Friday Art: The Pianist, by Lyubov Popova (1914)

Popova had a too-brief but strong career as an avant-garde painter and textile designer in early 20th century Russia. She mixed elements of Cubism with Futurism, like in “The Pianist” above, a work that evokes the cubism of Braque (especially the way she paints the musical instrument) with the futuristic style evoking maybe Joseph Stella, especially in the way that her cubist lines seem to converge at various focal points.

So, what kind of music do you hear in your head when you look at this painting? It’s 1914, but somehow I hear an elegant cool Vince Guaraldi-style jazz piano coming from that player’s fingers. I can assume Popova’s contemporaries heard something more along the lines of Scriabin or Stravinsky, whatever served as their we’re-the-cutting-edge soundtrack as her and her cohorts developed the Constructionist school in the last days of Czarist Russia and during the Lenin era of the Soviet regime.

Popova died in 1924, only 35, contracting scarlet fever from her son who had died two days earlier. Clearly the lesson here is not to have kids. Then again, considering how Stalin clamped down on all abstract art as a form of decadence, had Popova lived, she would have either been forced to produce figure art by the late 1920s onwards or would have wound up dead in Siberia or exiled if she were lucky.

It’s not easy being Russian. I’m certainly glad my family got the hell out of there two dozen years earlier. I’ll enjoy my American weekend with some nice piano music, perhaps. Maybe Scriabin, Stravinsky, Guaraldi and maybe some Henry Gray and Jerry Lee Lewis. Go piano team USA! L’chaim!


Friday Art: Still Life With Cat & Fish by Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin (1728)

Chardin was a wonderful French late-Baroque painter of still lifes and domestic scenes. He painted realistic tranquil settings and enjoyed success during his life, including selling some works to King Louis XV. As he got older though, his sight faded,he had to switch to pastels to see what he was doing and his art style fell out of fad with the snooty French academy. His work fell into obscurity before being rediscovered in the middle of the 19th century when French (and other) artists of that era returned to the same sorts of realistic styles, themes, and subject matter and got away from either the puffy flying seraphim of the Roccoco era or the stiff-armed noble society-savers and blemish-less figures of David and Ingres et al.

By the mid 19th century, more scenes of the real life of average people appeared, whether it was Millet or Daumier or others, and the still lifes and landscapes gave us back some rustic qualities. And artists returned to painting the things that REALLY MATTER: CATS.


Well, maybe not… cats have always been wonderful subjects for artists since they’re so wonderfully exotic, curvy and in the case of this work by Chardin, capable of wonderfully emotive facial expressions. That cat doesn’t want to just get a few bites out of that fish, that cat is telling you he OWNS that fish and will DOMINATE IT by eating it right out from under you.

And that goes double for those two hanging suckers as well, bubba.

Now go scoop my litterbox. I don’t care if you are Louis XV, never forget who really is the king around here, you powdered wigged fop sack of merde.

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Friday Art: Syncopated Rhythm, so called The Black Snake by Sonia Delaunay (1967)

Abstract art is a hit or miss for me. I either find it visually pleasing & interesting or I don’t. Great use of color or shapes evoking cubism and interesting patterns are a winning hook, so I find I very much like the works of Sonia Delaunay (as well as her husband, Robert Delaunay), who produced the sort of abstract paintings above in the early 20th century, as well as fashion designs based upon her abstract art.

Syncopated Rhythm gives us that black snake along the left next to the sort of geometric quasi-cubist juxtapositions of color and shape found in much of Delaunay’s work. While looking through a gallery of her work online after getting a tip from Elinor Shapiro, illustrator of my latest book, this was the one that leapt out at me for some reason. I studied it for a while and tried to figure out why… maybe because I remember riding along a Rhode Island country street named Snake Hill Road as a kid and made sure to work it into my second Wagstaff book. That black snake with its white line looks like a winding black top road, doesn’t it? Maybe the colors could be the different houses along it, or deep into the nearby woods… or maybe simply the way I remember seeing the different colored ’60s modern boxy houses pass by quickly out the rectangular car window as I rode along and looked out.

It’s hard to tell if Sonia Delaunay influenced Robert Delaunay’s work or vice versa. Most likely they were of like mind & influenced each other. They both painted similar styles, although she outlived him by decades due to his premature death from cancer. Her material reminds me a lot of Paul Klee’s use of color, although her shapes & definitions are sharper. But I always liked Klee’s stuff as well, even if I couldn’t figure out what the hell he meant by it… I just liked looking at it. That ought to be enough, shouldn’t it?

Continue reading “Friday Art: Syncopated Rhythm, so called The Black Snake by Sonia Delaunay (1967)”

Friday Art: Barbershop With Monkeys & Cats by Abraham Teniers

Abraham Teniers was a 17th century Flemish painter from a family of more famous painters, notably David Teniers the elder (dad) and David Teniers the younger (brother). David the elder (as well as some other family members) painted lots of cabinet miniatures, but David the younger got more successful, married into the family of Pieter Breugel’s descendants and became court painter to Archduke Leopold William. He painted some wonderful landscapes, scenes of peasant life, and some religious paintings.

But deep in his soul, a voice cried…. “MORE MONKEYS!!!!!” Young David also painted monkeys in various situations. Monkeys were a popular depiction of human foibles during this period, so you’d see them in uniforms gambling or running amok, that sort of thing. But don’t tell me Abraham was a lesser artist when HE paints monkeys carefully tending to grooming kitty customers in a Baroque era barbershop this side of the BEST. ACID.TRIP. EVER!!!!!

This one is only 9×12 inches or so in actuality, making it probably smaller than your computer screen. He might like silly subject matter, but his ability to cram small details into the space is up there with other Northern European artists.

Love that cat in the center, admiring himself and his new look in the hand mirror. Bet he leaves a nice tip. And check out Puss ‘n’ Boots coming through the door in the back. Famous, yes, but did he book an appointment? The place is packed. Every cat needs a haircut to look good at Rembrandt’s cat’s bar mitzvah that weekend.

Okay, maybe that’s from MY acid trip.

Friday Art: The Versailles Road at Louveciennes (Snow) by Pissarro

It’s the middle of February and I’m in the mood for a chilly scene of winter, I guess. This one is similar to the way Pissarro paints street scenes – the line of trees going off into the distance at an angle, the light effects off the different surfaces and buildings, and a sense of movement in the figures.

I love that sky. The whirl of brushstrokes suggesting gray clouds moving around with the dark patches looking to me like the remnants of smoke from chimneys outside of the frame… a little bit of wind, maybe? More snow on the way despite the shadows along the street suggesting the sun breaking through it all? I bet that group of kids on their way to pick up what looks like their sled over on the sidewalk must be hoping for more snow. Back when I was their age (probably about the time this was painted) more snow meant more sledding and school canceled.


And now that I’m a mature adult & art lover, I’ll just sit here inside my warm abode on this gray rainy SoCal February day, have a nice cup of tea and think about winters’ past via Pissarro’s magic.

Friday Art: Sommarnöje by Anders Zorn (1886)

Good God, I thought Winslow Homer was a genius with watercolor, and then I discovered this guy. Look at that water…. the gentle waves, the subtle reflection of light, the dock, the boat… the shadows…. all of it, really.

Look at the fine detail on the wood of the rowboat, the dock. The near photographic realism of the two human figures and their clothes. (The woman is Zorn’s wife.)

And then remind yourself it’s a watercolor. How pointy this guy’s brushes must have been.

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Friday Art: A Pair From Konstantin Korovin

Korovin was a Russian impressionist painter of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who mostly worked in theater decor. He wrote that the impressionist work he saw in Paris for the first time contained “everything he was punished for” back in Moscow university. I must admit, I never really think of Russia when I think of the impressionist movement. Korovin’s stuff, however, is all quite lively and beautiful. He eventually moved to Paris shortly after the Russian Revolution, not to escape Stalin but I’m sure it worked out that way. He’d paint Parisian nighttime scenes a lot, they’d be his support when a bunch of his works were stolen before an intended exhibit. And he’d continue to work largely in scenery design for the theater.

A Night In Paris above, is typical of his work. A lively scene of happy colorful nightlife on shiny reflective streets (makes ’em look wet, but it’s not raining). This one evokes similar types of street scenes by Pissarro and (with the suggestion of rain) Caillebotte, but what makes it different is the 20th century modern feel to it. Look at how the two women in the center have a flapper look to ’em, and (especially) look at the cars. Look at all that electric light coming out of the cafés, through the shades and windows. It’s all bright ‘n’ fun ‘n’ alive, to say the least.

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Friday Art: A Pair From Everett Shinn

Shinn was an American realist painter of urban life who loved painting scenes from the NY theater scene. He’s associated with the Ashcan School of early 20th century American painters like John Sloan for the realistic depictions of everyday goings-on in the big city, like in one of my fave pics of his above, The Canfield Gambling House (1912).

Winter scenes always make me nostalgic for living in the northeast, now that I’ve been in SoCal lo these many years. Shinn’s depictions of the overall iciness are what draw me into this one. The whites are SO bright, with light reflecting off the icy surfaces regardless of texture – hard steps, flexible umbrella, soft horseback – but the ice doesn’t care. Everything freezes in winter. The ivy on the walls is dormant and bare. It’s zombie ivy, getting sleeted into a deeper coma. Wonderful subtle touches of white snow in every nook and cranny of the door, the carving above it, the windowsills, the wheel, the driver’s sleeve…. everywhere. There’s no escape from the driving flurries that are not depicted as falling flakes anywhere, only as landed residue. His technique is wonderful.

Continue reading “Friday Art: A Pair From Everett Shinn”

Friday Art: New York Movie (1939) by Edward Hopper

Hopper’s one of my favorites. His paintings of everyday urban life and the fine line between solitude and loneliness in his figures always ropes me in.

This is one of my favorite Hopper paintings, too. Yeah, probably ‘cus I’m a movie guy, and I also love the way he sets up the mystery in what he’s showing us.

The frame is divided in half by the end of the theater wall, separating what looks like an entrance to the balcony on the right from the lower seats to the left. So we get the juxtaposition of the audience watching the screen on the left to the lone woman leaning against the wall under the bright light off to the side.

The red stripe uniform tells us she’s a bored and/or tired usherette (remember, they had movie theater ushers in 1939). She rests her tired chin on her hand, maybe sighing. She evokes the tired & jaded barmaid of Manet’s Foles Bergere – a lone woman jaded at her job, even though the job is connected to the world of flash and entertainment.

And look at the glimpse of what Hopper offers us on the screen – looks like we can see the top of an actor’s head leaning into what looks like a big movie kiss. Is this the magical cinematic promise/fantasy missing from the reality of the usherette’s life?

Those sorts of themes fit in with the rest of Hopper’s output. I also love the colors in this one – the way he uses the oranges and browns to give us the darkness of the theater, with yellows and greens used for both the movie screen and the brightness of that light, illuminating the reds of the curtains on the balcony stairwell. The texture on the carpet is also a nice touch.

And the year fascinates me – 1939 is known as one of the best years for American film. We got The Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind, Ninotchka, Stagecoach, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, The Roaring Twenties… all in the same year! Which one of those amazing classic films is the jaded usherette ignoring, I wonder? How jaded must she be to tune out such wonderful movies… unless of course, it’s The Return of Dr. X with Humphrey Bogart as the blood-sucking rabbit-loving mad scientist.

Hey wait, I actually like that one…

I wonder what Hopper’s favorite movies were. I might need to look that up now.

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