Sunday, March 31, 2013

Self Portrait at Forty-One

Sadie Jernigan Valeri "Self Portrait at 41 in the Studio (with Dog)"  2013

Sadie Jernigan Valeri (b. 1971) is a contemporary painter based in San Francisco whose work falls into the category of Classical Realism. She graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in illustration. For many years she worked as a graphic designer and website/interface designer  (which is easy to tell from the unusually readable design and blessed ease of navigation found on her own website!) In 2006 Valeri left her full-time employment and returned to her first love, painting, taking master classes and studying privately with accomplished contemporary realists such as Juliette Aristides and Michael Grimaldi.

Valeri is particularly interested in the Flemish Layering Technique, which she studied with Kirstine Reiner. This is a very gradual and painstaking process of building up paint layers and necessarily slows output to the point where Valeri has pretty much given up standard commercial gallery representation except for participation in group shows. In the commercial gallery world, to be taken as a serious player, you generally need enough new work to have a one person show every two or three years and Valeri's slower pace and careful craftsmanship made that schedule seem unduly hectic. Nonetheless, she sells her work to enthusiastic collectors and has won numerous awards for her detailed and evocative still-life pieces, including the First Prize for Still Life in the 2010 ARC International Salon.

The brand new self-portrait pictured above was not done with her usual Flemish layering method. Instead, Valeri says, "This is a [relatively] fast, direct, painting, much much faster than my flemish method work. It would take me a year to do a painting that size [31 x 41 inches] with the level of detail I apply to still life. After the week of setting up, and about 3 days of drawing a rough sketch, I think it took about 10 studio days to paint."

Valeri is also a respected teacher, and runs an atelier where she and other faculty instruct students in the rudiments of traditional drawing and painting. She and her filmmaker husband are collaborating on creating instructional videos, which can be seen here. In addition, Valeri is the founder of Women Painting Women, an influential blog which has initiated several exhibits of the work of some of the principal contributors. The next Women Painting Women show will be held at Principle Gallery, opening in September 2013.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Human Question Mark

Robert Henri "The Art Student: Portrait of Miss Josephine Nivison" 1905
Milwaukee Art Museum
Josephine Nivison Hopper (1883-1968) was born in New York City into what we would now call a "dysfunctional family" replete with illness, poverty and frequent relocation. The artist described her father as having "practically no paternal instinct." Nonetheless, she survived and in 1900 she enrolled in the Normal College of the City of New York (now Hunter College) which at that time provided free teacher training and certification to young women. While at college, she decided to also pursue her interest in the arts. While taking some classes at the New York School of Art, she met the artist and teacher Robert Henri (1865-1929) who asked her to pose for him. Henri said of the encounter, 

"She was standing in her old paint-spattered apron at the close of a lesson, with her paint brushes clutched firmly in her little fist, listening to a conversation.  She seemed a little human question mark, and everything about her, every line of her dress, suggested the idea.  I wanted to paint her just as she was, and I asked her to pose for me the next day.  
 I was afraid she couldn't assume the same pose and the same look, bit it happened that as she entered my studio she fell into the same energetic, questioning attitude. I had to paint very rapidly to get it. " (from Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, by Gail Levin.)

Edward Hopper "Jo Sketching at Good Harbor Beach" 1925-8  Whitney Museum

The following year she began teaching in the NYC Public School system. She taught steadily for the next decade or so but stayed in touch with Henri and other artist friends. As a teacher, she had her summers free, and spent most of them them traveling and staying at different art colonies. She had first met met her future husband, artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967) at the New York School of Art, and then they met again in 1914 when they were both staying in the same boarding house one summer in Oqunquit, Maine. 

Edward Hopper  "Jo Sketching in Wyoming"  1946  Whitney Museum

Josephine and Edward Hopper became friends after spending time together that summer in Maine, but did not form a romantic attachment until some years later. In 1923 they were painting together in Gloucester, MA, and for some reason at that point their relationship changed. They began courting, marrying in 1924. The marriage was a close one, but apparently full of stress and struggle. Nonetheless, they remained married until Edward Hopper's death in 1967. Edward Hopper used Josephine as his model for many paintings, and often sketched her informally on their trips. She devoted herself to managing the practical side of her husband's art career and running their home. She continued to paint and exhibit, but her work received very little notice.

Edward Hopper "Jo Painting" 1936 Whitney Museum

Above is the one oil painting Edward Hopper did of his wife at work. As it does not truly show that she is "in the act of painting" except by the intensity of the expression and uplifted arm and the title, I wouldn't normally include it, but it fits the theme. ;-) After her husband's death, Josephine Hopper donated both their artistic estates to the Whitney Museum of American Art. However, her work has rarely been shown or even seen since that time.  In fact, because her husband painted and sketched her so frequently, repeated web searches trying to find images BY Josephine Hopper turn up almost only pieces OF her. If anyone has a link to some good examples this artist's work please let me know!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thamar, one more time!

Artist Unknown "Thamar Painting in Her Studio" 15th Century  location unknown 

Thamar (ca, 5th C B.C.) was a well-known painter in ancient Greece. Standard spellings of names translated from ancient tongues  are difficult, and so the artist can also be found referred to as Tamar, Thamyris, Thamaris and Timarete.  Her father was the painter, Micon the Younger, and she almost certainly learned the painting trade from him. In those times trades and professions were usually kept within families. Whether or not Thamar would have chosen to be a painter, had she lived in a time when she could have her choice, we will never know, but she was apparently extremely good at painting and her fame lives on, although there are no known extant examples of her work. Most painting at that time was done as fresco or mural, and most architectural structures of that period have been ruined by the passage of time, or demolished or subsumed by later renovation.

This is a 15th century rendition of Thamar, dressed in the garb of those days, that accompanies text by Bocaccio, from his book Of Noble Women written in the early 1400's and a runaway "best-seller" of the times. I have unfortunately not been able to trace the provenance of this particular manuscript page, my image notes, which were shorter and sketchier when I first started this project, report this as coming from from the Morgan Library, but an extensive search does not confirm that rather jaunty little notation. ;-)

At any rate, in this image by an unknown French artist we see Thamar painting what was probably her best-known work, a depiction of the goddess Diana. That masterwork was very well known in ancient times, and was held in reverence at the temple of Epheseus. Unfortunately, that temple was destroyed in 401 A.D. by a Christian mob led by St. John Chrysostom.

Don't forget, to enlarge this or any WAP image for better viewing pleasure, just click on it!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Emma Amos "Tightrope"  1994  Private Collection
Emma Amos (b.1938) was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a graduate of Antioch University, and also attended the London Central School of Art from which she earned a diploma in etching.  She moved to NYC in 1960 to teach at the Dalton School, and a few years later entered New York University, where she received a Master of Art Education. While at NYU she was invited to become part of SPIRAL, a group of black artists that included Romare Bearden and Charles Alston. She was the youngest member of that group and the only female, and although she was grateful to be included, she later remarked upon her solo female status within the group by saying, "I thought it was fishy that the group had not asked Vivian Browne, Betty Blayton, Faith Ringgold, Norma Morgan, or any other woman of their acquaintance to join. I was probably less threatening to their egos, as I was not yet of much consequence." (from Creating Their Own Image, 2005, Lisa Farrington.)

This piece, Tightrope, shows the tricky balance of being an artist and a woman and black, in a profession and a tradition that has been typically male and white. Amos has commented that she was originally drawn to the paintings of Gauguin, who was one of the only painters depicting "beautiful brown women."  (from, Creating Their Own Image.) As she learned more about Gauguin's notorious misogny her admiration for the French artist began to be displaced by feelings of grief and commiseration for his 13 year old Tahitian "bride" to whom she refers in the corner pieces of this multi-media piece,. The same pose is also caricatured in the printed tee shirt carried by the central figure, obviously for personal wear as needed. The central figure is of course Amos herself, navigating the tightrope act of being female, an artist and a person of color. Her costume, partially cloaked, is a cheeky nod to the cartoon character  Wonder Woman, whose superhuman powers are needed to successfully carry off such a difficult feat. I suggest too that the artist is very obliquely referencing beauty. Along with her other attributes of strength and agility and intelligence, Wonder Woman also had the gift of stunning personal beauty. In the real world, beauty can be a source of some power, but can sometimes be a drawback as well, which I believe is the reason for the artist partially concealing her own beauty with a ragged black coat.

Amos seems to have managed the balancing act of life highly successfully. She and her late husband were married for over forty years, and raised two children. While her family was young she focused on textile arts such as quilting, weaving and sewing. In 1980 she began teaching at Rutgers University, receiving tenure in 1992 and continuing to teach there until her retirement from academia  in 2008. She has received many honors and fellowships, including the Pollock-Krasner Grant and a Yaddo Artist Residency.  Her work is in the collection of the Library of Congress (USA), the National Gallery of Art (USA)  and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as well as numerous other public and private collections world-wide. She maintains an active studio practice and is represented by Flomenhaft Gallery in NYC. The artist's website can be seen here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lotte Laserstein & Friends

Lotte Laserstein "Self Portrait with a Friend" date and location unknown
Lotte Laserstein (1898-1993) was a painter whose aesthetic sprang directly from the tradition of German Realism, but a realism  filtered through formative years spent in the Berlin of the roaring twenties. She was born in Germany and at first, her timing looked propitious: she was able to enter the Berlin Academy of Arts as a student because only a few years before it had opened its doors to women students! She became a star pupil, especially favored by professor Erich Wolfsed, and winning the school's highest honors. She formed many lifelong friendships during this period of art school and shortly thereafter (including one with her favorite model, Traute Rose, whom we see in at least one these paintings.)  However, with the rise of National Socialism, things began to look bad for Laserstein's future, because of her Jewish heritage. In 1933 she was racially profiled as "a 3/4 Jew" and prohibited from exhibiting her work, as well as discharged summarily from her position on the executive committee of the National Arts Association. Ironically, three of her paintings were exhibited at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris, but were banned from the German Pavilion. Things became so difficult that Laserstein presciently decided to move to Sweden in December of 1937, where she had some connections and hopes of finding a more receptive art market. She made repeated concerted efforts to get her mother and sister out of Germany (her father had already died) but in the end, only her sister came. Her mother ended up dying in Ravensbrück concentration camp.

Lotte Laserstein "Self-Portrait with Traute" 1928 location unknown

In 1938 she married a Swedish man, Sven Marcus, in order to obtain her Swedish citizenship. The couple never lived together as husband and wife (Laserstein was a lesbian) but remained friends throughout their lives.  Laserstein's talent was immediately recognized in her adopted country of Sweden and she eventually became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. She lived in Stockholm and in Kalmar, and entered onto a long and respected career as a portrait painter, as well as delving deep into landscape. Some critics have notedthat her Swedish ouevre lacked the vigor and audacity of her earlier work.  My own thought was that Laserstein had been through so much trauma: public vilification, persecution, death of close family members, and all the stresses of immigration and transplantation, that having found safe harbor she very understandably, drew in her sails and stayed quietly put. Despite the exigencies of her youth, she seemed to have the knack of making friends wherever she went, and from all accounts, lived a long, successful and happy life surrounded by the respect and affection of those who knew her.

Lotte Laserstein "Self-Portrait in Brown" 1947  Private Collection

Monday, March 25, 2013

Drawing of My Tent

Napachie Pootoogook  "Drawing of My Tent" 1982  Cape Dorset Collection 

Napachie Pootoogook (1938-2002) was born on Baffin Island, in the Northwest Territories of Canada into an artistic family. She was the only surviving daughter of the highly acclaimed Inuit artist, Pitseolak Ashuna, and several of Pootoogook's brothers also became artists. In the 1950's Pootoogook married Eeegyvukluk Pootoogook, who became a printer at the Dorset Studios. The Dorset studios,  was an establishment founded in 1957, on Baffin Island, by a graphic artist who wished to encourage the local Inuit stone carvers to translate their skill to stone block printing. The program was supposedly modeled after the Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock workshops and was envisioned as a way for the local residents to earn some more money, as well as to support their already flourishing artistic culture. This print cooperative has proved to be enormously successful. Napatchie Pootoogook had begun drawing with her mother, but now her drawings began to be expanded by the medium of printmaking.

Pootoogook's earliest works reflect her delight in the traditional Inuit spirit world, but from about the 1970's onwards the focus of her work began to change. She became more interested in recording the everyday village life around her. Of this piece "Drawing of My Tent" Pootoogook has said, "When I make my drawings I try to make [them] look good. This scene depicts someone doing some drawing, posing for someone to take a picture." (p.149, Inuit Women Artists, 1996, Odette Leroux et. al.)

Pootoogook was the mother of eleven children, including the well-known contemporary artist Annie Pootoogook, and was highly respected in her community as both an accomplished artist and as someone who knew "the old ways." She experienced many hard times, and spoke openly but not bitterly about the dark side of life. Not all of her children survived to adulthood. One of her most horrifying experiences was as a young mother in a tent out on the land, having to singlehandedly fight off a polar bear who was attempting to snatch her youngest child. It was a prolonged attack, after several hours she managed to run it off by pouring gasoline on its face. Pootoogook was also known to be a talented throat singer, and was in great demand as a performer and also a teacher of this traditional Inuit singing technique. Her artwork is in many major collections and museums in Canada and also abroad.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Miss Hilda

Hilda Carline "Self-Portrait"  1923 Tate Britain

The painter Hilda Carline (1889-1950) had her reputation so completely subsumed by that of her erstwhile husband, the painter Stanley Spencer, that it becomes an exercise in frustration to do online research on her. In fact, she currently does not even have a Wikipedia biography/article to her name. Do a web search on Carline and you'll find an array of articles and links almost entirely for her husband. Click on Spencer's Wikipedia bio hoping to find more about Hilda, and in the few sentences allotted to her, if you click on what looks like a live link to her name you will get this message: Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. Nonetheless, Carline was a talented artist who showed her work in prestigious venues during her lifetime.

Here is my own quick biographical sketch: Annie Hilda Carline was born in London to a long-established family of artists. The only girl in the family, her father declined to have her professionally trained as an artist alongside her brothers, despite her obvious natural talent. Eventually he relented slightly and in 1913 permitted her to attend a small, local, art school, Percyval Tudor-Hart's Academie de Peinture, in Hampstead. This course of study was interrupted by World War 1. During the war Carline worked in the Women's Land Army in Suffolk. After the war, enabled in part by a program similar to the American G.I bill, which assists veterans with their education, she entered the well-known Slade School of Fine Art, where her talent flourished. She was a notable student at the Slade, winning numerous prizes. In 1925 she married artist Stanley Spencer. The couple had two children, and divorced in 1937. During Carline's lifetime she exhibited her work at the Royal Academy, the Goupil Gallery and the New English Arts Club. After her death her work was included in The Carline Family exhibition at Leicester Galleries in 1971, and in 1999 a solo retrospective of her work toured the UK. Her work is included in the collections of many major museums, and the bulk of her estate is held by Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Lancashire, England.

However, the sad truth is that Hilda Carline was an artist whose career was almost completely eclipsed by her marriage to a more famous artist. She met Stanley Spencer when he and one of her older brothers became friends while studying at the Slade School of Fine Art. Mrs. Carline was legendary for her salon-style hospitality and the family home was a gathering place for artists, art students and intellectuals. Spencer was apparently immediately smitten with the lovely, intense and intelligent Hilda whose return impression of Spencer was not initially as favorable: Spencer had to propose six times before finally persuading Hilda to agree to marry him.

After the couple had two children together Spencer famously left Carline for a neighbor, Patricia Preece. Carline's sister-in-law recounts what she saw as the crux of the domestic problem"Stanley got very angry at her lack of domesticity. Yet he was equally frustrated that she was not devoting any time to her painting. It had meant a great deal to him that she was also a practising artist, and he had enormous admiration for her work." As Carline became distracted from her "real work" through caring for their very young children and as her domestic duties (however "poorly performed") mounted, Spencer's attention strayed. He divorced Carline and immediately married Preece, whom he  showered with jewels and gifts in a fruitless attempt to persuade her to actually consummate the marriage. This outpouring of expense meant that he reneged on support payments to Carline and their children. Their oldest child had to be sent to live with relations so that the already decimated family could survive. Carline understandably became deeply depressed.

Carline and Spencer eventually reconciled to some degree after Spencer's relationship with Preece finally disintegrated.  Although they lived apart they visited each other frequently. When Carline lay dying of cancer, just short of her 60th birthday, Spencer remained by her side till the end.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Screen Painting

Torii Kiyonobu   "Courtesan Painting a Screen"  ca. 1711  Library of Congress (USA)

Torii Kiyonobu (1664-1729) was one of the founders of the Torii school of painting. The Torii school, focused on creating billboards, handbills and other promotional materials for Tokyo's Kabuki theatre. Because such work was intended to attract attention, Kiyonubu's aesthetic evolved into a bold and graphic style, and was known for its use of aggressive, exuberant line with a lot of descriptive detail.

In this print we see a courtesan painting a screen decorated with willows, watched admiringly by a lounging man, and attended by a young servant who is grinding pigment. According to Japanese Women Artists 1600-1900, written by Patricia Fister, "One of the few professions in which intelligent women of the lower classes were encouraged to display artistic skills was that of the courtesan. There were many levels of courtesans; at the bottom were low-class prostitutes, but at the top were exceptionally talented women who were often skilled in traditional poetry and painting."

Interesting to note, the beginning of an upsurge of women in the arts took place at around this time because of the Kokugaku movement. This was a radical "native studies" movement, which aimed to go back to the roots of Japanese aesthetics primarily derived from Shinto, and throw off the foreign influences of Confuciansim and Buddhism. It has been posited that these two latter influences combined to create the peculiarly misogynistic culture prevalent in Japan. In ancient Japanese shinto-based texts, however, women were treated with much more respect and on an equal footing with men. Indeed, the imperial line of Japan traces its origin back to the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu! However, while the Kokugaku movement did increase respect for Japanese women in the arts for some time, it was relatively short-lived, arising in the 18th century and waning by the middle of the next century.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Avril Awesome

Avril Thomas "The Artist" Collection of the Artist

Avril Thomas (b.1956) is an Australian painter who currently makes her home in Adelaide. She loved to draw from childhood on, but started her professional life as a registered nurse. An instinctual compassion for the human condition informs her art, and, unsurprisingly, portraiture and figuration are her favored genres. She has a particular love for portraiture, and uses many different mediums like charcoal, graphite, pastel and oils.

Although Thomas has only been working full-time as an artist for the past fifteen years she has already gained recognition for her insightful and inventive work, including being named a finalist in Australia's prestigious Archibald Competition in 2005 and in 2006 receiving a commission from the Australian National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. The artist's website can be seen here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Multiple Annas

Anna Rose Bain "Artist at Work"  Collection of the Artist

Anna Rose Bain (b.1985) is a contemporary painter based in Texas. She attended Hillsdale College and also studied at the Florence Academy. She says of her own work, "My paintings are an expression of gratitude. They often depict men, women, or children in peaceful settings or places that evoke happiness. My art focuses on the enjoyment of life, and is permeated with a love for nature, music, and all things good."

Anna Rose Bain "Twin Arts"  Collection of the Artist 

Bain has an identical twin sister. In her painting "Twin Arts" the artist may be referring to herself and her twin literally, or she may be visually addressing the difficulty of choosing between two artistic passions.   If the latter, Bain is almost certainly referencing Angelica Kauffman's iconic painting on the same subject,  "Self Portrait, The Artist Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting."

Angelica Kauffman "Self Portrait, The Artist Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting" 1791 Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, UK

Bain has accrued numerous honors, including being selected as a finalist for the Hunting Art Prize in 2012.  She is represented by Weiler House Fine Art Gallery in Fort Worth, Texas. The artist's own website can be seen here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Louisa M

Louisa Matthíasdóttir  "Self Portrait in Long Striped Sweater"  1993  Tibor de Nagy Gallery

Louisa Matthíasdóttir (1917-2000) was an Icelandic-American painter. She was born and raised in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, but went on to study art abroad, first in Denmark and then in Paris. In 1942 she moved to New York City to study at the Art Student's League of New York. She soon left the ASL to study with Hans Hofmann. During this period, in fellow student Nell Blaine's studio, she met artist Leland Bell, whom she married in 1944. Bell and Matthíasdóttir had a long and apparently mutually supportive marriage, which produced one child, the painter Temma Bell, and lasted until Leland's death in 1991. The family divided their time between Iceland and the United States.

Louisa Matthíasdóttir  "Self Portrait in Overalls"  1985 National Academy Museum

Matthíasdóttir had her first solo exhibition in 1948 and kept on working and exhibiting steadily throughout her life. In the 1960's she developed the stripped-down style with strong clear color for which she is most known. Her work is in museums and private collections around the world. She received numerous honors during her lifetime including the Icelandic Medal of Honor, Falkorðan (The Order of the Falcon) in 1988, the American Scandinavian Cultural Award in 1996 and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2000. Her work is still represented by Tibor de Nagy in NYC and Studio Stafn in Reykjavík. The official website for her estate can be seen here.

Louisa Matthíasdóttir  "Self Portrait with Yellow Table" 1981 Smithsonian American Art Museum

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Alice 1917

Alice Bailly  "Self-Portrait 1917"  National Museum of Women in the Arts

Alice Bailly (1872-1938) was a Swiss artist who began her career as one of the few female fauves (wild beasts) an art movement spearheaded by Henri Matisse and André Derain. Bailly became interested in Fauvism while she was spending some years studying art in Paris. She even exhibited in their final group exhibition of 1908. At the beginning of World War I however, Bailly returned to Switzerland, and embarked on a long series of "wool paintings"in which she used strands of colored wool glued down on a support to create a picture. Between 1913 and 1922 she made at least fifty such pieces. She also experimented with the Dada movement during this time.  In 1936 she was commissioned to create eight large murals for the foyer of the Théâtre Municipal in Lausanne. She died in 1938 from complications of Tuberculosis, leaving in her will provision for a trust fund to help young Swiss artists.

How to pronounce her name:  

AL-ees  (b-eye)-YEE

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Artist in Her Studio

Charles Camoin  "Artist in Her Studio"  1905  Dallas Museum of Art

Charles Camoin (1879-1965) was a French painter, born in Marseilles. While studying painting at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris he met Henri Matisse. He became part of the circle of Matisse's friends who formed the original group of artists known as the Fauves (literal translation: the wild beasts) for their wild and expressionistic use of color.

Although the Fauves only exhibited together from 1904 to 1908, Camoin and Matisse remained good friends throughout their lives. For instance, during World War I when Camoin was drafted and served first as a stretcher bearer and then as a painter in the Camouflage unit, Matisse sent him "care packages" and letters to cheer and assist him.  (Matisse, a decade older than Camoin, had tried to enlist but his application was rejected.) During World War II when Matisse's estranged wife and daughter were arrested by the Gestapo for their work in the French Resistance Camoin was among the first of Matisse's friends to offer assistance. Camoin was never as famous an artist as his friend Matisse, but his work was shown widely throughout France during his lifetime and is now found in museums around the world.

Camoin has left no record explaining who the artist in this painting might be. It is pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if it could be a portrait of Alice Bailly? Bailly was a Swiss artist who right around this time was working in Paris and who fell heavily under the influence of Fauvism. She became part of the Fauvist circle and exhibited in their final group exhibition of 1908.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Visual Diary

Robin Cheers  "En Plein Air" 2009  Private Collection
Robin Cheers is a contemporary painter based in Austin, Texas. She belongs to several art societies including Plein Air Austin, which is a group of artists in and around Austin who paint together en plein air throughout the Texas Hill Country. This painting was done on just such an expedition.  Cheers has said of her work, ""I paint what I love and my artwork is a visual diary of my own personal journey through life. "

Cheers is represented by quite a long list of galleries, including Gardner Colby Galleries in Naples, Florida and Tidewater Gallery in Swansboro, North Carolina. Cheers maintains a lively and appealing blog which can be seen here. Her professional website can be found here.

Friday, March 8, 2013


Maya Christina Gonzalez  "I Frame Myself"  1997  private collection
Maya Christina Gonzalez (b. 1964) is a contemporary artist currently based in California. She has worked in many different aspects of the art world including teaching, community arts organizing, illustration, printmaking, digital arts, easel painting and art publishing. This self-portrait was included in a book for children entitled Just Like Me: Stories and Self-Portraits by Fourteen Artists. The artist's website can be seen here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

American Pupil

Thomas Couture  "American Student Painting"

Thomas Couture (1815-79) was a french painter who might be described as having joined the ranks of One Hit Wonders but he didn't let it keep him down. His main claim to fame came from a huge painting depicting an orgy, Romans in the Decadence of the Empire, which was the sensation of the Paris salon of 1847. Nothing Couture painted before or after ever attained the success of that piece. In time however, public taste reversed and that same work, once the focus of the highest admiration, came to be derided as a prime example of the worst type of"salon bombast." However, Couture's informal works, such as this quick sketch, were nothing like his studied salon work, and he was a popular teacher, who encouraged his students to work quickly from nature. In his private atelier, he taught many future luminaries of the art world including Édouard Manet, Henri Fantin-Latour and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, as well as this unidentified American woman.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Shoen Uemura

Shoen Uemura  Title, Date and Location unknown

Shoen Uemura is the "art name" of Japanese painter Tsune Uemura (1875-1949.) Uemura was unusual in just about every way a person or artist could be. To begin with, she was born two months after the death of her father, and lived with her mother, sister and aunts in an all-female household, whose livelihood was running a tea shop. Having no male associates (relatives or protectors) was a somewhat unusual set-up for a business in late 19th century Kyoto, but the business was apparently highly thought-of and successful. Uemura showed great talent and interest in drawing from an early age, and she was supported in this interest by her mother, a very brave and unusual decision for the time and the family circumstances.

Uemura began her formal art training at age twelve with painter Suzuki Shōnen, who was so impressed with her talent that he gave her the first kanji of his own art name, an unheard of mark of recognition. It was later rumored that Uemura was the victim of Suzuki's sexual predation, and being very little more than a child, lacking any male relatives or protectors, and needing the master's tuition and help with career advancement she silently put up with it. Uemura bore at least two illegitimate children at this time, she refused to name the father and she calmly proceeded to raise them as a single mother (we have to assume with her mother and aunts' help.) In 1894 she changed teachers, and studied with no further imputations to her moral reputation. Her immense talent was never in question, and she won her first local award in 1898 and her first national award in 1900. From the very first Uemura's aesthetic interest lay almost entirely in Bijingathe depiction of beautiful women.

Shoen Uemura  Title, Date and Location unknown 

Although she had achieved a considerable artistic reputation by 1917, she mysteriously ceased all artistic production from 1917 until about 1924. She never gave any explanation for this cessation. She began exhibiting work again in 1924. During the 1930's when Uemura was in her fifties and sixties she suddenly began painting on a very large scale. The work from this period is considered to be her strongest, and contains most of what are considered her masterpieces. One of these pieces, Jo-No-Mai , 1936, was the first painting by a Japanese woman to be rated as an Important Cultural Property.  She was the first woman invited to join the Imperial Art Academy, which honor was conferred upon her in 1941. In 1948 she again achieved a first, this time as the first woman to be awarded Japan's prestigious Order of Culture. Her autobiography, which I cannot find in an English translation, alas, is called Siebishi sono go. Uemura's work was the subject of a large solo exhibition in 2010 at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo