Category Archives: Art History

Here’s an interesting idea….or two…..

….courtesy of John Luna, who is giving a series of three lectures this month at the Vancouver Island School of Art.  (John reminds me of the writer, Adam Gopnik.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of art, history, philosophy, literature….His lectures are dense, entertaining and fast-moving. I certainly didn’t understand all the references, but I enjoyed the experience!  The lecture was entitled “Empty glances: photography, painting, witness and imagination.”)

The first idea is pretty obvious, once you think about it….but it hadn’t ever occurred to me before. All of those still life paintings, and domestic scenes in Dutch painting of the 17th century are a direct result of the Protestant Reformation.  The Biblical scenes and the saints were left to the Catholics.  The Protestants, and the humanists, had to find new material.

The Putnam Foundation

Still Life by Pieter Claesz

The second idea came from a viewing of Vermeer’s painting Woman with a Pearl Necklace. ( I wasn’t familiar with this painting, and immediately thought of Girl with a Pearl Earring.)

Vermeer Woman with a Pearl Necklace

John pointed out that Siri Hustvedt, in Mysteries of the Rectanglehypothesizes that this is a coded Annunciation painting.  I find that a fascinating idea.

As with all of Vermeer’s painting (all being a mere 36 in known existence) light, perspective, shadow, framing and editing are paramount.  The first time Ms Hustvedt saw this painting, she spent four hours looking at it.  It’s a hint, perhaps,  of what we might see if we gave artworks more time and attention.



Damn fine paintings!

On a recent visit to Vancouver, The Art Caravan visited the Vancouver Art Gallery.  Sadly, the Cardiff/Miller show, Lost in the Memory Palace, (see August 4 blog entry) was in the tear down/crating stage.  (Just imagine their storage issues!)

I decided to take a quick walk through the two painting shows on display….and ended up spending an enjoyable hour or two looking at some great paintings.  Painted Past:  A History of Canadian Painting from the Collection and Emily Carr & Landon Mackenzie: Woo Chopper and the Monkey both feature strong Canadian paintings.

So….who is Landon Mackenzie?  She is a Vancouver based painter, and art professor at Emily Carr University of Art + Design.  (You know she’s the ‘real deal’ in Canadian art because she’s been interviewed by Bill Richardson, Vicky Gabereau AND Nora Yonge, those staples of Canadian public radio!)  Early in her career, her paintings were justifiably purchased by major collections, like the Art Gallery of Ontario.  Her early works are huge; many of the Lost River series are 6.5 x 7.5 feet.

The most surprising thing about this show, for me, was the Emily Carr work.  Now, we all know who Emily Carr is…..grande dame (wouldn’t she laugh?!) of Canadian painting.  I’ve seen a few Emily Carr paintings in my day (see April 30 blog posting) BUT I was blown away by the powerful paintings displayed here.  Wow.  This is Emily Carr at her finest.

Kudos to the VAG for two very strong, non-blockbuster, Canadian content shows.  (And, yes! They have a great cafeteria.)


Joan Miro at the Seattle Art Museum

I finally made it to the Joan Miro exhibition, The Experience of Seeing, at the Seattle Art Museum.  Very soon after entering the gallery, I unexpectedly ran into a colleague, who remarked, “I am strangely moved by the show.”   She voiced my feelings exactly.  Maybe it’s being in the presence of genius that moves us?  (I don’t know, but I do know I felt the same way when I visited Monet’s home and gardens in France.  So much beauty….but that’s a blog for another time.)

The Experience of Seeing deals largely with the last two decades of Miro’s life.  The numerous sculptures were a highlight for me.  They are engaging, and often whimsical creations of ‘found’ objects that are then cast in bronze, using lost wax casting . I wasn’t the only one walking around with a smile on my face….and I’d bet the creators of ET were familiar with Miro’s works.

The original Art Caravan

My first Art Caravan


Once upon a summer…..a long, long time ago……I spent a July and August doing art and crafts with kids in Red Deer, Alberta.  Every week I’d set up in a different city park, with the ‘arts and crafts’ trailer full of  supplies.  (Fortunately, I wasn’t responsible for moving the caravan to the new locations. The ‘Bug’ was a great car, but not up to any heavy towing…)

It was a great way to spend the summer: working outdoors, making things, and getting paid to do it.  Macrame, anyone?

The highlight of the week for the kids was when we  tie-dyed t-shirts.  It was a no-fail project they all liked:  instant colour, and functionality. My favourite part of the project came after the t-shirts were draped, or hung to dry.  As part of our ‘clean up’, we took the leftover dyes, grabbed some paintbrushes, and ’embellished’ the sidewalks and streets close by…..creating our own site specific, temporary works of art.




Emily Carr’s Wild Lilies

Wild Lilies

Whenever I visit the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria I always drop in to ‘see’ Emily Carr.  The AGGV has a small, semi-permanent exhibition of her work.  It’s a great introduction to Emily Carr, as the show describes Emily’s life through photographs and text. There are examples of art from the different stages of her life, beginning with her early student work.  I especially appreciate the inclusion of works by her contemporaries, such as Lawren Harris and Anne Savage.

One of my favourite Emily Carr paintings was not, I suspect, one of Emily’s favourites. Wild Lilies  is an early work, and very traditional….not at all like her later forest works, where she grappled with the challenges of capturing the spirituality and strength of the west coast landscape.

Wild Lillies is not only a beautiful floral still life, but has a beautiful history.  Emily donated it to the Sisters of St. Ann, in appreciation for their care of her sister, Lizzie, who died from breast cancer.  A few years ago, the Sisters  generously donated Wild Lilies to the AGGV.


Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees is both a quote from Paul Valery, and the title of a book by Lawrence Weschler.  Weschler has written an extremely readable biography of the contemporary artist, Robert Irwin.

The book was first published in 1982,  In February 2009 it was re-issued with six more chapters, and 24 colour plates.

Weschler’s real strength as a writer is his ability to explain complex ideas in an engaging, entertaining fashion.  Robert Irwin’s art breaks boundaries, and challenges the traditional notions of the art world.  Weschler develops an organization for the book that clearly outlines the progression of ideas in Irwin’s art work.  He provides an intelligent analysis, and explains ideas simply, but not simplistically.

Weschler asks great questions, and allows Irwin to speak for himself. Irwin comes across as completely honest, and very articulate.  I love what he says to students:  “….they are responsible for their own activities, that they are really, in a sense, the question, that ultimately they are what it is they have to contribute.  The most critical part of that is for them to begin developing the ability to assign their own tasks and make their own criticism in direct relation to their own needs and not in light of some abstract criteria.”

Irwin (partially) supported himself by gambling at the racetrack.  I’m not a gambler, but I’d bet that after reading this book you’ll never look at another contemporary art installation in quite the same way.



Romare Bearden

In my last post, I mentioned the artist, Romare Bearden.  I first became aware of him on a long ago visit to the Baltimore Museum of Art.  The show of prints was stunning:  strong colours used in abstracted scenes, such as jazz musicians playing.

He was an incredible artist, working in a large variety of media.  His collage work is notable, and was used on the covers of Fortune and Time magazine in 1968.  His artist talent spread to many areas of the arts, including creation of set and costume design for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

He has been an inspiration for thousands of people.  Brad Marsalis released an album (with an all star line-up) titled Romare Bearden Revealed.

Currently, the Currier Museum of Art in New Hampshire, and the Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco are presenting shows of his works.

Federal Art Project

A few days ago The Writers’ Almanac highlighted the anniversary of the funding approval for the American  Federal Art Project .  The Works Progress Administration was part of F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives to get unemployed Americans back to work during the Depression.

Just imagine–a government program to support artists in their work.  It’s reported that Roosevelt said that artists “….got to eat like other people.”


Romare Bearden, Mark Rothko and Jo Mora are a few of the thousands of artists who benefited from the seven year program.

Athenaeum Music & Arts Library….

… another treasure I stumbled upon in La Jolla, California.  Imagine!  A library devoted to art and music….a little piece of heaven.

Located in a beautiful building downtown, the library is full of surprises: racks and racks of art and music periodicals to enjoy, a cozy children’s book corner, a collection of first edition Caldecott Medal book winners, an extensive collection of Artist’s Books, as well as — bonus! — a new Robert Irwin  installation, Palladium (light, shadow, reflection, colour) on display.

The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library is not only a wonderful place to hang out, but it is also a great organization.  Besides art classes, lectures and public readings, several concert series are on offer.  We were fortunate to catch a jazz concert featuring the trumpeter Randy Brecker with Peter Erskine on drums.

It’s great to know that this non-profit, membership library is thriving.


When I mention Berthe Morisot….

….as my favourite Impressionist painter, most people give me a puzzled look.                 Berthe Morisot?

One of my favourite museums in Paris, the Musee Marmottan , has a large collection of her work.  It’s where I had the chance to become better acquainted with her work.

Berthe Morisot, written by Anne Higonnet, convinced me of her importance in art history.  Despite terrible odds–for example, she had to be chaperoned  (yes!  as an adult)  when she went to study and paint in the Louvre — she became the first woman painter of any  significance.  She was one of the original members of the Impressionist group.