In 1872, businessman, racehorse enthusiast and former governor of California, Leland Stanford, commissioned photographer Eadweard Muybridge to prove a theory about a horse’s gait. Until then, equine painters, including Western painters, had been depicting horses at a trot with one foot on the ground and in a gallop with all four legs sticking out — like a hobbyhorse. Muybridge set up 12 cameras and photographed Standford’s own Standardbred trotter, Occident, trotting. Amongst the 12 frames was a single, groundbreaking photographic negative showing Occident with all four feet off the ground.
Monthly Archives: January, 2020
Out over the dark sea, near the horizon, whales move steadily northward. People silently gather on the rough black lava and red dirt at Makahuena Point. Cameras ready, braced against the wind and crashing surf, they await the sunrise. These are not sun worshippers or members of some peculiar cult. They are neighbors, tourists, morning joggers, loners, and honeymoon couples up before dawn to witness an event.
The other day, a gardener was clearing ivy from the external wall of an art museum outside Milan when he discovered a hidden metal panel. He pried it open and found a black garbage bag holding Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady. She’d gone missing from the same museum 23 years earlier.
Composition is the relative positioning of shapes and forms within a picture plane. “The composition,” said pioneer abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky, “is the organized sum of the interior functions of every part of the work.”
As a frequent juror, I notice the tendency of my fellow jurors to reject work thought to be poorly composed. Many artists, often photo bound to start with, fail to redesign their reference and take control of compositions. Consequently, in my occasional sorties into workshopping, I sometimes hand out a list of compositional keys.
Recently, a young artist who is self-taught and self-employed asked if I might help with a letter of recommendation for grad school. Knowing her work and self-starter style, I agreed and asked her to draft the letter herself, in order to feature the details she thought would be most helpful. She replied with a list of bullet points about what drew her to the school’s program, her artistic aspirations and a mostly completed letter draft. She also sent me an updated CV listing the eight shows she’s participated in since graduating from university in 2017.
Norman Rockwell never called himself an artist. When I met him in his studio some years ago, he made it clear to me that he was an “illustrator.” I told him I loved cruising his paintings up close because his surfaces were so interesting, and that made him a “painter.” He told me he didn’t think painter was a bad word.
In 1970, John Baldessari was teaching studio art at Cal Arts, while enduring a crisis of faith in his own semi-abstracts. He took everything he’d ever made to a San Diego mortuary and cremated it, baked the ashes into cookies, stuffed them into a bronze urn shaped like a book, then engraved a plaque with the destroyed paintings’ birth and death dates and the recipe for the cookies. “It was a very public and symbolic act,” he said, “like announcing you’re going on a diet in order to stick to it.”
Model-making artist Joe Fig has produced a remarkable book, Inside the Painter’s Studio, in which he visits and photographs the studios of dozens of well-known New York contemporary painters. He also records each artist’s answers to a number of set questions, many of which are practical ones concerning studio layout, painting processes, work hours and habits, clean-up times, unique tools, titling, the use of assistants, and advice for younger artists. His second-to-last question, “Do you have a motto or a creed that as an artist you live by?” picked up a range of answers, both predictable and insightful.
My friend Carla co-leads exhibition tours at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. She does it as part of Bella Plus Connect — a monthly community drop-in program for people with disability or access requirements. Art enthusiasts of all ages and abilities are invited to meet and connect with each other and artist educators to explore the galleries and develop their own art practices.