Jun 10, 2011

Geometry of Positivity

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Geometry of positivity
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Syrian artist Muteea Murad's palette is full of vibrant colours and his paintings exude energy and optimism. But they also have a spiritual and introspective feel. Murad is regarded as one of the leading abstract artists in the region. His work is contemporary and experimental but deeply rooted in the traditions of classical Islamic art and architecture. His latest work, titled Through the Looking Glass, is inspired by the beautiful glass mosaics adorning the ancient buildings in Damascus, where he lives. The colourful paintings reflect the many facets of the city and of life itself.

Interestingly, Murad first made his mark in the Arab art world as a figurative artist. The dark, brooding, monotone portraits of his early years spoke of human angst and despair. They touched a chord with viewers and he quickly became a well-known name in the region. But then, four years ago, he boldly changed his artistic direction to experiment with abstract art and especially with colour.

"I started my career with figurative art because that was the mainstream art of the time in Syria. By 2006, I had reached a stage where important art institutions and collectors were buying my work and I had great support from the ministry of culture. I was fortunate to have fame, success and money at a young age but I did not feel fulfilled inside. I felt I had to move on to something that would help me express myself better," Murad says.

The desire for change was also influenced by the changes in his personal life. "I got married, had children and also began teaching art in a school where I enjoyed interacting with the children. My life was filled with happiness and positivity, which I wanted to share with everyone. I wanted to wipe out the sadness and negativity that existed in my earlier work and create paintings that reflected my new state of mind," he says.

Murad began this new journey by changing his palette. "I decided to concentrate mainly on colour — an element I had earlier neglected. Initially, I tried adding colour to my figurative paintings. But I soon realised emotions can be expressed more directly and strongly in the absence of tangible images," he says.

All his paintings during this period were labelled Trial to indicate his experimental state of mind. The artist continues to use this title for his paintings to say that he is still in the process of discovering abstract art and experimenting with it.

Murad juxtaposes geometric shapes, arabesque patterns, lines, planes and contrasting colours to create complex compositions that have beauty and depth. His work is influenced by Russian Constructivism and Abstract Expressionism, and by contemporary Arab artists such as Mustafa Fat'hi. But the foundation of his work is traditional Islamic art. "I believe that all contemporary abstract art is derived from traditional Islamic art, which was based on logical and scientific thought. In my experiments I have avoided the repetitiveness of traditional Islamic patterns and focused on their intrinsic rhythm and spirituality," he says.

In fact, the artist always listens to recitals of the Quran while painting. "No other music has such an elevated sense of rhythm. Listening to the Quran clears my mind and takes me to a higher level of consciousness that puts me in the right frame of mind to create," he says.

The artist often spends an entire month on one painting. Every line, form and colour is carefully thought out, and before he starts he has a good idea of how the finished work should look. For instance, he wanted to capture a sense of rhythm in the large triptych titled Trial 42 — Damascene Lines. "Here I have tried to combine physics and art by using the relationship between speed, distance and time. The vertical lines, colours and shapes are placed so that as the eyes of the viewers travel across the canvas, they can feel the rhythm of different notes and musical pieces," he says. Other "trials" use a play of shapes and lines to capture enchanting views of Damascus by night and at sunrise.

But as always, the most striking feature of his paintings is the colours he uses. "I am extremely interested in studying the primary, secondary and tertiary relationships between different colours. Unlike most artists, who look for harmony between the colours on their canvas, I deliberately use sharply contrasting hues to express myself," he says.

Murad's paintings are a visual treat. But on a deeper level, they reflect the rhythm of our daily lives, the rhythm of the seasons and the many colours and facets of life and nature. They are ultimately about man's relationship with his surroundings and with God. "My creativity stems from a spiritual base and the main message of my work is that of peace," he says.




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Friendship in Letters and Paint

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“My God, if only I had known this country at 25, instead of coming here at 35.” That was Vincent van Gogh, freshly arrived in southern France, with its aromatic fields and star-spilling skies, in 1888. He was writing to his artist-friend Émile Bernard, 15 years his junior.

National Gallery of Scotland
Vincent van Gogh’s “Olive Trees.”
Painted With Words
Vincent an Gogh
And he kept writing. On the train through Provence from Paris, his eyes glued to the window, he saw countryside “as beautiful as Japan for the limpidity of the atmosphere and the gay color effects.” Settled in the town of Arles, he stood all day in wheat fields painting “in the full heat of the sun, without any shade whatever, and there you are, I revel in it like a cicada.”

After a year in ashen Paris, he was in a chromatic delirium. He couldn’t stop cataloging the colors he was seeing and using. A painting of an orchard has a “white tree, a small green tree, a lilac field, an orange roof, a big blue sky.” His description of his painting of a sower in a field reads like Gertrude Stein: 

“The chrome yellow 1 sky almost as bright as the sun itself, which is chrome yellow 1 with a little white, while the rest of the sky is chrome yellow 1 and 2 mixed, very yellow, then. ... There are many repetitions of yellow in the earth, neutral tones, resulting from the mixing of violet with yellow.”

If verbal accounts seemed inadequate, he drew ink sketches of paintings — of the sower in the field, of the orchard — right in the body of a letter, with the names of colors added. And when the descriptive circuits are overloaded, there are detonations. Frustrated at how to convey the reality that even transparent elements — water and air — have complex color ranges, he ends up shouting on paper: “No blue without yellow and orange.” 

All these words, ideas, sensations and images are packed into “Painted With Words: Vincent van Gogh’s Letters to Émile Bernard” at the Morgan Library & Museum, a display of manuscripts that is also something more. Although 20 handwritten letters, given to the Morgan by Eugene and Clare Thaw, are at its center, they are surrounded by nearly two dozen paintings and drawings, half of them by van Gogh, including a splendid self-portrait. 

It was done before he moved south. With his red hair and beard, taciturn lips and untrusting eyes, you already know him on sight. And you will come to know him in some depth in a show that is itself a self-portrait in many parts. 

You will encounter Bernard, too, though far less directly. A minor French painter, prolific writer, tireless networker and van Gogh advocate, he’s present in a few early paintings and prints and a book, but primarily in van Gogh’s salutation, which opens nearly all the letters: “My dear old Bernard.” 

The two men met in studio classes in Paris. Van Gogh, a 30-something Dutch ex-art dealer and ex-preacher, was trying to figure out a place for himself in contemporary art. Bernard, a precocious Paris teenager, was trying to do the same. Despite their age difference, they became friends.

Paris, with its buzzy, rivalrous art scene, was hard on van Gogh. At once stimulating and brutalizing, it fired his ambition but left his body and spirits in ruins. When he decided to leave, it was partly from exhaustion, but also from wounded idealism. Shouldn’t a community of artists be based on collaboration rather that competition? 

Yes, it should, and he would establish such a community elsewhere with the help of like-minded colleagues, Bernard being one, Paul Gauguin another. He would be the pioneer, paving the way for the others. So he headed south alone, keeping in touch with Bernard by mail.

In fact, he kept in touch with several people, but the letters to Bernard, written in French between 1887 and 1889, are unlike many others. With his brother Theo, van Gogh observed a certain decorum; this was, after all, family. But Bernard offered a different sort of audience, a different relationship, one without a history, ready to be built from scratch. 

This didn’t mean the relationship was clear or easy. You can sense van Gogh feeling his way into it, trying on different roles in the letters. At first he is older-brotherly, advising Bernard to eat better, to ease off on visits to brothels. This is guy talk, and there’s a fair amount of it. Then he is a mentor; he urges Bernard to study certain painters; he promotes his career. Gradually, as differences arise, he becomes an antagonist, and the correspondence ends. 

It’s when van Gogh addresses Bernard as an equal, artist to artist, that he is at his most eloquent. When he speaks from love — of art, of an exalted ideal of the artist, of an art fellowship — wonderful things are said, and, as the Morgan show demonstrates, wonderful art was made.

In June 1888, van Gogh traveled to the coastal village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and caught his first glimpse of the Mediterranean. The sight was a pure thrill for him, and he wanted to share it with someone who he thought would be equally thrilled. So he wrote Bernard a vivid account of the trip, and sent it with a set of vivacious, color-annotated sketches of ships and cottages, which he turned into large-scale drawings — three are in the show — and into oil paintings. 

 Much of what van Gogh writes — some of it probably in response to Bernard’s letters, which are lost — is a kind of glorified shop talk, about paint, color theory, how-to: “I follow no system of brushwork at all, I hit the canvas with irregular strokes, which I leave as they are, impastos, uncovered spots of canvas, reworkings, roughness. I’m inclined to think that the result is sufficiently worrying and annoying not to please people with preconceived ideas about technique.”

But, as always with this artist, even the prosaic topic can hold existential implications. When he debates with Bernard about the proper subjects for art, he is not being pedantic. He is laying his psyche on the line.

Under Gauguin’s influence, Bernard was increasingly seeking his sources in religion and myth, fantasy and imagination, what van Gogh called “abstraction.” At first the older artist was puzzled, then defensive, then dismayed. He writes, as if about a disability, that he can make art only from real models, things in the world:

“I’m not saying I don’t flatly turn my back on reality to turn a study into a painting — by arranging the color, by enlarging, by simplifying — but I have such a fear of separating myself from what’s possible.”

And as an example of how reality can be a conduit to something else, some larger consciousness, in art, he writes, as a stream-of-consciousness soliloquy, about one of his favorite painters:

“Rembrandt makes a portrait of himself as an old man, toothless, wrinkled, wearing a cotton cap — first, painting from life in a mirror — he dreams, dreams, and his brush begins his own portrait again, but from memory, and its expression becomes sadder and more saddening; he dreams, dreams on, and why or how I do not know, but just as Socrates and Mohammed had a familiar genie, Rembrandt, behind this old man who bears a resemblance to himself, paints a supernatural angel with a da Vinci smile.”

And yet, he concludes, “Rembrandt invented nothing, and that angel and that strange Christ — he knew them, felt them there.”

Bernard wasn’t convinced. Van Gogh suspected that he wasn’t even really listening; that he was, in fact, distancing himself, as other people had done in the past when they began to perceive van Gogh’s eccentricity as an unacceptable strangeness. 

Life in the south was darkening. Van Gogh fretted that Gauguin wasn’t making his promised visit, the one that would transform a one-artist outpost into a community of kindred souls. Already he was feeling depressed and fearful. He wrote to Gauguin: “I still have in my memory the feelings that the journey from Paris to Arles gave me this past winter. How I watched out to see ‘if it was like Japan yet’! Childish, isn’t it?” 

The visit was, as we well know, catastrophic. Gauguin fled. Van Gogh ended up in an asylum. His last letter to Bernard was written there a year later, and in it he separates himself aesthetically — which meant spiritually — from his colleague.

“At present am working in the olive trees, seeking different effects of a gray sky against yellow earth, with dark green note of the foliage; another time the earth and foliage all purplish against yellow sky, then red ochre earth and pink and green sky. See, that interests me more than the so-called abstractions. ... My ambition is truly limited to a few clods of earth, some sprouting wheat. An olive grove. A cypress.” 

Then, in a devastating passage, he brings color and reality together:

“You’ll understand that this combination of red ochre, of green saddened with gray, of black lines that define the outlines, this gives rise a little to the feeling of anxiety from which some of my companions in misfortune often suffer, and which is called ‘seeing red.’ ” 

Although the correspondence ended here, the relationship continued, if in absentia. After van Gogh’s suicide in 1890, Bernard shouldered the task of keeping the memory of his friend, and the image of him as artist-genius, alive, primarily through publishing the letters seen in the show, which has been organized by Jennifer Tonkovich, curator of drawings and prints at the Morgan. 

What van Gogh would have thought of having the letters exhibited as relics and art we can only guess. He probably would have been fine with it. “I adore the true, the possible,” he wrote in one. Both are here. 





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East German Artist Bernhard Heisig, Painter of War and Fascism, Dies at 86

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Bernhard Heisig, one of East Germany’s best-known and most contentious artists, died today at his home in Strodehne an der Havel, near Berlin, according to his dealer, Galerie Berlin. He was 86. 

Heisig was a member of the Waffen-SS during World War II and later joined East Germany’s ruling communist party, which awarded him official commissions. Both were decisions he was forced to defend in the latter part of his life. His art nonetheless gained recognition in West Germany long before reunification. 

Influenced by Max Beckmann, Oskar Kokoschka and Otto Dix, Heisig broke with the accepted Socialist Realism genre by focusing on pain, suffering and destruction. Known for painting over his pictures repeatedly, he addressed the nightmares of war and fascism, themes that found favor in East Germany. 

“His artistic achievement lies in his lifelong struggle to come to terms with the traumas of a biography that passed from war and dictatorship to another dictatorship and the Cold War,” wrote the curators of a solo exhibition of his work at Berlin’s Martin Gropius Bau in 2005.

Heisig was born in 1925 in Wroclaw, then called Breslau. He was injured several times in World War II and the trauma of the three-month Siege of Breslau resurfaced in many paintings. Heisig was forced to stay in the city’s fortress in a pointless bid to defend it against Soviet troops until the end of the war.

Leipzig Doctorate

After the war, he studied in Leipzig and began teaching at the College of Graphic Art and Book Art from 1954. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Leipzig in 1987. His first solo exhibition in West Germany was held in Bremen and Frankfurt in 1980. He portrayed Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in 1986.
In 1989, as the opposition movement against the communist regime gained momentum, Heisig left Erich Honecker’s SED party and returned prizes he had been awarded in protest against “abuse of power and corruption” by the regime. 

Bitter arguments erupted in 1998 and 1999, after Heisig was invited to contribute an artwork to the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, as it relocated from Bonn to the former Reichstag in Berlin. Some lawmakers questioned whether the art of a “collaborator” with the criminal East German regime should be featured in the new building. Despite the recriminations, his painting “Zeit und Leben” (Time and Life) has hung in the cafeteria there since 1999. 

His exhibition “Bernhard Heisig -- die Wut der Bilder” (“The Anger of Images”) was shown in Dusseldorf, Leipzig, Berlin and Wroclaw in 2005 and 2006. That exhibition also exposed Heisig’s compromises by featuring his portraits of Lenin and commissions from the ruling SED. 

Heisig lived in Strodehne with his wife, Gudrun Bruene, also a painter. His two sons from his first marriage, Johannes and Walter, are both painters. 




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Book Review: 'Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter'

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Author Patricia Albers.
( Michael Lionstar, Knopf / June 12, 2011 )
Author Patricia Albers.
,

The artist was cantankerous, angry and talented, as a new biography shows.

Joan Mitchell didn't suffer fools. The famously cantankerous artist didn't suffer many friends either. If biographer Patricia Albers sizes up her subject accurately, Mitchell's scattershot rage was fallout from a nearly lifelong battle to prove herself to a father "who never let her forget that he needed a son, not a daughter" and to an art world that had little respect for women's work.

Mitchell retaliated by calling herself a "lady painter" while emulating the worst behavior of her male colleagues. Her ultimate weapon, though, was a body of work that could not be ignored. Although relegated to the "second generation" of Abstract Expressionists — and resentful of the label — she is remembered for building upon the breakthroughs of her elders, most notably Willem de Kooning, in enormously energetic paintings inspired by landscape and memory.

No complete account of Mitchell's life could be pleasant. Albers, whose writings include a biography of photographer Tina Modotti, doesn't flinch. Her thoroughly researched book details Mitchell's alcoholism, depression, sexual exploits, foul-mouthed arguments, violent outbursts and general rudeness. Angry artists aren't exactly rare, but Mitchell is surely in the hall of champions. She picked fights with nearly everyone.

And yet, this is a compelling story about a deeply conflicted artist who forged meaningful if fitful relationships and found great joy in painting. Albers tends to gush when describing Mitchell's art, but she conveys the intensity of the creative process as well as the essential look and feel of the paintings.

In a passage about "luscious chromatic canvases" that exemplify "the artist's all-consuming lover's quarrel with oils," the author writes, "Paint meets canvas in every conceivable manner: slathered, swiped, dry-brushed, splattered, dribbled, wiped with rags into filminess, smeared with fingers, slapped from a brush, smashed from the tube, affixed with a wad of gum — a glorious visual glossolalia."

This is the work of dermatologist James Herbert Mitchell's and poet Marion Strobel Mitchell's second daughter, born in Chicago in 1925. A bright child, Joan is said to have had a near-photographic visual memory and a propensity for associating letters of the alphabet, musical sounds and mental states with colors. She also had all the privileges family money could buy — and the burden of paternal surveillance.

"Jimmie" couldn't turn Joan into a boy, but he took grudging pride in her academic achievements and athletic prowess. An award-winning figure skater, she hung up her ice skates at 17 after already deciding to be an artist. Pressed by her father to choose a career path at age 12, she considered poetry and painting, settling on the latter.

Mitchell got her formal education at the Francis Parker School, Smith College and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Trips to Mexico and Paris broadened her horizons and a brief marriage to future Grove Press publisher Barney Rosset offered stability. But soon after their wedding, in 1949, the couple settled in New York, where Mitchell discovered the Abstract Expressionists and launched a long, turbulent affair with painter Michael Goldberg. At one of many low points, Goldberg forged a check on Rosset's bank account and landed in jail. Rosset didn't press charges, but he was granted a divorce in 1952 on grounds of desertion.

By then, Mitchell had established herself as a progressive young abstract painter, often lumped with Grace Hartigan, Elaine de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler and other women fighting for a place in a macho art scene. By 1955, Mitchell's work had gained critical attention at leading New York galleries and she had met French Canadian artist Jean-Paul Riopelle, with whom she would have an explosive, 24-year liaison.

Riopelle was even less inclined to be faithful than Mitchell, but she moved to France to be with him. In 1967, Mitchell inherited enough money to purchase a 2-acre estate in Vétheuil, near Paris. She lived there until her death, of lung cancer, in 1992.

Mitchell's position in art history has been compromised by time and place. She was born too late to be a major Abstract Expressionist and she spent much of her life outside New York. But she hasn't been forgotten.
"Joan Mitchell/The Last Decade," an exhibition of 13 paintings, appeared last year at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. In a Times review, critic David Pagel described the work as "a last-ditch effort to grab art by the horns and to hang on for the wild ride, wherever it might take you." Seven paintings made in Mitchell's final two years, he wrote, "are among the most efficiently beautiful abstractions out there. Stripped-bare and boiled-down, they make every mark matter. The amount of empty white space increases, as does the sense of unselfconscious immediacy and nearly desperate urgency."



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Jun 9, 2011

Art of too Easy

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Jackson Pollock Number 1A, 1948



Anyone with an MFA and a digital camera is an artist today
Wandering through the abstract Expressionist show at the AGO recently, I realized with a flash what’s wrong with contemporary art. 

Without the spunk and sweat of creators in decades past who were willing to gamble everything, art today has taken a sabbatical, a tenured leave of absence. It’s lost its way. 

In the late 40s and 50s, art was a kind of calling. Most of the abstract expressionists were émigrés, American misfits or the children of immigrants who had escaped European conflicts. After the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, they turned to their art as a respite.

Each new work was a challenge thrown down to fellow artists. And the air of creative exchange was palpable in every gut-drenched canvas. You can trace such influences in the AGO show as they ricochet between paintings, sculptures and photographs, following the movement as its artists inched their way forward. 

Their vitality and diversity ran the gamut from Jackson Pollock’s astounding leap of faith in action painting, a kind of all-over dance performance on canvas, to the more austere Mark Rothko, whose meditative oranges and reds levitate inside his large fields.

All these artists felt the need to abandon the limitations of figurative or landscape painting. But Ad Reinhardt’s so-called black paintings are anything but just black for those who are patient. When such paintings work, they seem to hide mysteries.

By comparison, today’s art is dispassionate, easily reproducible post-modernism gone loony. Though it uses every known digital technique, it seems hollow. In our mediated age, the sense of immediacy and intimacy has gone missing. Anyone with an MFA and a digital camera is an artist today.

I’m bored with the countless videos and installations, the king-sized digitized prints of Super 8 films, the inane drawings by people who can’t draw but are making a statement about drawing. Today’s established artists have had it too easy for too long with their chic cafés, their magazines, their artist-run galleries, their websites and government funding. Art has gotten fat and lazy on stipends.

Some of the blame can be laid on the growth in the 70s and 80s of institutional MFA programs that teach art theory that systematically kills off new artists’ spontaneity. Instead of art, you get illustrated art critiques with conceptual frameworks from the new academy. 

Add to that a driven art market looking for the latest thing before it’s even had a chance to bloom, not the expression of personal commitment. The latter has become anathema to a global marketplace that prefers bloated large-scale works that look more like advertising. Clever packaging and impressive presentations do not art make. Instead of originality and daring, we get cunning, marketing savvy and branding.

So what’s that say to young artists? Such a betrayal doesn’t go unnoticed. They’re left to choose between art making that requires diligence and art that teases like publicity, between networking and practice. No surprise, then, that much of contemporary art is banal, made safe for the sake of career and shaped to mimic the latest international art trends.

The digitalization and YouTubing of culture has only added to the malaise with its endless rehash of what’s been done before. Once, you could look at a painting and feel the way the artist’s brush stroked, the way it moved across the canvas; now we experience art through plastic surfaces of prints or glassed-in LCD screens.

Expectations have changed. When it isn’t spectacle, we think of art as entertainment. When events like Nuit Blanche offer gallery crawlers a night’s free viewings while enjoying a latte, it isn’t the art that matters. We come at it expecting nothing and settle for an outing.

The expressionists took risks without knowing – or caring – what happened next. And many failed. But they were driven to get at the heart of what a painting could be without representation, even if it displeased or disturbed. In the AGO’s selected show, a handful of their masterpieces still take your breath away. 
Where are the passionate artists today? Have they all gone into video-gaming?





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MF Husain: An artist who courted both fame & controversy

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In this June 7, 2007 file photo, MF Husain, India's most famous artist, finishes off a canvas he painted together with Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, unseen, during a fund-raising auction in central London's auction house.

Ebullient and eccentric at the same time, barefoot painter Maqbool Fida Husain took Indian art to the global stage with his cubist-inspired modern art but was riled in controversy with his paintings on Hindu deities.

Synonymous with contemporary Indian art, the painter was described as the 'Pablo Picasso' of India by Forbes magazine.

Born on September 17, 1915 in Pandharpur in Maharashtra, Husain was mainly a self-taught artist and made ends meet in his initial days by painting cinema hoardings in Mumbai.

Husain had once recounted that "We were paid barely four or six annas per square foot. That is, for a 6x10 feet canvas, we earned a few rupees.

"And apart from the New Theatre distributor, the others did not pay us at all. As soon as I earned a little bit I used to take off for Surat, Baroda and Ahmedabad to paint landscapes".

Given his meagre earnings, Husain tried other jobs and one of the best paying was a toy factory where he designed and built toys. The painter, who courted controversy over his paintings of Hindu gods, had been living abroad in self-exile since 2006.

His paintings on Hindu goddesses, Durga and Saraswati, invited the wrath of Hindu groups. His house was attacked in 1998 by Hindu groups and his art works were vandalised.

In February 2006, Husain was charged with hurting sentiments of people because of his nude portraits of Hindu gods and goddesses.

A series of cases were brought against Husain and a court case related to the alleged obscene depiction of Hindu goddesses in his paintings resulted in issuance of a non-bailable warrant against him after he failed to respond to summons. There were also death threats.

Husain, who left the country stating that "matters are so legally complicated that I have been advised not to return home", had expressed a strong desire to come back, despite fears that he may be arrested in connection with the cases against him.

The artist had become well-known in the late 1940s and joined the Progressive Artists' Group, founded by Francis Newton Souza in 1947. The group was formed to explore a new idiom for Indian art and was a clique of young artists wanting to break with the nationalist traditions established by the Bengal School of Art.

Honoured with the prestigious Padma Shree, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Husain was the highest paid painter in India with his single canvases fetching up to USD 2 million at a Christie's auction. Husain's Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12, fetched USD 1.6 million in 2008, setting a world record at Christie's South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale. 

He had also worked on a few films, including 'Gaja Gamini' with his muse actress Madhuri Dixit who was the subject of a series of his paintings which he signed as Fida. After a tribute to Dixit, the painter went on to make Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities with Tabu. He had also made paintings of actress Amrita Rao.

Troubles always followed Husain and when he was to be given the prestigious Raja Ravi Varma award by the government of Kerala at the age of 92, the announcement sparked a controversy in the state.

Sabarimala spokesperson, Rahul Easwar, went to Kerala High Court and it gave an interim order to stay the granting of the award until the petition had been disposed of.

Included in the list of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World issued by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Husain depicted the icons of Indian culture, through the ages, seeking to capture the quintessence of his subjects, like Mother Teresa and the characters of epics like the Mahabharata.

The artist was also honoured with the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his film 'Through The Eyes Of a Painter' and was a special invitee along with Pablo Picasso at the Sao Paulo art Biennial in 1971.  






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Jun 8, 2011

Van Gogh Blooms to Life This Summer

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Plant by Numbers: Van Gogh pollinates Trafalgar Square


 Van Gogh just went multimedia!

In London’s Trafalgar Square this past week, a re-creation of Van Gogh’s famous painting, A Wheatfield, With Cypresses, was installed outside the National Gallery.

The difference between the outdoor version and the original inside is that the newest installation is made of over 8,000 living, blooming plants. The project is a collaboration between the National Gallery and General Electric and a symbol of both institutions’ commitments to energy efficiency.

“The living painting, the first of its kind,” stated Mark Elborne, President and CEO of GE UK, in a press release, “is a creative manifestation of GE’s commitment to the environment through our ecomagination business strategy.”

Gregory Perry, National Gallery Director of Operations and Administration, adds: “The Gallery has worked with the Central Government Carbon Management Service to develop a programme of reduction in energy use and plans to reduce carbon emission by over 40% in the next four years.”

Horticulture and design innovators from ANS Group Groupe were brought on board to execute the project. Specialists in living walls and green roofs, ANS used 26 varieties of plants to achieve a wide-ranging color palette. The plants were grown vertically in 640 modules in a nursery and assembled on-site in three days, reports Inhabitat.

In an attempt to help the National Gallery become greener “both inside and out,” GE will also be donating one of its environmentally friendly Jenbacher cogeneration heat and power engines, which will allow the Gallery to significantly reduce its carbon emissions. In April of this year, the National Gallery became the first art institution to switch to exclusively LED lighting.

The living painting installation will be on display in Trafalgar Square through October 2011. The colors will organically transform throughout the spring and summer seasons. Members of the ANS Group Groupe will also be popping by fortnightly to water the painting.




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For Wheaton watercolor artist, color reveals persona

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Ratindra Das demonstrates watercolor techniques


But when asked to explain the roots of his passion for watercolors, the 69-year-old isn’t so adept.

“It’s difficult to explain,” Das said. “That question reminds me of the play ‘Billy Elliot’ — when they ask (Billy) why he likes to dance and he says he can’t explain it, other than when he does it he is in a different zone, he is electric.”

Das — humble yet confident — has staked claim to more than 80 awards nationally and internationally for his watercolor pieces. He’s also a signature member of the American Watercolor Society, an elite group of watercolor artists across the world who promote the art and compete in various competitions.

Das’ website, www.ratindradas.com, reveals his talents through a photo gallery of his work. Under the categories, “Places,” “Faces,” and “Florals,” are paintings he says reflect his adventurous approach to the art.
“(Watercolor) has a spontaneity unlike any other medium,” he said. “Water moves, so when you paint with it, it moves. That’s a beautiful characteristic.”

Of course, key to each of his paintings, he said, is color.

“The key is that colors (in the painting) don’t always have to reflect the color outside. To me, color is the most personal element of a painting. The tree trunk doesn’t always have to be brown, it could be blue, red or green — same thing with the sky.
“I’m reminded that a painting on a two-dimensional surface is an illusion, not a reality.”
Das named a number of favorite places and settings around the world he likes to recreate with watercolors.
“I’ve been to hundreds of place around the world, but I would have to say Maine and Mexico are two places that are very special to me. Whenever I travel there it just triggers something,” Das said, adding that Door County in Wisconsin is also a favorite during the fall season.

Das hails from Calcutta, India, but has called the states home for more than 40 years. He's lived in Wheaton for the past 18 years after a brief stay in nearby Bloomingdale. Das said Wheaton is an ideal town for artists to call home.

“Wheaton has such culture, and the college kind of adds to the flavor of the community. It has a ton of variety,” he said.

Das’ discovery of the watercolor medium was one of coincidence. Others would say it was destiny.
Working as an architect in Chicago in the 1980s, the firm Das worked for hosted an exhibit of watercolor works.

“I walked up to one of the artists and said, ‘I want to do that,’” he said.

He didn’t have any prior experience with a paintbrush or any other form of art, outside the drawing skills he applied with his career in architecture. He also didn't come from a family of artists, he said.

“That day I became hooked. And I got more interested,” Das said. “I started taking some evening classes at the American Academy of Art and that was my real start. After that, every year I took classes throughout the country.”

Das’ sketching skills from his days as an architect seep into his watercolor paintings today.

“My approach begins with a quick sketch of any source of inspiration I find. I don’t rely on a photograph.”

This isn’t just a hobby for Das, he is quick to explain. He nets anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 per painting.

But he looks to do more than just make money off the art — he spreads his talents hoping to encourage other aspiring watercolor artists by volunteering at the People’s Resource Center in Wheaton, where he teaches two-hour classes from 9:30- 11:30 a.m.

“I enjoy it a lot. I feel it’s a way of giving something back, in my own way,” he said, adding that the class teaches the basics of watercolors.

“One problem I find with the students, and I have been there, too, is that even before they begin creating a painting they want to turn it into a masterpiece,” Das said with a chuckle. “Those are some of the notions I am trying to change in class.

“Instead of trying to make something a masterpiece, enjoy it, the paint, the paintbrush and the paper. Enjoy what is happening in the moment.”

Das couldn’t point to one painting he is most proud of, but he did point to one accomplishment — his installation as a signature member in the American Watercolor Society.

“It’s a premier organization worldwide that’s more than 140 years old with more than 500 members,” he said, beaming.

Within his signature status is the honor of being named a Dolphin Fellow by the AWS.

To earn Dolphin Fellowship, he explained, artists must accrue points through a span of years in various competitions among their peers. Once they reach a certain point level, they earn Dolphin status, he said, adding that of the society’s 500 signature members only 50 or so are Dolphin fellows.

“I’m the only (Dolphin Fellow) in all of Illinois. It’s quite a long process and is as high as you can go.

“I often compare it to the tennis player Ivan Lendl. He won every championship except Wimbledon. At one point, he said he would give away all his titles for one Wimbledon winner. That’s the same with me — I would trade all of my awards for this honor.”





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Two artists show range of paintings

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Andrew Urge with his self portrait.
Andrew Urge with his self portrait.

ANDREW Urge has the urge to paint. He has been an artist for many years studying at the East Sydney Technical College after emigrating from Hungary in 1957. 

He began his art career painting traditional works in oils and watercolours but more recently, has explored contemporary and abstract styles. 

Some of his paintings, including a self portrait, will be on show at the monthly Changeable Art show this Saturday, alongside the work of Wollstonecraft artist Debra Phillips.

Phillips’ current works using a darker palette is inspired by time spent in London visiting galleries, cafes, churches and manor houses. 

Urge, who lives at Artarmon, has been a stalwart of the Hungarian Art Society, organising art shows over the past 20 years.




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Jun 7, 2011

Contemporary art: Spotlight falls on the collectible generation

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In April, a painting by the Lebanese artist Ayman Baalbaki went for up for sale at Christie’s auction house in Dubai.

The catalogue estimated the price of “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom”, a prescient meditation on revolution consisting of an impasto portrait of a man in a red keffiyeh mounted in the style of a martyr’s shrine, at between $50,000 and $70,000. It went for $206,500.

“Ten years ago, I used to beg people to buy [Baalbaki’s work] for $6,000,” says Saleh Barakat, the director of Beirut’s Agial gallery.

Lebanese art, like that of the rest of the Middle East, is experiencing something of a boom. Artists such as Ayman Baalbaki and Walid Raad are sought after by collectors and curators worldwide. Last year, a Washington museum staged an exhibition of contemporary art from Lebanon.

For some, the sudden spotlight is disorienting. “It’s not like when we started in the 1990s,” says Marwan Rechmaoui, a conceptual artist whose explorations of the urban space of Beirut have been bought by the likes of Charles Saatchi and London’s Tate Modern gallery.

Marwan Rechmaoui is part of a group of artists who came of age, artistically, in the post civil war period, and who have come to define the contemporary art scene.

Like many of his generation, Mr Rechmaoui spent his formative years abroad because of the war, giving him a cosmopolitan outlook.

When he returned in the 1990s, he would meet friends every Tuesday for three hours of intellectual discussion. Topics ranged from the political situation in the Middle East to internet pornography and the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu.

“From these discussions, our work emerged, but always in different ways,” he says. “This is where the shift from the generation before us came. We became very critical of everything.”

Mr Rechmaoui and his contemporaries tackle themes such as war, memory, and identity in a variety of media; such as photography, video and archive, something the local market took a while to adjust to.

“It was very hard for us to get people to accept photography as a piece of art,” recalls Joy Mardini, an independent art dealer and consultant. “People were asking ‘where is your handicraft?’”

The current surge in demand for Lebanese art is welcome, but also dangerous, Mr Rechmaoui says. “Some of them are drifting. They believe they are international and famous,” he says. He jokingly speculates that the vogue for Middle Eastern art will be over by 2015, as the global elite move on to their next fad.

Gallery owners, however, insist that there is nothing faddish about the demand. “It’s not about vogue, it’s about being discovered,” says Khaled Samawi, founder of the Ayyam gallery, which has offices in Damascus, Beirut and Dubai. Mr Samawi points out that Chinese art, the “craze” of the 1990s, has not been abandoned but simply became mainstream, now fetching 20 or 30 times the price of Middle Eastern art.

“I don’t think it's a boom-bust cycle. If it is, there isn’t much of a boom – 99 per cent of the talented artists in the Middle East are selling for less than $100,000.”

Lebanon’s success is the culmination of a long tradition of working artists and galleries, owners say. “Nothing has changed for me, the only difference is that the Financial Times is interested,” says Mr Barakat, the Agial galley owner. “[The boom] is the result of serious artists doing serious work supported by serious galleries.”

While Lebanon’s local art market is relatively mature, no one can deny the role of the Gulf in creating the boom, which is generally dated from 2005, when Christie’s opened its first auction house in the region. Southeby’s quickly followed.

There are now more than 60 art galleries in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums are to open in the coming years.

Khaled Samawi insists, however, that the stereotypical image of Gulf sheikhs buying up culture in the manner of the arriviste families of Renaissance Italy is completely wrong.

He attributes rising prices to a “new breed of collectors”: 30- to 50-year-old well-educated Arabs living all over the world – “a Lebanese gentleman who lives in London or a Palestinian gentleman who lives in Venezuela.” The Gulf is merely a commercial centre, he says, pointing out that 70 per cent of the work he sells there is exported.

Since the start of the boom, new gallery spaces and projects, such the Beirut Art Centre, have opened. But more needs to be done for Lebanon’s art scene to achieve its potential, say insiders.

“We need more government support and scholarships,” says Ms Mardini. “That’s what’s missing. We have artists, galleries, auction houses. The only thing that’s missing is a culture minister with a real portfolio.”
According Mr Samawi, the whole Middle Eastern market needs more development. 

“You need more art patrons. Corporate collections in the Middle East are non-existent,” he says, adding that the region needs “museums, more collections in public places and more professional galleries”.

Nonetheless, the process is starting, says Mr Samawi. Along with the wave of regional turmoil, there is, he says confidently, “an art revolution going on in the Middle East”.



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What's In a (Painting's) Name? Quite a Lot, Actually

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In 1871, James McNeill Whistler painted what would become his most famous work, which he titled "Arrangement in Grey and Black" and submitted the following year to the Royal Academy of Art in London for its 104th Exhibition. Both members of the Royal Academy and the British public were unhappy with the work - the Academy came close to rejecting the painting and the public was uneasy with a portrait described solely as an "arrangement" of colors, wanting more of an explanatory title. As a result, Whistler appended the words "Portrait of the Artist's Mother" to the "Arrangement" title just for this exhibition, although that name stuck and the painting has come down to us by the more popular "Whistler's Mother."

It is rare that an artist is so demonstrably thwarted in the attempt to describe and title his work ("Take the picture of my mother, exhibited at the Royal Academy as an 'Arrangement in Grey and Black,'" the art-for-art's-sake Whistler wrote in his 1890 book The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. "Now that is what it is. To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother; but what can or ought the public to care about the identity of the portrait?"). However, the incident shows the degree to which a name matters to people who will see and perhaps buy the piece.

Titles of works of art seem to matter, but it is not clear why. A seascape titled "Seascape" seems redundant; announcing the location of the seascape ("Penobscot Bay at Nightfall") seems to comfort people. "If the title is obscure or there just is no title, people often ask what they are looking at," according to Bridget Moore, director of New York's D.C. Moore Gallery. Abstract art, on the other hand, often employs a wider range of title possibilities, from "Untitled" and numbering (Robert Ryman's "Classico III" or Sam Francis's "Untitled, No. 11") to a physical description of the artwork (Dorothea Rockburne's "Drawing Which Makes Itself" or Ellsworth Kelly's "Orange and Green") and titles that may mean something only to the artist (Brice Marden's "The Dylan Painting" or Frank Stella's "Quathlamba"). 

The abstract expressionists were fond of titles that didn't help viewers out much - the recent "Abstract Expressionist New York" exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art included Ad Reinhardt's 1963 "Abstract Painting," for instance, or Richard Pousette-Dart's 1943 "Fugue Number 2" or Barnett Newman's 1946 "Untitled" or Mark Rothko's 1945-6 "Untitled" or Clyfford Still's 1944 "1944-N No. 2." - and the current retrospective of the work of Venezuelan painter Carlos Cruz-Diez at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts (through July 4th) is filled with works titled "Physichromie 113-8" and "Physichromie 174." If you have to ask, it's obvious you don't know.

For artists, the titles can be as personal as the artist. "It's like naming puppies," said painter Sondra Freckelton. "You see how they behave, and that's what you name them." African-American artist Whitfield Lovell's paintings are often fragments from jazz songs, which inspired them. 

Giving a name to a work of art is, historically, a relatively recent phenomenon, and it is even more recent that artists provide the title. For instance, Giorgio Vasari, in his 1568 Lives of the Artists, makes reference to a variety of paintings and sculpture by their creators, subject matter, location and patrons, but the actual artworks have no separate names. Titles may not have been deemed necessary when biblical or mythological scenes were depicted - "Madonna and Child" or "The Resurrection" - that everyone knew, or when the work was a portrait: Leonardo da Vinci never referred "La Gioconda" or, as it better known in the English-speaking world, the "Mona Lisa." 

No one actually knows when titles by artists became standard practice. It may be assumed that artists would begin furnishing their own titles when they started producing artwork independent of patrons or sold by art dealers, a situation that developed in 17th century Holland. However, according to several European art curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there was basically no such thing as artists giving titles to their works in Holland at this time. Inventories gave descriptions of what the compiler saw, and the titles of secular works were usually generic (such as, still-life, merry company, landscape with figures). An exception is Vermeer's "The Art of Painting" that was so named by the artist's wife shortly after his death. Walter Liedtke, curator of European painting at the Met, noted that he ordered the change on the Rembrandt painting historically titled "Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer" to "Aristotle with a Bust of Homer," "because Aristotle was clearly thinking about more than just this bust." He also noted not being completely convinced that the figure is Aristotle - it could be the 13th century Albertus Magnus or just "some philosopher" - but he is sticking with the conventional wisdom in that part. 

Auction houses selling Old Masters list titles on the individual lots, but those titles tend to be descriptive and often based on what it was called the last time it was up at auction somewhere. Retitling makes tracking auction results much more difficult, even when the title is clearly wrong, so auctioneers tend to make no changes. (Chicago auctioneer Leslie Hindman recalled one work titled "Merry Company" when it was obviously the flight into Egypt of the holy family, "but it had gone so long with that title that it seemed more trouble than anything else to make a change.)

Some titles refer to the location of the piece (Van Eyck's "Ghent Altarpiece," for example) or are simply descriptive, such as Alfred Sisley's "Still Life: Apples and Grapes," which he painted in 1876, four years before Claude Monet painted his own "Still Life: Apples and Grapes." Neither artist ever recorded such a title in his letters or diaries, so it is unclear where these names came from; it is very likely that a dealer or collector provided the title.

Ah, dealers: They really want titles. San Francisco art dealer John Pence noted that he will regularly "interject suggestions" when artists bring in untitled pieces. "Certain words come up when I see a painting." He added that "sometimes, 'untitled' is a perfectly good title, but in general I don't think it's a good solution. And, if artists use it too frequently, it can be a serious bookkeeping problem for the gallery in keeping track of what has been sold to whom."

At times, Pence will suggest a change in a title where the artist has used words improperly or unwisely ("it shows ignorance") or add to a title when it might be more specific. Artists are also creatures of habit, who may pursue the same or similar subject in a number of works but need titles that differentiate between them. "Jacob Collins uses the same titles again and again," Pence said. "I tell him, 'Maybe, you should call this one 'Vanitas 3.'"

Dealers may be the most common source of titles, but not the only ones. Edouard Manet painted his most famous work, "Olympia," in 1863 but had no name for it. The poet and critic Charles Baudelaire referred to it the following year as "Nude with a Black Cat," but it was Manet's friend Zacharie Astruc, a critic and fellow painter, who named the painting "Olympia," which Manet used when he submitted the work to the 1865 salon. Art critic Clement Greenberg devised poetic names ("Lavender Mist," "Cathedral" or "Alchemy") for some of Jackson Pollock's paintings - the artist himself had only given them numbers ("Number 27, 1950," for example) - and Jack Levine credited his wife with providing the title for his painting "Gangster Funeral," which now resides in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.





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From signboard painter to artist

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There are a number of billboard painters in the city whose job is to paint images of celebrities, making them look larger than life. They are rarely thought of as an important component of society but they play a big role in promoting brands, people and other stuff as well. Nevertheless, 25 years back, a signboard painter from Mirpurkhas could not even have imagined that his seemingly simple work could give him so much name and fame. RM Naeem, one of the most prominent artists of the country and teacher, had worked at the Jamil Arts in the late 80s. He learned painting from his teacher Jamil who too is an extremely talented artist. Naeem runs the RM Studios where aspiring artists learn sketching, and have termed him the best art teacher across the city. “A singer sings because doing so pleases him and he/she hardly has an idea about whether he/she would be famous in the future or not. Sometimes it is a blessing not knowing where life would take a person because a clear perspective of success could deviate from his/her path”, the art teacher said, while talking to Daily Times. 

Naeem did his bachelors in Fine Arts in 1993 from NCA with distinction and remained attached to the college in different capacities. He has been the recipient of over a dozen awards and has conducted several exhibitions. Replying to a question about his artistic journey, Naeem said that he feels much more responsible in the position he holds currently. “I have never chased fame or wealth as these things have always been secondary for me. What matters to me is the individual, the human being, his positive intentions and his thoughts,” he said. Recalling his days as a signboard painter, Naeem said that he would never forget those days and those painting memories were still instilled in his memory. He said he respected people belonging to the profession. Separately, while talking about his hobbies, Naeem said he enjoyed listening to folk music and his favourites included Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Jumman, Tufail Niazi and Abida Parveen.


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Jun 6, 2011

The Unremembered

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"Family of Jugglers," 1957 by Nahum Tschacbasov. 



Sag Harbor - If there were a formula for fame within the visual arts marketplace, Russian-born painter, Nahum Tschacbasov, should have been Jackson Pollock. He was an acolyte of the New York School in the 1930s and 1940s, a purebred Abstract Expressionist, trained under the tutelage of Gottlieb and the shadow of Surrealism, complete with all the trappings of automatism and dreamscapes. He fraternized with the "tragic and timeless," manifesting his principles of gesture, color, form, and texture alongside Rothko, Newman, and other artists grouped together by the Union and the Works Progress Administration. Like Pollock, Tschacbasov excavated the confines of the unconscious mind, developing an undeniably-Jungian visual language of stars, moons, birds, and boats. The two artists even sought Jungian psychoanalytic treatment, both in 1939. Not to mention their geographic sensibilities - each settled on the East End for the remainder of their careers, like lions in winter.

However, Tschacbasov did not have a highly publicized drinking problem. He had no tumultuous romances with any mid-century modernists (eat your heart out, Lee Krasner), nor is there a bio-pic airing his dirty laundry, exploiting his post-humus legacy for all movie-goers to see. He doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Needless to say, he isn't cited on the shortlist of the most expensive artworks sold - Pollock presides over that catalog, earning $140 million for his "No. 5" at a 2006 Sotheby's auction.

"I think he got lost in the shuffle," says Arthur Kalaher, owner of the Arthur T. Kalaher Fine Art Gallery in Southampton, as well as a newly opened sister studio space in Sag Harbor. Kalaher, who has been dealing and appraising art for over 25 years, has recently acquired the remaining works of Tschacbasov's estate, and is proud to exhibit the often-overlooked oeuvre in his Sag Harbor gallery. After years of working in antiques, Kahaler pursued a career as an art dealer as an extension of a childhood passion. His two galleries, which carry a large range of art, from traditional 19th century American and European painting, to more conceptual, "modern" pieces of the 1970s, cater to "quality art, art that stands on its own," Kalaher claims, "with value, and a fair market price."

Given the recent increase in the art market's interest in mid-century Abstract Expressionists, Kalaher's exhibition of Tschacbasov's underrepresented paintings comes at optimal time for art collectors looking for works that will accrue value in upcoming years. According to historian and curator, Timothy Cohrs, in an article for Arts Magazine (1987), "Tschacbasov is that truly rare find - an overlooked dynamo worthy of a closer examination and another decade of exhibitions."

Kahaler agrees, and if Cohr's article is any indication of the status-quo of the art market, Kahaler is curatorial visionary. "Each of the Tschacbasov's paintings are an attempt to reach some level of psychic expression," he says. "The very basic of Tschacbasov's art is the multiple self and a differentiated ego - aspects which artists in the past had a tendency to suppress."

This notion of the fragmented, though individuated self is particularly poignant when considering Tschacbasov's 1957 painting, "Family of Jugglers." In the painting, a series of faceless figures overlap on a visual plain like that of a shattered mirror. The boundary between self and other is muddled. The effect is disorienting, like looking into a broken shards of Technicolor glass. One cannot help but picture a young Tschacbasov, in the 1900s Russo-American slums of Chicago, inundated by a visual landscape of urban decay and poverty, only to reorder the imagery to his liking later in life.

The Abstract Expressionist movement marked the most blatant emergence of the artist's subjective experience, freed from the imperative of objective representation, and the mimesis of waking reality. What Tschacbasov offers viewers, with his convergence of Cubist lines and a Surrealist visual language is a raw expression of archaic thought, a primary-process rendering of the human experience. It comes to no surprise that contemporaneous artists of the New York School shared a mutual sense of alienation - they were too busy digging through the underbelly of consciousness and perception to socialize in their social world. Mark Rothko slit his wrists at his kitchen sink in 1970. Pollack crashed his Oldsmobile, drunkenly, in the summer of 1956. Thus the archetypal "artist as tortured soul" was reborn, only to be disparaged by the Pop Art descendents to follow.

When one looks in between the facts, you might be able to conjecture why Peggy Guggenheim never came a-knocking for her Art of the Century exhibition, or why Sotheby's has never held a million-dollar auction in Tschacbasov's honor. He split with the New York School in the late 1950s - the whole thing must have been too egotistical for him. Whereas he sought a new dimension of representing political, human concerns, the nothingness of experience, and the gesture of painting itself was enough for Rothko, Newman, Pollock, and the like. According to Tschacbasov himself, "Having heard all the arguments for sanity in art, my work is a response to something more convincing. I suggest that the artist by all means explain his work thoroughly to the imaginative, keep his tongue in his cheek for the sophisticated, paint in umber for the melancholy, and go to bed on time."

You can't argue with that. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Raphael's World

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A scene from "Raphael", a documentary on art being screened by Contemplate and Konangal Film Society in Coimbatore
 
A documentary on Raphael and his masterpieces introduced viewers to the magic of Renaissance art
The ‘Madonna of the Meadow', a prized painting by Raffaello Sanzio (better known as Raphael Santi) grabs your attention even if you are looking at it on screen. The original masterpiece hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Understanding a painting, especially a masterpiece, is not an easy task for the untrained eye. Unravelling its secrets, moving back and forth in time — before and after its creation — is the best way to understand an artist, his work. This is the methodology adopted by Mathew Collings, writer and presenter of a three part B.B.C documentary ‘Rennaisance Revolution'. 

At the end of this 60 minute documentary — “Raphael — The Madonna of the Meadow”, the enthralled spectators at Contemplate Art Gallery knew a little bit more about one of the greatest artists of the High Renaissance. The documentary was screened by Konangal film society, and Contemplate Art Gallery.

The 1505 A.D. painting shows Madonna seated in a meadow with Christ and John the Baptist, both infants, holding a crucifix. Collings calls it an “exclusive box of light”. The bright red and royal blue of Madonna's clothing is in sharp contrast to the greenish-brown hues of the meadows in the background.

The three characters with halos over their heads stand sanctified in the everydayness of the town in the background. That said, the painting is so alive you are almost tempted to pinch the infants' cheeks. “This is what is most fascinating about Renaissance art — it was a time that glorified the “tension between the real and the unreal”, says Collings.

Glorious triumvirate

An Italian painter and architect, Raphael was a part of the glorious triumvirate of Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Born on April 6, 1483, he died at 37 but left behind a treasure trove of art. He began his journey as an artist under the guidance of his father, Giovanni Santi, a painter and poet at the court of Duke Frederico da Montefeltre. 

Though historians are unsure of its age, Raphael sketched a self-portrait in his teens. By the time, he was 17, Raphael was apprenticed to the Umbrian master, Pietro Perugino. 

He was quick to emulate his master and, in time, shot past him. By 1504, he moved to Florence where he was greatly influenced by the two great artists of the time, Leonardo da Vindi and Michelangelo. Da Vinci was older to him by 30 years while Michelangelo was older by eight years. It was here that Raphael began his series of Madonna paintings, numbering 20. This time in Florence catapulted this genius into the minds of popular imagination.

In 1508, Rome came calling with an invitation from Pope Julius II to design the Stanza della Segnatura, the new papal apartment in the Vatican Palace. The School of Athens painted in 1511 is one of the four frescoes on the walls of the Palace, the most celebrated creation of the artist. It is believed that nearly every Greek philosopher finds a place in this fresco. 

Raphael was also commissioned to work on the portraits of Pope Julius II and Medici Pope Leo X, his main patrons. Raphael's popularity made him a favourite choice for portraits of aristocrats, two of the finest being the Portrait of Maddelena Doni and Agnolo Doni. 

Raphael's last painting was ‘Transfiguration' that depicts the resurrected Jesus Christ and a group of apostles trying to free child possessed by the devil. 

The documentary then goes back a full circle to the ‘Madonna of the Meadow'. The presenter considers this painting responsible for shaping the painter. 

Most of Raphael's work brought with it a dichotomy, that of the real and the unreal, the mortal and the immortal. This unique tension keeps this genius alive in the minds of art lovers and critics today, says Collings.