Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

George H.W. Bush Portraits

President George H. W. Bush, 1994, Herbert E. Abrams, Official White House Portrait.
Recently I've come to notice that some of the best (and worst) painted portraits by American artists are those painted of the Presidents of the United States. Having decided to bring portraits of all forty-four presidents to light the next question was, where to begin. The logical thing to do would be start with the first president. That would be too easy. The next thought that came to mind would be to start with the most recent president and work backwards, but that might involve the appearance of political favoritism. Finally, in looking up the biographical information on each president, I noted that only one president was born during the month of June--June 12, 1924, to be exact. That seemed to me to be as good a place as any to begin. So, Happy (belated) birthday, former President George. H. W. Bush. He's also our oldest living president, being some three months older than former President Jimmy Carter (October 1, 1924).

President George H.W. Bush, Ron Sherr, Kennebunkport pose, National Portrait Gallery
President George H.W. Bush by
President George W. Bush.
Herbert E. Abrams, the painter of President George H.W. Bush (top), also painted the official White House portrait of former President Jimmy Carter and that of Barbara Bush. The painting in the background of the Bush portrait is by George P. A. Healy titled The Peacemakers. The biggest problem I encountered in researching the portraits of the elder President Bush was that all too often there popped up the persistently atrocious portraits by the younger President Bush, including the one of his father (right). Perhaps his only saving grace is that the younger President Bush's self-portrait is at least as bad. Perhaps, if he wishes to paint portraits, George W. Bush should take lessons from Ron Sherr, the artist painting the portrait of his father hanging in the National Portrait Gallery (above). Posed at the Bush's Kennebunkport home, the artist improvised a background depicting the White House East Room.

President George H.W. Bush, Evertt Raymond Kinstler, Yale Club, New York City.
President George H.W. Bush,
Everett Raymond Kinstler,
collection of Mrs. Bush
Undoubtedly the most prolific living painter of presidential portraits is Everett Raymond Kinstler, whose portrait of President George H. W. Bush (above) today hangs in New York City's Yale Club (Bush was a Yale graduate). Kinstler, now 88 years of age, has painted every president from Nixon to George W. Bush. He has painted three portraits of George H.W. Bush, including the loosely handled study (right) from the Bush family collection, and the portrait of the former president now in the collection of Union League, of Philadelphia (bottom).
President George H. W. Bush,
Randal Huiskens
Of course no president can avoid any number of very unofficial portraits such as that by pop artist, Randal Huiskens (left), of Evanston, Illinois. It may not be the most "presidential" looking portrait ever rendered, but it does seem to capture the man's charisma and natural charm. And, in any case, it's a far cry better than that painter by President George H.W. Bush's own flesh and blood.

President George H.W. Bush, Everett Raymond Kinstler,
collection of Union League, Philadelphia, PA


Monday, June 29, 2015

Steven Spielberg's Jaws

Remember, it's only a movie.

A poster designed to terrorize.
Anyone accustomed to reading my discourses on the filmmaker's art, knows that my favorite movie of all time is David O. Selznick's Gone with the Wind. Today, I'm going to put forth one of my least favorite movies of all time, Steven Spielberg's Jaws. It's not that I have anything against Spielberg. I've long been an admirer of his work. In fact I'd credit him as being the greatest movie director alive today. What I dislike intensely is what's come to be called the "thriller" movie genre. It's a personal thing--I hate being scared out of my wits. Despite all that, Jaws and GWTW have a lot in common. To begin, both were made from best-selling, blockbuster novels. Jaws was based upon a 1974 novel by Peter Benchley. Both movies were considered by most of Hollywood in their time as "unfilmable." Both films departed drastically from their literary parents, both went WAY over budget, and both took far longer to film than intended. Both films made box office stars of their casts (except for Gable, who was already a star at the time). Both films set box office records (adjusted for inflation and since eclipsed by newer fare). And finally, both films had a profound effect on the art of moviemaking, changing the way we make, watch, and think about movies today.

A bigger boat, indeed...Robert Shaw, as Quint, is eaten alive.
Benchley wrote three versions of the
screenplay. None were used.
"You're gonna need a bigger boat." It's a classic bit of dialog instantly identifying the movie from which it came. It was also an ad-lib, not in the original script. That puts it right up there with "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," (which was a rewrite by Selznick of Margaret Mitchell's "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn."). Jaws actor, Robert Shaw (above) as Quint, would tend to agree regarding the boat. Quite apart from memorable dialogue, the making of both Jaws and GWTW had yet one more thing in common. The script was written and rewritten again and again as the filming of each progressed. As Richard Dreyfus (Matt Hooper) recalled, "We started the film without a script, without a cast and without a shark."

"Bruce," the star of the film, this version designed for shots in
which the shark moved before the camera from right to left.
A young and inexperienced
Steven Spielberg, 1975.
Notice the "clapper."
The casting of Jaws took far less time than did GWTW, but it was difficult for largely the same reason. Spielberg did not want a big star headlining the ensemble he was putting together. Many possible leading roles were turned down by actors who were "afraid to go into the water." In any case, the star of the picture would be the mechanical shark (they called it "Bruce" after Spielberg's lawyer). The problem was, that Bruce was a rather inept actor. Actually there were three different Bruces. The main one was a "sea-sled shark", a full-body prop with its belly missing, towed with a 300-foot line. The other two were "platform sharks", one that moved from left to right (with its hidden left side exposing an array of pneumatic hoses), and its opposite with the right flank uncovered. Built in California and trucked to Martha's Vineyard, where most of the film was shot, they seldom worked as intended. Often they didn't work at all. Tested in a Universal City swimming pool, they were no match for the Atlantic Ocean. The film's shooting schedule was originally 55 days. The temperamental Bruce, combined with adverse weather and salt water, stretched that to 159 days. The $4-million budget ballooned to $9-million. Spielberg was sure he'd never work in films again.

Robert Shaw (Quint), Roy Scheider (Brody), and Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper)
Amity Police Chief, Roy Scheider
As with any good ensemble cast, when one member has difficulties, the others rise to the task of filling in, making the troubled member look good. The three male leads, Roy Scheider (Police Chief, Martin Brody), Robert Shaw (boat owner, Quint), and Richard Dreyfuss (marine biologist, Matt Hooper) turned in what some consider the best performances of their careers. Lorraine Gary, as Ellen Brody (Matt's wife and Murray Hamilton as Amity Mayor, Larry Vaughn, rounded out the supporting roles. However it was Spielberg himself who rose to the occasion most effectively, by minimizing visual appearances by his cantankerous (some would say fake-looking) shark in favor of Hitchcock-like suspense (what you can't see is more frightening than that which is obvious). Only near the end does the full impact of the Great White's power and deadly presence take center stage.

Quint's boat, the Orca, set against the backdrop of the Martha's
Vineyard fishing village of Menemsha.
In large part, Martha's Vineyard, standing in for the fictitious beach town of Amity Island, as well as the local residence of Martha's vineyard occupied the minor roles. When the script called for the tourists to panic, they did so with superb hysterics. There was even a part for the book's author, Peter Benchley, playing a TV news reporter (bottom). When the move went on to gross some $470-million, they were justly proud of their roles. The movie was also nominated for Best Picture. It lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Spielberg was angered by the fact that he was not nominated for Best Director. However, Jaws did win three Academy Awards: Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Original Dramatic Score for composer John Williams. Moreover, it was at the Oscar presentations that Jaws most noticeably parts company with GWTW. Selznick's efforts were nominated for thirteen Academy Awards. The movie won eight.

The police chief confronts the mayor--close the beach.

Jaws author, Peter Benchley in the movie role
of a TV news reporter.
Now this is more my kind of
"terror movie."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Near Death Art

The Light                                
I am currently writing this from the intensive care unit of a major hospital near my home. Last Sunday night I nearly died. It wasn't truly a heart attack, technically speaking, but close enough. My cardiologist tells me it was an "electrical" problem. The upper part of my heart wasn't communicating with the lower part. I was in no pain but I did experience a shortness of breath, and passed out before the paramedics could get me loaded on their gurney. I don't know if that counts as a "near death" experience but again it's close enough insofar as I'm concerned. In any case, now, four days later, I'm doing well enough with my brand new pacemaker and two new heart stents (I already had one from ten years ago) that the doctors plan to release me to a "stepdown" unit (basically ordinary hospital care) later today. I should be going home tomorrow. The marvels of modern medicine never cease to amaze me.
Near Death by Fuzzy
Very few events in my life fail to bring to mind something having to do with art. The Light (top) very closely resembles what I felt and saw as I passed out. Although I "came to," in just a few minutes, the image sticks in my mind. What I saw was in no way spiritual. No "out of body" experience either. It was very abstract. But then, death itself is abstract, about as abstract a phenomena as can be imagined in that few people living today can imagine it. And those who have experienced the proverbial "near death experience," only vaguely agree as to the images they've encountered. As you can see by the similarities in the images such as Near Death (above) by Fuzzy (probably an assumed name) and The Light (top) as well as Near Death Experience (below), 2005, Ean Claud Outrequim, what they have in common is a relationship to infinity as understood and imagined by modern man. True, "near death experiences" are so rare that its unlikely any of the three artists are drawing from any more than second-hand accounts. Moreover, such experiences virtually never happen to artists.

Near Death Experience, 2005, Ean Claud Outrequim
Near Death Experience, Far Dareis Mai
Reports of "near death experiences" virtually all have some form of spiritual element, sometimes quite subtle, sometimes extremely realistic. And, sometimes they have been know to be fabricated, which adds yet another element to such accounts and thus the images reported. In any case, being a Christian believer, I would have expected my dying mind to have conjured up some sort of spiritual reference. There was none. Which is why I doubt that I, or any of the other works seen above have much more than a stereotypical relevance to the phenomena. I was kept from any "near death experience" by the incredible skills of first the EMTs until they got me to the emergency room, then the doctors there who installed an emergency pacemaker to maintain a sinus rhythm while I was life-flighted to a heart catheterization unit where my two blockages were discovered and stented, and a permanent pacemaker installed. My wife tells me I was quite a fighter...I fought them every inch of the way to the point that two legs and one arm had to be restrained as I continually vomited up undigested green beans from dinner some twelve hours before (okay that's probably more than you wanted to know). Perhaps that was more along the line of Far Dareis Mai's Near Death Experience, (above left, minus the green beans). Erica Grimm Vance's, Bellevue 14 (below) may well be a closer representation of the "near death experience. First, it's not labeled as such while having a figural element combined with that of infinity more common with such art.

Bellevue 14, Erica Grimm Vance
In any case, thanks be go God and all those believers who asked him a favor regarding my recovery, I am now home, at my desktop, trying not to fall further behind in my daily mind-wanderings. I usually stay a week ahead. Now I'm only one day ahead. That means a week or so of trying to catch up, not to mention typing up my daily journal (one day of which I have no memory of whatsoever). I'll have to rely on the wild retellings of my wife, whom I suspect may have an a tendency to exaggerate.

This artist may have watched to many opening
ccredits from old James Bond movies.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter, 2012, Olivia Waste
Once Upon a Time there
were four little rabbits,
and their names were--
Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail,
and Peter.
          --Beatrix Potter

So began the saga that made a proper young English miss, the J.K. Rowling of the first half of the 20th-century. Her name was Beatrix Potter (no relation to Harry). I think it would be safe to say that never was there a more unlikely literary and artistic success story than Miss Potter and her menagerie of fashionably dressed forest friends. In fact, her story is so unique to British literature it has been made into a movie by the same title, Miss Potter, dating from 2006 and starring Renee Zellweger (below) and Ewan McGregor. The film details her childhood, her scientific frustrations, and Potter's writing success, as well as the "Juliet and Romeo" love story which dealt her life a tragic turn on the heels of her publishing triumph.
Renee Zellweger outside Yew Tree Farm in the movie Miss Potter.

Peter Rabbit, first edition, 1902
The comparisons between Beatrix Potter and J.K. Rowling are as valid as they are numerous. Both had immediate success with their first writing efforts. Both wrote for children but found equal success with their appeal to parents and other adults. Both authors wrote fantasy stories in their childhood; both had younger siblings to whom they entertained by reading their stories. Beatrix's father was a successful Unitarian businessman turned amateur photographer, her mother was an amateur painter. Rowling's parents were both science oriented, her father an automotive engineer. Of course nearly a hundred years separates both success stories. Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit (left) was first published in 1902. Rowling's Harry Potter came on the publishing scene ninety-five years later in 1997. It's interesting to compare Peter Rabbit to Harry Potter as a measure of how far children's literature evolved in that time. If nothing else, such books have gotten much longer, and the financial rewards much greater. Rowling is estimated to have garnered a fortune of 560-million pounds from her six Potter books (including movie rights) plus four other novels written since then. Beatrix Potter's fortune from more than twenty books, though considerable for her time, was considerably less.
Potter's menagerie of storybook characters reflect her many childhood pets.
Potter's earliest professional illustrations
were botanical illustrations such as this.
Beatrix Potter was born in 1866. She grew up in a wealthy, culturally astute family in the South Kensington section of London. Beatrix's childhood education came at the hands of three governesses. As children, Helen Beatrix and her brother, Walter Bertram were taught to be nature lovers. In their school room the two children kept a variety of small pets, mice, rabbits, a hedgehog and some bats, along with collections of butterflies and other insects which they drew and studied. The place must have been a zoo! The family spent their summers in northern England near the Scottish border at Wray Castle in what's since come to be known as the Lake District. It was there, Beatrix Potter later spent much of her income from her books buying up farms during the 1930s in an effort to preserve the picturesque countryside around her own farm.

Fungi, 1890s, Beatrix Potter
As was common during the Victorian era of the late 19th-century, upper-class ladies seldom attended universities in seeking higher education. Thus the best and the brightest female minds were tutored on the periphery of the intellectual world by various experts in their field of interest. Beatrix was interested in science, particularly botany, archaeology, entomology, and mycology (above, the study of fungi). Her first illustrations were in various areas of these fields (above, right). Science then, and sometimes still today, was seen as a man's world. She was denied entry into this world because of her gender, even though her studies and illustrations were on a par with any presented by her male peers. Her botanical illustrations were, however, included in papers published by leaders in such sciences at the time. In 1997, more than a hundred years late, the Linnean Society (a natural science forum) issued a posthumous apology to Potter for the sexism displayed in its handling of her research.

A Beatrix Potter family reunion. That's Peter Rabbit, his mother, and siblings in the center.
Potter's first published hare was
Benjamin Bunny, who set the
mold for Peter Rabbit and all
her other furry friends.
Despairing of acceptance and success in the world of science, and still unmarried at the spinsterish age of thirty-four, around 1900 Beatrix Potter began to turn inward with her art, toward the world of fairy tales and fantasies she'd known as a child. Peter Rabbit (not Peter Cottontail) was the result. She had long studied the classic fairy tales of Western Europe. She knew well the stories from the Old Testament, The Pilgrim's Progress, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Aesop's Fables, the children's stories of the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen. When she decided to become an illustrator, Potter began with traditional rhymes and stories, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Puss-in-Boots, and Red Riding Hood. More often, however, her illustrations involved fantasies featuring her own pets: mice, rabbits, kittens, and guinea pigs (above).

An illustration from Peter Rabbit.
At first Beatrix's work was self-published (literally) as she drew, and her brother printed greeting cards, usually featuring mice and rabbits. Her first successful character, Benjamin Bunny (above, right), and several other forest creatures, were purchased and published in this form or as illustrations for other writers of children's books. But Peter Rabbit was not born as an illustration. He and his family were a part of a letter written to the sick son of her former governess. After some revisions and the addition of numerous illustrations, Potter put together a "dummy" book, presenting it to various publishers. Like J.K. Rowling nearly a century later, she was repeatedly turned down. So, being a woman of some means, she paid to have a limited number of copies published for friends and family. One of those family friends liked it so much he took it on another round to publishers. One of them, Frederick Warne & Co., had earlier rejected it. However, eager to compete in the booming children's book market, they reconsidered and accepted the "bunny book" (as they called it) following the recommendation of their leading children's book artist. The firm insisted that Potter color her pen and ink illustrations, choosing a then new three-color process to reproduce her watercolors.

Some of the original Peter Rabbit collectibles bring exceptional prices still today.
A Beatrix Potter tea set.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published late in 1902 in an addition of five-hundred, which immediately sold out. Working with the son of her publisher, Norman Warne, the firm quickly built on their success with the publication of The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester the following year. During this time, the two fell in love. Like her father, Beatrix Potter was an astute entrepreneur. In 1903 she fashioned a Peter Rabbit doll, had it patented, then began selling them along with other "spin-off" merchandise (above) which, over the years, have included painting books, board games, wallpaper, figurines, baby blankets and china tea-sets (left). Like Rowling with her Harry Potter, both Beatrix and her publisher generated immense profits quite apart for the sale of books. However, when it came to their daughter becoming engaged to Norman Warne, Beatrix's parents objected vehemently. He was not their class. Eventually the settled upon a compromise in which the two would become betrothed, but the whole thing would be kept a secret for six months. A month later, Norman Warne died of Leukemia at the age of thirty-seven.

Potter's final children's book to be
published during her lifetime.
One of Potter's most popular
characters published in 1908.
Heartbroken and angry at her family, Beatrix Potter turned for solace in seclusion. She bought the Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey in the English Lake District. And in 1913, she married a lawyer named William Heelis. There she continued to write, paint, and publish, extending her cast of woodland creatures to include cats, rats, and mice as well as pigs, foxes, squirrels, ducks, chipmunks and of course, rabbits. Each new book, numbering one or two per year, contained new characters and new stories, spread over the years leading up to WW I. As she slipped gracefully into retirement, Beatrix Potter more and more turned her attention to farming, particularly the protection of the land and the preservation of Herdwick breed of Sheep. She purchased five additional farms bordering her own. Upon her death in 1943, Beatrix Potter left her wealth to the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. She was eighty-seven. Today, the Lake District Parks mentioned earlier are the direct result of her generosity and love of the lands in which she grew up.

Beatrix Potter's Herdwick Sheep, as much one of her own as Peter Rabbit.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Vasily Polenov

Parthenon Temple of Athena, 1882, Vasily Polenov--a good deal
more rugged looking than when I was there 130 years later

Copyright, Jim Lane
McDonald's by the Wall, Tallin, Estonia, 2012, Jim Lane.
I like to paint the little ironies I find in traveling. The walls
and towers date from 1346. McDonald's, from about 1990.
As anyone who follows these mini-dissertations on art well knows, I love to travel. It's a trait I inherited from my father. However, I've long ago outstripped his meager lifetime itinerary, most of which involved sojourns from Ohio to Florida, though I can recall a trip to Canada as a child. I think my parents once took day-long cruise to the Bahamas. Shortly before they died, they toured the American West. Other than that, they never veered far of I-77, much less traveled abroad. Although my wife and I have logged several thousands miles on land, sea, and air, our son, in the U.S. Air Force, has literally been around the world, and if he's not yet caught up with us, I'm sure he will soon. In general, artists, being curious sorts, and if they have the means to do so, love to travel. They've left us with thousands of paintings and drawings from their journeys, much like I've collected thousands of photos and videos (mostly digital) from our many vacation jaunts, primarily in the U.S. and Europe. I suppose I could be considered derelict in my duties as a painter in that I've completed less than a dozen scenes from places we've visited over the years, such as McDonald's by the Wall (above, right). Maybe in the future, when I'm to old for such foolishness, I'll relive my fond memories by painting them. If so, I can look to an excellent role model along that line, the Russian painter, Vasily Polenov.

Christ and the Sinner, 1886-87, Vasily Polenov.
A preliminary drawing for the work is at lower right.
Vasily Polenov Self-portrait, 1901
Most of Polenov's travels were during he latter decades of the 19th-century, so they were necessarily more limited than my own and of longer duration. Polenov's travels would have been by ship, train, or camel caravan, in that he was particularly interested in archaeological ruins. His love of art he got from his mother, an amateur painter, his interest in ancient ruins came from his father, a senior officer in the Russian Imperial Army. His penchant for traveling likely came from his father as well. Over the course of his lifetime, Polenov visited Germany, Italy, France, and two trips to the Middle East where he made sketches and background paintings for his greatest masterpiece, Christ and the Sinner (above) painted in 1886-87. His preliminary draft is seen in the lower right section of the photo above. His preparatory work in painting the central figure of Christ can be seen below.

Polenov's Head of Christ in two separate studies. He commonly worked first in
pencil then created a preliminary color study in oils before starting the final painting.
Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir, 1860,
Vasily Polenov, one of his earliest works.
Vasily Polenov was born in 1844. He grew up in the culture-rich environment of St. Petersburg where he studied to be a lawyer at St. Petersburg University (to satisfy his father, no doubt) while also taking classes at the Imperial Academy of Arts. Polenov's 1871 painting, The Raising of Jairus' Daughter (below) won him a gold medal and a travel scholarship allowing him to visit many of the art capitals of Europe. While in Paris, he came to admire the work of the Barbizon School of landscape artists, and thus became a consistent devotee to en plein air painting. For a "traveling man" it was a mode which suited him well. Moreover, in returning home, he was among the first to introduce this method of painting landscapes while in the landscape to Russian art. Shortly after his return in 1877, Polenov was elected to the Russian Academy only to be commissioned a war artist during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78).

The Raising of Jairus' Daughter, 1871, Vasily Polenov.
As did many artist during this period, Polenov joined the group, the Association of Travelling Art Exhibitions. It was through this group that he first exhibited The Raising of Jarius' Daughter (above), painted several years earlier before the war, and his more recent Moscow Courtyard (below) from 1878, though it's more of a farmyard than a courtyard.

Moscow Courtyard, 1878, Vasily Polenov
An Olive Tree in the Garden of
Gethsemane, 1882, Vasily Polenov
Around 1882 Polenov became head of the Landscape Studio of the Moscow School of Painting where he had the good fortune to be "discovered" by the wealthy art collector, Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov, who purchased several of Polenov's paintings, including Grandmother's Garden (below) from 1878, and The Olive Tree in the Garden of Gethsemane (left) from 1882, as well as The Parthenon, Temple of Athena Pallas (top). Tretyakov's collection later became the core of the Tretyakov Gallery in St. Petersburg. In all, the gallery owns seven of Polenov's paintings, many of them from his travels to the Middle East. When he returned about 1886, Polenov produced a number of works of religious art titled, Life of Christ. Examples include, On the Genisaret (Tiberius) Lake, from 1886, Among the Teachers from 1896, They Brought the Children painted in 1896), Baptism, 1897, and What People Think about Me (1900). In virtually all his Middle East paintings Polenov combined New Testament subjects with important actual landscape vistas he'd encountered.

Grandmother's Garden, 1878, Vasily Polenov
In later years, Vasily Polenov was active in theater production designing, and eventually funded a school in Moscow for theatrical education. Around 1915, he retired to his country estate in Borok where he died in 1927 at the age of eighty-three. They've since renamed his hometown Polenov in his honor.

Montenegrin, 1876,
Vasily Polenov
The Bylinas Narrator, Nikita,
Bogdanov, 1876, Vasily Polenov