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

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

Illustrating the Iliad: Monotypes & Paintings, Opening at the Aegean Center 30 July 2011

22, July 2011 § 2 Comments

I can not remember when the idea of illustrating the Iliad first occurred to me. I have known the stories of Achilles and of Helen, the “most beautiful woman in the world”, since childhood. These stories float in the western psyche and reappear in various forms as archetype and impetus for the re-creation of new stories. I loved these stories and I could recall their flavor, almost the way that a fine taste can linger in your mouth. When I came to live in Greece I sometimes caught a flash of a sea nymph in the waves, or Pan among the olive groves. The gods were still here and inhabiting the island. When I walked the streets I sometimes glimpsed Helen and Paris as their modern counterparts went about their daily lives. Once the project of illustrating the Iliad surfaced I knew I had to realize it. It took me many years to begin as I felt I was not ready, perhaps not mature enough, but also not skillful enough. With years of painting now behind me and entering into my fifth decade I decided I had waited long enough.

The Iliad begins western literature. Created by Homer in the 8th century BCE it depicts a war that took place more than four centuries earlier. Roberto Calasso, in “The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony”, said that the idea of progress in the arts is refuted by the perfection of the Iliad. It has never been surpassed. The Iliad brings together stories of human passion, evokes the dangers of hubris, illuminates the futility of war, and shows us the responsibilities we owe to our fellow man. All of this born out of the events of an ancient war, fought by men but urged on by the capricious gods. The war is fought over Helen. A war waged over a unique woman, the most beautiful woman in the world. A war fought over beauty and honor by very flawed men who come to understand the depth of sacrifice and loss that are demanded. The heroes are trapped in an epic war, while Ananke, the goddess of necessity, tightens her noose about their heads. It is a tale of transformation; the characters change as the conflict rages. We question the nature of revenge when Achilles dishonors the corpse of Hector and see his transformation as he learns that material wealth and military honor cannot replace lost love and life. Our sense of what is honorable comes in the actions of Hector, who fights a battle he knows he will lose but who keeps faith between his words and deeds. Our sense of a true King comes from Priam who refuses to lay blame on Helen for the conflict and who is able to beg on his knees for the body of his son. These and the other characters form complex webs of knowledge about the content of human souls. Little has changed in three millennia.

I hope that my illustrations can lure students into reading the Iliad as the loss of this story from our modern dialogue would be monumental.

Jane Morris Pack

Spring Student Exhibition – Friday 3 June 19:30

1, June 2011 § Leave a comment

Exhibition of Jane Morris Pack – March 5 to April 3

15, February 2010 § Leave a comment

This coming March the Somerville Manning Gallery in Wilmington, Delaware will be hosting a exhibition of three women.  I will be showing paintings on paper and monoprints , another artist uses encaustic to create her work and the third a bronze sculptor.  We don’t know each other but the galley is presenting our work under the title, Mystical Shores, as we all live on islands. I will attend the opening and hope to see some familiar faces of Aegean students.

The paintings on paper are part of a series I did  investigating and rendering three dimensional space using landscape as a vehicle to explore intimate and  long distances (which are more common to traditional landscape ideas).  I drew out of doors on large sheets of paper held on my lap and then worked up the images in the studio using both tempera paint made from egg and oils.  The images reflect my immediate surroundings in the olive trees, terraces and sycamores which flourish near by.  I wanted to combine the activity of line with the color and spatial qualities of the vegetation.

Pomegranate

Pomegranate

My newest works are illustrations of Greek myth.  I am using a monoprint process which is best described as painting ink on a zinc plate and then transferring the image to paper by running it through the press.  This means that you only get one image, hence the “mono” in monoprint.  I then use egg tempera to add color and dimension and some traces of  shell gold, ground gold in a gum base which paints out like watercolor. You can see more of this ongoing work at my web site: www.janemorrispack.com

Narcissus

Narcissus

Myth used to be an important element in every western education and people were familiar with the stories and characters of Greek mythology. Now however they are largely forgotten or mostly referenced in a cursory and unstudied manner.  These stories offer a very real and important vision of what it means to be human, how our life paths may differ and cross and how to deal with eventualities we all must face as living beings.  I find that my students are the most obvious embodiment of the myths and play out many of the stories on their journeys to discover who they are.  If familiar with a myth which characterizes a moment of growth and decision, the story can help you to see potentials, dangers and solutions in our real lives.  The stories offer rich messages and images of possibilities.  Perhaps living on a Greek island for so many years enables me to connect more forcefully with the nymphs and gods of old but I see the power of this mythology helping to tap creativity and expression in young artists as well as finding it to be a constant source of imagery for my own work and devlopment.

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