December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!, with Sonia Delaunay

I wish all my readers a healthy and fruitful New Year, full of grand pleasures and small delights.

I chose to illustrate my good wishes with the work of Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979), which shows, in color and spirit, a joy in the new. With her husband Robert, in 1911-13 she made paintings which were labeled "Orphism". Delaunay was also a designer, one of the most important of the early 20th century, starting out by designing costumes for Diaghilev in 1917. The images below are of fabric designs, full of color and movement, a nice stand-in for fireworks. And try to imagine that last black and white photo in living color and driving the car, wearing that dress, to a New Year's party.

Happy New Year, everyone!

December 30, 2010

Winter Light: Brilliance at Year's End

Today was a intensely bright day, rare so far this winter. Stuck inside with a cold, I looked for beauty and sparkle indoors, as low sun poured into rooms and onto objects. My two house plants, geranium and rosemary, caught light amid their leaves; white point highlights and vivid transparent greens strut in front of the pale forms of distant trees.

I love photographing this ladder back chair (see here and here). Its form and color play so well with the architectural elements around it. According with my mood today, this image is the most focused on detail of the three.

A wooden ball hangs mysteriously,timelessly, from an old, mended, warm-colored string in front of a textured wall. Reflected on its surface is the blue sky above the snow. It is part of an antique pull toy, which you can see in the second link above.

And, finally, as cats often do, Poppy has found herself a spot of sunlight on a kitchen table, the better to drowse in its warmth.

December 29, 2010

At the Met: Sensuous Greek and Roman Sculpture

Marble statue of the Three Graces; Roman, 2nd century A.D.; copy of a Greek work, 2nd century B.C.

Stone into flesh: is there any art more palpably sensuous than sculpture, inviting touch, and thoughts beyond aesthetic chasteness. And for me, there is no part of classic Greek and Roman sculpture as enticing, as sexy, as asses (am I being too vulgar here?). As I walked into the Roman courtyard at the Met to look for relief sculpture (see this post), I had a compelling notion to do this blog post; having gazed at these works for years, in this way, it was a treat to myself to photograph them. The elegant curves of the Three Graces embody ideal lithesome beauty, but they seem cooler, more distant, than the pieces to follow.

Marble torso of a youth; Roman, 1st or 2nd century A.D.; copy or adaptation of a Greek statue of the 4th century B.C.

Marble statue of a youth; Roman, 1st century A.D.; adaptation of a Greek statue type of the late 5th century B.C.

As one of the labels at the Met put it, Roman copies of a Greek statue of Pothos, as the one above, were the "personification of erotic longing". In their subtle attention to muscles relaxed and tensed and the beauty of their forms, the sculptors give us marble that looks as though we could press a finger into its softness.

A foot tenderly presses into the round, soft buttock of a kneeling woman, her curves described with remarkable sensitivity.

(sorry not the have gotten the information on this piece, but I believe it is Roman, 1st-2nd century A.D.)

Marble statue of a fighting Gaul; Greek, late Hellenistic, 2nd or 1st century B.C.

A body in motion, with clothing only noted by fine wrinkles emphasizing lines of action; athletic, heroic, strong. There is something in all these works––a balance of naturalism and idealism––that makes them seem more real, more present than realistic sculpture full of precise detail. We can take pleasure in their aesthetic beauty, and think of longing made manifest, made eternal.

December 28, 2010

A New Painting: "Orange Crossing".

Orange Crossing, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 6 1/2 x 4 3/4 inches.

The crisp, bright geometry of orange cylinders and rectangle cross the softer grays of organic tubing. In its crisscrossing, this painting is like Crossed Green, bright forms above light blacks. I like the contrast, the sense of things being held in, ready to burst out of confines; also the insistent linear abstraction of the orange forms. Is it a world in or out of balance?

I've posted a detail below, which on my screen shows up as a little over actual size, to give some sense of the brushwork. As opposed to Triangle and Cylinder, a seemingly simpler composition which gave me a lot of trouble, I had fun painting the delicately curving and changing forms of the black tubing.

December 27, 2010

Bound Lines: Brice Marden's New Paintings

I've had a mixed relationship with Brice Marden's paintings over the years. I loved the rich, simple surfaces and subtle color of his oil/beeswax paintings of the 70s. When he began the Cold Mountain series of calligraphic paintings I remember being in an interesting state about them, of feeling that they were somewhere between art and not-art. They were such an abrupt change, and really, I have to admire that seemingly fearless jump into something new, just as Philip Guston did when moving from abstraction back into representation. But I was never fully won over, and when I saw the Marden retrospective at MOMA in 2006 I came away terribly disappointed. The early minimalist paintings looked thin, and the most recent work merely decorative. Only in the first calligraphic paintings did I find a searching, a tentative quality that was very moving. After that, the work seemed to settle into an assured manner, with color verging on pretty.

Then I saw the Marden exhibition, "Letters", currently on view at Matthew Marks, when I was in NYC last week, and my feelings about the work changed again. These paintings looked beautiful, sensitive, sensuous, lyrical. Trying to tease out my change of heart I see something different in the work, and probably something different in my receptivity. In these paintings, inspired by seeing a Sung dynasty poem mounted with borders, Marden has added gray panels of paint surrounding the lines, holding them inside their plane, activating the touch along the edge. For me, the borders, seemingly neutral, add a different quality of energy than lines meeting the edges of the canvas; in the contrast, I become more aware of the lines' dance, their flow, their tension.

I also like the more subtle color of these works, even in the Red Ground Letter above. Lyricism can so easily tilt into sugary decoration, and Marden's more recent work at the retrospective tumbled into it. With these paintings, I'm won over again, as I see line take on a rich, flowing life, and, as you can see in the details below, be part of a process of excavation and rebuilding, as paint, scraped and reapplied, builds a sense of time and contemplation.

*I used my photographs of the show to illustrate this post, so don't know how accurate the color is. You can see more images on the gallery website, linked above, but I think their photos are washed out and don't give a sense of the richness of surface of the paintings. Also, I decided to include the walls and floor in the photos of the paintings for scale, but see that the gray floor may add another compositional element to the painting; I hope it's not distracting.

December 25, 2010

A Walk in the Woods: White Christmas

Sometimes December in northern Vermont is very bleak: bare gray muddy ground, dried yellow-gray grasses under heavy gray skies. But this year we are lucky in the weather; we've had small amounts of fluffy snow that have added up to a few inches, and with light winds, the snow still rests on branches in decorative fashion, and brightens the entire landscape. Branches become doubled lines in space, dark and light, and even downed trees seem to be waving their arms gracefully.

Today, Christmas day, and yesterday, when I took these photos, we even had some thin sun in the afternoon which added cheer and brilliance to the snow. Trees, small and tiny, were dressed in white froth, looking like ball gowns on the frames of green needles.

Tree trunks also take part in the decorative spirit, as the splotches of snow adhere to bark in random fashion.

Turning homeward, through dark young trees I see my south-facing house lit by sun, shining a welcome.

December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Wishing my dear readers a
and Bright

December 22, 2010

New Hooked Wool Sketches

2010 #9, hand dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 12 x 15 1/2 inches.

Here is a new group of sketches, to add to the previous ones, which you can see here and here. It's been a great pleasure to work on these, from the first pencil sketches, to adding color to the sketch, to working out the design at full size. Adding color to the warm linen surface, with paint and wool, as though drawing on a richly textured surface, is very satisfying. The entire process is quick, so I'm able to work through a lot of ideas in a short time. When I look at sketches hung on the wall, I find myself feeling touched by them, as though they are vulnerable and modest beings who might be here and gone in a moment. A friend (thank you!) suggested that I use acrylic matte medium to glue the edges of the linen, and this now more transparent edge emphasizes the thin and fragile quality. I feel that I'm getting at something that I love about abstraction in these pieces, a paring down to essentials, a poetic utterance. Their lightness is a welcome change from the more weighty paintings and hooked ruglets.

2010 #10, hand dyed wool on linen, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches.

2010 #11, hand dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 11 1/2 13 inches.

2010 #12, hand dyed wool on linen, 13 3/4 x 12 1/2 inches.

2010 #13, hand dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 13 x 12 1/2 inches.

2010 #14, hand dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 11 x 14 inches.

December 21, 2010

At the Met: Relief Sculpture

Hieroglyphic Sign for the Name of Thoth, from an Inlaid Insciption, Ptolemaic Period, 330-32 BC; Faience; from el-Ashmunein.

If I had to choose, I would say that my favorite form of sculpture is the relief, both high and low, which may be because it is closer to painting in being tethered to a plane; sensitivity of line is emphasized and narrative flows along the surface. When I walked into the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few days ago, I gave myself the pleasurable assignment of photographing some reliefs from different cultures and time periods. I saw the gorgeous faience inlay above, only 6 inches high, at a small special exhibition in the Egyptian galleries titled "Haremhab, the General who became King". I was struck by its beautiful color and elegant depiction of the ibis and feather, bringing life with a minimum of means.

Funerary Stele of the Gatekeeper Maaty, 2051-2030 BC; limstone; western Thebes, el-Tarif.

Egyptian reliefs are among my most loved of all art objects. In this sunken relief I find the forms a pleasure to look at in their simple yet subtly attentive carving, as though each object depicted has been caressed.

Vessel with Rampant Goats and Olive Trees, late 2nd-early 1st millenium BC; ivory; Egypt, possibly Helmaya; Levantine with Aegean elements.

Although made later than other Egyptian art (and found in the Middle Eastern, not Egyptian galleries), this vessel has the same delicate understanding of animal form. It's a truly delightful object.

Limestone Sarcophagus: the Amathus Sarcophagus; Cypriot, Archaic, 2nd quarter of 5th century BC.

In this piece, I love the way the decorative elements above, which still show some color which flows into the planar background, plays off against the procession of carriages. The regal character and beautiful rendering of the horses elevates the occasion. I'm particularly fond of sensitive images of animals, in which the artist clearly has knowledge of them, as here and in the goat vessel above.

Marble relief with a Dancing Maenad; Roman, Augustan period, ca. 27BC-AD 14; copy of Greek relief of ca. 425-400 BC.

There are many stunning reliefs, both high and low, in the Greek and Roman galleries. I chose the detail of this work in which the fleshy feet, feeling so real and alive (yet in such low relief!) are surrounded by the fluttery edges of a flowing gown. The transformation of stone into something breathing and moving is a marvel.

Sarcophagus with Scenes from the Lives of Saint Peter and Christ; Roman, early 300s; marble.

Here is another lovely animal, as carefully carved and emotional as the figures of the small children.

Fragment of an Ivory Tusk with Christ Enthroned; Byzantine, from Egypt; late 500s-early 600s.

Lest you think I only like more naturalistic renderings, here is a wonderful small ivory with dynamic and expressive design, each element of patterning adding to the quality of the whole.

Ivory Casket with the Parable of the Prodigal Son; France 1330-1350.

I found this small gem in the medieval galleries. Its simple, clear line and low relief that carefully elucidates the form reminds me of the best of Egyptian relief. The other great reliefs that I keep in my mind are the Assyrian lion hunt carvings at the British Museum. All these works make evident that this is a form rich in pictorial and emotional range.

December 15, 2010

On the Road Again, with an Elephant

I'm heading into New York City for a few days to visit family and friends, and see some art. While I was setting up this still life, picking out toys on wheels, I realized that my little wooden elephant was a great segue into mentioning a marvelous book I just read, The Elephant's Journey by Jose Saramago. It is Saramago's last novel, published posthumously, and what a humorous, witty, tender romp to end a writing career. I've read three other Saramago novels, including the brilliant Blindness, which is on my list of greatest novels, and each one is different in content, tone and feeling. The Elephant's Journey, based on actual happenings, is about the travels of an Indian elephant and his mahout, or trainer, from Portugal to Vienna in 16th century Europe. The book is full of fun, skewering potentates and commoners alike, rendering skeptical judgment on religion, politics, customs. The Indian mahout has wry wisdom and expresses it unabashedly. And the elephant! a grandly generous character, stalwart, and patient. I felt uplifted and touched by this tale of animal and human life. I'll see you in a few days, after my much more mundane journey.

December 14, 2010

Winter Light: Gathered Seedheads


During winter, with the sun's low angle, light streams into the house, picking out details, shining on edges, highlighting hidden corners. Last winter I did a series of still life photos titled "Winter Light", and with this post, I continue. Each fall I pick stems of plants that have decorative seedheads for indoor display, hang them to dry, then place them in vases. One of my favorites is Cimicifuga atropurpurea, whose long, arching stems are made up of hundreds of tiny seeds, delicately colored violet and green. Light catches on the small parts, dancing and lilting on thin, ending curves.

Purple Loosestrife

The dried leaves of this beautiful weed curl and cavort in light, while the translucent glass is majestic and subdued, stems partially revealed.


Thermopsis is another tall plant, with pea-like yellow flowers that mature into long, narrow seedpods. The quality of light on these pods is soft with the furry surface, gentling their rigid character. Is is surprising we long for sun, and this glorious light, during the short winter days?