Monday, February 25, 2013

Painting on Paper, Josef Albers in America

“Color is fooling us all the time”, so said color theorist and painter extraordinaire Josef Albers.  Josef Albers (1888-1976) a German painter, who taught at the Bauhaus, is best known for this minimalist paintings, advances in art education and influence in the study of color theory.

      Color study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers , oil on paper, date unknown.

In September I had the pleasure of attending an exhibition of Albers’ works on paper at the Morgan Library in New York.  The show was  intriguing in that it featured eighty of Albers’ works on paper.  His working sketches if you will.  They offered insight into his process of his signature style geometric painting.

  Color study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers , oil on paper, date unknown.

Josef Albers had a stellar career in art education transforming ideas on color theory. He taught at the Bauhaus, from 1923-1933, with such luminaries as Wassily Kandinsky, Oskar Schlemmer and Paul Klee, under the direction of Walter Gropius. In 1933 he emigrated to the United States and became director at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where his students included Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly.  Finally in 1950 he landed at Yale University for the duration of his career. This is where he would spend the next 25 years experimenting with color and his geometric paintings.

 Color study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers , oil on paper, date unknown.

Albers is best known for his abstract painting of overlapping squares featuring color harmonies.  He never mixed his colors, but rather used color directly from the tube applied carefully with a palette knife.  His small scale, hard edge, symmetrical compositions were a response to the large and gestural works of the abstract expressionists and he would go on to influence movements such as minimalism and op art.

Color study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers , oil on paper, date unknown.

From 1950 until 1976 Albers focused on his homage to the square or as he said “I am not paying “homage to the square”.   It’s only the dish I serve my craziness about color in”.

 Color study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers , oil on paper, date unknown.

Indeed Albers was not crazy, but methodical in his observations on color harmonies.  He noted on each piece what colors he used and what manufacturer made the paint, he annotated his use of varnish and other medium  “I am not an acrobat in my painting.  I am a cook”.

                  Josef Albers, oil on canvas, Hirschhorn Museum, date unknown.

The catalog for this exhibition “Painting on Paper, JosefAlbers in America” includes a few fascinating essays by Heinz Liesbroc, Michael Semff and Isabelle Dervaux.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"Durer to de Kooning" Master Drawings at the Morgan Library

It was a pleasure to view the “Durer to de Kooning, 100 Master Drawings from Munich” exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York.  The Morgan is a wonderful, intimate museum and often features master drawings exhibitions.

Those of you who follow my blog known I have a passionate interest in master drawings.  I enjoy looking, studying and copying them.  I enjoy using master drawings techniques in my work. Since I have been using pen, ink and wash, charcoal, and red chalk as of late I decided to focus on drawings in the exhibition that utilize these materials.

All the drawings in this exhibition were truly masterful and compelling in their own way.  The ones I was most attracted to were done in a rapid visualization style and showcase an energetic rather than meticulous style.   Jacopo Pontormo’s (1494-1557) red chalk drawing Two Standing Women, (1530) is stunning for its sense of animation and confident three dimensional rendering.  I love the way Pontormo suggests the fluidity of the gowns without over rendering.  This short hand of line allows the viewer to wonder and speculate about who these women are.

                 Red chalk drawing Two Standing Women by Jacopo Pontormo, 1530.

Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), whose anatomical drawings I have long admired, surprised me with this dynamic pen and ink and wash portrayal of Age of Bronze: Design for a Mural in the Pitti Palace, (1641). As you can see from the finished fresco, Cortona worked out many of the compositional elements in this initial sketch.  A pentimento by Cortona can be seen in the upper right hand corner.

                       Pen and ink drawing Age of Bronze by Pietro da Cortona, 1641.

                            Fresco Age of Bronze by Pietro da Cortona, 1641.

Rembrandt’s (1606-1669) pen, ink and brush drawings have an energy mirrored by his brushstrokes and layering of paint!  In his rapid sketch Saskia Lying in Bed, A Woman at Her Feet (1638) the focus is on Saskia (Rembrandt's wife) and her contemplative facial expression.  She is drawn with delicate, decisive pen lines, while the bedroom and maid are loosely described with swift brushstrokes.

 Pen, ink and brush drawing, Saskia Lying in Bed, A Woman at Her Feet by Rembrandt, 1638. 

The pen and ink drawing Adoration of the Magi (1610) by Jacques Bellange (1575-1616) displays lively networks of hatched and crosshatched lines, which draw the viewer’s eye around this forceful drawing! 

         Pen and ink drawing, Adoration of the Magi by Jacques Bellange, 1610.

I wish I could share all 100 drawings with you!  I highly recommend the exhibition catalog by William M. Griswold and Michael Semff. And an excursion to the Morgan Library, always a delight!

Monday, February 4, 2013

“Color Line Light” Drawing exhibition at the National Gallery of Art

Yesterday I saw the new drawing exhibition, “Color, Line, Light,French Drawings, Watercolors and Pastels from Delacroix to Signac” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The show was organized with Musée des Impressionnismes, Giverny and is on view in Washington, DC until May 26, 2013.

A wonderful antidote for the doldrums of winter this exhibition includes an impressive array of drawings, many in full color, from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century.  The 100 works, from the collection of James T. Dyke, show off many brilliant drawing techniques and subject matters ranging from landscape, still life to figures and portraits. Indeed this exhibition will make you reach for neglected art materials and experiment!

          Paul Signac, Barges on the Seine at Samois, 1900, Watercolor and gouache.

The drawing techniques showcased in this broadly ranging show includes watercolor, gouache, pen and ink, charcoal, pastel and mixed medium. The periods of art represented include romanticism, realism, impressionism, postimpressionism, pointillism (neoimpressionism), symbolism and the Nabis.

                                   Paul Huet, A Meadow at Sunset, pastel.

Watercolor techniques range from the tightly rendered paintings of Alexandre Calame, the confident brushwork of Gustave Dore, to the fresh and freely painted pointillist works by Paul Signac.

                     Gustave Dore, A River Gorge in a Mountain Landscape, watercolor.

Charcoal drawings range from a luminous figure study by Albert Besnard to the dark, ominous, tonal work of Charles Angrand and sensitive realism of Leon Augustin Lhermitte.

Leon Augustin Lhermitte, An Elderly Peasant Women, charcoal.

The show features the use of pastels, which in the 19th century became a favored medium by many artists thanks to the development of richer pigmented chalk pastels.  Paul Huet uses a bright palette to layer color in describing a meadow at sunset.  While Auguste Louis Lepere uses an analogous palette of pastels to draw a pastoral scene.

                Auguste Louis Lepere, Chestnut Trees above a River, 1900, pastel.

It is often thought that the impressionist artists didn’t create many drawings as they painted spontaneously from life. This show offers many opportunities to see impressionist works on paper. An atmospheric pastel drawing by Claude Monet was done in London while he waited for his oils paints to arrive. Edgar Degas is one of many impressionist artists who enjoyed drawing techniques.  The exhibition includes a few masterful drawings by Degas they are inspired in their use of the compositional space and in there animated effects.

                       Edgar Degas, A Dancer at the Bar, charcoal and white chalk.

I recommend an excursion to the National Gallery of Art to see this inspired exhibition.  I also recommend the exhibition catalog.