Picasso vs. Sargent

I came across this fascinating work by Norman Rockwell last week, and was intrigued by overall subject matter, and the paintings in the painting – shown in this work. Rockwell did this work titled, “Picasso vs. Sargent,” for the January 11, 1966 edition of the LOOK magazine. 

The painting by Rockwell shows two paintings in the same room of a museum. The first painting, on the left wall is an 1897 portrait of Mrs. George Swinton by John Singer Sargent, whereas the second painting is Picasso’s 1931 painting, “The Red Armchair.” Two very differently dressed women – representing different versions of femininity and women’s liberation – are looking at the two very different paintings, and we are not surprised by which lady is looking at which painting.

The era seems to be the threshold of time in between the 1950s and 1960s, when women moved out of the kitchen and into the workforce. They changed the way they dressed – feminine dresses and overcoats gave way to jeans and leather jackets, heels were discarded in favor of leather boots, and curlers were tossed in favor of natural relaxed hairstyles, Perhaps, children too are being traded for portfolios – as more and more women enter the workforce, they delay having children.

The portrait of Mrs. George Swinton can be found in the Art Institute of Chicago’s American Art Gallery. The painting, with its extravagant color and brushwork, epitomizes why Sargent as the leading portraitists of his time. According to the Art Institute, “he accentuated her regal bearing and feminine dress. Sargent harmonized the realism of her face and body with bursts of impressionistic brushstrokes describing the shimmering, translucent fabric descending from her shoulder.”

A woman and her daughter look at Sargent’s painting

In Rockwell’s painting, a woman and her little daughter are looking at the beautifully framed Sargent painting. The woman, daughter, and the doll – all three – strangely, have curlers in their hair. Apart from this anomaly, the mother is exquisitely and formally dressed in an overcoat, and heels, while the daughter is also wearing a young child’s dressy overcoat. 

Picasso’s, “The Red Armchair,” is a portrait of Maris Therese-Walter – by whom a much older and married Picasso was smitten. According to the Art Institute of Chicago, which also owns this painting (in its Modern Art Gallery), “the smitten artist began to furtively reference her blond hair, broad features, and voluptuous body in his work. Perhaps acknowledging the double life they were leading, he devised a new motif; a face that encompasses both frontal and profile views.” 

A young woman, in jeans, a leather jacket, and boots, with a portfolio in her hands studies the Picasso.

Of note here is also how well Rockwell has copied the very different works of Sargent and Picasso.

On the surface, this is such a fun painting of a visit to a museum.  But a detailed look reveals a painting full of subtle messages, and this beautiful, almost poignant, painting captures a moment in American history and records it for posterity. 

Sunday Seven – Andy Warhol

The Great American pop artist Andy Warhol died on Feb 22, 1987.  Not only was he an incredibly talented artist, he was the master of the unexpected and had some absolutely brilliant and witty quotes.  Here are some of his gems as this week’s Sunday Seven:

  • People should fall in love with their eyes closed.
  • Don’t pay attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.
  • I just do art because I’m ugly and there’s nothing else for me to do.
  • The idea is not to live forever, it is to create something that will.
  • In the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.
  • I never fall apart, because I never fall together.
  • As soon as you stop wanting something you get it.
  • It’s not what you are that counts, it’s what they think you are.
  • Art is what you can get away with.

Sunday Seven – New York City

I went on an Art History trip to New York City recently.  I am amazed at the vibrancy of the city – it is full of life and lights.  My Sunday Seven this week are an ode to this gorgeous city and its friendly people.

The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world (F. Scott Fitzgerald).

Everybody ought to have a lower East Side in their life (Irving Berlin).

I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline (Ayn Rand).

Once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough (John Steinbeck).

One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years (Tom Wolfe).

It couldn’t have happened anywhere but in little old New York (O’Henry).

I love New York, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway that belongs to me because I belong to it (Truman Capote).

East meets West – in 17th Century India

Bichitr, Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings from the St. Petersburg Album, 1615-1618.

Last week, I came across a miniature painting, Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings, from 17th century Mughal India which perfectly portrays the meeting of East and West and the beginning of the blending of cultures and influences which eventually led to the world becoming a smaller place. The miniature was painted in the Mughal court, from where it went to Persia after the invasion by Nadir Shah in 1739 where the back floral motif was added to the painting.  After this, the painting reached St. Petersburg in Russia (I am not sure how this happened – I will need to research this further).  It is now at the Freer Gallery in the Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art. 

Bichitr (b 1585), a Hindu court artist lived and worked in the court of Jahangir where he painted the Mughal emperor and the happenings in his court.  Between 1615 and 1618, he painted this watercolor, gold leaf, and ink miniature masterpiece which shows Jahangir granting audience to four men who are lined up in the order of importance Jahangir is showing them. 

Jahangir seated on an hourglass throne

Jahangir – the second Mughal emperor of India was the son of the Great Akbar is seen seated on an hourglass throne.  Jahangir liked to be glorified in paintings, and was responsible for the flourishing of Italian Renaissance style painting in his court. Jahangir has a halo of both the sun and moon behind his head, which symbolizes his exalted status.

The hourglass was most likely brought to court in 1584 by an English goldsmith

A connection with Europe is seen in the hourglass which was a European invention.  It has been painted from a gold hourglass that was most likely brought to the court in 1584 by an English goldsmith William Leedes.  Similar European hourglasses from this period are found in museums across Europe.  Two cupids (puttos) at the base of the hourglass are a direct influence of Christian iconographic devices in European art.  Another European influence is the grotesque looking three headed figure at the base of the footstool that is eerily reminiscent of gargoyles.

The Ottoman King – The second person in line is an Ottoman King (though exactly who is unknown) from present day Turkey who stands patiently waiting his turn with his hands folded in deference.

King James – Bichitr painted King James I (1566-1625) of England from a portrait by John De Crtiz (left) which was given to Jahangir by Thomas Roe, the first English ambassador to the Mughal court.  Thomas Roe traveled to Ajmer in 1615 in order to secure trading concessions for the East India Company.  John De Critz (1551–1642) was a Flemish painter who came to England from the Netherlands and was appointed Serjeant-painter to James I in 1605. While the King customarily rests his hand on his sword in de Critz’s painting, it is hovering in a conspicuously non-threatening manner above the sword in Bichitr’s painting. Both kings who wait in line to be seen by Jahangir are from far flung empires showing us that the world has always been interconnected. 

Bichitr: Portrait within a portrait

Self-portrait – The person closest to us (who ironically is the smallest) is the artist himself who has forgone perspective for the sake of aggrandizing his patron Jahangir. That Bichitr had been influenced by Italian Renaissance perspective is evident from the small portrait within the portrait in which he has painted himself with two horses and an elephant (all gifts to him from Jahangir).  He shows his utmost gratitude to Jahangir by bowing deeply before his king.  The portrait within the portrait is made with depth perspective and shows the artist’s skill and the influence of Italian techniques in his work.

This brilliant miniature from the early 1600s shows us how interconnected and small the world was even then.  It is a perfect blending of Persian and Hindu cultures, of European and Turkish influences, and of religious iconography and symbolism – showing us that the world and its peoples have always traveled the globe seeking new people and places.   

Soup Tins & Comic Strips(II)

Andy Warhol, Coca Cola 5 bottles, 1962

Pop Art gave America some of its most well-known and beloved artists and iconic paintings, and proved to be a form of self-affirmation for a young nation still looking to old European masters for inspiration and approval. Andy Warhol (1929-1987), whose name has become synonymous with Pop Art is the leading figure of this movement. His creative peak was between 1962 and 1968, when he produced a series of paintings which proved to be the high-point of the pop art movement.

Having had a previous career in advertising, Warhol favored commercial techniques, and was keenly aware of the way imagery could be manipulated. His soup tin and head of Marilyn Monroe with which he has become inextricably linked are considered pop art icons. In Marilyn Monroe (1964), Andy Warhol painted twenty-five images of Marilyn Monroe emphasizing how easily the image can be mass produced. A closer look, however, reveals that each head varies slightly from the next, “here the eye shadow is darker, there the hair is lighter, in another place the lips are smudged.” (John Sandberg, Art Journal). In Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962), by removing soup tins from the supermarket aisle and placing them in a new setting, Warhol changed the way America looked at art.

Roy Lichtenstein, Whaam! 1963
Roy Lichtenstein, Drowning Girl, 1963

Another groundbreaking pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) looked to comic strips for inspiration right down to the Benday dots used in cheap comic strip printing.  With Whaam! (1963), Lichtenstein took a highly charged subject matter and shows it in a completely detached emotionless way.  According to Tate Modern, this was commercial art in a fine art context.  In the melodramatic Drowning Girl (1963), he copied a comic strip right down to the dots. 

Peter Blake, Beatles Album Cover

British Pop Art, though inspired by America was less brash.  It seems softer and bordered on nostalgia. Peter Blake (b. 1932), a member of the avant-garde British pop artist Independent Group, whose original claim to fame was the co-creation of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, is a leading figure in British pop art. In one of his most well-known works Self-Portrait with Badges (1961), Blake pays homage to tradition with the badges, and to popular culture, particular American culture, with baseball shoes, denim fabric, and the magazine dedicated to Elvis Presley who had just become famous in Britain (Tate Modern).

Peter Blake, The FIrst Real target, 1961

In The First Real Target (1961), in true Pop Art fashion, an everyday item becomes an item of visual interest.  Moreover, by alluding to American pop artist Jasper Johns, who is known for painting targets, Blake acknowledges the appeal and influence of American pop art and popular culture. 

The Pop Art movement faded away by the end of the 1970s, but left its mark on the art world. It made ordinary, recognizable objects into visual art and paved the way for artists to explore the nature of art which in turn led to experimentation and art movements such as Postmodernism, Photorealism, and Neo-Expressionism.

Ia short span of less than two decades, Pop Art unchained the fine art, highbrow shackles that had chained art for centuries, and made it fun, vibrant, colorful, relatable, and democratic. The movement’s most enduring legacy, however, is that it has made the world a little less rigid, and a little more tolerant and open-minded.  It showed the world that there is more than one way of seeing things, and in so doing, forever changed the way the world looks at art.

Matryoshka Dolls

For my birthday, one of my friends gave me a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls.  They are absolutely beautiful, and I love opening them one by one to take out the smaller doll from inside the bigger doll – there is something so satisfying about the smoothness with which the dolls come apart and reveal their secret – I’m not surprised they are so loved by Russians and everyone else. 

My beautiful birthday present has a set of 10

The Matryoshka dolls, also called babushka dolls or nesting dolls, are made of lime, birch, alder or linden wood. Once the logs are cut, they are left to aerate for two years before the wood is ready to be carved.  Highly skilled artisans carve the doll, starting with the smallest doll that cannot be taken apart and working their way to the biggest doll in the set.  Once the carving is complete, the doll is covered in glue to smooth out the surface and get it ready for painting

The dolls are mostly painted in Russian folk art form and depict a delightful village life. In one popular version, the dolls look like Russian peasant girls with colorful scarves (or babushkas hence the name), and are wearing sarafans (pinafore dresses) and carrying baskets, flowers, or a scythe. Sometimes the set is a complete family with children, sometimes they depict Russian nobility, sometimes they are painted to represent the time period or some newsworthy event – for example in 1909 to celebrate the anniversary of Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol, the dolls were painted like characters from his books.

Traditional Russian Nesting Dolls

The first Russian dolls were carved in 1890 by craftsman Vasily Zvyozdochkin and painted by Sergey Malyutin.  They were both folk artists who worked under the patronage of Savva Mamontov, a wealthy industrialist. The dolls gained global exposure when Mamontov’s wife presented the dolls at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris where they won the bronze medal.

The dolls were named after the Russian name “Matryona,” which was a very popular name in Russia in the late 1800s.  The name is derived from the Latin word “mater” for mother, and since the motherly name fit the dolls perfectly and the name stuck.  The most number of dolls in one set is 48, and it was made in 1913 in the city of Semyonov. My set has 10, as does my sister’s set which is actually Czech not Russian.

Though considered quintessentially Russian, the first nesting dolls are from Song Dynasty in China (1000 CE) where the smallest doll would be holding a grain of rice.  From here they went to Japan where the seven luck Gods were made as seven nesting dolls, with Fukurokuju the Japanese god of happiness as the biggest and the other six nesting inside.  It is speculated that it was these Japanese dolls which served as the inspiration for the first Russian dolls.

Ragged Old Flag

On this Flag Day, I wanted to honor the flag with this poem by Johnny Cash.

Ragged Old Flag

I walked through a county courthouse square
On a park bench an old man was sitting there
I said, your old courthouse is kinda run down
He said, naw, it'll do for our little town
I said, your old flagpole has leaned a little bit
And that's a ragged old flag you got hanging on it

He said, have a seat, and I sat down
Is this the first time you've been to our little town?
I said, I think it is
He said, I don't like to brag
But we're kinda proud of that ragged old flag

You see, we got a little hole in that flag there when 
Washington took it across the Delaware
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing say can you see
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin' at its seams

And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the texas flag, but she waved on though
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg
And the south wind blew hard on that ragged old flag

On Flanders field in World War one
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun
She turned blood red in World War Two
She hung limp and low a time or two
She was in Korea and Vietnam
She went where she was sent by Uncle Sam

She waved from our ships upon the Briny foam
And now they've about quit waving her back here at home
In her own good land here she's been abused 
She's been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused

And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land
And she's getting threadbare and wearing thin
But she's in good shape for the shape she's in
'Cause she's been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more

So we raise her up every morning
We take her down every night
We don't let her touch the ground and we fold her up right
On second thought, I do like to brag
'Cause I'm mighty proud of that ragged old flag

(Images Courtesy Smithsonian.com, US Govt and War Archives Websites)

An Ode to A City

Patrick Martinez was born and raised in Los Angeles, with a multicultural heritage – he is Filipino, Mexican, and Native American. This gives him a unique persepective and outlook – something that he has translated into his artwork – all of which show that his figers are firmly placed on the pulse of his city and the nation.

He captures the essence of the city and its forgotten nooks and crannies – neon signs from convenience stores, bakeries, and barber shops that tell desparate stories, funeral wreaths for sale on street corners, a shocking pink bogainviilea peeking out from over a fence – all these show up in his mixed media work – and convey messages about forgotten streets and overlooked people.

Martinez has taken very ordinary neon light signs seen in local shops and bars and turned them into meaningful works of art.  In one, the neon sign reads, references German (anti-Nazi) pastor Martin Niemoller’s  (1892 – 1984) well known quote: First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

Baggage Claim

Only an immigrant, especially one that has left home in a rush can understand the value of baggage. The exhibition Baggage Claims at the Orlando Museum of Art explores the role of baggage in our lives – baggage is the only thing all our immigrant parents brought with them when they came to this country.

South African artist Dan Halter’s large world map made of cheap woven plastic bags – which serve as baggage to many poor people throughout the world -shows more people are displaced today than at any time in world history; all they have is the baggage they left their homes with.  Refugees from Syria are travelling through continents with their baggage, and with the emotional baggage of leaving their homes under such sad circumstances.

Here a pile of suitcases wait patiently on the floor waiting to be picked up by the owners.  Almost all pieces of art in this exhibition were on the floor – as though they had just been left there briefly by the traveler, while taking a break from carrying them.

Cuban artist Yoan Capote’s Nostalgia is a brick filled suitcase – perhaps reminding us of the dangerous voyages the people of Cuba have taken across the seas at the risk of drowning to the bottom of the sea with their heavy baggage. Indian artist Subodh Gupta showcases a common piece a luggage used by the weary traveler – a rolled up mattress that can be unrolled for sleeping on, when the traveler gets tired. 

Portable City Chinese artist, Yin Xiuzhen, shows a suitcase which carries an entire beloved city. Pieces like this make one realize how difficult it is for immigrants and refugees to leave their hometowns, not knowing if they will ever see them again.  The bright and cheerful color of the suitcase shows how much the artist loves her city.