In late 18th century Europe, there weren’t many options available for artists looking to exhibit their work. You either painted in the style approved by the Salons and submitted to their juried shows, or you didn’t exhibit.
One artist, Asmus Jakob Carstens, decided that was too limiting, and that the popular artwork of that time had gone down the drain. He was appalled by the lack of reverence to the former masters and the recent shift from focusing on technical skill and draftsmanship to color without solid foundation.
Referring to himself as a “draftsman with no interest in color”, he was a defiant, self-assured artist. He thought himself to be taking art in a new direction, and shortly after he mastered watercolor and tempera paints, he left his studio in Italy and rented the studio of the classicist Pompeo Battoni- chosen specifically to showcase the stark difference in the two ideologies.
He put together his own show, and slowly started to build a following of sympathetic artists. Many, particularly German artists, admired his fierce independence and rejection of what was commonly accepted in the art world at that time, especially the new focus of the artist’s experience being reflected in the work. Although his work may have been mostly forgotten and his rebellion in no way near as dramatic as the impressionists, he was definitely one of the first to openly defy the Salon’s exhibitions.
After a month of wandering SoHo and Tribeca with my little black notebook, I’ve decided to use the multitude of notes that I’ve taken. Starting with July, every month I’ll introduce a new gallery that I either loved or had some major issues with.
This month, I’d love to talk about The Wild Horses of Sable Island. A permanent exhibit comprised of a selection of Canadian fashion photographer Roberto Dutesco’s personal work. The building itself is light and welcoming, with incredible friendly staff that are clearly excited about the photographs and the history of the Island.
Sable Island is a narrow strip of sand off of Nova Scotia known historically as being the site of more than 475 shipwrecks. Due to it’s incredibly harsh environment and lack of any semblance of shelter, humans were unable to survive- however the horses they had with them thrived on the seagrass and ponds scattered around the island. Dutesco is one of very few who have gained the right to land on the island- which is mainly reserved for park rangers.
The photographs are mainly in black and white as well as sepia tones, some accompanied by drawings of the island within the mat board of the frame. The entire gallery seems touched by the same winds and sands that the horses endure day in and day out, with worn wooden and stone accents placed throughout the two rooms, and a lovely earthen color scheme chosen for the flooring, contrasted by the stark white walls. There are plenty of hand drawn maps and information placed throughout to explain what makes the island and these horses so special.
Overall I absolutely loved this little SoHo gallery, I’ve already gone back a second time and am absolutely planning on visiting again soon. The photos are well shot, the rooms fit the exhibit, and the staff is welcoming and knowledgeable. I highly recommend checking this one out.
The Wild Horses of Sable Island
64 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
Hieronymus Bosch is a fascinating character, something I’m sure you can agree with if you’ve seen any of his work- or even his given name. El Bosco, as he was known after relocating to Spain, had an incredibly rich imagination fitted with fantastical creatures, hellish landscapes, and bizarre inventions that defy description.
His work stands out from other artists from the same time period, given the creatures in his paintings’ almost unbelievable creativity. In the same triptych you can find three fish eating each other- the outermost possessing legs of a cricket, a large clothed bird with dog ears and human legs holding a letter in its beak on ice skates, and a water jug with legs of a deer standing in a pond- just to name a few.
Undeniably biblical, the triptych titled The Garden of Earthly Delights was actually commissioned for a town home in Brussels, despite appearing as an altarpiece. The Last Judgement is the core theme of the incredibly detailed painting, with Bosch clearly using his work to critique the state of sinfulness in the world.
Beginning in the Garden of Eden when God introduced Eve to Adam, things quickly devolved into the mass of sex and debauchery as seen in the middle panel. Finally, God casts his judgement and the lustful people are cast into a hellscape full of freakish creatures, fire, and despair.
Both of these works showcase quite well the phenomenal imagination of Bosch which set him apart from the other Dutch Renaissance painters. His control over color and technical mastery give life to the most remarkable creatures born through sin and hellfire. Bosch’s unique style of painting is easily comparable to both medieval art and surreal painting.
As for the comparison to medieval work, his human and humanoid figures have the same idealized proportions as many painters of that time. They are elongated with little to no muscle definition, and often have rounded features. In addition, some of his bizarre creatures likely drew inspiration from the monastic illustrations found in many books produced in that time period. A prime example would be the The Mouth of Hell from the Winchester Psalter, in which hordes of demons are being locked into Hell by a singular angel.
It’s very easy to name Bosch an inspiration to surrealist artists- particularly Dali. The unimaginable creatures and comparatively simple backgrounds evoke the same feeling of curiosity. Although Bosch’s preference for religious imagery directly contradicts the “Manifesto of Surrealism”, which clearly states that art should be free from ‘moral purpose’, the figures are still too similar to ignore.
All in all, Bosch’s work has undeniably stood the test of time, and remains a part of pop culture centuries later.
Vanitas were the Dutch’s way of reminding you that death is imminent. Much like the Raven in Poe’s unforgettable poem, the Flemish and Dutch painters make sure you don’t walk away without thinking about your own death. However, they can’t just paint corpses and gore – especially not then – so they lure you in with beautifully rendered silver, flowers, and often glassware; and it ends up taking a minute for the reality of the image to sink in. After spending a few moments with the work, you begin to notice flowers wilting and bugs crawling on them, rotting fruit or meat, or most obviously, a skull.
Everything from the book to the open watch- even the pearls and coins have established meaning relating to the passing of time and inevitability of death! These paintings are meant to act as moral guides, reminding you that you can’t hold on to your wealth and beauty in death.
Similar in meaning to the popular memento mori (latin for ‘Remember that you have to die’), it was often Christians that produced works of both literary and visual art steeped in the mortality of humans, likely due to the severity of divine punishment. However, reminders of our death have stuck around for centuries, even taxidermy has persisted as an art form! It’s safe to say we as a species will always be fascinated by death and curious about what- if anything- happens after we die.
Memento Mori, my friends.
(featured image is Vanitas by Philippe de Champaigne, 1671)
With everything that’s been going on in the world as of late and so many emotions stirred up, it’s important not to let one of the most powerful modes of expression go to waste- art.
“The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create.”
–Former President Barack Obama
This past week we bid farewell to a president who, although not without glaring faults, made history and overall did well for this country as a whole. Unfortunately, in his place we face a man who has glorified sexual assault, appointed individuals who are laughably ill-suited for major positions, and has recently made it known that he plans to completely cut the funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities- as well as the National Endowment for the Arts.
All the money (Shy of $150 million for the Nat’l Endowment for the Arts in 2016) that currently goes to supporting artists and critical art education through grants provided to both individuals and organizations would be completely removed from the federal budget. It’s not like cutting the two will make much of an impact on it either, together they made up a minuscule 0.006% of the total federal budget in 2016, which begs the question- If it makes such an incredibly small impact on the budget, why cut it- especially when schools around the country have already cut arts funding? …Well, honestly, why wouldn’t he? Generally speaking, the art world is particularly left-leaning, and artists themselves can often possess fairly radical ideologies including Marxist, Anarchist, Stalinist, and even Maoist thought, very foreign and likely unsettling to such a staunch businessman and capitalist like himself. So, once the general media is discredited and can no longer speak out against him, it only makes sense to attempt to do the same with the arts.
Obviously, we can’t let that happen. The arts- writing, painting, theater, dance, and music- must continue to express the thoughts of the general populace whether the government wishes to support them or not. We as a global community have proven merely two days ago that we are able to band together and look past our differences to stand up for each other, and that can’t end here. There has already been a movement of artists creating art to react against our newly inaugurated President, putting together ‘Nasty Women’ art exhibitions from Portland to Amsterdam- many of which donated the proceeds to Planned Parenthood.
Get out there and pour your heart out. We need your voice.
I was enthusing over art with one of my managers during work this evening (which of course the first artist I had mentioned had to be my dear Bernini) and I was excited to learn he has an affinity for antique posters- Alphonse Mucha in particular.
Of course not everyone knows the name, but every art kid I know has gone through a Mucha phase, so my face must have lit up at the name. Now, the reason I use the word phase is not because they eventually grow to dislike his work, let alone think less of him as an artist. In fact it’s quite the opposite, after a few attempts to take elements of his style and make them your own, one comes to the (often frustrating) realization that it is nearly impossible to emulate him without your work looking like a cheap copy.
Therein lies his genius, our flowery Czech artist who has practically become the face of Art Nouveau, created a style so uniquely his own that spoke so perfectly to the time period. His figures are heavily outlined, something he adopted from the Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, but instead of flattening the image like one would expect from such a line, it enhances the dynamics when combined with such strong, yet delicate arabesques.
The artists in the movement, much like Mucha himself, found themselves abandoning the conventions of fine art and placing much more value in Les Arts Décoratifs, like the advertisements Mucha created. In addition to the new feeling of creativity, there were also major psychological advancements by Sigmund Freud that enhanced many artists’ exploration of the ‘dream world’. Art Nouveau celebrates femininity and nature- a reaction to the masculinity of the Industrial Revolution. However, the celebration and use of women wasn’t always necessarily positive. Women were finally beginning to gain equal rights and the ability to become increasingly independent, and quite frankly, that scared many men. Thus, the women they created were alluring, but often quietly menacing- the rise of the femme fatale.
In celebration of Chanukah, I wanted to take a moment to talk about a few artists of Jewish descent that have somehow shaped the discipline they ascribed themselves to.
Starting off with one of the larger names in art history, Amadeo Modigliani was an Italian Jew. He grew up hearing about the master paintings held in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence and when he fell sick with typhoid fever at the tender age of 14, his mother promised to take him to visit when he recovered. Clearly, he did, and she didn’t merely plan a visit to the museum, she signed him up for lessons with the painter Guglielmo Micheli. Modigliani showed great skill in painting, but reacted against the conventions of the time. He preferred painting indoors as opposed to en plein air, and rather than paint landscapes (to my knowledge, three exist) he chose portraiture and the human figure. Moving to Paris, he contracted tuberculosis- which he treated with alcohol and drugs, creating a whirlpool of physical pain, addiction, and depression that fed into his art style. In his work, the figures are elongated, and his work fits into no specific discipline.
Onto one of my favorite artists, Mark Rothko. Rothko was born in Russia, moving to the United States- to Portland, Oregon before moving to NYC to attend Yale. After dropping out, he fell in with the avant-garde crowd and began to paint as well. His early paintings were dark urban interiors, but it wasn’t until Milton Avery encouraged him that he felt he could pursue a career as a fine artist. At his core, he was a radical activist who connected strongly with his Jewish heritage, and was deeply passionate about worker’s and women’s rights. He was raised by a staunchly Marxist father who abhorred religion. As he matured, so did his work, slowly evolving into fields of color.
Judy Chicago was born into a family with a long lineage of rabbis, and grew up knowing she wanted to be an artist. Born Judy Cohen, she adopted the last name ‘Chicago’ to embrace her greater understanding of not just the world she lives in, but also herself. Following that, she fully dedicated herself to women’s rights and empowerment, whether it be through her own teaching, work, or supporting other women artists. She’s shared her view on many things from ‘the male gaze’ in Powerplay, to narrating childbirth through The Birth Project. Following those projects, she became more interested in her heritage in The Holocaust Project: From Darkness to Light, most of which is currently on display in Pittsburgh.
Happy holidays to all, be safe and best of luck for the coming year!