Thursday, November 17, 2011

Best-of-the-Rest from Barebrush 11/11

Hot Shoulder — In 2009, New York artist Cindy Sibilsky uploaded one of the earliest portraits on Barebrush, Edie Sedgewick: Pop Goes the American Dream. It has been showing on the Barebrush website with little fanfare for over two years. Victim of the recession, Barebrush was severely impacted. Plans to launch new calendars for six genres: portraits, clothed people, landscapes, animals, still life and abstracts took a back-seat to merely hanging on for dear life. Art for these genres slowly trickled in from artists, some also struggling. Finally, having enough art to launch a single calendar series with all the new genres together, Barebrush founder and CEO Ilene Skeen selected the art for the first non-nude calendar, Best-of-the-Rest. Ms. Skeen notes,
Barebrush Artists have waited long enough. I’ve waited long enough. It’s time to take control. Nothing could be better from Barebrush and Barebrush artists than a hot shoulder and defiant attitude toward the gloom and doom of the country. It’s time for a positive springboard to the future, in which nude and non-nude artworks are easy for artists to show and viewers to enjoy. Soon these works (both originals and prints) will be available for sale directly from the Barebrush website.

Portraits and clothed people predominate in this calendar. Long-time Barebrush Featured Artist, Jean Marcellino of New York shows off her solid technique and composition with a brutally rigorous oil painting, Reclining Robert. Jacqui Morgan, also a Barebrush Featured Artist from New York presents two accomplished watercolors: Julie & Dirty Having Fun and Eternal vs Fleeting. Still another New York artist, Jon Rettich, shows a delightful drawing, Tank Happy and a ringing endorsement of the New York art-making locale, with Spring Studio which he describes as “Best studio ever.” Participating from afar are Robert Nizamov from Moscow, Russia with two landscapes, Boats and City, Featured Artist Roger Cummiskey from Malaga, Spain (and sometimes Ireland) with Joyce the Pluralist, Featured Artist Chuck Miller of Corsicana, TX with an oil of his wife sleeping, entitled Sunday Afternoon and Featured Artist Jacqueline Saunders from Burke, VA with a series of watercolor heads called Band of Brothers.

Two artists are making their calendar debut: Jeff Caramagna from Beacon, NY and Justin Austin from Graham, NC. To round out the thirty artworks in the first-ever Best-of-the-Rest, New York artist Geoffrey Stein ends the month with the dean of double-speak, Alan Greenspan, in a collage portrait featuring a well-deserved paper “black-eye.”

The 30 artists represented in November, 2011, in day order are: 1 Cindy Sibilsky, 2 Justin Austin, 3 Cynthia Angeles, 4 Damian Huntley, 5 Jeff Caramagna, 6 Jean Marcellino, 7 Will Ellis, 8 Ione Citrin, 9 Guadalupe Herrera, 10 Jon Rettich, 11 Chuck Miller, 12 Tai Lin, 13 Jacqueline Saunders, 14 Pacifico Palumbo, 15 Roger Cummiskey, 16 Brian Crede, 17 Robert Nizamov, 18 Jon Rettich, 19 Hannah Davis, 20 Bruce Erikson, 21 BlindWolf Photography, T. F. McDonald, 22 Jacqui Morgan, 23 Penelope Przekop, 24 A. Galban, 25 Terry Tayler, 26 Jacqui Morgan, 27 Gil Conradis, 28 Haydee Torres, 29 Robert Nizamov, 30 Geoffrey Stein.

Each of the artists selected for the calendar receives two (2) complimentary listings for each artwork included in this calendar. Viewers can also vote for “The People's Choice,” a poll which includes all of the art in the calendar. The top three artworks in The People's Choice win one (1) complementary listing for their artists. Winners announced December 1st.

The Barebrush Provenance for each artwork is viewable by clicking on the calendar thumbnail (above) or on the caption under the artwork from each artist’s Barebrush Gallery page. The Barebrush program of retiring artworks which have been selected for three calendars is designed to encourage all artists to show their best new work and keep their online galleries fresh and interesting.

The Barebrush Provenance for each artwork is viewable by clicking on the calendar thumbnail (above) or on the caption under the artwork from each artist’s Barebrush Gallery page. The Barebrush program of retiring artworks which have been selected for three calendars is designed to encourage all artists to show their best new work and keep their online galleries fresh and interesting.

Click here for more about Ilene Skeen

Thank you all for your interest and participation in barebrush.com, dedicated to the art of the world.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

PhotoArt N*des from Barebrush 11/11

Lookout World! — Launching the first PhotoArt N*des calendar is Naked Sky Captain by Barebrush Featured Artist, Angelique Moselle Price of Tennessee. Price’s piece has attitude, style and composition, which says it all.

Price is an accomplished painter as well and her work can be found in many of the original N*des-of-the-Month calendar series. Other Barebrush Featured Artists participating in the launch of PhotoArt N*des include: Guenter Knop, William Thierfelder, Dan McCormack and Janet E. Gorman from the New York area. Kentucky photographers Joseph Mays and T.F. McDonald are also Featured. The record holder for participation is Tony Lee of Panama, a consistent prize winner since his first calendar entry in May of 2007. As veteran viewers of Barebrush know, Featured Artist status is invitational only. These photographers have shown interest, enthusiasm and support for the Barebrush concept. Most have appeared in many of the calendars in the original series.

Each of these artists has a distinctive style and oeuvre. Knop specializes in highly polished art-deco beauties, deliciously posed. Tony Lee is known for his emotional male nudes in at peace or war with the world around them. Dan McCormack has resurrected pin-hole photography to a high art with his scenes women at home and literally in the field. Joseph Mays’ work is instantly recognizable for his series called Alien Twilight, carefully composed nudes, sometimes with body paint, glowing out of the darkness. William Thierfelder often composes to a theme with variations, sometimes adding much hand work (where the art would be appropriate for the original calendar), and other times leaving the photograph pristine.

Participating from further away are Corrie Ancone of Sydney Australia and Gabriel Sanchez of Mexico. Making his Barebrush calendar debut is George McClintock from Purchase, NY.

After five years of showing photography with our original N*des-of-the-Month calendars, it was time for photography to come into its own. Ilene Skeen, Barebrush founder and CEO, selected the art. Ms. Skeen states,
I am proud at last to showcase the photography nudes at Barebrush in their own calendar series proving that even in the photographic medium, art of the nude can be tasteful and delightful (or arresting and provocative), while having nothing to do with prurience and pornography.

The 30 artists represented in November, 2011, in day order are: 1 Angelique Moselle Price, 2 Tony Lee, 3 Tony Lee, 4 Tony Lee, 5 Tony Lee, 6 Dan McCormack, 7 Dan McCormack, 8 Corrie Ancone, 9 Joseph Mays, 10 BlindWolf Photography, T. F. McDonald, 11 Dan McCormack, 12 Guenter Knop, 13 Peter King, 14 George McClintock, 15 Gabriel Sanchez, 16 Dan McCormack, 17 William Thierfelder, 18 Joseph Mays, 19 William Thierfelder, 20 Joseph Mays, 21 Gabriel Sanchez, 22 BlindWolf Photography, T. F. McDonald, 23 Matthew Smith, 24 Guenter Knop, 25 Guenter Knop, 26 Joseph Mays, 27 Janet E Gorman, 28 Michael Seif, 29 Guenter Knop, 30 William Thierfelder.

Each of the artists selected for the calendar receives two (2) complimentary listings for each artwork included in this calendar. Viewers can also vote for “My Favorite PhotoArt N*de,” a poll which includes all of the art in the calendar. The top three artworks in My Favorite PhotoArt N*de win one (1) complementary listing for their artists. Winners announced December 1st.

The Barebrush Provenance for each artwork is viewable by clicking on the calendar thumbnail (above) or on the caption under the artwork from each artist’s Barebrush Gallery page. The Barebrush program of retiring artworks which have been selected for three calendars is designed to encourage all artists to show their best new work and keep their online galleries fresh and interesting.

Click here for more about Ilene Skeen

Thank you all for your interest and participation in barebrush.com, dedicated to the art of the nude.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

N*des of the Month from Barebrush 11/11

My Turn — Shimmering with life and movement, this calendar art was selected by Barebrush founder and CEO, Ilene Skeen. Veteran Barebrush guest curator, Mikaela Sardo Lamarche selected the Curators’ Choice nominees. Ms. Skeen remarked,

After more than five years of carefully watching Barebrush guest curators as they struggled to select the art, I said to myself, ‘It’s my turn.’
It was a lot harder than I thought. So much good art and even some great art. I have to admit, I gravitated toward well-designed art from artists who diligently maintain their gallery on Barebrush. I want to show site viewers wonderful art from a wide variety of artists. I hoped to make a calendar filled with life and fun. I think November 2011 N*des-of-the Month calendar has both.
The calender launches with an oil, Study of Man #3 by David Schulz of Middletown, CT. Ms. Lamarche selected this painting as Curators’ Choice nominee, and Ms. Skeen was happy to place it on November 1, noting “The attitude is arresting, the composition is satisfying and the skill is evident. What could be more important?”

Ms. Lamarche also nominated Repose, an oil by Chuck Miller of Corsicana, TX. This large work could be a lesson for all artists. With a minimum of detail, the figure is solid and the ground is solid as it appears to move away in space: a masterful performance. Artist Tools #2 by Donelli J. DiMaria, located in New Mexico, is also an oil. DiMaria gives us a nude in the guise of a still life, filled with humor, color, and showing off his love for art.

Two nominees are graphite. Ms. Lamarche chose On The Bed by Eddie Torres of New York, NY whose diagonal composition is intriguing in its simplicity and expression. She also chose Leaning Nude by Hannah Davis of Brooklyn NY, also diagonal, emphasizing the femininity of the model’s lines and curves.
Two artists are making their calendar debut at Barebrush: Darryl King from Pensacola, FL and Malcolm McCoull from Perth, Australia.

One artwork is retiring: Entwined by John Luce Lockett of Northampton, England. Other artworks in this calendar of special note are: Markos by Brian Crede for its design; the unusual ceramic, One Long Lazy Afternoon by Marsha Karagheusian; Daniel Maidman’s conceit, Self Portrait as Hockney. In addition, the shocking attitude of Embrace by Terry Hinkle is beautifully executed, as is the fanciful exuberance of Defiant Angel by Rebecca Venn, and finally, ending the month with another masterful representation of space, N*de St*dy 2011 WB1 by C. Charles Wang.


The 30 artists represented in November, 2011, in day order are: 1* David Schulz, 2 Hector Olvera, Etor, 3 Brian Crede, 4 Chanit Roston, 5 Carmine Santaniello, 6 Merrill Brace, 7* Chuck Miller, 8 Lynne Levin, 9 stephanie Fuller, 10 Marsha Karagheusian, 11 Paul Rybarczyk, 12 Emily Stedman, 13 John Luce Lockett, 14 tim woodhouse, 15 Daniel Maidman, 16 Terry Hinkle, 17 Betsy Podlach, 18* Donelli J. DiMaria, 19 A.D. Cook, 20 Leslie Lambert, 21 Sara Swan, 22* Eddie Torres, 23 Rebecca Venn, 24* Hannah Davis, 25 Darryl King, 26 Gil Conradis, 27 Gary Paul Stutler, 28 Tina Johnston, 29 Malcolm McCoull, 30 C. Charles Wang.

Each of the artists selected for the calendar receives two (2) complimentary listings. Five artists, indicated by asterisks (*), are nominated for the Curators Choice Awards. Curators’ Choice nominees receive 8 additional complimentary listings. The top three artists receive additional prizes.

Viewers can also vote for “My Favorite N*de,” a poll which includes all of the art in the calendar. The top three artworks in My Favorite N*de win one (1) complementary listing for their artists. Winners announced December 1st.

The Barebrush Provenance for each artwork is viewable by clicking on the calendar thumbnail (above) or on the caption under the artwork from each artist’s Barebrush Gallery page. The Barebrush program of retiring artworks which have been selected for three calendars is designed to encourage all artists to show their best new work and keep their online galleries fresh and interesting.
Click here for more about ACA Galleries

Thank you all for your interest and participation in barebrush.com, dedicated to the art of the nude.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Few Words about the Barebrush Experiment

As many readers of this blog know, I am an artist, entrepreneur and anthropologist.

I began Barebrush as a sort of experiment to see if I could discern any consistent threads in the way diverse curators think about and select art. With the myriad of styles and approaches current in today's art world, I constructed an anthropological model to see for myself if any dominant approaches or preferences emerged.

I am pleased to report that they have. No matter whether the work is super-realist or runs the gamut from impressionist to abstract, professional art curators, curators who know the technical difficulties of many media, look for three major accomplishments from the artworks they review:

Skill: Skill is evidence that the artist exercised care and judgment appropriate to the artwork. Non-artists tend to think of skill primarily in terms of rendering, but curators are aware of the related skills required to pick a subject point-of-view of interest to the art viewer. There is also significant skill required to place the subject in space. In two-dimensional art this is called “placement on the page” even if it is a painting or a mural. In three-dimensional art, the challenge is placement in space in such a way as to compel viewers to want to see the work from all sides and to reward them for doing so. My observation has been that even in sketchy, gesture drawings and paintings, and especially in more rendered work, curators look for evidence of thought and consideration accompanied by technical mastery and a unified presentation. Unified presentation could also be considered mastery of style, but since mastery of style involves mastery as such, for purpose of clarity, style can be considered an aspect of skill.
Emotion: Curators universally love looking at art. The ability of a visual artist to evoke emotion is highly prized. Just like the rest of us, they love to be surprised, delighted, touched by tenderness, impressed by dignity. And it seemed to me that as art professionals, they would rather be goaded into anger than to feel nothing about an artwork.
Significance: The artwork necessarily has significance to the artist, as is self-evident by the fact of its very existence. Curators seem to look for artworks which “speak” to them about the things they care about. This is the reason why we ask each curator to submit a personal statement in order to help the artist understand at least something of what the curator is about.
As year number five draws to a close, the process continues. Barebrush is growing. We are working on the next big upgrade which will introduce direct selling by the artists on the Barebrush website. My thanks to all the curators and the artists who together have made Barebrush the website to find excellence in contemporary art.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

DG13: Composition Based on Human Visual Dynamics

Looking for Principles of Composition with the Diagonal Grid 13.

Composition in art refers to the visual organization of the work.  In The Art of Color and Design, Maitland Graves writes, "The aim of composition is to create an interesting unit. Interest is the result of variety. Unity is created by dominance."1

In 2005, I was studying the anthropology of art and I wanted to understand composition. I had two reasons for wanting to understand composition. First of all, my focus in anthropology was the 200 years between 1800 and 2000 when profound changes had taken place in Western Art. During that period, painting went from striving to depict history and beauty to being contempuous of subject matter entirely. Everything that could be dispensed with was jettisoned—important subjects, meticulous finish, beauty, to name just a few of the early casualties. Cutting-edge, “modern” art became, in turn,  a statement of tonality, impression, expression, line, shape, color, and finally nothing at all. I noticed that over time, although many people resisted each new change, eventually people came around, so that today probably the most popular styles in the US are some forms of impressionism or expressionism.

So my first reason related to my budding theory that over the 200 years, until art reached the dead end of pure nihilism, the great artists were still making great compositions and great compositions matter to people as much or more than the actual subject matter, finish and beauty. I wondered if there were a basis in biology for what humans consider great composition. How do we recognize them? Why do they resonate with us?
My second reason for wanting to understand composition was simply to be a better artist.
When art historians talk about composition, they seem mostly to talk about the objects and “things” represented in paintings. They might also talk about the relationship of the people and objects in the painting to each other. Sometimes they sketch vague triangular shapes, angular v or w shapes, loopy m shapes or arrows indicating the direction of eye movement.
Books for painters are no better. They are filled with do’s and don’ts, and general exhortations, but not with any clear principles or procedures that work to serve as a guide for either students or art historians. Even design books, which talk about harmony, balance, diversity and areas of interest, seemed to leave the student on his own to find what is “pleasing” as a composition, or they recommended using the golden ratio.
Golden Rectangle
The golden ratio is the most famous constructive method for making the overall length to width of the artwork according to “pleasing” proportions. It can also be used to determine the size of subsidiary elements. The most famous building said to be constructed along the lines of the golden ratio is the Parthenon of Greece. Thus, this ratio has fascinated artists and mathematicians since Greece's Golden Age, about 2400 years ago. It is associated with the Fibbonacci series. The rectangle at right is an example of construction using the golden ratio.
 Construction of a golden rectangle:
1. Construct a unit square (red).
2. Draw a line from the midpoint of one side to an opposite corner.(arrow)
3. Use that line as the radius to draw an arc that defines the long dimension of the rectangle
The Wikipedia discussion of the golden rectangle notes the on-going debates about which great painters used or did not use the golden ratio in which of their works.
Generally, the golden rectangle means nothing to the viewing public. For art viewers, viewing great art, the reaction is immediate. If the painting’s overall dimensions do or do not conform to the golden ratio, what does that tell us? Only that the overall dimensions should be pleasing, if we even bother to determine whether the overall dimensions are in a golden rectangle.
 For artists, the problem with the golden rectangle is that the reality of what the artist needs to accomplish often does not conform to the golden ratio in terms of shape and size of the art. If the picture space is square, almost square, very tall, very wide, or just not in conformance with the golden rectangle, the question becomes, what should the artist do to make the composition designed within the given space as dynamically interesting and pleasing as possible?
The bottom line is that whether or not the outside dimensions of an artwork conform to the golden rectangle, the contents, meaning the forms and shapes, may still be arranged poorly. The golden rectangle does not help us to understand the arrangement of the art within the two dimensional space – unless, as in the rare case, the artist painted a compositional spiral like Velasquez’ Las Minenas.
So I eventually discarded the idea that even great artists routinely used the golden ratio for their work. The evidence does not support that conclusion. I also discarded the idea that artists would construct sections of a painting to conform to the golden rectangle, even if the work did not follow the golden ratio overall. I discarded it because artists are constantly and consistently concerned about the unity of their work, because great painting has an immediate emotional impact as a single whole, not as a sum of parts. Basically, a method construction that teaches the artist to address parts of a painting while saying nothing coherent about the entire painting would be pointless.
So it seemed to me that I had reached a dead end. There seemed to be no theories on visual harmony which presented specifics on how humans process the information within a two dimensional space of a picture as a unified whole. Thus I found no principles of composition of which I could take advantage, either as an anthropologist or artist. Finally I had nothing left but my two eyes and a blank piece of paper, and that’s when I had a breakthough and invented a new type of visual grid for composing and judging two-dimensional art.

Because most of us have two eyes and we want to take in as much of the image as we can in a single glance, I reasoned that there could be a natural visual flow to looking at a painting that is informed by these facts. I marked the edges of my paper into thirds both along the length and the width so that each side had two marks. If I connected the marks horizontally and vertically, I would have had a tic tac toe grid. However,  since my goal was to mimic how the eye might move around the picture plane, I knew that a static, horizonal-by-vertical grid would impede eye motion rather than promote it, so I drew the grid on the diagonal.
The Diagonal Grid 13 in steps
Construction of the diagonal grid with 13 shapes (DG13)
1. Construct a rectangle (or square) of any size.
2. Mark each edge into thirds.
3. Draw 4 short lines (adjacent marks, left box, above)
4. Draw 4 long lines (far marks, center and right-hand boxes )

The resulting grid has exactly 13 shapes: 8 triangles, 5 quadrilaterals (four-sided figures), never more, never less. Four of the triangles are right triangles, and 4 are isosceles. The mathematical relationship of each shape to the whole is constant with the smallest triangles being 1/36th of the whole. If we were to draw diagonals from the corners of the rectangle, we would wind up with 12 triangles and 12 quadrilaterals, each quadrilateral being twice the size of each triangle. It would be a nice pattern, but bascially static: we would lose the visual dynamics of the grid when it has the 13 areas, four different shapes of various sizes, including the large center shape which is one-third of the entire area.

If you have a computer drawing program, you can draw a square as a multiple of 3 units. Then you can easily place the lines and group them. After they are grouped, you can change the size of your box and the lines will automatically adjust. My theory is that this grid mirrors is the way the viewer's eyes efficiently scan the image and that art which conforms to this grid is more visually satisfying to the viewer.

The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein
The very first painting I analyzed with the diagonal grid was The Ambassadors  by Holbein. Here is the painting to the left.  If you have a drawing program you can draw a grid and place it over the painting and do your own analysis all electronically. Or you can print out the image and draw the grid by hand.
In the next post, I will show how the grid helped me to understand both the visual dynamics of this composition, the relationship of the men to each other and to their instruments, and the strange, stretched skull in the lower center. 

I will also show more examples of work which seems to "obey" the grid and work which does not.

The key concept to remenber is that the rectangle or square is always divided by thirds along each side so that the resulting grid has 13 shapes.

When dealing with constructing a composition, I will show how the diagonal grid 13 (DG13) helps the artist actually create the unity of composition to which all the design books would have artists aspire. DG13 will not automatically make an artist a better artist -- it's a tool, like any other. I don't claim to have all the answers, just an interesting way of dealing with the question. I'm going to assume that the grid can be used or misused. My purpose is to introduce it, turn it loose, and see what people make of it.
1. Graves, Maitland. The Art of Color and Design.  New York. McGraw, Hill & Company. 1941. p. 242.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Uneasy Truce: The War Between the Sexes in US Art

Review of Naked: The Nude in America by Bram Dijkstra

As a coffee table book, Bram Dijsktra’s Naked: The Nude in America has a lot going for it. It is big, it is beautiful, it is a conversation starter. Even better, it is controversial, with plenty of gorgeous images you’ve never seen, some you’ve seen and half forgotten, others so shocking you’d be happy to forget, (except when you want to see them again). Best of all, Naked is eminently readable.

 
©Naked: The Nude in America,
Rizzoli New York, 2010.
Bram Dijkstra is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and Cultural History at University of California, San Diego. As a cultural historian, his focus is the cultural importance of the art, the context in which it appeared and the narrative it furthered. He starts with the contradictory effects of misguided American puritanism – that the campaign to make nudity and sexuality forbidden thereby made them irresistible.

The Forge of Vulcan
John Singleton Copley
Dijkstra’s story is of male domination, female acquiescence and surrender. When the fight appears won, the artists (both male and female), strike out for more forbidden territory and the nudes get younger and younger (both male and female). Symbolic references abound, such as the oval mirror representing female sexuality. Later, widely-accepted pseudo-scientific theories misapplied to evolution both thrill and warn the male population of the base nature of the female – as a siren intent on enticing men to serve her sexual destiny. In poetic terms, this is the age of vagina dentata.


Soon after, the larger European art story, the deconstruction of art into modernism, invades the US and all figurative art becomes “vulgarity.” This notion functions as received wisdom from American art critic, Clement Greenberg, “then the ruling satrap of abstraction.”“Serious” art deconstructs the body into cubism, expressionism, surrealism and abstraction. But instead of surrendering representation entirely, in the US the story takes an unexpected twist. Illustration, in the guise of cartoons, comic books, and pulp fiction cover art makes a fetish of body parts, especially breasts, vaginae and penises (although penises are not on covers).  Later, abstraction waning after its heyday, the battle lines blur and cross again, with serious art using sexually explicit body parts expertly represented, and illustration devolving into ever more crude content and styles. In the end, Dijkstra seeks rapprochement, “to the simple, unadorned realities of everyday life....to the naked truth of life itself.”2


Ganymede (Lyric Poetry Series)
Henry Oliver Walker
It’s a compelling story, but it is after all, a story told by a man, and though true enough, perhaps not the whole truth. Being a woman, an artist and an anthropologist means that I bring a different gender, visual and cultural perspective to any reading of art purporting to be universal. That’s why Naked is so much fun. There is so much to learn, so much to like and much with which to take issue in this huge beauty of a book. For example, in chapter one, Dijkstra’s explanation for The Forge of Vulcan (1754) by John Singleton Copley, is an opening tour de force, unmasking, so to speak, the “playfully obscene visual iconography”3 which young American artists were acquiring from the French and Italian rococo.

[The “Forge of Vulcan” is perhaps] the first painting by an American-born artist to feature a female nude with an explicitly erotic theme[.] Copley chose to emphasize what has remained an indelible association in American culture to this day: the suggestion that sex and violence are two sides of the same coin.4

Cover for Cupid's Capers
Enoch Boles
I readily admit it: I never would have guessed either the hidden message of the piece or its place in history. Thereafter follows a most delightful collection of naked American beauties produced in the new republic. Art from this period is polished, luscious, playful, contemplative, sometimes simple, sometimes complex with putti, flowers, forests, draperies and bedsheets.

There are way too many to name, and over 400 artists included in the book from post-colonial days to present. The publisher’s promotion list of artists represented hits only the highlights of the most well known: Romare Bearden, Paul Cadmus, John Singleton Copley, Imogen Cunningham, John Currin, Eric Fischl, Keith Haring, Edward Hopper, John Koch, Willem de Kooning, Abraham Leon Kroll, George Platt Lynes, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Nauman, Alice Neel, Isamu Noguchi, Georgia O’Keeffe, Catherine Opie, Herb Ritts, Man Ray, John Singer Sargent, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Jock Sturges, Andy Warhol, Benjamin West, Edward Weston, Andrew Wyeth.

Breaking the Pose (The Art Class)
Jerome Witkin
In addition, Naked includes many real gems from the lesser known and less exhibited artists. One work I especially enjoyed seeing in the book is my favorite sculpture, Joy of the Waters (1917) by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth. I was a teenager when I saw this beautiful bronze in 1964 in the window of a garden ornament shop on 40th St. in New York City. It is a figure of a naked girl, with arms in the air and one leg raised, about to do a cartwheel. I saw it again in 1967 and I wrote a long poem about it. Frishmuth lived until 1980 and the sculpture was still being cast at least until 1972. I still wish I could have afforded to buy it on the spot, so seeing it in Naked was like a joyful homecoming.

Other works I especially enjoyed discovering (naming only a fraction) include Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos (1809-1814) by John Vanderlyn, Female Nude Perched on a Stool (1858) by Daniel Huntington, Ruffina (1875) by William Shirlaw, Autumn Gathering Leaves (1902) by John La Farge, and Betty Page, Crandon Park Beach, Miami (1954), by Bunny Yeager.

Kate Moss on a White Horse
Nan Goldin
One particularly striking work done in 1869-70 is a crayon, oil and graphite piece on canvas, Evening (Fall of Day) by William Rimmer. In this piece Rimmer represents an essentially de-sexed, but physically imposing mature male with wings even broader than the Nike of Samothrace. His body arcs full frontal into the sky with one toe touching the horizon. The halo of a full moon (symbol of the “soul-destructive” world of night and women) surrounds his head and shoulders as his right arm reaches skyward out of the halo trying to grasp the last moments of the day (the symbol of the life affirming world of man’s power). Nothing else but Dijkstra’s explanation could make Rimmer's piece comprehensible. That being said, the composition, draftsmanship, imagination and portrayal of dying desperation make this piece arresting in its own right. Without Dijkstra’s explanation, we might enjoy the work visually, but move on wondering what on earth would possess the artist to represent a sexless man in such agony. Thanks to Dijkstra's scholarship, we can appreciate it both for what it looks like and what it represents in the history of American nudes.

 
Superman Fantasy
Arthur Tress
In another piece also with a compositional halo effect, Dijkstra’s explanation is less convincing. Mother and Child (The Oval Mirror), ca. 1899, by Mary Stevenson Cassatt shows a naked three-year old boy with his mother who is wearing a dressing gown . He seems to be standing on her thigh, leaning on her body so that his cheek is next to hers, his left arm around her neck, her hand lovingly engulfing his. In contrast, his right hand has a child’s hold on her thumb. Behind their heads, a mirror in an mahogany frame focuses their love. Although at times the piece has been called The Florentine Madonna because of its similarity to typical Italian Madonna and Child works, Dijkstra connects the oval shape of the mirror to the vagina mythology. In his interpretation, Cassatt is representing the gender ideology of a childlike and innocent-in-spirit mother urging her son to greatness. To his credit, he admits that the interpretation is perhaps “tendentious.”5


Untitled (Art Lover)
Russell Patterson
 Surprisingly, I found one real failure of understanding erotica – and it occurs late in the book, when Dijkstra is being most conciliatory, thinking along the lines that the war between the sexes is over, we survived it, let’s just be people together. In looking at Nan Goldin’s Kate Moss on a White Horse (2001), Dijkstra finds only suggestions of “comfort, trust and parallel beauty.”6 However, to me, being female, this is the most erotic piece in the entire book, instantly riveting. Any woman who has ridden bareback on a horse only has to see this image to know that bareback and naked astride a horse is another level of erotica entirely. All of the hidden messages of masculine strength and feminine dependency are represented in the woman’s dangling leg, dreamy expression and the horse’s head turning to acknowledge the presence of its rider and seemingly, her purpose.

The lapse is small and unimportant in the larger scheme of the book which grows out of the author’s youthful discovery of a stack of pulp magazines and comic books left behind by an American soldier in a Dutch second-hand bookstore after World War II. As he writes in a note introducing the bibliography of works cited, “The lust for forbidden knowledge is all the encouragement a twelve-year-old boy needs to keep him doggedly pursuing the motives for metal bras in science fiction illustrations, or the double-entendres of a Matt Baker ‘headlights’ comic....”7
Of Yin and Yang
Ynez Johnston

All in all, the book represents the male point of view very admirably, and frankly, the fact that I come at the subject from a different gender viewpoint only served to heighten my enjoyment and appreciation of this impressive assemblage of art and scholarship.

For a sampling of the art in Naked, you see a variety of the images here. Some of images mentioned in this review are not shown due to restrictions on the publisher. At least some are visible individually the internet.

NAKED: THE NUDE IN AMERICA
By Bram Dijkstra
Hardcover 9.75” x 11” / 476 pages / 450 illustrations
$75 U.S., $88 Canadian, £45 UK
Rizzoli New York
ISBN: 978-0-8478-3366-5
Release date: November, 2010


Georgette in Giverny Garden, William de Leftwich Dodge
Referrences:
1. p. 212.
2. p. 469.
3. p.  25.
4. pp. 21-23.
5. p. 175.
6. p. 458.
7. p. 470.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sweet Nike of Samothrace, Enduring

In December of 2001, I visited the Louvre. The statue of Nike of Samothrace (known also as the Winged Victory) enthralled me. Over 10 feet tall, dating from about 190 BCE, she stands at the head of the sweeping Daru staircase. There was a brisk wind blowing up the stairs. The wind seemed to be responsible for pressing the folds of Nike’s garment against her body. Of course, this was nonsense since both her body and garment are marble. The wind is merely a device to heighten the experience for the viewer. For me, Nike was the highlight of the Louvre, if not all Paris. More than thirty years earlier, I had written a sonnet  dedicated to the great Hellenistic statue and the spirit she represents.
My first glimpse of the statue as I ascended the stairs was all I had hoped for and more. Thrilling, inspiring, overwhelming, there was no end of words to apply. I circled the statue in wordless admiration. I just couldn’t get enough of every angle. I circled slowly again and again in complete thrall. How long was I there? I don’t know. Eventually, I had to tear myself away so I could see more of the Louvre and its other treasures, but later, before I left the immense museum, I returned to the head of the Daru staircase and made several more enchanted circuits.
I wasn’t the only visitor circling Nike that afternoon. Many of the people I saw were also walking around her, looking at the thrust of the leg, the ripples of the fabric, the set of the shoulders and the angle of the back and wings. When most people look at sculpture, especially the greatest sculpture, they automatically walk around the art to view the work from different angles so they can really appreciate and understand it. Viewing sculpture is acknowledged to take effort and time to achieve the full experience. With sculpture, you simply have to see it from all sides to really see it. The image included here might be the “best” angle, but you’ll never know that for yourself unless you walk around it.
That being said, below is the sonnet I wrote 44 years ago. I was very young, just married, and it was written after my first visit to the Cloisters, which overlook the Hudson, the opening venue of the poem. Apologies for the quaint language; it still seems to fit.
To Nike of Samothrace

The sun was on the river bright today,
And golden was the sky and all below.
But verily, my thoughts were far away
In France and in the Louvre. They did go
To proudly powered Wing├Ęd Victory
With outstretched body arched into the wind.
No breath have I when of that stone I see
The smallest photograph. What kind
of Time has left the spirit and the flesh
But took away the Head from its high place?
So of all worldly grants that I could wish,
I wish that once I might have seen her face.
In triumph, beauty guiles eternally,
E’en so as sweet the smile of Victory.


Ilene Leslie Skeen
March 26, 1967


Monday, April 18, 2011

Male Art Comes Into Its Own

Fifty years ago this book, 100 Artists of the Male Figure, may have been considered an outrage or an affront. Few artists were working figuratively and fewer still were concentrating on men. Thirty years ago, this book might have been dismissed as a “gay” thing or a “guy” thing, as something relating to “coming out” or grandstanding. Thankfully those days are over.

Kelley, Pan

Today, the most remarkable aspect of the book is not that it is only about men, but that it has tremendous range, expertise and emotion, even with the narrow focus. But maybe the focus is not so narrow. Men, after all, number about half of the 7 billion people on the planet, why shouldn't they have an art book (or many art books) celebrating themselves?

Furthermore, speaking as a heterosexual woman of a certain age, I frankly have to admit that I enjoy looking at men! As the founder and publisher of the nude art calendar contest, Barebrush.com, I have often heard the complaint from women as well as men, “There are not enough men in the calendar! Where are the men?”

Lin, Steam
Thus it was with great anticipation and delight that I leafed through the pages of this book, reading the artists' statements and enjoying the art. To my surprise I found some old friends. I discovered also many new artists to respect and admire. Lovers of figurative art will find the range, depth, skill and sentiments of these 100 artists very satisfying. Some of the artists are straight, some gay, and some are not saying. A handful of the artists are women. 
The difficulty of writing about this book is inherent in the very range of the works. There are elaborate scenes from mythology – most of them expressing at least a hint of a modern twist which makes them unmistakably art of our times. There are studies of form and color in oil, watercolor, drawings and sculpture. There are cubist, outsider, ash can, abstract and surreal figures.

The curator, E. Gibbons, prefaces the work admirably, explaining how the range of the content, representing various approaches, styles and emotions is designed to increase the reader's interest and satisfaction. The introduction by Grady Harp sets the male figure in its historical context, from the Kuros figures of ancient Greece, through Roman, medieval, Renaissance and modern depictions. Then each artist has a say: a two-page spread with a head shot, self-portrait or signature image, accompanied by text and, of course, the artist's images. Artists' contact information is also included in the book.
Newberry,
Icarus Landing
Several of these artists are known personally to me: John Woodrow Kelley, for his slim, American figures, sublimely at home in Greek mythology; Tai Lin, whose solid oil portraits and simple compositions display both strength and sensitivity; Michael Newberry, whose inventive genius translates common myths into fresh, surprising and delightful new images. All three of these artists have work in the Barebrush Nudes of the Month calendars. The fourth artist, Jordan Mejias, who monitors the open studio sessions at Spring Studio in New York City, is a master of watercolor, creating solid form with a splash of pure, confident abandon. His figures have the vitality of the natural flow of water, tamed by a sure hand and a masterful eye. 


Mejias, IC
 
Blanchard,
Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross

There are also several artists new to me whose work caught my eye. Some of the images are clothed, including the very remarkable and disturbing Jesus is Nailed to the Cross by New York artist Doug Blanchard.

For humor, composition and pizazz, I love Thigh of Relief by Campbell Paxton of Ohio.

For pure physicality of form, my copy of the book obeys my silent command and falls open automatically at Anonymous by Chris Lopez of Florida.

And finally, the artist whose work most seems to capture my feeling of what is needed to be an artist today: Sunday Morning Sam by Steve Cronkite (Connecticut) shows the artist's primary focus on reality, but with the strength, confidence, and a certain brutalized bravado to express the truth. If I could paint like that, I'd be a happy lady.

Paxton, Thigh of Relief
 That I mention these artists does not mean that those whose work goes unmentioned are less worthy. After almost five years of running the Barebrush website with guest curators for the online calendar contest, I often point out that selection into any particular calendar is usually more about the curator than the artist.

I am sure that the reader will find his or her own personal favorites and delights. The curator, E. Gibbons, is planning more books devoted to the art of the male figure. As the first of a possible series, it is a worthy beginning.


Here are all the artists:

 
Cronkite,
Sunday Morning Sam


Lopez, Anonymous
  

E. Gibbons. 100 Artists of the Male Figure: A Contemporary Anthology of Painting, Drawing, and Sculpture. Atglen, PA. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 2011.