Not Your Grandma’s Artist

Last week, I wrote about Grandma Moses. This week, I’m going to write about an artist your grandma probably won’t like. Well, maybe she will. I don’t know your grandma.

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ABOVE: Joel-Peter Witkin, Still Life, Marseile, 1992, black and white photograph

I dig the macabre, watch creepy movies, and enjoy creepy art. Of all the creepy art I’ve seen – and I’ve seen my fair share – none is creepier than that of photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. Seriously. The picture shown here is about the safest I could find. If you want to see more, google him, but be forewarned, he is definitely not safe for work.

As with most disturbing art, Witkin’s work openly confronts death, but it does so while questioning other things such as morality and body image. Academically, within each piece are odes to the histories of photography and art itself. Technically, everything appears aged, and each photo reads like a Baroque painting.

Beyond imagery, I think what draws me to the work of Joel Peter-Witkin is the artistry itself, because, if you can look past its general gruesomeness, the composition and overall mood of his photography is spot on. Other images found on the internet may be more disturbing, but they’re not necessarily art. Joel-Peter Witkin is an artist, and a talented one at that.

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Your Grandma’s Artist

You’re never too old to set a new goal or dream. An example of this can be found in the life and work of Grandma Moses. She started her art career at the age of 78.

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ABOVE: Granda Moses, 1969 postage stamp based on her painting ‘The Fourth of July’

Born in Greenwich, New York on September 7, 1860; Grandma Moses (then known as Anna Mary Robertson), was raised alongside nine brothers and sisters, and left home at the age of 12 to work for a wealthy neighboring family. At 27, she met and married, and shortly thereafter, began having children of her own.

Over the years, she and her husband continued to work for the wealthy, until they were finally able to purchase a farm of their own. After losing him to a heart attack in 1927, she continued working until 1936, then retired and moved in with one of her daughters.

While she had been creative all her life, and she often made embroidered pictures for friends and family, it wasn’t until she was 78 that she began painting. Her folksy, rural themed artworks, quickly gained attention, and in 1940, she had her first solo exhibition titled “What a Farm Wife Painted.” It was around this time that the press dubbed her Grandma Moses.

In her time as a professional artist, Grandma Moses was awarded two honorary degrees, and was presented with an award for outstanding accomplishment in art by President Harry S. Truman. In 1951, the National Press Club named her one of the year’s five most newsworthy women.

Grandma Moses passed way in 1961 at the age of 101. Her works can be found in numerous collections around the world, among them, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC. Her painting ‘Fourth of July’ is part of the White House art collection.

Summer Art

With spring coming to a close, and the first day of summer coming next Wednesday, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite summer themed artworks. Happy summer!

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A Bigger Splash 1967 by David Hockney born 1937

ABOVE: David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, 1967, acrylic on canvas, 95.5 x 96 x 1 inches, Tate, London

 

ABOVE: Edward Hopper, Ground Swell, 1939, oil on canvas, 36 x 50 inches, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

ABOVE: Vincent van Gogh, Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1888, oil on canvas, 25.6 x 32 inches, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

ABOVE: Claude Monet, Poppy Fields near Argenteuil, 1875, oil on canvas, 211 x 29 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

on-the-beach

ABOVE: Pablo Picasso, On the Beach, 1937, oil, conté crayon and chalk on canvas, 50.7 x 76.4 inches, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

 

The World’s Oldest Known Artwork

Contrary to popular belief, the world’s oldest known artworks aren’t in Europe. They are in Indonesia, and they’re much, much older than previously thought.

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ABOVE: Cahyo Ramadhani, Hand Prints in Pettakere Cave at Leang Prehistoric Site, Maros

Although known and used by locals for a long time, the Pettakere cave in Indonesia wasn’t “officially” discovered until 1973. Once found, archaeologists falsely assumed that the tropical air would have faded the artworks, so they estimated them to be about 10,000 years old. In 2011, the crust which had formed atop the paintings was examined, and a new estimate of 35,000 to 40,000 years was given. Today, they are widely believed to be the oldest artworks in the world.

The imagery inside the cave consists of multiple hand prints and a painting of a hog deer. It is believed that the palm prints were placed there to ward off evil spirits while people slept. The significance of the deer is unknown.

Also unknown, is whether the imagery and style arose independently in Indonesia, or was brought there by early humans leaving Africa.

“It allows us to move away from the view that Europe was special,” said lead archaeologist Maxime Aubert. “There was some idea that early Europeans were more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Now we can say that’s not true.”

Georgia O’Keefe at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This past Saturday, I hopped on the subway and headed downtown to see the Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Here is a brief review.

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ABOVE: Georgia O’Keeffe, My Front Yard, Summer, 1941, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 inches

BELOW: Georgia O’Keefe, Nature Forms – Gaspe, 1932, oil on canvas

Georgia O’Keeffe had a long and storied career that spanned many decades, so a full accounting of her life and work would be a tall order for any institution. That said, the people who put this exhibition together tried, and for that they deserve credit. This show isn’t perfect, but it’s still pretty good. Here are my thoughts:

There are a lot of pieces on display, and for the most part, they are shown in chronological order. While I would have liked to see more cityscapes (as they are my favorite of her works) there are at least a few key pieces from each phase of her artistic journey. Interspersed throughout, are numerous photographs of O’Keeffe, posing, and at work in her studio. These bring context to the exhibition, and being shot by the likes of Ansel Adams and Alfred Steiglitz, are exceptional on their own.

While walking through the galleries, I overheard a couple complaining that there were only “6 flowers in the show.” While this is true, the quality of what is on display is pretty impressive. O’Keeffes craft is really tight, and her paintings are very well made. You can rarely spot a pencil line in her work, which shows a strong attention to detail, and a labor intensive practice. She wasn’t whipping these things off, she was taking her time.

In terms of imagery, the retrospective does an excellent job of highlighting some of O’Keeffes many influences, namely abstraction and minimalism – her simplest works are quite calming. In terms of palette, her greens, whites and blues really pop. Her reds, not so much.

Pleasantly, there is a Canadian connection to all this, that being her painting “Nature Forms – Gaspe”. It was, by far, my favorite piece in the exhibition. It’s small, and tucked into a corner, but judging by the murmurs around it, seemed to impress everyone who saw it – not just me.

All said and done, this is a fairly well thought out exhibition, that while lacking some blockbuster pieces, gives a good accounting of the life and work of one of the 20th centuries greatest artists. If you’re a fan of her work, I highly suggest you go.

Georgia O’Keeffe is at the Art Gallery of Ontario until July 30, 2017.

The Art of Perseverance

As tough as it is to make it as an artist, it’s even tougher to do so as a woman. Louise Bourgeois managed to break through – after decades of obscurity.

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ABOVE: Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999, bronze, marble, and stainless steel, 364 x 350 x 402 inches, cast 2001, edition 2/6 + A. P., Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa, Photo: © Guggenhein Bilbao Museoa, Bilbao

Born in Paris in 1911, Louise Bourgeois was raised above a tapestry shop in the suburbs. Her father, an overbearing philanderer would often tease her in front of others, and her mother, albeit loving, was in many ways broken owing to her husband’s constant affairs.

In 1930, Bourgeois began studying mathematics at the Sorbonne. Although she loved math (for all its rules), she abruptly changed her major to art when her mother died in 1932. Her father wasn’t happy, and he refused to help her in any way, so, in order to obtain tuition, she worked as a translator for English speaking students.

After leaving the Sorbonne, she continued her studies at the École des Beaux-Arts and began creating artwork inspired by her relationship with her father. Later, she opened a tapestry shop beside his, and because it was a ‘real job’, he helped her do so.

It was at the shop that she met an art professor named Robert Goldwater and after a brief affair, the two married and fled to New York City. Goldwater taught art at NYU and Bourgeois attended the Art Students League of New York.

Although friends with many successful artists (such as Rothko, de Kooning and Pollock), success proved elusive for Bourgeois, and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that she began her ascent into the upper echelons of the art world. In 1982, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held a retrospective of her work, and from then on the accolades began piling up.

When Louise Bourgeois passed away in 2010 at the age of 98, she left behind a legacy that serves, in part, as testimony to hard work and perseverance. It wasn’t easy, but she’s in her rightful place as one of contemporary arts greatest practitioners.