Thursday, October 11, 2018

Style and Meaning: Greek Revival Architecture, etc.

Greek Revival is one of my favorite historical American styles.  I think this is in part because I grew up in the city of Boston and was very Boston proud.  In particular, I was obsessed with architecture and Boston had some great examples of Greek Revival architecture.  A particularly early and very ambitious piece was Quincy Market, 1826 ...

I tend to assume that the Greek Revival style was popular in America in the early 1800s because it was associated with Greece and thus with  both democracy and the struggle for independence, something Greece was known for historically and also in the early 1800s.    I think it says a lot about how early Boston elites defined ideas such as liberty and independence that they chose to build a market in this style and very grandly in this style.  Today it is the far right wing that we think of as championing the "Market" as the ultimate source, sign and guarantor of freedom.  Back then I guess it was the 'liberal' eastern elites that thought that way.

There is also a late building in the Greek Revival style that exists to this day in Boston, the Custom House.  It was built by the Federal government, yet it suggests that Boston elites continued to associate freedom with 'the Market'. I think it is perhaps the most successful Greek Revival building ever created in America, a building whose design is so well wrought that it has survived the replacement of its dome with a five hundred foot office tower without any real loss of artistic coherence, in my opinion...

Around mid-19th-century, the history of architecture in America gets a little weird. Where I grew up, in Boston, Greek Revival seems to have been abandoned just as it peaked, and not for artistic reasons.  Artistically it was a style of unmatched dignity and power.  Yet architecture seemed restless, now toying with styles hearkening back to the earlier federal period (Boston's South End) ...

... now exploring Egyptian Revival ...
... Gothic Revival in an early phase ...

In the 1860s, America seemed to settle on French Second Empire as its grand new style...

I think that this restless search for a consensus American style had a lot to do with the growing split between the North and the South.  The growing rift between North and South over slavery had to mean that the two regions could not unproblematically share notions of freedom and liberty, much less an architectural style embodying those notions.  My sense is that the South embraced Greek Revival longer than the North did, while the North searched for an appropriate new style.   French Second Empire (ie French Second Repulic?) seemed to fill the bill for a while, but it too gave way to another consensus style, Italianate:

Here again associations played a big role I think in recomending italianate as a suitable style for a young nation espousing freedom and liberty.   Italy was in the throes of establishing itself as  a unified independent country in the 1860s and northern Italy in particular (which Italianate relates to particularly closely) was associated, presumably, with the culture of Florence and with Florence's own struggle for independence and a kind of democracy going back centuries.  Italianate must have been particularly attractive to any Bostonians who prided themselves on the idea that Boston was the Florence of America!

So it's probably not surprising that the greatest achievement of Italianate as a consensus Great Style for America was in Boston:  The Boston Public Library...

The conceit is that this building is based on the fortress-like palazzos of Florentine elites of the Renaissance, but repurposed to serve the people as their special home within the city...

It is interesting to compare the current Boston Public Library building to an earlier building for the BPL, also Italianate in style and also extraordinarily beautiful, as well as a very early version of the style  ...

As with Greek Revival architecture, Boston seems to have created both an early great version of the style and possibly one of the latest and  perhaps the greatest version too.  Although Italianate was an international style, I think of it as the first style of architecture in which a uniquely American version began to develop.  American Italianate has elements recognizable from the international style, but proportioned and arranged with a new freedom.  

With Italianate, one gets the impression for the first time that American architects were less interested in showing that they could measure up to English and French counterparts and more interested in exploring a style in their own way.  The search for a genuinely American style heated up after Italianate, with groundbreaking architects such as Furness, Richardson, Sullivan and Wright.  Then came the allout aesthetic assault that was the Chicago World's Fair, which infamously stopped the development of an authentic American style in its tracks, establishing the grandeur of the European Beaux Arts style as the International Grand Style of Empire.   To this day it's probably fair to say that there has never been an authentically American grand style.  Maybe such a thing is a  contradiction.  Can something be grand without it being some kind of imperial posturing?  Is artistic consensus possible or even desirable?   

My next piece will be about Copley Square in Boston.   It's one of my favorite places in the world and I have plans for it!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Currently on the Easel: Whistling in the Wind

Current state of this painting ...

... now I think maybe the title of the painting is First Hint of Winter.

This is currently on my easel ...

Whistling in the Wind
about 6" x 12"
My new painting is primarily inspired by an old painting - one of my favorite paintings that I've done.  It's a painting I had been working on for three decades, but rushed to a finish in the course of a week last fall,  in which everything changed.  It all happened quite magically.

Going for a Walk

I noticed that my new painting is also a bit like what you might get it you put these two inspirations together...

...which I think is what my subconscious mind sort of did!  The Snowy Day has actually been on my mind for a while - this painting is from a couple of years ago...
Snow Angel

... The Snowy Day was one of my favorite books when I was a child.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Paintings by Mary Mayhew at the Bellevue Gallery

Paintings by Mary Mayhew

In an ambitious new show, full of shining light and expressive faces, Mary Mayhew pays tribute to life’s simple joys, particularly those associated with family and friends.

As most can attest, these joys are truly at the heart of life. Inescapably there is sadness too, because what comes ultimately goes; what warms the heart can fade. Many of Mayhews’ characters look towards the viewer and even smile, as if to share simple moments of connection.  Just as many of Mayhews’ characters, however, turn away, as if beginning a journey that can include our sympathies, but not us. 

In Mayhew's paintings, human connection seems to be the very breath of life; coming, going, coming, going. In a kind of floating reality, souls come together, move apart, come together, move apart.   One feels that there will always be stories to tell. It turns out that sharing can happen in many different ways and making art is one of those ways.

Working largely from photographs, Mayhew's amplifies what she finds particularly meaningful.  In two beautiful images of her mother before cancer and after cancer, Mayhews shows us that something is lost but something is also gained, even through such an intense struggle.  In the latter image, Mayhews’ mother seems further away but somehow also more present.

In painting after painting by Mayhew, one feels that life is full of changes, rites of passage, one might say, or even gateways.  These passages can seem sunny and beckoning, as in a painting where a child and her grandfather seem to be turning a corner, preoccupied together with a fence-repairing task, a teaching moment.   

But life passages aren’t always easy and can even be a little bit frightening. A dancer looks into a mirror, perhaps wondering if she is beautiful, perhaps wondering what beauty is. Instead of answering her, the mirror seems to look back darkly, deepening the question and allowing anxiety to creep in.  Such questions seem to ask what the future is, but the future remains inescapably unknowable.

Two paintings of boats on water seem to suggest that the future is a beckoning shore, dark and mysterious, but promising. The passage between past and future is where we float. We find togetherness there. Shared moments exist there.  It is by appreciating those moments that we find we can make them last. The future beckons but we don’t have to be in a hurry to get there all the time.

Mayhew works in both acrylics and oils in a watercolor style, mostly with thin washes.  But she has also been experimenting with impasto effects, particularly in this painting …

This is perhaps my favorite painting in the show, perhaps because it has an uncanny quality that reminds me of my childhood. It is an exquisite painting, both radiant and dark.  A youngster seems to be flying off the end of a playground slide, which somehow seems to be at the same time a dark uncanny shape that seems to live both inside some sort of room and outside in a play area.   The painting is entitled “Flying”, but i think of it just as much about “falling”.  

The way I remember childhood, things that were exciting and thrilling, like slides, were somehow just a little bit dark, just a little bit scary, and that was part of the reason it was fun -- like when you spun around to get dizzy and just for one tiny moment you wondered if reality would ever settle back down around you -- do you remember that? I do.  

Was I just a strange kid?

Mary Mayhew’s painting show at the Bellevue Gallery at the Farmer House Museum opens this week and runs through September.   It is a touching and thoughtful show. It is a warm chat with a good friend.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Currently On the Easel: Escape from The City

Current state.  The colors are far less blue.  I'm thinking about calling it 
first day of spring.  Lots more detail and definition.


This is the current status of the painting under discussion here, after considerable work this week:

A friend of mine said that the orange part looked to him like a wall, not a city.   I do think of it both ways, and I think of a wall as in some ways a symbolic way of representing a city.  Here is another painting I've been working on for some time where the large expanse in the middle is more explicitly a wall, but for me it also symbolizes "city"...
There is a kind of cubist texture to both these wall-city paintings.  In the orange painting that is on the easel right now (well, actually both paintngs are on the easel at the moment) I am working layer by layer, trying to both intensify and deepen the orange color while also develop the cubistic urban texture.

The mountains and sky have a color feel that reminds me a little bit of Rockwell Kent...
The orange 'city' is sort of a cubistic version of the way painters in Italy would depict a city prior to the Renaissance...
... I have a lot of work to do to develop the urban texture.

There is also a Rothko aspect to what I am trying to do with this painting...

In a way I am most interested in developing glowing swathes of color.

I'm far from sure what this painting is about, but it has to have a working title.  The color is more vivid than I am used to working with.  It's perhaps a sort of apocalyptic picnic.  Possibly a better title - apocalyptic picnic.   It's largish - three feet by four feet.  I think it needs more characters in the forefront.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Many Sides of Joey Like

No artist in Bloomington is more exciting to follow from show to show than Joey Like.   Joey Like’s  work changes dramatically from show to show, though always following a thread.  At the same time Joey’s work evokes shamanic visions and early generation video games.  Joey Like’s work is rooted in Bauhause and De Stijl.  HIs commitment to flatness emphasizes texture and color space. 

Joey Like’s current show at the Bellevue Gallery at the Farmer House Museum offers four small triptychs.  The use of this medieval European format seems to signal, not for the first time for Joey Like, an interest in building bridges between his modernist sensibilities and ancient traditions.  Joey Like’s paintings are triptychs, but they are also masks, or depictdions of masks, or inspired by masks.    Each is accompanied by photographs, also arranged in triptych form, touch on some of LIke’s other influences in these paintings,  enigmatically titled:

Mask of the Promoted,

Mask of the Descendant,

Mask of the Journeyman,

Mask of the Travelor.

On one level these paintings read as lovely explorations of color.  Natural colors.  Clay red,  Chaulk white.  Black eyed susan yellow. These colors soothe the eyes.  Used in symbolic masks, they seem to speak of natural change,  Scrubbed and rubbed colors seem  to speak of the same, like colors made from muds and rubbed into people’s faces.

Mask of the Traveler:

This mask seems focused  and experienced.  At the same time, it seems to be open, drawing in information.  It seems to await some indication.

Mask  of the Journeyman:

This mask’s open mouth and sensitive nose and narrowed eyes seem to indicate that it is focused on absorbing information, committed to a particular path.  It seems committed, but at the same time anxious and uncertain.  The path is chosen but still unknown.

Mask of the Descendant:

This mask seems to convey that the person it adorns has withdrawn from everyday concerns, perhaps seeking some shamanic wisdom to strengthen and inform the bearer’s commitment to a chosen path.  This mask seems to suggest  that someone is far away, but will soon return.

Mask of the Promoted:

For Joey Like, yellow seems to be a color that symbolizes rebirth.  Compared with Joey’s other masks, this seems to represent a character who is unformed.  But light shines from the eyes and this seems to convey hope.

Thank you Joey Like for an exhibit of paintings that is beautiful, and sobering.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Article in the HT about my double show...

Thank you Bloomington Herald Times for covering my current show with a nice article...

I wondered if people would find my double show just very strange, arbitrary, self-indulgent, hard to understand.  As far as I can tell, that's not a problem at all for people.  It seems to make good sense to people.  I think the work itself explains the approach I took, which is how it is supposed to work.

Thank you HT and Jenny Porter Tilley.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Paintings and Palaver: Paul Kane discusses his Dec. 2017 show...

This is my first attempt to make a video of myself discussing a show, with the help of Madelyn Ritroski (thank you Madelyn!)...

It went pretty well for a first attempt, but you can tell I was very nervous when we did the video!  I mean I'm always goofy but I'm super goofy here.  Still I kind of like it and Dave Colman's comments at the end are brilliant. Colman co-runs The Venue Fine Art and Gifts gallery with Gabe Colman and always has something really insightful to say about art in his gallery.

This is an interview with Paul Kane done by Jared Winslow last spring...
Thank you Jared.

This is a slide show I created for my Dec. 2017 show...

...I seem to be learning, little by little, about the multi-media world, even though I'm generally more comfortable with a paint brush in my hand!

The show continues through December!