Monday, February 28, 2011

On the Ground with Cezanne

Paul Cezanne, 1906, Photograph by Ker-Xavier Roussel
by Kyle Gallup

Viewing “Cezanne’s Card Players” exhibit currently at the Metropolitan Museum was like visiting with a dear friend. The show renewed my thinking about Cezanne’s painting, and in a personal way. I appreciate anew the totality of his vision and the intimate relationship he had with his Provencal landscape.

In Aix for the summer

Having painted in Aix for a summer some time ago, I know what the light, color, and heat do to the landscape. It makes things shimmer. The glare from the Mediterranean sun on the rocky dry land, makes everything very hard to read visually. If you stand anywhere in Tholonet, looking south, north, east or west, you’d feel like you were inside a Cezanne painting. He painted what he saw. He kept his paintings open while he worked to accommodate what he was looking at. Cezanne’s color comes right out of the landscape. It’s very complicated light and color to translate onto canvas or paper. I believe he struggled with it everyday. I’m sure of this. I also think that by the end of his life, he did have doubts—you know when you’re looking at a landscape for a long time and know it really well and then you take your painting back into the studio to look at it, but it doesn’t have the feeling of all you saw and wanted to capture? This probably disappointed him.

Paul Cezanne, Chateau Noir, 1903-4, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 3/4 (MoMA)

Cezanne’s handheld palette

I can’t emphasize enough how difficult it is to paint outside in the bright sun of southern  France. It flattens everything out. It simplifies forms. You must squint to see color differentiations. When looking at a Cezanne landscape painting, I try to imagine what his palette might have looked like at the beginning of his workday and then, at the end of the day. He may have laid out all his warm colors on one side of the palette—let’s say raw sienna, burnt sienna, naples yellow, red ochre, vermilion and some lead white. On the cool side, he may have had ultramarine blue, cobalt, viridian, and a small amount of peach black. By the end of the day the opposing colors would have met in the middle of the palette, mingling with their counterparts, becoming grayed-down with all the mixing and cross-mixing he was doing. He would also add a little white to build opacity or to make color tones lighter. Cezanne was very careful with black in his paintings, and used it sparingly. He used it to emphasize the volume of the brushy tree greens, adding density and mass. He also used black to extend the various dark greens to their darkest tone, being careful not to turn them black like the shadows.

Daubing color, master mixer

Cezanne daubed color onto the canvas with relatively small brushes while accommodating the ever-changing light and shadow. Observing how transient light affected the color, he structured his pictures accordingly. Cezanne’s skies have green in them. It’s from the nearby tree colors he had mixed. His paintings have grayed down oranges that turn to delicate purples, gray-purples. He was a master mixer. With all the deep analyzing of the color he was seeing while working, he never let go of his emotional connection to his subjects. At times, his bunches of trees would dissolve into a mass of brush stokes of color, and buildings became the most beautiful and satisfying orange cubes in all of painting history—if he only knew.

Living, breathing, painting

Cezanne approached painting in a direct, personal and modern way. He had the courage to leave areas of his canvas unpainted in a single picture. Sometimes I forget that when I look at Cezanne, but who else was doing this at that time? He touched the surface with deliberation over and over, building up the color in some areas, almost modeling the faces or hands in a portrait. But at the same time he would leave sketchy flat backgrounds to flow into the more modeled areas. Cezanne was very aware of the canvas surface as a living, breathing space on which to work. His sensitivity to the surface was acute. It gave him an opportunity to try again.

Fini for now

A century of painting history separates me from Cezanne, yet his work speaks to me today. The freshness of his paintings, their quiet emotional pull and my understanding of all he wanted from the work sustain me. At the end of his life though he was probably unsure of his accomplishments, I hope he was still gratified by the attention and respect the next generation of artists had for him.  I’m guessing he had a few respectful visitors. He must have felt somewhat satisfied by the many years he had to work day in and day out pursuing his personal dream. For me, no artist has crystallized light this viscerally or made color so tangible.

Kyle Gallup is an artist who works in collage and watercolor.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Beat Nite Bushwick

Jason Andrew + Norte Maar bring back the late night with the fifth installment of BEAT NITE: Bushwick Art Spaces Stay Open Late, Friday, February 18, 6-10PM. This bi-annual night is half art stroll, half bar crawl, where selected art spaces from the legit galleries to the DIY apartment spaces stay open late for each other and the public welcoming the public to see real art in real time, one night only. Each of the ten spaces will host new art and offer true neighborhood hospitality in the form of drinks and music in what has become the signature party of all parties with art above all else. This episode of BEAT NITE is sponsored by HYPERALLERGIC.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cezanne and Picasso -- Two Exhibitions

Paul Cezanne, Card Players, Musee d'Orsay, Paris

By Charles Kessler

Just a quick word on two superb shows I was lucky to see just before leaving for vacation: "Cezanne's Card Players" (Metropolitan Museum) and "Picasso: Guitars 1912–1914" (Museum of Modern Art).

The radical change between Cezanne’s paintings and Cubism was not Cubism's greater abstraction, it was the change in the relationship between art and viewer. Cezanne’s paintings of card players, as innovative as they were, remain traditional easel paintings in that they are self-contained, discrete worlds. We are allowed to look at this world, to experience the resonant color and dynamic composition and brushwork, but it all takes place in a separate space from our own. The card players themselves typify this phenomenon: the men don’t interact with us or even with each other but rather exist in their own separate worlds.

Picasso broke away from traditional easel painting beginning with Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and the show “Picasso: Guitars 1912–1914,” makes the change explicit.

A blow-up of a photo of Picasso’s studio, a photo mural that aptly serves as an introduction to the show, best serves to illustrate this change.  It shows a real guitar hung in front of a large Cubist painting of a figure whose arms and hands are cut-out pieces of paper attached to the guitar as if playing it. And in front of it all is a real table with a real still life ( a bottle, cup, newspaper, pipe, etc.).

We don’t experience the art in this show as an imaginary world removed from ours -- rather the art has the presence and impact of real things in our world. It inhabits the viewer’s space, and the viewer becomes an active participant. This was Picasso’s great breakthrough and his revolutionary contribution to the art of the twentieth century.
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973), Photographic composition with Construction with Guitar Player and Violin. Paris, on or after January 25 and before March 10, 1913
Gelatin silver print, 4 5/8 x 3 7/16"  Private collection

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hang in There

My cousin's cat Felix
I'll be on vacation for a couple of weeks, but Kyle Gallup and Carl Belz are working on some great posts.

--Charles Kessler

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Identity of the Details

Show of hands -- how many of you identified the paintings from the details in the Google Art Project post? Here they are:
Detail: Giovanni Bellini, St. Francis in the Desert, 1475-1480,  oil and tempera on poplar (The Frick)
Detail: Pieter Bruegal the Elder, The Harvesters, 1565, oil on wood (The Met) 
Detail: Sando Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1483-1485, tempera on panel (The Uffizi)
Pretty amazing, huh?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Random Acts of Culture

Today’s New York Times has an article on “Random Acts of Culture,” a wildly successful program begun by the Knight Foundation to “weave the arts into the fabric of the community.”  Their biggest hit so far (with more than seven million views on YouTube) is a performance of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus organized by the Philadelphia Opera in the Grand Court of Macy’s Center City, Philadelphia. It involved 650 singers from 28 different organizations and the world’s largest pipe organ. Here it is. Enjoy -- it’s a real upper!

Koch vs. Ashbery - Sparring Poets

John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch
From the website This Recording, an audio and visual recording archive, comes this transcript of a hilarious and brilliant 1965 interview of John Ashbery by his friend Kenneth Koch. The two acerbic poets really go at it. Here's a taste:
JA: Let's ignore for the moment at least your enigmatic statement that the way things come together reminds you of Florence –

KK: I did not say that.

JA: Anyway I wish you would explain for me and our readers –

KK: Listeners.

JA: – why we seem to omit references to the cities in which we are living, in our work. This is not true of most American poetry. Shudder.

KK: Hmm. I guess we do. I did write one poem about New York while I was in New York, but the rest of the poems about America I wrote in Europe.

JA: I repeat, why we seem to omit ALMOST all references – ?

KK: I find it gets to be too difficult to get through my everyday associations with things familiar to me for me to be able to use them effectively in poetry.

JA: Snore.

KK: I myself am bored by my attempts to make abstract statements and wish I could do it as facilely as you do. I'm going to cut out my previous statement. What made you snore?

JA: Well, if you're cutting out your statement, then my snore naturally goes with it, I suppose.

KK: Maybe I won't cut it out. Or I might just keep the snore.

Friday, February 4, 2011

More Online Cultural Resources

When I blogged about the Google Art Project, I forgot to mention a prior venture of Google’s: Google Earth’s 3D tour of the Prado (which may explain why the Prado isn’t one of the museums in the Art Project). Like Google’s Art Project, there are stunning images of paintings captured using a super-high-resolution camera. The interface is kind of clumsy — if you’re not careful you can accidentally zoom to Poughkeepsie. Here's a video about it:

Google is far from the only online resource -- the University of Michigan's School of Art and Design has an extensive collection of them on their site. But perhaps the single most useful online cultural resource is the Europeana archive of paintings, music, films and books drawn from about 1500 of Europe's galleries, libraries, archives and museums. They already have a staggering 15 million items and it’s just the beginning -- the European Union wants all public domain masterpieces accessible by 2016.

Here’s a video about what you can find on Europeana:

Europeana Launch Video from europeana on Vimeo.

And speaking of online resources, the Brooklyn Museum, in another of their many efforts to reach out to a broader audience, is conducting an online experiment to determine if our initial reaction to a work of art is changed by what we are told about the work. I found it a fun exercise. Here's the link: Brooklyn Museum: Split Second: Indian Paintings.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Charles Garabedian at the Santa Barrbara Museum of Art

Installation Photo

Christopher Knight just published an excellent review of Charles Garabedian's retrospective at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Google Art Project

Google just launched a new website, the Google Art Project, where you can take virtual 360 degree tours of major museums around the world — seventeen of them so far. As you work your way around the galleries, you can click on a painting for a close-up view and get detailed information about that painting. Best of all, each museum has one painting of their choice that can be examined in astonishing detail because Google photographed it with a super-high resolution gigapixel camera. 

I found the site doesn't work well with Safari but does okay with Chrome and Firefox browsers; and I don't know about Internet Explorer.

Here's a list of the super-high resolution photographs on the site:
  • MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art / The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh
  • Uffizi Gallery / The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli
  • Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian / The Princess from the Land of Porcelain, James McNeill Whistler
  • Museo Thyssen - Bornemisza / Young Knight in a Landscape, Vittore Carpaccio
  • Museum Kampa / The Cathedral, František Kupka
  • Rijksmuseum / Night Watch, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
  • Van Gogh Museum / The bedroom, Vincent van Gogh
  • Alte Nationalgalerie / In the Conservatory, Edouard Manet
  • Palace of Versailles / Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, Queen of France, and her children , Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun
  • National Gallery / The Ambassadors, Hans Holbein the Younger
  • The Frick Collection / St. Francis in the Desert, Giovanni Bellini
  • Gemäldegalerie / The Merchant Georg Gisze, Hans Holbein the Younger
  • Museo Reina Sofia / The Bottle of Anís del Mono, Juan Gris
  • The State Tretyakov Gallery / The Apparition of Christ to the People (The Apparition of the Messiah), Aleksander Ivanov
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art / The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
  • The State Hermitage Museum / Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
  • Tate Britain / No Woman, No Cry, Chris Ofili

See if you can identify which paintings these details are taken from. 

Detail #1

Detail #2

Detail #3