Friday, October 31

Art and Architecture

Today’s Image

Continuing our trek of art venues in Washington, D.C. in this blog...Washington is full of museums as everyone knows, and we visit as many as possible on each visit, but we have only scratched the surface.

In addition to the National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden, we also had two other items on our list of ‘want-to-see.’ They were a visiting exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery (8th & F Sts. NW) and the nearby National Building Museum (401 F St. NW).

We had visited the National Portrait Gallery on a previous visit and spent an afternoon looking at the official portraits of each and every president from G. Washington to G.W. Bush. That in itself was worth the visit, but it’s only a fraction of artworks on hand at the museum, which also houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Needless to say, there is a lot to look at, and it will take many return visits to see the whole thing. But that day we came to see an exhibit of Ansel Adams’ photography and Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. If you read this blog, you know I am a big fan of Georgia O’Keeffe and other artists from New Mexico. I am familiar with most of her work, and some of the best (my opinion) was included in the exhibit. Many were on loan from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, and which I had seen on a visit there. But several were from private collections, including oils of the hills around her Ghost Ranch home and her floral pastels, that I had not seen. Her landscapes continue to inspire. Some of the best of the photographs of Ansel Adams’ collection were interspersed with the O’Keeffe works so that you got a feel of what Southwest art was about in the first half of the 20th century. I don’t know if the exhibit travels anywhere else, but if it comes to your area, go see it.

Next on the list was the National Building Museum. It was just down F St. a couple of blocks. This may be one of those museums in Washington that you think you’ve heard of, but aren’t quite sure. That’s the way I was. Turns out it was actually renovated in 1987. It was originally the U.S. Pension Bureau Building from the mid-19th century, and I think I heard it was used as a union hospital during the Civil War, but I could be wrong. Anyway today it’s a beautifully restored building/museum dedicated to buildings and architecture. The main feature is the huge atrium that makes you say "wow” when you enter. The museum houses collections and exhibits, such as Frank Lloyd Wright and on the buildings of Washington itself (Washington: Symbol and City). The day we were there, an exhibit of student artwork on the revitalization of an old Washington neighborhood was on display, which shows how the museum interacts with current events. You’ve probably seen this museum and didn’t know it—it’s where the annual Christmas in Washington program is televised. You can’t miss the HUGE columns in the atrium, which is Today’s Image.

In the Studio

I guess I’m in productive mode this week. Since last blog I painted an acrylic from a reference photo that I’ve been wanting to do. It’s of the surf somewhere in the Caribbean with the crashing waves in the foreground and a view of the surf receding to the horizon. I used Reeves Cerulean Blue, Amsterdam Sky Blue Light, Van Gogh Greyish Blue, Fundamentals Cadmium Blue Green Light Hue, Liquitex Basics Light Aqua Green, Grumbacher Payne’s Gray, and Winsor & Newton Galeria Titanium White as my palette. I roughly sketched in the horizon and foreground waves, then started mixing the colors to the reference photo. I painted the foreground waves in bright titanium white, the mid-ground in light bluish-green, almost turquoise, and the horizon and sky in a light grey with aqua and white clouds. I like it and plan to finish it with a gloss varnish.


Tuesday, October 28

At the National Gallery of Art

Today’s Image

I’m continuing where last blog left off, which was in front of the National Gallery of Art at the Sculpture Garden. After we toured the garden, the next stop was the National Gallery itself. On a previous visit several years back, we spent a couple of hours on one of the floors going from room to room, but we honestly couldn’t remember what we had already seen before. Anyway that was before my renewed interest in art, and on this trip I knew what I wanted to see. And that was the Gallery’s collection of Impressionist paintings.

I had already consulted my DK Eyewitness Travel Guide for Washington, D.C. and knew there was an extensive collection to see. If you’ve been to the National Gallery, you know just how big it is. It’s impossible to see it all in a day, or even two days; it would take more like a week. The building itself is huge, I’m talking city-block huge, and there are two levels. There are also two buildings, the West Building and the East Building.

As I said, I was looking for the Impressionist paintings, and so not to waste any time, I went right to the Information Desk for directions. They don’t refer to it as Impressionist at the Gallery, rather it’s 19th-Century French. They’re located in Galleries 80 through 93 on the west end of the Main Floor in the West Building if you’re looking for them.

If you like the Impressionists, you will be glad you came. There are room after room (galleries) full of paintings of almost all the Impressionists you have ever heard of and probably some of which you had not heard. I especially enjoyed seeing the numerous paintings of Edouard Manet and Claude Monet:

Edouard Manet

  • The Dead Toreador
  • Still Life with Melon and Peaches
  • Plum Brandy

Claude Monet

  • The Cradle – Camille with Artist’s Son Jean
  • Rouen Cathedral, West Facade Sunlight
  • The House of Parliament, Sunset
  • The Japanese Footbridge
  • Woman with a Parasol – Madam Monet and Her Son
  • The Bridge at Argenteuil

Other favorites of mine:

  • The Ramparts at Aigues-Mortes by Frederic Bazille
  • Little Girl in a Blue Armchair by Mary Cassatt
  • Boulevard des Italiens, Morning, Sunlight by Camille Pissarro

There are, of course, many, many other beautiful paintings, and if you go online to the National Galery of Art’s website, you can see all of the above.

In the Studio

Last blog, I mentioned I had ‘finished’ my acrylic of the scene overlooking the Pacific Ocean again, but there was the possibility that it was not completely finished so I put it away for awhile. I did give it a name—North of Goleta—so it’s nearly finished. I’m pretty sure, though, that I have a little more work to do on it. I’ll let you know.

However, since last blog, I did start and completely finish another acrylic, which is Today’s Image. It’s a view from the sidewalk in front of the Sculpture Garden at National Gallery of Art on The Mall in Washington, D.C. I named it At the National Gallery. Unlike many of my acrylics, I used more water with the acrylic paint to give it a looser feel not unlike a watercolor. My palette was Liquitiex Basics Cerulean Blue, Liquitex heavy Body Viridian, Grumbacher Cadmium Yellow Light, Van Gogh Warm Grey, Grumbacher Burnt Sienna, and Galeria Titanium White.


Friday, October 24

Visiting the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art

Today’s Image

An unexpected find on recent travels was the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. We ran across it while strolling on the Mall in Washington, D.C. I guess we knew it was there, but had either passed it by or forgotten it on previous visits. I’ve heard the Mall referred to as ‘the nation’s front yard,’ which I think is appropriate; it’s the place where thousands of visitors walk by and view our monuments and federal buildings.

That said, I suppose you can think of the Sculpture Garden as yard ornaments for the front lawn. It sits across the lawn from the “Castle’ of the Smithsonian Institute. You come across it quite unexpectedly, at least we did, and the sign invites you come in and walk down the gently curving sidewalk. It was a beautiful fall morning, and the leaves of several of the trees had begun to change to orange and red.

The sculptures are arranged so that you are guided to look first to the left at one, then stroll a little more, and you look to the right to view the next one. I didn’t know there were 17 sculptures in the garden until I looked it up later on the internet, and I don't think we saw every one. But we did see a good many that were impressive, if not beautiful and thought-provoking. Some of the sculptures were under renovation and not on display, but among the memorable to us in no particular order:
  • Aurora by Mark di Suvero– a huge steel structure with crossbars and beams that towers way overhead and is oxidizing as you look at it
  • Four-Sided Pyramid by Sol LeWitt– a large cascading pyramid of cubes that present the viewer with a symmetrical form of light and shadow
  • Cheval Rouge (red horse) by Alexander Calder – a large red multi-legged steel structure resembling a horse, although the red has faded to a pinkish orange
  • Cluster of Four Cubes by George Rickey – a tall bright stainless steel (it’s shiny) structure of four large cubes with shimmering finishes that are clustered around a pole. And it rotates.
  • House 1 by Roy Lichtenstein – My personal favorite and Today’s Image—it’s a complete optical illusion that you will spend minutes walking around and moving in and out to view to see how it works. What’s happening is that the sculpture is convex and also angled so that the main corner of the house appears to come forward or recede depending on your angle of viewing and distance from the sculpture. Very intriguing.

We were on our way to the National Gallery of Art when we found the Sculpture Garden, and were very glad we did.

In the Studio

A few blogs ago I was talking about my acrylic of a view of the Pacific Ocean from a cliff overlooking it. Well, I finished it after several fits and starts. It was one of those works that you finish, and finish, and then you finish it again, and then you finish it a third and fourth time. Well, I think I ‘finished’ it again yesterday. At least I put it away for now and called it finished. I did give it a name, which usually for me means that the end is near.

I didn’t have any particular trouble in painting it, but I wasn’t happy with the way the water looked and re-did it several times to try to get the depth, the reflections, and the wave action right, not to mention the correct tones (I did add Liquitex Heavy Body Ochre over the Grumbacher Ultramarine to make a believable color in the shallow water near the shore). I also had some trouble getting the depth perception right. The view is from a cliff looking at once down a steep hillside but also way off in the distance to the right, and there is a hillside that ascends on the right. After writing that description, no wonder I was having a bit of trouble. But I added shadows to the foreground, some highlights to the vegetation on the hillside, and ‘blued-up’ the horizon to make it recede. So I finished it again, for now anyway.


Tuesday, October 21

Hotel Art

Today’s Image

I was fortunate to be able to do some more travelling this month especially with the great autumn weather in the US. As I had previously remarked in an earlier blog about there being no noticeable artwork apparent at airports in which I pass through, I’m sad to report that is also the case at Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C. There may be a statue or sculpture standing around somewhere, but if there were, I missed them among all the other signs, directions, warnings, and the Metro. I wonder if there is artwork at the Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris?

Whatever. On this trip I decided to look and see what kind of 'art' was hanging at my hotel, if any. I was pretty sure there would be some kind of art there. I only began to notice artwork during the last year as I began to draw and paint again, and I now try to notice what someone else has chosen for my viewing pleasure.

My assumption is that it’s all business at hotel chains; that is, some artist somewhere (or their agent if they have one) had enough business sense to figure out how to make some money. I assume that almost every painting, print, photo, poster, etc. at hotels is mass produced, so that you see the same landscape or abstraction whether you’re in Maine or Montana.

I Googled ‘hotel art’ and ‘art in hotels’ and got a few hits. One was Overstock Art with the lively tag line of “Hotel Art – Get Inspired!” Hmmm. If you provide contact information, they’ll get in touch about their ‘hotel art program.’ I was surprised to see you can order by artist, by motif (landscape, floral), by style (Impressionist, Surrealism), and by size. There was also Art-Impact, which has “a tool for specifying and procuring artwork while closely monitoring the pulse of art and innovation.” Art-Impact lets you search by featured artist and browse their portfolio; it even offers special requests, which I assume meant they could accommodate artists not on their list. They seem to have something to fit every need and, if I’m not mistaken, it sounds like every piece of art is one-of–a-kind original, although that may not be in every case. If so, then maybe you won’t see the same thing in Bangor and Butte.

For Today’s Image, I’m showing you a sample of the artwork at the hotel (which will remain nameless) where I stayed. All the artwork in the lobby and at least in the hallway on my floor was in this same abstract style. It’s pleasing on some level. I like the bright color, but what is it—a canyon, a pelvis, what? Ah yes--in the eye of the beholder. I don’t know if it's the same style on other floors as I didn’t bother to look. The lobby and hall art was different and better, in my opinion, than the couple of pieces that hung in my room anyway. They were so bland that I can’t remember much about them—an abstract floral or something.

So I’m thinking, you get what you pay for as always. If you’re staying in a chain hotel, you get chain artwork; if you stay in an upscale resort, you get one-of-a-kinds, maybe.

The good thing is, at least they are trying, and I thank them for that. As for the artwork in my hallway, I think the EXIT sign adds something to the composition, don’t you?

Wednesday, October 15

From Corot to Monet

Today’s Image

I guess you could say I’m into visiting art museums recently. If you’re a regular viewer of Orbisplanis, then you know I returned from Southern California not long ago after visiting a slew of art galleries and museums from Los Olivos to LA.

I don’t think I mentioned that I am also fortunate to have some of the finest art museums in the country in ‘my own backyard.’ Not literally, of course, but in Houston. I had been planning all summer on visiting the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH).

The reason for my planning to visit was to view the exhibit ‘In the Forest of Fontainebleau – Painters and Photographers from Corot to Monet.” Back in July when the exhibit opened on the 13th, it seemed I had all the time in the world to get down there, but somehow the time slipped away and suddenly it’s mid-October. The exhibit closes on October 19th, so week before last, I and a couple of family members finally made it. By the way, I decided to post one of my paintings, The Rowboat, that is reminiscent of the Impressionists as Today's Image in honor of Claude Monet and the other Impressionists in the exhibit.

The exhibit was put together by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and MFAH. The flyer that they hand you at the door says, “Masterworks by Corot, Monet, and photography’s first pioneers chart the dual evolution of landscape painting and photography in the famed 19th-century artists’ colony that thrived for nearly 50 years at the Forest of Fontainebleau near Paris. The convergence of extraordinary talent during that heady period laid the groundwork for impressionism, influenced the development of landscape photography, and raised early advocacy for nature conservancy.” That about says it all. The promotional literature used the word ‘spellbinding;’ although that’s not a word I use, I will say that when you see the works in person you are very glad you had the privilege.

The painting I liked the most, and the one that was featured in promotions was Bazille and Camille (Study for "Déjeuner sur l´herbe") by Claude Monet. In addition to Monet and Jean Baptiste-Camille Corot, there are paintings by Gustave Courbet, Theodore Rousseau, Charles Emile Jacque, Jules Coignet, Narcisse Diaz de la Pena, and Monet’s Impressionist friends, Frederic Bazille and Alfred Sisley. The photographs of Gustave Le Gray are featured, and it’s hard to believe they were taken so long ago.
I don’t know if the exhibit is travelling to other cities, but if it comes anywhere near you, make the effort.

In the Studio

After my bout with uncertainty last week, I got going again (as always) on another acrylic. This one is taken from a reference photo I took overlooking the Pacific Ocean from the afore mentioned California trip. For the sky I’m using Liquitex Cerulean Blue Hue and Winsor & Newton Titanium White with just a touch of Van Gogh Greyish Blue at the horizon. The water is Grumbacher Ultramarine, Liquitex Cerulean Blue Hue, Winsor & Newton Titanium White, Amsterdam Sky Blue Light, and Liquitex Heavy Body Yellow Oxide for contrast nearer the shore. I like it so far and think it will turn out fine.


Friday, October 10

Reviewing European Art to 1850

Today’s Image

In the Studio

I put what I thought were the ‘finishing touches’ on my acrylic of the view from Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara that I worked on for a couple of weeks and gave it a name—Vista Santa Barbara. It’s Today’s Image.

I told you last blog that my next painting was going to be a building in the Spanish Colonial architectural style so prevalent in California. Well, I changed my mind. I started working on it from a photo taken at dusk, and I just could not get it started right, in my mind. I ‘gesso-ed’ over my first attempt, then started again on the main composition, but was just not satisfied with the way it was coming along. I refer to that as being ‘in the zone,’and I was not in it. So instead of continuing to be frustrated, I put it away. Maybe I’ll go back to it in a few weeks, maybe not.

If this has happened to you with your art, and I feel sure it has if you’ll admit to it, do not fret. I think it’s just a natural part of the creative process where we strive to comprehend our vision. Sometimes it works on the first try, and sometimes it doesn’t.

In the Art Library

I want to tell you about an art book I finished reading last week. Actually it’s an art history book. I haven’t spent much, if any, time discussing art history in the Orbisplanis blog. Although I am interested in history per se, and more recently in art history, I never studied art history when I was a student. I now think that’s a plus, because the history is all new information, which makes it that much more interesting (to me anyway).

Anyhow, the book is European Art to 1850 by Tony Lucchesi and Fulvio Palombo. It appears to be one in a series of books called the International Encyclopedia of Art. If you are an art historian, or you have studied art history, or you consider yourself educated on the subject, you may think this is not a serious enough book on the subject. But for the rest of us, I believe it is perfect. Here’s why: it starts with cave art and covers all the major eras up until 1850; it is relatively short (63 pages) and to the point; and most importantly, you will actually learn something and retain what you read.

The book is not terribly in depth, but it covers the major points you need to know. It gives you the broad overview of the history of art (to 1850) so that you know enough to start digging for more information if that’s what you want to do. It puts the eras and events in context with a timeline up front so that you can easily follow along and find where you are in art-history time.

It starts with cave art then moves right along with early Christian art and covers all the eras up through the romantic art movement. Here are some of the eras covered (there are 19): Byzantine, early Medieval, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance (early and high), Baroque (four eras ), Rococo, and Neo-classic. Two others of which I had never heard, were also presented—Carolingian/Ottoman and Mannerist.

Another thing I like are the many sidebars on almost every page. The sidebars have information, not only including examples of the art and sculptures, but also relevant topics that relate to the life and times of the era. Here are just a very few examples: the catacombs, Viking daily life, women in art, crusades, the Sistine Chapel, and the invention of printing. Many of the sidebars are about individuals, most of whom I was not very familiar if at all, such as the Limbourg Brothers, Luca della Robbia, Titian, Alessandro Algardi, Frans Hals, Angelica Kauffman, and Antonio Canova. I won’t tell you who they were, but if you’re like me, maybe you’ll like doing a little research on them.

As I said, I like this book because it provides a lot of information in context so that you have enough of a foundation to continue studying if you so desire. Did I mention it was only 63 pages? I told you you would learn something.


Tuesday, October 7

Viewing Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Today’s Image

If you’ve been following the blogs on Orbisplanis for the last month, and I hope you have, I visited art galleries and art museums in Southern California, specifically the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara. Today's blog was back in LA.

We were able to get to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (better known as LACMA) on Sunday afternoon. LACMA is billed as having the largest collection of art west of Chicago, and I believe it. The whole thing is spread out in at least six buildings (and a parking garage) on Wilshire Blvd. @ Fairfax near the Miracle Mile District if you’re familiar with west LA.

It is big. The permanent collection is made up of Asian art, African art, Egyptian art, Chinese art, Islamic art, Greek art, German Expressionist, Japanese art, Korean art, Latin American art, and so on, and so on, just to let you know some of what's there. In addition to the permanent collection, there are also seven exhibits currently ongoing (that’s seven!). For example, there's The Age of Imagination: Japanese Art, 1615–1868, from the Price Collection and Los Angelenos/Chicano Painters of L.A.: Selections from the Cheech Marin Collection, to name just two. Today’s Image is a view of the marquee for the Cheech Marin exhibit.

I spent most of my time looking for and finally at the European art in the Ahmanson Building. I enjoyed seeing the Impressionists—there were several Claude Monet’s, including In the Woods at Giverny: Blanche Hoschede at Her Easel with Suzanne Hoschede Reading and Nympheas. There was also a Camille Pissarro and a couple of August Renoir’s. There is so much, it is almost overwhelming, and after a couple of viewing hours, we took a welcome break in front of the Hammer Building Welcome Center for some interesting people watching.

I mentioned in an earlier blog, that we visited the Getty Museum on a previous LA visit, and still need to return there to see the rest of it. We should have known better than to try to squeeze the visit all into one afternoon visit. So we will have to schedule a return visit to LACMA, too. Maybe next time.

In the Studio

I worked some more on my view of Santa Barbara, and it is near completion. Only a few finishing touches. I have worked on it for almost two weeks, which is longer than most any of my paintings, although I don’t mean to say that the outcome will equal the effort. I think I used too many colors and need to limit my palette somewhat. I was finally happy with the afternoon hazy light, but still know that I will need to do more Southern California afternoon landscapes to feel like I am able to capture it realistically.
But I’m already moving forward and have decided my next painting will be an acrylic of a Spanish colonial structure like many we saw along California’s Central coast. The palette for this one so far is titanium white, cadmium medium yellow, cadmium medium red, and burnt sienna. I will also need ultramarine blue.


Friday, October 3

Visiting the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Today’s Image

If you have ever been to Santa Barbara, California, you may remember that State Street is the main thoroughfare through town (other than the 101 Freeway). And if you drive into ‘downtown,’ you’ll find the Santa Barbara Museum of Art located at the corner of State and Anapuma St. Today's Image is a view of Santa Barbara I took from Stearns Wharf.

I’ll quote from a brochure I picked up on the Santa Barbara’s Historic Arts District (which also includes a map and lots of info): “The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, one of Southern California’s finest art museums, features nationally recognized permanent collections and special exhibitions of international importance.” With that I will agree. Although I’m certainly no expert on Southern California art museums, from what I saw, it more than lives up to that billing, especially for a city the size of Santa Barbara (about 100,000).

The visiting exhibit when we were there was Made in Hollywood: Photographs from the John Kobal Foundation. This is an exhibit that includes all sorts of photographs of some of the most famous (and infamous) stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age, which was dated from 1920-1960. The photographs have been sized to larger than life so that they fit comfortably in the large McCormick gallery/room of the museum for easy viewing. The photographs of the stars were primarily taken on the sets of some of the most well known movies (Wizard of Oz 1939) and some that I had never heard of (Dancing Lady 1933).

I had never heard of most of the photographers unfortunately, but their work is superb. I Googled the exhibition and found an informative article from the Arts & Culture of the LA Times that provides more information than the museum, especially on who John Korbal was.

But wait, there’s more. There was another exhibit that was even more attention-getting. It’s Picasso On Paper: Drawings from the Permanent Collection. These are 25 of the great artist’s works that span his entire career from 1899 to 1967. Needless to say, this was an unexpected bonus, and viewing them in the small gallery makes you feel up close and personal to Picasso himself.

I want to also mention one of the works in the museum’s permanent collection. There are several by Claude Monet that are placed along a wall with lighting that enhances the beautiful artwork. It's Villas a Bordighera. The museum was thoughtful enough to place a sofa facing the row of Claude Monet's, and I sat there for a while to enjoy the work of the master Impressionist.

In the Studio

Still working on my view of Santa Barbara from the wharf. Maybe it will be finished this weekend. I think I am making progress on the ‘hazy light’ problem. An artist friend suggested a glaze/wash with diluted cobalt blue, titanium white, and a touch of alizarin crimson. I tried it, and it seems to work, although I’m not 100 percent sure yet. I also added much of the out of focus cityscape on the hillsides. I will keep you posted on progress.