NON-SCHNABEL BEACH

I am not a fan of the work of Julian Schnabel (vide July 7, below). 

 

“Pascin Pig Passin Time” 1983 [Artsy]

But I’m reminded of his labored crockery paintings by the shore of an inlet off San Francisco Bay, in Richmond. Right across the road from Costco, as a matter of fact. Visible only at very low tide.

Decades ago, the Tepco Crockery factory used this bit of shore as a dumping site for a zillion pieces of  broken crockery.* 

 

 

Waves and the tides have spread  them in a thin, crackly layer over the beach, and colored them, creating of them something between lively rubbish and an engaging effect of nature. 

 

 

They have the advantage that no one has muddled their charm by painting over them.

 

 

 

* reported by Brody at odysseyseaglass.com

 

DALI BLUE

One of the characteristics of oil paint is that it grows transparent as it ages. When the paint is applied in thin glazes, underwork eventually begins to show through. As in Salvador Dali’s “Portrait of Dorothy Spreckels Munn” (1942) in the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco.

 

 

Here we can see that Dali hogged in the whole piece from the horizon line down in blue, and then painted the foreground, including the figure, on top. Now the foreground glazes are going transparent, and the underpainting begins to tint what lies over it. This is especially visible in her right arm, but in fact the whole figure, including her dress, are noticeably darker and cooler below the horizon than above.

 

 

This is quite a common effect in older paintings done in glazes. Below, “Owl’s Head, Penobscot Bay, Maine,” (1862) by Fitz Hugh Lane. It was painted from back to front; the farther shore and far mountains, laid in first, are visible through the sails of the ship. Working this way let the artist build the image in thin, delicate tones, and saved him from having to fill in pesky little background shapes that might muddle the main action. 

 

 

Considering that transparency is an old and well-known characteristic of the medium, you’d have thought that Dali would have been more adroit.

 

SIDEWALK DELIGHTS

Followers of this blog will know, of course, that we ponder only the most lofty and profound questions of art, except when, as now, we pause to notice odd, nifty little things.

As here. Every year dozens and dozens of youngsters fan out to execute pastels on the sidewalk on a shopping street in my neighborhood. As you’d expect, much of what they do is no more than cheerful scribble, but here and there you find engaging, imaginative images.

 

 

Staying within the bounds of one concrete square enforces a compositional discipline they might not enjoy if they were spreading out vaguely over unrestricted space.

Fascinating in the piece below is the repetition of colors in the eyes and the voice balloon. If a mature artist had done that, we would all be chattering about the insightful connection between observation and belief. 

 

 

 

Above, a catalogue of delights.

 

 

Rainbows seem to have been a widely adopted theme, but put to a variety of uses.

 

 

Those waves must have come from someplace, but no artist invents everything, and here they are convincingly folded into the narrative. The pattern on the bathing suit. So much going on.

 

 

TWO MORE CEZANNES

Recurring to the subject of Cezanne’s methods (see July 28 below), consider two portraits of Antony Valabrègue, done about five years apart. One is so much better than the other.

24 x 20″ 1869-70

25 x 21″ 1874-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The earlier piece is just plopped down. The parts are there, but flatly, just showing up for duty.

As opposed to the later piece, where the beard, for example, comes and goes, full of little spritzes and subtleties. The hair and hairline—that delightful escaping ear, and the lock of hair behind it. The shoulders skipping downward, alive with action. The bouncy eyes and brows. Every line and shape witty and on the go.

Every artist, of course, has a range of success. But it’s worth taking a minute to see what that range is, and notice the reasons.

 

pics from Cezanne Portraits by John Elderfield

PICKETT? REALLY?

Recently, paging happily through “The New Yorker Album of Art & Artists,”* I stopped to enjoy the classic Tobey cartoon after “The Sleeping Gypsy” by Henri Rousseau, c. 1897. I’d admired this many times before, but never bothered to notice the painting on the wall to the left.

 

It is “Manchester Valley” by Joseph Pickett (1849-1918). 

When discussing avant-garde art, the name of Joseph Pickett is not on every lip. But “Manchester Valley” is, in fact, in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and hung in the museum’s 25th Anniversary Exhibition in 1954-55. It was on Floor 1: “CEZANNE THROUGH THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY”: Cezanne and his contemporaries; Seurat, Van Gogh, Gauguin; Ensor, Redon; Rousseau; Bonnard, Rouault; Prendergast; Matisse; The lesser “fauves”; Modigliani; Expressionism in Central Europe.

And Pickett. Who seems like odd company for those luminaries. The fact that it was a gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, a founder of MOMA, and wife of moneybags John D. Rockefeller, Jr., may have had something to do with its inclusion. In any case, there it was.

My parents saw that show, and picking through the competition, walked out with a reproduction of “Manchester Valley.” Which in the fullness of time came to me, and now, a bit darkened with age, still hangs in my house. An odd piece, but full of satisfactions. It holds up after all these years. Thus my interest, and how I can’t imagine how for so long I failed to notice it in the Toby.

 

*Published 1970. Heartily recommended. Pieces from The New Yorker’s great old cartoon days, riffing on art and art fashions from the ’40s through the ’60s. Available at abebooks.com for $4.64, the last time I looked.

 

 

BROOKLYN WINDOWS

You find these and many similar windows along Carlton Ave in Brooklyn. Informal art of an unassuming, delightful kind: people putting out little plantations and looking after them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And sometimes plantings mingle with burglar bars–a happy assertion of domesticity amidst the uncertainties of urban life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOUTINE’S SPLASH

The show of Chaim Soutine (1893–1943) now at the Jewish Museum in New York is full of delights—some pretty standard images in all the art history texts, but other, lesser-known surprises. And one of the nifty things about this show is that very few of the pieces are under glass, so you can really eyeball the surfaces–sometimes to Soutine’s advantage, but not always. He gets messy.

The piece right inside the door (okay, under glass, but sensitively lit) is his famous and magnificent “Still Life With Rayfish.”

The closer you look, the more fascinating is the loose, splashy handling—color and brushwork wonderfully expressive but having little, if anything, to do with physical description.

 

 

Then the odd “Hanging Turkey” c.1925. with its human female torso.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And “Turkey” c. 1925. The turkey almost gets lost because the dark neck against the dark surround separates the head from the body, the leg shapes and color are repeated along the side, and there’s that odd mechanical piece coming in from the corner.

But once you’re hooked in, you come closer and closer, fascinated with how Soutine dances between representation and abstraction.

 

 

 

 

A FAVORITE THEOPHILUS BROWN

Theophilus Brown (1919 – 2012) was a member of the Bay Area Figurative Movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and continued drawing and painting into the new century.

This undated lithograph ( 8½ x 6” ) lives happily on my dining room wall. I admire the strong, sharp design – those sleeves, those two improbable but perfect light lines coming down the wall, and then the horizontally delineated floor panels. The rich dark shadows here and there that press foreground and background into one plane. The figure modeled in unabashedly direct, diagonal strokes. 

Bit by bit and all at once the piece hits that exciting balance between image and abstraction that those Figurative fellas understood so well.

 

 

“MADAME CEZANNE”

One of the fascinations of the prime work of Paul Cezanne is how he builds his compositions by a process of minute discovery. A new book, Cezanne Portraits by John Elderfield, is full of wonderful examples. “Madame Cezanne” is one.

It’s instructive to compare Cezanne’s execution with Edouard Manet’s in a work of similar size. Manet goes for the strong hit. The blacks are all pushed very black, the background bright and simple to set off the figure, the face essentially done in three tones: decisive, rich, and strong.

 Madame Cezanne  18 x 15″   1885-6    

Berte Morisot   21 x 14″ 1872

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whereas Cezanne goes in the opposite direction. The result is strong, but not by virtue of a few big decisions. It’s built up of many small-scale explorations. In painting, no brushstroke is ever exactly as intended. You can regard that as an imperfection to be corrected, or as opening, perhaps, some intriguing, unanticipated direction. Cezanne clearly follows the second method. Follow the line of the jaw, chin, and cheek. A rather washy blue shape starts at the ear, then is dropped and then picked up again. It’s strengthened by a thin, darker blue line that passes around the chin, paralleled by another, below. Then a thicker, darker blue line/shape; then, all the way around the face to the eye, a succession of little lines, not tentative but also not bossy, sometimes within the modeling of the cheek and sometimes just outside it. The effect is descriptive, but also painterly to the nines, almost abstract, intricate and fascinating.

 

Look at any feature – the mouth, the ear, the modeling of the cheek – you find the same process of exploration and discovery and delight, with nothing assumed, nothing taken for granted.

Cezanne was notorious for making his models sit perfectly still through endlessly protracted sittings while he did his thing. You can see why from the result.

 

“Madame Cezanne” is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

SHEELER’S LINES

I had seen Charles Sheeler’s work before, but it was only while pondering several of his things in “The Cult of the Machine”, the show at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, that I noticed his systematic use of fine black lines around almost all his shapes.

“American Landscape” 1930

 

You’d think such a mechanical device would be stultifying, but in fact it enables the delicacy of his tonal progressions. In this detail, the brights and shades, and especially the roofs and sky, are so close in value that without those lines they would have to be modeled much more robustly. By keeping the tones light and close he is able to keep this complicated little cluster of buildings as a unified bright shape in the center of his composition.

 

Even more surprisingly, we find him using the same device in his masterpiece, “Rolling Power.”

“Rolling Power” 1939

All those shapes, and even tonal shifts within shapes, sit on a layin of tiny black lines.

 

Of course, Sheeler didn’t invent the device. In this example from two hundred years before, Tiepolo saves his big, simple architectural shape from going mushy by throwing in a scattering of tiny black lines. 

Tiepolo “The Charlatan” 1756

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My own art education happened when painting was bigger, splashier, more abstract. We were never taught this stuff. But there are always interesting new things to notice if you pay attention.