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Tucson Museum of Art: Part 3

The next print that stood out for me during my visit to the Tucson Museum of Art was this etching by Goya (above). It's from his series Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War), a series of etchings he made between 1810 and 1820 depicting the horrors of the Peninsula War that ravaged Spain during the previous decade. This print shows a tangle of corpses in a house that has been destroyed by cannon fire. I notice how Goya still uses classical drawing techniques even while he draws a violent subject form real life: the legs of the man lying on his back in the foreground could easily have come straight from a Renaissance painting.

Next, this beautiful etching by German artist Kathe Kollwitz, from the 1890s:


The wall text said "etching", but the areas of rich dark tone indicate that she also used aquatint -- and in a brilliantly expert way, too. Look at all that variation in the textures of the shadows between the figures: any printmaker will tell you how much techniqu…

Tucson Museum of Art: Part 2

The second print I noticed during my recent visit to the Tucson Museum of Art was this 1992 etching by artist Luis Alfonso Jimenez (1940-2006). He was born in El Paso, Texas, and lived in New Mexico, and his work is in the Smithsonian Collection of American Art. I liked this print because, although he was mainly a sculptor, this print has the classic skeleton character that one sees in a lot of Mexican printmaking, particularly woodcuts and linocuts.

Very weird fact about his demise: he was moving a piece of sculpture out of his studio so that it could be installed at Denver Airport. The large piece fell on him, pinning his leg, and he died from traumatic injuries the same day. Talk about dying for one's art...

Art in the Desert

I was in the Tucson Museum of Art last week, a compact building with an inner ramp that goes all the way from below ground to two storeys above street level. It's similar in that respect to the Guggenheim museum in New York. The last time I visited, in 2005, I remember seeing lots of paintings of cowboys, and then a Mark Rothko, which was a jarring juxtaposition. This time, there was an engrossing exhibition of art featuring the face and the body, from a private collection. On display were many great prints, all the way from Goya in the early 1800s to 1960s artist James Rosenquist.
The first one that caught my eye was this beautiful, haunting woodcut by printmaker Leonard Baskin, one of my favourites.

Dead-Eye Daumier

During my last visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, I came across these old favourites of mine: a cabinet full of little bronze sculptures by Daumier:



There are about thirty of them, each one a caricature of a French politician or public figure from the 1830s. Daumier fashioned them in clay in about 1835, but they weren't cast in bronze until nearly a century later.

What I love about them is not just that they are wickedly exaggerated, but that each one is so intensely individualised, so that even though we don't know who any of these people are, we have no doubt that they are accurate exaggerations of real people, with their twisted faces, daft hairstyles, ogreishly ugly faces, and mean expressions.


They may be satirical, like cartoons in three dimensions, but they are still so very skilful and so very beautiful.

The Mind's I at the Ed Paschke Center

Last week, I took part in a drawing project at the Ed Paschke Art Center in Chicago. The center in itself is worth a visit, too, by the way: not just to see Paschke's wacky yet beguiling art, but because the repurposing of the building (in a nondescript area bordered by fast food joints and a nearby freeway) was done so well.

The Mind's I is a collaborative project initiated by Chicago-based Anne Harris. To quote from the press release:

Self-perception and self-expression are central concerns of The Mind’s I, which marries mimesis, or representation, with diegesis, or thoughts and actions. The presence of each artist allows their individual portraits to stand on their own, but when taken together, The Mind’s I presents a moving composite about looking as much as it is about being seen. Each participant is asked to draw on 12" x 12" sheets of paper, using any materials they like, but steering away from photos or computers as sources and working instead with the basic …

5 (Long) Reasons Why You Should Come to the USA

I try not to write politically charged posts on this blog, preferring instead to keep the focus on art and creativity. But it's been pretty hard to ignore the news lately, and as every day passes I feel more impelled to say something that speaks to the moment.

If you love Donald Trump, you might believe that there is a media conspiracy dedicated to preventing him doing what he was elected to do. If you loathe Donald Trump, you might already think he's done enough to be impeached. Instead of stepping into that minefield, I've just been trying to think of what I would say to a foreigner if they asked me the question: Why should I come to the United States?

It's been almost exactly fifteen years since I moved here from England, so this is partly for my own benefit, too, to enumerate some of the good things I continue to see in my adopted country:

The landscape: the variety of the landscape in the US is incomparable. Things that stand out in my mind after travelling to 36 …

Masterpieces Restored

When you enter the church of St. Sulpice in Paris, there is a small side chapel immediately on the right decorated with murals painted by Eugene Delacroix. Regular readers might know that Delacroix is a particular favourite of mine, and I've always wanted to look at these works, but they've been covered for renovations during my last few visits to Paris. To my delight, they were finally back on display when I went to the church n the middle of January.

On the left of the chapel as you face it, you see Jacob Wrestling with the Angel. Looking up, you see St Michael and the Dragon. On the right, you see Heliodorus Driven From the Temple.



It's always a good question to ask why a public painter chose certain subjects, and these seem at first curious choices. In the story of Jacob, it's possible that Delacroix saw a metaphor for his own struggle with painting. This interpretation is reinforced by clues Delacroix painted into the pile of clothing lying in the foreground: the…

From the Journal of the Society of Arts, February 1864

While researching a new blog post about seeing Eugene Delacroix's murals in the church of St. Sulpice, Paris, I came across this announcement from the Journal of the Society of Arts, 1864:


It's a report of the sale of the entire contents of his studio, which is on the Rue Furstenberg in the St Germain des Pres district -- and which I wrote about visiting two years ago. Certain details indicate the excitement of the writer, even in what is otherwise a report of objects and prices: "contains no less than 858 lots," "numerous and remarkable decorative works of art." It goes on to describe the sketchbooks and watercolours:


The final part of the notice talks about the success of the sale, and the large sums of money being paid for the works:


The final total is between 7,000 and 8,000 pounds, which would be roughly 600,000 pounds at the current exchange (I used a chart from the Bank of England's website to do the conversion). A later notice, at the completio…

Imagine a Room Like This

Following on from my last post, which talked about seeing the contents of Andre Breton's studio: the Orangerie, at the edge of the Jardins des Tuileries, houses Monet's giant Nympheas paintings on the upper level, and on the lower level the collection of Paul Guillame. Guillaume was an art dealer who owned many works by Modigliani, Soutine, Matisse, Braque, and Picasso. But what I found really interesting during my last visit was a tiny, dolls' house-sized mock-up of some of the rooms in his apartment:


This was on the Avenue Foch, one of the poshest streets in Paris (it's a wide boulevard that runs west from the Arc de Triomphe). As you can see, if you sat down to eat in the dining room, you could look up and see paintings by Degas, Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso.

And in the living room:


Lots of Picasso and Modigliani, plus some gorgeous furniture.

If you could select 10 paintings to hang on the walls of your living room or dining room, what would they be?

Paris and 'African' Art

One of the signal facts of artistic movements in Paris in the first half of the twentieth century is the influence of African art on the painters and writers who created what we now refer to as Modernism. I put the word African in inverted commas in the title to this post to indicate that what Picasso, Matisse, Breton, and others were borrowing from was as much their own, sometimes erroneous, ideas about Africa, as much as the physical objects that fascinated them so. That said, you can't visit museums in Paris without finding evidence for the importance of this south-to-north current of influence.

The Musee du Quai Branly houses objects from Africa, the Americas, and Oceania, and early in January I made my first ever visit to the collection:



This is the source material, or very similar to it, for the statues that Picasso saw in the Louvre in the early 1900s, and which inspired his 'primitive' painting of the female figure in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the foundationa…

How to Make A Fish Print the Picasso Way

I saw these photos at the Musee Picasso yesterday, of Picasso making a fish print in the 1950s.

First, eat the fish:


Next, arrange fish on surface with satisfied look on face (your face, not the fish's):


Finally, roll the fish with ink and press paper against it:


Thus did Picasso secure his plaice in printmaking history.

Accidents, by Susan Shaw

Just before Christmas 2016, I taught a short Journal and Sketchbook class at Lillstreet Art Center on Chicago. One of the participants kindly agreed to let me post a piece that she wrote in the class, along with an accompanying sketch.


I felt like an animal. An angry, sweaty animal-anger in my veins. I could hardly sit there.

"Do you feel depressed?" asked Dr. Cook, the shrink.
"Yes", I said. I was only 14 and already I was depressed.
"Well you can’t imagine what real pain is. I got hit by a car. The impact of that car - I will never forget it. Terrible pain. Crash! Right into my legs. You were probably wondering why I have braces and crutches."
"Actually, no", I said. "Can you give me some kind of medicine?"
"We're going to talk first, then maybe medicine. The pain was horrible. Thank god you didn't have to go through it."
Dr. Cook was freaking me out and I felt like smacking her with my hand. Probably my manic depressive…

At the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

I'm in Paris, France, for three weeks, teaching on Columbia College Chicago's study abroad program. The students don't arrive until the weekend, so I'm just relaxing in the city and our rented apartment in Montparnasse, on an easy schedule of one museum per day followed by a nap and a light dinner (with wine, of course).

On Wednesday, we went to the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, near the Place de l'Alma. Half of the permanent collection was closed, but I still saw some seminal twentieth century works. From the first third of the century, there was the giant canvas-mural La Danse, the second version, painted for an American patron in the early 1930s. Inside the vast room that housed the works, there were two small cabinet with some fascinating photos, such as this one of Matisse sketching the mural:


When you enter the hall where the paintings are displayed, you first see the sketched version:


On the right, you can just about see one of the museum do…