Skip to main content

Sketchbook highlights of a trip to DC

I went to the Hirschorn Museum for the first time on Saturday. I started at the Corcoran Museum, which is slightly south-west of the White House, and walked through the mist and fog across the grassy area south of the ellipse. One of the remarkable things about the USA is right there in that scene. A lot of people think of America as the huge, evil imperialist beast, its military-industrial complex always churning away, helicopters and F-15s swarming the skies around the Pentagon, spies and police frisking you down if you so much as look at them the wrong way. Yet you can walk past the White House on a drizzly Saturday morning, and all you will see are a few Secret Service SUVs parked here and there, a few guys trying to play football on the swampy grass, and the occasional tourist forlornly taking a photo of the famous scene, evidently despondent that the whole picture is rather more ordinary than grandiose. I tramped slowly past the Washington Monument (the big stone needle), up the National Mall, past the huge Smithsonian buildings, and thought to myself that even Americans, obsessed as they currently are with which political party is about to destroy the Republic, forget that between the twin poles of US political power -- the White House and the Capitol -- lie a mile or so of the greatest cultural repositories on the planet.

Back to the Hirschorn, which housed many paintings and sculptures that I've known and loved all my life, yet which I was seeing for the first time. Here are some sketches I did in a room full of early, significant Willem de Koonings. First, 'Queen of Hearts', from 1943-46:

Then one of his 'Women' series:

In the evening, I went back to the conference hotel to meet Patty and others for the cocktail hour:

Then on Sunday morning, we left the hotel early to catch the plane back to Chicago:

 Subscribe to Praeterita in a reader

Popular posts from this blog

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.

A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

A List of Every Drink in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

I first read Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises" when I was a teenager, and immediately fell in love with it. For the last couple of years, I have had the incredible privilege of teaching a class based around Hemingway in Paris -- while living and teaching in Paris itself, close to the Boulevard du Montparnasse, where most of the action of the novel's first half takes place.

Of the many things that one notices about the book, the colossal amount of drinking is something that stands out. These people didn't just drink like fish: they drank like whales, as if the ocean they swam in was alcohol and they had set themselves the task of drinking the seas of the world dry of it. During my read-through of the book before class started last year, I tried to underline every mention of drink in the book. And now, purely in the interests of science, I am listing the entire menu of booze mentioned directly by name. Some preliminary observations:
Most of this is…

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.