Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Art on the Zoo Fence

Island art for every taste, age, and wallet, much of it small enough for a suitcase.
Five days a week it's an ugly, ten-foot-tall chain link fence. But every weekend, the Honolulu Zoo fence along Monsarrat Avenue comes alive with pure Hawaiian local color from the hands and minds of some of Oahu's best and brightest native artists. It's less than a block from Honolulu's famed Waikiki Beach and it is, admittedly, a tourist attraction. It's an outdoor art gallery in the shade of ancient banyan trees, specializing in "suitcase" art--that which is small enough to fit in tourists' luggage (though, give the gargantuan size of tourist luggage these days, isn't all that great a limitation). Prices range from ten dollars to pieces flirting with four digits. It's artists selling their own work, bypassing dealers and sellers' commissions, resulting in some exceptional high-quality art for prices often less than half those of the city's pristine, laid-back, storefront galleries (which are, in any case, catering to the same tourist crowd).

For sixty-two years, Hawaiian artists, buyers, and browsers have come
together every weekend (weather permitting) to enjoy one another.
Beautiful downtown Honolulu.
There is a lot to see just on Oahu, not to mention all the other islands in the chain. And though this long, shaded, fence full of art is free to see, as a tourist attraction, it appeals mostly to those who love art more than the beach. My wife, our son, and I visited the islands more than twenty years ago as we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. I wish we would have known about it at the time. We missed seeing this tourist enterprise. We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on the north end of Waikiki while the zoo and the art fence is located near the south end of Hawaii's most famous beach. Having taken part in many such "art in the park" type shows such as this over a period of more than forty years, I would loved to have seen the Hawaiian version. In 2019, Lord willing, my wife and I plan to return to the 50th state to celebrate our 50th anniversary. I doubt I'll bring any paintings to display but I might be in the mood to buy one or two, provided they fit in my luggage.

Caution: artists at work.
Artists are encouraged to perform for the crowds.
Those who do, tend to sell more.
Like any such show which has survived and thrived for more than sixty years, this one has rules. It's overseen by a group organized by and made up of the artists themselves. You have to be a member of the group to display and there is a lengthy waiting list, though from time to time, if one of the "regulars" is unable to show, lucky artists on the waiting list get their chance to "show and tell." The rules are relatively few in number, and pretty much what artists normally encounter in entering such shows--stick to your assigned space, watch your work, don't block traffic, no nudes (artists or their art), no dealers, obtain a sales tax license, pay your dues, and don't copy others. Crafts, including T-shirts, bookmarks, trinkets, and three-dimensional work are not allowed. That which is allowed includes paintings, drawings, photographs, and digital artwork, all of which must be signed and ready to hang on a wall.

Artists dress for the tourists, though some hardly dress at all.
Millions of tourists, billions of dollars,
step right this way.
Although we don't often think of painting as a "performing" art, most of us don't live in Hawaii. There, tourism is 24.3% of the state's economy. Thus, from waiters to hula dancer, virtually everyone connecting with the tourism industry performs (above). That includes painters...or at least the ones who want to make a living at it. The zoo fence art scene underlines a vastly different situation than that faced by most art markets. Only a relatively small portion of the chain link fence surrounding the Honolulu Zoo is used to display art. Thus space is limited. The number of artists attracted to the islands, not surprisingly, would seem to be just the opposite. Likewise, in most artist communities, the number of art buyers is often distressingly small. Given the 11.8 million tourist visiting the state in 2014 spending $14.8-billion that's not the case in Hawaii. Therefore, an art market such as that along the zoo's Monsarrat Avenue, and membership space on the limited length of fence, becomes and extremely valuable commodity for the working artists of Oahu as they struggle to cope with the high cost of living on the island. The fence is a pleasant place to sell art, and sales are good, but even so, being an Hawaiian artists is no bowl of poi.

Hawaiian art lovers come in all sizes and shapes.
I'm not sure if she's a happy buyer or seller.

Meet one of the Zoo Fence artists--


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Frits Thaulow

The Mill Stream, Frits Thaulow
In selecting artists and their work about which to write, I have a weakness for Impressionism. I also have a pronounced bias toward Realism (with a capital "R"), not to be confused with realistic paintings. When I find an artist who deftly handles both, then I count myself fortunate to have discovered a real gem. Although both movements are related historically (without Realism it's unlikely there would have been Impressionism), stylistically they would seem to be polar opposites. The French Realism of Corot, Millet, and Courbet was a vital stepping stone away from Academic content without eschewing the Academic traditions of technique and style. The Impressionists embraced the new freedom of Realism to paint virtually anything from the real world, but to do so in search for an almost scientific naturalism as to color. Some Impressionists were much more successful in this search than others. One of the more successful in combining Realism and Impressionism, and proving that they are not actually polar opposites, was the Norwegian landscape painter, Frits Thaulow.

None of these are self-portraits. If not photos of the artist, they were likely
drawn or painted by his friend, Christian Krohg.
It's uncertain how Thaulow came to embrace Impressionism. He studied at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen during the early 1870s, but it would seem unlikely he'd pick up anything as "foreign" as French Impressionism from that source. In any case, in France at the time, Impressionism was still almost prenatal. Thaulow also studied with Hans Gude at the Baden School of Art in Karlsruhe (Germany). But Hans Gude was certainly no Impressionist. Although Thaulow lived and work in Paris from 1890s on, by that time he was already thoroughly evolved as to style, if not involved in the movement. Wherever Thaulow acquired his Impressionist style, it would be safe to say he was the first Impressionist artist in Norway.
A scene from Skagen, early 1880s, Frits Thaulow

It takes a really dedicated Impressionist
to paint outdoors in the winter.
Thaulow's naturalism is no mystery. His best friend was the much more well-known Norwegian painter and illustrator, Christian Krohg, who encouraged Thaulow to accompany him (in Thaulow's boat) to the northern tip of Jutland (Denmark) to a small fishing village called Skagen where they would spend the summer of 1879 painting. The sojourn ended up stretching well into the fall. Thaulow's stony beach (above) seems to be from the summer months while his The Mill Stream (top) dates from a few months later. And if Thaulow's icy, snowy landscapes, such as the one at left, are any indication, at some point in time (possibly the following year) Thaulow would appear to have spent the winter there...painting outdoors, no less. He was an Impressionist, after all. All three boast a brash, highly natural use of color not often found in the work of more "timid" Impressionists.

The Adige River at Verona, 1894, Frits Thaulow
Skagen Painters, 1883,
Frits Thaulow
Frits Thaulow was born in 1847, making him some five years older than his friend, Krohg. Thaulow was born in Christiana (now Oslo), Norway, while Krohg was born in a nearby suburb of the city. Both men came from upper-middle-class families. Thaulow's father was a wealthy chemist. They both studied under Hans Gude at the Baden School of Art in Karlsruhe where they probably first met. After their little painting foray to Denmark, Krohg spent two years in Paris where he was a leading figure in the transition from Romanticism to Realism. Thaulow remained centered in Norway where his work attracted a group of followers known as the Skagen Painters, which would seem to indicate that Thaulow and his friends often returned to Skagen, Denmark, to paint in the 1880s. The group portrait by Thaulow (left) includes (from the left) Eilif Petersen, Michael Ancher (standing), Wilhelm Peters, Charles Lundh, Degn Brøndum, Johan Krouthén, Oscar Björch and Christian Krohg.

The Thaulow Family, Jacques-Emile Blanche
Perhaps at Krohg's urging, Thaulow moved to Paris in 1892 where he lived until his death in 1906. The painting of Frits Thaulow and his family (above) is by another artist friend Thaulow met in Paris, Jacques-Emile Blanche. Seen before a rapidly painted, indistinct background, evoking a cluster of trees, Blanche depicts Thaulow as he paints, surrounded by his wife and children. Blanche undertook the work in difficult circumstances at a time when his mother was in ill-health. Thaulow himself had to square up a small preparatory drawing to get his friend to pick up his brushes and finish the painting. As a result, just as he was about to lose his mother, Blanche painted one of his most beautiful paintings--a family full of life, love, and tenderness.

At Quimperle,  1901, Frits Thaulow
Although Paris was quite fond of Thaulow's work, Thaulow was not very fond of Paris. The city's wide, bustling thoroughfares were a far cry from the rural Norway he'd painted all his life. So, he gravitated to the north of France, to the small towns of Montreuil-sur-Mer, Dieppe, and surrounding villages as well as Quimperle in Brittany and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne in the Corrèze. His At Quimperle (above) was painted during this period. And, at some point after he moved to France, probably around 1894, Thaulow spent some time in northern Italy. These paintings done late in his life, include several depicting the canals of Venice (below), though they seemed to have been a pale imitation of his swiftly moving Norwegian streams.

Thaulow's Venice reflects his interest in the commonplace over the grand.
Rialto, 1895, Frits Thaulow

The Marble Step, 1903, Frits Thaulow


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Renaissance Cities--Genoa

Palace of Saint George, Genoa,  built in 1260, one of the city's oldest architectural landmarks.
Some streets in Genoa haven't changed
much since the Renaissance.
I've seen wider hallways.
Genoa, Italy, has been nicknamed "The Proud One." Indeed, its landmarks, its architecture, its culture, its food, its art, and a couple rather famous people who were born there, give it a lot to be proud of. Except perhaps for Rome and Naples, Genoa has one of the longest histories of any city on the Italian peninsula. Archaeologists can confidently place the Greeks there as early as the sixth or fifth century, but also suggests the area may have been inhabited by the Etruscans well before that. When an area features a natural harbor like that of Genoa (below), down through the centuries, the real estate around it seldom sees much rest. Its harbor is not as big as the Bay of Naples but some would claim it surpasses that of Naples, which is so large as to provide less shelter from the Mediterranean's fierce, winter storms. In terms of shipping volume, however, Genoa is the largest port in Italy. Thus from its earliest times right up to the present, Genoa has been very much a maritime city, built around trade, commerce, and manufacturing. From its Greek and Roman beginnings, Genoa may not be the Mediterranean's most beautiful city, but it would be hard to overstate its importance during the Italian Renaissance and in the centuries since.

Genoa from the Renaissance to the 19th century.
Columbus by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, 1520
Like many people reading this, I first heard of Genoa in the third grade while studying world history. I had no idea where it was but that didn't matter much so long as Christopher Columbus knew where it was and how to get back there. Although Columbus didn't sail to the new world from there, he, along with the Italian violinist, and composer, Niccolò Paganini, was born there in 1451. (Paganini was born in 1782.) Unlike most of the other great figures from the Italian Renaissance, Columbus seems to have had more important things to do that sit around being painted. Only one portrait, a 1518 image by Sebastiano del Piombo, titled Portrait of a Man (below, left) is recognized as possibly being an accurate depiction of the Italian sea captain. The second figure (below, right) is far less certain even than that. The portrait purported to be of Columbus (right) by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio (son of Domenico Ghirlandaio) is even more questionable. This portrait was executed in the first half of the sixteenth century, after the death of Columbus in 1506. Ghirlandaio never lived in Spain (or Genoa) and it is highly unlikely he ever met the Admiral.

Maybe, and probably not. There's certainly no similarities between the two.
There's not much of Genoa remaining today that Christopher Columbus would recognize. He'd be familiar with the Palace of Saint George (top), which dates from 1260, also St. Lawrence Cathedral (below), completed in 1118, and the Medieval Gates to the city dating from long before that. Likewise, he might have kept his money in the Bank of Saint George, which dates from 1407 (one of the oldest banks in the world).

It's alright, I guess, if you like stripes.
Genoa's Lanterna lighthouse, 1543.
However most of the architectural landmarks we see today date from the 16th century after Columbus's death. Those would include the Royal Palace of Genoa (below) and the iconic Genoa Lanterna lighthouse (left) which dates from 1543, and the Doge's Palace, parts of which existed in Columbus' time, but which has been added to and remodeled to such as extent as to be largely unrecognizable to the 15th-century seaman. Genoa's other favorite son, Niccolò Paganini, on the other hand, would recognize all these landmarks as well as the 19th century center of the city, the famous Ferrari Plaza (bottom), though it has probably changed a little since his time. The Ferrari Plaza, by the way, is not, a Ferrari dealership, nor a giant parking lot in the center of town reserved exclusively for owners of the iconic Italian sports car. It was named for the Duke of Galliera, Raffaele De Ferrari. I should note, however, that there is only one Ferrari family tree growing in Italy.

Royal Palace, Genoa, mostly dates from the 16th-century Baroque era.
Another item Christopher Columbus would have been sure to recognize was this map of northern Italy (below) from the Renaissance era (in a slightly less modern form, of course). During Columbus' time, and even up until the middle of the 19th century, there was no country called "Italy." Italy was a boot-shaped peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean. Most of the business end of the boot was controlled by the Kingdom of Naples, which was, at various, times controlled by France, Spain, and a few other European political entities. Then there were the Papal States, a sort of decorative belt running diagonally up across the middle of the boot. North of that were the various combative city states of Sienna, Florence, Venice, Milan, Savoy, Genoa, and a few other smaller ones not worth mentioning. (If their names you wish to know, check out the map below.)

Despite the presence of the various popes in Rome (and sometimes because of them) politically, Italy had been an unholy mess from the fall of the Roman Empire until Garibaldi, Camillo Cavour, Victor Emmanuel II and Giuseppe Mazzini brought them all together during the middle of the 19th century.
If the 16th century saw a period of robust growth for the city of Genoa, it was nothing compared to that which occurred during the 19th century, both before, during, and after Italian unification. Painters and others involved in he fine arts flocked to Genoa as the city blossomed into a haven for intellectuals and free-thinkers. The all-important harbor became a focal point for visiting artists anxious to cash in on the romantic aura of the Italian landscape fad sweeping the continent. No one has ever quite put their finger on the reason for this attraction, or what it was about Italian landscapes which made them any more attractive than those of any other nation. But that didn't stop English artists such as William Haseltine, William Parrot, and John MacWirther all of whom painted romantic vistas of Genoa (below) which Columbus might have recognized, but would probably have found amusing as compared to the down and dirty seaport in which he'd grown up. Perhaps another Englishman, Charles Dickens, who spent a year vacation in the city, said it best: "We could see Genoa before three; and watching it as it gradually developed; its splendid amphitheater, terrace rising above terrace, garden above garden, palace above palace, height upon height, was ample occupation for us, till we ran into the stately harbor." Arriving by ship, the veil of sea haze may have hidden the less attractive aspects of mid-19th century Italian life. Dickens' subsequent impressions are peppered with adjectives like "dirty," "squalid,", "disheartening," and "dismal."

The "romantic" Genoa as seen by British artists during the 1800s.
Genoa's Piazza di Ferrari today.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Gingerbread Architecture

A Tudor style example reminiscent of the art's northern European roots.
(Note: As with many other art forms, gingerbread houses are best photographed outdoors.)
Christmas in Russia.
Now that Thanksgiving is over (thank God); and the Christmas season, according to the experts at Walmart, is upon us, I considered it fair game to explore a type of architecture common to the kitchen--Gingerbread Architecture--what we might also reasonably call Christmas Architecture. For the most part such architecture has the following common attributes: rich in color, rich in calories, rich in tradition, rich in creative possibilities, rich in flavor, rich in fun, and nearly always limited to small, more or less, portable scale models. They can be simple enough that a child of six (with a fair amount of adult supervision) can build one, and complex enough to challenge the skills of a highly talented professional pastry chef. The best of the best are often found in restaurants, hotels, bake shops, and competition exhibitions around this time of the year.

A gingerbread shop in Strasbourg, Austria
The Medieval baking of gingerbread.
Before getting lost in the intricacies of this colorful, edible art medium, I think it best to mention the origin of the building material involved. Those who make a study of such things tell us that ginger has been seasoning foodstuffs and drinks since ancient times. It's believed gingerbread was first baked in Europe near the end of the 11th century, as returning crusaders brought back recipes for spicy bread from the Middle East. Ginger was not only tasty, it also helped preserve the bread. According to the French, gingerbread came to Europe in 992 by way of the Armenian monk, Saint, Gregory of Nicopolis. He lived in Bondaroy, France, near the town of Pithiviers, where he taught gingerbread baking to priests and other Christians. Gingerbread, as we know it today, descends from Medieval Europe. Using molds, gingerbread was often shaped into different forms by monks in Franconia, Germany in the 13th century. Nuremberg was recognized as the "Gingerbread Capital of the World" in the 1600s when the baker's guild first began urging master bakers to create complicated works of art from gingerbread.

A full-scale gingerbread house as a Christmas decoration in Stockholm, 2009.
Gingerbread template example.
Before you can begin building a gingerbread house you need two things, a recipe and a plan. The full scale gingerbread house displayed in Stockholm in 2009 (above) consists of 648.1 pounds (294 kg) flour, 202.8 pounds (92 kg) margarine, 221.3 pounds (100.4 kg) sugar, 14 gallons (66.3 liters) Golden syrup, 4.8 pounds (2.2 kg) cinnamon, 4.8 pounds (2.2 kg) cloves 4.8 pounds (2.2 kg) ginger and 8.1 pounds (3.7 kg) baking powder. If you're making a somewhat smaller house...well, you can do the math better than I in reducing the quantities. As for the plan, never, ever start to build a house without first drawing it out on paper. In the case of the gingerbread variety, drawing the plan to the actual size of your creation works best. That allows you to use it as a template in cutting the gin-gerbread into individual pieces. Inasmuch as the gingerbread is baked in a large, flat pan, check the size of your ovenware before deciding on the size of your house. The template (left) is not intended to be used as is, but only to serve as an example indicating what one should look like. The roof should be created as a separate gingerbread unit. As with all such undertakings, for the beginner the "KISS" principle applies (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

A thick, sticky, hard-drying icing is the all-important glue that holds it all together. Don't try to build the whole thing in one sitting. Give it time to dry and become structurally stable. Stained glass can be created by melting fruit-flavored Lifesavers.
Do try this at home, but first, before
trying to teach someone, do one yourself.
Building a gingerbread house along with the help of a young person is a good bonding exercise, but don't start by trying something like the ornate, Gothic house of worship (above). As with any teaching encounter, by all means have one or two successful edible edifices under your belt before attempting to teach anyone, regardless of age, the building skills so esoteric to such a often times contrary medium. There are kits available with detailed instructions which, to some degree, mitigate the otherwise fairly steep learning curve. However, once your skills have evolved, don't fear letting your imagination run away with them. I was especially impressed with the intricacies of the Smithsonian Institute's restaurant chef as demonstrated in his remarkably accurate scale model of the original early 19th-century Smithsonian "castle" (below).

The Smithsonian Institute rendered in gingerbread. Do people actually eat these things?
Not to be outdone by their friends across the National Mall, every Christmas the talented pastry chefs at the White House create a scale model of their workplace as well (below). However, for the life of me, I can't understand why they consistently get the classical proportions wrong. In variably, as detailed and technically skilled with gingerbread and white chocolate as they are, the makers always end up with a creation too tall for its width (as seen in the two images below). I do like the lighted interior though, showing off details of the various rooms.

White House made of gingerbread and white Chocolate, the 2013 version.
What it should look like can be seen in the horizontally distorted image below.
By distorting the width of the first image by 150%, the more accurate model can be seen.
Unfortunately doing so makes the columns appear too wide.
Once you have mastered the intricacies (and proportions) of modeling an actual structure, you're ready to move on to gingerbread fantasy architecture as seen in the gingerbread houses (below), demonstrating the highly guarded secret skills involving curved, and shaped gingerbread. I should also suggest the use of restraint in decorating your creations. Don't strive to hide the gingerbread beneath layer upon layer of icing and candy treats. It's the brownish gingerbread which, in large part, gives such works of art their inherent, old-world charm. I know it's Christmas, but don't over decorate. There's an old axiom artists have mostly stood by for centuries--more is not necessarily better.

"There was an old lady who lived in a shoe..." or was it a teapot?
Another old axiom in art--never be afraid to fail.
(You can always eat your mistakes.)


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Porcine Art

Pigcasso, 2009, Liza Phoenix--urban porcine art.
Many years ago, probably around 1972, I painted my first pig. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of it. The painting depicted a pristine, pinkish porker, primly posing upon a proper pedestal of purely Greek design. I called it Pig in the Parlor. If I recall, I may have been a senior in college at the time. In the ensuing years, I've rendered at least three additional paintings of pigs (below) though none now for more than twenty years. I used to think it was a means of thumbing my nose at the pandering pretentions of high art. Perhaps, but every single one of them sold. So much for that idea. In preparing to write about "pig painting" I discovered that a surprising number of artist now, and back then may have had similar thoughts. In fact, the city of Seattle even sponsors a charity competition among local artists who decorate fiberglass pigs to be anchored on downtown sidewalks for the amusement of passers by. Lisa Phoenix's 2009 entry, Pigcasso (above) is a colorful example.
Roughly twenty years of painted pigs.
Though I'd not realized it until lately, pigs have a long, colorful history in art. Scenes of wild boar hunting can be found on the walls of caves dating back tens of thousands of years. Paintings of animals, wild and domestic, have been a subject matter mainstay for centuries, though pigs have always been relegated to a spot near the bottom of the content hierarchy. As genre painting became popular in 17th-century European art, artists often left their studios, sketch pads in hand, and journeyed to outlying farms for their subject matter. Mostly they painted the human inhabitants, though we see them often interacting with the domesticated animals they raised for food, fun, and profit. George Morland's A Boy Looking into a Pig Sty (below), from 1794, is an early example from England.

A Boy Looking into a Pig Sty, 1794, George Morland
From this side of the Atlantic, we see an American genre painter whose work centered almost entirely around rural life and the workings of the early 19th-century farm. Below, William Sidney Mount's Ringing the Pig (Scene in a Long Island Farmyard), dates from 1842. It portrays very graphically the excitement and sheer physical finesse need to accomplish the task.

Ringing the Pig (Scene in a Long Island Farmyard), 1842, William Sidney Mount.
A generation or two later, another British artist, Joseph Crawhall III, painted Pigs at the Trough (below), which dates from 1884, in an Impressionist style. Most of his work was not very popular in that his chosen style, during the late 1800s had not yet "caught on." Most Impressionists, in their struggle for respectability in the art world at the time, would not likely have welcomed such lowly subject matter.

Pigs at the Trough, 1884, Joseph Crawhall III
Nearly a hundred yeas after Crawhall's attempt to popularize pigs, Impressionism had grown in popularity to the point of becoming passé. Pigs, too, had become more popular as we see in Jamie Wyeth's Portrait of a Pig (below) dating from 1970. Jamie Wyeth and I are about the same age. We both began painting pigs about the same time. When a member of the famed Wyeth clan begins painting pigs, you know they have "arrived."

Portrait of Pig, 1970, Jamie Wyeth
Let's face it, pigs are funny looking creatures. Daniel Eskridge plays upon this element of humor in his The Lost Pig (below). Seeking to evade rising flood waters, the unfortunate fellow finds himself perch precariously, stranded  upon a fallen tree. Though pigs can swim, this one seems not to realize that. From Brandywine to Folk Art, swine art may not always have been in good taste, but at least they taste good. I just had a bit for breakfast. Being such a mainstay of the rural diet here in America, now and in the past, it's little wonder pigs have found their way into our art. It's always been a sort of unwritten rule that artists paint what's important to them. Food is a basic necessity, thus it should come as no small surprise that the animals who provide it should be judged as important enough to be rendered in oils, fiberglass, and other art media. It's interesting to compare the similarities in the 19th-century Folk Art painting (bottom) to that of Wyeth's 20th-century image. One might go so far as to label the Folk Art version as being an abstract pig.

The Lost Pig, Daniel Eskridge

Antique American Folk Art "Baconator"

When Pigs Fly, Leah Saulnier.
I know I shouldn't stoop so low, but I couldn't resist.