Saturday, March 26, 2011

Modigliani - Part One

The recent biography by Meryle Secrest, Modigliani: A Life, aims to resuscitate the reputation of Amedeo Modigliani, known to history as a dissolute good-for-nothing who drank himself to death at age 35. Secrest has researched direct sources in France and Italy to uncover the truth about Modigliani's brief life and artistic career.

"Modi" in 1909 wearing his artistic style of clothing in Paris

Modigliani was born in 1884 in Livorno, Italy to a family of Sephardic Jews who claimed to trace their history back to the philosopher Spinoza in the 17th century. Known to his family by the nickname "Dedo", Modigliani was the fourth child in a family that struggled with poverty after a history of wealth. His mother ran a school for young children and educated Dedo at home, where he learned to read and write in both Italian and French at an early age. There are family stories about Dedo drawing continuously on every type of surface, and at age 12 his mother wrote that, "He already sees himself as an artist."

He had problems with lung diseases from his youth, and at age 15 he contracted tuberculosis. Secrest details the widespread contagion of tuberculosis and its progression in the body (in the 1850s half the population of Britain had the disease) . Tuberculosis usually first attacks the lungs and can eat away the tissue, causing bloody sputum and hemorrhages. (As we now know, it is a contagious disease that can be passed among a population - especially among young and immune-suppressed people. About one-third of the world's population is currently infected with TB, according to the World Health Organization.)

Although TB is now treated with antibiotics, at the turn of the 20th century the only cure was rest and nourishing food, preferably in an atmosphere of seabreezes or mountain air. Dedo went away with his mother to the Mediterranean coast for about six months for the rest cure, and the disease went into remission. However, the main thesis of Secrest's book is that tuberculosis came back to haunt Modigliani later in life and progressed from his lungs to other parts of his body, ultimately causing his death.

Artist in the studio - 1916

Modigliani moves to Paris
First continuing his art studies in Florence, Rome, Naples and Venice, Modigliani relocated to Paris in 1906, supported by some money from his mother and an allowance from an uncle. Secrest sets the scene in Paris evocatively, including the cost of bread and milk and listing the various types of workers who performed the humble tasks necessary for the city's operation.

Modigliani made friends easily and moved to the artists' quarter in Montmarte within a few months. Now known to his friends as "Modi," his studio was described by a friend as "a tumbledown shack on a treeless, ugly scrap of ground, and although it was furnished in the most spartan manner, oppressive and neglected like a beggar's hovel, one was always glad to go there for one found an artistic atmosphere in which one was never bored." And Modi and friends could be found most nights at the "combination cafe' and watering hole", the Lapin Agile.

The Lapin Agile 1880-1890 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Lapin Agile 2010 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

A Hard Life
Modigliani sold very little work during his early years in Paris and depended on loans or donations from his family to get by. He was always struggling to eat, have a place to live and get a drink. He was good looking, charming and attracted women, who sometimes let them live with them or "loaned" him money. He had an open manner and a natural sense of style that gave him an "aristocratic" air, despite his lack of funds. A longer-term benefactor was Paul Alexandre, a doctor who loved the artistic life and bought a derelict old building where he invited artists to live.

Jean Alexandre, brother of Paul, Modi's benefactor

Portrait of Chaim Soutine, a friend of Modi's

A Modigliani head, ca. 1910.  Modi was friends with Brancusi and influenced by him and by African sculpture.

More to Follow

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Relief and Rest In Peace

I went looking for an image for "relief" and Google didn't quite take my meaning. But that's OK because I do like this image that I selected from the many bas-reliefs they offered.

Some debate as to whether this is Innana, Ishtar or Lilith. Anyway, I like the pedicure.

Relief, the feeling
I finished the two commission pieces yesterday and felt so relieved to have accomplished the mission. I got a better feeling about them when I arrived at the studio after (day job) work on Tuesday afternoon. I think the photos I took did not represent the actual state of the work very well. In person they looked much better and there was less work left to do than I had agonized over. I spent a few hours putting on the finishing touches and went home feeling that the work was done to the best of my ability. Late today I delivered them to the photographer and tomorrow I should have images. I'm planning to deliver them to the gallery on Saturday for the client to see in person.

I am so looking forward to going to the studio tomorrow to begin new work that no one has seen before - including me.

R.I.P. Elizabeth Taylor

Liz as Cleo

Looking at the image of the ancient goddess above reminded me of Cleopatra and her Isis worship since I am currently reading the bio by Stacy Schiff. Of course it's impossible to read about Cleo and not think of Elizabeth Taylor in that horrible movie, especially today. I actually tried to rewatch it recently just to see what it was like after all these years. It really is horrific. Seeing some of the get-ups that Elizabeth wore is pretty amusing. She certainly was beautiful although she had an unpleasant voice. You'd think the studio would have given her voice lessons so she could learn to pitch it lower.

Elizabeth Taylor at the peak of her mature beauty

I read the "scandalous" bio of her by Kitty Kelley, which you have to take with a pound of salt. It was actually rather sad that most of Elizabeth's childhood was sucked away by the Hollywood star system. Her mother was a notorious stage-mother type who controlled everything and promoted her daughter's incipient hypochondriasis (there's a word for you). Bad behavior set in early and continued for most of Elizabeth's life. She did not have a reputation of being a good actress, despite all the postmortem accolades.

One thing that she absolutely does deserve credit for is the acceptance that she brought to HIV/AIDS and the fundraising that she spearheaded. She apparently first became interested because of her friendship with Rock Hudson, and then became closely identified with AIDS-related charities. She is reported to have helped raise more than $100 million to fight HIV/AIDS. She helped start the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and also created her own Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

Rock Hudson with Elizabeth at the Golden Globes in 1985

She was someone who spoke out in public when she had something to say. In 2003 she refused to attend the Academy Awards because she opposed the Iraq war. She publicly condemned President George W. Bush for starting the war and calling on Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq because she feared it would start World War III. Good for you, Elizabeth! If only the media and the war-mongering public had listened way back then.

An Andy Warhol "Liz" sold at auction in July 2010 for $10.1 million

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Block

After a miserable winter here in the Northeast U.S., we've been grasping at every possible sign that spring is here - the crocuses, the tiny sprig of green that appears when snow melts, a greenish blush of grass on the lawn, a warm sun, bugs, abandoned hat and gloves. Today, the first real day of spring, was a cruel disappointment.

Snow again. All day. A wet, cold, sticky, clean-off-your-car and get-your-hair-soaked snow.

Yes, it was pretty, but pretty is as pretty does.

Bleak view
This was a grim beginning to spring, especially with thoughts of the misery in Japan and now a new war begun that's not really a war, so we are told.

In the studio, I'm stuck remaking my work again. It feels like I'm going around in a hamster wheel. Oh, I'm glad to have a commission to make a larger version of a piece I have already made, but on the heels of my repainting of a painting, it's not really any fun - especially since I can't seem to recapture the mood of the original. I spent all day prying up elements and replacing them with different ones that were more like those in the original piece. I'm still not there and now I have to hustle to get to the photographer's.

As I look again at the pictures in this post, I see that I have a central foreground block in each of them. They epitomize the way I am feeling. I am concentrating so much on what's right in front of me that I'm not seeing what lies beyond. It's seeing the tree instead of the forest. Oh, look - I've just made a post that teaches me a lesson even as I write it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Blaming the Victim

During a visit to my mother at the nursing home this week, Bonnie and I asked her if she had seen the TV coverage of the devastation in Japan. Our jaws dropped in shock when she said that she had and that it "served them right" since it was retribution for "what they did in the war."

Utagawa Hiroshige - The Great Wave

Apparently this racist view of the Japanese people deserving to have the ferocious earthquake and tsunami brutalizing their country is not limited to my mother, as I discovered when I Googled "blaming the Japanese." The list of their "crimes" apparently extends to their killing dolphins, "mistreating their citizens" and a variety of whatever else people can dream up.

The idea of god and/or nature judging an entire people and administering justice reminds me that I made a good choice in being an atheist. With a god like that, it's no wonder I want nothing to do with it. I'm giving my mother a pass because of her dementia, but I know that many people who think this way have no excuse for their vengeful thinking. Such ideas can only be countered by pointing out the fallacy that most of the people now suffering in Japan had anything to do with Pearl Harbor or catching dolphins.

Even my mother had to recognize the validity of this statement--although seeing the logical inconsistency has nothing to do with stopping belief in the vengeful god of their imaginations. People will think what they think and most don't even voice their hateful thoughts unless they can do it anonymously. Apparently those who Twitter such hateful remarks are not able to be as anonymous as necessary to avoid retribution themselves. Here's today's example of not knowing when to tweet and/or being punished for expressing your dumber ideas.

Utagawa Hiroshige - The Sea Off Satta

If you, being a charitable and thoughtful person, want to donate to Japanese relief efforts, here is a link to The Japan Society, where 100% of your donation will be directed to organizations that directly help people recover from the effects of the natural and man-made (from nuclear power) catastrophe.

Defunding National Public Radio
In more current instances of retribution, the Republicans in the House are having a field day running down the laundry list of all their pet peeves now that they're in the majority. Of course many of them do not object to these items solely because of their  ideological opposition; there are also benefits that will accrue to their corporate backers if they are eliminated.

Although they claim that funding NPR forces taxpayers to pay for dissemination of Liberal views, I think what they really want is less access to news of any kind for many radio listeners that is untainted by twisted "Fair and Balanced" radio stations owned by such corporations as Clear Channel and/or operated by Conservative types who feature obnoxious right-wing programs. The nonsense about the O'Keefe undercover video revealing the true beliefs of NPR executives is just the excuse they needed to push their defunding bill forward  as an emergency measure that ignored the three-day rule they had put in place themselves. All the Democrats in the House voted against the bill and all the Republicans but seven voted for it, so the bill passed 228-192. The Senate is expected to let it die without even considering it.

Check out Rep. Anthony Weiner's sarcastic commentary on the bill. He's talking about my favorite guys and I Looooove the Boston accent - being in possession of one myself.

Japan Plus NPR will hold an on-air fundraiser on Monday, March 21st

My favorite NPR station, that I listen to most of the time I'm in the studio, is WAMC in Albany, NY. They operate 22 stations in the tri-state area of New York, Massachusetts and Vermont. On Monday, March 21st, WAMC is having a fundraiser for Japan relief. If you listen to WAMC, please contribute by phone or internet. They have done this very successfully for 911 relief and for the Haiti earthquake relief.

Coming Soon
Images of new art made in the studio. Imagine that!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Influences

Lisa Pressman asked me to share my work influences and sources of inspiration. My list appeared in her blog today with images that I chose (click on them to expand). Check it out here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Champing at the Bit

On Sunday I picked up the panels for my Arden Gallery commission. On Monday I began gathering things together and making the elements for the work. I'm ready to roll, but in between all my preparation, I was framing and wrapping the work that I'm delivering tomorrow. Until I get all that out of my studio, I can't began moving ahead.

Antares, 2007, encaustic and mixed media, 12"x36". This painting was hanging in our living room for more than three years. Will I miss it?

I am really anxious to get going on the new work, but I thought I would show you the pieces that are moving out of the studio and into a new home at Boston Medical Center. (Click on pix to enlarge.)

Halcyon, 2007, encaustic and mixed media, 12"x24". I had this piece hanging in the opposite direction with the leaf at the bottom left, but suddenly I looked at it and decided that it should go this way. Strange after all this time.

All the work is framed in black wood frames that I installed. It always seems like such a good idea to frame the work myself - until I'm actually doing it. Then I wonder how I ever got myself into this and why I am so self-masochistic.

Bellatrix, 2007, encaustic and mixed media, 12"x36". I was always fond of this piece. It has sculptural stenciled areas and embedded flowers.

But it all got done and they are wrapped and ready to travel.

La Dolce Vita, 2007, encaustic and mixed media, 12"x24". This piece has plaster under the pink ovals.

When I look at these pieces now, I recall how much I was experimenting with various techniques, trying to get  it all to come together. I think they are quite decorative, but maybe people in the hospital will find them soothing.

Wrigley's Best, 2009, encaustic and mixed media, 24"x24". This piece was completed by the deep frame I put on it. It looked like enamel or glass after I polished it up.

Happy Family, 2009, encaustic and mixed media. These two are not really soothing - rhythmic?

It's odd that I feel so disconnected from all this work in some ways. Wrigley's Best and Happy Family were made for the show that Lynette Haggard and I had together in 2009 called Physical Geography: Explorations in Rich Surface. That seems like eons ago.

The Portal, 2009, encaustic and mixed media, 20"x32"

The Maze, 2009, encaustic and mixed media, 20"x32"

These last two were also shown in Physical Geography. They were painted on top of old drawings that had those wavy blue lines. The Maze is one of my favorites.

There are also two works on paper included in the selection. These are painted with thin washes of acrylic on Okawara ricepaper. I have sold a lot of this work to corporate collectors in the past until the recession hit.

Fruition, 2009, acrylic on ricepaper, 24"x24"

Correspondence, 2009, acrylic on ricepaper, 24"x24"

These two I did not have to frame personally - luckily for me. That's a whole other thing. You know how those little specks of fluff, dog hair, cat hair and whatever get on the mat and you don't see them until you have fastened on the frame and the glass magnifies everything?

Finally, the piece de resistance - the new Ooooo. I'm sure you must be tired of this painting by now, but rest assured, tomorrow it's history in my studio - and blog.

Ooooo, oil and cold wax on canvas, 36"x36"

And it did look good in the deep frame that Bonnie helped me to attach. It's a good thing that we have four hands when called for, and that I have a willing partner with an expert eye and a propensity for exacting measurements.

Now, on to the new...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Convincing Conclusion

The new version of the old painting is done. I'm waiting for the OK from the art consultant, but I don't know what else I could have done to paint it differently.

Ooooo - new version - 2011 - oil and cold wax on canvas, 36"x36"

It looks a little different from the original, but unless you toggled back and forth between the two versions, I don't know that you would notice much of a change. This one is not as slick as it appears in this photo and the old version is not as sketchy as it appears in its image. (You can see the old one here.) It looks good in person and the color is a bit stronger in some places. (By the way, you can click on the images to enlarge them.)

Ooooo detail of the new version

Yellow is a hard color to capture and you can see that the yellow ground looks very different between the image of the full painting and the detail. Actually, neither one is really accurate, but the detail is probably closer to the truth.

At some point during the painting yesterday, I decided that the piece had to stand or fall on its own - enough with the copying; let's make a painting. I remembered my favorite painting teacher, Rob Moore, talking about a painting having to be convincing. And before anyone else can be convinced, the artist has to reach that point. I had to be convinced that the painting had reached its conclusion and made sense to me. Well, I'm there.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Repainting the Painting

I have worked for a total of about 10 hours on the new version of Oooo, the oil painting that I mentioned in my last post. As you recall, the first version, painted in 2007, had been sold by an art consultant along with several other of my works. When I brought the painting to the studio to frame it, I discovered that the surface was unstable and the painting could not be sold in its present condition because it would flake away to nothingness.

Notations on a printed image of the repainted painting

This repainting is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I thought it would be more fun to just paint and not have to make decisions about what came next. Instead, I have no emotional connection to where I place the next mark; I am just copying what existed previously, trying to get the colors and spacing right as if I wasn't even the person who made the painting in the first place. This is an eye-opening task.

My plan is to get the elements in the right place (did I have to make so many of those GD boxes?) and then try to infuse some emotion into the thing even if it's not exactly like the original. There has to be some connection between me and the painting or it will look like it came from some mall or maybe one of those factories where paintings are made on an assembly line.

I'll keep you posted.