View of Brantome, France by Marilyn MacGregor
I've been working with my sketchbooks lately, creating hand-colored prints and hand-made books out of hand-drawn memories that span many years. My sketchbooks make a huge, ragged pile of all shapes and sizes: large journals, ring bound notebooks, small moleskins, hard bound, soft covers, etc. The drawings are done with fine ink pen, pencil, watercolor, ball point, colored pencil, and anything else that seemed a good idea at the time. I have a selection of the hand-colored prints up at Fine Art America - they're fun to do and make nice gifts so please take a look.
'Summer Travels' by Marilyn MacGregor 2011
My artist book using a few of my sketches is in the exhibit 'The Decorated Book' at the Athenaeum in Philadelphia (through March 9, 2012). The title of the book is 'Summer Travels - rightly so, though some of the drawings were part of other seasons spent living in England and France - there is a kind of 'summer' mentality to travel that pays no attention to the calendar.
Study of 4 Male Heads by Rembrandt 1635
As a sketchbook artist, I am in good company, both historic and contemporary. 'Keeping a Sketchbook' (or a journal) has a kind of Victorian ring to it - it may be partly because bound sketchbooks didn't really exist much before that. When Rembrandt, the great master of loose spontaneous drawing, made sketches they were just that - loose (both senses of the word) sketches - rather than a bound collection. Like any artist who prizes the collaboration of mind and hand, he used his sketches to learn and explore, sometimes in the interest of a planned work, but surely often for his own enrichment.
Looking Back to Pic de l'Oeillette JMW Turner 1802
By contrast, when Joseph Mallord William Turner set out on his extensive travels, his baggage must always have been stuffed with a selection of sturdy books, most if not all of which can now be viewed, cover to cover, page by page, via the website of the Tate Collection in London. A trip through any one of his sketchbooks is a journey through the art of drawing, the ever-curious mind of an artist, the ever-observant eyes of an artist, the daily cares of a 19th century traveler, and the unfolding possibilities of a newly met destination.
Look to his earlier books for tighter, more academic drawing, watch him loosen and become confident with any visual challenge, and have the delight of seeing him toss off late sketches with an unconscious grace. The last sketches are almost conceptual art - more suggestion than closely written description.
Two Women and a Letter JMW Turner 1827
Sun Behind Clouds JMW Turner 1846
Page from Hokusai's Sketchbooks late 19th c.
Another of the great 'sketchers' is Hokusai, the exuberant Ukiyo-e master of 19th century Japan. A famous published edition of his 'sketches' (the word in Japanese translates as 'Manga',) edited by James Michener, the author, is a most delightful panorama of Japanese life in all its small interesting detail. Unlike Turner, however, Hokusai's 'manga' are not immediate drawings - instead his sketches were first turned into woodblock prints and arranged on the page (some say by Hokusai himself, some by the printers.)
Stoke-by-Nayland John Constable 1814
Another of my favorite 'Sketchers' is John Constable, the celebrated artist of English Romanticism - I once saw an exhibit focused on his sketchbooks in which it was noted that many had been picked up for nothing at London Flea Markets. Artists were along on many famous explorations, including Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, Darwin's epic journey of discovery, and the Lewis and Clark trek through the Louisiana Purchase in 1805. In a number of these cases the artist was also the scientist - this sketch page of a Salmon is by Meriwether Lewis.
Study of a Dog John Constable 1814
Salmon by Meriwether Lewis 1805-06
Market scene by Isabel Fiadeiro 2011
The art of sketching is alive and well, in case you're wondering. I belong to a group called Urban Sketchers - they started as a blog and now have a world-wide presence with contributors from all over the world. The range of styles and perspectives is breathtaking - I'm always torn between admiration and jealousy! This colorful watercolor sketch is by Isabel Fiadeiroof Mauritania. I believe I'm the only member from Philadelphia - if anyone else is out there drawing, let me know and we can start our own chapter!Explore Turner's sketchbooks http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/BrowseGroup?cgroupid=999999995
Get to know Urban Sketchers http://www.urbansketchers.org/
In the new galleries of the American Wing
American Art is in the news right now. The Metropolitan Museum in New York has just completed a complete overhaul of the American Wing, one of the brightest jewels in the Museum's ever-fascinating profusion of courts, corners, and dedicated spaces. The official announcement describes 'expanded, reconceived, and dramatic new galleries' - I can't wait to see it and promise a full report when I do.
Thomas Cole 'The Oxbow' 1836
In the meantime, American Art is also on display in Paris at the Louvre, in the exhibit 'New Frontier: l'art americain entre au Louvre' (American Art Enters the Louvre.) As you can tell by the title, there is nothing reconceived here; this is the first time American Art has ever been shown in the Louvre. The show is a collaboration with three American Museums, and the focus is on the art of the 19th century, particularly that of Thomas Cole. Thus the apt title 'New Frontier'; Thomas Cole is considered the founder of the Hudson River School, the group of landscape painters including Frederick Church and Asher Durand, who painted the expansive (and fast disappearing) wide open 'new' world of the Americas.
Frederic Edwin Church 'The Heart of the Andes' 1859
Phenomenal artists with a jaw-dropping legacy of enormous, magnificent canvases, their brushes often seem to have been dipped as much in Romantic longing as in paint - luminescent lighting effects in many of the works evoke an intentionally moral and spiritual aura. The Met owns several prime examples of the Hudson River School, including Cole's The Oxbow: View from Mt. Holyoke, Massachusetts after a Thunderstorm (1836) and Heart of the Andes by Church. (Parisians will have to travel to New York to see these 19th c. American icons.)
CW Peale 'George Washington at the Battle of Princeton' 1781
The Met is not limited like the Louvre, which allows no art in the collection more recent than the 19th century, but most of what you'll see in the American Wing is of the Colonial period to the end of the 1800's, including decorative arts as well as painting and sculpture. Among the prize works are favorite portraits by homegrown artists, most of whom made their names by starting with study in Europe - Benjamin West (born in Pennsylvania, who stayed on in London to become Painter to King George III and to train other American artists), John Singleton Copley, Thomas Sully, Charles Wilson Peale, and others. We owe many of our ideas of our Founding Fathers and the beginnings of this country to the portraits by these painters.
Robert Fulton 'Susan Hayne Simmons' 1813
One of the most interesting discoveries in the Met's on-line American Collection for me was portraits by men who we know much better as scientists and inventors. Robert Fulton, before he gave himself over to the subject of steam power, was known for his delicate miniatures of fashionable ladies (as in this watercolor and ivory portrait of Susan Hayne Simmons) and especially for his fine attention to hair and jewelry.
Samuel F. B. Morse 'The Muse' 1836-37
Samuel F. B. Morse, who, like Fulton, trained in Europe, tried his best to make it as an artist, but finally gave it up - and invented the telegraph! This beautiful painting from 1836-37 is an allegorical portrait of his eldest daughter, Susan, as a muse of drawing.
engraving by one of CW Peale's 17 children, many of whom were artists
Charles Wilson Peale, another of America's pioneering artists, was as well known in his time for his museum of natural history, which included a mastodon skeleton that he 'obtained' in 1801. His 'cabinet of curiosities' occupied the second floor of the State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia.
Charles Wilson Peale Self Portrait 'The Artist in his Museum' 1822
Thomas Cole 'Clove in the Catskills' 1827
There is something very right about this championing of both arts and science in one individual - it fits the American creation story of idealists with big ideas but with their feet on the ground, ready to roll up their sleeves and do what had to be done. American art on view in both New York and Paris attests, in many intriguing ways, to the beauty and magnitude of that founding philosophy.Take a tour of the American Wing as it opens with the Director and Curator http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/20012492?vid=f43563f3-25d4-4793-b356-37656fa87504
Jane Avril by Toulouse Lautrec 1893
Words and visual art. The combination is an old and fruitful one, not just something invented by grafitti artists. I find a lot of it in contemporary art, so here's a look back at the tradition. Posters, of course, have a starring role. The inventive compositions of Toulouse Lautrec, among the best of all poster designs, went hand in with the development of color lithography at the end of the 18th century. If you've ever pined to be part of the nightlife of turn-of-the-century Paris, like Marion Cotillard in 'Midnight in Paris', you can blame it on those lively Lautrec posters!
see the history of posters with the weblink below
Further back, you can find the Greeks including lettering on their ceramic vessels, prompting understanding of complex stories of gods, heroes, and mythic events with what are essentially the credits. This example is a bit gory, but at least you know who's doing what.
Beautiful examples of words and art abound in Western Art. The magnificent Book of Kells, from the 9th century, is more art in words than words with art. Each vellum page, decorated heavily with color and twisting puzzles of design and Christian meaning, is a tribute to artistic imagination and invention - and courage. The Book of Kells was created during the so-called 'Dark Ages,' when European civilization was at daily deadly risk from marauders - it is thought to have been created in the Abbey of Kells, north of Dublin (where it now resides in Trinity College) though may have been created elsewhere and brought along with monks fleeing the Vikings.
page from 13th c bestiary
A bit later, in more peaceful times, words and images come together in ways that reflect increasingly worldly concerns. Bestiaries, which had a fruitful period of popularity during the Middle Ages, began as reflections of a Divine Natural World, but evolved into explorations of early science. Illustrations and descriptions may border on - or be - fantasy, but they attest to a growing human hunger for knowledge about the real world.
Speaking of fantasy, William Blake lived in a world that wasn't quite of this earth at times and he documented his visions carefully in words and images. His beautiful poem, The Tyger, is here illustrated in his unmistakeable style, a blend of realism, naivete, and charm.
see more of his impressive work with the weblink below
It's impossible to consider words and art without including the masterful Arabic tradition, in which there is virtually no division between art and calligraphy. Non-Arabic readers don't need to struggle with the question of what is being said (often references to Allah and the Koran) to marvel at the compositions of gorgeous forms and twining shapes. This exquisite page is a contemporary example by a living calligrapher named Ozcay.
Apollo and the Artist 1975 Cy Twombly Modern American artists working with imagery and words include Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol, for very different purposes. Twombly, in his wonderful series "Fifty Days at Illium" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, connects back to those Greek ceramic artists, using words and names to help tell his personal story of attachment to the Greek myths and European art.
Coke Bottle Andy Warhol Warhol, on the other hand, makes a typically wry and witty comment on consumerism and the place of commodities in American life.
And of course, there's grafitti - it won't go away, it's been around as long as there have been walls to write it on. The current moment of grafitti is an exceptionally creative one - you may not agree with the principle of grafitti but there's some beautiful work out there helping carrying on a long tradition of words and art.
Do you have a favorite combination of words and art? Leave a comment and tell me about it!
141 N 3rd St Philadelphia
Of Chinese astrology's five elements, wood is associated with harmony and cooperation. Wood is also the heart and soul of the newly reinstalled Center for Art in Wood in Old City, Philadelphia, and harmony and cooperation are on full display. The Center for Art in Wood, which began in 1986 in response to a series of exhibitions and symposia, is recognized as 'one of the most valuable resources for the education, preservation and promotion of the field of art made from wood.' Residencies and outreach programs, an extensive permanent collection, exhibitions, and a research library mark it as the heart of an intriguing traditional and contemporary world.
X Series by Todd Hoyer
This is not a jolly uncle's good natured whittling; the woodworking here is the absolute pinnacle of art, form, imagination, and craftsmanship. "Turning to Art in Wood: A Creative Journey," the 25th Anniversary exhibition of the permanent collection (on display until April 21, 2012) is a stunning experience, organized to invite the viewer on a meandering path from one breathtaking piece to the next. Make your way through the beautiful airy space, noting how groups of objects focus on a technique, a type of wood, another marvelous idea of how to coax the amazing material of wood into yet another fantastic form and finish.
Cor Blimey by Robin Wood
Whatever you think you know about woodworking, you're going to be surprised by how much more there is to be imagined, built, turned, polished, created. Wood in all forms sits on the floor, stands on pedestals and platform, hangs on the walls; one engaging work, a pile of rough, unfinished turned forms clusters against one inner wall under a video showing the artist, Robin Wood, at work. Silent but dynamic, Mr. Wood's presence in the gallery is a quietly compelling reminder of the labor that went into each of these objects, no matter how perfectly pristine in finished form.
Untitled Galen Carpenter Pristine is certainly the word for Galen Carpenter's exquisite inlaid vessel made of common chipboard inlaid with exotic rosewood and zircote, a combination that is as successful as unlikely.
Natural Desire by Jack Larimore
Natural Desire, which spoof the idea of function into rich substantial sculptures, and Joanne Shima's Child's Chair, reminiscent of Gerrit Reitveld's painted icon and seemingly built of nostalgic TinkerToys. Some pieces take a whimsical tack, like Jack Larimore's hefty chairs, titled
Torus by Hap Sakwa and The Turner's Palett by Robert F. Lyon
Torus bowl of laquered poplar and maple and Robert F. Lyon's The Turner's Palett #2, a simple form delightful in its construction of basswood and colored pencils. Color makes a good pairing of Hap Sakwa's highly polished
Palo Santo and Maple Swirl by Gianfranco Angelini Gianfranco Angelini's elegant curved plate is one of many examples of unusual woods used for fine woodworking; his is a combination of common maple with Peruvian Palo Santo, a wood that is said to have been used by the Incas for spiritual cleansing.
Nagare Vessel by Dale Nish
. The 'wormy ash' wood has a soft velvety tone, and the natural holes and trails contribute to a topography that is a beautifully conceived and finished conversation between artist, material, and the grander idea of nature itself. The result could not be a more perfect reminder of the spirit of harmony and cooperation represented by the woodworker's art. The Center for Art in Wood is at 141 N 3rd Street Philadelphia 19106
Turning to Art in Wood: A Creative Journey is on display through April 21, 2012http://www.centerforartinwood.org/
If I had to pick a favorite - it would be very difficult - I might opt for Dale Nish's