lived. Done right, his technique—daytime, no violence, performed like a magic trick, sometimes with guards in the room—never involves a dash to a getaway car. Just make sure to get there at lunchtime, Breitwieser stresses, when the visitors thin and the security staff rotates shorthanded to eat. Dress sharply, shoes to shirt, topped by a jacket that's tailored a little too roomy, with a Swiss Army knife stashed in a pocket. Be friendly at the front desk. Buy your ticket, say hello, Breitwieser adds. Once inside, it's essential to focus. Note the flow of visitor traffic and memorize the exits. Count the guards. Are they sitting or patrolling? Check for security cameras and see if each has a wire—sometimes they're fake. In 2001, Stéphane Breitwieser was finally arrested after stealing at a museum in Lucerne, Switzerland when he returned after stealing a musical instrument only a few days earlier. A security guard recognized him and made an immediate arrest. The stolen goods were found to be kept in a room at his mother’s house, which had blackout curtains so that the light did not damage any of the pieces – many of which had been cut out of their frames from the museums from which they were stolen. His mother later claimed that she had no idea they were stolen and thought they were all purchased legally at auction. Interestingly, Stéphane Breitwieser had no intention of selling any of the items. He was simply stealing them for the purpose of building a grand collection for himself.
Portrait of Johann Friedrich, Elector of Saxony, and
Portrait of Princess Emilie of Saxony, both by Lucas Cranach the elder,
were among the works stolen by Breitwieser.
Stephane Breitwieser was given only a three-year prison sentence for his crimes. He served two. His mother was also given three years, serving 18 months. Breitwieser's girlfriend was given an 18-month sentence and served just six months. In 2011 Breitwieser was again arrested after being caught with 30 stolen artworks at his home. He was given another three-year prison sentence. To insure his insolvency, Breitwieser put all his money in accounts belonging to his relatives. Thus he has never reimbursed the victims of his theft. The municipalities of Orleans, Dunkirk, Copenhagen, and others have never received a cent. Meanwhile Breitwieser published a book titled, Confessions of an Art Thief for which he is said to have received an advance of some 73,000 euros.

I wonder if it made the "Book of the Month Club?"


Monday, September 23, 2019

Hopper's Nighthawks

The Nighthawks, 1942, Edward Hopper
It's not often that a work of art is recognized as "great" without the passage of a number of years (sometimes centuries) after its creation and very often long after the artist's death. Vincent van Gogh is a prime example. Henri Rousseau is another. Several of the Impressionists and Post-impressionists also fit that bill. On the other hand painters such as Leonardo, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Rockwell were recognized for the genius of their work well within their lifetimes. In May, 1942, a little-known painter and printmaker from upstate New York sold his most famous work to the Chicago Art Institute for $3000 (a very respectable price for a painting by an artist of limited stature at the time). Edward Hopper had completed his moody The Nighthawks (above) in January of that year, barely four months earlier.

Other than the artist himself, Hopper's wife of 41 years, Jo (Nivison) Hopper, also his in-house art historian, may well be the force most responsible for his rise to fame in the art world and his remaining one of the most respected American artists of all time. Much of what we know of Hopper's professional life we owe to her. From Jo’s notes, we learn that the painting’s title is a playful joke about the strong, beaklike nose of the smoking man. This nickname is itself a glimmer of human tenderness, a light mockery which suddenly brings the whole painting to life. We see Hopper's night hawk, just one of a small group, silent souls in a time of global war, in the large, lonely city, in a diner, and, like many of us, they are, alone/together.

The Art Student
(Miss Josephine Nivison),
Robert Henri

Edward Hopper Self-portrait, 1903

Edward Hopper was often evasive and guarded. He frequently denied stringently the popular readings of his paintings. He did not, he would insist, intentionally im-bue his urban scenes with an unspoken pregnancy of human feeling, an eerie, uncommunicative atmosphere of the mod-ern metropolis, with which they’ve become associated. But when reflecting on his most successful and evocative painting, even Hopper himself had to admit it: “Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.” Nighthawks was completed in January of 1942, just weeks after Pearl Harbor and the United States subsequent joining of the Second World War. One might guess that a downtown diner would be alive with news, debate, and speculation at such a historic time. Hopper instead chooses to observe an oppressive silence, picking out the figures and their features in a way which suggests great, silent distances between them, despite sharing the same bubble of space and time.

The neighborhood....almost deserted.
The architecture of the paint-ing seems designed to com-partmentalize, divide, and separate. It’s all sharp verti-cals and pronounced horizon-tals, frames and doorways, shadows and blockages. The detailed rendering of the em-pty shop across the street (right) is a careful and potent observation of utter absence. The painting’s strange silence is given force by the compo-sition of the four people who occupy it. In her notes on the painting, Hopper’s wife des-cribes them as a good looking blond boy in white behind the counter. There's a girl in red blouse and brown hair (for whom she posed) eating a sandwich. The male "night hawk" (beak) wears a dark suit, steel grey hat, black band, and blue shirt holds cigarette.

The center offers little of interest to the viewer.
Occupying the direct center of the large canvas sits ;a dark, sinister figure, his back turned to us, unwilling or unable to communicate (above). Our eyes catch him first, but receive nothing in re-turn. So we scan and look elsewhere. The activity of the man behind the counter (below) gives us a kind of hope. He’s the most dynamic of the group by far. In the act of straightening up, he shows his face and searches for some response from the man and woman at the counter. He plays the choric role, mirroring our desire for communication. The two stony figures do not reciprocate. He might as well be talking to the two inanimate, coffee dispensing tanks behind him, which they resemble.

The man behind the counter seems to communicate, but doesn't.
The relationship between the man and woman sitting at the counter is perhaps one of the most intriguing, yet mysterious, relationships between any two figures in any painting throughout art history (below). The woman morosely raises some morsel of food to her mouth, seeming mechanical, without appetite. The man allows his cigarette to smoke itself out, his blank eyes shadowed by the peak of his hat. There’s maybe a subtle hope of tenderness, though, if you look closely at the composition of their arms and hands. The man’s right arm and the woman’s left form the exact mirror-angle of one another. Each forearm stretches along a perfect perpendicular. The angle of the woman’s other arm matches the man’s right arm exactly. This is a geometric harmony which cannot be ignored. It is part of the painting’s quiet language.

Are they together or simply together apart?
And though the woman’s hand seems to be placed behind the man’s, on the two-dimensional plane of the canvas, their skin-tones overlap. As far as the application of paint goes, Hopper has essentially allowed their hands to meet. The longer you look, the more the fingers of each hand appear to shiver with tenderness and desire. Perhaps these boundaries can be crossed. After all, by some miracle we. as viewers. have been allowed to see and read these people through the window, and then through the second window, which is the surface of the painting. It's from Jo’s notes that we learn that the painting’s title is a playful joke about the strong, beaklike nose of the smoking man (posed by Hopper himself). This nickname is itself a glimmer of human tenderness, a light mockery which suddenly brings the whole thing to life. Here he is, our night hawk. The group, silent, in a time of global war, in the large, lonely city, in a diner, and, like all of us, here they are, alone/together.

Nighthawks preliminary drawings.
So, where exactly is this diner Hopper made so famous? Well, needless to say, in a city like New York, the actual diner has long ago ceased to exist. In fact it never really existed at all as depicted by Hopper. He used an amalgamation of several similar eateries in the Greenwich neighborhood. Yet Hopper claimed THE Nighthawks diner was based on a real place though he was cagey about naming the actual eatery. His only clue was that the diner was a restaurant on New York’s Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet. Therefore, the actual location of his inspiration has long been a matter of debate. Popular opinion favors Mulry Square, a small triangular lot at Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue. However, historical records show that a gas station occupied the lot in the early 1940s, not a diner. In 2013, New York Magazine set out to track down the real inspiration for Nighthawks, scouring streets and historical photographs to settle the discussion once and for all. They ultimately determined Hopper's picture-perfect diner was, indeed, made up of various elements of Manhattan architecture. These components include a glass-and-steel storefront on 11th Street, the curve of the Flatiron Building, and a long-gone restaurant called Crawford Lunch. Fittingly, a 3D version of Nighthawks was created within a display window of the Flatiron Building in the summer of 2013. In Block 613, Lot 62, (below) on the corner where 7th Avenue South hits Perry Street, the 1950s mapmaker has drawn a rectangle and written the word DINER. Sometime between the late 1930s and the 1950s, a diner appeared on the southwest corner of the Mulry Square triangle. Hopper completed The Nighthawks in 1942.

A map of the Greenwich Avenue area with early guesses marked with X's and the likely actual site (just above) circled in red.

The experts comment:

Nighthawks has inspired countless other artists. By the same token, there may be some influence from Van Gogh's Café At Night. Based on the similar theme and concentration on the play of light at night, Van Gogh's piece may have sparked Hopper's ideas. Interestingly, Café at Night was exhibited in New York in January of 1942, right as Hopper was working on Nighthawks. Though well after Hopper began his painting, it's probable he would have seen Van Gogh’s painting, inasmuch as his own works were also on display at the same venue. Among several other works later inspired by The Nighthawks, likely the most famous is Gottfried Heinwein's version titled Boulevard Of Broken Dreams (below).

Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, Gottfried Heinwein
based on Hopper's The Nighthawks. Can you identify
the tragic 1950s movie celebrities? 


Monday, September 16, 2019

After the Fire

Shortly before eight p.m. Notre Dame's iconic wooden
spire toppled into the attic inferno below.
A little over six years ago I wrote detailing our visit to Notre Dame de Paris. A lot has happened since then. A smoke alarm alerted a fire security employee who was monitoring the system in a building beside the cathedral at 6:18 p.m. on April 15, 2019. That employee then rang a security guard who was standing near the altar and told him to check it out. The guard reported that there was no fire. The guard had gone to the wrong part of the cathedral—a connected building called the sacristy. The security employee called his boss rather than the fire department, who did not pick up initially. When his boss called back, they realized what was happening and told the security guard to immediately look at the attic of the main cathedral—where by then, the fire was burning out of control. The mix-up has since produced a bitter round of finger-pointing over who was responsible for allowing the fire to rage unchecked for so long.
Notre Dame interior--before                           and after the fire               
The fire was devastating, but it could have been much worse. Firefighters were in a life-threatening race against time to stop the cathedral from collapsing, which ended with the loss of its steeple and wooden structure but the preservation of its towers, main structure, famous stained-glass windows, and many of the world-renowned treasures inside. An important collection of artwork and Christian relics stored in and around Notre Dame also faced danger from the flames. Firefighters and other emergency responders formed a human chain and entered the building to save what holy relics they could. Thanks to the bravery of Paris firefighters, and in no small part that of the cathedral staff, many of the most vital works of art and artifacts were saved from the fire. That includes the crown of thorns—-believed by some to have been worn by Jesus during his crucifixion—-and the tunic of St. Louis. Some of these and other works have been moved to the Louvre, where they are expected to be repaired or restored, if necessary.
Some of the items saved from the fire.
In the stunned aftermath of the Notre-Dame blaze French firefighters and experts ventured into the devastated cathedral on Tuesday morning to survey what remained. They finally declared—-to the relief of millions—-that the structure of the 859-year cathedral had been saved, and that firefighters had rescued some of the most precious relics even while the world watched aghast at flames leaping from the Medieval icon. There was a sense of disbelief among Parisians on Tuesday morning that Notre-Dame had been so vulnerable to devastation, after withstanding nearly a millennium of epic upheavals, including the French Revolution, and just in the past century alone, two world wars and the Nazi occupation of Paris.
Notre Dame's high altar after the fire.
However, those who have for years tracked the declining condition of the cathedral wondered whether the fire might have been far less severe had they launched major renovations years ago—an option that cash-strapped Notre-Dame had been unable to do. Notre-Dame began a €150-million ($170 million) construction project last year, in an effort to restore and upgrade the wooden roof and spire, which were considered to be the most urgently needed work. There was fire proofing everywhere, but it was not enough. The restoration of the cathedral had been taking place all along the years, since the 19th century. But it would have been better had they started this program much earlier. It was in the upper roof portion, where construction was ongoing, that the fire appears to have started. Some experts have speculated that the initial cause might have been a spark from a welder’s torch, although there is no proof for their theory. The fire appeared to smolder for a while before turning into a blaze. French officials have ruled out any criminal act.
In what was the most shocking moment of the fire, the delicate 300-foot spire, which dated back more than 200 years, (seen here before the fire) tilted to one side and then snapped off almost like a twig (top photo).
What was lost? Two-thirds of the roof collapsed in the fire, and in the process also destroying some of the centuries-old statues of saints that were perched on the spire. Part of the nave and the choir are also gone. The most severely damaged were the vaults of the ceiling (below), which Medieval architects had constructed from about 5,000 oak trees. Until that Monday night, this feat of Medieval engineering and architecture had been one of the finest examples of Gothic construction still standing. The original spire was lost in 1792, shortly before the French Revolution. At the time, fiercely anti-clerical crowds laid siege to the cathedral, ransacking its irreligious artworks. The spire destroyed on Monday night dated to the mid-19th century, when a new spire was erected. Making matters worse, the spire was very delicate and it was made of wood.
Notre Dame's ceiling vault frescoes--damage beyond repair.
Many of the grand paintings in the cathedral were too difficult to rescue while firefighters battled the blaze. France’s Minister of Culture told reporters that the paintings would be removed and transported to the Louvre Museum a short distance from the cathedral. There, they would be treated for water and smoke damage, and stored for a time when Notre Dame might finally be reopened. There were only sketchy details on Tuesday morning of the state of many treasures. Initially it was believed that Notre-Dame’s famous Rose Windows and other stain glass windows were lost (below). As it turned out, only one collapsed. However, the fate of a fragment of the Holy Cross and Nail is not known.
there is a waiting list of more than two years of organists wanting to play it.
Each pipe was individually cleaned during a 2013 refurbishment.
The impressive organ (above) dating to the 1730s and boasting an estimated 8,000 pipes did not burn and is intact, but nobody knows yet whether it was damaged by the heat or water. “The organ is a very fragile instrument,” The organ is said to have “incredible” sound, with “very rich colors.”
Most of the stained glass windows were only slightly damaged in the fire.
What lies ahead is a mammoth salvage and rebuilding effort. So far, no one can say how long that might take, nor how many hundreds of millions, or perhaps billions, might be required. Ironically, the immense loss from the fire, and the sense of grief that settled over Paris, prompted huge private donations within hours—the kinds of donations for which Notre-Dame officials had appealed for years, with no luck. The family of French billionaire François Pinaud pledged €100 million (about $113 million) to rebuild the cathedral. Not to be outdone, Bernard Arnaud, who heads the luxury group LVMH, pledged €200 million (about $226 million). The French oil giant Total said it would donate €100 million. Conspicuously absent is any pledge of funds from the Vatican. Hundreds of regular Parisians went online to donate small amounts to crowdfunding efforts that sprang up as the fire raged on Monday night.
Much of the sculpture beneath the collapsed roof was either destroyed or heavily damaged.
Even so, the French government had hesitated to commit serious funds for Notre-Dame’s restoration, in part because of the laws imposing strict secular government limits on funding for churches. An annual maintenance budget from the government of €2 million (about $2.26 million) covered the bare basics. Notre-Dame draws a giant 13 million tourists a year, or about 13,000 a day—more than the Eiffel Tower does. Yet it is forbidden under law from charging an entrance fee, since places of worship are required to be open to all, at any time. Yet even a modest fee, would have gone a long way toward solving their ongoing funding crisis. Officials noted that last year, a group of preservationists raised about $2 million in the U.S. alone. It seems Americans are the most passionate non-French people about the cathedral. Sociologist have noted that there is a tradition of philanthropy in the U.S. which does not exist in France.
One of the ceiling frescoes heavily damaged or destroyed.
Some five to ten per cent of the artwork has probably been destroyed (above). The cathedral was home to dozens of paintings, including a series of 76 pieces depicting the Acts of the Apostles, and a Medieval image of the Virgin Mary by Jean Jouvenet. Surprisingly the smaller paintings appear to be unaffected. However, further inspection is needed to confirm if the smoke from the fire, or the water used to quell it, did any damage to the paint. Fortunately, 16 religious statues got a lucky escape from Monday’s blaze. Just four days before the fire, they were removed from the top of Notre Dame for the first time in over a century to be taken for cleaning. The removal was part of a restoration of the cathedral’s towering spire, now gone. The 3-meter-tall copper statues represent the 12 apostles and four evangelists. The cathedral’s roof was the most enduring loss. It was built using a lattice of giant beams cut from trees in the primeval forests of the 12th and 13th centuries. Experts say France no longer has trees big enough to replace the ancient wooden beams that burned in the fire. Thus the cathedral’s roof cannot be rebuilt exactly as it was before the fire. Restoration work will have to use new technology to rebuild the roof. Notre Dame and the French nation have dodged a complete disaster, but one that could largely have been avoided had the kind of money now pouring in for restoration and rebuilding been available for ongoing maintenance. In another twist of irony, the very pre-fire restoration work on the roof and attic may have been responsible for the fire.
Notre Dame de Paris today.


Monday, September 9, 2019

Peeta (Manuel Di Rita)

Draw the Line, 2016, Campobasso, Italy,  Peeta's works demonstrate the power of
murals to distort or destroy architecture.
When people today think about painters, they usually bring to mind and artist wearing an apron or smock, standing (or sitting) before their easel knocking out modest sized works seldom less than ten inches by fourteen inches and ranging upwards from that to no more than 48 inches square. And, for the most part, this mental image is accurate. The artists are using standard sizes both for pre-stretched canvases as well as frames, all of which would not look out of place on the walls of most homes. Only the most daring and financially secure painters go beyond that to create works only an art museum could handle (or afford). Yet, from the beginning, artists have also painted on cave walls; or decorated stone buildings; or the ceilings of churches or plastered walls of the well-to-do. Artists long ago came to realize that the larger their paintings, the more likely they and their art would stand apart from the crowd. This realization paved the way for the muralist painting walls or, indeed, the entire wall of a building (street art). These murals were sometimes just a step or two above common graffiti.
The Big Picture Festival, 2019, Frankston, Austria, Peeta
Over the years, despite the enormous size of their work, even muralists found their road to fame and fortune becoming as crowded as an LA. freeway parking lot. In order to gain much recognition, like their studio-bound colleagues, muralists needed something really special as to style and content to gain the free advertising that a newspaper article, magazine interview, or TV news segment has to offer. The Italian muralist known as Peeta (real name, Manuel Di Rita) seems to have discovered the fast lane with works such as the surreal illusions seen above and below.
Almanac, Barcelona, Peeta
Peeta is a resident of Venice, Italy. He's been painting graffiti since 1993, but more recently has really upped his game. A member of Padova-based EAD crew and New York City-based FX and RWK crews, Peeta also works on canvas and with actual 3D sculpture in PVC, bronze, acrylic resin and fiberglass. His experience with sculptural media really shows in his newest murals, which take the familiar forms of letter-based street art and manipulate them into abstractive creations. Peeta combines elements of graffiti and abstract art to paint murals that appear to morph and dissolve architectural structures. Abstract shapes swirl around and cut into walls to form M.C. Escher-like scenes that play tricks on the eyes and change depending on the viewing angle.
Mannheim, Germany, Peeta
For the 2019 Stadt. Wand. Kunst mural project (above), Peeta painted a geometrical design onto a building on a street corner in Mannheim, Germany. Using sharp lines, curved forms, and different shades of blue, white, and grey, Peeta visually altered the structure’s edge and created a new impossible façade. As with much of his other work, the limited color palette of the mural helps to sell the illusion and contrast the piece against the surrounding architecture. Peeta created this latest mural for the HKWALLS festival (below). The piece occupies a giant façade on a busy Hong Kong intersection above the Golden Computer Arcade and draws its color for neighboring buildings and signs.
Depending upon the distance between the mural and the viewer, Peeta's HKWalls mural in Hong Kong competes quite favorably juxtaposed against the busy, colorful architecture surrounding it.
Metaphorically, Peeta neutralizes preconceptions and urges the emergence of new perspectives. Anamorphism totally embodies this intent, which is always pivotal in his productions. He attempts to reveal the deceptiveness of human perception and the fallacy of narrow and fixed points of view through visual tricks. Proceeding from the attempt to confer a three-dimensional semblance on a pictorial representation, his abstract illusions ultimately reveal their will to deceive. Constantly running in parallel with his murals and painting activity, the role of sculpture comes to be essential for Peeta's overall production. It represents a direct contact with three-dimensionality in order to understand the rules of light and shadows and to reproduce them.
Whether working on canvas on walls, or with sculpture,
Peeta's designs all relate to one another.
Peeta utilizes professional 3D design software to design PVC sculptures. That allows him to have a 3D view of the sculpture and, at the same time, virtually cut out all of its different surfaces and consider them on a 2D plane. Subsequently, he cuts the PVC plates and assembles them together. The last step involves coating the PVC surface with a polyester layer to mask imperfections resulting from the building process and to impart singularity to the structure, rather than a collage of components.
Peeta often works his illusionary miracles in tightly confined spaces.
When painting on walls, Peeta aims to always to create a dialogue with the structural and cultural parameters of the surrounding context, either architectural or not. The Italian artist transforms static buildings into visually-striking optical illusions, by painting abstract shapes onto them. The artist paints murals that appear to be dissolving, morphing and ever-changing as the illusions depend on the viewing angle. While technological sleights of hand grow more and more sophisticated, it is important to remember that sometimes paint, pencil, and sunlight are all that are needed to create transformative works of art.
Without Frontiers Festival, Mantova, Italy, 2018, Peeta
Peeta's work is best suited for corners, (above) where the artist is able to render flat planes and deep visual fields of shape and color that trick your eye into forgetting that these works are layered on top of everyday buildings and spaces. Working both on canvas and on buildings, Peeta is able to dematerialize perspective views of buildings through graphic, colorful, and explosive arrangements that create their own environmental and visual qualities. These paintings, which Peeta dubs "anamorphic works," are inspired by abstracted calligraphy and stem from the artist's younger days as a graffiti artist. Peeta explains that "Anamorphism totally embodies the intent, always pivotal in my production, to reveal the deceptiveness of human perception, the fallacy of narrow and fixed points of view through visual tricks which, proceeding from the attempt to confer a three-dimensional semblance on a pictorial representation, ultimately reveal their will to deceive.
Square 23, Pump up the Volumes, Peeta, Turin, Italy, 2016
Sometimes Peeta's murals seem to jut outward
from their host building.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Planning an Art Studio

While perhaps a bit "over the top" insofar as interior décor is concerned, it is a reasonably roomy, pleasant, well-lit, exciting workspace, probably that of some type of designer.
Before a would-be artist paints his or her first work of art, there is one, all-important, creative effort which they almost always encounter. They must first carve out from their day-to-day environment a place to work. In the beginning it is very often a temporary workplace, the kitchen table, corner in a bedroom, a few seldom used square feet out in the garage or attic, maybe even a dark, damp unused corner in their basement (an art dungeon). Whatever the case, they are creating their first art studio. Moreover this creative act is a is often a smatter of expediency with little or no forethought or planning. My point is, don't for a moment think this first, makeshift "studio" is of little consequence in producing art. A cramped space, poor lighting, an unstable work surface, noisy distractions, and a lack of some degree of permanence, even a lack of heat (or cooling) can turn what would otherwise be an enjoyable creative experience into frustrating drudgery. If that's the case, it's nearly always reflected in the artist's work.
A far cry from my earlier studios, but no less messy and cluttered.
First let me begin by saying that I'm not an "expert" as to art studio design. In my lifetime I've carved out from our modest living spaces, exactly three private art studios. The first two were spare bedrooms in mobile homes. The first was approximately 8 feet by 9 feet with barely room for a small drawing table, an aluminum easel, a kitchen chair, an old chest-of-drawers, and a closet. The lighting was barely adequate--a single window, an overhead light, and an adjustable "elbow" desk light. The second studio was slightly larger and a good deal more attractive. I mounted a large, leftover piece of mottled orange and brown shag carpeting on one wall to serve as a lively focal point. By that time I'd moved up to an ordinary, swivel office chair with wheels. My student-size drawing table served to hold my palette pad. (I've always been one to sit while painting.) My current studio (above), such as it is, has served my needs for some forty years. It boasts about twice the space of the first two studios, and includes a desk, another for a computer, file cabinet, built-in storage space, recessed lighting, and room for a large, professional drawing table. (I still use the old drawing table upon which to rest my palette.) And though I now work our of a finished basement, my studio has a six-foot sliding glass door looking out onto a rear patio.

In most cases, the size of an artist's studio tends to grow as the artist
becomes more prolific and financially successful.
Creating within the comfort of your own home can sometimes bring up a dilemma of where to put your home art studio and how to decorate it. Surely you need one, because your canvases and easels can’t just take up space in your living room, but how to make the best of the limited space? Your very own art studio is a sacred sanctuary, a creative space where artistic ideas come to life. As such, size matters. The square footage of a home studio depends first the size of the space available, the customary size of your artwork, the art medium you employ, the size of your comfort zone, and (unfortunately, the size your bank account. Although studios come in virtually all sized, I've depicted (above) three sizes--small, medium. and large. My studio I'd class as medium-sized. When called upon to do extra large pieces I move to the family room or even to our three-car garage (we have only two cars).

Obviously a man's studio--no nonsense, nothing fancy, just a large, uncluttered workspace with abroad expanse of wall for large works, a; high ceiling allowing for tall windows and a generous amount of storage space beneath them.
I tend to envy the artist having the octopus-like
adjustable light in his studio. I find myself wonder- 
ing. if it was homemade or purchased on eBay.
The second most important consideration in studio design is lighting. I've always felt that the traditional demand for large windows allowing a nor-thern light to be overblown. But once more, the factor of natural light depends upon the artists' working habits and style. I've always used pri-marily photos as source mat-erial so obviously, natural light is less important in my studio (the large, sliding glass door faces south). However, if one largely ignores natural light then the size, type, and place-ment of light fixtures becomes more and more important. And whether natural or artificial, light must be controlled, either by dimmer switches or blinds.

A prime example of a large studio utilizing "convenience clusters."

Style and comfort in a small,
carefully designed space
probably that of a female artist.
Third, an artist's studio must be carefully ar-ranged (especially if small) to maximize the work-space. More often than not, this "arrangement" is largely a matter of trial and error, which is okay if the space is small or exceedingly large. With a small space furniture arrangement will tend to be such as to offer no real alternates. And with a large studio it makes little difference as to exact placement other than the fact that artists tend to create "convenience clusters," (above) depend-ing upon the various stages a canvas undergoes from stretching to framing.

Once you've made the decisions as to size, medium, lighting, and furnishing (and their ar-rangement in the studio, there are a number of seemingly less important factors to consider. The first of these is storage space (below). Person-ally, I chose custom-made cabinets with doors and drawers (to disguise your disorganized clut-ter. Then over a generous expanse of working counterspace, I added a long expanse of shelves for art books, photos, keepsakes, and various souvenirs from our extensive travels to Europe and the Mediterranean (the cradle of Western civilization and art in particular). Such reference materials straight from the source museum or cultural landmarks) have often proved invaluable both is my paintings and more recently my new career as a blogger and published author (Art THINK available at right from Amazon or in e-book formats from

I love this one, most likely the studio of a fabric or fashion designer with a
reminder on the back wall of the most import activity in any art studio.
In addition to all this one must place carefully any exceptional needs dictated by the artist's chosen medium. Ceramics would, for example, require one or more large sinks with serviceable traps beneath them to keep clay from stopping up the drain. Most studios today come outfitted with a desk and a computer stand complete with digital drawing tablet if the artist plans to create CGI artwork. As seen above, a fashion or fabric designer would need large, "thum-btackable" display space, especially if he or she sells from their home studio. Likewise a teaching artist would need ample workspaces for their students as seen below.
The artist/instructor Kaylay apparently teaches up to a dozen or
more from her combination studio/classroom.

We can't all be neatniks. We must also consider the
studio of a free spirit. It makes me  cringe just to look at it.