Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Tribute to Paula Modersohn-Becker on her Birthday

Paula Modersohn-Becker Painting in the Garden, Otto Modersohn, July 19 1901


Today is the 142nd birthday of painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907!) She is one of my very favorite artists, which actually makes it difficult to write about her. There is so much I want to say that I have to rein myself in and sort carefully through the avalanche of  thoughts and feelings I have about her life and her work. Her work reaches out and grabs at my heart.

It is a sad fact for me that Modersohn-Becker did not seem to have created any artistic works showing herself or any other woman at work creating art or with the tools of her artistic trade close to hand. Those are my firm parameters for Women in The Act of Painting. While she portrayed women constantly and herself frequently (she was one of the first European artists, male or female, to depict herself nude) her self portraits mainly show her holding flowers or babies. And same for her portraits of other women and girls. These paintings speak eloquently to my heart, but are also a frustration for me, as the creator of the Women in the Act of Painting project. It does make me search harder, deeper and wider though, which can be part of the fun of doing this project, uncovering little known images. If anyone reading this finds a Modersohn-Becker WAP piece, a drawing, print or painting, please let me know!

I found one oil sketch of Modersohn-Becker painting, created by her husband Otto Modersohn (1865-1943), himself a really excellent painter. He was one of the co-founders of the Worpswede Artist's Colony where he and the younger Paula Becker met.  The colony was famed for its gorgeous gardens, and this painting was almost certainly painted there, probably en plein air. I don't have all the details about this piece despite hours of searching, and I'd love to know its dimensions or current location. If anyone knows, please get in touch! During their lifetimes, Otto Modersohn was by far the better known and more highly respected artist of the couple, but now his reputation is very much secondary to hers. No need to feel too sorry for the fellow however, as he does have an entire museum dedicated to his work! He is best known for his beautiful landscapes and pastoral scenes.



And, what an unalloyed thrill to see that Paula Modersohn-Becker is today's Google Doodle!  A Google Doodle is the biographical/historical image (with informational links) that decorates the Google search engine site, and which changes daily. This is the second time I've used a Google Doodle on WAP. The first time was last year's doodle celebrating the sculptor Edmonia Lewis! I was so grateful for that doodle because w/o it I didn't have a way to showcase Lewis using the WAP parameters: there are no art images of her at work. I am finding myself frequently thankful to the Google Doodle folks for their WAP help. Much appreciation to Google Doodle!

The young Paula Becker had to fight her family's expectations for her (they wanted her to become a teacher) in order to study art. While spending a summer at the Worpswede Art Colony with her friend, the sculptor Clara Westhoff (who later married Rainer Maria Rilke) Paula fell in love with the painter Otto Modersohn, a widower with a young child. They married and had a complicated relationship. Modersohn-Becker seemed afraid of becoming too enmeshed in the wifely domestic expectations of women at that time, fearing (correctly) that such would would limit her ability to do her art work. While she apparently doted on her stepdaughter and was a fond wife to Otto, she also frequently took long trips apart from the Modersohn household, studying in Paris, for instance. Her strong desire to experience pregnancy and motherhood, which can be seen in so many of her paintings, eventually led to her agree to becoming pregnant. The couple was joyful. But in a stroke of tragic irony, Paula Modersohn-Becker died of complications following the birth of her baby. She was thirty-four years old.

I urge you to read more about Paula Modersohn-Becker (there are several biographies) or simply do an image search for her work on-line. There is something so open and strong about her work. Earthy, literal, yet sublime, ineffable. Apparently simple, but actually complex. I love that combination. As a very young artist I copied a couple of paintings she did just for my own satisfaction, perhaps as a way to try and internalize some of her spirit. Maybe I will try that again! Yes, her life was cut short, but Modersohn-Becker was always trying new things and learning, and I suspect she always would have been, even had she lived a longer time. She was an explorer and and an innovator. Happy Birthday Paula!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Swooning for Swoon

Swoon, Nee Nee, 2014, Ink, Paper and Wheat paste. London.
Swoon is the nom de brosse of Caledonia Curry (b. 1977) a multi-media artist based in New York. While her projects take many different forms, she is probably most well known for her street art, in particular her series of large intricately cut paper prints which she wheat pastes to disused or empty buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and around the world, too. These prints are complex portraits, depicting friends and family. Her style is inspired by many sources such as folk art, German Expressonist woodblock prints and Indonesian puppets.

The artist is deeply engaged by current events and has created work in response to Hurricane Sandy and the earthquakes in Haiti. She is one of the originators of Konbit Shelter, a sustainable building project in Haiti, and has been centrally involved in several other fascinating projects relating to both art and social issues. In 2015 Curry founded The Heliotrope Foundation.

Curry received her BFA from the Pratt Institute in New York City in 2002. She has been included in several museum shows and in 2014 had a site specific installation at the Brooklyn Museum called Submerged Motherlands. To see more of the artist's portfolio, check out her beautiful website!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Art Class and Beyond

Uranie Alphonsine Colin-Libour, The Art Class, 1891, oil on linen, 63.5 x 89 inches, private collection
Uranie Alphonsine Colin-Latour (1831 - 1916) was born in Paris. She studied with several well-known painters of the day, including François Bonvin and Charles Louis Lucien Muller, as well as sculptor François Rude.

This charming scene, entitled, The Art Class, shows an all-female atelier, which was probably how Colin-Libour started her own art education before later studying "seriously" with her male teachers. It is fun to think the intent young girl, being kindly guided by her instructress, is a self-portrait of Colin-Libour as a precociously talented child, and the more self-assured young woman making friendly eye contact with the viewer is the artist too, in a later stage of development. This is just my theory.

Colin-Libour exhibited in the art pavilion  of the Woman's Building in the Chicago World Exposition of 1893, which means she must have been held in high regard. This was an honor accorded only to the very best woman artists of the day, representing their different countries. The paintings Colin-Libour exhibited can be seen here.


Woman's Building Poster, 1893, Madeleine LeMaire
It is worth noting that the poster for this ground-breaking exhibition was designed by french artist Madeleine LeMaire, who was a fascinating person too! As well as being a talented professional artist, she held a renowned weekly salon for Parisian intellectuals and artists. LeMaire was the inspiration for the character of Madame Verdurin in Marcel Proust's seven part novel A la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrances of Things Past) published 1871-1922.

Back to Uranie Alphonsine Colin-Libour, the only other significant piece of information I have found out about her is that she is included in the important book, Women Painters of the World, published in 1905, an overview of all the prominent (European) female artists (or those deemed prominent by the editor) up to that time. This is an absolutely  seminal book for the history of art, and for the history of women's art in particular, and means that Colin-Libour had to have been considered one of the very best of the best. If only more was known about her today!

Woman Painters of the World, Walter Shaw Sparrow, 1905



Thursday, January 11, 2018

Another Thamar

Thamar painting the goddess Diana. From Boccaccio, Des cleres et nobles femmes, De claris mulieribus in an anonymous French translation c. 1400-25, French (Paris). Collection of the British Library, MS Royal 20 C V f. 90

Thamar (5th century BC) was a well-known painter in ancient Greece. There are no standard spellings of names translated from ancient tongues and so you will see this same artist also referred to as Tamar, Tamara, Thamyris, Thamaris and Timarete. Her father was the painter, Micon the Younger, and she learned the painting trade from him. In those times trades and professions were traditionally kept within families. Pliny the Elder wrote of her in his famous tome Natural History (77 CE) saying, "...she scorned the duties of women, and practised her father's art." Whether or not Thamar actually scorned anything we will never know, but she was extremely good at painting and her fame lives on, although there are no known extant examples of her work. Most painting at that time was done as fresco or mural, and the majority of architectural structures of that period have been ruined by the passage of time, or demolished, or subsumed by later renovation.

This is a 15th century rendition of Thamar, which accompanies text by Bocaccio, from his book Of Noble Women written in the early 1400's. It was a runaway "best-seller" of the times! Because so many copies were made of this book there are numerous illuminations (text illustrations) of Thamar, and as was usual at the time, the artist from ancient times was dressed in the fashion of the "present" day. In this image by an unknown French artist we see Thamar painting what was probably her best-known work, a depiction of the goddess Diana. That masterwork was famous in her day and after and was long displayed in a position of reverence at the temple of Epheseus. Unfortunately, that temple was completely destroyed in 401 A.D. by a Christian mob led by St. John Chrysostom.

For more depictions of Thamar, please look in the side bar where you will see this is one of several! Click on "Thamar" to see them all! :-)


Don't forget, to enlarge this or any WAP image for better viewing pleasure, just click on it!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Snowflake Painting

"I’m a Special Snowflake" oil on aluminum panel, 60” x 36”, 2017

Artist Alia El-Bermani has become fascinated with folded paper objects, using them as props in her paintings. She recently asked artist friends to mail her handmade paper snowflakes for this particular painting. She received hundreds of flakes from artists all over the world, some of which can be seen here. The two flakes which cover her face were made by her children several years ago and were included in another painting titled "Space Between." El-Bermani says, "In this new work my identity is somewhat obscured by their presence, but thru them I view the world more completely," referencing the exigencies and enlargement of motherhood,

Her intention is that when this painting is exhibited, the snowflakes in the painting will be installed near the piece and viewers will be asked to create their own flakes to add to the installation. The artist comments, "
This self portrait is an expression of how I often feel invisible amongst the blizzard of talent that is prevalent in our art world today, while also firmly believing in the solidity of my ability and relevance as a painter."

El-Bermani
attended the Laguna College of Art and Design and runs a teaching studio in Raleigh, NC called Alia Fine Art Studios. More info on El-Bermani's work can be found at http://alia-fineart.com/.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cultural Nexus

Sandra Gonzalez, "Nuestra Pasado/Nuestra Futuro" (Our Past/ Our Future)  mural, 2017  photo: Jared Jischke
Sandra Gonzalez (b.1986) was raised in Tamaulipas, Mexico, emigrating to the United States in 2000 with her family. Her artwork springs from the intertwining of her Mexican heritage and her American culture. Her style reflects this with colorful Mexican-American patterns and symbols of both cultures. Traditional Mexican fabrics and tiles inspire her work and the artist states that she sees fabric "as a social metaphor where each garment is a collection of individual fibers forming a group/society." She feels passionately about helping communities with her art, often involving them with the painting process.

Sandra studied studio art and printmaking at Texas A & M University and received her MFA in 2013 from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Full disclosure: Sandra was one of my classmates and friends in the MFA program at PAFA! I always loved Sandra and her work, and so I was thrilled to discover she'd recently created a piece I could include in my Women in the Act of Painting project! After graduating from PAFA Sandra was hired by Philadelphia Mural Arts where she became enthralled with the whole concept of mural painting. In particular she was inspired by mural artist Betsy Casañas with whom she has worked on several projects.


Eventually returning to her home state of Texas, Sandra now works as a High School art teacher and continues to create public art large and small. She's completed several mural projects in the past few years, unifying neighbors, friends, students and families who work together on her projects. 


This particular piece (shown above) was part of the Electrical Box Project commissioned by the Marina Arts District and completed in January of 2017. The box is located at Mesquite & Williams Street in Corpus Christi, Texas. The box is covered with the bright colors of embroidered flowers, and tiles. One side features the artist's beloved grandmother, and the other side (pictured) shows her young niece, Kira, in the act of painting. "I have always been inspired by the women in my family." Sandra says.  The juxtaposition of age and youth explain the work's title, "Nuestra Pasado/Nuestra Futuro" which translates as Our Past/Our Future.  While I don't usually use photos in this blog that display anything but the artwork itself, this charming shot of Sandra's niece jubilantly playing her violin next to the mural bearing her likeness was simply too charming to pass up! So, since I'm on a roll, here's another, of Sandra showing the other side of the box mural. 



Sandra Gonzalez, "Nuestra Pasado/Nuestra Futuro" (other side) mural, 2017  photo of the artist: Earl Parr

Sandra Gonzalez's website can be found here. More up-to-the-minute photos of the artist's work can be seen on her colorful Instagram account.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The extraordinary Edmonia Lewis

Doodle by Sophie Diao

I'm absolutely thrilled to find that today's Google Doodle depicts Edmonia Lewis! I have long had my eye on Ms. Lewis for this Women in the Act project, but was never able to find an artwork depicting her at work. Frustrating! Now at last, I'm able to feature this outstanding artist.

Edmonia Lewis (1844 - 1907) was the first American woman of African American and Native American heritage to achieve international fame as a sculptor. Lewis pioneered a unique style which incorporated African American and Native American cultural themes into her Neoclassical style sculpture. Her independent and adventurous life at a time when women's lives were routinely limited was likewise avant-garde, unique and awe-inspiring.





Lewis was born in New York state to a father of Haitian descent and a mother of Mississauga Ojibwe and African American descent. After her parents’ death when she was nine years old Lewis was adopted by her maternal aunts, who supported the family by crafting and selling Ojibwe baskets and other souvenirs for tourists. Interestingly, at this period of her life Lewis went by her Native American name, Wildfire.  At age 15, Lewis enrolled in Oberlin College, and began her serious study of art. Unfortunately her time at Oberlin was fraught with disruption and outright discrimination. Because of certain charges brought against her (later dismissed) she was prevented from enrolling in her final term, and therefore was unable to receive her degree.

Undaunted, Lewis moved to Boston in 1864, determined to pursue a career as a sculptor. She apprenticed with Edward A. Brackett, a sculptor whose clients included many well-known abolitionists. Lewis worked as Brackett's apprentice until 1864, when she launched her first solo exhibition, which paid homage to the abolitionists and Civil War heroes of the day, including John Brown. Her work became very popular and her financial success allowed her to travel to Italy to further pursue her studies. "I thought I knew everything when I came to Rome, but I soon found I had everything to learn.” Edmonia Lewis (quoted in Romare Bearden'sA History of African-American Artists)


In Rome, Lewis soon joined a circle of expatriate artists and established her own studio. She began sculpting in marble, combining classicism with naturalistic observation and themes relating to African American and Native American people. Her work won respect and fame, and commanded large sums of money. She continued to receive international acclaim until her death in 1911.

Today’s Doodle depicts Lewis sculpting one of her most famous works, The Death of Cleopatra, which is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Her strong yet sensitively realized  portrayal of Cleopatra’s death received the highest praise from critics when it was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. One called it “the most remarkable piece of sculpture in the American section" of the show. 

The artist Sophie Diao who created the Edmonia Lewis Doodle works at Google and freelances for the computer animation industry. She graduated from the California Institute of the Arts in 2013. Her impressive portfolio can be seen here!

Self-Portrait with dog, Sophie Diao