Some favorite photos
We have no way to know how many great works of art have been lost through the centuries, some to natural disaster, some to war, bronzes melted down to make armaments, paintings ripped up for oil rags, marble sculptures broken to use for building materials, wooden sculptures and works on paper burned for warmth In times of need. Pragmatic people will use what is at hand. Most heartbreaking: those lost or damaged in wartime. We can sympathize with people using materials they genuinely need. But the sheer waste of war, the uselessness of it? As the song goes, "War -- what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!" The three works below were all damaged in what has been called the Flakturm Friedrichshain Fire. Flakturm: a large, above-ground, anti-aircraft tower. Tragically, a treasure-trove of masterpieces had been stored there for their protection. Instead, over 400 paintings and about 300 sculptures from the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum in Berlin, now the Bode Museum, were lost to either looting or to the fires. How did the fires break out? The Germans blamed the Russians, the Russians blamed the Germans. Whoever knew, they are undoubtably gone today. The Soviets confiscated many surviving artworks, even those severely damaged. The three works below, damaged in that fire, are beautiful even in their brokenness, reminding us of our own fragility, how fleeting our lives truly are.
Portrait of a Young Girl, attributed to Mino da Fiesole (c. 1429-1484)
On the left, the sculpture as it appears today. On the right, a plaster cast, in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, done before the original was damaged. The broken sculpture is part of a joint restoration project of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and the Bode Museum in Berlin.
The Friedrichshain Madonna, c. 1450, terracotta, by Luca della Robbia (c. 1399/1400-1482)
Despite the smoke damage and its fragmented state, I find such a touching sweetness in this work, currently part of the restoration project.
Kneeling Angel, by Giambattista di Alberto Bregno (1482-1520)
Rather than being part of the reconstruction project, this work is on display at the Bode Museum in Berlin. Originally the hands were clasped in prayer.
For more information about the works lost in that terrible fire, see:
For more information about the joint restoration project of the Bode Museum and the Pushkin, see:
Experimenting with Selfies
Most people want photos of themselves to be as flattering as possible. Boudoir photography might be the premiere example of our time. It's understandable -- but frustrating for the artist who would rather explore creating portraits that are interesting, unusual, quirky. One ready solution: selfies. I'm available -- after all, everywhere I go, there I am. And I don't have to worry about presenting myself in a conventionally flattering manner -- no need to please a family member, friend or client. So, here are some photos I have done in the last few months, going for more drama, expressiveness, experimenting with lighting, color and textural effects. All shot with my iPhone 12 Pro Max and edited in multiple apps. My favorite editing apps include Camera+2, Hipstamatic, Carbon, Instagram, and Photos. Here are a few examples. Click to see full image.
I do sometimes attempt something a little more "flattering." Here are two:
People Making Portraits
Just over a year ago, I joined the People Making Portraits Meetup Group https://www.meetup.com/People-Making-Portraits ). The group meets via Zoom. It took at little time to get over the discomfort of meeting virtually, but I have come to enjoy connecting to other people. We have members from many different locations. Most are in the Austin,Texas metro area, but we have had participants on the East Coast, West Coat, Middle America, Europe, the Middle East. We take turns posing for each other; very short poses, nothing longer than 20 minutes. Here are just a few examples. All drawn freehand on my iPad Pro, using the Sketch Club app and Apple Pencil .
Looking at art history. Here we have a fragment of a sculpture: God the Father, c. 1510, from the workshop of Andrea della Robbia (1435-1525). Terracotta, partly enameled, with some of the color still visible, but most worn off. I see fragments of sculptures as so evocative of the uncertainty of life. "Change and decay in all around I see," says the old hymn. "Oh, Thou who changes not, abide with me."
Luca della Robbia (1399/1400--1482) born in Renaissance Florence became a true innovator in the medium of glazed terracotta. He took the humble material of clay (terracotta means "cooked earth") and created beautiful, luminous works using colorful, reflective glazes. He started a very successful family enterprise. His nephew Andrea, who created this piece, inherited the workshop in 1482. Five of Andrea's children joined in the business. Della Robbia sculptures can be found all over Florence and other cities, with many works in museums all over the world.
The Victoria & Albert Museum owns this work, but it is not on view. Fragments so rarely are, when a museum owns complete works. It's a pity tho.
Today you can find "Della Robbia" knock-off pottery on Etsy and eBay. The name lives on.
Looking at art history. Michelangelo's unfinished sculpture of St. Matthew. I have seen it in Florence, at the Accademia where the more famous David stands on display. I find this sculpture profoundly moving in his rough, unfinished state. The artist himself once wrote: "Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." Matthew, the tax collector who dropped everything to follow Christ, emerges from the marble, muscled, powerful, the book of the Gospel in his hand.
When looking at a preparatory drawing and the painting based on it, I almost always prefer the drawing. We see the artist's hand at work, the mind thinking. In the same way, in this unfinished work, we see Michelangelo's hand, holding the chisel, his mind making choices of just where to place the tool. The unfinished work is "in the rough," but not imperfect, not found wanting.
The website Michelango.org (https://www.michelangelo.org/the-saint-matthew.jsp) describes it thus: "The standing pose includes a cube-shaped base on which the left foot is raised forcing the knee to protrude; this results in the unusual spiraling that passes into every part of the anatomy, in fieri, of the Evangelist apostle, all the way up to the upwards turn of his head towards divine inspiration -- at once the calling the the source of the book he hold in his left hand. The daring contrapposto, the dynamism pervading the saint's body in every direction, a body that is tense and distressed as it harks the divine inspiration." In fieri: in process, underway, beginning to have existence.
And now a perhaps relevant quote from St. Paul of the Cross: "The statue must be chiseled with very sharp tools before it is fit to be placed in the grand gallery."
And my own thought. We don't like being chiseled ourselves. We chose how to respond: to become bitter or better, serene or sour.
#michelangelo #matthew #michelangelomatthew
Van Gogh, the Missionary
Art History. Not one of Vincent van Gogh’s most well known paintings — Prisoners' Round, painted in February 1890 at Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy, inspired by an 1872 engraving by Gustave Doré of the exercise yard at Newgate Prison.
And, here is a part of Vincent’s life unknown to most people, from Wikipedia: “In January 1879 he took up a post as a missionary at Petit-Wasmes in the coal-mining district of Borinage in Belgium. To show support for his impoverished congregation, he gave up his comfortable lodgings at a bakery to a homeless person and moved to a small hut, where he slept on straw. His squalid living conditions did not endear him to church authorities, who dismissed him for "undermining the dignity of the priesthood.”
Let that sink in. He went to minister to the poor and the church authorities fired him for doing just that. His father believed Vincent was insane and should be committed to an asylum. Instead, as Wikipedia tells us￼￼, “Van Gogh returned to Cuesmes in August 1880, where he lodged with a miner until October. He became interested in the people and scenes around him, recording them in drawings after Theo's suggestion that he take up art in earnest.” His sweet brother Theo, always so kind and encouraging to him. But, at the end of Vincent’s life, he did end up in an asylum where he took his own life. His artistic career lasted 10 years. He started painting when he was 27, died at 37, poor as a church mouse, as the old saying goes.
Later this month, Sotheby's New York offers his painting Still Life: Glass with Wild Flowers, for auction. The estimated sale price stands at 14 to 18 million dollars. Vincent most likely would say the money would be better spent helping the poor.
Prisoners' Round, by Vincent van Gogh
#vincentvangogh #vangogh #vangoghmissionary #vincent
The eyes are the window of the soul. The French say, the eyes are the mirror of the soul ("Les yeux sont le miroir de l'ame.")
In the time of Covid-19, responsible people wear a mask that covers the mouth and nose. We don't know how long this stretch will last, but, for now, as we are out and about, we see each other's eyes. We can still tell if someone is smiling by looking at the eyes. A fake smile doesn't engage the eyes. With a genuine smile, they crinkle and twinkle. I imagine sales of lipstick are down, sales of mascara up.
So, I may have started a new series in response. I had been working on a series portraying the cell phone as a kind of mask, a barrier to communication, when we are so absorbed in that little screen we pay no attention to the people around us. But in these last few works, the figure wears an actual mask and gazes directly at the viewer, not at a device. Perhaps in this season, lonely as we shelter in place, we will crave looking each other in the eye.
I created these portraits on my iPad Pro, Apple Pencil in hand, using the Sketch Club app, no image load involved, no hidden tracing. These portraits are based on selfies posted by the subjects themselves on the Sktchy app for IOS.
For information on the Sketch Club app: app.sketchclub.com -- for info on the Sktchy app: get.sktchy.com
Black Is Beautiful
I am old enough to remember when the phrase "Black Is Beautiful" burst on the scene. It never meant "Only Black Is Beautiful," it meant, "Hey, Black is Beautiful in its Ownself!" We don't have to meet "white" standards of beauty; we are gorgeous as is! This was at a time when a black model on the cover of a mainstream (aka white audience) magazine was big news. Glamour magazine had its first black cover model, Katiti Kironde, with its August 1968 issue. The first African-American model to grace the cover of Vogue was Beverly Johnson, six years later, on the August 1974 issue. While no longer front page news, it's still the case that a cover model is more likely to be white than to be a person of color.
Black Lives Matter never meant "Only Black Lives Matter," or "Black Lives Matter More," it meant "Black Lives Matter Just As Much, and We Are Saying So Because the Reality Is, as far as the System is concerned, They Don't!."
How can I, a 66-year old white woman, experiencing the privilege that comes with whiteness, even when I know that privilege is unjust, how as an artist, sheltering in place, offer my support? I can create artwork featuring people of color. It's an inadequate gesture, I feel. And, the question of appropriation comes to mind. But, it is the best gesture I can come up with right now.
So here are a two recent portraits, based on photos posted by the subject herself on the Sktchy app for iPad/iPhone, both drawn freehand on my iPad Pro, using the Sketch Club app.
And, an older work, from 2011, a charcoal/pastel on sanded board, of my all-time favorite model, Brittany Anne, done from life in the studio. She moved away awhile back, and I still miss drawing her. She was really an extraordinary model, exuding strength, sweetness, power. She is probably the most beautiful woman I have ever met. And, yes, she has quite the petite ears!
Mary Fields, aka Stagecoach Mary
As always, drawn freehand on my iPad Pro, using the Sketch Club app.
What a life! Mary Fields, known as Stagecoach Mary, was born into slavery in Tennessee circa 1832. After working for a convent for some time, she lost her job, apparently due to her bad temper. At the age of 60, the Postal Service awarded her the contract to be a Star Route Carrier, in which capacity, she drove a stagecoach to deliver the mail in Northern Montana. According to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, this made her the first African-American woman ever hired for this job. Six feet tall, carrying two guns, tough as nails, she carried the mail through all kinds of weather, protecting it from bandits. She drank, she smoked, sometimes wore men's clothing, and by all accounts was much beloved in her community of Cascade, Montana. Hollywood actor Gary Cooper recalled meeting her when he was 9 years old. For more on this fascinating women see: