08 Jan 2012

Last Minute Clemency Appeal for Robert Gattis

Robert Gattis is on death row in Delaware. A good friend of mine works for the Federal Public Defender’s office, the death penalty appeals unit, and this is his message: Friends, My Delaware client, Robert Gattis, will be executed on 1/20 if our team fails in our efforts to persuade

15 Oct 2011

Saturday Art: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Tomorrow, October 16th,  is the dedication of the new memorial dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the Mall in Washington D.C. Usually I write about a piece of art because it is a favorite, or I find it interesting and beautiful.  I am sorry to say I do

09 Jul 2011

Saturday Art: Why Not Take The “L” by Reginald Marsh

Why Not Take The “L”, 1930. Image courtesy of Gunther Stephan(kraftgenie) via Flickr The 1930’s was a bad decade for the U.S. economically, but it was a very rich era for art. Some of the more well known names that got their start in that era were Jackson Pollack, Ben

18 Jun 2011

Saturday Art: Last Supper in Red Desert by M.F. Husain


This week I am featuring a work by the famous Indian artist, Maqbool Fida Husain, since he just passed away on June 9th, at the age of 95. He painted in various styles, but most of his work I would classify as Surrealist. Reinterpretations of Da Vinci’s Last Supper painting were a favorite theme of his and he painted a number of them. This particular one was done sometime in the last decade, and is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Arab Art, in Qatar. It is exhibited with the following note by Husain, which I will leave for you to interpret:

M.F. Husain was an extremely prolific artist. He created thousands of drawings and paintings during a working life that covered three quarters of a century. Some of them caused a lot of controversy among Hindu nationalists, due to what they thought was disrespect to their gods, which caused him to leave India.

11 Jun 2011

Saturday Art: Portrait of Cornplanter

Ki-On-Twog-Ky by F. Bartoli
Ki-On-Twog-Ky by F. Bartoli(1796)

This wonderful portrait is in the collection of the New York Historical Society. The artist was Frederick Bartoli, and you can see his signature with the date, 1796, just to the right of Cornplanter’s shoulder.
Judging by his name, the artist is Italian, but I have not been able to find out anything more about him.

However, there is a lot of historical documentation about the subject of the painting. Cornplanter was an important war-chief and leader of the Seneca tribe. According to Wikipedia, his Iroquois name Gaiänt’wakê (often spelled Gyantwachia), means “the planter,” and another variation, Kaintwakon, means “by what one plants.” However, the New York Historical Society renders his name as Ki-On-Twog-Ky. He was commonly known in English as Cornplanter. His exact birth year is unknown but it was likely sometime between 1740 and 1750 in Canawaugus (now Caledonia, New York) on the Genesee River. His mother, Aliquipiso, was Seneca, and his father was a Dutch fur trader, Johannes Abeel. He lived to a ripe old age, till 1836.

The portrait was painted to commemorate his meeting with the U.S. Congress ten years before and his role as a mediator between native and non-native cultures, therefore he is holding the symbolic peace pipe. He is wearing an earring, and his earlobes are cut in a way that was common at the time among Native Americans. It is believed that the silver medal and armbands and the scarlet cloth with which he draped himself were gifts from the Confederation Congress presented during his visit to New York City in May 1786, three years before the Inauguration of George Washington.

Most of the Iroquois confederacy sided with the British during the American Revolution, and Cornplanter, who had been appointed by his tribe to lead the Seneca warriors, took part in battles including what are known as the the Battle of Wyoming(meaning the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania near the present-day city of Wilkes-Barre) and the Cherry Valley massacre (in Otsego County New York, near present-day Oneonta). Following the war, he became a negotiator in disputes between the Americans and the Seneca as well as other indigenous tribes, and spent decades seeking a peaceful resolution of disputes between the United States and the Six Nations. Sometime in the 1790’s, the Pennsylvania General Assembly awarded him a land grant of about 1,500 acres in Warren County that would be the last Indian-owned land in Pennsylvania. The Seneca continued to live there until 1965, when Pennsylvania permanently flooded the Cornplanter Tract to create the Allegheny Reservoir. The moving of his grave (which conflicted with the promise that his land grant would be his and his heirs “forever”) was commemorated by the song, “As Long As The Grass Shall Grow” written by Peter LaFarge and recorded by Johnny Cash in 1964; you can hear Johnny performing it on YouTube here.

28 May 2011

Saturday Art: Hassan Fathy

Gurna Mosque, New Gurna, Egypt
Gurna Mosque, New Gurna, Egypt(image from Wikipedia Commons)

Hassan Fathy(1900 – 1989) was Egypt’s most famous architect, and was decades ahead of his time in recognizing the beauty and value of vernacular architecture, for its use of local materials and environmentally sustainable design. He worked to re-establish the use of mud brick (or adobe) and traditional as opposed to western building designs and lay-outs. His object was to create affordable and livable spaces suitable to the surrounding environment. He was against Western techniques and materials like reinforced concrete and steel which he found inappropriate for Egypt’s climate. His inspiration was the traditional Nubian architecture of Egypt which used domed and vaulted roofs as well as walls of mud brick. The structures were cheap to build, cool in the summer and heat-retaining in winter. They also used environmental conservation techniques, such as taking advantage of wind patterns for natural ventilation and orientation.
From Al Ahram:

Fathy, born in Alexandria in 1900 and dying in Cairo in 1989 following a career spent in Egypt and Greece, demonstrated how elements from vernacular Arab urban architecture, such as the malkaf (wind catch), shukshaykha (lantern dome) and mashrabiya (wooden lattice screen), could be combined with the mud-brick construction traditionally practiced in Nubia in Upper Egypt to form a distinctive, environmentally and socially conscious building style that linked the use of appropriate technologies with co- operative construction techniques and the guiding thread of tradition.

The Gurna (or Gourna) mosque pictured above was part of a planned community called New Gurna that was begun in 1946. It was considered a failure at the time because the locals were reluctant to move into their new homes-partially due to the fact that they were being relocated from their original village which was located directly on top of some Pharonic tombs. They also preferred materials like concrete which they associated with luxury and modernity. Most of the homes have been rebuilt with modern materials but the mosque and several other Fathy buildings remain in the town. Ironically, traditional Arabic architecture is now much more in vogue with the upper classes, although Fathy designed with the needs of the ordinary poor peasants of Egypt in mind.

In 1980 Fathy won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and the Right Livelihood Award. He designed buildings and communities for arid climates all over the world, from African and Pakistan to New Mexico. The ideas he pioneered are the direct opposite of grandiose desert projects like the skyscrapers of Dubai. The photo below is the roof of the Kharga market which he designed, also in Egypt, showing its natural air cooling design.
Kharga Market, Egypt

14 May 2011

Saturday Art: Philadelphia Murals

Mural at Ogden Street, Philadelphia PA
image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain

I volunteered as a pollwatcher for the Obama campaign during the 2008 election, and was assigned to a precinct in West Philly. I arrived there a day early and decided to spend some time walking around, familiarizing myself with the neighborhood. I was impressed by all the beautiful murals I saw everywhere I went. It turns out Philly is famous for its street murals. They are a major tourist attraction, and you can go on various Mural Arts Tours by trolley, train, bicycle or on foot, which sounds to me like a great way to spend the day. The “Mural Mile” in Center City is a particularly good area to see some of the best ones, and a Google map and free podcast are available if you prefer to do a self-guided walking tour.

The mural pictured above is located on the 2800 block of Ogden Street, in the Fairmount area of Philadelphia. It is another example of Trompe l’oeuil which I wrote about in this post about an Andrea Pozzo fresco, several weeks ago. In this case, the blank brick wall of a building appears to have stoops, doors, windows, people, a sidewalk and even a park across the street.

30 Apr 2011

Saturday Art: “The Visit” By Max Weber

The Visit by Max Weber
The Visit by Max Weber(circa 1919)

There are four figures in this painting; one couple is seated at the table, while another couple is standing. I don’t know why, but in my imagination I see it as the artist visiting his parents. The man on the left, who could be the visitor, is wearing a hat and carrying a cane. The figure next to him we know is female because she is wearing a pearl necklace. It also seems that she is wearing an apron and carrying a bowl, so I believe she is cooking the meal. Another man also wearing a hat, and with a book under his arm, and a woman wearing a print dress and dangly earrings are seated at what looks to be the kitchen table. The Brooklyn Museum website speculates that it is a younger couple seated at the table who are the visitors, and the standing couple are the parents.

Max Weber (April 18, 1881 – October 4, 1961) was a Jewish Russian born painter who emigrated to America as a young child (not to be confused with the famous German sociologist of the same name). He is considered to be one of America’s best cubist artists.

He came to New York with his parents from Bialystok and studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn as a teenager, before working as a public school teacher for several years in Lynchburg, Virginia and Duluth, Minnesota. Apparently the purpose of those jobs was to save money so he could study art in Europe. In 1905 he did travel to Paris, where he was able to meet and study with a number of famous artists, and became part of the group that frequented Gertrude Stein’s salon. He became close friends with Henri Rousseau, but their styles were completely different; Weber’s art was strongly influenced by cubist artists such as Picasso, Cezanne and Georges Braque. Returning to the U.S. in 1909, Weber was one of the first artists to introduce Cubism here. He never achieved much financial success from those early works, although in 1913 he had a one-man exhibition at the Newark Museum which was the first modernist exhibition at an American museum. Some of his best works from that era are in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, including the one pictured above. For some time he was financially sponsored by Alfred Steiglitz, until they had a falling out, and he went back to supporting himself by teaching for many years. In a 1915 newspaper article he stated that his aim was to express “not what I see with my eye but with my consciousness . . . mental impressions, not mere literal matter-of-fact copying of line and form. I want to put the abstract into concrete terms.”

Starting in the 1920’s and into the 30’s and 40’s, Weber changed his style from Cubist and Futurist to a more expressionistic style, and he began exploring Jewish spiritual themes and social issues in his paintings. This article features several of his paintings from the 1930’s and 40’s. He did achieve popularity and financial success over the years with paintings about family life, Jewish heritage and working class struggles, such as this one called “Sign Carriers” from 1938.

16 Apr 2011

Saturday Art: Metal Sculpture By Cal Lane

Oil Drum Tapestries
Oil Drum Tapestries, Cal Lane, 2007
Above are oil drums which have been unrolled and converted via cutouts made by a blowtorch into lacelike objects, by a young artist, Cal Lane. I am aesthetically attracted to her works; I love the contrast of rough industrial objects made into something feminine looking that reminds you of your grandmother’s lace curtains and antimacassars, the combination of strength and delicacy. Here are some metal gas cans which make me think of those Mexican religious folk art objects made out of cut tin, followed by the artist’s explanation of the work.
Oil Cans
5 Benevolent Cans, Cal Lane, 2007

In my most recent exhibition entitled “Crude”, pulled together the relationship of God and Oil. Though the images are dealing with overt political topics the images do not point to anything specific – they merely coexist – and what it says really depends on the viewer’s history. This work consists of a series of oil cans that have been flayed open in the form of a cross shape or a gothic cathedral floor plan. The cans are then cut into Christian or Medieval like Icons. Fine, like tattered paper, the jagged edge of the thin metal becomes both an ancient and contemporary image, thereby appealing to both those who cling to history, and those who ignore it.Along side of the cans are three 45 gallon oil drums. The drums are skinned and unrolled to create a surface. The surface is then pulled up the wall and cut into a multiple of images from tattoo patterns to fabric patterns to religious and hazard symbols. The collage of images create a war of symbols which become a medieval-like tapestry.*

She works with a wide range of metal objects, from small items like shovels and wheelbarrows, to a recent project using an abandoned 65 foot Soviet submarine, and also creates lace patterns in dirt, as pictured here. According to this New York Times article from 2007 she started out as a hairdresser, but said “welding seemed to fit me better”.

09 Apr 2011

Saturday Art: Trompe l’oeuil fresco by Andrea Pozzo, Jesuit Church, Vienna

Fresco by Andrea Pozzo, Jesuit Church, Vienna
image by Alberto Fernandez Fernandez via Wikimedia Commons, reproduced under GNU FDL

Trompe-l’œil(also spelled trompe l-oeuil) which is French for ‘deceive the eye’, is an artistic style that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects are three dimensional. Trompe-l’œil has been used in art since the ancient Greeks and Romans, and it was particularly popular during the Italian Renaissance, where it was often used in church interiors. This is a truly amazing fresco that convinces you that the church has a dome in the ceiling. It does not. It’s all an illusion.
From Wikipedia:

Andrea Pozzo (Latinized version: Andreas Puteus; 30 November 1642, Trento, Italy – 31 August 1709, Vienna, Austria) was an Italian Jesuit Brother, Baroque painter and architect, decorator, stage designer, and art theoretician. He was best known for his grandiose frescoes using illusionistic technique called quadratura, in which architecture and fancy are intermixed. His masterpiece is the nave ceiling of the Church of Sant’Ignazio in Rome. Through his techniques, he has become one of the most remarkable figures of the Baroque period.

Andrea Pozzo was born in Trento, (now Italy, but then under Austrian rule). He showed early artistic talent and was apprenticed to work with several artists where he learned the techniques of Baroque art.
In 1665, he entered the Jesuit Order as a lay brother. At that particular time the Jesuits were a relatively new order in the Catholic Church, therefore many of their churches were newly built and lacked painted decorations. Discovering his talents, the Jesuits soon put him to work decorating churches and buildings all over Italy. His masterpiece, Sant’Ignazio in Rome, came about because that church remained unfinished after the Jesuits fell into a dispute with the original donors, the Ludovisi, and ran out of money to construct the dome that had been planned.

Pozzo proposed painting an illusion of a dome on the flat ceiling. In this photo you can see the results; the illusory “dome” and the nave ceiling of the Church of Sant’Ignazio, which appears to be open to the sky. As you can see, the whole thing is quite over the top! It’s the pinnacle of Baroque style. I guess either you love it or you hate it. I wouldn’t want to live with it, but I find it fascinating to study. It was the signature style of the Catholic Church at that time, developed in reaction to the more austere style of the Protestant Reformation, although Baroque later made inroads into the Protestant northern countries of Europe.

In 1703, Pozzo was invited by the emperor Leopold I to redecorate the Jesuitenkirche(Jesuit Church) in Vienna, also known as the University Church because it is adjacent to the University of Vienna. He redesigned the exterior as well, adding the twin towers seen in the photo and reworking the facade in an early Baroque style with narrow horizontal and vertical sections. The design of the windows, narrow niches (with statues) and the small central part of the façade deviate from the Baroque style of the towers.