Monday, November 25, 2013

Ecuador's Galo Galecio: A Printmaker of the People

The name Galo Galecio Taranto (1906 - 1993) is important in Ecuadoran art circles, although he didn’t receive much notoriety outside of his homeland. He was, however, a renowned painter, sculptor, caricaturist and, for the purposes of this article, an amazingly wonderful printmaker. Unfortunately, I have only been able to find a scant amount of information about this artist, but his images will compensate for whatever text may be lacking.
After studying at the School of Fine Arts in Guayaquil with the Spanish artist José María Roura Oxandaberro (1925-1930), Galecio received a scholarship from the Ministry of Education to make a specialized study of printmaking and mural painting at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico (from 1944-1946). It was there that he studied with the famous muralist Diego Rivera, and became friends with David Alfaro Siqueiros. He also became a member of the famous printmaking workshop, Taller de Gráfica Popular and he studied printmaking.
One of Galecio’s first print portfolios was ‘Bajo la Linea del Ecuador’, which became one of his most important works. It was a portfolio created in 1946, comprised of 31 images, which depicted tropical landscape scenes of village life from Ecuador’s coastal towns. He used the tropical landscape as a backdrop to show the living and working conditions of his countrymen, whom he felt had been forgotten.
Galecio's prints are direct and forceful. There is also a sort of dreamy quality in them, as only someone who knows life in the tropics could understand. He created poignant life portraits, full of sentiment and expressive gesture. He captures the strength, perseverance and spirit of the hardworking, suffering people of his Ecuadorian land, particularly the indigenous and black portion of the population. Their daily grind to work the fields and fish the sea, bring products to market and toil under the hot sun isn't glamorized any more than the works of the French working class that Courbet and Millais strove to make real in the 19th century. Galecio's simple and somber tone, as found in the faces of the people in the last image of this article, bear their life's struggle that was prevalent in Ecuador.
The force of his images makes Galecio one of the greatest Expressionist and Realist artists in Ecuador from the 1930s to 1950s. In 1987, Galecio was awarded Ecuador's most prestigious prize "Premio Eugenio Espejo" for his lifetime’s achievement in the arts.
Galecio’s work is included in numerous international collections, including three color prints in the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Antoni Clave: To the Print Victor

Antoni Clavé (1913 – 2005) whose career spanned all plastic art forms, and whose designs were also nominated for two Academy Awards, was one of Spain’s most celebrated artists.

He briefly studied at Escuela de Artes y Oficios in Barcelona, and then went to work at a design firm called Cinaes, designing cinema posters. Additionally, he worked for a children's magazine and designed advertising posters. During the Spanish Civil War, Clavé was a draughtsman for the Republican government but emigrated to France at the end of the war. He was sent to an internment camp at Les Haras camp in Perpignan. Clavé then settled in Paris in 1939, drawing comics and working as an illustrator.
In the 1940s Clavé's painting style became visibly influenced by the works of painters and printmakers like Bonnard, Vuillard, Rouault and Picasso, whom he met in 1944. He split his time between the fine arts and design for much of his career, but in the 1950s he devoted himself to painting. His work at that time became more abstract and enigmatic; inspired by graffiti and collaging with newspaper and other textures. Three years later Clavé was designing carpets and in the 1960s he also did bas reliefs, assemblages and wood sculptures.
Clave’s stylistic sensibility began with a sort of lyrical abstraction and it moved toward a pure, minimal format. In the early 1980s Clavé created a series called "Hommage à Picasso”. Clavé's images were scenes of melancholic, yet tranquil domesticity, strangely child-like figures, with the odd clown/harlequin thrown in for good measure. The influence of Picasso and Rouault is most prevalent, and he effectively uses overlays of rich color to create beautifully textured works.
On the flipside of his career, Clave’s theatrical designs appeared on stages worldwide, as well as in numerous films. His works include sets for opera, theater, and ballet, most notably for Roland Petit's ballet company, including Carmen (1949). From 1946 Clavé did numerous designs for ballet and theatre in Paris, Munich, London and New York; in the 1950s he turned to book illustration. In 1952 his work in film was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design) for Hans Christian Andersen.
In 1965 Clavé moved to the South of France, near Saint-Tropez where he lived the rest of his life. The grab-ya of Clave’s work is that instant visual connection with the work of his friend Picasso, yet Clave’s images have more density, more richness, whereas we see in Picasso’s work the speed and fury of that artist’s brush. The story of the tortoise and the hare come to mind when comparing the two artists, and to my mind Clave is clearly the victor. For all of you collectors out there, Clave’s work is reasonably priced and you’d do well to get a few of his prints while they are still plentiful.
His work is displayed in many museums, including:
Several one-man shows in museums and galleries in Zurich, Barcelona, Paris and Tokyo
The British Museum, London
1978 Centre Pompidou Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao
Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid
Museum of Modern Art, Paris
Museo Patio Herreriano de Valladolid, Spain
National Museum of Serbia
Tate Gallery, London
1984 Venice Biennale Spanish pavilion was dedicated to Clavé

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Happy (?) Jamaican Slaves via the Prints of Isaac Mendes Belisario

Isaac Mendes Belisario (1795-1849), has been described as the first documented Jamaican artist, but he was raised for a time in London, studied art and then worked as a stockbroker before returning Kingston, Jamaica, (a British colony) in the early 1830s. He became a well-known artist, painting landscapes and state portraits of important colonial residents, but he also made prints about the island’s local slave population. His work provides a rich description of Jamaican life at the time of the Emancipation, and while some of his observations seem one-sided according to today’s state of political correctness, they do enlighten us about slaves’ daily activities, and celebrations.
Belisario was a member of the Sephardic Jewish merchant class, who worked in retail, wholesaling, and dealt in the country’s slave trade. In 1831, Jamaica’s Assembly proclaimed the Jewish Emancipation Act, which allowed great freedoms for Jews versus the more restricted existence in London. One of Belisario’s distant relatives was briefly imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition in 1656, before escaping to London. The other side of his family were in the opera and performed for the King of Spain. Another relative, Isaac’s uncle Jacob, was an art dealer, stockbroker and participant in a huge embezzlement scheme of the day.
Born in Kingston in 1794, Belisario was named after his grandfather, the Rabbi Isaac Mendes Belisario (1719-1791), of the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London. One of the Rabbi's sons, Abraham Mendes Belisario came to Jamaica in 1786 where he was employed by Alexandre Lindo, who was one of the wealthiest Jews on the island. Abraham married Alexandre's daughter, Esther, and he was made a partner in Lindo's business, When faced with bankruptcy, Isaac Mendes Belisario's father left his family in London, looked for a job and soon found himself in the West Indies, in Tortola, where he became the manager of seven sugar plantations. He was horrified to see how cruelly the slaves were treated and eventually served on a jury of the first white man brought up on murder charges for killing a slave in Tortola. He wrote an unsuccessful report calling for protection for the treatment of Africans in the West Indies. In addition, the artist’s maternal grandfather was involved in the finances of the Haitian revolution.
In 1837-38, Belisario made a series of hand-colored prints based on a holiday carnival practiced for decades by slaves, called " Sketches of Character In Illustration of the Habits, Occupation and Costume of the Negro Population in the Island of Jamaica " they were accompanied with detailed ethnographic texts. Although slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1833, these prints were very telling about the perception of the lives of slaves, both before and after emancipation, and they are still very popular in Jamaica.
In tracing the West African roots of Jonkonnu and its evolution in Jamaica, it had its origins with Jon Konny, a celebrated Nzema chief who ruled over Prince's Town in the 17th and 18th centuries in what is now Ghana. The Jonkonnu masquerades became very elaborate, as they incorporated the traditions of other African peoples and even some European carnival traditions. If anything, Jonkonnu was a leveller of slave society where the great Jamaican houses were opened up to the slaves who "drank with their masters and spoke with greater familiarity"; the distance between them briefly forgotten.
All the images represent happy, smiling slaves, well-dressed in theatre European style costumes with fancy wigs and jewelry. He felt the power of these fascinating carnival scenes of slaves. Some of these parades and competitions borrowed from Shakespeare characters. In a blend of carnival and east African dance traditions, the "Jack-in-Green" image at the bottom of this article, we find a barefoot figure in the center of the image, where an initiate’s body is completely hidden by a mask on its face and long vegetable fibers cover the body. Black women in European costumes dance about the covered figure like moths to a flame. Belisario also includes in these images a masked dancer, John Canoe, who was a chief of the village in the Gulf of Guinea, working in the 1720s.
Isaac M. Belisario was not a well man; suffering from tuberculosis. He seems to have never married; nor had any children, although he still has collateral descendents in Jamaica and Australia. His last documented print was produced in 1846, and he is known to have died in London three years later. A book about this artist’s enthralling past has recently been published.
Royal Academy
the Society for Painters in Oils and Water-Colours
His prints were produced working with the French printmaker Adolphe Duperly.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Josef Albers' Fetish for A Colored Square: Prints

The teachings of Josef Albers are legendary in art education circles, but his work in color theory and design is equally important. Born in Germany to a family of craftsmen, Josef Albers (1888 – 1976) worked in furniture and glass before teaching painting and engaging hords of students eager to have the opportunity to work with the famed educator. His work in printmaking was brought to my attention via my mentor and teacher, Robert Wolfe. We were encouraged to do hundreds of color studies abeit in the manner of Albers and try to understand the delicate balances of color in our own works. I didn’t claim to take to Albers ideas at the time, but eventually I saw, as have thousands, his pain-staking research advanced ideas on color and design.

At the age of 20, Albers taught school in his home town, then he went to Berlin to study art education at the Königliche Kunstschule, (1913-1915). For three years, 1916-1919, he began to make prints at Essen’s Kunstgewerbschule, and in 1919 he went to Munich, Germany, to study with Max Doerner and Franz Stuck at the Königliche Bayerische Akademie der Bildenden Kunst.(Try saying that five times fast. See, you can't do it.)

Albers enrolled at the prestigious Weimar Bauhaus in 1920. He joined the faculty of the Bauhaus two years later. The director and founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, asked him to teach Design to introduce principles of handicrafts. In 1925, Albers was promoted to professor, the same year the Bauhaus moved to Dessau. He also married one of the school’s students, Anni Fleischmann, who would become well-known for her own textiles designs. Albers was teaching with Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee. Klee and Albers collaborated in glass and crafts for several years. Under pressure from the Nazi party, the Bauhaus closed in 1933 and most of its artists left Germany. Albers then emigrated to the United States.

The famed architect Philip Johnson arranged a position for Albers as head of a new art school in North Carolina, called Black Mountain College. He led its painting program until 1949. Some of Albers’ notable students were Ray Johnson, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, and Susan Weil. He also invited Willem de Kooning, to teach in the summer session. During this period, Albers produced many woodcuts.
In 1950, Albers left Black Mountain to head Yale University’s department of design. While there, Albers worked to expand their graphic arts program. Some of his notable students were Hal Rogoff, Richard Anuszkiewicz and Eva Hesse. He retired from teaching in 1958.
In 1962, as a fellow at Yale, he received a grant from the Graham Foundation for an exhibit and lecture on his work. Also, he worked on his structural constellation pieces. In 1963, he published Interaction of Color which presented his theory that colors were governed by an internal and deceptive logic. Also during this time, he designed abstract album covers. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1973. Albers lived in New Haven the rest of his life with his wife until his death in 1976.

Albers is best remembered for his work as an abstract painter and theorist. Most famous of all are the hundreds of paintings and prints that make up the series, Homage to the Square. This series, begun in 1949, explored color interactions within square formats. Each piece consists of either three or four squares of solid planes of color sitting atop one another.
His work represents a transition between traditional European art and the new American art. It incorporated European influences from the Constructivists and the Bauhaus movement, but his influence fell heavily on American artists of the late 1950s and the 1960s. "Hard-edge" abstract painters like Frank Stella, Op artists, conceptual artists and even the Abstract artists Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt couldn’t help but be influenced by his optical studies. Even the noted artist Robert Rauschenberg admitted Albers was one of his most important teachers.

Albers’ prints draw completely from his painting color studies, although his play with surface and opacity stretched some of his concepts. The prints also have some variety of form and composition, most being hard-edged and clean-looking. There is more spatial depth in his prints than the paintings and the influence of his wife’s designs seems apparent.
The Josef Albers papers, 1929-1970, were donated to the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art in 1969 and 1970. In 1971, Albers founded the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, a nonprofit organization he hoped would further "the revelation and evocation of vision through art."
Currently, a large part of his estate is held by the Josef Albers Museum in Bottrop, Germany.

J. B. Neumann’s New Art Circle, 1936
documenta I,1955
documenta IV , 1968
Museum of Modern Art, traveling South America, Mexico, and the US, 1965 - 1967
Metropolitan Museum of Art , 1971
Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, 2010
Centre Pompidou, Paris
The Morgan Library & Museum, NY