Friday Art: The Tooth Puller by Gerritt van Honthorst (1628)

I have a dental appointment today. Hopefully it’ll just be a cleaning and nothing more serious. I’m really hoping it won’t be some 17th century Dutch dude with no gloves, dirty fingernails and a pair of pliers fresh from the manure-covered lug nuts on his ox wagon ripping out one of my molars with no anesthesia while a bunch of slack-jawed wooden shoe heads gaggle and watch.

But you never know. Maybe I don’t brush and floss enough and need some serious Baroque Dutch dentistry.

van Honthorst was a Dutch Golden Age painter who did fairly well in his lifetime. As a Catholic based in the Catholic-tolerant city of Utrecht within Protestant Holland, he did religious work. And similar to Rubens, he ran a big workshop with lotsa apprentices churning out the merchandise. He got some patronage from royalty like Charles I of England and Christian IV of Denmark and painted some portraits and history and the other stuff royalty liked to plaster their palace walls with.

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Four Animated Films Off The Beaten Path Worth Your While (with lotsa clips!)

Funny how we usually still think of animation as a cinematic art form delegated mostly to children’s entertainment. All of the animated features coming from Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks or Ghibli are aimed at kids primarily, with material for adults put in around it all to keep parents interested and build cult following appeal. And usually the best of those films are much, much more for adults in the end – the nostalgia for childhood running through all the Toy Story movies, for example, elevates those films beyond the light-hearted kiddie adventure of talking toys questing after some small thing. Up can’t really be appreciated until you actually develop enough of a sense of your own mortality to relate to the characters. Miyazaki’s films are so multilayered with folk tales, mythology and magic that their complexity outdoes that of mainstream grownup entertainment by a bunch.

The films I watched (one of ’em re-watched after many years) over the last few days fall into the same category – two of them seem to be for kids on the surface but once you start watching, you realize they’re not. And the other two are clearly made for a grownup audience, utilizing forms of animation to accentuate the themes of the story.

Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018) comes from Hungarian artist and (impressively) first-time film maker Milorad Krstic. It’s about a psychologist having nightmares of figures from great works of art trying to kill him – so he recruits some of his criminal patients to steal the actual works for him, figuring that the control of ownership will free him from his dreams. Beyond the interesting ideas on why people enjoy art, or need art, the film follows a lot of the conventions of the modern heist film, with action set pieces, car chases, a nicely woven complex plot with some nice surprises (especially a very ambiguous ending, although the doppelganger-from-my-dream-world theory seems to work here), and interesting characters. Each of the thieves has some sort of psychological problem that turns up in their manner of thievery. Brandt exploits this, but also provides them with artistic paths towards their control over their issues, just like the possession of the art will give him control over his own. The visual style adds a lot to it – the character design mixes elements of Cubism (especially Picasso) and Surrealism, with backgrounds and action mixing both 3D and 2D rendering for an effect of giving us an experience much like one of Ruben’s art dreams.

Check out the trailer!

Even if the trailer, I bet you caught little references to all sorts of stuff beyond the art works too… a little homage to Tarantino here, a little bit of Mission: Impossible there… and there are famous works of art everywhere in the background, either in museum scenes or on t-shirts, posters, ice cubes that look like Hitchcock, you name it… the whole thing feels amazingly original. I can’t really say I’ve seen anything quite like the totality of it, and I liked it a lot.

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Friday Art: The Meeting of Marie de Médicis and Henri IV at Lyon by Peter Paul Rubens (1622-25)

Museums teem with stuff like this, don’t they? Puffy semi-idealized bodies floating on clouds, gazing at each other lovingly under the warmth of a rainbow, surrounded by mythological figures and cherubs and naked torch bearing babies riding lions drawing a chariot…. Good God, it sounds like a party at Kevin Spacey’s house.

Rubens was a master at this classical baroque style, with prolific production of mythological and allegorical scenes. Rubens catalog is over FOURTEEN HUNDRED pieces. This dude WORKED.

And not only at painting, either – he spoke six languages and got very chummy with a lot of the royalty he worked for and painted. And you know, when people sit for portraits, they chat about stuff. And when royalty and ministers and the like chat about stuff to people they think are just artists, they reveal all sorts of inside-court knowledge and even state secrets, especially if the artist charms it out of them.

Which is exactly what Rubens did. He worked as a spy and diplomat all over Europe while at the same time enjoyed the successful life and reputation of being one of the top artists around.

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Friday Art: The Pony Express by Frank Tenney Johnson (1924)

So the other day when I had some free time, I dropped into one of my more preferred dumpy thrift stores and came up with a copy of The Searchers: Making of An American Classic, which looks like it’ll be an interesting read for a buck and a half. Granted, most of it is not about the making of the film (one of my favorite old westerns) but about the true history story that inspired the film: the Comanche kidnapping of Cynthia Parker and how she became one of their tribe, becoming a wife and mother, including a son who became a Comanche chieftain before her Uncle found her after years of searching & took her back against her will.

The film takes that set-up, with Natalie Wood kidnapped and Uncle John Wayne searchin’ and searchin’, while giving us John Ford’s version of the settlement of the west and what sorts of bigotries and barbarities cleared the way for what is presumably a more civilized nation.

So I thought I’d offer one of the kind of American western paintings that inspired a lot of Ford’s imagery – in terms of landscape, character and even lighting. Frank Tenney Johnson’s Pony Express gives us a wonderful night time view of the western wilderness, with a set of mail riders departing from a very lonely looking stone outpost, the kind that’d turn up as a safe stopover for Ford’s Stagecoach passengers, or contain some creepy would-be bushwhackers like Futterman’s general store in The Searchers.

Johnson was mostly known for works like this, where he painted cowboys by moonlight. He gives us a wonderful cloudy moonlit sky against the weak competition of the glowing lamps from inside the outpost. I love the reflection of moonlight off the body of the big brown and white horse in the lead, too.


That’ll be the day.

Friday Art: Sleeping Woman by Oscar Kokoschka (1917)

Most of Kokoschka’s works are considered German Expressionism, an art form I always associate with black and white/ light and shadow, since I’m such a film nerd. Kokoschka’s works are often in brilliant bright colors, although his themes (especially his antiwar paintings) are right in line with the themes usually found in expressionist art. But sometimes he’d paint in other styles, like with some amazingly bright and fiery colored landscapes and city views, and this guy traveled all over after fleeing his native Austria after the Nazis moved in and declared him decadent.

He’d also paint some primitivist works, some of my favorites of his, like this one. They remind me of Matisse in some ways, Picasso in others (this one for its subject matter), and they’re just pleasing on the eye. I like how I’m not sure if she’s sleeping in some public city park, on an island in the middle of the fish pond, with the wall off to one side and some woods beyond the buildings…. or if we’re seeing the wild variations of her flowing dreamscape all around her as she sleeps. Maybe it’s both.

I like how the colors are all blocks and shapes of some sort set against that black background. Whether it’s her dress or the bricks in the wall or the trees, even the lines of flowing water – they’re all separate blocks of some sort. It reminds me of an elementary school art class exercise we did with crayons – we drew some colorful scene on paper, and then completely covered it with black crayon. And then, we used toothpicks or some safe-for-twerps sharp object to scrape away parts of the black crayon to reveal the colors underneath, setting them off against that darkness. Kokoschka gets the same effect here.

I plan to sleep a lot this holiday weekend. Not sure if I’ll dream of scary red fish swimming around me and deer in the distance, tho. I’ll keep you posted.

Friday Art: The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte (1875)

Last week’s rainy city street that reminded me of a Caillebotte painting reminded me how much I love Caillebotte’s work in general.

This one, much like Paris Street Rainy Day, demonstrates his amazing ability in depicting the reflection of light on different surfaces – the stained portion of the floor versus the scraped ‘n’ clean floor versus the skin on the backs of the workers versus what’s coming through the window.

We’re in the viewing position of supervisor, I guess… standing over this trio as they hand scrape the finish from the old floor to prepare for whatever the new one is. Similar to the realistic depictions of everyday workers in works by Courbet or Millet, only now we get urban workers instead of rural ones… and I’m sure the two guys on the right with those tilted heads are having a conversation about how this kind of work truly sucks.

“Scraping the paint off of hardwood floors/the hours are pretty bad” as Fountains of Wayne sang in “Hackensack.”

A depressing song, a depressing job, I guess…. but Good GOD look at those brilliant light effects from Caillebotte’s brush. This painting got mixed reviews from critics upon its first showing after it got rejected by the snooty Salon. Nice to know critics have always been stupid.

Friday Art: Rainy Day, Columbus Avenue, Boston by Childe Hassam (1885)

Hassam was an American impressionist who studied in Boston and Paris before settling in New York and becoming mostly known for illustrating children’s books.

It’s a rainy morning out here. And I don’t ever remember it raining in May. So I just drove through streets that look like this painting, albeit way more crowded with 21st century traffic.

This painting reminds me (and I bet it reminds you too) an awful lot of Caillebotte’s Paris On A Rainy Day. Same set-up, with a few umbrella toting people and carriages about – except Hassam’s palette is more towards the brownish-umber tones rather than Caillebotte’s muted grayed-over colors. Both of them, however, capture the subtlety of the muted reflection of light on wet concrete beautifully.

Hassam’s sky has a few blue spots in it, implying the rain is about to dissipate. We can also see that in a few of the brighter spots of reflection along the street.

Those buildings look mostly like apartments and residences. That area got way busier and more commercial since 1885. Here’s what it looks like now:

Hassam’s version is prettier, I gotta say. But the New England weather certainly hasn’t changed much. Not sure what’s up with the California weather lately, but my lawn looks great.

And yes, get off my lawn.

Friday Art: Jockeys In The Rain by Edgar Degas (1880-1)

It’s what we’ll see tomorrow at the Kentucky Derby, all right.

Degas loved horses and racing and often made them his subjects, right up there with ballet dancers. Even as deceptively simple as his depictions seem, there’s a lot captured in those big brush strokes. He gets the colorful coats of the horses, even in the grayishness of the rain, as well as the different colored silks of the jockeys.

Horses still run on thick turf grass over in Europe. I guess that hasn’t changed since Degas’ time.

My money’s on those 2 on the right to duel it out for the win. They look like they’re raring to go.

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