Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Art Authority: An Amazing iPad App for Art Lovers

Art Authority for iPad - Open Door Networks, Inc.
Art Authority for iPad
What if you could suddenly afford that library of luscious art books you've always wanted? What if, at the touch of a button, you could see how artists have depicted angels or demons or flowers through the ages; or browse for hours on end all of the great art of the western world without having to surf endless websites? What if you could have these treasures  and more in one very slim volume? Well now you can. Welcome to the amazing -- and at $9.99, very affordable -- Art Authority for iPad.

figure 1
 Art Authority is is a virtual museum filled with works by over 1,000 of the western world's greatest artists, with over 50,000 images of paintings and sculptures from ancient times to today. Part art reference tool, part visual feast, this app will dazzle you with its voluminous art catalog and ease of use.

 You enter the museum facing a wall (figure 1) with eight framed paintings, each representing a specific period in art history. Tapping any of the paintings takes you to another room where each period is then divided into sections based on geography or genre. I tapped on “Baroque,” which ushered me in to a room with a terra cotta colored wall and a roped-off piece of period furniture (figure 2).

figure 2

Framed on the wall are seven paintings with plaques, six representing different countries, with a seventh titled "Overview". The Overview menu gives you information about the period, lets you view major works from the period, shuffle and view all the Baroque works in the database, and/or view a timeline of the period.

 I tapped on "Dutch" and a menu of Dutch Baroque artists popped up, then I tapped on Vermeer.

Once in the Vermeer room, a framed painting, The Milkmaid, is displayed (figure 3), along with its title, date, size and medium. On plaques above and below the painting there are links to Wikipedia information about the artist (figure 4), the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam where the physical painting is housed, and about the painting itself. There is a scrollable filmstrip on the right that lets you browse and choose Vermeer's paintings or you can flick sideways through them, one to a page. You can also change the display to view them as thumbnails or a slideshow and even add music if you like. You can view the paintings full screen or zoom in for details (figure 5).

Figure 3
Leaving the Baroque behind and going back to the main screen, I tapped on the directory which lets you search the entire database in a variety of ways. I decided to search by subject and tapped on “birds.” The search results can be viewed in a variety of ways including thumbnails (figure 6). I randomly tapped on a brightly colored painting done in 1995 by Norval Morriseau, Bird with Young (figure 7).

Next I did a search by location and typed in Pasadena, CA where I live and work. The Norton Simon Museum came up and I went in to browse. I had forgotten about the shockingly green portrait of Van Gogh's mother from their collection (figure 8) until it nearly jumped off the screen at me.
Figure 4

Other features include slideshows, shuffle, timelines, a “Ken Burns” motion effect and the ability to save work to Favorites or the Photos app. Most of the work displayed is in the public domain and downloaded to Art Authority's servers. For more recent works still under copyright, Art Authority downloads from an authorized Web site instead.

Figure 5
On the down side, not every artist you want to know about is included. For instance -- I visited the campus of Pomona College over the weekend to see Mexican muralist Jose Clemente Orozco's mural Prometheus. Art Authority has a Muralism room in its Modern section which includes work by Mexican muralists Rivera and Siqueiros, but nothing on Orozco (or Tamayo). The Contemporary section seems very hit-or-miss to me as well.
Figure 6

That having been said, Art Authority’s value far outweighs any limitations it may have. I refer to it over and over again and often get lost browsing, discovering and learning. I highly recommend Art Authority as an invaluable reference tool -- for students of art history, artists and art aficionados alike -- that will provide endless hours of art education and enjoyment.

Click here to buy Art Authority.

Figure 7



Upcoming at Offramp Gallery

Nicholette Kominos: crumpled, cut, and divided
April 3 - May 1, 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, April 3, 2-5pm

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Self-Portraits: When Artists Turn Their Gaze Inward

One of the things that distinguishes us as humans is the need to leave our mark behind, to say "I was here, I mattered." We see evidence of this as far back as 10,000 years ago when our ancestors first stamped and stenciled their handprints on cave walls. More formal self-portraits start appearing as early as 2300 BC in ancient Egypt, carved on the tombs of the Pharaohs. But self-portraiture didn't become fully established as an art genre until the Early Renaissance with the advent of the manufacture of affordable flat mirrors. Luckily for us, artists have been gazing at themselves in mirrors ever since.

Phaidon Press's 500 Self-Portraits is a visual orgy, a must-have art book for anyone who is interested in the history of portraiture. This is a book you will pick up over and over again for the sheer joy of browsing. From classical to modern, na├»ve to sophisticated, mannered to irreverent, haunting to humorous -- it's all here in this one affordable volume.

Caravaggio, Self-portrait as Bacchus. Oil on canvas,
670 x 530mm (26 3/8 x 21"). Galleria Borghese, Rome
The reproductions in 500 Self-Portraits are presented in chronological order from Ancient Egypt to the present day. A new version of a classic first published in 1937, the only text is a brief introduction by painter and writer Julian Bell (grandson of Vanessa Bell), in which he states:

"Self-portraiture is a singular, in-turned art. Something eerie lurks in its fingering of the edge between seer and seen. Looking over the faces collected in this book, we
may be disconcerted by the cumulative intensity of so many wary, wondering, self-surprised eyes. Yet what unites the individuals gathered to stare is that they are all artists. People, that is, prepared to set down their self-examination in markings that may be examined by others."

Included are five self portraits by Durer, one of which he did when he was only 13-years-old, as well as a beautiful ink drawing of him completely in the nude, leaving little to the imagination. There are ten by Rembrandt, a prolific self-portraitist, showing him chronologically throughout his life, and two by a very pretty young Elizabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun from the late eighteenth century. Self-Portrait, Turning by Nadar, is an early albumen print foreshadowing the later work of Eadweard Muybridge. It shows the artist in twelve separate panels as he turns toward and then away from the camera. There are two self-portraits by Chardin in his quirky head-gear and spectacles; and one done in 1906 by German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait on my Sixth Wedding Anniversary, where she depicts herself partially naked and pregnant.

If you prefer your art history with more explanatory text, then another affordable volume from the Taschen Basic Genre Series, Self-Portraits by Ernst Rebel, may be perfect for you. It looks at 35 self-portraits in depth, ranging from the mid-12th century to the present. Each of the 35 paintings is accompanied by a brief bio of the artist and an insightful interpretation of the work depicted. In his essay, "Artists in the Focus of Their Own Eyes" Rebel provides an historical framework for the paintings and reflects on the changing role of the artist in society. He states:

"Self-portraits are testimonials in which the artist's ego as his own model and motif at the same time relates to other people. Artists depict themselves as they want to be seen by others, but also as they want to distinguish themselves from them."

Self-portraits included are Moses and the Burning Bush, an early glass painting by Master Gerlauchus who depicts himself painting an inscription asking for God's mercy; James Ensor's Self-Portrait Among Masks; Velasquez’s famous La Meninas; as well as ones by Max Beckmann, Diego Rivera, Lucien Freud and many others.

Upcoming at Offramp Gallery

Nicholette Kominos: crumpled, cut, and divided
April 3 - May 1, 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, April 3, 2-5pm

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Painters Painting: From Abstract Expressionism to Pop

Imagine going back in time to an era in art history, talking to the artists themselves at work in their studios and hearing first-hand what their concerns, processes and influences are. Thanks to a recently re-released documentary by Emile de Antonio, we are able to come close. The time and place is post-war New York, the art is Abstract Expressionism to Pop and everything in between.

Thomas B. Hess of Art News sets the stage: “Paris was the center of Modern Art. Then the war intervened and Paris was sealed off which turned the New York scene into kind of a pressure cooker out of which a number of American artists found their own way.” In 1972, when Painters Painting was first released, Jackson Pollock, Hans Hoffman, Willem de Kooning and others had broken from the constraints of European easel painting and established Abstract Expressionism as the first truly American art form.

Striking black and white photography intercut with color gives us intimate access to the light-filled loft of de Kooning. Nearly 70 at the time, he retains a youthful air with his iconic white tousled hair and black framed glasses. He explains why he left Europe: “I felt a certain depression over there. I felt caught. I was attracted to America by movies. America seemed to be a very light place, everything seemed to be very light and bright and happy. I always wanted to come to America even as a boy -- Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix.”

We meet a playful Robert Rauschenberg perched high atop a ladder in front of the cathedral windows in his studio talking about the influence of the Abstract Expressionists: “What [we] had in common was touch. I was never interested in their pessimism or editorializing. You have to have time to feel sorry for yourself if you're going to be a good abstract expressionist, and, I think I always considered that a waste.”

The specter of European painting looms large in the psyches of the New York artists. Frank Stella, sitting cross-legged on the floor of his studio, talks about how the Abstract Expressionists solved the problem for him: "I didn't have to go all the way back and worry again about where I stood in relation to Matisse and Picasso, I could worry about where I stood in relation to Hoffman and Pollock."

In a revealing interview, a very pretty Andy Warhol talks in riddles and defers most of his answers to the somewhat overbearing Brigit (presumably Brigit Berlin), who is snapping Polaroids of Warhol's face at a very close range. When asked if there are any critics he likes, Warhol responds: "I like the kind of critics that when they write they just put people's names in and you go through the article and you count to see how many names they dropped in the article." Heavy.

1989 interview with filmmaker Emile de Antonio, The Making of Painters Painting

Critic Clement Greenberg weighs in on what he thinks about Pop Art: " . . . people like Lichtenstein and Warhol, they paint nice pictures. All the same? It's easy stuff, it is, it's minor, and the best of the pop artists don't seem to be more than minor. And it's scene art, the kind of art that goes over on the scene. The best art of our time or any time since Corot, not just since Monet, makes you a little bit more uncomfortable at first, challenges you more. It doesn't come that far to meet your taste, or the established taste of the market." Wise, cautionary words largely ignored even today.

A dapper Leo Castelli, seated at a large desk in his gallery, defends the role of the art dealer: "Frankly, I think this accusation that's leveled against the dealers, that they are responsible for shaping the art market is a very silly one. Naturally we are there to do the job and are doing it. Now if people, ourselves and the critics and the museums go along with us, then there is a consensus there and therefore we are right and not wrong, so . . . what we are doing is merely doing our job."

Other artists interviewed are Helen Frankenthaler (the sole woman), Jasper Johns, Barnett Newman, Hans Hofmann, Jules Olitski, Philip Pavia, Larry Poons, Robert Motherwell and Kenneth Noland. Interwoven with the interviews is footage of the artists' work from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition New York Painting and Sculpture 1940-1970.

A riveting lesson in art history from the mouths of the players themselves, Painters Painting not only gives us unique access to a particular time and place in art, it also provides a framework for the state of the current contemporary art world -- both the good and the bad -- and invaluable insight into how we got here.

Ongoing at Offramp Gallery

Theodore Svenningsen: Truth and Self Deception
February 20 - March 20, 2011
Closing Reception & Artist's Talk: Sunday, March 20, 2-5pm

Click here to read review in ArtScene.

Video walk-thru of exhibition:

Upcoming at Offramp Gallery

Nicholette Kominos: crumpled, cut, and divided
April 3 - May 1, 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, April 3, 2-5pm

Nicholette Kominos, Like a Portal or a Tunnel #1, 24 x 19", vellum, pencil, acrylic, varnish 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Uncommon Genius

I recently got an email from a reader, Sylvia Marcin, who suggested a book she thought I might enjoy reading. A couple of hours later, friends of mine came through the front door raving about the same book. I assumed it was something new that everyone was reading. But it turns out that Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born by Denise Shekerjian, was first published in 1990 -- ancient in terms of today's lightening fast information exchange. The universe was telling me to read this book.

Author Shekerjian interviewed 40 "geniuses" for this book, all of whom had one thing in common -- they each received a phone call one day, out of the blue, informing them that they would receive a large amount of money, no strings attached, over the next five years, to do whatever they wanted with. They were recipients of the coveted MacArthur Award, a.k.a. the "genius award."

At the time of his death in 1978, John D. MacArthur was the second richest man in America and rumored to be the cheapest. But he left behind a two and a half billion dollar estate in the form of a foundation with only the following instructions to his board of trustees: "I figured out how to make the money, you boys figure out how to spend it." Thus the MacArthur Award was born. Its purpose "is to promote those leaps of creative thinking that may occur when gifted people are left to their own devices."

Shekerjian began writing Uncommon Genius wanting to know everything about the creative impulse: Where does it come from? How does it work? Can it be encouraged? Why are some people more creative than others? These are some of the questions she asks of artist Robert Irwin, educator Deborah Meier, filmmaker Fred Wiseman, theater/opera director Peter Sellars, journalist Richard Critchfield, archaeologist Ian Graham, sociologist Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, and clown/actor Bill Irwin, to name a few.

Sherkerjian isolates a list of eight simple principles of creativity that emerge from her interviews:

1. Find your talent.
2. Commit to it and make it shine.
3. Don't be afraid of risk. Or even failure, which if seen in its proper light, brings insight and opportunity.
4. Find courage by looking to something stronger and better than your puny vulnerable self.
5. No lusting after quick resolutions. Relax. Stay loose.
6. Get to know yourself; understand your needs and the specific conditions you favor.
7. Respect, too, your culture. We can't, any of us, escape the twentieth century. It's tucked up around our collective chin as snugly and as firmly as the bedsheet.
8. Then, finally, break free from the seductive pull of book learning and research and the million other preparatory steps that could delay for the entire span of a life and immerse yourself in the doing.

Sherkerjian goes on to look in depth at topics such as travel, luck, instinct, judgment, despair, isolation, madness and resiliency; and the role they play in the creative lives of the diverse group of Fellows. She emphasizes the importance of resiliency in creative effort: "The MacArthur Fellows are not quitters. Even in the face of insult. Or when confronted with defeat. Or when up against humiliation, despondency, hostility, boredom, or indifference. They find a way to make adjustments, to keep at it, to stay buoyant, to believe in themselves."

In her final chapter "For the Love of It" Sherkerjian tells the story of the truly inspiring Ellen Stewart, founder of the La Mama Theater. Ellen dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. As a child, she entered and won a design contest, which "earned her a smack in the mouth when she went to collect her prize for having had the audacity to enter it . . ." Ellen had committed the crime of being black.

Undeterred, she pursued her dream and eventually took off for New York. When the friend she was going to live with was a no-show at Grand Central Station, Stewart found herself alone in the big city. She wandered into St. Patrick's Cathedral, lit a candle and prayed for a job. About a half hour later she had that job -- across the street at Saks, pushing a broom. Her broom-pushing gave way to design opportunities and her gowns eventually ended up in the window of Saks fetching as much as $1500 each.

That alone is an inspiring story, but Stewart was depressed. She quit Saks after 11 years and headed off to Morocco. There she had a dream that set her in a new direction -- forming a theater for aspiring actors, playwrights, stagehands and set designers, dedicated to helping artists get a start. La Mama went on to become one of the most influential experimental theaters in the world. Stewart died earlier this year at the age of 91.

So whether you are someone who is thinking of making a life-changing leap into a different field, or someone who just needs a creativity tune-up, Uncommon Genius is an intimate and inspiring glimpse into the creative process of 40 uncommonly creative people.

Click here to buy the book from Amazon.com.

Click here to purchase products from the Offramp Gallery Blog Store.

Ongoing at Offramp Gallery

Theodore Svenningsen: Truth and Self Deception
February 20 - March 20, 2011
Closing Reception & Artist's Talk: Sunday, March 20, 2-5pm

Click here to read review in ArtScene.

Video walk-thru of exhibition:

Upcoming at Offramp Gallery

April 3 - May 1, 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, April 3, 2-5pm

Nicholette Kominos, Like a Portal or a Tunnel #1, 24 x 19", vellum, pencil, acrylic, varnish 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Synesthesia: A Crossing of the Senses

At a dinner party recently my friend James mentioned that he had synesthesia -- something I had never heard of. He explained that since childhood he had seen numbers and letters as specific colors. For James, 1 is always white, 2 is always yellow, A is apricot, B is blue, and so forth. Synesthesia, he explained, is when two or more sensory areas of the brain cross-connect. You either have synesthesia or you don't -- it is not a learned ability.

James is an artist so I wanted to know if this phenomenon in any way manifested itself in his paintings. He said it didn't, but it did help him remember telephone numbers -- he could see and read the sequence of numbers as colors -- a very different experience than say, rote memorization or deliberately assigning specific colors to numbers to use as a mnemonic device. He says it also useful to him by setting "a nonverbal emotional tone to the simplest of thoughts."

I was intrigued and more than a little jealous of James's exotic ability, which I clearly did not possess.

The next day, I started researching and soon learned that synesthesia can manifest as a crossing of any two or more senses. Some synesthetes taste sounds, some see music, some can see and feel tastes, and some have combinations of three or four senses simultaneously.

In my research I came across a diagram of a "spatial sequential" synesthesia depicting the months of the year as an oval-like shape, and realized that I actually did have this particular type of synesthesia. I have always known which month of the year we are in by its location on my own idiosyncratic shape and its relationship to my body. I've seen the calendar this way since I was a child and never thought it was anything special or even worth mentioning.

Below is a rough two dimensional sketch of my calendar that I did on my iPad. The colors in the sketch don't mean anything (I just like them).

Neurologist and researcher Richard Cytowic, also stumbled on the phenomenon at a dinner party many years ago. His host that evening apologized that there weren't "enough points on the chicken." When Cytowic asked him what he meant, his host explained that when he tasted something intense, the feeling would sweep down his arm into hand where he felt a shape, weight, texture and temperature. He had wanted the chicken to be a prickly, pointed sensation, but it came out "all round."

This chance encounter lead to the research that resulted in Cytowic's two books on the subject: The Man Who Tasted Shapes, and Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia (co-authored with David M. Eagleman), both concerning the research and experimentation that has led to synesthesia being taken seriously. It was ignored for many years because of a lack of scientific data. Brain scans have definitively proven that more than one sensory area of the brain simultaneously lights up when synesthesia is experienced. These findings, and others, have changed the way scientists think about the brain and how we perceive the world.

Research also shows that synesthesia tends to run in families and is an inherited trait. However, the connections that are formed -- for instance in my friend James's case, where 2 is always yellow -- happen in early childhood and become fixed for life. Even identical twin synesthetes will have different associations for the same number or letter.

The following video is of a lecture Cytowic gave at the Hirshhorn Museum in conjunction with its exhibition "Visual Music," featuring music-inspired art. Some of the artists in the exhibit, most notedly Kandinsky, were synesthetes and painted what they saw, while others, such as Georgia O'Keefe, did not have this ability and instead consciously translated the music.

If you would like to know if you have synesthesia, there is a research website, The Synesthesia Battery, that allows you to test yourself. If you are synesthetic, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below.

Ongoing at Offramp Gallery

Theodore Svenningsen: Truth and Self Deception
February 20 - March 20, 2011
Closing Reception & Artist's Talk: Sunday, March 20, 2-5pm

Offramp Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition, Theodore Svenningsen: Truth and Self Deception from February 20 - March 20, 2011. There will be a closing reception and artist's talk on Sunday, March 20, from 2-5pm.

Click here to read review in ArtScene.

In Svenningsen's text pieces the work exists at a place where narrative meanings of words can give way to being seen solely as aesthetic objects. The work explores this conflation of the narrative and the aesthetic. Some of the pieces are self-referential. These pieces investigate, critically, the underpinnings of theory-driven art. Some explore the interrelationships between individual persons and the larger group, and look at the difficulties and inabilities of these certain individuals to fit in. Logic symbolism forms the bases of the aesthetic element in a number of the pieces.

Click here for more information

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