Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Favorites: Experiencing art in person

One of my "have-to's" while in New York City was to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It has been my experience, that you can't truly know what makes a "masterpiece" a masterpiece without seeing it in person.  I love looking at a brushstroke and envisioning the artist putting it there.  Looking at a drawing and seeing where the artist corrected his/her vision on paper- a process that is often left out of photos.

While at the Met, I tried to take pictures of some of the details that are lost when you back away and take art all in.  Just as in everything else in life, the details are what makes it amazing.

Self-portrait with two pupils, Mademoiselle Marie Gabrielle Capet and 
Mademoisells Carreaux de Rosemond   Adelaide Labille-Guiard 1785

What I love about this painting and the paintings of this time period is the amazing skill the artist had when painting textiles- in person, the taffeta in this painting looks as if you could grab it and it would wrinkle in your grasp.   There is no build-up of paint, no falter in her brushstrokes. 

Some of the back-story of this painting- Adelaide was just one of four women accepted to the French Royal Academy in 1783.  This painting, one of her earliest oil paintings, asserts her femininity, but clearly shows her claiming her right as an artist- almost daring the viewer to doubt her role as a woman and artist.  Feminism at it's finest : )

detail of the taffeta
I love the cracks and even the bristles from the paintbrush caught in the paint

 Latona and Her Children, Apollo and Diana
William Henry Rinehart
1874  Marble

I absolutely loved this sculpture.  It could have been the lighting, the placement (it was located in a darkened alcove of a hallway), the subject matter- a mother staring lovingly at her two sleeping children.  It could have been any of those things, but I think most of all, I loved how the artist was able to convey the softness of the children, the draping of Latona's dress, the  relaxed poses of the children laying cradled against their mother's body.  The children even had dimple on their chubby knuckles! To be able to convey softness in marble is amazing.  I wanted to reach out and touch those chubby arms...I didn't of course, but that is what is so beautiful about this sculpture in person.  You want to reach out and confirm it's marble- Amazing!

detail of Apollo and Diana

Sunflowers   Vincent van Gogh   oil on canvas 1887

I just talked to a group of boy scouts about art, and within the discussion, I asked them what artists they were familiar with.  One boy held up his hand and said "Van Gogh- he cut off his ear!" and then the group chimed in "Yeah, he cut off his ear", "Yeah, that's so gross!"

Self-portrait With Bandaged Ear 1890
Poor van Gogh.  Had he only known that until high school, or maybe even later, the only thing that would be associated with his name, would be that he mutilated himself...maybe he would have reconsidered the self-portrait with the bandaged ear.

No matter how many times I see his work, I am always struck, not by the subject matter or the colors he used...he is great because of the texture within his paintings.  His compositions are no longer two-dimensional under his paintbrush.  I love that you can see his every brushstroke-  you can see where he went over and over the composition...adding more and more paint, until the sunflowers have such mass, they look as if they are actual objects frozen in time.  Love, Love Love Van spite and because of his missing ear.  He died at the age of 37 from a self-inflicted gunshot would to the chest.  The possible mental illnesses he may have been suffering from have been debated for years.  No matter what the diagnosis could have been, I am grateful he picked up a paintbrush when he did- tortured, and knowing he was losing control, he produced over 2000 works of art within a decade, some of his most famous, being produced the last two years of his life. 
detail of Sunflowers

Dancers, Pink and Green
1890   Oil on canvas
Edgar Degas
 Degas.  Why I love him- he painted women.  He painted them at the ballet, he painted them ironing, he painted them bathing, he painted them downtrodden,loaded down with all their finery drinking absinthe.  Ballerinas were the subject of hundreds of his drawings and paintings, but there are very few showing them actually dancing.  They are preparing, practicing, stretching, yawning.  He seemed to appreciate the movements and actions of women before all of the pomp and circumstance of the time period.

When I see his artwork in person, I love how he uses these pops of color within a very muddled color palette.  You can also see his drawing techniques used within his paintings- the outlines of the arms and legs define the women within the smudged surroundings. 

The Massacre of the Innocents
Oil on canvas   1824
Francois-Joseph Navez

I had seen this painting in books and on-line.  Those instances can not compare to seeing it with my own eyes.  The artist has done what I consider to be one of the hardest things to accomplish.  When looking at this painting, you can feel the pain of the mother who has just lost her child, and you can feel the pain of the child who has just been murdered.  A story we have all heard before, the massacre of the innocents, becomes an emotional reality for the people who have been affected.  How many times do you have to hear a an account of an event before the reality of it disappears and you no longer empathize with the victims. 

In all of the times I had seen this painting, I had related it back to all the other portrayals I had seen by Rubens, Van Haarlenm, Tintoretto and Poussin. 

I stood there in front of this painting, a pain in my chest, feeling as if  I was witness to insurmountable tragedy and grief.  The tear falling from the mother's eye and the vacant expression in the dead child's eyes can not be seen when you back away and observe the whole painting. 

As you move into modern art- the artistry is lost in the photograph.  The dimensions, medium, artist can all be listed, but sometimes, it looks as if you are looking at a splatter of paint or a blue square.  Modern art has experimented greatly with scale.  To appreciate this, you have to see it in person.

Mark  (1978-79)      Acrylic on canvas       Chuck Close

This is Mark.  To say that I love him, would be foolish.  The word is used with rampant abandon- the true meaning of the sentiment is lost.  But I LOVE him- everything about him.  I love his big tortoise glasses, his almost uni-brow, his receding hairline, the wrinkles in his forehead, the reflections on his lenses, his overly large pores, the whiskers starting to grow back, in spite of him shaving this morning, his lined lips that look like he could use some chap-stick and especially his slightly yellowed reflective teeth.

It's easy to not be impressed by Mark when you believe you are staring at a bigger than life photo of a man's head.  But when you realize that Mark is acrylic paint on canvas, it's hard to not be impressed.  Every whisker, every pore, every strand of hair is treated with deference.  Standing in front of him, there is not one indication that he is a painting.  The size itself is brilliant, but Chuck Close's subject choice was genius.  Mark is so interesting, because he is not classically attractive.  Because his features are so blown out of proportion, you can appreciate all of the details that make this painting more interesting than if the artist had chosen a more attractive subject. Mark took Close fourteen months to create.  I could stare at Mark all day and not get bored.   

Lucas   (1986-1987)  oil and pencil on canvas          Chuck Close

Chuck Close, the artist who painted Mark,  also painted Lucas.  Both paintings reside in the modern art gallery of the Met.  I loved the fact that I could see one of Chuck Close's "pre-event" and "post-event" paintings in the same space. 

In 1988, Chuck Close suffered from a spinal artery collapse which left him paralyzed from the neck down.  He refers to this moment in his life as "the event".  He went through months and months of rehabilitation, regained limited movement in his arms and legs and has been confined to a wheelchair since.  Close was a prolific painter before his disability, but he has continued to paint by strapping a paintbrush onto his wrist with tape.  The change in technique can be seen when comparing the two paintings.  He began painting within a pencil grid his assistant would draw on the canvas.  Each square had shapes in it, such as circles or triangles, but from afar the shapes would blend into a larger image of a face.  Mark and Lucas are each amazing in their own ways.  Impressive in books, absolutely astonishing in person.

Two Women (1992)    Lucian Freud     oil on canvas

Lucian Freud's paintings are thought-provoking because of the inherent sexuality in each of them, but also he conveys a certain "dirtiness" and "taboo" connotation in each.  The colors he used are muted and somewhat washed out.  The bodies are more often than not, laid out or seated awkwardly. 
More than anything else, the way he used the paint, built it up to form a "crust" on the surface made me feel a certain amount of voyeurism and discomfort when looking at his artwork.  He said "I paint people, not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be."  I certainly think this is true, but the relationship of the artist to his models is on display in the later works in his life.  Many artists choose to draw or paint their models, somewhat respectfully.  In Freud's paintings, you have to ask the question, "Is this the artist's observation or is this his conception?"  

Nothing compares to seeing artwork within an arm's length- to see the textures, the proof of a master's touch,  finding value when you found none before.  I never leave a museum feeling the same way as when I went in.  

1 comment:

  1. Latona's dress, the relaxed poses of the children laying cradled against their mother's body. painting adelaide