Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Culture | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


Vocapedia > Arts > Painting > Painting




Untitled (Pecho/Oreja)


Jean-Michel Basquiat    1960-1988






















Untitled (Skull)


Jean-Michel Basquiat    1960-1988

Pasted from





















Robert Motherwell.

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110, Easter Day,


Acrylic with pencil and charcoal on canvas, 82 x 114 inches.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Gift, Agnes Gund. 84.3223.

Robert Motherwell

© Dedalus Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_lg_116_1.html - broken link
















art        UK










outsider art        UK










art > postwar Britain        UK












The Guardian > Special report > Art        UK










art patron > Roy Rothschild Neuberger    USA    1903-2010        USA


He  drew on youthful passions

for stock trading and art

to build one of Wall Street’s

most venerable partnerships

and one of the country’s

largest private collections

of 20th-century masterpieces










digital art > non-fungible tokens        UK










art critic        USA










the aesthetic








work        UK










work of art        UK / USA














artwork        UK / USA
















a handful of artworks









by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko,

Barnett Newman, Dubuffet and others








a detail of Perugino's "Madonna With Child"








culture        UK


















an artist's technical skill








craft        USA


















drawing        UK















sketch        UK










USA > court sketches        UK










scribble        UK










sit for...        UK










sitter        UK




















viewer        UK




















painting        UK



































horse-racing paintings        UK










lithograph        UK










miniature        UK










hang        UK


















be commissioned by N        UK










spray paint        USA










drip painting > Jackson Pollock








Jackson Pollock

- the world's most expensive painting        2006
















painter        UK






icon painter





outdoor painter





portrait painter / portraitist        UK








illustrator        UK






artist        UK






master        UK






old master        UK








Renaissance master






























domestic tableaux        UK






triptych / three-part painting / three-panelled painting        UK / USA













devotional art





traditional Christian paintings


















Patrick Heron        Vertical Light        1957


50 years of British art lies in ashes:

Heron, Caulfield, Emin, Hirst - 50 years of British art lies in ashes

The Guardian

27 May 2004
















atelier        UK






colour (UK)  /  color (USA)






colour        1960s


























touches of green, grey and brick





watercolour        UK








oil on canvas





oil portrait





colour print finished in ink and watercolour on paper





cut-outs        USA






crayon        UK











charcoal portraits        UK


























portrait        UK














self-portrait        UK
































self-portraiture        USA

















portraiture        UK / USA









nude        UK








a life-size nude by Lucian Freud        UK        2004





still life        UK






mood pieces        UK






landscape painting        UK


Landscape painting

was a lowly genre in the mid-18th century,

but then captured the popular imagination.


A new exhibition,

at the Royal Academy in London,

charts its rise






landscape        UK






watercolour landscape        UK






townscapes        UK











National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

Pictures of the American City






a panoramic view of N















a Turner masterpiece








the work































studio        UK






canvas        USA






paper bag portraits        UK











the composition of the painting





formula of composition        UK






in the composition

























brushwork        USA






brush strokes





straight lines        UK






simple shapes        UK






optical effects        UK






palette        UK





















 pre-Raphaelites        UK






France > post-impressionist        UK






early 20th-century French painting





the avant garde










surrealist painters





surrealist movement










The radicals return: The Vorticists at Tate Britain – in pictures        UK        2011


The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World

celebrates the avant garde movement vorticism,

which briefly lit up the art world

before and during the first world war.











trompe l'oeil realism




















Symbolist movement





color field painting / color field movement        USA        1960s























Shot in the Name of Art

The New York Times    22 May 2015





Shot in the Name of Art

Video    Op-Docs    The New York Times    22 May 2015


This short documentary celebrates

the late conceptual artist Chris Burden’s landmark work “Shoot,”

in which a friend shot him in the arm.


Produced by: Eric Kutner

Read the story here: http://nyti.ms/1IPKihD

Watch more videos at: http://nytimes.com/video



















Happenings art movement,

a free-spirited blend of art

and performance

in the late 1950s and early ’60s        USA










performance artist / work        USA























pop art        UK






pop art design        1960s        UK






pop artist > Richard Hamilton    1922-2011        UK






Pauline Boty    1938-1966



of the British pop art movement

and Britain's

most notable female pop art painter.









pop > Peter Blake

















abstraction        USA






abstract painter        USA






abstract artist        USA






Modernist abstraction        USA






abstract expressionism        USA






William Paul Jenkins        1923-2012






Abstract Expressionist > Pat Passlof        1928-2011






Abstract expressionist > Elliott Budd Hopkins        1931-2009






Abstract expressionist > Hedwig Lindenberg / Hedda Sterne        1910-2011






New York school of Abstract Expressionists        USA






second-generation Abstract Expressionists        USA






abstract painter > Tomma Abts        UK






action painting


Term applied to the work

of American Abstract Expressionists

such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning

and, by extension, to the art of their followers

at home and abroad during the 1950s.


An alternative but slightly more general term is

gestural painting;

the other division within Abstract Expressionism

was colour field painting.

http://www.moma.org/collection/theme.php?theme_id=10088 - broken link





stripe painting















figurative work








minimalism        USA










 minimalist painter        USA










conceptualism        USA










postmodernism        UK


























copper engraving plate





etching        UK






etching plate





relief etching technique























Kirill Konstantinovich Sokolov, artist

September 27 1930 - May 22 2004


Kirill Sokolov :

Modernist painter who fooled the Soviet authorities

with orthodox art and came to Britain

The Guardian

2 June 2004
















exhibition        UK






The Guardian > Art and design > Exhibitionist        UK






show        UK











a retrospective exhibition










NYC, USA > Museum of Modern Art    MOMA        USA






Whitney Museum of American Art        USA








gallery        USA








gallery        UK








gallery > Wallace Collection, London






gallery > Redfern Gallery, London












gallerist        UK






The National Gallery        UK








National Gallery of Art        USA






mobile art galleries        USA











curator        UK








curator        USA








the gallery's fine art curator





curate        UK











go on display

























the original





















X-rays        UK

















forge        USA











forgery        UK / USA












forged painting        UK









































exhibitions        UK











art fair        UK










Frieze art fair        UK















Turner prize - Britain's biggest contemporary art prize        UK





















Turner shortlist        UK







nominees        UK






modern art        UK






modern art        USA






Tate Modern        UK








Tate Modern's Turbine Hall        UK










Tate Liverpool






Tate St Ives






young Britart
















Tate Britain / London










Tate Modern / London












Dulwich Picture Gallery / London










Royal Academy / London










National Gallery / London










National Portrait Gallery / London










Serpentine Gallery / London










Courtauld Gallery / London










Hayward Gallery / London










Chambers Gallery, London










Victoria & Albert museum, London

















The Getty, Los Angeles










The Guggenheim, New York










National Gallery of Art / Washington D.C.










The Metropolitan Museum of Art / New York










Mira Godard Gallery










Andrea Rosen Gallery










Walker Art Center










Frick Collection, NYC



















Philip Guston

The Studio        1969

Private collection

ttp://www.royalacademy.org.uk/?lid=706 - broken link






















Lucian Freud's Naked Portrait 2002 shows...





What is really striking in this drawing is that...





the title bears no resemblance at all

to what's going on in the picture





this picture doesn't make much impact,

it leaves you...





Figures at the base of the Crucifixion

are a stock image of Christian iconography.





In this painting

Bacon used these devices to depict...





I think it probably shows...





The use of colour,

the props and the facial expressions

all heighten this feeling of pain





Several of the works refer to...










on the left





on the far left





in the background





at the back of the picture are...





The painting feels like a film still


















Cambridgeshire, UK

A National Trust conservator at work

on John Constable’s largest known painting.


The artwork shows the opening of Waterloo Bridge in 1817

at Anglesey Abbey


Photograph: James Dobson

National Trust


Eid al-Fitr and a Broadway curtain call: Friday’s best photos


Fri 29 Apr 2022    13.51 BST

















conservator        UK


















Corpus of news articles


Arts > Painting, Sculpture >


Drawing, Painting




Roy R. Neuberger Dies at 107;

Applied a Stock Trader’s Acumen

to Art


December 24, 2010

The New York Times



Roy R. Neuberger, who drew on youthful passions for stock trading and art to build one of Wall Street’s most venerable partnerships and one of the country’s largest private collections of 20th-century masterpieces, died on Friday at his home at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan. He was 107 and had lived in New York City for 101 years.

His death was confirmed by a grandson, Matthew London.

Mr. Neuberger had set out to study art, but ended up as a stockbroker, a life path once likened to Gauguin’s in reverse. As a founder of the investment firm Neuberger & Berman, he was one of the few people to experience three of Wall Street’s major market crises, in 1929, 1987 and 2008. Although his artistic ability left no lasting impact, his wealth did.

Believing that collectors should acquire art being produced in their own time and then hold on to it, giving the public access but never selling, Mr. Neuberger accumulated hundreds of paintings and sculptures by Milton Avery, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and others, becoming one of America’s leading art patrons. Those works are now spread over more than 70 institutions in 24 states, many of them in the permanent collection of the Neuberger Museum of Art, which opened in 1974 on the Purchase College campus of the State University of New York.

The money to buy the works came from his investments at Neuberger & Berman (now Neuberger Berman), the brokerage and investment firm he founded in 1939 with Robert B. Berman. The firm catered to wealthy individuals but also took on a less affluent clientele with the establishment, in 1950, of the Neuberger Guardian mutual fund, one of the first funds to be sold without the usual 8.5 percent upfront sales commission.

His art collecting drew on the lessons he learned in the financial world. Each year he would buy more than he had bought the previous year, often purchasing large lots at a time. In 1948, for example, he bought 46 paintings by Milton Avery, whom Mr. Neuberger counted as a close friend. He eventually owned more than 100 Avery works.

“My experience on Wall Street made it possible for me to be comfortable buying a lot of art at once,” he later wrote. “In my investment firm, when we like a security after careful analysis, we buy a modest quantity. Sometimes after the purchase, we will find that we like it very much. If a large quantity of the stock then becomes available, and we are still enthusiastic about its value and its future, we will buy in quantity quickly, even though the day before we had no such plan and no knowledge that the stock would be available.”

“The same principle,” he added, “applied to my purchase of the Avery paintings.”Roy Rothschild Neuberger was born on July 21, 1903, in Bridgeport, Conn. His father, Louis, who was 52 when Roy was born, had come to the United States from Germany as a boy. His mother, the former Bertha Rothschild, was a native of Chicago, a lover of music (she played the piano) and a “nervous, troubled woman from a large, well-to-do Jewish family, not related to the famous Rothschilds,” Mr. Neuberger wrote in an autobiography, “So Far, So Good: The First 94 Years” (John Wiley & Sons, 1997).

His father was half owner of the Connecticut Web and Buckle Company and had an interest in the stock market, owning thousands of shares in a Montana copper company. The Neuberger family moved to Manhattan in 1909, settling on Claremont Avenue opposite Barnard College on the Upper West Side. Mr. Neuberger attended DeWitt Clinton High School, where in his senior year he was captain of the tennis team that won the Greater New York championship.

“Looking back on my youthful addiction to tennis, I find it not much different from my fascination with the market,” Mr. Neuberger wrote in his autobiography. “You have to make fast decisions. You can’t wait to think about it overnight.”

A similar impatience led him to leave New York University after a single year. He felt, he wrote, “that I could learn much more out in the world of business.”

It was while working for two years as a buyer of upholstery fabrics for the department store B. Altman & Company that he said he developed an eye for painting and sculpture as well as a sense for trading. Both would greatly influence his later life, as would John Galsworthy’s series of novels “The Forsyte Saga,” which described the practice among well-to-do English families of educating their children on the European continent, and “Vincent van Gogh,” a biography by Floret Fels.

The first book led Mr. Neuberger to a sojourn in Europe. Using money inherited from his father, he set out in June 1924 for a life of leisure. While living mainly on the Left Bank in Paris, he spent afternoons at a cafe, played in tennis tournaments in Cannes and traveled to Berlin and other European capitals.

In Paris, Mr. Neuberger was inspired by the van Gogh biography to collect and support the work of living artists.

“Of course, to do so, I had to have capital of considerably more than the inheritance that gave me an annual income of about $2,000,” he later wrote. “In those days you could live very comfortably, almost luxuriously, on $2,000, but you couldn’t buy art in quantity. So I decided to go back to work in earnest.”

He arrived on Wall Street in the spring of 1929, as the bull market was roaring toward its peak. Hired for $15 a week as a runner for the brokerage firm Halle & Stieglitz, he soon learned all aspects of the business, at the same time managing his own money.

One of the first big trades he executed on his own behalf was designed to hedge his own wealth against the possibility that the stock market might fall from its precarious height. He sold short 100 shares of the Radio Corporation of America, the most popular stock of the era, betting that its price would decline from its lofty level of $500.

In October 1929 came the crash that ushered in the Great Depression, and while Mr. Neuberger’s blue-chip stocks fell, his bet against RCA paid off well: the stock’s price eventually fell into the single digits. He said he lost only 15 percent of his money in the crash, while many others lost everything.

On June 29, 1932, the Dow Jones industrial average dipped to 42 and Mr. Neuberger married Marie Salant, a graduate in economics from Bryn Mawr who had gone to work in the research department of Halle & Stieglitz two years earlier.

“I can report that by June 29, 1996, the Dow Jones industrial average had climbed to 5,704 and Marie and I had had 64 wonderful years together,” Mr. Neuberger later wrote. Mrs. Neuberger died in 1997.

Besides Mr. London, Mr. Neuberger is survived by his daughter, Ann Neuberger Aceves; his sons, Roy S. Neuberger of Lawrence, N.Y., and James A. Neuberger of New York City; seven other grandchildren; and 30 great-grandchildren.

Emboldened by his management of his own assets, Mr. Neuberger became a stockbroker at Halle & Stieglitz in 1930, leaving nine years later to start his own firm, Neuberger & Berman. The firm was later acquired by Lehman Brothers, but spun off in 2008 as a stand-alone company with Lehman’s bankruptcy. Mr. Neuberger continued to go to his Neuberger Berman office every day until he was 99, Mr. London said.

Mr. Neuberger began to build his art collection in the late 1930s, and although he was asked to do so many times, he never sold a painting by a living artist. “I have not collected art as an investor would,” he said. “I collect art because I love it.”

He preferred to share his love by donating works to museums and colleges. In May 1965, Mr. Neuberger received an anonymous offer to buy his art collection for $5 million, a sum he considered a fortune at the time.

Years later he learned that the offer had come from Nelson A. Rockefeller, then governor of New York. Mr. Rockefeller went on to play a key role in Mr. Neuberger’s art collection. In May 1967, while Mr. Neuberger was visiting Mr. Rockefeller at his Pocantico Hills estate in Westchester County, the governor offered to have New York State build a museum to house the collection at the State University campus at Purchase.

Designed by Philip Johnson, the museum opened in May 1974. Mr. Neuberger often said that the true spirit of his collection could be found on the second floor, which held seminal paintings by Pollock, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as many Milton Averys.

Mr. Neuberger made an additional gift of $1.3 million to the State University at Purchase in 1984 and other major gifts to the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He also served as a president of the New York Society for Ethical Culture and the American Federation of Arts.

Mr. Neuberger’s second memoir, “The Passionate Collector,” was published by John Wiley & Sons in 2003. At a White House ceremony in 2007, President Bush presented Mr. Neuberger with a National Medal of Arts.

Like any collector, Mr. Neuberger rued the ones that got away. He remembered passing up a Grant Wood painting as well as refusing to pay $300 for a Jasper Johns in the late 1950s. One time a dealer offered him a Picasso sculpture for $1,500, but he declined because he was buying works only by American artists. “I was such a square that I stupidly didn’t buy it,” he told The New York Times in an interview in 2003.

Mr. Neuberger bought all his works himself, usually through dealers. And his taste ran toward the bold. “I liked adventuresome work that I often didn’t understand,” he told The Times as he was celebrating his 100th birthday. “For art to be very good it has to be over your head.”

But he said he enjoyed the challenge that the work posed to the viewer. “Those who understand the mysteries of art,” he said, “are made happier by doing so.”

Roy R. Neuberger Dies at 107; Applied a Stock Trader’s Acumen to Art,
NYT, 24.12.2010,






Andrew Wyeth,

Famed and Infamous Artist,

Dies at 91


January 17, 2009
The New York Times


Andrew Wyeth, one of the most popular and also most lambasted artists in the history of American art, a reclusive linchpin in a colorful family dynasty of artists whose precise realist views of hardscrabble rural life became icons of national culture and sparked endless debates about the nature of modern art, died Friday at his home in Chadds Ford. He was 91.

He died in his sleep, said Hillary Holland, a spokeswoman for the Brandywine River Museum, The Associated Press reported.

Wyeth gave America a prim and flinty view of Puritan rectitude, starchily sentimental, through parched gray and brown pictures of spooky frame houses, desiccated fields, deserted beaches, circling buzzards and craggy-faced New Englanders. A virtual Rorschach test for American culture during the better part of the last century, Wyeth split public opinion as vigorously as, and probably even more so than, any other American painter including the other modern Andy, Warhol, whose milieu was as urban as Wyeth’s was rural.

Because of his popularity, a bad sign to many art world insiders, Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject, so that arguments about his work extended beyond painting to societal splits along class, geographical and educational lines. One art historian, in response to a 1977 survey in Art News magazine about the most underrated and overrated artists of the century, nominated Wyeth for both categories.

Art critics mostly heaped abuse on his work, saying he gave realism a bad name. Supporters said he spoke to the silent majority who jammed his exhibitions. “In today’s scrambled-egg school of art, Wyeth stands out as a wild-eyed radical,” one journalist wrote in 1963, speaking for the masses. “For the people he paints wear their noses in the usual place, and the weathered barns and bare-limbed trees in his starkly simple landscapes are more real than reality.”

John Updike took up the same cause 25 years later: “In the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, the scorn was simple gallery politics; but resistance to Wyeth remains curiously stiff in an art world that has no trouble making room for Photorealists like Richard Estes and Philip Pearlstein and graduates of commercial art like Wayne Thibauld, Andy Warhol, and for that matter, Edward Hopper.”

A minority opinion within the art world always tried to reconcile Wyeth with mainstream modernism. It was occasionally argued, among other things, that his work had an abstract component and was linked to the gestural style of artists like Kline, de Kooning and Pollock, for whom Wyeth expressed general disdain. It is true that especially some of the early watercolors of the 30’s and 40’s, in a looser style, inclined toward abstraction. Contrary to what detractors and some supporters said, his style vacillated over the years, which suited neither those who wanted to say he stayed in a rut his whole career nor those who championed him as a model, as one art historian put it, “of continuity and permanence in the face of instabilities and uncertainties of modern life.”

Wyeth remained a polarizing figure even as the traditional 20th century distinction between abstraction and avant-gardism on the one hand and realism and conservatism on the other came to seem woefully inadequate and false. The only indisputable truth was that his art existed within a diverse American context that encompassed illustrators like his father, N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell, and also landscape painters like John Marin, Winslow Homer, Albert Bierstadt and Fitz Hugh Lane.

One picture encapsulated his fame. “Christina’s World” became an American icon like Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” or Whistler’s portrait of his mother or Emmanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Wyeth said he thought the work was “a complete flat tire” when he originally sent it off to the Macbeth Gallery in Manhattan in 1948. The Museum of Modern Art bought it for $1,800.

Wyeth had seen Christina Olson, crippled from the waist down, dragging herself across a Maine field, “like a crab on a New England shore,” he recalled. To him she was a model of dignity who refused to use a wheelchair and preferred to live in squalor rather than be beholden to anyone. It was dignity of a particularly dour, hardened, misanthropic sort, to which Wyeth throughout his career seemed to gravitate. Olson is shown in the picture from the back. She was 55 at the time. (She died 20 years later, having become a frequent subject in his art; her death made the national news thanks to Wyeth’s popularity.)

It is impossible to tell her age in the painting or what she looks like, the ambiguity adding to the overall mystery. So does the house, which Wyeth called a dry-bone skeleton of a building, a symbol during the Depression of the American pastoral dream in a minor key, the house’s whitewash of paint long gone, its shingles warped, the place isolated against a blank sky. As popular paintings go, “Christina’s World” is remarkable for being so dark and humorless, yet the public seemed to focus less on its gothic and morose quality and more on the way Wyeth painted each blade of grass, a mechanical and unremarkable kind of realism that was distinctive if only for going against the rising tide of abstraction in America in the late 1940’s.

“Oftentimes people will like a picture I paint because it’s maybe the sun hitting on the side of a window and they can enjoy it purely for itself,” Wyeth once said. “It reminds them of some afternoon. But for me, behind that picture could be a night of moonlight when I’ve been in some house in Maine, a night of some terrible tension, or I had this strange mood. Maybe it was Halloween. It’s all there, hiding behind the realistic side.”

He also said: “I think the great weakness in most of my work is subject matter. There’s too much of it.”

Nonetheless, the perception of Wyeth’s art as an alternative to abstraction accounted for a good portion of its enduring popularity during the mid-years of the last century. Added to this was his personality: self-theatricalizing (his biographer, Richard Meryman, described him as a “self-promoter” and a “closet showman”), Wyeth was not a bohemian, or at least he behaved contrary to the cliché of the bohemian artist. He was also a vocal patriot, which endeared him to some quarters during the Cold War and dovetailed with a general sense that his art evoked a mythic rural past embedded in the American psyche. “America’s absolutely it,” he once said.

Never mind that he painted mostly bleak portraits of a barren country: he stayed in the public imagination for nostalgic paintings like “Young America,” from 1950, of a boy cycling across a plain, which Wyeth in an interview in Time magazine related to “the plains of the Little Bighorn and Custer and Daniel Boone and a lot of other things.”

In later years, the press noted when he voted for Nixon and Reagan, not because he was a particularly outspoken partisan in his political views but because he differed in those views from other artists who were very outspoken at the time. Bucking the liberal art establishment, and making a fortune in the process, allowed him to play familiar American roles: the reactionary antiestablishmentarian and the free-thinking individualist who at the same time represented the vox populi. A favorite saying of his was: “What you have to do is break all the rules.” And as bohemianism itself became institutionalized, Wyeth encapsulated the artistic conservatives’ paradoxical idea of cultural disobedience through traditional behavior.

Wyeth’s admirers made a point of tracing his roots deep into the American past, to Nicholas Wyeth, who emigrated from England to Cambridge, Mass., in 1645. Wyeths died fighting in the French and Indian War. Andrew Newell Wyeth III was born on July 12, 1917, in Chadds Ford, Penn., the fifth child of Carolyn and Newell Convers Wyeth, the great illustrator. Famous for his blood-and-thunder magazine illustrations, posters, advertisements and illustrations for “Treasure Island,” “Robin Hood,” “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Robinson Crusoe,” which sold in the millions of copies, N.C. Wyeth became a role model, teacher and inevitable point of comparison in Andrew’s pursuit of his own career as an artist. The situation repeated itself a generation later when Jamie followed his father Andrew as an artist.

N.C. was a big man with tremendous energy, a kindly tyrant as a father, according to his children, who also remembered him for his flash temper. He created a hothouse environment in which Andrew, a frail boy who came down with one after another illness, was taught at home. His life was both sheltered and obsessively focused. He learned to be a proficient draftsman before he learned to read well. By his teens, he was doing illustrations under his father’s name. Nevertheless, he resisted the goal that his father had for him of becoming an illustrator.

“Pa kept me almost in a jail,” Wyeth recalled, “just kept me to himself in my own world, and he wouldn’t let anyone in on it. I was almost made to stay in Sherwood Forest with Maid Marion and the rebels.”

By the 1920’s, N.C. Wyeth had become a huge celebrity visited by other celebrities like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mary Pickford. The insularity, the familial competition, the theatrical personalities in and around the house, the atmosphere of commercial success and popular fame with its taint of artistic compromise — the presumption that realistic representation was intrinsically a virtue: all these factors shaped Andrew Wyeth’s life and evolution.

While he admired his father’s intensity, which he hoped to match, his imagery differed from his father’s. N.C.’s work was full of action and drama. Andrew’s work often had no people in it. He painted snowy landscapes under leaden skies, a barn with a door ajar, an abandoned house, tire tracks, a wedding tent in an empty field, fishermen’s nets hung to dry in the breeze: images of absence, silence, loss, abandonment, desolation but also expectation. One of his famous paintings was a God’s eye view of soaring turkey buzzards. Another showed an empty dory on a beach with a swallow swooping past.

He liked the idea that figures might be implicit in the image. He suggested that “Christina’s World” might have been better had he “painted just that field and have you sense Christina without her being there.” Occasionally, as when he painted Christina head-on, he turned her face into a kind of landscape, the weathered features being a topography.

His subjects were family, friends and his immediate surroundings in Pennsylvania and in Maine, the reflections of the circumscribed existence he chose for himself. Repeatedly he painted, besides Christina, his friend Walt Anderson; Ben Loper, a black handyman, who posed for “A Crow Flew By,” and Karl and Anna Kuerner, neighbors whose farm became the Pennsylvania counterpoint to the Olson’s place in Maine. Karl was an avid hunter and a former German machine-gunner in World War I who died in 1979, at 80. There were rumors that he was a Nazi sympathizer, which drove Wyeth during World War II to search the Kuerner house for a wireless spy transmitter.

Wyeth said he was intrigued by the combination of cozy domesticity at the Kuerners’ and the knowledge that Karl had gunned down soldiers. One portrait of Karl shows him cradling a rifle. It was done in a room at the house with a moose rack on the wall. Wyeth recalled that while he was painting Anna walking into the room to summon her husband to dinner, the barrel pointing directly at her. He quickly rubbed out the antlers and painted her in. Wyeth’s wife later titled it “America’s Sweethearts.”

Wyeth described several other portraits of Karl as surrogate portraits of N.C., whom he had never painted. His father died in 1945 with a grandson, Newell, the four-year-old son of N.C.’s son Nathaniel and daughter-in-law Caroline, when their car stalled on a railroad crossing. It was struck by a train, an event that Wyeth linked to such melancholic and metaphoric pictures as “Winter,” of 1945. “The German,” a portrait of Kuerner in a helmet, was painted in 1975 when he was dying of cancer. Wyeth said he was painting cold eyes “that have looked down a machine-gun barrel, squinted great distances,” adding, “those are my father’s lips — cruel.”

The young Wyeth’s hero, after his father, was Winslow Homer. He saw Homer’s watercolors in the early 1930’s. At the time he was painting laborers and landscapes in ways that related to American scene painters like Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry but increasingly he emulated Homer’s impressionistic watercolors. He moved to Maine, made a pilgrimage to Homer’s studio at Prout’s Neck, and the vigorous, shimmering watercolors he began to paint aspired to Homer’s fleeting effects of light and movement.

He first showed them at the Art Alliance of Philadelphia in 1936. His father picked the works for him. The next year, through an associate of his father’s, the Macbeth Gallery in New York gave him his first one-man show, which sold out at the opening. Wyeth made $500. At the same time he began to work in egg tempera, a technique that appealed to his fastidious, traditional and tight-lipped side, with its dry, chalky, ghostly effects. His father was skeptical about the medium, but Wyeth was encouraged to pursue it by a strong-willed 17-year-old woman he met in 1939 in Maine. Betsy James grew up picking nasturtiums from Christina Olson’s garden and playing in the Olson’s ice-house. On meeting Wyeth she took him immediately to see the Olson house. “I wanted to see if he would go in,” she recounted. “A lot of people wouldn’t — the smell, the odor — and this was a summer day.”

They were married in 1940 and Betsy became his business manager and as strong an influence on him as his father, with whom she often battled for Andrew’s favor. “I was part of a conspiracy to dethrone the king — the usurper of the throne,” she told Mr. Meryman, Wyeth’s biographer. “And I did. I put Andrew on the throne.” She oversaw the publication of illustrated books, started a reproduction business, produced a film documentary about Wyeth and created a Wyeth archive. Over the years, especially concerning the so-called Helga paintings, she also aggravated critics who thought she manipulated Wyeth’s image inappropriately, an impression underscored by remarks like, “I’m a director and I had the greatest actor in the world.”

After “Christina’s World” Wyeth’s fame skyrocketed. In 1949, Winston Churchill asked for Wyeth watercolors to decorate his room at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. Harvard gave Wyeth an honorary degree in 1955. He made the cover of Time in 1963 when President Johnson gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He painted portraits of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. A show of his work toured the country in 1966 and 1967, attracting huge crowds at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the Whitney Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. The Brandywine River Museum in Pennsylvania opened in 1971, its main attraction a collection of Wyeths, donated by Mrs. Wyeth. In 1976, Wyeth was given a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum.

Prices for his temperas escalated to $100,000 in 1962, triple that by 1980. And later during the 80’s, Japanese collectors were paying more than $1 million for a Wyeth.

In 1986, Leonard E. B. Andrews, a Pennsylvania publisher of newsletters, among them Swine Flu Litigation Reporter, made front-page news reportedly spending $6 million for 240 paintings by Wyeth that had never been exhibited. They were pictures of a woman, nude and clothed, named Helga Testorf. She was a sturdy blond married mother of four, a postwar refugee from Germany who worked as a housemaid to Wyeth’s eccentric sister Carolyn in Chadds Ford. Wyeth had been painting her in a room at the Kuerner house for more than a decade, without his wife’s knowledge, his wife said, before the works became known. When asked what the pictures were about, Mrs. Wyeth fueled prurient speculation by saying, “love.”

Big money, the implication of sex and Wyeth’s celebrity propelled Helga onto the covers of Time and Newsweek. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, which rarely organized shows of living artists, leapt to do an exhibition of the Helga pictures in 1987. The catalogue, with reproductions of Wyeth’s soft-core renditions of his recumbent model, became a Book-of-the-Month Club best seller.

Mr. Andrews quickly turned around and sold the works and a few others to a Japanese collector reportedly for $45 million, capitalizing on the publicity he had helped to orchestrate and on the National Gallery’s prestige. J. Carter Brown, the gallery’s director, having attracted hundreds of thousands of people to the show thanks to the hoopla, then professed to be shocked by Mr. Andrew’s profiteering.

At that point, Wyeth denied there was ever any sexual relationship. Mrs. Wyeth explained that “love” was meant only to suggest the creative frisson between artist and model and that in fact she had seen a few of the works before, so they did not entirely come as a surprise, while maintaining that most of them really had been kept secret from her — that they were her husband’s way of breaking loose from her and were genuinely upsetting to their marriage.

Critics lambasted the Wyeths and Mr. Andrews as hucksters. Wyeth, horrified, responded by saying the critics “were just looking to bop me on the head.”

Later Wyeth exhibitions were comparatively low key, and caused less of a fuss, perhaps also because an increasingly eclectic art world, which celebrated Norman Rockwell, found space to accommodate painters like Wyeth. In later years, he became a familiar sight around Chadds Ford, driving his beat-up GMC Suburban through the fields and riverbeds with a sketch pad on the seat. Menus at the inn in Chadds Ford, where he had his regular seat at a corner table, were decorated with his sketches of Washington and Lafayette.

He lost a lung, survived a near-fatal illness, and had a hip operation, but kept working, energized partly by disdain for his detractors. “I’m not going to let them disrupt my old age,” he said.

“I am an example of publicity — a great deal of it,” he also said. “I’m grateful because it gives me the freedom to go and try to do better. But I never had any great idea that these people are understanding what I’m doing. And they don’t.”

Wyeth added: “Let’s be sensible about this. I put a lot of things into my work which are very personal to me. So how can the public feel these things? I think most people get to my work through the back door. They’re attracted by the realism and they sense the emotion and the abstraction — and eventually, I hope, they get their own powerful emotion.”

Andrew Wyeth, Famed and Infamous Artist, Dies at 91,






Grace Hartigan, 86,

Abstract Painter,



November 18, 2008
The New York Times


Grace Hartigan, a second-generation Abstract Expressionist whose gestural, intensely colored paintings often incorporated images drawn from popular culture, leading some critics to see in them prefigurings of Pop Art, died on Saturday in Baltimore. She was 86.

The cause was liver failure, said Julian Weissman, a longtime dealer of hers.

Ms. Hartigan, a friend and disciple of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, subscribed to the Abstract Expressionist notion of the painterly brushstroke as existential act and cri de coeur but, like de Kooning, she never broke entirely with the figurative tradition. Determined to stake out her own artistic ground, she turned outward from the interior world sanctified by the Abstract Expressionists and embraced the visual swirl of contemporary American life.

In “Grand Street Brides” (1954), one of several early paintings that attracted the immediate attention of critics and curators, she depicted bridal-shop window mannequins in a composition based on Goya’s “Royal Family.” Later paintings incorporated images taken from coloring books, film, traditional paintings, store windows and advertising, all in the service of art that one critic described as “tensely personal.”

“Her art was marked by a willingness to employ a variety of styles in a modernist idiom, to go back and forth from art-historical references to pop-culture references to autobiographical material,” said Robert Saltonstall Mattison, the author of “Grace Hartigan: A Painter’s World” (1990).

Grace Hartigan was born in Newark in 1922 and grew up in rural New Jersey, the oldest of four children. Unable to afford college, she married early and, in a flight of romantic fancy, she and her husband, Bob Jachens, struck out for Alaska to live as pioneers. They made it no farther than California, where, with her husband’s encouragement, she took up painting.

“I didn’t choose painting,” she later told an interviewer. “It chose me. I didn’t have any talent. I just had genius.”

In the mid-1940’s she left her husband, placed their son, Jeffrey, in the care of his parents and moved back to Newark, where she trained in mechanical drafting and took painting lessons with Isaac Lane Muse. After moving to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1945, she became part of the postwar New York artistic scene, forming alliances with the Abstract Expressionist painters — although de Kooning reduced her to tears by telling her she completely misunderstood modern art — and poets like Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch.

Ms. Hartigan won fame early. In 1950, the critic Clement Greenberg and the art historian Meyer Schapiro included her in their “New Talent” show at the Kootz Gallery, and a one-woman exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery soon followed. “Persian Jacket,” an early painting, was bought for the Museum of Modern Art by Alfred Barr.

Barr and the Museum of Modern Art curator Dorothy Miller included her in two important shows, “12 Americans” in 1954 and “The New American Painting,” an exhibition that toured Europe in 1958 and 1959 and introduced Abstract Expressionism abroad. In 1958, Life magazine called her “the most celebrated of the young American women painters.”

After starting out as a purely abstract painter, Ms. Hartigan gradually introduced images into her work. It was O’Hara’s blending of high art and low art in his poetry that influenced her to cast far and wide for sources.

In 1949 she married the artist Harry Jackson, “not one of my more serious marriages,” she later said. The marriage was annulled after a year. In 1959 she married Robert Keene, a gallery owner, whom she divorced a year later. In 1960 she married Winston Price, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who collected modern art and had bought one of her paintings. After injecting himself with an experimental vaccine against encephalitis in 1969 and contracting spinal meningitis, he began a long descent into physical and mental illness that ended with his death in 1981.

Ms. Hartigan is survived by a brother, Arthur Hartigan of Huntington Beach, Calif.; a sister, Barbara Sesee of North Brunswick, N.J.; and three grandchildren. Her son, Jeffrey Jachens, died in 2006.

Ms. Hartigan’s move to Baltimore coincided with a drastic shift in artistic fashion, as Pop Art and Minimalism eclipsed Abstract Expressionism. Out of the spotlight, Ms. Hartigan embarked on what she later recalled as “an isolated creative life.” For decades she painted in a loft in a former department store and taught at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The college created a graduate school around her, the Hoffberger School of Painting, of which she became director in 1965. She taught at the school until retiring last year.

As historians and curators reassessed the history of postwar art, she experienced a resurgence of sorts. Her use of commercial imagery led her to be included in “Hand-Painted Pop,” a 1993 exhibition at the Whitney Museum, despite her loathing for the movement.

“Pop Art is not painting because painting must have content and emotion,” she said in the 1960’s. On the other hand, she reflected at the time of the Whitney show, “I’d much rather be a pioneer of a movement that I hate than the second generation of a movement that I love.”

Her work was exhibited as recently as May at the Jewish Museum in New York, in “Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning and American Art, 1940-1976.”

On an artistic path marked by twists and turns and restless experimentation, she maintained a fierce commitment to the modernist agenda and a belief in art’s near-magical powers.

“Now as before it is the vulgar and the vital and the possibility of its transformation into the beautiful which continues to challenge and fascinate me,” she told the reference work “World Artists: 1950-1980.”

“Or perhaps the subject of my art is like the definition of humor — emotional pain remembered in tranquillity.”

Grace Hartigan, 86, Abstract Painter, Dies, NYT, 18.11.2008,






Self-Taught Artist James Castle

Exhibit in Philly


October 17, 2008
Filed at 1:59 p.m. ET
The New York Times


PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The nature of ''outsider'' art may be debatable, but self-taught artist James Castle was an outsider of sorts from the day he was born.

Castle, subject of a new exhibit organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was born profoundly deaf and never learned to read, write, sign or speak. But he spoke volumes through art, which he created ceaselessly from early childhood until his death in 1977 at age 77.

''James Castle: A Retrospective,'' which opened this week and remains on display through Jan. 4, brings together more than 300 evocative drawings, handmade books, collages and sculptural pieces from 60 public and private collections. The first comprehensive museum exhibition of Castle, it will travel to Chicago and San Francisco in 2009.

An hourlong documentary, developed in tandem with the exhibit, tells Castle's story through his family, artists, historians and others.

''In comparison to other self-taught artists, he has this wide range of work -- it goes into quite conceptual stuff,'' curator Ann Percy said.

The exhibition shows a rich body of work that transcends what is commonly referred to as outsider art, a term often used to describe self-taught artists with physical or mental illness.

Born in Garden Valley, Idaho, Castle attended a school for the deaf for five years but resisted his instructors' efforts and was sent home at about age 15. Encouraged by his family, who describe him as gregarious and highly inquisitive, Castle took to making art inspired by the people and places of his past and present.

Other than occasional use of crayon and chalk, Castle preferred making his own ink of stove soot and saliva. His pens and brushes were sharpened sticks and wads of fabric. His color washes came from laundry bluing, makeup and crepe paper soaked in water. His canvas was scrap paper or cardboard, available in unending supply and variety from his family's general store and post office.

With those rudimentary art supplies, he developed expert technique and masterful composition and perspective, Percy said.

''He is tremendously skilled with these simple materials,'' she said. ''He was given paint and brushes but he preferred materials with a history.''

Many of Castle's soot-and-spit drawings depict his familiar Idaho farmscapes, but his entire body of work is broadly varied in style and subject matter. It also has elements used by many well-known 20th-century artists.

His themes include surrealistic portraits of human figures with chairs or animals as heads, hand-stitched books, collages and three-dimensional abstract assemblages of complex shapes torn and stitched onto contrasting backgrounds.

''All these devices are right with what's happening in the 20th century,'' Percy said, ''but presumably he's doing it himself, with no knowledge of the professional art world.''

Among the most striking are drawings of product packaging arranged in grids, logos in kaleidoscopic repetition, codelike ''calendars'' of Roman, Greek and Cyrillic letters, and text copied from newspaper headlines.

The Pop Art association is unavoidable in pieces such as ''SLASHING ALL PRICES,'' ''SHORT RIBS'' and ''Last Call!'' Their sophistication have led scholars to question whether Castle, unbeknownst to his family, knew some words.

''How do you make these pictures without knowing what the words mean? Nobody can quite crack the dilemma of what's going on here,'' Percy said. ''No one knows what he was up to -- or will.''

There is humor, contemplation, wistfulness, joy and a sense of freedom in Castle's work, which was shown (to his great delight) at regional art galleries in the 1950s and 1960s but began attracting national attention only a decade ago, Percy said.

''Whatever he was doing,'' she said, ''he was doing it before a lot of the people we know.''


On the Net:


    Self-Taught Artist James Castle Exhibit in Philly, NYT, 17.10.2008,






Robert Rauschenberg,

Titan of American Art,

Is Dead at 82


May 14, 2008
The New York Times


Robert Rauschenberg, the irrepressibly prolific American artist who time and again reshaped art in the 20th century, died Monday night. He was 82.

He died of heart failure, said Arne Glimcher, chairman of PaceWildenstein, the artist's gallery in Manhattan.

Mr. Rauschenberg’s work gave new meaning to sculpture. “Canyon,” for instance, consisted of a stuffed bald eagle attached to a canvas. “Monogram” was a stuffed Angora goat girdled by a tire atop a painted panel. “Bed” entailed a quilt, sheet and pillow, slathered with paint, as if soaked in blood, framed on the wall. They all became icons of postwar modernism.

A painter, photographer, printmaker, choreographer, onstage performer, set designer and, in later years, even a composer, Mr. Rauschenberg defied the traditional idea that an artist stick to one medium or style. He pushed, prodded and sometimes reconceived all the mediums in which he worked.

Building on the legacies of Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell and others, he thereby helped to obscure the lines between painting and sculpture, painting and photography, photography and printmaking, sculpture and photography, sculpture and dance, sculpture and technology, technology and performance art — not to mention between art and life.

Mr. Rauschenberg was also instrumental in pushing American art onward from Abstract Expressionism, the dominant movement when he emerged during the early 1950s. He became a transformative link between artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and those who came next, artists identified with Pop, Conceptualism, Happenings, Process Art and other new kinds of art in which he played a signal role.

No American artist, Jasper Johns once said, invented more than Mr. Rauschenberg. Mr. Johns, John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Mr. Rauschenberg, without sharing exactly the same point of view, collectively defined this new era of experimentation in American culture. Apropos of Mr. Rauschenberg, Cage once said, “Beauty is now underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look.”

Cage meant that people had come to see, through Mr. Rauschenberg’s efforts, not just that anything, including junk on the street, could be the stuff of art (this wasn’t itself new), but that it could be the stuff of an art aspiring to be beautiful — that there was a potential poetics even in consumer glut, which Mr. Rauschenberg celebrated. “I really feel sorry for people who think things like soap dishes or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly,” he once said, “because they’re surrounded by things like that all day long, and it must make them miserable.”

The remark reflected the optimism and generosity of spirit that Mr. Rauschenberg became known for. His work was likened to a Saint Bernard: uninhibited and mostly good-natured. He could be the same way in person. When he became rich, he gave millions of dollars to charities for women, children, medical research, other artists and Democratic politicians.

A brash, garrulous, hard-drinking, open-faced Southerner, he had a charm and peculiar Delphic felicity with language that nevertheless masked a complex personality and an equally multilayered emotional approach to art, which evolved as his stature did. Having begun by making quirky small-scale assemblages out of junk he found on the street in downtown Manhattan, he spent increasing time in his later years, after he had become successful and famous, on vast international, ambassadorial-like projects and collaborations.

Conceived in his immense studio on the island of Captiva, Fla., these projects were of enormous size and ambition; for many years he worked on a project that grew literally to exceed the length of its title, “The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece.” They generally did not live up to his earlier achievements. Even so, he maintained an equanimity toward the results. Protean productivity went along with risk, he believed, and risk sometimes meant failure.

The process — an improvisatory, counterintuitive way of doing things — was always what mattered most to him. “Screwing things up is a virtue,” he said when he was 74. “Being correct is never the point. I have an almost fanatically correct assistant, and by the time she re-spells my words and corrects my punctuation, I can’t read what I wrote. Being right can stop all the momentum of a very interesting idea.”

This attitude also inclined him, as the painter Jack Tworkov once said, “to see beyond what others have decided should be the limits of art.”

He “keeps asking the question — and it’s a terrific question philosophically, whether or not the results are great art,” Tworkov said, “and his asking it has influenced a whole generation of artists.”

That generation was the one that broke from Pollock and company. Mr. Rauschenberg maintained a deep but mischievous respect for these Abstract Expressionist heroes like de Kooning and Barnett Newman. Famously, he once painstakingly erased a drawing by de Kooning, an act both of destruction and devotion. Critics regarded the all-black paintings and all-red paintings he made in the early 1950s as spoofs of de Kooning and Pollock. The paintings had roiling, bubbled surfaces made from the torn scraps of newspapers embedded in paint.

But these were just as much homages as they were parodies. De Kooning, himself a parodist, had incorporated bits of newspapers as flotsam in pictures, and Pollock stuck cigarette butts to canvases.

Mr. Rauschenberg’s “Automobile Tire Print,” from the early 50’s — resulting from Cage’s driving an inked tire of a Model A Ford over 20 sheets of white paper — poked fun at Newman’s famous “zip” paintings.

At the same time, Mr. Rauschenberg was expanding on Newman’s art. The tire print transformed Newman’s zip — an abstract line against a monochrome backdrop with spiritual pretensions — into an artifact of everyday culture, which for Mr. Rauschenberg had its own transcendent dimension.

Mr. Rauschenberg frequently alluded to cars and spaceships, even incorporating real tires and bicycles, into his art. This partly reflected his own restless, peripatetic imagination. The idea of movement was logically extended when he took up dance and performance.

There was, beneath this, a darkness to many of his works, notwithstanding their irreverence. “Bed” was gothic. The all-black paintings were solemn and shuttered. The red paintings looked charred, with strips of fabric, akin to bandages, from which paint dripped, like blood. “Interview,” which resembled a cabinet or closet with a door, enclosing photographs of toreros, a pinup, a Michelangelo nude, a fork and a softball, suggested some black-humored encoded erotic message.

There were many other images of downtrodden and lonely people, rapt in thought; pictures of ancient frescoes, out of focus as if half remembered; photographs of forlorn, neglected places; bits and pieces of faraway places conveying a kind of nostalgia or remoteness. In bringing these things together, the art implied consolation.

Mr. Rauschenberg, who knew that not everybody found it easy to grasp the open-endedness of his work, once described to the writer Calvin Tomkins an encounter with a woman who had reacted skeptically to “Monogram” and “Bed” in his 1963 retrospective at the Jewish Museum, one of the events that secured Mr. Rauschenberg’s reputation: “To her, all my decisions seemed absolutely arbitrary — as though I could just as well have selected anything at all — and therefore there was no meaning, and that made it ugly.

“So I told her that if I were to describe the way she was dressed, it might sound very much like what she’d been saying. For instance, she had feathers on her head. And she had this enamel brooch with a picture of ‘The Blue Boy’ on it pinned to her breast. And around her neck she had on what she would call mink but what could also be described as the skin of a dead animal. Well, at first she was a little offended by this, I think, but then later she came back and said she was beginning to understand.”

Milton Ernest Rauschenberg was born on Oct. 22, 1925, in Port Arthur, Tex., a small refinery town where “it was very easy to grow up without ever seeing a painting,” he said. (In adulthood he renamed himself Robert.) His grandfather, a doctor who immigrated from Germany, had settled in Texas and married a full-blooded Cherokee. His father, Ernest, worked for a local utility company. The family lived so frugally that his mother, Dora, made him shirts out of scraps of fabric. Once she made herself a skirt out of the back of the suit that her younger brother was buried in. She didn’t want the material to go to waste.

For his high school graduation present, Mr. Rauschenberg wanted a ready-made shirt, his first. All this shaped his art eventually. A decade or so later he made history with his own assemblages of scraps and ready-mades: sculptures and music boxes made of packing crates, rocks and rope; and paintings like “Yoicks” sewn from fabric strips. He loved making something out of nothing.

He studied pharmacology briefly at the University of Texas in Austin before he was drafted during World War II. He saw his first paintings at the Huntington Gallery in California while stationed in San Diego as a medical technician in the Navy Hospital Corps, and it occurred to him that it was possible to become a painter.

He attended the Kansas City Art Institute on the GI Bill, traveled to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian, where he met Susan Weil, a young painter from New York who was to enter Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Having read about and come to admire Josef Albers, then the head of fine arts at Black Mountain, Mr. Rauschenberg saved enough money to join her.

Albers, a disciplinarian and strict modernist who, shocked by his student, later disavowed ever even knowing Mr. Rauschenberg, was on the other hand recalled by Mr. Rauschenberg as “a beautiful teacher and an impossible person.”

“He wasn’t easy to talk to, and I found his criticism so excruciating and so devastating that I never asked for it,” Mr. Rauschenberg added. “Years later, though, I’m still learning what he taught me.”

Among other things, he learned to maintain an open mind toward materials and new media, which Albers endorsed. Mr. Rauschenberg also gained a respect for the grid as an essential compositional organizing tool.

For a while, he moved between New York, where he studied at the Art Students League with Vaclav Vytlacil and Morris Kantor, and Black Mountain. During the spring of 1950, he and Ms. Weil married. The marriage lasted two years, during which they had a son, Christopher, who survives him along with Mr. Rauschenberg’s companion, Darryl Pottorf.

Mr. Rauschenberg experimented at the time with blueprint paper to produce silhouette negatives. The pictures were published in Life magazine in 1951; after that Mr. Rauschenberg was given his first solo show, at the influential Betty Parsons Gallery. “Everyone was trying to give up European aesthetics,” he recalled, meaning Picasso, the Surrealists and Matisse. “That was the struggle, and it was reflected in the fear of collectors and critics. John Cage said that fear in life is the fear of change. If I may add to that: nothing can avoid changing. It’s the only thing you can count on. Because life doesn’t have any other possibility, everyone can be measured by his adaptability to change.”

Cage acquired a painting from the Betty Parsons show. Aside from that, Mr. Rauschenberg sold absolutely nothing. Grateful, he agreed to host Cage at his loft. As Mr. Rauschenberg liked to tell the story, the only place to sit was on a mattress. Cage started to itch. He called Mr. Rauschenberg afterward to tell him that his mattress must have bedbugs and that, as Cage was going away for a while, Mr. Rauschenberg could stay at his place. Mr. Rauschenberg accepted the offer. In return, he decided he would touch up the painting Cage had acquired, as a kind of thank you, painting it all-black, being in the midst of his new, all-black period. When Cage returned, he was not amused.

“We both thought, ‘Here was somebody crazier than I am,’ ” Mr. Rauschenberg recalled. In 1952 Mr. Rauschenberg switched to all-white paintings, which were, in retrospect, spiritually akin to Cage’s famous silent piece of music, during which a pianist sits for 4 minutes and 33 seconds at the keyboard without making a sound. Mr. Rauschenberg’s paintings, like the music, in a sense became both Rorschachs and backdrops for ambient, random events like passing shadows. “I always thought of the white paintings as being not passive but very — well, hypersensitive,” he told an interviewer in 1963. “So that people could look at them and almost see how many people were in the room by the shadows cast, or what time of day it was.”

Kicking around Europe and North Africa with the artist Cy Twombly for a few months after that, he began to collect and assemble objects — bits of rope, stones, sticks, bones — which he showed to a dealer in Rome who exhibited them under the title “scatole contemplative,” or thought boxes. They were shown in Florence, where an outraged critic suggested that Mr. Rauschenberg toss them in the river. The artist thought that sounded like a good idea. So, saving a few scatole for himself and friends, he found a secluded spot on the Arno. “‘I took your advice,’’ he wrote to the critic.

Yet the scatole were crucial to his development, setting the stage for bigger, more elaborate assemblages like ‘“Monogram.’’ Back in New York, Mr. Rauschenberg showed his all-black and all-white paintings, then his erased de Kooning, which de Kooning had given to him to erase, a gesture that Mr. Rauschenberg found astonishingly generous, all of which enhanced his reputation as the new enfant terrible of the art world.

Around that time he also met Mr. Johns, then unknown, who had a studio in the same building on Pearl Street where Mr. Rauschenberg had a loft. The intimacy of their relationship over the next years, a consuming subject for later biographers and historians, coincided with the production by the two of them of some of the most groundbreaking works of postwar art.

In Mr. Rauschenberg’s famous words, they gave each other “permission to do what we wanted.’’ Living together in a succession of lofts in Lower Manhattan until the 1960’s, they exchanged ideas and supported themselves designing window displays for Tiffany & Company and Bonwit Teller under the collaborative pseudonym Matson Jones.

Along with the combines, Mr. Rauschenberg in that period developed a transfer drawing technique, dissolving printed images from newspapers and magazines with a solvent and then rubbing them onto paper with a pencil. The process, used for works like “34 Drawings for Dante’s ‘Inferno’,” created the impression of something fugitive, exquisite and secretive. Perhaps there was an autobiographical and sensual aspect to this. It let him combine images on a surface to a kind of surreal effect, which became the basis for works he made throughout his later career, when he adapted the transfer method to canvas.

Instrumental in this technical evolution back then was Tatyana Grossman, who encouraged and guided him as he made prints at her workshop, Universal Limited Art Editions, on Long Island; he also began a long relationship with the Gemini G.E.L. workshop in Los Angeles, producing lithographs like the 1970 “Stoned Moon” series, with its references to the moon landing. His association with theater and dance had already begun by the 1950s, when he began designing sets and costumes for Cunningham, Paul Taylor and Trisha Brown and for his own productions. In 1963, he choreographed “Pelican,’’ in which he performed on roller skates wearing a parachute and helmet of his design to the accompaniment of a taped collage of sound. This fascination both with collaboration and with mixing art with technologies dovetailed with yet another endeavor. With Billy Klüver, an engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories, he started Experiments in Art and Technology, a nonprofit foundation to foster collaborations between artists and scientists.

In 1964, he toured Europe and Asia with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the same year he exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and the Venice Biennale as the United States representative. That sealed his international renown. The Sunday Telegraph in London hailed him as “the most important American artist since Jackson Pollock.’’ He walked off with the international grand prize in Venice, the first modern American to win it. Mr. Rauschenberg had, almost despite himself, become an institution.

Major exhibitions followed every decade after that, including one at the Pompidou Center in Paris in 1981, another at the Guggenheim in 1997 and yet another that landed at the Metropolitan Museum in 2005.

When he wasn’t traveling in later years, he was in Captiva, a slender island off Florida’s Gulf coast, living at first in a modest beach house and working out of a small studio. In time he became Captiva’s biggest residential landowner while also maintaining a town house in Greenwich Village back in New York. He acquired the land in Captiva by buying adjacent properties from elderly neighbors whom he let live rent-free in their houses, which he maintained for them. He accumulated 35 acres, 1,000 feet of beach front and nine houses and studios, including a 17,000-square-foot two-story studio overlooking a swimming pool. He owned almost all that remained of tropical jungle on the island.

“I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop,” he said in an interview in the giant studio on Captiva in 2000. “At the time that I am bored or understand — I use those words interchangeably — another appetite has formed. A lot of people try to think up ideas. I’m not one. I’d rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can’t ignore.”

He added: “Anything you do will be an abuse of somebody else’s aesthetics. I think you’re born an artist or not. I couldn’t have learned it. And I hope I never do because knowing more only encourages your limitations.”

    Robert Rauschenberg, Titan of American Art, Is Dead at 82, NYT, 14.5.2008,







Is Painting Small the Next Big Thing?


April 19, 2008
The New York Times


Small may be beautiful, but where abstract painting is concerned, it is rarely fashionable. Big has held center stage at least since Jackson Pollock; the small abstractions of painters like Myron Stout, Forrest Bess and Steve Wheeler are mostly relegated to the wings, there to be considered eccentric or overly precious. Paul Klee was arguably the last genius of small abstraction to be granted full-fledged membership in the Modernist canon.

But what is marginalized can also become a form of dissent, a way to counter the prevailing arguments and sidestep their pitfalls. It is hard, for example, to work small and indulge in the mind-boggling degree of spectacle that afflicts so much art today. In a time of glut and waste on every front, compression and economy have undeniable appeal. And if a great work of art is one that is essential in all its parts, that has nothing superfluous or that can be subtracted, working small may improve the odds.

Small paintings of the abstract kind are having a moment right now in New York, with a luminous exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art spotlighting the wry, fastidiously wrought work of the German painter Tomma Abts; and PaceWildenstein presenting in Chelsea the latest efforts of James Siena and Thomas Nozkowski, two older American whizzes at undersize abstraction. Even post-war Modernism could be downsized a bit, with a show titled “Suitcase Paintings: Small Scale Abstract Expressionism” opening next month at Baruch College.

Four young painters who embrace smallness are now having solo shows — three of them New York debuts — that challenge the importance of the big canvas.

Small abstractions avoid the long realist tradition of painting as a window, and also the shorter, late-Modernist one of painting as a flat wall. Instead these smaller works align themselves with less vaunted (and sometimes less masculine) conventions: the printed page, illuminated manuscripts, icons and plaques.

And yet, as each of these four exhibitions demonstrates, abstraction allows a serious exploration of process despite the limited real estate. This expands the already considerable pleasure of looking at paintings that are not much larger than your head.

Scott Olson

The intently improvised geometries of Scott Olson’s paintings, seen in his New York debut at Taxter & Spengemann in Chelsea, evoke manuscript illumination filtered through Constructivism and other abstract styles. His colors have a slightly watered-down, retroactive subtlety; frequently they are translucent, to reveal the complex decisions and elaborate processes packed into each work.

Different physical supports (canvas, fiberboard, heavily gessoed wood) further complicate Mr. Olson’s processes. In “Untitled (N. 7)” and “Untitled (N. 32)” taping and retaping have left shards of sharp color that stand out like little ruins against absorbent grays and blacks. In “Untitled (N. 31)” and “Untitled (N. 8)” the forms are laid on in thin glazes with fine, varied textures, creating echo chambers of form that suggest faceted jewels, flattened out.

Mr. Olson clearly wants to make paintings whose smallness doesn’t rule out finding something new each time you look.

Katy Moran

The little paintings in Katy Moran’s first New York show, at Andrea Rosen in Chelsea, plug into another tradition — the plein-air oil sketch. But she turns her canvas, which always measures 15 by 18 inches, into a very tiny arena in which to act. Her spirited brush work creates a sense of gesture and movement that is almost comical, as if a Lilliputian artist of overweaning ambition were rushing about, dispensing profusions of feathery curls and slashing lines of paint.

These marks frequently add up to little Rococo set-tos that imply rushing figures themselves — scuffles and skirmishes between beings moving too fast to be identified. They may be humans (see the horizontal roll of “Meeting in Love”), birds (the confrontation of “Pecking Order”) or some other animal entirely (“Orton”). Or they may be nothing of the sort.

The twin brown-on-mauve peaks of “Hoopers Retreat” suggest a cobbled-together shanty, with Hooper as the pink dot at its center. Sometimes hints of seascapes or still lifes emerge from the confusion.

Ms. Moran’s colors, on the other hand, are reserved and shot through with light: a wide range of delicate grays, mauvish browns, yellowish tans and a variety of whites that keep the painting action distinct. Their goal seems to be to lend an air of dignity to the proceedings, but it is the tumult, hanging in the air, that prevails.

Matt Connors

Colors brighten and geometry returns in “Enjambment,” Matt Connors’s enticing show at the downtown gallery Canada, where his boxy compositions are constructed from planks or ribbons of contrasting hues.

Mr. Connors’s work can at times venture toward mid-size, at least relative to the other three artists. “Third Wave Cubism (no touching),” for example, measures 34 by 36 inches — but it is an exception. As its title implies, Modernism is much on Mr. Connors’s mind. The grid, the monochrome, the minimal, the concentric and the parallel are all given a nod, but also a wink. But when plentiful, his colors are festive and a little cheap-looking.

There’s a cheerful secondhandness here, a sense of vague appropriations and unnamed sources at work. And abstraction is considered as a kind of object. An untitled work floats a green-bordered black square on raw linen: it’s not so much an abstract painting as a painting of one.

And smallness doesn’t rule out installation art. The motifs of “Reading Room” are actually painted on two different canvases, a smaller one leaning against a slightly larger one, both sitting on a narrow shelf built into the wall. Another work, whose dark veils evoke Color Field painting, hangs on a black rectangle painted directly on the wall.

Michaela Eichwald

Michaela Eichwald is from Cologne, Germany, where abstract painting has been in a fruitfully deviant mode for nearly two decades, thanks to artists like Jutta Koether, Michael Krebber and Kai Althoff. Ms. Eichwald’s New York debut at Reena Spaulings Fine Art downtown is titled “Ergriffenes Dasein: Artist Writer Mentalist.” (The gallery’s release translates the first phrase as “Moved by Life.”)

Ms. Eichwald’s work continues the deviation but pushes it in a direction of her own choosing. There’s a happenstance quality to both her paintings and the handful of small sculptures she is showing: they often incorporate found objects or images and exude an outsider air. Lacquer is frequent material, which means that the colors are rich and that the surfaces tend toward shiny, bringing to mind ceramic plaques or cloisonné.

Ms. Eichwald’s imagery veers toward a playful, vaguely figurative expressionism. The mostly purple, crackled surface of “N.Y.C.” harbors a face with big turquoise teeth. It might almost be a plate by Picasso. Certain features — like the brown blob touched with red in “Struck” or the capital A and calligraphylike tree of “A-Abre,” framed in pink, red and blue — qualify as neo-Expressionism, but they add another layer of self-awareness by shrinking the style to a manageable size. It exemplifies one of the many joys of small.

    Is Painting Small the Next Big Thing?, NYT, 19.4.2008,






Conceptualist pioneer Sol LeWitt

dies aged 78


Published: 10 April 2007
The Independent
By Sadie Gray


Sol LeWitt, the American artist who helped establish Minimalism and Conceptualism as major movements of the post-war era, died yesterday in New York after complications from cancer. He was 78.

LeWitt was the opposite of the celebrity artist and tried to suppress media interest by refusing to pose for pictures or give interviews. He turned down awards and particularly disliked having his photograph published in newspaper and magazines.

LeWitt's deceptively simple geometric sculptures and drawings and brightly coloured wall paintings established him as a high priest of modern American art. Much of his art was based on variations of spheres, triangles and other basic geometric shapes.

His sculptures were often based around rows or stacks of open, connected cubes and used precise, measured formats and carefully developed variations.

He gave them titles such as Modular Wall Structure and Double Modular Cube, and some were huge towers or pyramids that were displayed outdoors.

Joanna Marsh, a curator at the Wadsworth Athen-eum in Hartford, Connecticut, where LeWitt was born in 1928, said: "It is not an overstatement to say that he was one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century. His work has had a profound influence on future generations of artists and will continue to have an impact."

In the catalogue for his 1978 retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art, the curator of drawings Bernice Rose said his drawing directly onto museum or gallery walls "was as important for drawing as Pollock's use of the drip technique had been for painting in the 1950s".

LeWitt was born to Russian immigrants. His father died when he was aged six and he was brought up by his mother and an aunt.

He completed an art program at Syracuse University in 1949, telling a reporter years later that he studied art because he "didn't know what else to do". LeWitt then spent two years in the US Army during the Korean War but he never went into battle.

In 1953 he moved to New York, just as abstract expressionism was gaining public recognition. He held a variety of short-term jobs, including working as a night receptionist at the Museum of Modern Art.

His first solo art show was at the John Daniels Gallery in New York in 1965 and he taught at several New York art schools. By the mid-1960s, LeWitt had begun to experiment with wall drawings, an idea which was considered radical because he knew they would eventually be painted over.

The drawing was done by a team of assistants following instructions based on an idea outlined in a diagrammatic sketch.

"An architect doesn't go off with a shovel and dig his foundation and lay every brick. He's still an artist," said LeWitt, explaining why he did not do them himself.

"When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."

He produced some 1,200 wall drawings throughout his career. The idea behind them was to merge the drawing with the architecture, and call into question ideas about permanence, value and conservation.

But his first wall drawing, part of a 1968 display in New York, was so striking that the gallery owner could not bring herself to have it painted over as LeWitt had intended. She insisted that he did it himself, which he did without hesitation.

LeWitt lived for much of the 1980s in Spoleto, Italy, before returning to Connecticut in the late 1980s. He is survived by a wife, Carol, and two daughters.

    Conceptualist pioneer Sol LeWitt dies aged 78, I, 10.4.2007,






King Cole,

a Grimy Old Soul,

Heads for a Cleaning


January 17, 2007
The New York Times


Once upon a time, the 30-foot-wide mural shone brilliantly, and its fairytale king stood forth colorfully, flanked by knights, musicians and assorted minions. Now, the painting suffers from cracking and from a scattering of dents, even splashes of alcohol.

Worse, it is coated with a decades-old layer of brownish grime and nicotine residue that has not only hid the artist’s technical mastery, but has also obscured a century-old joke embedded within the image.

And so, yesterday, Old King Cole descended from his storied perch at the St. Regis Hotel along with his pipe and his bowl and his fiddlers three. And he seemed none the less merry for the experience.

The 1906 oil painting by Maxfield Parrish, from which the hotel’s King Cole Bar took its name, was removed from its esteemed location on the barroom wall for its first extensive restoration since the 1950’s, when its cleaning and repair were overseen by the artist himself.

After a six-person crew toiled for hours to remove the 8-foot-high painting — rendered on three 10-foot-wide panels — a full-size temporary reproduction was hoisted into place, and the bar — where the bloody mary was first introduced to New York in the 1920’s — was able to take drink orders by the stroke of noon.

“The painting has had a place in New York history for a hundred years, and people tell us they had their first legal drink before it, or that it was where they first proposed,” said Scott Geraghty, the hotel’s general manager. “Now, without cigar and cigarette smoking, we thought it was just the time for a good cleaning.”

The $100,000 restoration of the painting is part of a nearly completed $400,000 makeover of the bar, a backdrop for scenes in “The Devil Wears Prada” and “The First Wives Club.”

The upgrade is part of a grander 18-month, $35 million refurbishment of the hotel.

The mural’s dents will be mended and the grime removed along with “some accidental bartender splashes through the years,” said the restorer, Harriet Irgang of Rustin Levenson Art Conservation Associates.

The king was trucked to a studio in Chelsea, where he will be ministered to for the next six weeks or so before his grand restitution.

“This is a painting of civic significance for New York, and needs to be preserved for future generations,” said Eric P. Widing, head of the American paintings department at Christie’s auction house, which advised the hotel on the mural’s worth ($12 million) and its conservation issues. “It’s always been a touchstone object, and has been almost public furniture for New Yorkers.”

The painting was commissioned for John Jacob Astor as an adornment for the hotel he financed, the Knickerbocker, at the southeast corner of Broadway and 42d Street. Parrish’s Quaker upbringing made him reluctant to paint a mural for a bar, Mr. Geraghty said, but the artist was offered a kingly sum for 1906, $5,000, to complete it.

However, he added, Astor felt that for that amount of money he should be portrayed as the king himself, and Parrish acquiesced. After the Knickerbocker was converted to an office building, the painting was moved to the St. Regis, at 2 East 55th Street, in the mid-1930’s, Mr. Widing said. It became the centerpiece of the bar, which already had a claim to fame: the bloody mary, with its basic mélange of vodka, tomato juice and pepper, is believed to have been brought to the St. Regis by Fernand Petiot, who invented it in Paris.

The painting became a signature feature of the hotel that would later be inhabited by Ernest Hemingway and Marlene Dietrich, and where Salvador Dalí stayed for a decade. Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio lived there, Mr. Geraghty said, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono took up residence in 1971 before moving to the Dakota.

“This painting launched his career,” Mr. Widing said of Parrish (1870-1966), an artist and illustrator whose position, thanks to the painting, “became assured as America’s most popular illustrator up to that time.” Mr. Widing said he believed King Cole’s face was that of Astor.

Parrish’s works have been newly appreciated during the last decade, he said, when some of his paintings have sold for millions.

Through decades of mixed-drink conviviality, bartenders have shared with their regulars a secret of the painting that is considerably less elegant than the hotel, the bar or indeed the mural itself. The legend, repeated by generations of bar patrons, is that the king’s sheepish grin, and the startled reactions of his knights, were occasioned by the flatulence of the monarch.

Some versions of the this tale, passed on through the decades, hold that there was a satirical competition among the well-known artists of Parrish’s era to find a way to depict this condition in a painting, a contest that Parrish is reputed to have won. Whatever the truth of that version, “it’s a good story, and part of the legend of the painting,” Mr. Widing said.

The full-color reproduction that has replaced the painting — applied to canvas using a digital photographic process, and stretched over wood — faithfully depicts the original’s brownish tinge, its cracks and even its dents. “After all,” Mr. Geraghty said, “we could not leave the wall blank.”

King Cole, a Grimy Old Soul, Heads for a Cleaning, NYT, 17.1.2007,






Young graffiti artist hit,

killed by N.Y. train


Updated 1/6/2007
6:49 PM ET
USA Today


NEW YORK (AP) — A 13-year-old boy had just finished painting graffiti near railroad tracks he was struck and killed by a commuter train, authorities and friends said Saturday.

A Long Island Rail Road train hit Ari Kraft between stations in Queens during the evening rush hour Friday, police said. The city's medical examiner said he died of "blunt impact injuries to the head, torso and extremities."

The teen and three pals had been painting on the elevated tracks near a station, his friends said. As he crossed the tracks to head home, the train, carrying about 1,000 people, slammed into him. Train service was suspended for hours.

Friends said he often created large murals with inscriptions like "Remember 9/11" — under the tag name "Corporal."

Young graffiti artist hit, killed by N.Y. train, AP, 6.1.2007,
artist-train_x.htm - broken link


















William Utermohlen


©2006 Galerie Beckel-Odille-Boicos


Self-Portraits Chronicle a Descent Into Alzheimer’s


24 October 2006
















Self-Portraits Chronicle

a Descent Into Alzheimer’s

October 24, 2006
The New York Times


When he learned in 1995 that he had Alzheimer’s disease, William Utermohlen, an American artist in London, responded in characteristic fashion.

“From that moment on, he began to try to understand it by painting himself,” said his wife, Patricia Utermohlen, a professor of art history.

Mr. Utermohlen’s self-portraits are being exhibited through Friday at the New York Academy of Medicine in Manhattan, by the Alzheimer’s Association.

The paintings starkly reveal the artist’s descent into dementia, as his world began to tilt, perspectives flattened and details melted away. His wife and his doctors said he seemed aware at times that technical flaws had crept into his work, but he could not figure out how to correct them.

“The spatial sense kept slipping, and I think he knew,” Professor Utermohlen said. A psychoanalyst wrote that the paintings depicted sadness, anxiety, resignation and feelings of feebleness and shame.

Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies artistic creativity in people with brain diseases, said some patients could still produce powerful work.

“Alzheimer’s affects the right parietal lobe in particular, which is important for visualizing something internally and then putting it onto a canvas,” Dr. Miller said. “The art becomes more abstract, the images are blurrier and vague, more surrealistic. Sometimes there’s use of beautiful, subtle color.”

Mr. Utermohlen, 73, is now in a nursing home. He no longer paints.

His work has been exhibited in several cities, and more shows are planned. The interest in his paintings as a chronicle of illness is bittersweet, his wife said, because it has outstripped the recognition he received even at the height of his career.

“He’s always been an outsider,” she said. “He was never quite in the same time slot with what was going on. Everybody was doing Abstract Expressionist, and there he was, solemnly drawing the figure. It’s so strange to be known for something you’re doing when you’re rather ill.”

Dr. Miller, Professor Utermohlen and others will lecture about art and Alzheimer’s on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the New York Academy of Medicine. For more information: (212) 822-7272; www.nyam.org/events .

Self-Portraits Chronicle a Descent Into Alzheimer’s, NYT, 24.10.2006,






In Prison for Life,

He Turns M&M’s

Into an Art Form


July 21, 2006
The New York Times


CRESCENT CITY, Calif., July 16 — The morning after the opening of a show of his recent work, the artist was in his studio, a concrete cell in the Pelican Bay State Prison, where he is serving three life terms in solitary confinement for murder and for slashing a prison guard’s throat. He was checking his supplies, taking inventory.

His paintbrush, made of plastic wrap, foil and strands of his own hair, lay on the lower bunk. So did his paints, leached from M&M’s and sitting in little white plastic containers that once held packets of grape jelly. Next to them was a stack of the blank postcards that are his canvases.

On Friday night, more than 500 people had jammed into a gallery in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to assess 25 of Donny Johnson’s small, intense works. There was sangria, as well as big bowls of M&M’s. By evening’s end, six of the postcard paintings had sold, for $500 each.

“They are made with these chocolate pigments,” said Adolfo Caballero, an owner of the gallery. “He has really created a new kind of technique, because he doesn’t have access to conventional materials.”

Most prison art, the kind created in crafts classes and sold in gift shops, tends toward kitsch and caricature. But there are no classes or art supplies where Mr. Johnson is held, and his powerful, largely abstract paintings are something different. They reflect the sensory deprivation and diminished depth perception of someone held in a windowless cell for almost two decades.

They pulse, some artists on the outside say, with memory and longing and madness. Others are less impressed, saying the works are interesting examples of human ingenuity but fall short of real artistic achievement.

Mr. Johnson, 46, has something of the middle-aged biker about him, with long slicked-back hair, unfortunate tattoos, a growing paunch and an unruly beard that puts one in mind of ZZ Top or a garden gnome.

He was in a changeable mood on Saturday, eager to hear about the opening but also aware that it was, in the scheme of his life and future, a small thing. He spoke with easygoing and sometimes lighthearted candor, punctuated with wariness and flashes of despair. He declined to discuss the details of his crimes, though he admitted to a past attraction to drugs and violence.

When the conversation turned to his paintings, though, he held his own in the art-speak department. “I love myth and chaos and space,” he said.

Mr. Johnson was 20 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1980, drawing a sentence of 15 years to life. According to court papers, he and two friends had stabbed an acquaintance to death after a party in San Jose, in a dispute over the sale of cigarettes laced with PCP.

Nine years later Mr. Johnson was charged with the nearly fatal stabbing of one guard and with assaulting another. That case went to trial, with Mr. Johnson saying he had been startled and, thinking he was under attack by a gang member, had acted in what he thought was self-defense. He was convicted and sentenced to two additional terms of nine years to life. His chances of ever being paroled, he said, are small.

The prison here is an expanse of grim concrete bunkers, spread out over 275 acres not far from the California coast and the Oregon border. It is as sterile and monochrome as Mr. Johnson’s paintings are bursting out with color.

About 3,300 of the state’s most dangerous prisoners are held at Pelican Bay, which is among the toughest prisons in the nation. But even here there are varying levels of security. The problem prisoners, including Mr. Johnson, are held in the Security Housing Unit, which everyone calls the SHU (pronounced like “shoe”).

He lives in an 8-by-12-foot concrete cell. His meals are pushed through a slot in the door. Except for the odd visitor, with whom he talks through thick plexiglass, he interacts with no one. He has not touched another person in 17 years.

Asked about his circumstances growing up, Mr. Johnson assessed his current state instead. “I am of the dungeon class,” he said.

In “Donny: Life of a Lifer,” a short book he wrote in 2001, Mr. Johnson said the lack of sensory stimulation and human contact in the SHU was a form of torture. “I’d cut off my right arm,” he wrote, “to be able to hold my mother.”

His art, he said on Saturday, is a solace, an obsession and a burden.

He orders his supplies from the prison commissary once a month. The M&M’s are 60 cents a pack, and he gets 10 packs at a time. He puts from one to five of the candies in each of the jelly containers, drizzles a little water in and later fishes out the chocolate cores, leaving liquid of various colors, which get stronger if they sit for a couple of days.

He has tried other candy, but there are perils. “It’s the same process with Skittles,” he said, “but I end up eating them all.”

Sometimes he experiments with other materials. “Grape Kool-Aid in red M&M color makes a kind of purple,” he wrote in a letter to a reporter not long ago. “Coffee mixed with yellow makes a light brown. Tropical punch Kool-Aid granules can be made into a syrup and used as a paint wash of sorts. But it’s a bear to work with and it’s super-sticky and it never dries.”

And there are frustrations. “If lint gets in a piece, I feel like screaming,” he wrote.

While prison officials will not allow Mr. Johnson to have conventional art supplies or much of anything else in the SHU, they have not interfered with his work or stopped him from mailing his paintings to his family and friends. The prison will not let him keep the proceeds from his sales, Mr. Johnson said, and he intends to donate the money to the Pelican Bay Prison Project, a nonprofit group that will use it to help the children of prisoners.

On the outside, the paintings have drawn admiration and even awe.

“It has the vibration of color you find in van Gogh’s work,” said Mr. Caballero, the Mexican gallery owner. “Sometimes it looks like Motherwell. Sometimes it looks like de Kooning. And there is also something of Munch.”

Stephen A. Kurtz, a semiretired psychoanalyst who has worked with prisoners and helped arrange the show in Mexico, said he generally had no use for their art.

“The prison art I’ve seen is very stereotypical: women with breasts out to the next block and beefy guys with them,” Mr. Kurtz said.

Mr. Johnson’s work, he said, is a different matter. “It reminds me,” he said, “of Pollock in the early-to-mid-1940’s, when he was in Jungian analysis.”

Mr. Johnson’s circumstances and materials may influence viewers’ perceptions, and not everyone is convinced that he is the real thing.

“I’m not really responding to it aesthetically,” said Brooke Anderson, director and curator of the Contemporary Center at the American Folk Art Museum, “but I’m totally responding from its place of origin. It kind of reminds me of spin art. It feels very psychedelic, like the 1970’s hippie culture.”

Mr. Johnson is working in a rich tradition of art produced in prisons and asylums, Ms. Anderson continued.

“Time and the availability of time,” she said, “has an awful lot to do with an explosion of expression.”

In Prison for Life, He Turns M&M’s Into an Art Form, NYT, 21.7.2006,






In South Africa,

the Return of the Repressed:

Art by Apartheid-Era Black Artists

Comes Home


May 8, 2006
The New York Times


PRETORIA, South Africa — In 1975 a white Australian diplomat named Diane Johnstone invited Michael Maapola, a black South African artist, to her apartment here to show his drawings to her guests. Within days Ms. Johnstone was evicted and her apartment ransacked. But what happened to Mr. Maapola, whose drawings of police clubbings and prison scenes recorded the ugliness of apartheid at its peak, was worse.

For years he was harassed. In 1988 he was imprisoned. In 1989 an arsonist torched his studio in Hammanskraal, a township north of Pretoria. Years of paintings and sculpture went up in smoke.

So it was more than a bit remarkable that a selection of Mr. Maapola's apartheid-era drawings were exhibited in Pretoria in 2004 and in Johannesburg in 2005.

"I thought that they had gone forever," Mr. Maapola, in his Hammanskraal studio, said of his work from that time. Now 57, he is an established artist.

Some of it survived because of Ms. Johnstone and like-minded foreigners. Decades ago they bought his works and those of other black township artists who could not freely exhibit. Now, in an unusual and well-orchestrated burst of generosity, these collectors are giving the art back to South Africa, helping to restore an important part of the country's historical record.

The returns come courtesy of the Ifa Lethu Foundation, a nonprofit group first set up in 2004 under the name Homecoming Foundation to retrieve apartheid-era art and memorabilia from around the world. The organization has brought in about 50 objects, mostly artworks, and hopes to retrieve hundreds more, primarily from Western diplomats, journalists and businesspeople who removed them from South Africa from the 1960's to the 80's.

Ifa Lethu — Xhosa for "Heritage" — has identified about 120 artists whose works it wants to locate and display, as well as a number of objects, from paintings to oral histories and films, Narissa Ramdhani, the foundation's chief executive, said in an interview here.

Some of these works will be placed in a mobile exhibition that will travel, along with apartheid-era artists, to remote villages. Eventually the art will be placed with exhibitors selected to make it broadly available to ordinary South Africans.

"We don't even know what left the country," Ms. Ramdhani said. "It left at such turbulent times that there was no process in place to keep track. Some of it may not have great artistic value. But they have great historical value, because they give us a glimpse of life in the townships in the 70's and 80's, and even the 60's."

Such glimpses are less common here than one might think. Black artists' work was rarely exhibited under apartheid, and politically minded artists like Mr. Maapola were persecuted. Much township art and other artifacts were destroyed by security forces or spirited away by foreigners, leaving what Ms. Ramdhani calls a yawning gap in the nation's cultural legacy.

Both South Africa's government and its dominant political party, the African National Congress, have programs to recover historic memorabilia. Ifa Lethu, however, is private and relies entirely on the generosity of foreigners for donations of artworks and other objects. Potential donors' only reward is the knowledge that with their gifts, many South Africans will be seeing blacks' contemporary views of apartheid and township life for the first time.

Although they are now being hailed as saviors of a critical part of South Africa's collective history, some of the foreign collectors said their motives were less altruistic at the time.

"We didn't take the art to save it," Bruce Haigh, a writer and retired Australian diplomat who served in Pretoria after Ms. Johnstone, said in a telephone interview. "We purchased it because we thought it was good. Had we been smarter, we would have grabbed everything we laid our hands on, because I didn't know how much the security police were wrecking."

How he, Ms. Johnstone and a handful of American diplomats helped save township art in the 1970's is a story that leads directly to Ifa Lethu.

Ms. Johnstone, a third secretary in the Australian Embassy, came to know township artists in 1973 through Jock Covey, then a consular officer at the United States Embassy. Mr. Covey and an American cultural officer, Frank Strovas, had been bringing black musicians to the embassy from nearby townships for regular jazz sessions.

"Many of the musicians were also artists, so I eventually offered to show some of their works at the concerts," Mr. Covey, now an executive at Bechtel Corporation in San Francisco, recalled in an e-mail message. The works sold well, so he and James Baker, the embassy's first African-American diplomat, staged an art show at Mr. Baker's home.

The show was a sellout, and a boon to the artists: a painting or drawing might fetch $70, enough to sustain an artist's family as well as the purchase of paints and brushes.

By the time Mr. Covey left in 1974, the Americans had held several shows and the artists had built a Western clientele. He asked Ms. Johnstone to carry on with the exhibitions.

"I felt it was a wonderful opportunity," Ms. Johnstone said. "And because these people trusted Jock, they trusted me." So at her apartment in Sunnyside, a Pretoria suburb, she staged another show, with one difference: a promise that the art would someday be openly displayed in their homeland.

"These works of art were going to be walking out of the country, never to be seen again: a whole body of art, marvelous works," she said. "So I said to the artists at the end of the exhibition, 'I undertake to you to make sure that these works are returned to a public institution so they can be seen by all South Africans.' "

The show provoked her neighbors and South Africa's security establishment. Ms. Johnstone's landlord evicted her, but before she could move, unidentified white men ransacked her place, telling her roommate that it contained "something very dangerous."

Still, the art sales continued. After Ms. Johnstone left the country in 1976, Mr. Haigh carried on through one of apartheid's bleakest periods. Mr. Maapola lived and worked in an outbuilding at Mr. Haigh's home for a year.

Noting that 1978 and '79 "were very hard years" in South Africa, Mr. Haigh said, "You often didn't ask the artists to come to you. You'd go and pick them up and drive them to your house," knowing that diplomats' automobiles could not be searched.

With apartheid's end in 1994, Ms. Johnstone said, "I decided the time had come to fulfill my commitment." In 2003, after much negotiation, her collection of 32 works was entrusted to the Pretoria Art Museum. Mr. Haigh's 17 pieces followed last year.

The gifts inspired the creation of Ifa Lethu, whose chairwoman, Mamphela Ramphele, was the partner of Steve Biko, the black rights advocate murdered by the police in 1977.

The foundation has since won financing from South Africa's government, the Australian mining company BHP Billiton and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, among others. It has enlisted former diplomats and others in the United States and Europe to lobby for the return of art and historical items.

At a South African factory, Goodyear is building the mobile art exhibition, and efforts are under way in several countries to return other collections to Pretoria.

Of the return of the Johnstone and Haigh collections, which include his works, Mr. Maapola had but two words: "Exciting, exciting." For all he endured under apartheid, many other black artists were less fortunate. Some fell to alcoholism or the stress of persecution. Thami Mnyele, a graphic artist from Alexandra, a Johannesburg township, whose works documented apartheid's abuses, met a more violent end.

Mr. Mnyele went into exile in Botswana in 1978. In June 1985 South African soldiers raided his home there and shot him to death. Then they turned their guns on his art.

Ms. Ramdhani, who lived in Connecticut before returning in 1993 to set up the archives of the African National Congress, remembers visiting a New York bank's boardroom in the early 1980's and seeing "a beautiful piece of art" depicting an anti-apartheid protest. It was by Mr. Mnyele.

"I told them, 'One day we're going to take that back to South Africa,' " she said.

Ifa Lethu hopes to enter negotiations soon to do just that.

    In South Africa, the Return of the Repressed:
    Art by Apartheid-Era Black Artists Comes Home, NYT, 8.5.2006,    






Lucian Freud:

The eyes of the world


16 April 2005

The Independent

By Richard Cork


As a boy, Lucian Freud experienced a sudden, irreversible uprooting. Determined to escape the Nazis in 1933, his family moved to London from his native Berlin. And even now, more than 70 years later, his paintings still seem to reflect this childhood sense of dislocation.

The people he depicts never occupy surroundings they can call their own. Uprooting them from a domestic context, he transplants his sitters to a bare room somewhere in the metropolis. Here, among dilapidated furniture, unruly plants, paint-encrusted walls and a remorselessly expanding heap of smeared rags, they submit themselves to his prolonged, uncompromising gaze. Once he has settled on the object of his scrutiny, nothing deflects him from investigating it with the zealous curiosity of a detective.

Freud's latest canvas, now on show at the National Portrait Gallery, is no exception. Even though it is a self-portrait, the octogenarian painter appears to have been startled by an intruder. The painting's wry title, The Painter Surprised by a Naked Admirer, hints at self-mockery. But it also reflects Freud's belief that his studio in north London is a place where anything can happen - including the inexplicable advent of a nude woman sitting on the floor and grabbing his leg. Is he trapped by the anonymous invader, or beguiled by her seductive power? We do not know, and Freud clearly relishes the painting's ability to tantalise us with its ambiguity.

Among those ambiguities is the question of who the model is. Speculation has been rife this week, and has included Alexandra Williams-Wynn, 32, a sculptor and the daughter of a Welsh baronet; Emily Bearn, 31, a former lover of Freud who posed for Naked Portrait, shown at Tate Britain in 2002; and Verity Brown, 28, who works at Momart, the art transport firm.

The only certainty lies in his fascination with the profound feeling of disquiet found in all his work. Like his grandfather Sigmund before him, Lucian invites men, women and children to enter his sanctum. Many of the figures he has painted are seated or stretched out, and seem to be absorbed in private thoughts. But there is nothing relaxed about these reclining dreamers. They still appear tense and expectant, uneasily aware of the observer who tries so tirelessly to define their essential isolation.

Unlike his grandfather, though, Freud refuses to stay within the prescribed limits of a psychoanalyst's session. Sigmund would never have encouraged his patients to strip off and expose their blanched, defenceless flesh. Nor would he have positioned them in such bleak rooms, unalleviated by the rugs, drapes and rows of companionable statuettes which lined his consulting rooms in Vienna and London alike.

There is no suggestion that the people in Freud's paintings suffer from the mental turmoil afflicting his grandfather's clients. But they are far from blithe. Nobody smiles. The children who make rare appearances in his work end up as sombre as the adults. Sometimes, figures shield their faces with arms or hands, in an apparent attempt to hide some vestige of themselves from the painter's avid stare. Most of them, though, accept the inevitability of exposure. Because they have often posed for him before, they know that Freud will subject their flesh to an almost clinical examination. And he sees them, above all, as solitary. Nothing can deflect him from a constant desire to explore their underlying loneliness.

The key to his formidable rigour lies in Freud's early work, where the disciplined observation evident in his art today took root. At first glance, the small painting called Hospital Ward is quite unlike the work of his maturity. Produced in 1941, two years after the teenage Freud became a naturalised British subject, it is not a self-portrait. But the young man in bed conveys the artist's own experience of illness. And there is a frankness in the gaze directed by the patient that anticipates the piercing scrutiny favoured by the later Freud.

Knowing that he spent his childhood in Berlin, many writers have been eager to detect in his early work the influence of the most searching German artists of the time. But, however affected the young Freud must have been by growing up in the feverish atmosphere of the Weimar Republic, it is too easy to suggest that he derived his artistic stimulus from such sources alone.

Cedric Morris, his first art teacher in England, proved just as influential. When the 18-year-old Freud painted Morris in 1940, his admiration for the teacher's own art was clear. The portrait need only be compared with Morris's painting of Freud, executed in the same year. The link between them is inescapable, and only later would Freud learn how to replace this roughly summarised approach to portraiture with a more penetrating, minutely observed alternative.

By 1944, when he produced a bizarre canvas called The Painter's Room, Freud had certainly developed a more exacting technique. Everything in this mysterious image is defined with hairsbreadth clarity, and his precision makes the dream-like contents of the painting even stranger. An outsize zebra striped in yellow and maroon thrusts its head through the window. The apparition immediately reminds us of Surrealism's shock-tactics. But while its impact on the young Freud cannot be discounted altogether, he never became a Surrealist disciple.

Increasingly determined to train his eyes more closely on his chosen subjects, he painted the astonishingly precocious Girl with Roses while still in his mid-twenties. Freud's model sits on her chair clutching her flower with the self-conscious care of a 16th-century woman holding a symbol of her emotional state. And the huddled, defensive pose mirrors Freud's response to the girl's uneasy feelings. The broken rose lying on her lap suggests that she has already, in her overwhelming anxiety, snapped its stem. She may do the same with the flower in her hand, gripped so tightly that the thorns could even be piercing her flesh.

"The task of the artist," Freud once declared, "is to make the human being uncomfortable, and yet we are drawn to a great work of art by involuntary chemistry, like a hound getting a scent; the dog isn't free, it can't do otherwise, it gets the scent and instinct does the rest".

Freud gradually became dissatisfied with the amount of closely observed minutiae in his work. The small 1952 portrait of his friend Francis Bacon is the most masterly example of his work up to that point. The art critic Robert Hughes once pointed out that "Bacon's pear-shaped face has the silent intensity of a grenade in the millisecond before it goes off." But it is almost a miniaturist's achievement. Freud had only to look at the paintings which Bacon himself was producing: they proved that there were other ways of revitalising the figurative tradition, if only he could succeed in finding one of them.

His subsequent ability to do so means that he is now ranked among the finest painters at work anywhere in the world. The multi-million-pound prices Freud's work can fetch at auction today reflect his ever-rising reputation. He is still best-known for his images of women, and he has never been afraid to reveal sagging flesh, blotches, birthmarks and all the other blemishes that distinguish real female bodies from their idealised, airbrushed and invariably titillating counterparts in pin-up imagery.

Although his pictures of women are invariably described by some commentators as "ugly", Freud himself certainly finds them anything but. In addition to his two marriages, he has had well-documented relationships with some of his models, not to mention acknowledged children, whose portraits he has painted and exhibited. For example, there is his Reflection with Two Children (Self-Portrait) 1965, that depicts him with his daughter and son, Rose and Ali Boyt.

It is true that his women's bodies can match the ungainliness of the worn-out, bursting furniture where they rest their weight. But it is too often forgotten that, in Freud's later work at least, men are treated with an equal amount of directness. In one arresting canvas, a male nude lies on a bed with his hand over his eyes. A black sock, trailing from the tip of his foot, echoes the curve of his rawly exposed penis. There is a keen and amused awareness, here, of how absurd a man's body can look when caught off-guard and unable to muster any conventional dignity.

But Freud's detractors persist in censuring him for portraying women in submissive poses, and supposedly reserving all the lordly stances for his male sitters. His riposte to these critics can be found in Painter and Model, where gender stereotypes are neatly reversed. This time, the woman is clothed, and presides with quiet, unforced authority over a naked man lying in a passive position on the sofa. His legs are parted, ensuring that the genitals proclaim his sex without false modesty or embarrassment. But the woman does not stare at his body. She looks down at her brush, as if deciding what her next move as a painter should be.

Freud himself acts with a similar sense of deliberation. The maturity of his late work is self-evident, and he gives every indication of continuing to pursue his vision with just as much incisive vigour for years to come. But he has no intention of slipping into predictable formulae. "I've always had a horror of method", he once declared. "I don't want to paint a picture by me: I always try to do things in new ways."




A Life in Brief

BORN 8 December 1922 to Lucie and Ernst Freud, an architect, in Berlin; grandson of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

FAMILY Moved to London in 1933, with his parents. Married Kathleen Garman, daughter of sculptor Jacob Epstein, in 1948 - marriage dissolved, 1957. Second marriage to Lady Caroline Maureen Blackwood, daughter of the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava - marriage dissolved 1957. He famously guards his privacy but has acknowledged several children by other women.

HIGHEST PRICED WORK Freud's painting of the naked, pregnant Kate Moss sold at a Christie's auction in February for £3.9m.

Lucian Freud: The eyes of the world, I, 16.4.2005,






February 24 1976


LS Lowry, surprised by life


From the Guardian archive


February 24 1976

The Guardian


A tall, slouching figure came to my gallery in Manchester 27 years ago. He shot from one corner to another, then he settled down. I knew it was Mr Lowry — the hat, the walking stick and the raincoat was, I think, the same as he wore two months ago.

He bought an awful painting from my gallery on that encounter — I think to lift my morale. He never forgot that he was well over fifty when his paint ings were exhibited in London. I used to tease him in Manchester, saying, 'Come on Mr Lowry, let's go to Fullers cafe and see the beautiful women.' His reply was always: 'Oh you are a one.'

We had a dinner arrangement with Christopher Bibby and his sister and some other young people. 'Where shall we take Mr Lowry?' Mr Lowry gazed with delight at the perfectly cast head waiter. When he had taken our orders and left he turned to me and whispered: 'What would he have said if we had ordered egg, chips and peas?

Andras Kalman

'My three most cherished records,' said Lowry, 'are the fact that I've never been abroad, never had a telephone and never owned a motor car.' It would seem that he was a recluse from the twentieth century. Yet in 1965 a Government report on the North-west raised the question 'whether the turn of another century will find Lancashire still struggling under the grim heritage of the industrial revolution'. This heritage, still existent, was the stuff of Lowry's art.

He painted what he felt at home with, in order to keep himself company. He said, 'I've never been able to get used to the fact that I'm alive. The whole thing frightens me. It's too big, you know — I mean life, sir.' He was always surprised. He had a wisdom which never gave rise to proverbs or precepts. He was wise enough to paint without asking why.

John Berger

We have lost a man as unique to art in England as Constable. He was also unique to the world. I began painting before I had seen Lowry's work but from a different approach. The same thing appealed to us both. People pushed and crushed by the very places they kept going. The mills and all that it entailed.

Northern people don't go much for eulogies but I think he should be buried in Westminster Abbey. He will be remembered when a lot of the soup tins of today are forgotten.

Once I went around a show of the chimpanzee paintings with him. At the end he said: 'Well, they have a good sense of balance, but they have to.'

Alan Lowndes

From the Guardian archive > February 24 1976 >
LS Lowry, surprised by life, G,
Republished 24.2.2007, p. 32,









Explore more on these topics

Anglonautes > Vocapedia


painting, street art, tattoes, sculpture



children's books



e-books / reading on the Internet



books / newspapers / www >

comics, superheroes, superheroines



graphic novels



architecture, towns, cities



describing pictures >

phrases and verb forms






Related > Anglonautes > Arts


painting, sculpture




home Up