Walk: de Young, Conservatory of Flowers, Union Square Distance: 16 blocks or so
Presently at the de Young Hockney show, in an almost steady stream of his art works presenting trees, shrubs and trees, meadows and trees, paths and trees, trees with leaves, trees in snow, trees painted in oil, trees painted in watercolor, videos of trees, trees drawn on iPads and iPhones, there appears quite from nowhere a series of Hockney paintings based on Claude's Sermon on the Mount. It is surprising, strangely refreshing to see such different subject matter, but perplexing. There is no reproduction of the original painting so you don't know if Hockney has reworked Claude or, if so, how much. And, with no explanation, it is anyone's guess why he was so taken with this work. Religious work by a French baroque early landscape artist at that.
There is signage with a title about 'Looking Up' which Ciwt didn't read, but she guesses that was somehow the point of all the Hockney renditions of Sermon. Ciwt doesn't quite buy that. For Hockney to have apparently stopped in his relentless artistic tracks to virtually obsess about a 17th century painting was certainly more than just because Claude made his viewer look up - and Hockney had never thought of this before (?).
An odd interlude. (I might add in a vivid, grand, head-scratching, oddly wondrous show which ciwt is still assimilating along with the marvelous input from her art viewing pal. And then I might also add how special and rare art viewing pals are. For real art lovers, it is not often one finds good company when looking at art. Some people talk too much or are too judgmental or insistent on their viewpoint or go too slow or just kind of don't get it, or or, or. My friend and I have been to any number and varieties of shows, and always it is fresh, stimulating, fun. Rare).
Claude Lorrain (1600 - 1682) The Sermon on the Mount, c.1656 oil on canvas 67 1/2 x 102 1/4 in.(at the Frick)
David Hockney (1937 - ) The Sermon on the Mound (after Claude), 2010, enlarged iPad drawing
There is a particular tree stump that shows up again and again in David Hockney's art. Hockney called it his 'totem' and arranged with a local English landowner to have it remain standing even after all the trees around it were cut down. Eventually the art world came to see the stump as a personal symbol for Hockney himself, and the artist admitted as much.
Last year, while Hockney was in the hospital attempting to recover from a series of strokes that had stolen his ability to form and speak sentences and worsened his already very poor hearing, someone spray painted the stump in neon colors and then chopped it down.
The meaning of this was clear. It was a murderous assault against Hockney and looking at the stump was for all, including Hockney, like viewing his body. This, again, while he was in precarious straits in the hospital. Devastating. Incomprehensible.
And so was Hockney's response. As soon as he was well enough, he went directly to the chainsawed stump (his lifeless standin) - and drew it.
and drew it.
Death portraits. His own. There is thinking about Hockney's art that it is partially about personal triumph over life's 'limitations.' That perhaps he has a sense if he can look at and fully record something - in this case and others death - with his eagle sharp vision, then he has risen above it. He has stared it down, incorporated it, said "Okay, that was hard, but I'm still here. You didn't destroy me. There's a new reality now and I'm throwing that life and this art against death.'
Walk: de Young (Lecture on Hockney by LawrenceWeschler) Distance: 5.5 miles
I was stopped the other day by a glass sculpture of a remote, almost trudging, possibly disturbed woman in a drastic yellow dress. As I came closer I was surprised to see it was by Nicolas Africano, an artist I was very fond of in the mid-80's. I actually went to his gallery in New York hoping to own a piece of his. But, alas, he was already way out of reach for ciwt. After that, I continued to like his work, but it was as inaccessible as this woman: expensive, shows and reviews increasingly rare, and him out of the art scene back in his hometown, Normal, Illinois with his wife/model Rebecca.
I didn't know the de Young had an Africano. We have a new director, Colin Bailey. It is said he totally reorganized many of the galleries; I bet he found this in storage somewhere and had it put out. I also didn't know Africano sculpted; I had only seen canvasses and works on paper.
This may be titled Rebecca in a Glass Dress. I will look for more details next time I'm at the de Young.
Walk: de Young (Hockney), Fillmore Street Distance: 7 miles
In his daring perspective, distortions, audacious use of light and color, eye for the inner life of his portrait subjects, elevation of the importance of landscape, his abilities as architect and sculptor, El Greco was an artist like no other in his time and for centuries past that. Slowly he became revered. First, by Velasquez, then Cezanne, then the Blaue Reiter artists, certainly Picasso in his Blue Period and later by the other cubists, even Jackson Pollack and many other artists from Impressionism on. And since the late 20th century, he has been the subject of many major retrospectives abroad and here in the states and has a legion of supporters among museum personnel, art historians and critics as well as collectors.
But shortly after El Greco's death and for those unsung centuries, his art was in disfavor, overlooked, utterly forgotten. Certainly he did virtually nothing to court favor acting always with complete indifference to what effect his art and actions might have on others. His religious views and painting style were entirely at odds with Philip II, the king of Spain and most powerful monarch in Europe. It is testimony to his legendary 'arrogance' that El Greco continued to paint in his own unique manner in spite of Royal disdain and instead became friends with and was collected by the clerical and scholarly intellectuals of Toledo. In fact his freedom from royal establishment patronage probably - along with his own deep independent streak - allowed him the very freedom he required for his difficult genius to flourish. And flourish he did, living in a 26 room Toledo mansion, sometimes with a full orchestra playing as he dined. Marching in and out of court he relentlessly hounded anyone who did not pay all monies owed him.
Until his death age 73 in 1614, he refused absolutely to accept the lowly, tradesman status of artists in his time. Now, 500 years later, Domenikos Theotokopoulos basks in the prominence he spent a lifetime pursuing from his birthplace in Crete, through the workshops of the great Italian masters and finally to Spain where he became the iconic and controversial artist, intellectual and flamboyant businessman, El Greco and one of ciwt's favorite artists (in his late period).
Portrait of a Man (presumed self-portrait of El Greco), circa 1595–1600, oil on canvas
Walk: JCCSF (Maureen Dowd) Distance: 20 blocks and small home yoga practice
Another area in which El Greco was far ahead of his time is his use of landscapes.
Western European painting evolved from the icon tradition in which backgound was often gold or some valuable ground gemstone. So even as European artists expanded their presentation of figure and anatomy, landscapes continued to be largely non-existent as in the painting below in which pounded gold and painted angels are the 'background/landscape.'
Ambrosius Benson (Flemish), The Lamentation, 1540, oil on panel
Or: if they were included, landscapes were simple (as in a few trees) or fanciful like the painting below with two putti and some sort of sun gondola in the sky.
Raffaellino del Garbo, Madonna and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist, @1500
Basically landscapes were either overlooked or of very little import - essentially space fillers behind the prominent subject of the work.. This low regard for landscape continued until well into the 1800's.
But not so with El Greco. With his painting of Toledo (below) he literally became the first landscape painter in the history of Spanish art. This is a stand alone landscape, not just background, and with a few artistic modifications in his placement of some of the buildings it is an accurate as well as expressive depiction of the look and feel of the city and the nature surrounding it. Once again, there is that astounding sky which we don't really see again until Turner or Vah Gogh's Starry Night.
Domenikos Theotokopoulos (called El Greco), View of Toledo, 1596-1600, o/c
Domenikos Theotokopoulos (called El Greco), Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1600, o/c
Every time I go to the Legion, this painting is a must see, and every time I see it I'm stunned anew and a part of my brain goes "Modern art! Modern art!" That this was painted in 1600 is simply astounding to me.
The simplified artistic vocabulary: bare feel on rocky soil, tattered sheepskin, elongated physique and eyes. You don't have to know who this man is to see immediately he is some sort of deeply sorrowful itinerant, vulnerable to the harsh elements at his feet and in the agitated sky. The
rough hewn cross indicates an austere, aesthetic, religious nature.
And look at that sky! It is absolutely electric and alive with agitation. Up close you see flickering colors, broken brushstrokes, passages of intense bright white. Not only does it convey the intensity of John's fervor and nervous, spiritual energy, it is painted in a way that simply did not exist in 1600. The brush is all over the place, the paint is broken, canvas shows through. It's immediate and raw.
And supposedly it was the Impressionists (in the later 1900's) who ushered in this painted understanding of the physical and emotional power of light!
All of this - at least two centuries (and beyond) ahead of its time - is genius. In his time El Greco was called 'arrogant.' Well, he certainly had good reason to be!!
A friend asked about an 'outsider artist' a while ago. Outsider Art is often/sometimes misapplied as a catch-all marketing label for art created by people outside the mainstream "art world," regardless of their circumstances or the content of their work. Taggers, eg, the very famous Banksy, are often in this 'groovy' category these days. But the original label - art brut - was created by French artist Jean Dubuffet and focused particularly on art by those far outside the established art scene such as insane asylum inmates and (disturbed) children. The first well known 'outsider artist' was Adolf Wolfli, a Swiss who was confined to a psychiatric hospital for most of his adult life. He became known through his doctor, who published a book on Wolfli, A Psychiatric Patient as Artist (English translation) in 1921. As a psychotic mental patient Wolfli had taken up drawing, which seemed to calm him and eventually produced an illustrated epic of his own imaginary life story in 45 volumes. It is said to have 25,000 pages, 1,600 illustrations and 1,500 collages and is on display at The Adolf Wolfli Foundation in the Museum of Fine Art, Bern. (And, according to a friend, to be available on Amazon for $2,000)! Another defining moment in the early history of Outsider Art came in 1922 when Artistry of the Mentally Ill, a compilation of thousands of psychiatric art works from European institutions, was published by Dr. Hans Prinzhorn. The book and the collected works gained much attention from avante-gard artists, including Franz Marc, Paul Klee, Max Ernst and Jean Dubuffet.