Saturday, December 31, 2011

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST IN TIMES OF CHANGE

You think you've got career problems?  Russian artist Zinaida Serebriakova launched her career just as the world was starting to unravel.

Self-portrait as a young art student

Zinaida turned 21 during the Russian Revolution of 1905 when widespread violence, poverty and political upheaval did little to help the art market.  Even bigger revolutions were just around the corner.  In 1905, a young patent clerk named Albert Einstein published the theories that would overturn centuries of scientific beliefs and transform our understanding of space and time.  That same year, Sigmund Freud published his revolutionary book describing how our "logical" behavior was really governed by subliminal compulsions and irrational urges.  As if to confirm that the Age of Reason was truly dead, hostile nations were already spiraling toward World War I. 

It was in this unpromising environment that Zinaida set out in search of beauty.
Zinaida brushing her hair in the mirror

During her lifetime search, Zinaida painted a remarkable series of self-portraits.

Newly married at age 22
Age 27, by candle light
Modeling a scarf
Age 30: a mother
In art as in politics, the old rules were coming apart like wet tissue paper.  Zinaida had been trained traditionally by the great Russian illustrator Repin but now artists such as Picasso and Matisse were pursuing what Hilton Kramer called "a netherworld of strange gods and violent emotions."  Soon the futurist painters would add their own fiery polemic:
What is the use of looking behind?... Time and Space died yesterday.... We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman....We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism....
Despite all this, Zinaida steadfastly continued to pursue her own notion of beauty, lovingly painting the human body in a representational style.

During times of disintegration, revolutionaries, priests and utopian ideologues compete to fill the vacuum (usually causing widespread misery for the innocents caught in the crossfire).

Zinaida fell in love with a young engineering student but the church barred their marriage due to questions about the young man's faith. The couple got around the church's objections, married and had children shortly before politics intervened in the form of the February Revolution of 1917. Violence returned again that same year with the October Revolution, when Zinaida's lifelong home on the grounds of the Neskuchnoye estate was burned and its food supply plundered.  The new Bolshevik government rejected democracy in favor of a "dictatorship of the proletariat" and threw many people in jail, including Zinaida's husband.  There he contracted typhus.  He was released shortly before he died in 1919.

In the words of Leon Trotsky,
"You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you."
Zinaida was left with no money, four hungry children and a sick mother.




She managed to feed her family by drawing pencil illustrations for the Kharkov Anthropological Museum.


Then in 1924 she learned of an art job in Paris. Zinaida left Russia temporarily only to find when her project was completed that hostile relations between the countries prevented her from returning to her family.  With the help of the red cross, the distraught mother was able to smuggle her two smallest children out of the country.  However, she remained separated from her two older children for over 30 years.

Zinaida felt relatively safe working in France until the Nazis invaded.  Then her  Russian citizenship was sure to get her arrested, so she became a French citizen.  All the while, she continued to draw and paint.
Age 54
Age 62
Age 71
Looking over this lifetime of self-portraits, I am struck by the persistence of Zinaida's smile, and the tenderness that seems to have outlasted the forces that buffeted her.

She resisted assignments painting Soviet generals and commissars and refused to become caught up in ideological painting of her day.  Instead, she turned again and again to the purity and tenderness of the naked human form.  Her daughter recalled:

The female nude was mother's favourite subject. While she was in Russia young peasant women would pose for her. In Paris her friends would come over to her studio, drink a cup of tea, then they would stay and pose for her. They were not the professional models that you might find in Montparnasse and maybe this is the reason why they are so natural and graceful.



Today on the cusp of 2012, we can already see the next crop of despots aspiring to impose their solutions.  They've had a century to refine Lenin's special math that justifies sacrificing individual human beings to achieve some master plan for humankind.  By now, they have become positively glib at it.

But Zinaida's joyous pictures suggest that she viewed the math differently, from the side of the equation where the individual is everything.  Pink cheeks here and now outweighed any blueprint for a distant utopia. Her math seems to have helped her remain indomitable during the years when artists with a more intellectual approach reacted with cynicism and despair. If you ever meet a person with such an attitude, marry them quick.  It will be the best thing you can do for the quality of your day-to-day life.

I wish all of you a happy, healthy 2012.

A happy new year Hebrew Publishing Co.

Title: A happy new year. Date Created / Published: [S.l.] : Hebrew Publishing Co., [between 1900 and 1920] Medium: 1 photomechanical print (postcard) : offset lithograph, color.

Summary: Print shows Moses and Aaron. Moses holds the Ten Commandment tablets, Aaron an incense burner. Between them are two vignettes relating to Moses' life. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-15864 (digital file from original print)

Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 13151, no. 11, p. 6, bottom c-P&P Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

This Image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to the United States, where Works published prior to 1923 are copyright protected for a maximum of 75 years. See Circular 1 "COPYRIGHT BASICS" PDF from the U.S. Copyright Office. Works published before 1923 in this case [between 1900 and 1920] , are now in the public domain.

Notes: Title from item. No. 6. Written on back: Best wishes for a Bright & Happy New Year. Mr. 7 Mrs. Sadler 1649 N. 8th St. [addressed to] Mr. & Mrs. N. Bendiener, 1719 N. 8th St., Phila. Forms part of: Ephemera from the Alfred Bendiner Memorial Collection (Library of Congress).

Subjects: Moses--1900-1920. Aron--(Biblical priest)--1900-1920. Biblical events--1900-1920. Format: Offset photomechanical prints--Color--1900-1920. Postcards--1900-1920. Collections: Miscellaneous Items in High Demand.

A happy new year Hebrew Publishing Co.

Un-edited Image JPEG (64kb) || JPEG (203kb) || TIFF (22.3mb)

Satyr Taxis

Fantasy ornament designs (1550s) by Cornelis Bos
- image captions below are translated/edited.
A bit.


Wagen getrokken door twee fantasiedieren...1550
Chariot of grotesques and scrollwork drawn by two fantasy animals and pushed by a satyr, whose head is trapped in a large shell. A satyr is in the car with a lighted lamp. [I]n print series of eight chariots of grotesques and scrollwork with satyrs, animals and various other creatures; decorated with trophies, garlands and vines. [1550]



Voor op de wagen staat een sater...1550
Chariot of grotesques and scrollwork (series title).

Chariot pulled by a fantasy beast (?like a goat) -- the chariot has a seated woman and four satyrs, one of the satyrs on the front of the car is holding a mask in his hand, without a name. [1550]



Voorop zit een man met een lans...1552
Frieze with chariots of grotesques and roll and fittings work with figures and animals, decorated with garlands and vines (series title)

Car containing a woman, pushed by a man and pulled by a man riding on the back of a bear. A man with a lance sits in the front. Behind the back of the woman is a monkey. Belongs to series of 4 prints. [1552]



De wagen wordt getrokken door...1552
Frieze with chariots of grotesques and roll and fittings work with figures and animals, decorated with garlands and vines (series title) [1552]

The car is pulled by two men and a goat, which runs between them. Belongs to series of 4 prints.



De wagen wordt voortbewogen...1550
Chariot of grotesques and scrollwork (series title)

The car is propelled by three satyrs with saucer-shaped chins. [From a] series of eight chariots of grotesques and scrollwork with satyrs, animals and various other creatures, decorated with trophies, garlands and vines. [1550]



De constructie rust op een schildpad...1550
The structure rests on a turtle. [From a] series of eight chariots of grotesques and scrollwork with satyrs, animals and various other creatures, decorated with trophies, garlands and vines. [1550]



De wagen wordt getrokken door...1550
A man and woman are seated in a car pulled by a satyr and pushed by two men, all caught in the frame. [From a] series of eight chariots of grotesques and scrollwork with satyrs, animals and various other creatures, decorated with trophies, garlands and vines.




De wagen beweegt voort over water...1550
The vehicle is moved through the water by a paddle wheel. Two satyrs pull, two women push. [From a] series of eight chariots of grotesques and scrollwork with satyrs, animals and various other creatures, decorated with trophies, garlands and vines.



De vrouw zit in een lus van rolwerk...1552
The woman sits in a loop of scrollwork in a cart pushed by 2 men. A woman riding on a deer leads the way. [1550]



Achter de schildpad zit een vrouw...1552
Frieze with chariots of grotesques and roll and fittings work with figures and animals, decorated with garlands and vines (series title)

Behind the turtle is a woman with a stick. Another woman holds a dog's ears in front of her. The car is pushed by a dog and two men. Belongs to series of 4 prints. [1552]



De voorste sater loopt tussen...1550
The front satyr runs between two plates. [From a] series of eight chariots of grotesques and scrollwork with satyrs, animals and various other creatures, decorated with trofeeëen, garlands and vines.



Achterop zitten drie saters... 1550
Three satyrs with heads and hands locked in the rear bogie. A male sits under a trellis in the vehicle. The chariot is pulled by 2 bulls and a satyr. [From a] series of eight chariots of grotesques and scrollwork with satyrs, animals and various other creatures, decorated with trophies, garlands and vines. [1550]



Bacchus 1600 to 1699
2-part picture. A procession in honor of the god Bacchus who sits in a chariot. And a procession to the temple with his satyrs and putti and others elated with feasting and dancing. Some play on flutes and tambourines, others carrying sticks or jars with grapes and vines with them.




In the absence of a handy academic storyline to explain the hallucinogenic excesses of **mannerist** ornament, I'm choosing to believe that this array of 'transport' is the mid-16th century equivalent of a bloated movie franchise: the one sequel too many inadvertently became a parody of itself.

These designs are essentially riffing on a seminal technological, artistic and mythological motif from throughout recorded history: the chariot, which was first developed in the Middle East in about 2000 to 3000 BC.
"The chariot, driven by a charioteer, was used for ancient warfare during the bronze and the iron ages. Armor was limited to a shield. The vehicle was used for travel and in processions, games, and races after it had been superseded by other vehicles for military purposes." [W]

"One of the culminating battles of chariotry came early in the 13th century B.C., when armies of the Hittites and Egyptians clashed on the plains of northern Syria at Kadesh. Muwatallis II, the Hittite king, deployed a force of 3,500 chariots, and Ramses II is supposed to have countered in kind, but the battle seems to have ended in a stalemate. By the end of that century, as armies learned to blunt the attacks with swarming infantry and later cavalry, the age of the chariot as a weapon drew to a close. The high-speed vehicle was reduced to roles in sport and regal parades." [source]

For the sake of brevity we fast forward to Roman times when the ceremony of the Roman Triumph (sanctification of military honour) involved parading of the celebrated hero through the city streets on a chariot. This would seem to be the true origin for the establishment of the chariot as an important iconographic symbol for elevating/feting/honouring/celebrating either man or God in drama and art (mythological in particular : see the final image, pertaining to Bacchus, above).

The chariot, as a symbolic cultural element, followed various paths down through history, from the pageantry and Joyous Entries associated with the festivals of the 16th/17th centuries to parodies in Fractured Fairytale cartoons in the 1960s, by way of polar examples.

My personal view - apply skepticism as necessary - is that the designs above by Cornelis Bos are much less concerned with adding to the visual language of pageantry (or even ornament) than they are with satirising the Renaissance festival culture itself. Ornament that once adorned the embellished chariots and floats of the festival scene has come alive here not as secondary decoration but as the primary focus. The abstracted grotesque figures and mythological details propel our 'taxis' - the almost irrelevant, bizarre land and water transport frames - forward.

Doubtless, art historians would observe these ornamental fantasies and line up to expand on the projected meanings from analysis of allegorical features and symbology. They are welcome to it. I prefer to see the simple, humorous mockery of artistic forebears by the emerging talents of a new movement. Mannerist Fractured Fairytales, if you will.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy new year!

Title: Happy new year! Date Created/Published: N.Y. : Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, Puck Building, 1910 December 28. Medium: 1 photomechanical print : offset, color.

Summary: Illustration shows Father Time ringing bells proclaiming "The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number", while a crowd in the street celebrates the New Year by using noisemakers, horns, drums, and cymbols to sound their personal causes, such as "Partisanship" and "Partisan Politics", "Ring Politics", "Spoils System", "Women's Rights", and "Calamity Howling".

Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-27697 (digital file from original print)

Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.

Call Number: Illus. in AP101.P7 1910 c-P&P(Case X) Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print.

Notes: Title from item. Caption: Time, the Bell-Ringer Some year, perhaps, they'll stop their noise long enough to hear the chimes. Illus. in: Puck, v. 68, no. 1765 (1910 December 28), centerfold. Copyright 1910 by Keppler & Schwarzmann.

Subjects: New Year--1910. Father Time (Symbolic character)--1910. Noise pollution--1910. Sounds--1910. Celebrations--1910. Crowds--1910.

Format: Cartoons (Commentary)--1910. Offset photomechanical prints--Color--1910. Periodical illustrations--1910. Collections: Miscellaneous Items in High Demand.

Brian Sanders: "a professional artist for five decades"

Guest author Bryn Havord, following his overview of English illustrator Brian Sanders’ work produced in the 1960s, which we featured in April, continues with samples of Brian’s illustrations made during the 1970s and ’80s.

Brian has now been a professional artist for five decades during which time he has worked in every area of the illustrative arts ranging through: book publishing, magazines, advertising, government agencies, film, television and art education. He is one of the founders of the British Association of Illustrators.

Below: HRH Prince Charles for Woman’s Own
Sanders98

Below: Serial opening for Woman magazine.
Sanders115
Sanders99

Above and below: two more opening spreads for Woman’s Own serials.

Sanders100

Three paintings from Man and the Automobile published in France as L’Homme et L’Automobile. All three were painted in acrylics.

Sanders102
Taxis of the Marne. General Galieni requisitioned the Renault taxis of Paris to take troops to the front in 1914.

Sanders103
The Auburn

Sanders101
Rolls Royce Silver Ghost

Below, illustration for the first part of a serial for Woman magazine...

Sanders107

... and the final part of the same serial. It was rare for a complete serial to be in full colour throughout.

Sanders106

Two of four watercolours for a Readers Digest article about the British government’s cabinet war rooms. The brief was to construct a scene to include the war cabinet. Left to right are: Brendan Bracken, Lord Beaverbrook, Ernest Bevan, Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee.

Sanders110

Below: Winston Churchill

Sanders111

Escape from Arnhem for The Sunday Times. The Dutch Resistance hid the survivors of the Arnhem parachute drop and battle, dressing them in civilian clothes, hiding their uniforms and weapons. One night they were all brought together, and re-kitted before escaping across the Neder Rhine. Art director Michael Rand’s brief was: “imagine the fear of being caught by the enemy with your pants down”.

Sanders112

Another illustration for Readers Digest - this time for their special books series. There were four other watercolours made for this story.

Sanders113

Cry God for Harry and St George - The Battle of Agincourt, watercolour for Men Only.

Sanders116

Article on duelling for Men Only. Brian visited London’s Hampstead Heath at dawn for the scene described by the author. As the mist cleared he saw a hawk swoop and take a pigeon.

Sanders117

Noel Coward for Nova, the magazine most illustrators wished to work for. One of twenty illustrations showing famous peoples’ foibles.

Sanders108

Coward ostentatiously left invitations on his mantelpiece marked either “accept” or “decline”. When Brian’s agent delivered the drawings, the then young art director David Hillman said: “some of these oldies can still turn it on.”

Brian was thirty-two.

At 73 years-of-age Brian still works as hard as he did back in the 1970s and ’80s. It’s always a pleasure to visit him and his wife Lizzie, also an illustrator; I still find their work as exciting as I did all those years ago.

* Brian was very pleased with the responses he received after his first blog was kindly published by Leif Peng back in April. His e-mail address is briansanders[dot]art[at]googlemail[dot]com

* If you'd like to read all of Bryn Havord's posts about Brian, including many more examples of his earlier artwork, they have just been collected as one continuous story on a new blog, The Art of Brian Sanders

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Long Acre Square Times Square

The first New Year's Eve celebration is held in Times Square (then known as Longacre Square) in New York City, New York 1904.

At 41st street we get a nearer view of the tower-like building of the New York Times, sometimes called the "Andiron Building." The array of signs before us here is simply bewildering. Perhaps the most impressive of these is the one reminding us that it is time for a high ball, and incidentally giving us the exact time of the night.

Crossing 42nd street we reach another of the triangle "Squares," known as Long Acre Square, or by its new title of Times Square. With the continuous movement of business uptown, this section is now the center of the theater district, and has besides some of the newest and finest of the city's hotels.

In variety, size and ingenuity of electric signs the Great White Way is unsurpassed. Every trick and device that ingenuity can suggest and money produce seems to have found a place within these comparatively few blocks.

In some of the larger signs striking color effects are produced; as for example in the Levy sign depicting a female figure, and in the AnheuserBusch sign. Movements of various kinds are also one of the devices for attracting attention, the most conspicuous one being the Wilson High Ball sign, which changes every minute, thus giving the exact time.

This Image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to the United States, where Works published prior to 1923 are copyright protected for a maximum of 75 years. See Circular 1 "COPYRIGHT BASICS" PDF from the U.S. Copyright Office. Works published before 1923 in this case 1907, are now in the public domain.

Long Acre Square Times Square

TEXT and IMAGE CREDIT: Good Lighting and the Illuminating Engineer, Volume 1 Published: 1907. Original from: the University of California. Digitized: Feb 3, 2010.