Rafael Mahdavi at the Center

20, April 2012 § Leave a comment

Rafael Mahdavi is a painter  and sculptor.  Son of an American mother and a Persian father he was born in Mexico, has lived and worked in America, France, Greece, Austria, Spain and England.  He has quadruple nationality, France, American, Mexican and Iranian.    He may be truly the man of the age:  cosmopolitan, multicultural,  an educated artist , scholar and self made man.

He gave a talk and slide lecture at the Center this month which he entitled Forty Years in Four Minutes.  This was accompanied by a musical piece written by his son.  He then talked in depth about a dozen of his seminal pieces and spoke about his process.  His painting incorporates photographic images, patterning and slashing brush marks.  His work is autobiographical, textured and sometimes includes language.  We saw several pieces based on the braille alphabet, paintings based on personal symbolism, and some large, folding metal fabricated sculptures.

“If painting is to communicate anything and be in the world of people looking at painting, it must be about something other than itself. These ideas made me take a hard look at my work since New York. In the late nineties I started to cull the beginnings of a visual and recognizable alphabet from that era: shoes as home, posts as demarcation in a landscape, the body as landscape. The broken sun- glasses represent the idea that some images are shattering, and the camera symbolizes painting’s nemesis. I continued to elaborate and implement this visual alphabet in my painting: Braille representing touch and the opposites, sight and blindness. Shells as a personal music; water as the absence of taste; the dog as fidelity and poverty. The diver/leaper represents the plunge into the unknown, the leap of faith.”  (from his website http://www.rafaelmahdavi.com)

– Jane Pack

Euphrosyne Doxiadis at the Center

16, April 2012 § 1 Comment

Euphrosyne Doxiadis, working her persuasive powers and demonstrating her intense passion, gave the students two wonderful lectures this last month.  Her first, The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, opened their eyes to the high level of artistic wizardry which created the portraits of people living in Hellenistic Egypt in the first century after Christ.  These portraits look wonderfully fresh and alive after being pulled from the sand of the desert where they had been affixed to mummies.  We wonder at their clarity, color and modern feel.  The painting students who are currently learning the four color palette, the same ancient system as was used by the Greek masters, saw the depth and variety this limited palette allows.  Euphrosyne went into some detail as to the technical procedure so that the students could realize they are participants in a long line of painting tradition spanning the ages.

Detail from Roman Charity by Peter Paul Rubens

Detail from Samson and Delilah by ?

The second lecture was equally fascinating.  Euphrosyne believes, and has convinced us all, that the Rubens painting in the National Gallery in London,  the Samson and Delilah, is a forgery.  With precision and evident distaste she pointed out the particular flaws which demonstrate that this could not be an original:  the lack of convincing brushwork, the flattened spacial elements, the poor understanding of form, the inky black background that comes against but not behind the figures.  All of these things and many more are tell-tale signs that Rubens had no hand in the piece.  Her website http://www.afterrubens.org tells the whole story.  No one left the lecture with any doubts.

– Jane Pack

At the Met Museum, January 12th

14, March 2012 § 1 Comment

Before our winter trip to America, mostly to see our family in sunny San Diego, we invited friends and students of the Aegean Center to join us at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. (I don’t say former students, since I still think of them – of you – as ongoing students and colleagues.) We had done this two years ago, when twenty-five joined us. This year another twenty-five managed to come, and we made a rich day of it.

Most of these students heard about this on Facebook, so it seems the site is actually good for something other than exclamation points. And Elizabeth and I were delighted that so many are living in or near the city, or were there for the holidays. New York is our home city, and the labyrinthine Metropolitan is the museum we know best.

The oldest student was Drew Weidemann, whose pictures of the event can be found on Franklin Einspruch’s site, here: http://www.artblog.net/post/2012/01/carson. Drew, now a professional photographer (www.drewwiedemann.com) was a student twenty years ago, and Franklin was a student a few years later and then an assistant to Jane; now he is a painter and noted art critic. Christine Linclau, a student a mere decade ago, only found out at the last minute, and came down from her office at the museum, where she is digital librarian, to greet us all.  Jessica Freedman, working at a gallery, came at the end. The youngest – well, there were several nineteen year olds – was probably Anna Deming. None of our students, of course, is ignorant about art, its lessons and delights. And John Masters and Jackie Massari are again here on Paros, trying not to be too distracted by Aegean spring.

The Met is huge, and a selection must be planned. Since all of us had studied Greek art together, and most of us had studied Italian Renaissance art together in Italy, we naturally stayed close to the Mediterranean. But we also wandered.
Did the museum know we were coming? For it had mounted one of the best shows we have seen in years: “The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini” – spacious room after room of Italian portraits from about 1425 to about 1515, by artists including Donatello, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio, Pisanello, Mantegna, Bellini, and Antonello da Messina. Our etesian September often focuses on the new conception of individuality the Italian cities achieved, not based entirely on mere class and lineage. Men and women wanted to be portrayed as they were, but with intimations of inner vitality and strength. In the Bargello Museum in Florence, I often point to Donatello’s terracotta bust of Niccolò da Uzzano as the first true example of this new sensibility; though that piece did not make the journey, Donatello’s silver Reliquary of Saint Rossore, from the Pisa Museum, did.

In the same room as this masterpiece, a realistic drawing by Fra Angelico again demonstrated that Fra Giovanni was not a mediaeval holdover but at the forefront of the new movement formulated by Brunelleschi and given theoretic expression in 1435 by Alberti, who wrote in his treatise on painting in 1435: “Painting represents the dead to the living many centuries later, so that they are recognized by spectators with pleasure and deep admiration for the artist.” We saw Botticelli at his most poetic, Ghirlandaio at his most psychologically profound, and Bellini at his most empathetic – this is as great as painting gets.

The exhibition’s sculpture was equally brilliant; it is often noted that, before Leonardo, painters followed the lead of sculptors. What age of sculpture has ever surpassed the Quattrocento from Donatello to Michelangelo, with stops along the way for Verrocchio, Desiderio, and Benedetto da Maiano? Benedetto’s two heads of Filippo Strozzi, a rich banker, were of especial fascination. The terracotta one, surely done from life, was meditative and detailed, while the marble one, in fulfillment of the commission, was more abstract and idealized. Going back and forth between them, one could see how the artist made the inner and outer man two aspects of a complete person, public and private, spiritual and political, sensitive and stern; it was astonishing.

There were medals by Pisanello, drawings pricked for fresco translation by Ghirlandaio and Mantegna, illuminated manuscripts – and for some inexplicable reason, not too many people, so that we, a large group, could linger and discuss. But after our two-and-a-half hours in the show we were ready for a rest.

Meeting friends with whom one has much in common – in this case Paros, Italy, the Aegean Center, and art – is always a delight, and we lingered over lunch in the museum’s cafeteria. But then we got back to work, and going back nearly two thousand years, looked at Greek art, which so inspired the Italian Renaissance in its realism and craft, and is so different in its search for essential ideals, for the serenely heroic. Of course we visited the Girl with a Dove from Paros. I think most of us were thrilled that we could so readily compare what we were seeing with works we had studied together in Rome and Athens.

Athens and Florence, so disparate in time and culture, both believed that proportion, fidelity to nature, and reason were divine. Both were independent republics, whose citizens were extremely interested in the arts and so knowledgeable. And Venice and Paros made accommodation for sea light. There is more than one bloom of humanism, but its root is the respect for the individual in the world.

After a coffee break, we all opted for more: Titian, Rubens, Vermeer, and Velazquez. All in all, we were in the museum six hours, and left in high spirits, more exhilarated than tired. That is the effect art and knowledge are supposed to have. On the way out we stopped to contemplate the eagle from Giovanni Pisano’s great Pistoia pulpit, otherwise complete. Probably no one had looked at it, lost in its big mediaeval hall, for a year. Let this eagle be our inspiration till next time, and call us – Drew, Franklin, Christine, Anna, Lauren, Emily, Emily, Jackie, John, Christopher, Carter, Adrian, Shirin, Nikay, Jessica, Jessica, Kristin, Barbara, Brie, Arielle, Ves, Johanna, Jade, Michelle, Liz, and Jeff – to attention on what matters.

– Jeffrey Carson

Paris Over the Holidays Part 3: Fra Angelico

20, January 2012 § 1 Comment

In the first half of the 15th century lived a monk by the name of Fra Giovanni da Fiesole (born Guido di Pietro) who worked and resided in the Monastery of San Marco in Florence, Italy.  He was a painter.  He painted altarpieces and panels, illuminated choir books and frescoed the walls of his own monastery.  According to Giorgio Vasari who wrote in Lives of the Artists, Fra Giovanni was a man so devout in his love of Christ that “he would never take up his pencil until he had first made supplication, and he never made a crucifix but he was bathed in tears.”
It is from Vasari that Fra Giovanni attained the name we know him best by, “Fra Giovanni Angelico” (Brother John the Angelic One) now shortened to simply, “Fra Angelico.”  When one sees his pictures one understands just how appropriate this name is.  While in Paris this past January I was able to do just that at the Musée Jacquemart-André in the exhibition, “Fra Angelico and the Masters of Light.”

It was the first ever exhibition of Fra Angelico’s works in France and the Musée Jacquemart-André was able to acquire almost 25 pieces for the show.  This was quite a feat considering Fra Angelico’s fragile works are very rarely transported.  Along with Fra Angelico there were works by his fellow monk and teacher, Lorenzo Monaco, as well as Masolino, Gentile da Fabriano, Lippo Lippi, Paolo Uccello and his student Benozzo Gozzoli.  Through Fra Angelico and these exceptional painters we are able to understand the progession of artistic development which occurred in Florence during the first half of the 1400s.

As masterful as he is in portraying paintings worthy of deep religious contemplation and meaning, Fra Angelico was a leading thinker and technician in the new and innovative approaches of image making.  In his ability to show perspective and form we can see the leap that Fra Angelico made over the generation of artists preceding him in Florence.  We get a sense of this in two cases, where Fra Angelico treats similar subjects as Gentile da Fabriano and Lorenzo Monaco, both masters in the school of International Gothic painting.  In the depiction of Saint Francis receiving the stigmata, Fra Angelico is able to covey much more space and form than in Gentile da Fabriano’s version.

"St. Francis," Gentile da Fabriano

"St Francis Receiving the Stigmata and the Death of St Peter Martyr," Fra Angelico

Exhibited side by side in the show, Lorenzo Monaco’s “Miracle of Saint Nicholas” and Fra Angelico’s “Thebaide” are quite astonishing in illustrating the contrast and progression in portraying sea and landscapes.  Monaco’s depiction of the sea is as a pattern made up of spirals.  Fra Angelico conveys a real sense of depth in the the gradations and the changes in scale and detail.

"Miracle of Saint Nicholas," Lorenzo Monaco

"Thebaide," Fra Angelico (click to enlarge)

Regarding Thebaide, it is remarkable how Fra Angelico was able to paint so much in such a small space, from monks praying and reading,  beautiful naturalistic animals, light falling on plants and trees, to the texture of the earth, which Fra Angelico achieved by using a pointillist approach.

"Thebaide (Detail)," Fra Angelico

We also find that Fra Angelico delves deeper than his contemporaries in exploring the uses of new artistic innovations.  Taken from the museum’s permanent collection the use of perspective in “Paolo Uccello’s Saint George and the Dragon” is effective but a bit arbitrary to the main subject.  On the other hand, in “The Story of St. Nicholas,” Fra Angelico uses linear perspective as a means to intertwine three narratives in a coherent manner.  For Fra Angelico, perspective is a useful tool to amplify his intentions, whether it is a narrative or an idea.

"Saint George and the Dragon," Paolo Uccello

"The Story of Saint Nicholas," Fra Angelico

The exhibition is called “Fra Angelico and the Masters of Light” and it is an apt title. Fra Angelico’s paintings are rich with color, light and gold.  Fra Angelico was a master of gold leaf.  In his “Virgin and Child” we notice not just the gorgeous designs and patterns in the haloes but the way the gold curtain turns and folds in his magnificent tooling of the gold.

"Virgin and Child," Fra Angelico

Light permeates Fra Angelico’s paintings in his use of color.  When colors go in to shadow they never get too dark, only more pure in their hue.  Each color is distinct, pure and balanced throughout the painting.  There is a mosaic quality in some of Fra Angelico’s busier paintings where figures are cut out from one another by the offset of colors.  This is visible in the triptych “The Ascension, The Last Judgement and the Pentecost” where through a balance of pinks, blues, reds and golds each figure is clearly delineated and the composition remains balanced. I found this painting to be captivating for many reasons, especially the solidity and beauty of Christ, in particular the drapery over his legs as he pronounces the Last Judgement.

"The Ascension, Last Judgement and Pentecost," Fra Angelico

At the end of the exhibition we find a video showing the works at the monastery in San Marco.  Frescoed on the walls in each cell are scenes from the life of Christ.  There is a sobriety and gravity to the images and we are reminded of the religious sentiment and conviction in Fra Angelico’s work.  Perhaps this is why his paintings are so moving; with all his technical know-how we still find a sweet simplicity and clarity in his panels and frescoes. Fra Angelico’s works do reflect the intellectual achievements of his age but ultimately it is the pureness and deep spirituality in his own heart that makes his work so moving and unforgettable.

-Jun-Pierre Shiozawa

"Coronation of the Virgin," Fra Angelico

Paris Over the Holidays Part 2: “Beauty, Morals and Voluptuousness in the England of Oscar Wilde”

16, January 2012 § 3 Comments

Waiting in line at the Musee d’Orsay on a cold January morning is no joke.  It is such a visited destination that even with a reserved ticket one needs to wait outside for close to an hour. As placeholder in line I anxiously awaited the arrival of my brother, sister and brother-in-law.  After waiting forty minutes and with the vast majority of the line behind me, my tardy siblings sheepishly arrived and took their places next to me, much to the irritation of the Australian couple behind us.  Kindly the Australians let them pass and soon we entered the beautiful train station turned museum.
Not surprisingly, the museum was completely packed.

"Saint Cecilia," John William Waterhouse

The exhibition, “Beauty, Morals and Voluptuousness in the England of Oscar Wilde” currently on display at the museum was our first destination, shows works that were created under the “Aesthetic Movement” occurring in Britain during the second half of the 19th century.  The Aesthetics were invested in making works of beauty without overarching meanings that went beyond the piece itself.  It was “art for art sake,” a stance that permeated the culture in Victorian England in art, design, fashion, literature and poetry.

It was a movement which started in painting reacting against everything from the gritty realist art of Gustave Courbet to the ugliness found in mass industry.  John Ruskin’s idea of art as the ultimate in human endeavor was challenged by Ruskin’s rival in later life, French born, American painter John McNeil Whistler, a major figure in the movement.  Whistler stated, “art should stand alone and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism”.  The Aesthetics aimed to make their world more beautiful, using influences as wide in scope as ancient Egypt, the early Italian Renaissance, classical Greece, Japanese tapestries and ukiyo-e, chinese porcelain bowls and illuminated manuscripts.

"Summer Solstice," Albert Moore

It must have been an exciting time, experiencing the effects of globalism in London in the second half of 19th century.  The Acropolis marbles that were taken from Athens and placed in the British Museum impressed many artists in England.  Soon after, images portraying life in idealized ancient Greece and Rome became the rage.  Albert Moore’s “Summer Solstice” depicts a sleeping toga-clad Greek fanned by attendants.  Lawrence Alma-Tadema, one of the most successful artist/designers of his day, is represented by pieces of furniture that drew inspiration from Greco-Roman design motifs.  In the exhibition we also find a small, gorgeous  Alma-Tadema painting of a woman resting in a Roman bathhouse titled “Tepidarium.”

"In the Tepidarium," Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Through Whistler we see works greatly influenced by Japanese design and color principles.  Often the models in his paintings are wearing kimonos and holding Japanese fans.  His pieces are often titled with references to music, such as “Symphony in White,”  “Harmony in Gray and Green, and “Nocturne: Blue and Gold.”

"Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge," James McNeil Whistler

"Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge," James McNeil Whistler

Whether it is a portrait of a statesman or his own mother, it is the composition and arrangement of colors that seem to be of paramount importance to Whistler.   Blurring the eyes, Whistler’s portrait of Thomas Carlyle, “Arrangement in Black and Gray No. 2” becomes a play of positive and negative shapes.  Whistler was a designer as well.  There is an interactive digital video of his masterpiece, the “Peacock Room,” a room entirely designed and painted for shipping tycoon Frederick Leyland for his Chinese porcelain collection.  Art as design and as decor–this is the trend that soon emerges throughout this exhibition of the Aesthetic movement.

"Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 2," James McNeill Whistler

Works by many of the preeminent Pre-Raphaelites are included with paintings depicting innocent maidens with doe-eyed expressions. The figures in the works of Edward Burne-Jones are reminiscent of Botticelli with languishing looks and red lips and hair.  The spaces in his paintings are much denser however, flat and patterned like a medieval tapestry.

"Laus Veneris," Edward Burne-Jones

Where is Oscar Wilde in all this?  Quotes from a wide range of his writings are to be found stenciled throughout the exhibition.  Through Wilde’s insights and musings he plays the role of a guide, explaining to the viewer how such an artistic movement could have had such an effect on the London of his time.  “I am finding it harder and harder to live up to my blue china,” he quipped, shedding light on the craze for imported Chinese plates.  For what starts as the ideas and motivations of mid 19th century painters Dante Rossetti and William Morris in painting grows into a cultural movement that permeates the aristocratic classes, the way they dressed themselves and their homes, and the places they went and with whom.

Peacock Feathers’ furnishing fabric, Arthur Silver

One is struck by how much was made within the spirit of Aesthetism: everything from chairs to wallpaper to whole rooms; it was an industry unto itself.  We find with all the myriad objects and images collected in this exhibition the Aesthetic movement feels like a passing fashion, one that made its mark and then moved on.  To find a real revolution one must go up to the fifth floor of the Musée d’Orsay and see the works that were painted at roughly the same time across the English Channel in Paris.  There the works of Monet, Degas, Cezanne and the rest of the Impressionists truly challenged the way people thought about art and beauty.

“Beauty, Morals and Voluptuousness in the England of Oscar Wilde” shows us that the Aesthetic movement was such a mix of ideas and influences that we need some sort of anchor to comprehend how the whole movement fits into our understanding of art history and the world at that time.  Wilde provides the anchor.   As beautiful as it is, the art of Wilde’s world, that of Victorian England, simply reflects the man’s refined tastes and trappings. The Aesthetic Movement aspired to little else in their philosophy of art.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.  All art is quite useless.  — From “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

-Jun-Pierre Shiozawa

Paris Over the Holidays, part 1: The Wyeths

13, January 2012 § 3 Comments

During the holiday season in Paris there is a multitude of art exhibitions on display to tempt tourists and locals alike.  As I was fortunate enough to be in Paris during the New Year’s festivities, I was able to enjoy a number of the shows and museums, indulging in artwork of all kinds.  I will be writing three reviews of exhibitions I visited while in Paris, “The Wyeths: Three Generations of American Artists” at the Mona Bismark Foundation, “Beauty, Morals and Voluptuousness in the England of Oscar Wilde” at the Musée d’Orsay and “Fra Angelico and the Masters of Light” at the Musée Jacquemart-André.

If one is determined, in a week they can cover a lot of ground in a city like Paris, where strolling is pleasant and the metro is easily accessible.  The first exhibition I saw was “The Wyeths: Three Generations of American Artists” at the small and charming Mona Bismark Foundation, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.  The show features the works of painter and illustrator, N.C. Wyeth, his son Andrew, perhaps the most important figurative American painter of the 20th century, and his grandson Jamie. The draw is quite rightly Andrew, but from the collected works we get an idea of the evolution of one of the truly great American artists and his family legacy.

"Sir Nigel Sustains Englands Honor" NC Wyeth

The exhibition starts with bright, dramatic paintings by N.C. that were used to vividly illustrate stories such as Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and King Arthur.  N.C.’s paintings are bold and direct, depicting the tales of swashbuckling pirates, soldiers and knights.  There is no ambiguity in NC’s pieces and his brushwork and color are always sure and confident.  Perhaps the lack of subtlety in N.C.’s works may be cause for criticism, but it is clear that he was a painter of suberb technical skill and range.  NC’s work is a helpful introduction to the formation of his son, Andrew.  We could even find Andrew drawing in on of NC’s paintings,  “Eight Bells” hunched over his drawing in N.C.’s lobster boat off the coast of Maine.

"Eight Bells," N.C. Wyeth

In contrast with N.C.’s colorful, almost theatrical paintings, Andrew’s works, mostly in egg tempera or watercolor, are by contrast subdued, still and personal.  There are no classics in this exhibtion, no “Christina’s World,” but instead intimate depictions of  Andrew’s immediate surroundings: his neighbors, his studio window, his barn, his boots, etc.

"Boots (study for Trodden Weed)", Andrew Wyeth

Around the time of his father’s death from a car crash in 1945, Andrew’s color palette changes, and gone are the vivid blues and reds of his earlier watercolors, replaced with muted browns and grays.  Andrew’s ability to capture his subjects in fine detail is breathtaking.  Yet, in their balance, design and tone, it is the compostional arrangements in Andrew’s paintings which sustain the viewer, elevating  his pieces from being simply well observed landscapes and portraits, to poetic and intensely personal works.  When we see his paintings we get a sense of seeing not just through the eye of Andrew Wyeth, but through his temperament and sensibilities. In so doing we get a sense of the man himself.

"Helga" Andrew Wyeth

After Andrew, the show continues with the paintings of his son, Jamie.  If the Wyeth show were a three course meal, then N.C.’s contribution would be a spicy beef tataki appetizer, Andrew’s would be an aromatic and delicately prepared salmon fillet with herbs and Jamie’s would be a cheeseburger, some fishsticks, and a cheesecake for dessert.  That is to say that there is a whole lot of Jamie’s work in the exhibition, and the range is wide, most of which are a far cry from the paintings of his father and grandfather.  Jamie is a competent painter and he has works of true merit but they would do better in a personal retrospective only.  In “The Wyeths” exhibition, it is a bit like having cheesecake after one has reached a sufficiency.

"Tempest," Jamie Wyeth

“The Wyeths: Three Generations of American Artists” is a show that doesn’t have enough work from its star draw, but his pieces alone are worth the trip.  N.C.’s works are enjoyable and Jamie’s portraits are worthy of note, but ultimately, “The Wyeths” highlights Andrew Wyeth as the supreme painter of his renowned family.   The exhibition is a fine example of the power of the subdued.  N.C.’s paintings are dynamic.  Jamie has many of all kinds.   Yet, Andrew with only a select few watercolors, egg temperas and drawings makes the biggest impact.

-Jun-Pierre Shiozawa

"Garret Room," Andrew Wyeth

Leonardo at the National Gallery

10, January 2012 § 4 Comments

The National Gallery in London is hosting a show entitled  “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan”  which opened last month and focuses on his time as court painter to Ludovico Maria Sforza.
The  exhibition sold out in the first week but we were fortunate enough to get tickets in advance. On view are 7 paintings,  60  drawings, 33 of which are from the Royal Collection. This makes the show a unique opportunity to  see an artist at work, thinking through ideas and culling through various postures and positions for compositions.  The paintings are surrounded by preparatory drawings, some of which relate directly to the work on display.  The most sensitive drawings are those done on prepared paper with silverpoint and white highlights.  This means that the paper was covered with a layer of  animal hide glue mixed with pigments, in this case usually blue.  The drawings were done on this ground with a fine piece of silver wire, carefully and gently touched to the paper and built up in intensity by continued stroking.  The white highlighting is  probably pigment mixed with egg tempera  applied with a brush.  Looking closely at these drawings I could barely see the strokes of the brush in many cases leading me to believe that he may have just tapped the pigment on, dotting it onto the paper with a tiny brush.  These drawings were more delicate and refined than I had imagined before I saw them in person.  They are small in scale, perhaps extracted from sketchbooks. Other drawings were done with pen and ink, the diagonal shading lines revealing the left-handedness of the artist. Leonardo believed that he could reveal scientific truths about the world thorough deep and clear observation.  These intense and precise drawings give us insight into the physical world as well as into the mind of the artist himself.  Leonardo’s sketches of human anatomy are still among the most admired drawings of their kind.
The crowds were rather overwhelming but we managed to spend time with each piece. A companion of mine remarked that she found the paintings rather cold. Indeed, Leonardo is not appealing to our heart but to our head.  His intellectual  approach demands a quiet and intense engagement with the work which was rather difficult at times with the press of people. Still I found time to inspect each piece. It is interesting to note how much of each composition was left unfinished, revealing the underdrawing in many cases.  Leonardo was known for leaving his paintings incomplete, but it is hard to determine how much of this is out of neglect or if he purposely chose to leave areas as they were first drawn.  His exquisite angel in The Virgin of the Rocks  (from  London) has perfectly realized  features but his hand is a smear of lines on the back of the baby Jesus.  The paintings are full of these inconsistencies. He was among the first Renaissance artists to use light rather than color to direct the eye.  His sfumato, or smokey, technique reveals and disguises edges leading the viewer through his rocky landscapes and over the curvature of the human visage.
John and I were able to see the show two days in a row, thanks to his foresight in purchasing tickets.  It is an education for modern artists to see such an sumptuous body of work, to understand better the process of a great genius. I also plan to apply some of the things I learned to my own methods this winter.  There is no greater joy than having new inspiration and the National Gallery show has provided ample opportunity to imbue some Leonardo.

-Jane Morris Pack

Illustrating the Iliad Exhibition and the Book

20, August 2011 § 4 Comments

“Illustrating the Iliad” opened on the 30th of July at the Aegean Center and just recently closed on 17th of August. The exhibition was very well attended and it was interesting and rewarding how many people returned several times to view the work. There were 38 images, each with corresponding texts in English and modern Greek from the Iliad.

Printed wall-mounted summaries of the story helped those that could not remember the details of the events of the story. Pleased with the many compliments I received I was also delighted that so many people mentioned they felt moved to reread the Iliad after seeing the works.

A book was also printed in Athens to accompany the exhibit. It includes the images of the show and the excerpts which inspired them in three languages, English from the translation by Fagles (published by Penguin), the modern Greek by Maroniti (published by Agra) and the ancient Greek (found in Homeri Opera from Oxford University Press). Jeffrey Carson wrote the preface and it includes an artist’s statement. The book is published by The Aegean Center Press and can be ordered via a link (soon to be) found on the Aegean Center’s website.

My son, Gabriel, sculpted a Trojan horse which held a place of prominence in the main gallery and which the children visiting found particularly alluring. I saw many of them on their hands and knees looking up into the horse’s belly from which dangled a rope ladder. Although the incident of the Trojan horse does not occur in the Iliad it did not seem right to exclude it entirely. Gabriel also made a short video of the monotype process which helped to illuminate my process. Thank you to all my students and friends who have inspired me and informed me over the years. I appreciate all of you who attended the exhibition, and for those who could not attend and sent their warm words of good wishes and congratulations, I thank you all of you for your joyful presence.   Jane Morris Pack

Traditional Painting Techniques: A Demonstration by Jane Pack

21, December 2009 § Leave a comment

Showing the students some effects of painting with egg tempera

Near the close of the semester I took the opportunity to demonstrate two traditional techniques to the students of the painting class.  Oil paints are just one in a long line of materials that artists have used to create paintings.  Tempera paint which uses egg yolk as a binder rather than linseed oil has been around since at least the time of the ancient Greeks.  Pigments from earth sources as well as organic material are used for the colouring matter and the yolk binds them and adheres them to a surface.  The other technique  we looked into is using marble dust to extend oil paints and to make them more transparent.

Tempera colors were used extensively before the mid 1400’s when linseed oil began to supplant the use of egg as a binder.  Most of the early Renaissance work we know is in this medium including the large pieces of Botticelli, “Birth of Venus” and the “Primavera” now in the Uffizzi.  Tempera has the advantage of reading very well in the high end of the tonal range and having fast drying times. It works up almost more like a pencil rendering with a linear approach and little surface build up.  It can  be pushed to transparent, opaque or opalescent with ease.

Introducing marble dust into oil paint extends the paint  and lightens it without turning it cool and chalky as white would do.  It makes the paint more transparent and more pasty, reducing drying time and creating impasto effects.  It  is almost like adding light without unduly changing the tone or temperature of the color.    If you add some drops of Liquin to moisten the mixture  the resulting putty can dry overnight even in thick areas.  Painters such as Velasquez and Rembrandt  are known to have added some sort of marble dust or chalk to their pigments.

These and other techniques  are interesting to extend our handling options and help us to understand why art of the past has certain characteristics.  Techniques may suit some temperaments and some subjects better than another.

Exhibition at the Aegean Center: “The Twelve Labors of Heracles and Other Myths”

9, August 2009 § Leave a comment


From July 24 to August 10 I have had opportunity to exhibit my latest series of paintings, The Twelve Labors of Heracles and Other Myths at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts.   These paintings were inspired in large part from a trip to Italy in the fall of 2008 with the Aegean Center. While visiting many cathedrals throughout Italy, I saw a number of narrative paintings based on the biblical tales. I was fascinated with the idea that each image told a piece of a story, and in some cases described the entire narrative in various parts. The images illustrated the stories to the people who attended Mass with drama, emotion, action and a sense of mystery. In effect, the paintings had to tell a compelling story.

Last winter, I began work on paintings based on stories with its fantastic, dynamic characters and adventures, much like ones found in the Old and New Testament. Naturally, I turned to the stories of Greek Mythology, abundant in its imagery. The number and variety of myths allowed me to approach each respective piece differently. This was a project that enabled me to interpret the richness of the Greek myths in my own hand.

I want to thank  the individuals that helped me put The Twelve Labors of Heracles and Other Myths together: Konstantina Andreakou, Jeffrey and Elisabeth Carson, Daria Koskorou, Emily Oglesby and especially John and Jane Pack.  Also, to the students, friends and family who encouraged and supported me through out this project, a huge thank you.

-Jun-Pierre Shiozawa

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