Monthly Archives: October, 2017

Letters al-hirschfeld_ella-fitzgerald

In 1926 a young man by the name of Al Hirschfeld sketched a caricature of an actor on a theatre program while attending a New York performance. A friend convinced him to copy it onto a clean sheet of paper and submit it to a newspaper. Thus was born one of the great caricaturists — more than 7,000 published drawings and a career that lasted until his death at age 99 in 2003. Hirschfeld, who studied art in Paris and New York, had noted how sunlight bleached out colour and turned people into what he called “walking line drawings.”

Letters david_michelangelo

At the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, David gazes past the selfie-sticks towards Rome in a qualified stare. A vibration detector at his left heel monitors traffic, construction, earthquakes and the incurable footsteps of his visitors, dribbling now in controlled numbers into the atrium. At 17 feet tall and 6 tonnes, he’s perfect except for tiny fractures in his ankles. Italian scientists found them during some tests recently, while trying to figure out why he was leaning a little past his intended contrapposto (the body-twist and weight distribution designed by his creator). While David’s balance is just so, those first 350 years outside in the elements of the Piazza della Signoria have threatened his fifth century of uprightness.

Letters emile-gruppe_2

Two kayakers take particular interest in the operation of the floating easel. Brothers Karl and Guenter Schuerer have been on the Mackenzie and it’s tributaries for three months. Grey-bearded and bronzed, these are seasoned river-men who have shaken off their bindings in Bremen in exchange for a life of adventure in a wild and challenging land. Their folding boats are masterworks of neatness and organization — they have to be — they must explore efficiently.

Letters lucca

Nine summers ago, a New York friend told me of an American writer she knew living in Italy and looking to swap studios. I scraped together a ticket and rented a piano to be delivered the day I arrived. A few months later, the writer’s neighbour picked me up at the airport and, as she placed my bag inside the door, invited me to come later to a small dinner party in her apartment. “I’m here to work,” I ached, but her eyes, like grey almond Modiglianis, turned minutely downward at my stupidity. “See you at nine-thirty.”

Letters jakub-schikaneder-snow

Notan is a Japanese word that means “lightness-darkness.” It represents one of the basic principles that help compositions stick to the wall. Notan has nothing to do with local or chosen colour. It’s the ability to see things in terms of black and white, and to consequently build strength in imagery. When compositions work in black and white — they work.

Whether they put a name to it or not, artists in all cultures have long recognized the value of notan.

Letters paul-cezanne_still-life-with-compotier_

On the first day of art school in our first foundation class, our professor, a grey-bearded sage in brown corduroys, casually mentioned that Cézanne had already achieved everything in painting, so this was probably just a hopeless exercise. In terror, we squeezed out the assigned palette and studied a table of fruit in the middle of the room. In the library later, I checked what I was up against. “With an apple I will astonish Paris,” wrote Cézanne. For his innovation, his work was rejected seventeen times by the Paris Salon before a fellow artist intervened.

Letters diego-rivera_mural-2

Painters sometimes run into problems when they attempt larger works. This goes for artists who transpose smalls into bigs, as well as those who make bigs for their own sake. For many, bigs and smalls can appear to be the work of separate artists. Spontaneity and simplicity in the small give way to complexity and labour in the large. In the larger painting we may be trying too hard or trying to “give too much.” Big paintings can fall into the “mish-mash” category — too much going on. Small paintings rarely have this problem.

Letters bouguereau_equality-before-death_1848

In Homer’s Odyssey, when the hero Odysseus had to fight the Cyclops Polyphemus by putting out his eye, he first introduced himself by the pseudonym, “Nobody.” So, when Polyphemus cried out in pain to the other Cyclopses that “Nobody” was trying to kill him, they thought Polyphemus had been afflicted by a divine power and, instead of helping him, recommended prayer as the answer. Twenty-eight hundred years or so since the creation of The Odyssey, Homer scholars are debating whether Homer himself may have also been a Nobody.

Letters ruskin_view-of-amalfi-1844

On the value and importance of drawing, teachers often ask, “Why is it most people don’t sign up for drawing classes? Painting classes are always more popular.” Also asked, “Is it true that John Ruskin used to run drawing classes for factory workers?”

He did. Ruskin believed in drawing. He thought it was part of the informed life and good for everybody. One of the most eloquent art advocates and critics of all time, Ruskin himself made thousands of fine and sensitive drawings.