Monday, June 29, 2015

A Touch of the Modernist Mystical in Bror Nordfeldt's Prints

Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt, better known as B.J.O. Nordfeldt, was a Swedish immigrant, who embraced the American Modernist artistic tradition. He was known for his still lives, landscapes, portraits and religious scenes, and made prints that exude a mystical quality often found in 19th c. Japanese relief printing.

The artist was born in Tullstrop, Skåne, Sweden in 1878, and his family immigrated to Chicago, Illinois in 1891. There, he worked as a typesetter at a Swedish-language newspaper until enrolling in the Art Institute of Chicago and moving into the 57th Street Artists’ Colony.

Nordfeldt was recruited to work on a mural commissioned by the McCormick Harvester Company with local artist Albert Herter. In 1900, Nordfeldt went to the Paris Exposition, then briefly enrolled in the Académie Julien with Jean Paul Laurens. He went to England where he studied wood-block printing at Oxford and displayed work at the Royal Academy of London. He returned to Chicago in 1903 where he opened a studio and made prints and paintings. He had two shows in Chicago in 1907.

The outbreak of World War I sent Nordfeldt to California, where he painted boat camouflage, and Europe, where he served in combat units. Military service temporarily took him away from his art just as he had won a silver medal award at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.

After the war, Nordfeldt travelled from Europe to Massachusetts and New Mexico, mostly painting commissioned portraits. He moved to Santa Fe in 1917 and lived there until 1937. He was deeply involved in documenting Pueblo Indian tribes, but also was concerned to preserve their culture. He helped found the Indian Artists Fund, which attempted to foster and preserve the arts of the Pueblo.

While in New Mexico, Nordfeldt’s style changed to a brighter palette indicative of the colors found in the southwest. He painted Indian figures and ceremonies, as well as untraditional portraits and still lives which were more Modernist than his contemporaries.

In 1937 Nordfeldt moved to Lambertville, NJ where he lived for the rest of his life. He was interested in conveying the symbolic or emotional core of his subject, through flattened forms and distorted space. His late work mainly consisted of religious scenes in this same style. Nordfeldt died of a heart attack in 1955 while returning from a trip to Mexico.

Nordfeldt is known to have developed the white-line method of printmaking, which allowed for a more spontaneous way to apply color in relief printing. It was used by many printmakers working in the Provincetown area, most notably Blanche Lazelle. Some of Nordfeldt’s these Provincetown images are brightly colored, showing scenes of fishermen, but the prints that intrigue me moreso are his images of nature, and the sea. Here, Nordfeldt pays homage to the great work of the 19th century Japanese printmakers with their simplified images, cropped compositions and flattened areas of color. Here there is a similar interest in Nature and the peace one finds when engaging with it.

Nordfeldt’s lack of detail opens up these images and lets us fill in the gaps of what else may be a part of the scene he doesn’t portray. His light found in a wooded area is dark and eerie, like some of the work of Edvard Munch. As for his peaceful scenes of the sea and boats in their harbor, noticeably interrupted by a stream of fireworks, we visualize his affinity with the printed works of James Abbott McNeil Whistler. His ghostly dim, near-dark, and mist-filled evening air speaks to us in much the same way as do Whistler’s atmospheric prints.

Nordfeldt’s work resonates with those who have lived by the sea, or in the country. he understands the light that flickers and hides amongst dense brush, and he knows the glow seen at dusk as it is bounded by the low-hanging branch of a tree. The simplicity of some of his compositions are truly Japanese as he captures a single branch of a tree for us to savor its beauty. These are elegant works by an artist who loved his adopted country. Let us revisit his works and appreciate the peace we can find in our own environments.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Everso-slightly Erotic Prints of Edgar Degas

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas (1834 –1917) is recognized as a member of the French Impressionist movement. He was known for his strong drawing skills and often chose scenes involving action and movement, yet Degas’ portraits are also known for their psychological isolation. As a printmaker, Degas explored a world of image-making which continues to inspire us with his fluid line, odd compositions influenced by Japanese prints, and eerily isolated characters whom live in their own world unaware that we are watching them.
Born into a wealthy Parisian family, Degas was the oldest of five children. His mother was a Creole from New Orleans(who died when Degas was thirteen years old), and his father was a banker.

Degas, enrolled in the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and graduated in 1853, with a baccalauréat in literature. He went to work in the Louvre Museum, but later enrolled at the Faculty of Law of the University of Paris, in November 1853. He quit his law studies two years later, when he met Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, and then went to study art at the École des Beaux-Arts.

In July 1856, he traveled to Italy, where he the works of several Italian Renaissance masters. He returned to France in 1859, and started his studio, painting mostly historical subjects. He exhibited at the Salon for the first time in 1865, and exhibited annually in the Salon during the next five years, shifting more and more toward contemporary subject matter. The change in his art was due to an influence by Édouard Manet, whom Degas had met in 1864. When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, Degas enlisted in the National Guard, but eventually discovered that his eyesight was problematic, and suffered eye problems for the rest of his life.
After the war, in 1872, Degas spent a year in New Orleans, then returned to Paris. His father died in 1874, which forced Degas to sell his family’s home and their art collection to pay off his brother's debts. Dependent for the first time in his life to sell his artwork for income, he produced a lot of work during the next decade. In the mid-1870s he also made etchings, lithographs and monotypes. He was especially fascinated by the painterly qualities of the monotype process, but frequently embellished these printed images with chalk pastel. In fact, many of the pastels Degas produced actually started as monotypes.

The prints seen in this article are mainly singular images, but he explored etching as well. The linear qualities of those prints show his mastery of line and form. His explorations into tone and texture reveal a predilection for surface and luscious built up surfaces, as one would fine in his paintings. I enjoy the tonal qualities of these prints compared with his paintings because he shows that the medium isn’t a deterrent to understanding the environments of his characters. He goes deeply into the image, and presents us with a microcosm of a larger view, and more complex arena. He give us the best part of the total picture, much the same way an Asian painter would select the best part of a landscape to depict rather than fill up the composition with a lot of filler or unncessary information.
Degas joined a group of young artists, called the Impressionists in the mid 1870s. Between 1874 and 1886, the Impressionists mounted eight art shows, of which Degas took a leading role in their organization. He had little in common with some of the group’s members, whom he mocked for painting outdoors. Degas always worked indoors, preferring to work in his studio, either from memory, photographs, or live models. The figure remained his primary subject; his few landscapes were produced from memory or imagination. It was not unusual for him to repeat a subject many times, varying the composition. Degas said, "In art, nothing should look like chance, not even movement". As a conservative, he detested the scandal and publicity generated by the Impressionist’s shows. They eventually disbanded in 1886.
As Degas continued to work and sell his art, he began to amass a large art collection; collecting works by El Greco Manet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Ingres, Delacroix, Daumier and a number of Japanese prints.

Separately, Degas also developed a passion for photography, and he photographed his friends, dancers and nudes, which were used in some of his works.
Although famous for depicting horse races, Degas also chose to depict women at their work and ballet dancers in rehearsal, emphasizing their status as professionals doing a job. His interest in portraiture led Degas to study how a person's social stature or means of employment may be revealed. The prints Degas produced during this period are intimate, voyeuristic, and border at times on the erotic. Women at their toilet was a private, personal time, and Degas lets us inside the room with these women, lets us watch as they wash their hair, and quietly go about their business. Likewise the women dancing in rehearsals between dancing segments are seen fussing over their costumes, and wrapping their slippers in a similar personally attentive fashion. We are like one of the props men peeing at these beauties from behind a curtain or a keyhole. The isolation or separateness from the subject is felt intensely, intensified by dark, shadowy spaces.
Personally, Degas was known for his wit, which could be cruel. He once fired a model upon learning she was Protestant. Degas became an anti-Semite by the mid-1890s, and he broke off all relations with his Jewish friends and artists. He even refused to use models who he believed might be Jewish. As he got older, Degas blamed his inability to finish works based upon his poor eyesight. He ceased working in 1912, as his eyesight was nearly gone. He never married, and spent the last years of his life walking the streets of Paris before dying in 1917.
Degas never formally taught art, but he is credited with influencing several artists, including Mary Cassatt, Pablo Picasso and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Degas's works are a part of numerous museum collections, and have been exhibited worldwide. His prints have garnered widespread attention, and serve as classic examples of an artist who loved the female figure, and who chose to present them in their most fragile, intimate moments, with grace and sensuality.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Richard Diebenkorn Prints at the de Young Museum

Oh, Yessssss! It’s about time, my fellow inked up friends! This is a show worth seeing, taking in the breadth of printed works created by American artist extraordinaire, Richard Diebenkorn. The de Young Museum, located in San Francisco, California, is hosting an exhibition of Diebenkorn’s work, that every printmaker should be hitting the road this summer and heading out to San Francisco to see.

Selections from a recent acquisition of 160 prints, acquired by the de Young’s Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions, and the generosity of Diebenkorn’s widow, Phyllis, comprise an excellent and overdue exhibition of Diebenkorn’s energetic love for the printmaking medium. This exhibition provides an overview of his printed accomplishments and includes a number of unpublished prints and proofs that were not a part of his known editions.

This is just a wonderful group of works, my friends. Diebenkorn was known as a painter, but his prints also demonstrate his love of drawing, and his ability to transcend a color field glaze to the translucent tones only found in printmaking. He understood so well the use of line to define the contour of an object or a figure, and how to use that same line to minimally and eloquently define terrain and create immeasurable distance.
The colors, when he chooses to use them remind me a bit, of Wayne Thiebaud, but Diebenkorn’s colors are richer and more earthy. His time in New Mexico left an indelible impression upon him of the saturation of the southwestern colors, but his lighter, more lyrical pieces remind us of his color field work and the colors one only sees in the California sun-drenched landscape.

Diebenkorn brings his love of drawing to the printed matrix, and the richness of his blacks are good enough to eat. Really, this man’s printed work is as masterful as his paintings and drawings. This is, simply put, a show you cannot miss. Run, my friends, and drink in the beauty of these pieces. I assure you, you will not be disappointed.
Richard Clifford Diebenkorn Jr. (1922 –1993) was an American artist whose art was associated with abstract expressionism and the Bay Area Figurative Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Diebenkorn was born in Portland, Oregon, but he lived most of his life in California. He studied art at Stanford University, under instructors Victor Arnautoff and Daniel Mendelowitz, before serving in the United States Marine Corps, 1943-1945.

In 1946, Diebenkorn enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, where he later taught art from 1947-1950. It was there he started to make prints, which he continued to produce until his death. From 1950-1952, Diebenkorn went to the University of New Mexico for his Masters of Fine Arts degree. He then moved back to California and settled in Berkeley, living there until 1966.

By the mid-1950s, Diebenkorn became an important painter, whose style moved between a figuration similar to Henri Matisse to an abstract expressionism clearly his own. He was also influenced by fellow abstract painters Clyfford Still, Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning. Although Diebenkorn was a leader of the abstract painting movement in California, and well-respected, he did not receive proper attention from the east coast art critics.

In 1967, Diebenkorn moved to Santa Monica and taught art at UCLA until 1973. That same year, he shifted his subject matter from expressionism to a geometric style, called the "Ocean Park" series. They were based on the aerial landscape of Santa Monica, where he had his studio.

Diebenkorn died in 1993 from complications due to emphysema.
1991-National Medal of Arts
1979-National Academy of Design

Public Collections:
Albertina Museum, Austria
Albright–Knox Art Gallery, NY
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Baltimore Museum of Art, MA
Carnegie Institute, PA
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
the de Young Museum, CA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
New Mexico Museum of Art, NM
Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY
the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY

Stanford University’s Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts has 29 of Diebenkorn's sketchbooks, and other works on paper.
The de Young is located at Golden Gate Park | 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118 | 415.750.3600

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Textual Prints of Steven Ford

Steven Ford’s prints present the viewer with a vision of simultaneous contrasts; complexity and simplicity. I was wowed by the tactile nature of the work. His intricately chosen color palettes have more to do with balance and design than a particular image of person, place or thing, but they blow us away with his references to his print ancestors. The homage is clear to see that he admires the works of both Josef and Anni Albers, and the contemporary master printmaker Karen Kunc. These abstractions glitter and dazzle the eye in a blended print tradition of works on paper and works on fabric.
The textures and dimension created with Ford’s multi-layered images respect the traditions of the vibrant, colorful designer Sonia Delaunay and other artists from the Bauhaus, but there are prints that also have touches of an international South Asian flare. Some of Ford’s pieces have curvilinear elements that reflect the master Indian abstract painter Rama Rao. Then there are pieces that remind me of a Stella, or the multimedia exploded drawings of Mia Pearlman.
All in all, I am intrigued with Ford’s cross section of print history. The works are spectacular to look at and they broaden the dialogue on what is a print. He would appear to be fast rising up the printmaking ladder to grab our attention, which he does with ease. Give these gems a look, folks.

Steven Ford was born in Indiana in 1964. He studied art at Washington University in St.Louis, MO, and then went to the Tyler School of Art to receive his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1986. In a short period of time his work, namely his prints, have been shown throughout the US, and his work is included in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Helsinki Design Museum, in Finland.

Exhibitions - selected
2013: Paper Space, Wallingford Community Art Center, Wallingford, PA
2013: Victory for Tyler 2013, Ice Box @ Crane Arts, Philadelphia, PA
2012: Centennial Exhibition, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE
2011-2012: Ripped: The Allure of Collage, Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY
2011-2012: Terra Nova, Racine Art Museum, WI
2010: Construction: New Work by Steven Ford, JAGR Projects, Philadelphia, PA
2010: New Prints: Summer 2010, International Print Center, NYC
2009: New Prints: Spring 2009, International Print Center, NYC
2009-2010: Sculpting Color: Works in Polymer Clay, Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, MA
2009: Wrought and Crafted: Jewelry and Metalwork 1900-Present, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
2009-2010: Challenging the Chatelaine, Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA and Helsinki Design Museo, Helsinki, Finland