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Archive for the ‘Caricature’ Category

LorrieMooreBlog
I haven’t worked on the caricatures for my facefame blog since, oh my, January. In the winter and spring months I was up to here in printer’s ink, modifiers, press settings, the ol’ hot plate, solvents, exhaust fans and periodic printshop fatigue. Printmaking is not for the faint of heart or lungs. In five months I pulled (that’s how printmakers talk) 152 prints, and many more if you count the rejects. But more on that later, much later. This past week I finally summoned the courage to see if I could get back into the facefame-caricature mode. (facefame.wordpress.com)
I like reading Lorrie Moore. I pulled up the Google images for Lorrie Moore on my 24” computer screen, leaned the customary drawing board against my desk and drew her with the customary Stabilo aquarellable pencil. Twenty minutes, maybe all of thirty, and there was this intelligent, witty face on my paper. I was rather pleased. Well, I thought, the hiatus on facefame has just ended. I love drawing like this and there are plenty of writers and other artists (maybe even politicians in this presidential circus) that I’m eager to draw.
The next day, the drawing didn’t look good any more. It looked pleasing, you know, goody-goody. It said “look how well the artist controls the medium; a little ironic, but at the same time it has that classical feeling; being done in sepia, it alludes to the mighty Renaissance and who doesn’t love Leonardo and Michelangelo.” Time to put it aside, reconsider.
How can I bring this drawing into the 20th century, ok, the 21st? To do that, the drawing needs to be a bit edgy. Maybe adjusting the size will help. I took it to Kinko’s and shrunk it, from 14×11 to about 11×9. Now, loosely tracing that size to my aquarellable paper, I was less tempted by detail and literalness. I leaned into the pencil, deposited a lot of black stuff, smeared with a damp paper towel, LorrieMooreReyetextured the paper (in printmaking that’s called tone) and found my caricaturing zone. I knew I was in it when I drew her right iris with a flick of the pencil. That cranked up my courage and then adding the color patches was a sure thing, easy in the sense of “hey-it’s-my-drawing.”
This happens all the time, this wanting to please and then realizing the next hour, or the next day, that what you really need to do is summon your courage and do strong work.

LorrieMooreBlog650
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RumpTower
In these blog ruminations on how to look at paintings I’ve never said anything nice about “the verbal mode.” The idea is to turn that thing off, so that you can take in the painting (or drawing) in as pure a visual mode you can muster. I’ll stick to that, but I do occasionally go verbal and when I do, I get fascinated by the origin of words.
When I was walking along the river recently, I looked up and saw the word “RUMP” on a building. How odd, I thought, to put such a word and in such an aggressive size on a building. One sometimes sees that word with a T in front and I wondered if there was an etymology that would lead back, not just to card-playing lingo, but to “triumph.” Given the current presidential race, wouldn’t that be appropriate.
I pulled the OED, always a good read, out of its case, and combed through twelve columns trying to find out what was up with “triumph.” Much of what I found spoke to political ambition. 1) One corruption of “triumph” is used to designate a “playing card so that any one such card can TAKE any card of another suit. Take that! 2) Over centuries, since the Romans, “Triumph” became “trumpet,” both the instrument and the person “who or that which proclaims, celebrates, or summons loudly like a trumpet.” Loudly, really? 3) A thing of small value, a trifle, pl. goods of small value, trumpery.” Trumpery is good. If these presidential ambitions lead to frustration, the next tower could have the word TRUMPERY in humongous, therapeutic letters on it.
But wait, the best is yet to come. The Middle English (12th-13th centuries) version of “trumpet” was “trompe.” Now, this is truly precious because tromper in French means to fool, deceive. Je trompe means I deceive. What a find!
But what about “rump?” Predictably, more windblown towseling. “With rump and rig, with rump and stump.” STUMP would be good on a building, wouldn’t it. Later. But wait, “rump” as a verb means “to flog or scourge.” No-no. If you say that, YOU’RE FIRED! How about YOU’RE FIRED on an office tower!?
Combing through the OED leads from one thing to another and I sometimes overcomb. We shall overcomb.


All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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GossaertMadonnaThe Flemish painter Jan Gossaert (c. 1478–1532) was much sought after, as a portraitist of Hapsburg royals and as a creator of altar pieces for Catholic churches. When I saw this Madonna and Child at the Met last December I just about burst out laughing. No, I didn’t actually laugh out loud, though that’s permissible in museums, but I did stand there for a long time, gaping at this extravagant and, yes, funny image of what was at the time a sacred subject.
He was a very busy man and it’s hard to imagine that he had time to paint for his own entertainment. But it’s also hard to imagine this undogmatic Madonna and Child hanging in a Catholic church in the early 16th century, during the Counter Reformation.
Let’s consider one bit of the historical context. In the Late Gothic, the S-curve of the Madonna becomes very pronounced and the baby Jesus becomes playful and fidgety, pure baby.
https://www.google.com/search?q=late+gothic+madonnas&biw=1536&bih=851&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=lYwoVabCJca8ggTs04GgCA&ved=0CCAQsAQ
But Gossaert’s Madonna is over the top. He shows her playing with the baby, but it doesn’t look like a lot of fun, does it. The baby looks terrified and frantic and mom–sitting on the floor with her knees pulled up–is more interested in posing than in bonding with her child.
The heap of blue cloth that we are supposed to accept as her gown is so overdone—even for the convention of the time—that I find it comically bizarre. It seems to be the work of an obsessive-compulsive. Or somebody who had an ax to grind.
Maybe Gossaert painted this not so much for his own amusement but as a satire. Satire wafted in the northern air. It was a time of political/theological upheaval and Gossaert may have had clients who were eager to see satirical views of the establishment’s icons. Who else would have bought a painting like this around 1500?!
Two contemporary northern satirists were Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536), who had the nerve to poke at the papacy, and Hieronymus Bosch (1450’s-1516), who made no bones about his disgust with the corruption of the Catholic Church and the general insanity of the time. Sebastian Brant (1457-1521) published his satire Ship of Fools in 1494. Here’s part of Bosch’s illustration of that theme:

BoschShipFools
We don’t have personal details about Gossaert’s life that would provide insights into his playful, very human and possibly satirical Madonnas.
For more Madonnas by Jan Gossaert,
https://www.google.com/search?q=jan+gossaert+madonna+and+child&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=bIsoVfaQIIS8ggTD9IHACQ&ved=0CCEQsAQ&biw=1175&bih=829
Jan_Gossaert_-_the_virgin_and_child_with_white_lily_and_cherriesAll contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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portrait-of-adele-bloch-bauer-i(1).jpg!Blog
When I saw Klimt’s golden portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer at the Neue Galerie in NY in December I thought “mummy”—as in dead, as in Egyptian.
What if instead of creating a celebration of Adele’s beauty, both physical and spiritual, Klimt was really showing his disgust with her wealth and status in society?
Most of the surface is gold leaf. He only painted her face, shoulders, forearms and hands. She is quite simply trapped and lifeless in gobs of gold. She is dead and buried. The association to Egyptian mummification is strengthened by what looks like the Egyptian hieroglyphics for “eye” all through the central panel under her face. This may be a reference to her reputation as an art lover, i.e. having an “eye for art and beauty.”
The painting is dated 1907. We can be sure that Adele was flattered by being shown wrapped in all this gold, which has a long history of being associated with royalty, but also, going back to Byzantine icons, with heaven and divinity.
What if artists are not as dumb and subservient as their wealthy patrons consider them to be? What if Gustav Klimt, who thought of himself as a prophet and above societal conventions, played a joke on Mr. Bloch-Bauer? He took his money and handed him a dead thing. Or, as Peter Schjeldahl calls it, a “flattish bauble, a thing, a whatsit.” Schjeldahl covers the money angle, which is what this is all about:
http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/changing-my-mind-about-gustav-klimts-adele
John Malkovich is worth seeing in “Klimt,” directed by Raoul Ruiz, 2006.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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Toes2
Let us now praise famous toes.Famous squooshed toes, that is.

Why is Eirene’s little toe deformed? It’s 360 BCE. Nobody was wearing narrow pointed high heeled boots in Athens at the time.  How did the sculptor come up with the idea of hammering such a crooked little toe out of his marble block?
ToesGSThe Greeks were famously obsessed with perfection and in the visual arts that meant the Golden Section. As an example, you can see that Eirene’s peplos drapes at about the line dividing her body into the Golden Section. But the little toe? Now, granted the Athenians had lost the war with Sparta in 404 BC and were understandably demoralized. They stopped writing juicy drama and instead produced brittle philosophy. Maybe their obsession with perfection gave way to a sense of humor. I was startled by the sight of this toe. It’s funny. Should it be? Can this be explained? Has anyone written a monograph on Athenian toes? Or will I have to live through this coming year distracted by this weighty mystery?
Sappho1I walked on. Heading towards the Café next to the sculpture court at the Met, I was tripped up by yet another set of toes. Here’s a tense, heroic Sappho wiggling her toes as if playing the piano and, look, her little toe is puny and out of line.

IMG_5052

What’s going on here? This sculpture is from the 19th century. Could it be that for two thousand years sculptors have been encoding their deepest existential gloom in little toes and nobody’s taken notice!? The little toe cries out for recognition. The little toe needs to be understood. The little toe demands scholarly attention. The little toe is the elephant in the room.
Ahem. I know three things about toes. 1) only men have foot fetishes, no women do; 2) ballerinas do their best point work if they have the most toes in a straight line; 3) our evolution may dispense with the little toe (and little finger) altogether, over many more eons.

IMG_5055
So, my first thoughts of the new year are on solid ground, on an uneven footing and draped in mystery. I like it already.
An uneven, alert 2015 to us all!
Marble statue of Eirene (personification of peace), Roman, Julio-Claudian period circa 14-68 CE. Copy of Greek bronze statue, 375-359 BCE. By Kephisodotos
Sappho. Marble, 1895. By Compte Prosper D’Epinay (1836-1914)
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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SpilledMilk
Classicism gives way to Romanticism: right there at the dairy section of Trader Joe’s, a gallon jug of milk falls off the peaceful, orderly shelf without any apparent provocation.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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PicassoSabineWomen

A friend sent me this postcard from Boston this summer:  Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Rape of the Sabine Women,”   1963.

It’s as unmistakably Picasso as “Guernica,” 1937.  Both paintings are from an artist who was a life-long renouncer of the insanities created by politics, war being pre-eminent among them.  He was an anarchist.

He had mastered the techniques of the Renaissance by the time he was fourteen and then set out to produce work that was distinctly anti-Renaissance.  As if to say, “sorry, folks, we took a wrong turn there; this stuff from the 15-16-17 hundreds is really enticing, but it’s all based on enslavement and torture of one group or another.”  He loved African art because, as he said, “it’s against everything.”  By “everything,” I think, he meant western civilization.

PicassoGuernicaHe painted “Guernica” as an outrage against the bombing of a Basque town during the Spanish Civil War in 1937.  He used his skill at distortion to get at the ineffable suffering and horror of that day.  The viewer stands before this work, mute, despairing.

While living in Paris as a young man, Picasso frequently visited the Louvre, where he certainly saw “The Rape of the Sabine Women” by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).  At age 82 and living in his villa in the south of France, Picasso takes up this theme. As in “Guernica” we see the assault and butchery of innocents. There are four figures: a woman crushed on the ground, a child screaming for help, a soldier on horseback wielding a spear and a soldier on foot with a sword. 

Again, the distortion of the figures is extreme.  This time, it seems, Picasso isn’t asking us to feel empathy and outrage.  Instead, it seems to me, this image is comical.  The comical effect comes from the facile lines.  Compare, for example, the slashed, broken hands in “Guernica” to the hands in “Sabine Women,” where we get loopy-doopy toes and gooey-oozy fingers. Here the lines are fast, facile and glib.  “Guernica” takes a long time to look at, even in reproduction.  Here, in his “Sabine Women,” the eye loops through the composition very quickly. These easy, fast lines do not convey suffering and do not evoke empathy.  Maybe Picasso at 82 is beyond outrage.  This painting seems to be a satire.  He has given up on us and can only show us how comical and testosterone-driven our world is.

PoussinRapeSabineLouvreAnd is the Poussin painting not comical?  In its day, war was glorious. Really?  Who thought war was glorious?  Must have been the kings.  They started those wars and thought they themselves were radiating glory.  But what about the artists, what did they think?  Oh, well, the artists worked for the kings and that whole crowd that benefited from wars.  Is this not a comical situation?  Well, we only broke the spell of the “glorious” in the 20th century.  One way, probably the best way, to break a spell is to make fun of it.  Draw some loopy-doopy lines to make the point that what used to be “glorious”  is really  hopelessly, pathetically laughable. 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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