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Friday, February 28, 2014

Antonio de la Gandara

Caricature Artists of the Black Cat, Antonio de la Gandara

Antonio de la Gandara
I love caricatures. I love doing them; I love seeing them; I love artists who can do them and do them well. They are, in fact, portraits, albeit funny portraits, distorted portraits, often even ugly portraits, but portraits nonetheless. At first glance, caricatures look easy. I mean, they seem to be just cartoons. However, it takes a pretty good portrait artist to draw really good caricatures. Why? Well, first of all, the artist must have an intimate grasp of human facial anatomy. As some artist once said (wish I could remember whom), you have to know the rules before you can break them. That is, you have to know the face before you can destroy it. Of course, being a portrait, the face becomes much more than just the sum-total of its parts (features). They have to relate to one another as to size and placement even as both are being distorted. Beyond that, a good caricaturist should be able to draw an eye, or still more difficult, a nose from virtually any angle. And surprisingly, often one of the most difficult parts of a face, is the leading edge of the cheek (assuming a three-quarter angle). The mind is predisposed to think of a face from a straight-on front view. Thus, even the best artists have to struggle against that stereotypical angle. Even a minute error, especially near the eyes and cheekbone, literally screams AMATEUR!
Volupte, Antonio de la Gandara--the lingering stain of Cabanel
The discourse above explains why I was so struck by the work of the turn of the (20th) century French, high-society, portrait artist, Antonio de la Gandara. If, from just the name, you're picturing a squirrely little man with a cute little curled up moustache, you wouldn't be far off--except he was actually quite tall and slender--but the rest would be right on (above, right). He was born in Paris in 1861, his father Spanish, his mother English. Like all good little French boys wanting to become artists, by the time he was fifteen, Gandara was studying at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Gerome and Cabanel, though, thankfully, his mature work bears little resemblance to either. By 1883, he was being recognized by the Paris Salon jury for his first major work, St. Sebastian. From that point on Gandara's star soared, his work often compared to that of Whistler and Sargent, who were both friends of his and who, in fact, shared his studio at times.

Jean Pierre Dubost,
Antonio de la Gandara
del Solar with his
Antonio de la Gandara

Madame X, 1883.
John Singer
Madame Pierre
Gautreau, 1889
Antonio de la Gandara
Antonio de la Gandara would, today, probably be a high fashion photographer, his work appearing on the covers of Vogue, Seventeen, and Harper's. In fact his work did appear on magazine covers of the time, just not those particular ones. Instead, Gandara painted all the "beautiful people" in Paris including the little beautiful people, their children (above, left and right). He knew all the right people who referred their friends to him, and he delivered a product with style and even a certain daring panache. He was there in 1883, to enjoy the uproar over John Singer Sargent's scandalous portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau, better known as Madame X (far left), and in fact, painted her himself some six years later in 1889 (near left). Fortunately (or perhaps, unfortunately) for him, there wasn't much of an uproar over his version.

La  Concorde Square, Paris, Antonio de la Gandara--one of the artist's few non-portraits.
La Belle Elegante,
Antonio de la Gandara
If nothing else, Gandara's work provides us with a fairly comprehensive look at ladies' turn-of-the-century Paris fashions as his wealthy, high society ladies modeled their latest designer outfits (costumes?). Most are quite beautiful (assuming a 1900s aesthetic mindset), glamorous, and all appear quite elegant. If some seem a little "over the top" (left), that's little different from what the Paris runways often exhibit today. The portrait artist Antonio de la Gandara was what we'd call in the fashion world today, "hot." However, around 1917, his popularity faded quite quickly.  He died. While the works of his colleagues, Whistler and Sargent, have become iconic, Gandara's paintings came to be seen as shallow and superficial. Having painted little besides high-fashion, he simply fell from fashion. Apparently, there's more to painting a portrait of a beautiful woman than rendering her beautiful dress.

Beauty and the Beast,
Antonio de la Gandara
(not Disney).
Love and the Lion,
Antonio de la Gandara
(The Lion King maybe?)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Mexican Picasso

Nochturno, 1990, Byron Galvez--beautiful, but not very Picassoy in my view.
Byron Galvez
In my unending pursuit of "everything there is to know about art," one of the most consistent factors I've encountered is the enormous, international influence of one Pablo Picasso. I can't tell you the number of artists I've looked at who have been termed the "Picasso" of their native country. Often times there's not even "the" Picasso, but one of many Picassos, there being some dispute among critics and various financial interest as to which artist in a given country is the "Picassoiest" of several possible candidates. I wonder if Picasso would be flattered or outraged. I'm almost to the point of declaring Picasso as the most influential artist in the entire history of art. Well, anyway, today I found the artist whom that great art connoisseur, Vincent Price, declared to be the "Mexican Picasso." His name was Byron Galvez (he died in 2009 at the age of sixty-eight). I wonder how many other "Mexican Picassos" there might be.

Bronze Female Sculpture, 1989, Byron Galvez
In all fairness to both Galvez and Vincent Price, there is more than a passing resemblance in this Mexican artist's work to that of the Spanish Picasso (Spanish bloodlines, perhaps). Though Galvez traveled to various countries in Europe, there's no indication he knew Picasso personally, or any of the other European artists who influenced him. He was simply a museum tourist (like myself). Virtually all of Galvez's formal training was of Mexican origin, first in growing up in a highly musical farm family (where he only wanted to draw) and then at the National School of the Arts in Mexico City. It was there he first encountered Picasso and Cubism. There, too, he broadened his art to include "Picassoy" sculpture (above) as well as painted Cubism. Byron completed the coursework but never bothered to graduate with a degree. Becoming an artist was more important to him than studying to become an artist. He launched into a career, pursuing commissions, entering competitions, joining exhibitions, along side José Chávez Morado, Alfredo Zalce, José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, Carlos Orozco Romero and David Alfaro Siqueiros. He was also quite accomplished in selling his work (to Price, among others), and perhaps most important, marrying the woman selling his work--his art dealer, Eva Beloglovsky.
The largest mural in the world,
400 meters by 80 meters, a mural big enough
to jog on or land a small plane.
Byron Galvez's greatest and most lasting contribution to his country's artistic culture did not involve Picasso at all but the design and execution of the largest pedestrian mural in the world. Along with the master plan, in 2007, Galvez designed the central mosaic for the David Ben Gurion Cultural Park in Pachuca. The park project was the last before his death. It included, not only the creation of the 345,000 square-foot central mosaic, but also the design of the 65-acre park itself. Located in the metropolitan area of ​​Pachuca, the David Ben-Gurion Cultural Park consists of a Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of the Conservatoire for All Time, a convention center, a concert hall, a Museum of Science and Technology, a top hotel, and a shopping mall. There's also a sculpture garden dedicated to public art and monumental sculpture. Even Picasso has nothing like associated with his name.

An aerial view of Galvez' massive mural and the David Ben-Gurion Cultural Park
 (still under construction) around 2010.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Judith with Holofernes, 1596, Fede Galizia
Judith with Holofernes (detail),
of the dress, Fede Galizia
Fede Galizia Self-portrait, preliminary
drawing for Judith with Holofernes
It's not to uncommon for me to begin researching an artist and then get sidetracked by a far more interesting and important painting or topic I encounter along the way. Today I began looking at the work of the Italian Renaissance artist, Fede, Galizia. Female artists, especially during that period, are as rare as hen's teeth, so I began accumulating images of some of her work. Her most famous painting turned out to be her version of one of the most consistently popular figures since the early Renaissance--Judith (along with her co-star, Holofernes). Galizia's version is above. It's a typical rendition from the Mannerist era, exceptional primarily for the extreme detail Galizia renders in Judith's ornate frock (above, left). Her father painted miniatures. Also interesting is the fact that she apparently used herself as the model for Judith (above, right).

Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1598-99, Caravaggio--one of the bloodiest

Judith and Holofernes,
1431(?), Andrea Mantegna.
Judith and Holofernes,
1455-60, Donatello
Many people think the incident involving Judith and Holofernes is from the Bible. Actually, it's not (unless you're Catholic, that is.) It's from the Book of Judith in the Catholic Old Testament as accepted by the 5th century Bible scholar, Jerome, who chose to make it a part of the Latin Vulgate. Protestants consider the Book of Judith as part of the Apocrypha. It's just as well, the whole bloody incident is hardly the stuff of Sunday School lessons. Although a few artists may have latched onto the episode somewhat earlier, the earliest painted image of Judith I can find comes from the brush of Andrea Mantegna around 1431 (left, that date is not consistent with all sources). However, it seems to have been the sculptor, Donatello, whose bronze masterpiece dating from 1455-60 (above, right), most popularized the story for painters.

Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1620-21, Artemisia Gentileschi
And precisely what is this story from the Book of Judith? Judith, is a beautiful widow able to enter the tent of Holofernes, an Assyrian general, because of his desire for her. He is about to destroy the Judith's hometown of Bethulia. Though artists have sometimes suggested otherwise, the Book of Judith insists there was nothing sexual between them. She gets him drunk, he passes out, she cuts off his head, whereupon it is taken away in a basket by an elderly servant, usually depicted as being female. Most artist renderings fall into one of two categories, the slaying itself, or the removal of the evidence from the scene of the crime (though, sometimes, both, as seen below by Michelangelo).

Michelangelo's Judith, her servant, and the headless Holofernes, Sistine Chapel, 1508-12.
Judith, 1927, Fran Stuck
Judith, 1901, Gustave Klimt
The list of artists who have jumped at the chance to depict such a traumatic scene is quite lengthy. It's said more than 141 different paintings have been rendered of the subject by almost that many different artists (a few have painted it more than once). Michelangelo saw fit to include the incident in one corner of his Sistine Chapel ceiling (above). The Germans and the Northern Renaissance artists loved the story  Lucas Cranche (the elder) painted it around 1530. Among the dozens of others who have tackled the subject are Caravaggio, and Artemisia Gentileschi (who seemed to be trying to outdo one another as to quantity of blood spilled), as well as Cristofano Allori, Sandro Botticelli and Giorgione (all 15th century), Veronese, Titian, Parmigianino, Rembrandt, Rubens, and a virtual "who's who" of other artists, big and small, good and bad. In modern times, Gustave Klimt (above, left) gave us his elegant take on the story (1901) along with Franz Stuck in 1927 (above, right). More recently (1997), the inimitable Russian pair, Vitaliy Komar and Alexander Melamed, produced a surprisingly uncontroversial Judith on the Red Square (below), which casts a shadowy, young, Russian girl as Judith holding up the head of Holofernes as played by Joseph Stalin.

Judith on the Red Square, 1997, Vitaliy Komar, Alexander Melamed--a bloodless coup.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fujishima Takeji

Snow at the Hiunkaku, Nishihonganji Temple, Kyoto, Fujishima Takeji
Snow at Chioin Temple,
 1943, Fujishima Takeji
In order for a lasting artistic tradition to develop, a nation or ethnic culture must possess two fundamental qualities. Both are the result of a single factor--economic stability. That blessing allows the development of two more, an educated elite, and excess wealth. In effect, the first provides the artists, the second buys their time to pursue their creative instincts. Wealth and economic stability likewise result in an environment conducive to such pursuits. In the Far East, the two major national cultures to achieve the level of economic stability resulting in lasting artistic traditions--an art history--have been China and Japan. That's not to exclude Southeast Asia or Korea, but both of these cultures have been so heavily influenced by the two powerhouses as to be adjuncts rather than unique entities. The other important aspect in the development of a modern artistic culture is the acceptance of foreign influences and the successful melding of them into the existing art of a nation. China has done that, for the most part, only within the past fifty or sixty years. In Japan, such foreign influences date back to the turn of the 20th century.
Hiroshima Museum of Art
Fujishima Takeji
Nude with Peach Blossom,
1902, Fujishima Takeji,
Hiroshima Museum of Art.
There is, in Hiroshima, Japan, a private art museum called (naturally enough) The Hiroshima Museum of Art (left, not to be confused with the huge Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art). It's not large, and it has struggled financially over the years; but it also houses an interesting record of this century-long acceptance of Western (mostly European) art influences, displaying the work of artists such as Seurat, Cezanne, Vuillard, Redon, Soutine, and Modigliani (an interesting combination, perhaps having more to do with the costs of acquisitions than aesthetic or historical factors). However, also in the museum's collection are works by Japanese artists, Kuroda Seiki, Saborusuke Okada, Ryusei Kishida, Kunzo Minami, Maeta Kanji, Yuzo Saeki, and Fujishima Takeji. What these painters have in common is that they all studied for a period of time in Europe, adopting European stylistic influences and European content into their work. Minus the wall labels, any of them could pass for French, Spanish, or Italian artists. Fujishima Takeji (above, right) is an interesting case in point.
Pond, Villa Deste ,1908-09, Fujishima Takeji--Japanese Impressionism?
The Great Buddha at Kamakura,
Fujishima, Takeji
Fujishima Takeji (remember, the family name comes first) was born in 1867 in Kagoshima (that's on the southern tip of the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu). He left home for Tokyo in 1884 at the age of seventeen to study art there in traditional Japanese art academies (the only kind there were at the time). However, that's not to say there was not already Japanese artists teaching Western art, one of them being Yamamoto Hōsui, who, having studied in Paris, was eager to add a European vitalization to what had become an extremely hidebound, conservative, Japanese painting culture. Fujishima Takeji fell under his influence, even though he, himself, could not afford to visit Europe. For twelve years, starting in 1893, Fujishima taught elementary art in Tsu, Mie Prefecture (coastal south-central part of Japan) saving his money to move to Europe to further his studies.

Morning glory and women, 1904, Fujishima Takeji. Not all of the artist's
Western style paintings were done after he went to Europe.

Woman with a Black Fan,
1908, Fujishima Takeji
Fujishima studied at Paris' Ecole des Beaux Arts, as well as their branch, the French Academy in Rome for five years before returning to Tokyo to become a professor at the Tokyo School of Art. He was elected a member of the Imperial Art Academy and was among the first to receive Order of Culture from the Japanese government. He died in 1943 at the age of seventy-six. In little more than half a lifetime, he and his wall-mates in Hiroshima's little museum of art were the driving force in freeing Japanese painting from its stifling medieval past, bringing it into the 20th century.

Scent, 1915, Fujishima Takeji--Japanese subject, European style.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Brian Froud

"I work intuitively, the images appearing before me and demanding attention, their meanings and voices unclear until much later, when the sketch or painting is done. This was the approach I used when I designed two of Jim Henson's movies: The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The scripts and characters developed organically from my sketches and paintings rather than the other way around."
                                                                                                             --Brian Froud

Brian Froud Self-portrait
The other Brian Froud.
It's hard to say which is the real Brian Froud.

Emergence, Brian Froud
A couple days ago I wrote on the art of Frank Frazetta. At the time I said fantasy art, and especially that of Frazetta, was not my "cup of tea." I've not changed my opinion of fantasy art, but I must say that the work of English artist/illustrator, Brian Froud, is considerably easier for me to take. Whereas Frazetta, it could be said, represents the mucho macho side of the genre, Froud occupies the more feminine realm--fairies, pixies, trolls, wizards, elves, dwarfs, imps, unicorns, alien creatures, and erotic errata that might cause a father to worry if his son started posting them on the walls of his room. His figures range from the level of "cute" to "cutthroat" (below). Although it's quite unfair to both artists in comparing their work (as in apples and oranges), like Frazetta, Froud seems to have discovered his own niche market and is milking it for all its worth. Along with his wife, Wendy (who tends to limit herself to sculptural fairies and pixies), they've illustrated enough books to alone fill the fantasy art book rack in any public library.
From cute to cutthroat.
Brian Froud's Trolls,
An illustration from Froud's
Good Faeries, Bad Faeries.
Brian Froud was born in 1947 in Winchester, England. In 1971 he graduated from Maidstone College of Art with a degree in graphic design, whereupon he moved to London, and later Devon working as a designer and illustrator for children's books. His work gained attention not just for his technical prowess combining a variety of media, but also his in-depth knowledge of folklore contributing an authentically earthy look to his faeries (old English spelling), and trolls. In 1978, Froud was tapped by Muppets genius, Jim Henson, to help with the conception of a film he wanted to do titled Dark Crystal. Work on the film went on for four years as Froud provided the visuals, while Henson brought them to life on screen. It was during his work with Henson that Froud met his wife, Wendy, who was a puppet maker also working on the film. Their son, Toby, was born in 1984 and immediately made his film debut as baby "Toby" in Froud's second Henson collaboration, the more lighthearted Labyrinth, released in 1986.
Wendy Froud and some of her sculptural trolls.
Wendy's Yoda--lifelike puppetry
In some respects, the work of Wendy Froud is more familiar than any of the myriad of creatures dreamed up by her husband. Although created by a design team, Wendy was largely responsible for the appearance of the recurring Star Wars character, Yoda. Though Wendy doesn't paint and draw, her sculptural fairies and pixies, often in doll or puppet form, make her an equal partner in the Froud team. A third important figure in the "World of Froud" (their Website)  is Terry Jones, the screenwriter for Labyrinth, who has collaborated in the writing of several of Froud's film-related books. With the death of Jim Henson (an quite recently, his son), it's unlikely Froud's form of conceptual art will again make it to the silver screen, but the Froud team's experience at all levels in fantasy art production (their son has recently joined the Henson team, having worked on Lord of the Rings) ranks them as pioneers in the rapidly developing world of digital art.

Click the bottom image for a short video clip from the Froud creative team.

The Brian and Wendy Froud team at work amid the clutter.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Frederick Carl Frieseke

House in Giverny, 1912, Frederick Carl Frieseke--the "vacation rental."
Frederick Carl Frieseke, Self-portrait,
watercolor, 1901
Imagine, as an artist, living right next door to one of the greatest painters in the world, yet hardly knowing him, hardly on speaking terms, and not being influenced by his art. Such a scenario seems highly unlikely at best, impossible being the more probably verdict. Though hardly a success as a painter at the time, in 1883, the consummate Impressionist, Claude Monet moved to the small town of Giverny in the Normandy area of France. There he first rented a house, then bought it, enlarged it several times, while cultivating a carefully landscaped garden. There he lived, and painted for the second half of his life. His painting, Garden in Giverny (below) dates from 1902. Monet was forty-three at the time. He died at Giverny in 1926 at the age eighty-six. By that time the art icon had outlived all his artist friends and most of his critics alike. But this is not about Monet. This is about his next-door neighbor, the American expatriate Impressionist, Frederick Carl Frieseke (left).
Garden in Giverny, 1902, Claude Monet--the path to his front door.
This is where a reader might tend to become a bit incredulous. How could an Impressionist painter, starting in 1906, living next door to Claude Monet for thirteen years (until 1919), not help but be influenced by such a giant in the world of painting during the first quarter of the 20th century? Only Picasso himself, in Paris at the time, would come even close to having attained such stature (and in fact, didn't do so until later in the century). Although Frieseke claims to have had, at best, only a nodding acquaintance with his illustrious, if somewhat reclusive, neighbor; and insisted he was not at all influenced by Monet, the fact is that all Impressionist have felt the man's influence to some extent, in one way or another. After all, Monet was Impressionism, as sure as if his name had been listed as a synonym for that style in the dictionary.
Lady in the Garden, 1912, Frederick Carl Frieseke, a brilliance of color and
melding of textures that would have made Monet rub his eyes in dismay.
Frederick Carl Frieseke live in a house once occupied by another American Impressionist, Theodore Robinson (top), who had been a very close friend of Monet during the 1880s and definitely was influence by him. In comparing his relationship with Monet, and Monet's influence on Robinson, Frieseke was on solid ground in distancing himself from Giverny's most famous residence. Likewise, in comparing the work of Frieseke to that of Monet, it's not hard to see that at best, they were of two very different generations and that Frieseke's "neo" (sometimes called "decorative") Impressionism bore only a passing resemblance to Monet's original works from the 19th century. However, if Impressionism changed, as more and more Americans adopted and adapted it, so did Monet's manifestation of the style. Part of this change can be chalked up to the simple fact that Monet was growing old, his eyesight was fading in his latter years, and arthritis was an unending hindrance as he worked. However, any artist content to simply rest on past laurels, even in old age, quickly becomes not much of an artist, at least in the creative sense. That was not Monet. Some of his best works came from his studio and his beloved gardens during these waning years.
The Birdcage, 1910, Frederick Carl Frieseke
Frederick Frieseke was born in 1874 (making him 34 years younger than Monet). He grew up in in Michigan and Jacksonville, Florida, where his father owned a brick factories. Frederick began his art studies at the Art Institute of Chicago then moved on the Art Students League in New York in 1895. He tried earning a living as an illustrator and cartoonist but soon decided instead to follow the well-worn (and crowded) artists' path to Paris where he turned up at the fabled Academie Julian for a season or two then took up with fellow American James McNeill Whistler at the Academie Carmen. Later he traveled to Holland then returned to Paris determined to be a watercolorist. Another American expatriate at the Academie Carmen, Frederick William MacMonnies taught him oils. Despite all this formal (and expensive) training Frieseke considered himself self-taught, which probably was an overestimation of his strengths as an instructor. Despite the European instruction and influence, Frieseke's style during this time maintained the literal and lineal elements of his American beginnings.
Summer, 1914, Frederick Carl Frieseke. No wonder artists flocked to Giverny.
Portrait of Frederick Carl Frieseke, 1910,
Karl Anderson
Around 1905 Frieseke first visited Giverny for a month, about the same time he married his old girlfriend from the states, Sarah Anne O'Bryan (Sadie). The house next door to Monet was a rental. The couple maintained an apartment and studio in Paris but spent their summers in Giverny, where Frieseke became the de facto leader of what's become know as the Giverny Group including such names as Richard E. Miller, Lawton S. Parker, Guy Rose, Edmund Greacen and Karl Anderson, whose 1910 Portrait of Frederick Carl Frieseke (right) provides an interesting insight into Frieseke and his working attire. While Monet continued painting his carefully landscaped gardens, Frieseke's art used the lush Giverny beauty as merely a background for his emphasis on Impressionist female nudes. Monet's presence, his impressive home, and expansive gardens made the Giverny Art Colony a natural mecca for Impressionists from as early as 1887 until Paris and its environs lost its luster with the advent of WW I. After the war Frieseke traveled with his family to Switzerland and later the South of France. He died in Normandy in 1939, still claiming not to have been influenced by Monet. As his many nude Impressionist ladies would suggest, Frieseke did admit a certain affinity for Renoir however, whom he seems never to have met.

Frieseke's portrait of fellow American, Lawton Parker, also an Impressionist painter.