Norman Rockwell's profound 1964 painting 'The Problem We All Live With'
is on the top of my Rockwell list. It depicts 6-year-old Ruby Bridges,
an African-American girl, being escorted to an all-white public school
in New Orleans, by four deputy U.S. marshalls. What is so very
effective is the viewer is seeing the point of view from the angry
crowd, the hint being the racial slurs on the wall and the tomato
splattered in between the figures.
The image was published in a 1964 issue of Look
magazine - Rockwell's contract with the Saturday Evening Post ended in
1963 due to Rockwell's continued frustration with the magazine's
limitations on his expressions of progressive social interests,
including his personal views on civil rights and racial integration.
Norman Rockwell's granddaughter, Abigail, recently wrote a compelling article in the Huffington Post titled Would There Be Norman Rockwell Without The Saturday Evening Post?Rockwell undoubtedly evolved as an illustrator between 1916 and 1963 - becoming a storyteller with his images like no other. His career with the Post yielded 322 covers before he ended his contract.
Ruby Bridges, at the age of 56, visited the painting in the White House in 2011 - at the request of President Obama.
The CNN writer, Bob Greene, wrote about that event in this article. Within that article, these words struck me "..the message of the painting is so powerful that it goes well beyond
the incident it portrays. The message transcends our usual
Democrats-vs.-Republicans, conservatives-vs.-liberals, left-vs.-right
squabbling. Rockwell was a genius not just because of the
technical skill of his artistry, but because of his eye for the telling
detail. And in "The Problem We All Live With," the key detail is how he
framed the four U.S. marshals who are accompanying that child to school.
We do not see their faces; in the painting, the men are cropped at
That is the power and the story of the painting:
Four men were accompanying Bridges to school, yes, but the point was,
the United States of America was accompanying her. We see the men's
"Deputy U.S. Marshal" armbands, and that is what matters. The painting
tells us: This country may have its flaws, but when right and wrong are
on the line, the nation, in the end, usually chooses to stand for right."
I was simply inspired to paint this new piece after I turned on the movie Girl with a Pearl Earring - which, by the way, is an artist's dream of a beautifully visual film. Every minute is a painting.
Johannes Vermeer was a moderately successful Dutch painter in the 17th century - specializing in domestic scenes in his own middle-class life. He painted slow and infrequently and insisted on using expensive paints but his signature element was light.
Vermeer wasn't a wealthy man - but his future mother-in-law was wealthy and insisted Johannes convert to Catholicism before marrying her daughter Catharina - and with her help, Vermeer was able to pursue painting. The couple went on to have eleven children, all who were left penniless and in debt after his death at age 43.
Vermeer's works were hardly known outside of Amsterdam until the 19th century - imagine that. His famous painting Girl with a Pearl Earring hangs in The Hague in the Netherlands.
If you have a bucket list, add seeing the painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper in the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hopper's iconic painting done in 1942 is one of the most recognizable paintings in American art. Hopper and his wife Jo attended an exhibit of paintings by Henri Rousseau at the Museum of Modern Art - about a month after Nighthawks was hung in a New York gallery - and in attendance was Daniel Catton Rich, the director of the Art Institute of Chicago and Alfred Barr, the director of MOMA. Jo told Barr he just had to go see Edward's new painting Nighthawks. It was Rich who went to see it shortly after and purchased it for $3000 and the painting has hung in the Art Institute ever since.
Mark Rothko was a complex, educated man and it would be futile for me to even begin to analyze his paintings, especially the color fields in his abstract expressionism works. I will include a quote from Rothko that does it for me - "The fact that people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions. The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when painting them. And if you say you are moved only by their color relationships then you miss the point."
A young man stands before Mark Rothko's Untitled, (Purple, White and Red) in the Art Institute of Chicago.
Please click here for a larger view and purchase/contact information.
This is how most people look at a painting by Joan Miro. A bit puzzled maybe.
The Spanish painter, born in 1893, lived a long life until the age of 90 - which meant he lived as a painter and sculptor through many art movements of the 20th century - surrealism, dadaism, fauvism, magical realism, experimentalism and modernism. Miro expressed contempt for conventional painting methods as a way of supporting bourgeois society, famously declaring an 'assassination of painting' in favor of upsetting the visual elements of established painting'. Add Joan Miro to the long list of artists who were sent off to a private school and sooned decided they wanted to be a painter rather than what their father wanted them to be.
Miro's painting above is titled Personages with Star. You might ask what is a personage. According to Miro, after hunger-induced hallucinations, he began a series of 'dream paintings', exploring surrealism, including what he called enigmatic signs or personages - based on real things but in his own form. The man was unique.
Like his mentor, Pablo Picasso, Miro was deeply involved in politics. In
a 1936 interview, with the Spanish civil war looming, he spoke of the
need to 'resist all societies... if the aim is to impose their demands
on us. The word 'freedom' has meaning for me and I will defend it at any
cost.' When asked about the death of General Franco in 1975 and what he had done to promote opposition to the Spanish dictator who ruled for nearly 40 years, he answered 'free and violent things.'
From the Art Institute of Chicago, a woman closely studying Joan Miro's Personages with Star.
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I've been busy going places but now I'm home and back to painting. Yay.
Back in my frame shop days, I made it a point to have a framed Georgia O'Keeffe print on the wall - especially her New York skyscrapers. I had a guy come in one day, swore I was mistaken that the painting you see above, The Shelton with Sunspots, N.Y. was NOT an O'Keeffe. He insisted she only painted flowers and desert scenes. Yep, that's what he said.
O'Keeffe created a series of New York skyscrapers between 1925 and 1929 after she and Alfred Stieglitz moved into the Shelton Hotel, on the 30th floor where she had a perfect view of the northern, eastern and southern cityscapes. Her painting above depicts an optical illusion where there appeared to be "a bite out of one side of the tower made by the sun, with sunspots against the building and against the sky".
After 1929, O'Keeffe was unhappy with city life and marriage and moved to New Mexico, where she found new inspiration in the southwest landscapes, never to revisit the subject of skyscrapers again.
From the Art Institute of Chicago, a woman stands next to Georgia O'Keeffe's The Shelton with Sunspots, N.Y.
I've written about Vincent van Gogh in past posts and still I can't get over the fact that this brilliant artist completed nearly 900 paintings, 1,100 drawings and countless etchings between the ages of 28 through 37 years old. And the majority of paintings were done in the last two years of his life. And.... he only sold one painting in his lifetime. Remarkable.
Van Gogh painted 30 self-portraits during the last several years of his life - in large part to not being able to pay a model. Each and every portrait gives the viewer great insight to his state at that time. The self-portrait above was done in 1887 while he lived in France and largely due to being influenced by the young artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh approached this painting with the play between the complimentary colors of blue-greens and the orange-reds. He adopted elements of Pointillism, using small, colored strokes inside the background and clothing, something that can't be seen from a distance, but up close, is so very effective.
From the Art Institute of Chicago, a man closely views Vincent van Gogh's Self-Portrait. This is a small study of a larger version I am currently working on - I wanted to make sure I could get the tilt of the man's head right before I tackled a larger painting.
I've been in an experimental mode with this idea. On several occasions, I've seen blown up wall murals - some in museums advertising exhibitions, some on sides of buildings, some on television during live concerts or speeches, etc. It really captures my attention. So I've been playing with scale and people and it's been great fun, resulting in a study of one I'd like to do a bit larger.
Feel free to tell me what you think.
The mural behind the woman on the bench is Paul Gauguin's Aha Oe Feii? or Are You Jealous?. Painted in 1892 from his adventures in Tahiti, the title refers to a conversation between two sisters about love and conquests, causing one to say What? Are you jealous? after one claimed she got lucky the night before and the other did not.
Gauguin went to Tahiti with expectations of paradise and Tahitian culture but discovered those preconceived notions were disappearing fast with Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries moving in on the natives. It was then his goal to spend the next twelve years recreating the idyllic world in paintings, engravings and sculptures.
I'm really late for dinner but I wanted to post this new painting that includes one of my personal favorites of Georgia O'Keeffe, Black Cross, New Mexico in the Art Institute of Chicago. To her left is The Black Place.
Henri Matisse was born in 1869 in Northern France, the oldest son of a rich grain merchant. His father sent him to law school in Paris, and after an attack of appendicitis, his kind mother brought him art supplies to occupy his days in recovery and Henri discovered "a kind of paradise" - then deciding he was to become an artist rather than a lawyer. Imagine that - an appendicitis attack gave us the great Henri Matisse.
Henri was serious about art - creating paintings, sculptures, cut-out collages and stained glass windows right up until his death at the age of 84. What is recognizable in many painting is the repetition of colors and pattern and a general feeling of harmony.
The Music (La Musique) was painted in 1910, commissioned by a wealthy Russian who hung it with The Dance on the staircase of his Moscow mansion. It is said Matisse created the painting without any preparation or sketches, like Dance, aiming to show a 'state of complete immersion in creativity'. I love this quote from Matisse, saying his ultimate goal was to create "an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every menial worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue".
The art of Zen. The Zen of art.
From the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York - women surrounding The Music by Henri Matisse.
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The artist Marc Chagall called 'love' the primary color of his paintings. They are rich with Russian culture. You hear the music. You feel the love.
Chagall's Birthday depicts the artist floating and swooping over his wife, Bella, to kiss her on her birthday. Or his birthday - different accounts claim one or the other. The couple met in their hometown of Vitebsk, Belarus in 1909 - he was twenty-two and she was fourteen. Chagall was the son of a working-class Hasidic Jewish family - Bella was born to one of the town's richest Jewish families. Despite her family's misgivings about the union, Marc and Bella married in 1915, had a daughter, moved to rural France, fled from the Nazi regime to Lisbon and then to the United States and remained happily married until Bella's death in 1944.
In her memoirs, Bella recounts how she worked at finding Marc's birth date and visited him on that day, carrying flowers as he began the paint. "Spurts of red, white, black. Suddenly you tear me from the earth, you yourself take off from one foot. You rise, you stretch your limbs, you float up to the ceiling. Your head turns about and you make mine turn. You brush my ear and murmur."
How sweet is that?
From the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, a woman leans in to admire Chagall's Birthday.
In need of a moment of Zen? Spend some time in an art museum. Put your phone on silent. Step into another time. That's what painting can be like. A removal from the present. Imagine painting a huge canvas with your garden surrounding you. Nice thought.
Claude Monet was 74 years old when he began painting Irises in 1914. He had gained financial and critical success in the late 1800's, he and his second wife and their combined family were living in Giverny where he frequently painted outdoors in the gardens he helped create. In 1911, his wife Alice passed away, he had developed cataracts in one eye - yet he took on a large commission by the Orangerie des Tuileries museum in Paris to complete twelve waterlily paintings. He wanted his pieces to serve as a 'haven of peaceful meditation' to soothe the 'overworked nerves' of the visitors.
Irises stands out as more painterly, with almost a stucco surface of thick, broad brushstrokes capturing the light and color Monet struggled to see clearly. Stand in front of it and you can see his progressions and strokes as he works on layers upon layers.
From the Art Institute of Chicago, where you can find many extraordinary works by Monet.
I took the week to visit a good friend. We spent our time painting together and eating wonderful dinners. A most perfect week.
Wanted to show you a new book of poetry by Emily Blewitt, titled This Is Not A Rescue. The publisher Seren Books is located in Wales - they contacted me asking if I would provide the artwork
for the cover and I gladly agreed.
I've been a bit stagnant lately with respect to painting.
It's normal. Typically happens after a long stretch of painting for a show. The well goes dry. It's normal.
To the surprise of many, I get inspiration from television. An image will appear or colors will stand out that impress my brain. Subjects come up and I make a mental note. I watched a segment recently about the Osage Indians in Pawhuska, Oklahoma - I was born somewhat near the area - so I paid a little more attention to the story which was mainly about the horrible murders of many tribe members in the early 20th century.
The photos of the Osage were stunning. The faces, the bone structure... I am always consumed by the human face and form. That was why I began the BUST-ED series and continue that curiousity. So I've been pouring over photographs from over 100 years ago of various Native Americans, in awe of their beauty and dignity.
And it's something different for me - to paint with black and white. It led me to this new painting - a portrait of Big Man. He was of the Sicangu Oyate Tribe, a branch of the Lakota people who's home is South Dakota. I don't know much about this gentleman, but Big Man in many tribes all over the world means the patriarch or a highly influential individual. I found him to be an inspiration.
I don't like all Picasso's works of art, but I like this one, Seated Woman in Chemise, especially placed on the warm, red wall in Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The casual, natural feel of the model with the blue background appeals to me. The painting is currently on loan from the Tate Museum in London.
In the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, people flock to John Trumball's iconic Portrait of Alexandar Hamilton. Children pull their parents over to see him. The broadway play must take credit for most of the enthusiasm of Hamilton.
The artist, John Trumbull had just as an interesting, historically important life as Hamilton - born in Lebanon, Connecticut in 1756, the son of Jonathan Trumbull, a colonial Royal Governor who embraced the partriot cause and Faith Robinson, a descendant of Pilgrim leader John Robinson.
Trumball entered Harvard at age 15, with the parents' wishes for him to be a lawyer or minister and he immediately became friends with John Singleton Copley, the leading portrait painter of the Colonies and began studying painting to the chagrin of his father.
When the Revolution fired up, Trumbull joined the Connecticut Regiment, witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill, which later was a subject of one of his historical paintings - caught the attention of General George Washington, and served until 1777. Determined to study painting in England, he delivered a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin to study with the Official Painter of Historical Subjects to George III. Not too shabby. There he met a student, another famous portraitist, Gilbert Stuart. All was going well until his arrest and incarceration for allegedly being a British spy until several known artists convinced the king to set him free and leave London.
If you've been to the U.S. Capitol, you saw several historical paintings by Trumbull, notably The Declaration of Independence, a commission urged on by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The man lived a Forrest Gumpesque life through his adult life, meeting the right people at the right time. He died in 1843, interred on the Yale Campus under the building which contained many of Trumbull's important works of art. The inscription over his tomb includes the words 'To his Country he gave his SWORD and his PENCIL.'
"You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is... unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far." ~ Alice Neel
"If I had the energy, I would have done it all over the country" - Edward Hopper
"It's what you carry to an object that counts." - Andrew Wyeth
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"When I'm old and gray, I want to have a house by the sea. And paint. With a lot of wonderful chums, good music, and booze around. And a damn good kitchen to cook in."