Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend."

Before this term, I had never taken an American art class. I didn't really know much about American art, period. And in my mind, I wasn't really that interested. Can't explain it, but that's how it was.

But then came this term. And this class (American Art of the Gilded Age, 1860-1900). And I have probably the most incredibly cool, most rockin' American art professor of all time. And slowly but surely, through Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson, Thomas Eakins, James McNeill Whistler...I started to become a fan. And then I fell in love.

John Singer Sargent- 1856-1925

Though of American lineage, Sargent was born in Italy, trained in France, and lived most of his life in England. He's most typically known for his luxurious portrait Madame X, and while she is quite sumptuous, she's not my favorite work of his. But she does typify my favorite aspect of his work, which is the elegant female portraits. You gotta admit, there's just something about a well dressed, good lookin' lady.
Lady with a Rose (1882) of Charlotte Louise Burckhardt was the first portrait to really strike me. Here Charlotte is pictured in all black on a neutral, unremarkable background which emphasizes her as the focus of the piece. In her extended left hand, she gingerly holds a wide rose between her thumb and forefinger. The innocent white of the rose plays off the blackness of her dress and the dirty-drab background so nicely. My favorite part of the whole thing though is her facial expression. Her lips are quirked in the sassiest of smirks and the look in her eye suggests she's merely humoring Sargent rather than willingly playing a part of this whole scenario. She has personality, she has spark, and you want to ask her story! And you didn't need a fancy background or a colorful dress. You just needed her, being her, and holding a flower.

That's, in my opinion, the magic of Sargent. He captures the lively reality of his sitters. We could get into the debate of whether the works depict who these women really are or if the image is manufactured from Sargent's perspective of them, but I'll forego any debates for now. :)

Sargent studied under the French painter Carolus-Duran, who emphasized the works and style of Diego Velázquez (also a total fave)...this meant going at the canvas with a loaded brush to place very particular strokes of the paint from the get-go, instead of the very academic style of drawing and underpainting to start. Sargent's initial interest lay in landscapes, but Duran was a portrait artist and benefitted Sargent most as a tutor in that arena.

Sargent studied in Spain for a brief season, but the bad weather drove him and the colleagues he was traveling with to Morocco. There, he painted Fumée d'ambre gris, the orientalist portrait that really set is career on fire (Totally gorgeous). Though Spain hosted him for only a brief period, he did, however, absorb a great deal about Spanish music and dance before he left the country, inspiring him for his future masterpiece, El Jaleo.

This was a study done in preparation for what would become El Jaleo. The theme of his Spanish dancer paintings is actually my research paper topic for this class. So different than his refined, soft socialite portraits...the portraits of his exotic spanish flamenco dancers are powerful, and dramatic, and evocative. He seems to be most interested in the most angular, contorted gestures and movements (hints of this, I think, can be seen in his society portraits too...from Lady with a Rose's awkwardly bent right wrist to Madame X's strained, backward reaching right arm). Capturing the movement is also important, seen in the SWISH of the dancer's shawl and ruffles of her skirts.

I would say more about it, but I'll save that for when I have completed my paper and can comprehensively share my thoughts. Gotta keep you guys on the edges of your seats, after all.

Portraits (women portraits, couple portraits, family portraits, children portraits, OMG, so many PORTRAITS!) were what made Sargent famous, but towards the end of his career, I think he was getting a little tired of it...:

"I hate to paint portraits! I hope never to paint another portrait in my life. Portraiture may be all right for a man in his youth, but after forty I believe that manual dexterity deserts one, and, besides, the color-sense is less acute. You can better stand the exactions of a personal kind that are inseparable from portraiture. I have had enough of it."

See what I mean?

Sargent was also a prolific watercolorist, and I have in NO way given you but a crumb-sized taste of what he can do, how he worked, or all that jazz. But hopefully your curiosity is peaked so you'll continue research on your own...:)

Sunday, March 20, 2011


This shall be brief because I have to go to work, BUT...

For those of you who like to bake, here's two new cupcake ideas found by FreePeople and my friend Becky. :)

Tie-Dye Cupcakes!!

Apparently, one of the FreePeople followers was inspired by an article on this fashionable clothing line's blog (They also gave us the lead on Rainbow Roses, by the way!) and came up with this. All the directions you need (very easy!) to make these little babies can be found HERE.

And for anyone who loved the movie Tangled as much as I did....

PASCAL Cupcakes!!!!

AHAHAHA! I just love this. What creative bakers. :) This recipe was found on and you can read ALL about how to make it HERE.

I think ya'll will agree with me that these creative takes on DELICIOUSNESS can definitely be counted as art! (Though ephemeral art perhaps, because I know they surely wouldn't last long at my house...;)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Controversy in Blue and Gold

Most of you probably know of James McNeill Whistler only by his portrait of his Mother. I'll be honest, up until a week ago, that's the only thing I knew (or cared to know) by him. I had no idea that the man who painted the exceptionally famous, static, black and gray portrait of his mother was well adept at painting "Harmony" portraits, "Nocturne" landscapes, and stirring up controversy like you wouldn't believe.

This is the Rose and Silver: Princess from the Land of Porcelain, 1864. Isn't she lovely? She was one of a couple of works Whistler produced during a time when the exotic orient was incredibly popular (due to Commodore Matthew Perry creating new open networks with Japan in March of 1854). It was for shipping mogul and patron Frederick Leyland for over the fire place in his dining room, which housed his impressive collection of blue and white Chinese porcelain.

Here's a picture of the portrait in the dining room. Look at all of those porcelain wares! I wish I could have found the watercolor our professor showed us in class of what the room looked like when the painting was first introduced to it. It looked considerably different than its end result. One thing of note was that on the walls flanking the portrait were painted panels of leather that hypothetically belonged to the dowry of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife. We're not really sure if that's true or not, but that's the story. :)

The room was mostly done in browns and neutral colors so the vibrant porcelain would be emphasized.

Anyway. The flowers on these leather panels did not match Whistler's glorious centerpiece for the room, so Leyland hired Whistler to repaint them in colors to match the portrait and went along his merry way on vacation. Whistler, with his free reign of the dining room decided that he did not like the aesthetic layout that his glorious creation was now housed in. So, he decided to change EVERYTHING.

This is what he did.

From browns and pinks and neutrals to dark teal and gold leaf. Quite a change. Mr. Leyland came home and understandably blew a gasket. All he wanted was the flowers repainted and his whole dining room was redone. Not only that, but upon Leyland's return, Whistler sent him a message asking him for 2,000 guineas as payment (Guineas = Pounds plus shillings). Leyland sent him (I believe) only 600 pounds (Thank you, Anna, for checkin' me!). Pounds are an insult because they're typically what you would pay your grocer or your craftsman, while guineas are paid to a gentleman. Whistler took that as the slap in the face it was intended to be.

For some reason, Leyland continued to allow Whistler access to this "Peacock Room" as he went out of town again. Whistler invited in the press, visitors, art critics, etc. and finished the room in his conceived peacock aesthetic. On the wall opposite the Princess, Whistler painted dueling peacocks (potentially in an allegory for his controversy with Leyland...the more aggressive peacock is standing on a pile of shillings).

As the result of this conflict (and the trial to follow...Who was in the right?), Whistler went bankrupt and was forced to evacuate his beloved home. But luckily for us, the Peacock Room still survives in the Freer Gallery in Washington D.C. today.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Andy Warhol was a funny guy

On Friday, a friend of mine and I attended a talk on Andy Warhol in honor of IU opening their "Shot by Andy Warhol" special exhibit. This show displays roughly 79 of Warhol's polaroids and photographic prints from an original group of 150+ endowed by the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program. This program curated and distributed groups of roughly 150 photographs to all over the United States, including to USCalifornia, where our speaker, Associate Professor of Art History and Director of the Contemporary Project atUSC, Richard Meyer, was from. It was an absolutely delightful talk and though I'm not huge on contemporary art or any of that, I did come away knowing one thing...

Andy Warhol was a funny guy.

So, rather than give you a background on Warhol, which I'm sure many of you know...I just wanted to share some of the things Warhol has said (and some examples of his celebrity portraiture...Bianca Jagger, Sylvester Stalone, Debbie Herry). Hopefully you'll find them intriguing. :)

"But I always say, one's company, two's a crowd, three's a party."

"I am a deeply superficial person."

"I had a lot of dates but I decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows."

"I have Social Disease. I have to go out every night. If I stay home one night I start spreading rumors to my dogs."

"I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They're beautiful. Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic."

"I always think about what it means to wear eyeglasses. When you get used to glasses you don't know how far you could really see. I think about all the people before eyeglasses were invented. It must have been weird because everyone was seeing in different ways according to how bad their eyes were. Now, eyeglasses standardize everyone's vision to 20-20. That's an example of everyone becoming more alike. Everyone could be seeing at different levels if it weren't for glasses."

"Muscles are great...everyone should have at least one they can show off."

"I never think that people die. They just go to department stores."

"It would be very glamourous to be reincarnated as a great big ring on Liz Taylor's finger."

"When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships."

"Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery."

"I like to be the right thing in the wrong place and the wrong thing in the right place. Being the right thing in the wrong place and the wrong thing in the right place is worth it because something interesting always happens."

"What's great about this country is America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All Cokes are the same and all Cokes are good."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mythic Naturalism

I want to give due to one of my favorite living artists, because he deserves it!

Jonathon Earl Bowser - Painter of Goddesses
I discovered Mr. Bowser's art probably, oh, ten years ago. I immediately fell in love with his work and frankly, his work inspired many of my own characters for the stories I write. I am very interested in mythology (he touches on all kinds of mythological traditions), elegant, fanciful fashion (his elegant dresses actually look real and tactile...even the dresses made of water or air), and beautiful landscapes...he has it all!

He depicts strong, ethereal women...typically goddesses or mythological beings. They're put in fantastic, epic settings that he gives such precise detail to. His figures are graceful and exceptional. Themes include Beauty, goddesses, Forces of Nature, Cosmic balance, history, philosophy, and spirituality. He calls these works Mythic Naturalism - "Images looking for the mysterious poetry of which the natural world is made."

Mr. Bowser was born in Canada in 1962 and graduated from Alberta College of Art in 1984. After college, he spent 5 years working in commercial illustration before changing direction to follow his own creative inspiration in 1989 (Thank goodness he did! :)). His limited-edition collector's plates and prints are known internationally and his website,, receives over 1,000 visitors a day (myself included :) - YOURSELF included. Go look!!). Many of his works have been published by Webster Galleries Edition, Mythic Publishing, The Bradford Exchange, Eureka Publishing, and Limited-Edition Giclees.

All of these images belong to Jonathon Earl Bowser. You can buy his work by visiting his website! All of his images are a "reverential meditation on The LotusMaiden of Eternity."