Friday, January 20, 2017

Lines and Colors is on strike today, January 20, 2017

Lines and Colors is on strike today, January 20, 2017

There will be no new posts today on Lines and Colors about art or artists, no lovely images of art to inspire or amuse you. This is perhaps a portent of things to come, but today it’s just a protest.

Lines and Colors is on strike today in support of the J20 Art Strike, calling for arts organizations and institutions to not do business as usual as a symbolic act of resistance to the looming shift in government power, and the potentially disastrous effect it will have on the arts, humanities and creative endeavor and discourse in general.

Yes, it’s a small, mostly symbolic gesture, but so are the recently announced plans by the incoming administration to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

It would cut $296 million from the federal government’s almost $4,000,000,000,000.00 federal budget as a “cost saving” measure.

Even ignoring the fact that it’s been demonstrated that every Federal dollar spent on arts funding brings back nine or ten times that amount to the treasury in the form of increased economic activity and tax revenue, the amount of “savings” represents less than two tenths of one percent of the federal budget – for all practical purposes, statistically insignificant.

So this is really a gesture, a raised middle finger to the arts community to let us know how much they despise us.

Given the avowed intentions and previous actions of many of the legislators now taking control of the congress, this is likely just the first in a series of ongoing actions that will make the creation of art and the free exchange of ideas more difficult in the coming years.

In the past, I’ve tried to keep my political views in check when writing Lines and Colors, and have only expressed them in subtle ways.

That ends today.

These people have declared themselves the enemy of much that I care about, and are therefore my enemies.

Little acts like this, and anything I may say, are also likely statistically insignificant, but I have to make some kind of symbolic statement of resistance to avowed enemies of the arts, even if just for my own sense of self respect.

In writing for Lines and Colors, I’ll keep my expressions of concern related to the arts, but I’ll state them clearly. If you don’t like them, you’re welcome to comment, but I won’t tolerate flame wars, and I reserve the right to control what does or doesn’t appear on my own blog.

Lines and Colors is, after all, my opinions about art and artists — what I find valuable or of interest and consider worth sharing with others. If the expression of my political opinions as they relate to the health of the arts community in this country offends you, you’re welcome to seek inspiration elsewhere.

If you think I’m overreacting, you’re welcome to your opinion. Bookmark this post and put a reminder in your calendar to stop back in four years to see if I was wrong. (I desperately hope I’m wrong.)

That is, of course, if Lines and Colors is still here in four years.

One of the other announced initiatives of the incoming wave of big business uber alles is the elimination of Net Neutrality — from which control of the internet will be ceded to the telecoms and big entertainment companies.

This will happen so gradually you won’t notice at first, but it will change inexorably until the web becomes more like TV — a one-way flow of content and information from corporate producer to consumer, and a one-way flow of money in the other direction.

Oh, you’ll still be able to use Facebook and Twitter, but big content sites from the corporate providers will download like lightning (if you pay for them), and independent sites like Lines and Colors will start to load slower and slower and slower until they’re too painful to use.

If you don’t know what Net Neutrality is, or why it matters, see this handy explanation in comics form from Economix.

For more on the strike, see the J20 Art Strike page.

More to the point, if you want to know why I feel this way, see my plea to Lines and Colors readers prior to the election to vote in defense of the arts: “Vote like the future of the arts in the US depends on it“, in which I go into more detail on why I think this administration and the accompanying shift in power in the congress bode ill for the arts community in this country.

They’re just this day assuming office, and — sadly — I already have to say “I told you so.”


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Belshazzar’s Feast, John Martin

Belshazzar's Feast, mezzotint and painting; John Martin
Belshazzar’s Feast, mezzotint; & Belshazzar’s Feast, painting; John Martin

John Martin was a 19th century British artist noted for his dramatic depictions of disasters and/or impending disasters.

Here are two of his interpretations of the Biblical story of Belshazzar’s Feast, in which the arrogant ruler of Babylon shows his disdain for the enslaved population of Israelites by using their sacred vessels — stolen from their temple — to serve wine at a huge celebratory feast.

A hand appears and foretells Belshazzar’s destruction and punishment for his arrogance by writing on the wall (from which we get the modern usage of the phrase) in cryptic glowing inscriptions.

Belshazzar is unable to read the writing on the wall. The prophet Daniel is summoned to interpret the inscriptions, and informs Belshazzar of their meaning. Belshazzar, unwilling to be taught humility, ignores the warning and soon after meets his fate.

The mezzotint is a plate from Martin’s “Illustrations to the Bible” and is in the collection of the Tate, Britain. The painting is in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, and is actually a small version of a monumentally large painting that is in a private collection.

I actually think the dark composition of the mezzotint is more successful at conveying the sense of dread and impending doom.


Eye Candy for Today: Christen Købke Autumn Landscape

Autumn Landscape. Frederiksborg Castle in the Middle Distance; Christen Kobke
Autumn Landscape. Frederiksborg Castle in the Middle Distance; Christen Købke

Link is to zoomable image on Google Art Project; downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons; original is in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen.

Danish painter Christen Købke invites you to step into his late fall landscape to view the castle beyond the trees.

I find particular fascination beyond the castle in his handling of the clouds — rich with painterly finesse and subtle variations in color as they emerge from his wintry sky.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Jesper Ejsing (update)

Jesper Ejsing, fantasy illustrations
Jesper Ejsing is a Danish fantasy illustrator living in Copenhaen.

When I last wrote about Ejsing in 2013, it didn’t seem like he was updating his web presence frequently. Since then, he’s been adding more of his wonderfully wild illustration to his website, Artstation portfolio, and the group blog, Muddy Colors, where he is one of several contributing illustrators and concept artists.

Ejsing’s dragons, warriors, monsters and elves are rendered with wonderful touches of texture, varied palettes from almost monochrome to brightly colored and have a particularly appealing dimensionality to them.

Many of the pieces on his Artstation page are accompanied by preliminary sketches.

For more, see my previous post on Jesper Ejsing.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Eye Candy for Today: Fantin-Latour – Still Life with Carafe, Flowers and Fruit

Still Life with a Carafe, Flowers and Fruit; Henri Fantin-Latour
Still Life with a Carafe, Flowers and Fruit; Henri Fantin-Latour

Link is to zoomable version on Google Art Project; downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons; original is in the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo.

Somewhat larger than most of Fantin-Latour’s still lifes, this is a prime example of his beautiful approach.

Most striking here, I think, is his masterful use of value. The background is uncharacteristically dark compared to most of his similar compositions, and he has let the vase and carafe subtly emerge from the darkness, in sharp contrast to the white flowers.

The peaches and melon make up the middle range, with delightfully painterly handling on the former and fascinatingly textural representation of the discolored skin of the latter.

I think this is the fifth Eye Candy post I’ve done of Fantin-Latour’s still life paintings, and I have yet to do a post on the artist himself. I’m sure I’ll get around to it some time this decade.


Henry Ossawa Tanner (update)

Henry Ossawa Tanner
Henry Ossawa Tanner was a superb American painter, active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who I first wrote about in 2012.

Since then, I’m happy to report, online resources for viewing his work have expanded considerably, notably on The Athenaeum and Wikimedia Commons. You can find additional resources through Artcyclopedia and on my previous post.

Tanner was noted for landscapes, figures and portraits, but in particular for his portrayal of Biblical scenes and contemporary views of locations in the eastern Mediterranean that were of Biblical significance.

Tanner’s mother was born into slavery, but escaped by way of the Underground Railroad. Tanner was born in Pittsburgh and his family moved to Philadelphia while he was still a child.

There, he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied with Thomas Eakins, among others, and encountered other artistic luminaries such as Robert Henri.

Outside of his circle of artistic supporters, Tanner encountered so much racism in Philadelphia — and in Atlanta were he tried to establish a photography studio — that when he traveled to Europe and found acceptance as a painter, he emigrated and spent the remainder of his career there, with only brief visits back to the U.S.

Although Tanner downplayed his role as the first African-American painter to gain international recognition, among his notable portraits is the one shown above, third from the bottom, of pioneering civil rights advocate Booker T. Washington.

I have always been fascinated by Tanner’s painting The Annunciation — here in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (image above, top) — with its striking representation of the Angel Gabriel as an otherworldly shaft of golden light. It wasn’t until I saw a stunning and extensive show of Tanner’s work at PAFA in 2012 that I realized how extraordinary was his use of light throughout his varied experiments with style and subject.

For more, see my previous post on Henry Ossawa Tanner.