Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Andy Warhol and That Beautiful Blotted Line!

It's the end of June already. To a certain extent I feel like I'm clawing my way through limbo. I don't have any finished collages to show for it but there are new possibilities on the horizon. I've been watching an amazing documentary from Netflix: Andy Warhol from the American Masters Series. Aside from learning about the politics behind trends in art, I have finally become aware of the importance of Andy Warhol's work.

Funny thing how growing up with it I just took the work for granted and never even saw it, really, let alone realized its implications. All that marvelous repetition! Can you imagine what he would have done had he access to Photoshop?

So now I am in love with that beautiful "blotted line." I even found instruction on how it is done. The possibilities for collage are astounding to me. And I keep watching the documentary over and over (should I admit, obsessively--Andy would have liked that) because every time I do I pick up on something new.

The blog called Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has an interview in which children's illustrator Edwin Fotheringham elaborates on his use of the blotted line and it's digital translation via Photoshop using a "Wacom Cintiq" which Fotheringham describes as "essentially a flat panel monitor that acts as a pressure sensitive tablet, with stylus input."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Trompe l'Oeil

I love the genre of painting known as trompe l'oeil. (Previous posts here.) So I was happy to find this back issue of Art & Antiques featuring Roxana Barry's article titled "Plane Truths: 19th Century American Trompe l'Oeil Painting."
During the period from 1875 to 1910 there arose a school of American trompe l'oeil painters comprised of William M. Harnett, John Haberle, John F. Peto, Jefferson David Chalfant, Alexander Pope, George Cope, De Scott Evens, Victor Debreuil and a number of lesser-known artists. These men executed many works within the narrow confines of the pure trompe d'oeil style--in which objects are depicted with photographically realistic detail. These paintings are usually done in life-size scale against a shallow or flat background comprised most often of a door or wall very close to the picture plane.
One thing I never thought about before is that trompe d'oeil portrays the "implacable reality" of a masculine world including currency, guns, assorted military and sporting paraphernalia. Barry provides an interesting discussion of the evolution of the "artificial separation of the masculine and feminine worlds" which occurred during the time of the artists. She begins by quoting a passage from Patricia Hill's Turn-of-the-Century America (1977):
"In a secular society, materialistic in its outlook, shocked by the behavior of men at the financial marketplaces and worried about the influx of immigrants, idealized human beauty became fair Anglo-Saxon types." These fair Anglo-Saxon beauties became the predominant images in American Painting. Passive and seemingly passionless, they appear to lead pampered sequestered lives of private reveries; playing solitaire and having teas, as if waiting for a momentous encounter. As women were excluded from the vigorous and corrupt world of politics and finance, they were an obvious choice of symbol to represent the opposites of those worlds: passivity and purity. Women were protected from the harsh realities of life; men had to live them, and thus the society was divided.
There is a modern Trompe l'Oeil Society and you can visit their web site here. It features the work of some very talented contemporary artists of the genre including Larry Charles, Donald Clapper, Eric Conklin, Garry T. Erbe, Gerald Hodge, Michael Molnar, and Gregory West. Interesting that there are no women artists among them even today!

Innocuous Desuetude

I love the title of this post. It's meaning points to a state of disuse or inactivity, certainly appropriate given my recent absence here!

We had a town-wide yard sale over the holiday weekend. I didn't offer anything for sale, but did my bit by purchasing two boxes of old books from my neighbor up the street. Included were three volumes of an eleven-volume set of James D. Richardson's "A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents." Published in 1910 by the Bureau of National Literature and Art, individual volumes are available for as little as $3.45 so it is not a particularly rare find.

One of the three volumes is the index, itself a very useful 834 page dictionary of political figures and events, which includes maps illustrating the extent of the United States during the administrations of the various presidents from Washington through Roosevelt. From perusing this volume I learned the marvelous phrase made popular in a speech by President Cleveland: "innocuous desuetude."

In trying to get a better handle on the phrase, I came upon an interesting article by William Safire published in the New York Times on October 4, 1987 titled On Language; The Penumbra of Desuetude. The lovely old photograph of the Smithsonian is from volume ten, the last page of which is numbered 7809!

Actually, I really like the sound of "Penumbra of Desuetude" in the Safire subtitle. It just brought to mind a great book that I read in library school, James Lipton's An Exaltation of Larks about collective nouns. A penumbra of desuetude could also be something one might find in an Edward Gorey drawing, no?