Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dan McCormack, Fine Art Photographer

Dan McCormack, Fine Art Photographer 

Not Just Another Pretty Picture 

Sometimes a wacky stunt will confirm the course of a lifetime.

In Chicago, in 1968, Dan McCormack was a recent college grad.  He had studied with Aaron Siskind, Joe Jachna and Wyn Bullock at the institute of Design and graduated in ‘67.  He had enrolled in the MFA program at the Art Institute where Barbara Crane was a big influence. So his interest in photography was serious and he was taking it seriously.  However, Dan McCormack did not want to take himself too seriously.

It was summer. He heard about a love-in: 50,000 hippies. He was a puppy photographer, heading for something.

Dan McCormack is telling me this story over the phone.  His voice, naturally rather high, gets thinner and higher.  It is almost as if he is a kid again, and he still cannot get over how it happened.

He decided to go, but not just go, but go and be noticed. So he went to a store that sold Styrofoam and bought a cylinder that was 8 inches around and 8 feet long.  When he got to the park where the love-in was happening, he sat down and put the 8-foot long Styrofoam cylinder between his legs.

Here Dan pauses in his tale, perhaps just to remember, or perhaps to make sure I get the image.

A young woman, Wendy, sees his “display” and comes over. She is an artist’s model. He tells her he is a photographer. She tells him she models in the nude. He tells her he has never photographed the nude. “I’ll teach you,” she says. As he writes in his internet bio:

At the Art Institute of Chicago around 1969, I began photographing the nude with Wendy, my wife, and I began making multiple image prints. Then for over thirty years, I explored various techniques and processes while photographing the nude as a central theme.[i]

Over the years, McCormack worked with all types of cameras and films. In 1998, he started shooting with the pinhole camera.  He develops black and white images. After he scans the results into Photoshop, he “pulls curves” to colorize the image.


At a day’s shoot, McCormack sets up 15 pinhole cameras and takes a two minute exposure with each one, one at a time.  So a photo session generally takes 2-3 hours. At the end of a shoot, he may have one or two usable images, but he does not find that out until he gets to the darkroom.  The extreme wide angle and distortion means that even the initial results are always a surprise.  “I love the surprises. I think I know the best shot,” he says, “but often the best shot is something else.”

We talked about Sara_C_8-19-05—6DG, a highly colorized print. McCormack was teaching a photography workshop at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in August 2005. He was staying at a bed and breakfast inn that had an intriguingly decorative marble sink with multiple mirrors.  He wanted to have fun with the marble and get Sara in the mirrors without having her in the picture.  This was very tricky and it took a half-hour to set up the shot. As it turned out, the best result was not quite what he had envisioned. He pointed out that in addition to Sara in the mirrors, this image includes a profile of her breast coming in on the lower right.

McCormack explained the reference system he uses to title his work: model’s name, Sara C.; date of shoot, 8-19-05; film negative number, 6 (of the 15 shots); and finally, pulling curves in Photoshop and saving them within two sequences of multiple steps, DG, meaning the 4th step in the first sequence and the 7th step in the second. Based on the reference title of the work, McCormack can always locate the exact version of an image stored on his computer.

I asked McCormack about Sarah_M_5-08-09—4BC which I found to be one of his most surreal images. He laughs:
That was in the Unison Sculpture Garden in New Paltz.  We had gone to McDonald’s and they were giving out happy smiles on sticks as a promotion. So I took the photo with the model standing next to the sculpture of an eye, and she bent over and held the smile up behind her butt.
Dan McCormack has another irreverent piece, very popular, which was selected by five curators (in the period before we changed the rules and began retiring artworks from competition after three selections).  He calls it Lupe_8-07-07—8CD. I would call it “Lupe Gives a Finger.” Lupe is not the model’s real name.  She was a student at Marist College, where Dan has taught for 24 years, and heads the Photography program. The shoot was on a friend’s property and she came with her boyfriend and a huge bottle of wine. It was a class demonstration shoot. She was very nervous. She got so drunk, she could not drive home.


In Helen_W_4-27-08—7BB, the image is less colorized. Here McCormack mentioned that he likes to center the model in the frame but in this case, the model is pushed to the side and her shadow has taken center stage.  This was taken on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day at the Barrett Art Center workshop in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Lately, McCormack has been working with a much more subdued palette.  AllisonFay_C_3-18-13—11AD is part of his “Nude at Home” series. Here, he thought he would not get anything at all. After shooting Allison from below, he decided to try shooting from above her. As usual, the exposure was 2 minutes. At 1 minute 45 seconds, her cat came over and rubbed against the tripod, bumping it. Usually movement of any kind is a problem for the pinhole camera, but in this case, the bump made no apparent difference.

Another image in the “Nude at Home” series is Bridget_L_5-20-12—14AD.  In this shot, at her home in Rhinebeck, NY, he intended the duality of the image in the mirror and in front of the camera. McCormack knew Bridget as his student at SUNY, New Paltz, and later as a model and friend.

Bridget_L_5-20-12--14AD  Robbie_J_4-27-14---10AD
Robbie_J_4-27-14—10AD is another in the series of “Nudes at Home.” This time it is a mansion in Poughkeepsie, NY. He noted, “Often the model is a co-conspirator in these shoots.”

Robbie was holding what McCormack described as a contraption that “seemed magical.”  She stood in front of the open double door. He explained that the doorknobs were so high, that Robbie looked small.  “Like something out of Alice in Wonderland,” he added.

Holding the contraption motionless in one hand at arm’s length for a two-minute exposure, making 15 attempts to get a usable image without a blur, and succeeding --- well, maybe that is a bit of magic.

More About Dan McCormack

 [i] http://www.danmccormack.net/pin2dig.html
  ©All images copyright Dan McCormack

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Photography of Joseph Mays

The Photography of Joseph Mays

Ideals, Expectations, Truth

Finding Truth in Colored Lights, Doors, Skulls and Rain...

Joseph Mays is a large bear of a man with a ready smile and a nervous laugh. As founder of Barebrush, I have had the opportunity to meet Mays several times. Last summer, he traveled from his home in Kentucky to show nine photographs at the third Barebrush gallery show (Undressed and Not, Aug 2014, NOHO Gallery, Chelsea).

Gallery Wall
Barebrush Aug 2014
This month, we spoke about his work by phone. In the throes of a bad cold, Mays explained his initial reasons for joining Barebrush. His manner was unprepossessing, even shy. However, as he spoke, his convictions and the importance of his art for him and to him, brought strength to his voice and a sincerity of feeling that seemed to make him forget everything else but getting his thoughts together and his point across.

Mays studied photography in college when black and white photos were routinely produced in darkrooms and color photos were impossibly expensive for students. Years after college, he resumed his photographic exploration. Digital was cheaper and easier. Friends were encouraging.

He wondered: was the work really any good, or was the praise just the benevolence of friends? When he found the Barebrush website, he liked the idea that independent curators would look at his work. These art professionals were people who did not know him. Their opinion would provide an objective validation in the context of a monthly, juried selection of art. His work would be judged among work by other artists. Would they select it?  Would his art find its place in the world?
Jungle #84

The answer to his questions turned out to be a resounding yes. Since his very first success at Barebrush with Curcuitboard Jungle #84 (May 2008), Mays has piled up a strong record of 139 calendar wins. Of these, 35 artworks have been “retired” with Honors.

Mays has several different photographic series represented on the Barebrush website. The first two are very colorful. The others are black and white. I asked about that. He said,
I use color only when it is important to the effect I want to achieve. When color is incidental, I prefer to eliminate it because it becomes a distraction.
 Mays feels strongly that photographs of the nude are more “honest” and as a result, more human. Photography of the nude strips away the extraneous and the expected. However, he felt deeply that photographs of the nude are often not “seen” in a careful and unprejudiced way. In conceiving of a way to use color as intrinsic to his theme he wanted to smash preconceived notions about nudity and entice the viewer to look closely in spite of his (the viewer’s) preconceived notions.

Street Level
Street Level is an outstanding example of his success with what he calls this Abstract Projection series. Mays is especially proud because he feels that the colors and the pattern are a good match to the thoughtful and analytical personality of the model.

Another tale about this series is especially poignant:
One model had had surgery and thought her body was ugly because of surgical scars. When she looked at her body in the mirror, the scars were all she saw. Finally, she got up her courage to pose. When she saw in the finished work that the tiny scars were hardly visible, she realized how unimportant they were. From that time forward, she began to feel much better about her body and she thanked me.

Joe Mays is justifiably proud to have helped her come to that truth through his photography.

Simple Machines

The Barrier

In the second series, his collaborator, Jill Morgan, painted abstract designs on the models using black light paint. Then Mays photographed them. Mays added painted linear elements to the black light paint series (i.e. Simple Machines and The Barrier). These set the model in space.  The fact that the models were nude became less important than the fact that they are humans looking different. The results were startling and unusual.

Ironically, in these color photographs, color is employed specifically as a distraction. Several of the models did not recognize themselves when they first saw the finished results.

Berlin Salon #5
The Berlin Salon #5 is part of a series that grew out of photographs of performers. The woman performs with her snake and the picture struck Mays as belonging to the time of the Wiemar Republic in Berlin, when all the old values were falling away and experimentation ruled. At the time, sexuality and the Bohemian lifestyle were on the rise and people were jettisoning preconceived notions and prejudices. The model looked like she came from the 1920s, so Mays decided to push it that way. He photographed performers and artists, imagining his own personal 1920s Bohemian Berlin, and populating it accordingly.

Door 1
Door 2
In the process of photographing performers, one day Mays got the notion of adding a door to the picture (Door 1). He asked the model and then lots of others about the meaning of a door in a picture and received many answers: safety, isolation, loneliness, trap, anticipation, mystery, meditation and change. Unlike other photographers whose shots include doors, for Mays, the plain door was not the object or the subject, but rather something else entirely. The door, he says, is “a visual subconscious cue.” The model has an attitude toward the door. The sensitive photographer recognizes the model’s psyche and brings it to visible reality. The viewer gets the subliminal message. In other words, the models’ responses to the door represent their attitudes toward the world. This attitude becomes the ultimate message of the artwork. Some subjects lock out the world (Door 8). Others welcome it (Door 2).
Door 8


Then we talked about his circular pieces. “What was this all about?” I asked. Mays told this story:
Liebe Und
Leben #4
Liebe Und
Leben #1
Liebe Und
Leben #10
A model I knew wanted to be photographed nude with a skull. I don’t know why, but she kept asking. Finally, I got some ideas. I had a chain link fence and thought I could hang things on it. Then I emailed friends to ask if they knew where I could get a skull. Replies came back: “I have a skull.” “I have skulls.” “I have lots of skulls.” I went to see a friend who lived on a farm out of town and she had all types of skulls. She said, “You can have the skulls, if I can also be photographed nude with a skull.” Well, the body types were similar, and I thought it would be interesting, so I called the first woman and asked her if she would mind another woman in the picture. “As long as I am nude with a skull, I won’t mind.” So I shot it, and made the pictures round with a darkened edge as if the viewer is looking through a spyglass.
One of his pieces (Cypress Rain) is very different from all the others:
For a long time, I had the idea that I wanted to photograph someone looking up in the rain. I was meeting the model for the first time in a coffee shop. That day, I had just come from the funeral of my father. It started to rain. When the model walked in, I wanted to take that picture. I had never worked with her before, but I asked her if she would pose in the rain. She said sure. I wanted her to call my other model contacts so she would know that I’m okay to work with. She said she didn’t need to do that because she’d already spoken to them, and that’s why she was there.
Cypress Rain
My reputation is very important to me, and a model is very vulnerable. Modeling is an investment in trust. So I’m sensitive about making sure the model knows she is safe.  A friend of mine had to stop modeling because of improper photographers, and when she resumed, I was the only one she would model for. She says that I’m the least creepy photographer in Louisville. Maybe I should put that on my business card.
Joseph Mays credits his decision to become a member of Barebrush as “one of the best decisions” he ever made. In an earlier conversation, he told me that the confidence he gained from Barebrush enabled him to get into many shows and fairs.

Dune 4743
One particular incident is very satisfying to me.  In March 2011, the New York Observer published an article on Barebrush, in both the online and print editions. I was asked by the editor to select art to accompany the article.  Mays’ Dune 4743 appeared in the print edition (the Barebrush pressroom has both versions of the article). When I called Joe back then to tell him I was sending him a copy of the newspaper, he told me that he had gotten a call from a real estate office in New York City, and that a “big New York real estate guy” and art collector had already asked the price and sent the money. 

Coming to the end of this current call, Joe briefly discussed his next project, but I’ll keep silent on that; the sequence on Barebrush must be kept as show, then tell. Stay tuned.

In this blog called Body Language: Art, Biology and Culture, the takeaway from these stories is how one sweet, shy and serious photographer grows, develops and tests his ideas. For Joseph Mays, Barebrush is a safe public laboratory in which to make visible ideas, notions, feelings and prejudices, in the quest to represent the complexities of being human.

 More about Joseph Mays

Liebe Und
Leben #6
Liebe Und
Leben #7

  ©All images copyright Joseph Mays.

Friday, December 12, 2014

"Featuring Jean Marcellino"


  Getting it right, getting it real, redeeming the art of rendering 

By Ilene Skeen

Moody Sue*
Barebrush.com published its first art of the nude juried calendar in September 2006. Jean Marcellino first entered work for February 2007, after about two years of intensive drawing study. Marcellino's carefully rendered nudes were an immediate hit with those Barebrush guest curators who tend to favor representational art. Artworks by Marcellino were chosen by successive guest curators for February, March and April from among hundreds of entries. I thought that May would be a real test, however, as the curator was from a hip New York gallery known for surreal and abstract urban art. Marcellino was selected again. I was surprised. Like most artists growing up in the era of Abstract Expressionism, I was carefully taught that rendering, that is, making careful, accurate and tonal drawings was, in a word, pitifully nineteenth or even eighteenth century.

Leaning Man
In June 2007, when Barebrush guest curator, Chelsea gallery-owner, Kim Foster, reviewed the hundreds of nudes of all styles submitted, and saw Marcellino's Leaning Man, she exclaimed, "This is not my thing at all, but I have to give it to him, he's got skill, and that has to count for something."

"Jean Marcellino is a woman," I said.

Raising an eyebrow, Ms. Foster replied firmly, "Doesn't matter."

Thus, as the artist-anthropologist founder of Barebrush, I learned then that superior skill can trump aesthetic prejudice. It was a revelation. However, the real story of Jean Marcellino today is a tale of how dedication to a singular vision and superlative skill has developed into a uniquely twenty-first century aesthetic.

As a young girl, Jean drew and painted for hours every day from the age of four through high school. Her goal was to capture what she saw accurately. The "art world" was going in a different direction. As an art major in Cooper Union in 1960, she found Abstract Expressionism unappealing. Tonal rendering was considered unacceptable and irrelevant. Instead, she opted for a major in advertising. After retiring from a successful advertising career, she thought again about drawing. Marcellino credits an article by Ephraim Rubenstein, "Drawing Basics: The Emergence of Tonal Drawing" (American Artist, September 2006) with reigniting her passion for drawing and helping her find her current path. She enrolled in Rubenstein's class in the Art Students League of New York, and after a 40+ year hiatus, she says, "I gave myself permission to be terrible." Painting followed, as well as participation in Barebrush. Marcellino was Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome three times. Marcellino also met and painted in Rome with American painter and fellow tonalist, Wendy Artin.

Also notable is her oil on linen Portrait of Sandra Day O'Connor acquired by the Smithsonian Institute. It is in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery and was included in the "Treasures from the Smithsonian Institute" 2011 desk calendar.

Portrait of Sandra Day O'Connor
Marcellino says that she agrees with Rubenstein in that most drawing instruction is a formula for not looking – most artists are taught to draw what they know, not what they see. To overcome this unfortunate tendency, Marcellino approaches each drawing or painting with "Martian methodology," imagining herself as a Martian who has landed in a studio on Earth with the intention of capturing the lumps and bumps of the scene before her as accurately as possible, knowing nothing about what she sees but really seeing the visible light and shade. Admirers sometimes marvel at the expressions she achieves and want to know what she did to achieve them as if the expression were pasted on a face and not part of it. "Expression comes out of accuracy," she states firmly.

When I chatted with Marcellino over coffee and breakfast in November 2014, I asked her to select some of her "best or favorite" artworks on Barebrush. She selected seven, (marked with asterisks). True to the idea of art as an exploration, Marcellino especially likes capturing the figure with drapery. Using marks on a two-dimensional plane, she builds her metaphor for our three-dimensional world. The light and dark of the figure and the environment participate with each other to form the unity we call art.

Marlo Lost in Stripes is a tour de force of this metaphor. The shallow curves of the ribs
Marlo Lost in Stripes by Jean Marcellino
Marlo Lost in Stripes*
and the hook of the clavicle echo in the composition: in the vertical stripes of the cloth draped on the back of the chair; the long, rising diagonal curves of the folds; and the descending strokes of a shimmering white mist. The mist counters the cloth and focuses our attention on the vignette, and suddenly, by subtle inference, we are surprised to be looking at the downward curve of the mouth in contemplation, and wondering ourselves.

Barebrush curators and the general public like her art as well. Over the years, Barebrush guest curators have nominated Marcellino for the Curators Choice awards 27 times, and she has won 8 firsts, 8 seconds and 6 third-place wins, a remarkable record.
Since the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, representational art has been slowly but inexorably on the rise. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Marcellino's art is its distance from the rendering we have been taught so carefully to disdain. An alert glance at the works below reveals figures in poses and with attitudes that are supremely modern. Most of these compositions could only be found in art at the end of the nineteenth century, at the earliest. At the same time, Marcellino's careful rendering and the subtle artistic explorations of tone against tone are absent almost entirely from the art of the twentieth century.

Fierce Monk*
The effect of her artistic passion for rendering is clear; Jean Marcellino is painstakingly transforming complex design, meticulous observation and a love of the real into art of the twenty-first century. As founder of Barebrush, it is my privilege to present this transformation.

Saskia Hangin' Out*
Jill Looking
Manou's Brief Return by Jean Marcellino
Manou's Brief Return*
Pillow Drapery
and Keryn*

More about Jean Marcellino

* Images selected by Jean Marcellino as "best or favorite." ©All images copyright Jean Marcellino or assigns.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Nude As Muse

The artists in this video celebrate themselves and the world through the art of the nude. The video includes two Barebrush Featured Artists: Emily Stedman and Jon Rettich. Kudos to the filmmaker, Mark Khaimov. Thoughtful and inspiring.

Please do not play this if any kind of nudity offends you.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year's Poem

Here is a toast to the years, both old and new. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year. With warm regards, Ilene

A New Year's Poem
by Ilene Leslie Skeen

The New Year ought not come, but be attained
By only those who celebrate a time well spent.
December's final days are mounting steps
To reach that peak of midnight, head unbent.
To stand upon that yearly peak of time,
Look back without regret, look forward without fear
To stand as in salute to one year's pride
And one year's promise, pledge to both a solemn cheer.
To hold unbridled future as a wild mare
To be caught and tamed and molded to man's will.
To hold one goal, reach out, and finding it too far
To walk toward it, to walk and say, I will.
To gain that goal, to say, I have, and set another goal.
To check the score next New Year's eve.

© Ilene Leslie Skeen

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Guide (3): The Most Recurring Subject

 A Guide to Understanding the Nude in Art (Part 3 of 3)

 Author information:  joellescottgallery  (Richard T. Scott)

The Sculptor and the Nude- Picasso
 I would like to rephrase our original question now in the interest of brevity and to be more specific. "Why is it that the most recurring subject in all of art history by far is the human face and body?" Modern scientific research into the brain also gives us a clue to the reasons behind our question. The human face and the human body are psychologically stimulating to the mind. Our brains are actually hard wired to recognize human form. Take, for example, a chimpanzee. If you look at three different chimps for 5 seconds, would you be able to tell them apart as individuals? Now if you look at three human faces for 5 seconds, I bet your success rate will be much greater. But a chimp can recognize and differentiate between othere chimps much easier, just as you can recognize a human face more easily.

     You might say, Ok I understand why we look at faces, that makes sense, but my question was 'why the nude?'. Well there are multiple reasons. First is tradition. There is a long tradition predating even the Egyptians of recreating the human body. So, as a method of teaching art, there are lots of people who have done it before and so there are a lot of excellent techniques and examples to study. These principles  we learn by studying figurative art can also apply to other forms of art as well. Second, it is a test of skill. If one can make a believable representation of something that we are so familiar with, then everything else is a piece of cake. If I paint a chimp, you would be less critical of whether it looks real than if I painted a human face, simply because most of us don't see chimps every day for our entire lives and we are not hardwired to recognize them in the same way. Some artists get caught up in this challenge for perfection and are never satisfied with their degree of skill (I know I never am) and so continue to pursue the impossible perfection even though most people might not see the minute flaws of the work which the artist does see. -the next passage includes some of my religious opinions on the subject and is not intended to force my views on anyone, merely to share another point of view.-

     Third, (and most importantly to me) the nude, when I choose to paint it, is representative of something more than observation. My works are meant to evoke complex emotions or thoughts in the viewer, and are not meant to be solely decorative, though beauty is important for me and they may be this also. Since nudity is not often seen in normal everyday settings outside of the home, it implies that there is something more to the interpretation of the artwork. It makes the piece more intimate. For me, art is about conveying the complexity of life; its joy and its sorrow. If I paint a nude with a certain degree of sexuality implied, it is to communicate the dual nature of every human being. All of us, from the most pious to the most base, from the greatest ideals of of compassion and love, to fear and jealousy and greed; we are all torn between what we are and what we wish to be. We all have desire to do or see something greater than what is before us, and we all struggle with the desire for immediate pleasure and how they may get in the way of our greater goals. It is this tension between our animal and divine sides that I attempt to evoke; and in doing so, perhaps to help myself and others understand a little bit more about being human.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Guide (2): The Observed Nude; The Expressive Nude

A Guide to Understanding the Nude in Art (Part 2 of 3)

Author information:  joellescottgallery  (Richard T. Scot2t)

 The Observed Nude: Originating in the Fayum portraits of ancient Greece in a technique of painting called Encaustic, which uses wax as a medium for pigment instead of oil or water. the main purpose of this was to capture the individual's personality and particular appearance. Great examples of this can be found in the paintings of Rembrandt, John Singer Sargent, and ancient Roman portrait busts.

Portrait of Kristof-  Richard T Scott
Study of Torso -Michelangelo 
 The Expressive Nude: This form is intended to do just what the name implies. The nude is used here as the main vehicle for the artist's expression, usually with emotive, or in the case of the renaissance, devotional purposes. Great examples would be the work of Michelangelo (who could be classified under ideal nude as well) and most of the artists of the modern period: Rodin, Picasso, Matisse, Kathe Kollwitz, Edvard Munch, and Paul Gauguin etc...

A Study in Memoree- Richard T Scott
 To be continued....

Part 3: The Most Recurring Subject

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Guide (1): The Ideal Nude

 A Guide to Understanding the Nude in Art (Part 1 of 3)

 Author information:  joellescottgallery  (Richard T. Scott)
My friends and family often ask me why so many artists paint (as they say) "naked people". Some think that the nude is only an excuse for pornography, while others just think that it's out-dated in the art world today. Most figurative artists (artists who work with the figure) will tell you something along the lines of "we don't see them as 'naked' we just see beauty". Though this may be true, it doesn't answer our question. As a classically trained artist myself, I have a theory on why people make art using the nude as a subject. I think the first step in understanding the nude in art, is to understand why people made them in the past, and why they continue to make them. 
 There are three basic categories of nudes, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive (sometimes they overlap):

Venus di Milo- Greek sculpture
The Ideal Nude: Originating with the Greeks, the ideal nude is just a concept really. the basis of which was most clearly explained by Plato. He stated that within all things there is a universal and divine "form" that defines it. For example: if you look at 100 trees, you'll find that each individual tree will look different, yet they are all similar enough to be categorized as trees. What is the sameness or underlying quality of the tree which makes it a tree? This thing, this sameness, Plato called form. Greek artists took this idea and sought the ideal form of the human body. they used shapes in the body, much like a musician would use musical notes to form a chord. The idea was to create a harmony through repetition and variation of certain visual elements of the body. Excellent examples of this are of course classical Greek and Roman sculpture, Leonardo da Vinci (who also could be mentioned in all of these categories for different works), Donatello, Rafael, and the Neo-classicists of the 19th century.
Vetruvian Man- Leonardo da Vinci

 To be continued...
 Part 2: The Observed Nude;  The Expressive Nude

Friday, November 29, 2013

Body Language, Saatchi Gallery /The Male Nude: Eighteenth-century Drawings from the Paris Academy, Wallace Collection [excerpts]

Form and substance: Jean-Baptiste Isabey's
Seated man, leaning on his right arm, 1789,
the pose that of an antique Roman sculpture
© ENSBA, Paris
Brian Sewell [for the London Evening Standard]

Why would anyone prefer childish simplicity to a complex drawing that grapples with form, musculature, accumulated fat, the tension of the skin and the bones and joints beneath?

In his current exhibition, Body Language, [Charles] Saatchi again explores aspects of figurative art but with neither the aesthetic nor the visceral challenge of Sensation, and as the artists are not English we can draw no useful conclusions from it, as we did with the YBAs. It is the result, I fear, of perhaps too random a trawl in the United States and casual acquaintance in Japan, Budapest and Yekaterinburg. The only familiar artist is Chantal Joffe, an American working in London....

The spaces of the Saatchi Gallery are splendid, lofty, vast, the lighting brilliant, and of this the immediate consequence is that the paintings it houses are given false authority, and we stand before them in veneration as though before an altarpiece. But they are not spiritually thaumaturgical and they deserve no such response. We should discern at once that Makiko Kudo’s verdant landscapes have only the shallow charm of murals that the cheap restaurants of my youth employed to camouflage their shabbiness, that likening Helen Verhoeven’s supposedly mysterious gatherings to Picasso’s Guernica is as arrogant as it is absurd, and that Henry Taylor’s kinship with Martin Maloney, of whom, Californian born, bred and working, he can hardly be aware, is merely another example of the internationalism of bad painting. Why must the critic waste his time struggling to discern purpose in such feeble rubbish?....

The Wallace Collection exhibits 37 academies on loan from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where there is a cache of more than 600 by 220 artists between 1664 and 1793. They are probably the best but I have seen many that are as good or better, drawn over a far longer period as well as by other nationalities — even at the Slade, Royal Academy and South Kensington (the precursor of the Royal College) Schools they were part of the discipline well into the 20th century. They are not rare, nor are they expensive; instead, they are a genre of old master drawing that even the most modest collector may collect, and as observations of body language I would rather have one fine academy than all the slipshod bodies now on view in the Saatchi Gallery. Sorry, Charles.…

[read the whole review here]

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Staten Island LGBT Center's exhibit up through Dec. 9

Ingrid Capozzoli Flinn’s "Nude on Pillow" is
part of the "Women Look at Women" exhibit
curated by Robert Bunkin at the Staten Island LGBT Center
in Tompkinsville. (Courtesy the artist)

"Women Look at Women"

By Rob Bailey / Staten Island Advance 

 TOMPKINSVILLE — "Women Look at Women," the late fall show at the Staten Island LGBT Community Center, has a complicated subtext about female artists looking at women and producing different results, unavailable to other genders.

It's easy to just assume there will be differences even if they're hard to see, no? What isn't debatable is that femaleness has obsessed artists for thousands of years, ever since that handy Neanderthal chipped a rock into a recognizably feminine form. (And who's to say, by the way, that this Neanderthal wasn't female...)...[more]

Friday, November 22, 2013

On the Lighter Side of Naked

Sweden got talent - Naked guys dancing!

Maybe I should write a serious cultural piece analyzing why this is funny, but I can't stop laughing.

Some may think this is off topic, but to me, it is vintage. It is exactly on topic for Body Language: Art, Biology and Culture. 


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nude Artworks Censored In Berlin Due To Religious Sensitivity

Huffpost Arts & Culture

A recent incident of art censorship in Berlin has sparked a debate about the difference between art and pornography, as well as the importance of artistic freedom versus religious sensitivity.

According to the American Foreign Press [AFP], an adult education center removed a series of six nude paintings in an attempt to acknowledge and respect Muslim religious beliefs.

The school's deputy head feared the works may shock Muslim students and prevent them from attending class. The school is located nearby a newly established refugee center, which draws immigrants and asylum-seekers to the once mostly German-born region.

by Berlin artist Susanne Schueffel
 The decision was immediately critiqued by some as an unnecessary precaution and an inhibitor to artistic freedom. District council member Juliane Witt aptly expressed how the decision could not only negatively affect the artists and German students, but the Muslim students as well. "If you do something to protect someone, then you are defining them," she told the AFP, "and that can be stigmatizing."  [more]

Friday, November 15, 2013

Snite exposes the French Academy - South Bend Tribune: Eventnews

Snite exposes the French Academy - South Bend Tribune: Eventnews

By EVAN GILLESPIE SBT Correspondent  

When we think about the French Academy, if we think about it at all, we tend to think of it as the great limiter of art, the oppressive institution that tried to stifle innovation and hold the fine arts in historical limbo for centuries.

Charles Gleyre’s “Study For ‘The Departure of the
Apostles’ ” is one of the works featured in the exhibit
“The Academy Exposed: French Figure Studies” through
Dec. 22 at the University of Notre Dame’s Snite
  Museum of Art.

That role, historically accurate or not, is essential for the standard narrative of Modern art history; how would we define the Realists and the Impressionists if not by the traditions they were acting against? We think less often about the Academy as a basic educator, a place where young artists learned the fundamentals of their craft. A small show currently up at the Snite Museum of Art helps us to see the French Academy in that simpler role.


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Monday, August 20, 2012

Sensual Geometry: The Development of the Male Nude in Ancient Greek Art

Sensual Geometry: The Development of the Male Nude in Ancient Greek Art

By Ann Aptaker

This article is adapted from Ms. Aptaker’s lectures in Art History at the New York Institute of Technology

Let’s face it, step into a museum gallery of ancient Greek statuary and painted vases and you could get the impression that for about five hundred years from around 600 BCE (this article will use the newer designation of BCE, Before the Common Era) the male population of Greece lived life undressed.1 There are athletes in the nude; soldiers in the nude; handsome young men who were famous for merely being handsome in the nude. By contrast, the Pharaohs, nobles and aristocratic men of ancient Egypt wouldn’t be caught dead in representations of themselves without a skirt or drape of some kind that indicated their rank or stature in society. Ditto for the men of Mesopotamia. Later Romans, though they mimicked the nude statuary of Greece, just as often commissioned statues of themselves in warriors’ armor or aristocratic drapery to call attention to their military heroism or political importance.

So why was the attitude of the ancient Greeks so different from other ancient cultures regarding nudity? Blame it on math.

If that answer seems facile, consider this: the great fifth century BCE sculptor Polykleitos wrote a treatise called The Canon, or The Canon of Proportion, which dictated specific mathematical proportions and relationships for all parts of the human body. Polykleitos based his formulae on work attributed to the sixth century BCE mathematician Pythagoras, whose noted theorem is still in use today.

But Polykleitos’ Canon, brilliant as it was and is, simply codified a way of thinking, a way of expressing beauty, which had been evolving in Greece for centuries. We can actually see the beginning of that way of thinking, and we can marvel that it appeared at a time when chaos and violence left Greek civilization hanging by a thread.

The fall of the Mycenaean civilization on mainland Greece, beginning around 1200 BCE, ushered in The Greek Dark Age. Invaders from the north and from Ionia in the east overran the once splendid Bronze Age heroic civilization and replaced it with the violence of constant warfare and the displacement of whole populations of sacked towns and villages. This miserable situation lasted over two hundred years, but around 1000 BCE things slowly started to settle down. Daily life was still bleak and dangerous, violence continued, but here and there a revitalizing culture started to take root, mainly through items of daily necessity; after all, even if your community no longer needs palaces, your little hut still need cups and jars and bowls. It is in early Greek pottery that we see the beginnings of a way of thinking that eventually became the ancient world’s most sophisticated expression of the beauty of the human figure, particularly the male nude.

Fig. 1 - Proto-geometric amphora, ca. 950 BCE,
terra cotta, 13 ¾” high. British Museum, London

This amphora (Fig.1) dates from about 950 BCE. The style, called Proto-geometric, is simple and strictly utilitarian: lines and shapes moving around the surface of the pot. The Proto-geometric period, roughly the tenth century BCE, sets the foundation for everything to come in Greek art.2 In this pot and others of the period, we see the beginnings of the Greek fascination with rational mathematics, especially geometry. It all started with everyday utensils decorated with simple lines.

Though other ancient cultures also decorated their pottery with similar lines and shapes, what’s new here, and what’s uniquely Greek, is a consciously harmonious relationship between the shape of the vase and the surface decoration. Each facet of the decoration occupies a specific part of the structure and is meant to delineate the volumes, which are themselves in harmonious proportion to one another:
-the solid black of the tall neck with an encircling checkered pattern positioned like a necklace;

-the solid bands on the shoulder;

-the undulating wave around the belly; and the swelling shape of the belly contained by another solid band below;

-the empty “reserved” space above the foot giving everything above a visual lightness, a weightlessness;

-the whole thing resting comfortably and securely on the solid band of the foot.

Note that I’ve used the names of human body parts for the parts of the vase: neck, shoulder, belly, foot. The Greeks believed that the organic structure of pottery is analogous to the organic, balanced structure of human form and that both could be explained by the principles of geometry.

Though mathematics and geometry are rational, for the Greeks, even as early as the Proto-geometric period, mathematics and geometry are not cold. The Greeks gave a philosophical warmth to mathematics, marrying the principles of rationality to the spirit of philosophy, which they eventually developed into the Classical idea of Humanism.

During the centuries prior to the Athenian development of democracy in 508 BCE, the city-states of Greece, like all other ancient civilizations, were ruled by Kings. The Egyptian Pharaoh, for example, was considered a living god on earth. But the Greek relationship with even their most powerful or despotic leaders was quite different from that of other kingdoms. The Greek kings regarded themselves human beings, mere mortals, not gods on earth. If the Greek kings had a divine connection to any of their gods it was because their human mother or father mated with a god or goddess and the resulting child was at best a half-god, called a demi-god, and only because of the human process of sexual relations and childbearing (the gods, among themselves, could reproduce parthenogenically). This great difference in outlook, that human beings, not the gods, were, as the Greek philosopher Protagoras wrote, “the measure of all things” on earth, is what enabled the Greeks to unite the rationality of mathematics to the warmth of humanist philosophy and, by extension, to an appreciation of the human body as an ideal evocation of that unity.

Fig. 2A

Fig. 2B

Figs. 2A and 2B-Dipylon Krater, from the Dipylon cemetery,
Athens, ca. 740 BCE.
3’ 4 1/2” height; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

By the eighth century BCE, a full blown Geometric style was ascendant, as we see in this monumental krater from the Dipylon cemetery in Athens (Fig 2A). This enormous pot, standing nearly three and a half feet tall, was not for household use but served as a grave marker, much as a headstone is used today. The painted scenes represent the funeral service and mourning (upper register of figures) and funeral procession or military parade (lower register of figures) honoring the deceased gentleman we see lying atop the funeral bier (Fig. 2B, center). The rational properties of geometry informed the physical proportions of the vase (which are in perfect balance here) and to rendering the figures, which are expressed in a purely geometric language: ovals for heads; triangles for the upper body; lozenge shapes for hips and legs; rectangles or lines for arms. The upraised arms of the female mourners (who are tearing out their hair in grief) on either side of the funeral bier bend at pure right angles to form rectangles and near-squares.

Though this use of everyday shapes to render human (and animal) form may seem simplistic, a century or so of drawing in this manner gave Greek artists a deep understanding of the properties of shape and the proportional relationships between parts of the human body. This confidence, together with the Greek belief that human beings and human experience are the central issues of daily existence, that the “here and now” is more immediately relevant than eternity, which was the province of the immortal gods in any event and about which human beings had little or no say, gave Greek artists the skills and state of mind to make the next leap in their remarkable development of the nude figure.

Fig. 3-Kouros, ca. 590 BCE; Marble, 6’ ½” height;
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

While it’s fair to say that the development of Greek art and its emphasis on the human and not the godly was unique in the ancient world, it must also be acknowledged that Greek artists did not develop in isolation. Though this kouros (Fig. 3), meaning a statue of a nude male youth, exhibits those values we can identify as uniquely Greek, it also exhibits the influence of Egypt, the dominant power and culture through much of ancient history. Like Egyptian statuary,3 this kouros stands in a rigid frontal pose, his hands clenched at his sides and with one leg forward.

But the similarity ends there. Unlike Egyptian figures, which were meant to express an unchanging eternal, this kouros makes visible the Greek philosophy of male beauty, harmonious of face and body, and above all active and athletic.

To begin with, the young man is nude, whereas Egyptian figures were clothed. Moreover, Egyptian standing figures were anchored to a supporting block of stone,4 but this kouros is free standing. This achievement is not only technical, it represents a philosophical expression as well.

Dealing first with the technical aspect, the balance necessary to achieve a free standing figure of stone was a result of the Greeks’ deep understanding of geometry and its properties. From the lessons inherent in the tectonics of pottery to the painted geometric shapes which earlier expressed human form, by the sixth century BCE, the Archaic period, Greek sculptors were prepared to produce life-sized figures that stood as confidently on their feet as did living human beings.

Aesthetically, the kouros in Figure 3 is purely and utterly Greek. It is created through geometric forms: we still see the oval for the head; a triangular torso; and lozenges to form the legs. And philosophically it is Greek, expressing an idea of youthful maleness not as godly or heroic but as beautiful. This beauty is an expression of the ideal of harmony and balance, two attributes of rational mathematics which the Greeks believed contributed to the beauty of all things, including thought itself.

By the beginning of the Classical period, when Greek cultural confidence was at its height and no longer under the restraining influence of Egypt, Greek philosophy and art achieved a sophistication—and in art, the technical ability—which enabled philosophers and artists to address that most human of experiences, sensuality.

Fig. 4-Kritios Boy; ca. 480 BCE, Athens,
Marble, 2’ 10” height. Acropolis Museum, Athens

This early Classical figure called the Kritios Boy, dating to about 480 BCE, shares the one leg forward/frontal stance of his kouros predecessors, but here the geometry of the assembled shapes is more relaxed, more natural. Kritios Boy is believed to be the first sculpted human figure to employ contrapposto, meaning “shifting of weight.” The sculptor understood that human beings do not stand in rigid poses (except when at “attention” like soldiers); real human beings shift their weight and their body, positioning themselves along the vertical axis of the spine.

The contrapposto of the Kritios Boy is created by:
-the slight dip of his right hip as he balances his weight on his left (rear) leg;

-the bend of his forward leg at the knee, at ease;

-his head turned slightly to his right, unlike the stiff-necked Archaic kouroi.

This more natural posture, derived from the rational application of mathematics to achieve a balance of proportion, gives Kritios Boy not just a more natural appearance but a sensual one. What is being celebrated here isn’t heroism or power; what’s being celebrated is beauty of form and flesh; beauty as a philosophical ideal of life expressed through harmonious proportions, ease of posture, calmness of expression.

Only about thirty years after the unknown sculptor created the Kritios Boy, Polykleitos himself brought the spirit of Greek art to full magnificence with a series of sculptures that are masterpieces of his Canon of Proportion. In his Doryphoros (Spear Carrier) (Fig. 5), Polykleitos expressed harmony, balance and beauty through strict adherence to his mathematical formulae for the proportions and geometric masses of the nude figure.5 With mathematics as his absolute foundation, he was then able to create a contrapposto that is assertive, giving the figure the graceful S-curve that would become iconic in Greek sculpture. Polykleitos further enhanced the grace of the contrapposto with the harmony of “cross balance”: the bent arm is diagonally opposite the straight leg, while the straight arm is diagonal to the bent leg.

Fig. 5-Doryphoros (Spear Carrier); by Polykleitos;
Marble (Roman copy after original bronze of  ca. 450 -440 BCE);
6’ 11” height, Museo ArchiologicoNazionale, Naples

But the point of all this mathematics, of this rational approach to art, was not to express a cold beauty of and strength of mind were core values of Greek Humanist philosophy.

Polykleitos’ Canon would remain the standard for Greek sculpture through its Classical and Hellenistic periods and into the art of Rome. The grace and sensuality celebrated by the Classical nude influenced later masters such as Michelangelo, whose monumental David (1501-1504) is a sensual descendent6 of Polykleitos’ contrapposto and cross balance. And though figurative art is less dominant today, the human need for sensual expression never dies. Who would have thought it could be expressed in math?

1. Female figures in Greek art were more often clothed.

2. Technical advances in pottery manufacture developed during the Proto- geometric period are further described in Richter, Gisela M.A., A Handbook of Greek Art; A Survey of the Visual Arts of Ancient Greece, Seventh Edition, Phaidon Press Ltd., London, 1974; Boardman, John, Early Greek Vase Painting, Thames and Hudson, London, 1998; and others.

3. The period of Egyptian art and history referred to encompasses the Old Kingdom, ca. 2574-2134 BCE through the New Kingdom, ca. 1550-1070 BCE, which, with the exception of the Amarna period, ca. 1353-1335 BCE, essentially set the form which was maintained throughout most of Egyptian art until the Ptolemaic period, ca. 305 BCE-6 BCE. The Ptolemaic rulers, being Greek (after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great), brought Greek influence into late Egyptian art. The defeat of Egypt by the Romans in 6 BCE, further Classicized Egyptian art.

4. Egyptian figures sculpted of wood or smaller than life-size figures in stone were often free-standing. The distribution and balance of weight of life-size and monumental stone figures in Egypt, however, usually necessitated an anchoring block.

5. This figure is a later copy, in marble, made in Rome for the Palestra athletic stadium in Pompeii. The original Greek statue was created cast in bronze. This situation is true of a considerable number of Greek statues, many of them originally bronze, since lost to time. Nevertheless, as far as we know, the ancient Roman sculptors were entirely faithful in their reproductions of the original Greek. Without these Roman copies, we would not know as much about the remarkable development of Greek sculpture. We are especially certain of the Romans’ accuracy of Polykleitos’ works because Roman sculptors strictly followed Polykleitos’ instructions, as written in his Canon.

6. Though the David is clearly influenced by Classical sculpture, and in particular by Polykleitos, Michelangelo had no taste for the mathematical approach to human form. His David is reflective of his belief that organic form already exists within a block of stone and it is the sculptor’s art to bring it out. The proportions of the David, therefore, are not mathematically accurate, though the visual effect is certainly natural to the eye.

Ann Aptaker has been an arts professional for over twenty years as curator, exhibition designer and art writer in museums and galleries on the east and west coasts of the United States. In addition to her present work as an independent curator and art writer in New York, Ann is an adjunct professor of Art History at New York Institute of Technology.

Ann holds degrees from Hollins College (now Hollins University), where she graduated Cum Laude and with Departmental Honors in Art History, and and MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, where she earned fellowships for both years of study.