Portraits & Pets – A Museworthy Art Show

Companions. Loved ones. Models. Friends. Souls – human and animal – with faces and gazes, personalities and body language, stories and histories. Followers of this blog contributed works of art – in a most glorious array of expressions – to a little online art show themed “Portraits and Pets”. Some included brief descriptions to accompany their work, others let their art stand alone. Each one is thoroughly unique, and a gesture of participation in this blog’s congenial community. And your blog hostess was honored to participate right along with you. I now present …”Portraits and Pets”! Enjoy 🙂

Ron Anticevich
Radar
oil on linen
Simi Valley, California

Mark Wummer
Finding Flint
watercolor
“Flint is a fifty-five pound black lab that started his life training to be a service dog but decided on a career change, and instead became our son’s family pet. He can curl himself into a ball of black fur so tightly that it’s tough to know what part of him you are looking at.”
Reading, Pennsylvania

Derek James Tewey
Mariama, my sister, 1935-2017
acrylic
“I miss her”
Brisbane, Australia

Dave Moran
Hero
graphite
“my pit bull mix”
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Fred Hatt
Leo and My Foot
Aquarelle crayon and gouache on grey paper
Brooklyn, New York

Todd Fife
Ilex
pencil, acrylic, coffee, gold leaf
Bowling Green, Kentucky

Daniel Maidman
Felix
oil on canvas
Brooklyn, New York

Bill MacDonald
Young Man with a Beard
colored pencil over graphite
Quincy, Massachusetts

Two from
Susan Berkowitz
King
gouache, watercolor, and acrylic on aquaboard
Brooklyn, New York

Susie
oil pastel

Rob Carroll
Lulu
HB pencil
Swindon, UK

Bruce Williams
Claudia and Ika
hand-colored drypoint
New York City

Two from
Judy Waller
Best of Friends
watercolor on paper
“At home in the studio where she lives and works, her little parrot Beatrix can almost always be seen sitting contentedly on Lita’s shoulder. Lita starts every day by holding Beatrix in her palm and stroking her feathers, much to the little bird’s obvious delight. They truly are ‘Best of Friends!'”
Roseburg, Oregon

Siesta
watercolor on paper
“My painting of Mike and his dog Sophie captures the tender affection between the two, in a peaceful moment of repose. Mike has a natural affinity for animals, and can befriend even the most reluctant dog or cat almost instantly.”

Elaine Hajian
Patriarch
pastel
“My grandfather who came to America to escape the Armenian Genocide. Honoring a gentle man who will live forever in our hearts.”
New York City

Mark Kurdziel
Blu
oil on linen
Jersey City, New Jersey

Christopher Hickey
Anne’s Black Bird
etching tinted with watercolor
“our cat Noelle has a cameo role”
Atlanta, Georgia

Francisco Malonzo
Connie 3
acrylic
New York City

Rosanne Kaloustian
Rose
pastel
“This painting of my aunt was created from an old black and white photo … remembering the good old days.”
New York City

Roberta Moring
Pauly
acrylic
“My muse is my beautiful African Ring-Neck parrot”
West Bend, Wisconsin

Claudia Hajian
Jessie and her Blue Toy
pastel on paper
New York City

Pumpkinhead

A dear friend of mine – someone very special to me – had a birthday this weekend. So I emailed him an artwork that I knew would make him smile. It did 🙂 Then, while modeling today, it occurred to me that it might make a fun Museworthy Halloween post.

The work is a ‘self-portrait’ by Jamie Wyeth – son of Andrew Wyeth and grandson of N.C. Wyeth. Yes, it is a man with a pumpkin head. I will let Jamie Wyeth himself explain how this painting came to be, with an excerpt from an interview he gave with a public radio station in Boston:

“I had been elected to the National Academy of Design in New York, and one of the requirements was that you give a portrait, a self-portrait of yourself. Well, I didn’t want to do myself in a self-portrait, but I love pumpkins. It’s the sinisterness, the Halloween I’ve always loved. It’s a little bit edgy. So I did it and of course they were furious and rejected it.”

Pumpkinhead, 1972:

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That Jamie Wyeth submitted this odd, quirky pumpkinhead as his ‘self-portrait’ membership requirement to a panel of stuffy academicians might be my new favorite art anecdote. A scion of a family of great artists, who have been unfairly dismissed by the fine art establishment as mere “illustrators”, submits an offbeat work instead of something safe and traditional. Gotta love it. Team Wyeth all the way!

Happy Halloween everyone! I’ll see you all very soon with cool stuff, photos, updates, drawings and dispatches from the modeling platform. Peace, friends.

Départ pour le Sabbat by Albert Joseph Pénot, 1910:

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Amrita Sher-Gil

She has been called “the Indian Frida Kahlo”. To a fellow 20th century female painter with the same fearless and rebellious spirit as the Mexican icon, the moniker is no doubt a great compliment. Though her life and career were brief, Amrita Sher-Gil defied conventional norms and left a legacy as India’s most celebrated woman artist of the modern era.

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She came into the world blessed with privileged circumstances, and was reared with an Indo-European cultural identity that would shape her sensibilities as she matured. Amrita Sher-Gil was born in Budapest in 1913 to highly accomplished and well-connected parents. Her father was a Sikh aristocrat and scholar, and her mother was a Hungarian opera singer. Both of them encouraged and supported their daughter’s art education and training. The family moved to Shimla in northern India when Amrita was a child and she began creating her first artworks at the age of five. By the time she was in her teens Amrita, accompanied by her mother, was studying sculpture in Italy and, later, painting in France at the esteemed Ecole des Beaux Arts.

With the requisite formal academic training under her belt, Amrita was ready to discover her authentic voice. I find it fascinating how a young woman in the 1920s and 30s, whose experiences overlapped between the European west, British Raj, and traditional India, manages to find a sense of cultural belonging. Amrita’s fiercely independent spirit and fervent curiosity surely helped her navigate the unique cultural patchwork in which she found herself. In photos of Amrita taken during various stages of her life, she appears in some of them wearing traditional Indian dress, and in others wearing bathing suits and fashionable western clothing.

During her years in Paris, Amrita drew profound inspiration from the works of Cezanne, and post-Impressionists like Gauguin and van Gogh. Gauguin, with his subjects of native people and village life, and use of bold lines and rich palettes, became a particularly strong influence and is evident in many of Sher-Gil’s paintings.

Hungarian Gypsy Girl, 1932:

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One of Amrita’s most well-known works, this is Three Girls, 1935. It was her first painting upon returning to India from Europe. She wrote, “I realized my real artistic mission, to interpret the life of Indians and particularly the poor Indians pictorially; to paint those silent images of infinite submission and patience,… to reproduce on canvas the impression those sad eyes created on me.”

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Painting of Sumair, Amrita’s cousin, 1936:

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A lovely photo of a smiling Amrita with three of her paintings:

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In 1938, against her parents’ wishes, Amrita married her first cousin on the Hungarian side of her family, Victor Egan, and returned to India for good. Amrita realized that she was destined to paint in India and India alone, never having felt completely comfortable, artistically, in Europe. As she put it, “There [Europe] I was not natural and honest because I was born with a certain thirst for colour and in Europe the colours are pale – everything is pale.” The couple first settled in Uttar Pradesh, where Amrita immersed herself in painting themes of rural Indian life and the struggling poor, particularly the women and children, whom she portrayed with solemn empathy.

Hill Women:

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Part of Sher-Gil’s “South Indian Trilogy”, this is Bride’s Toilet, 1937:

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In 1941, Amrita and Victor moved to Lahore (present day Pakistan). Then, tragically, Amrita fell ill and slipped into a coma in December of that year. The cause of death is not known, although it’s been speculated to have been possibly food poisoning, peritonitis, or a botched abortion. She was only 28 years old. A woman of liberated modern mind who chose to remain artistically faithful to her indigenous roots. Frida Kahlo approves.

Sculpture, Picasso Style

Regular museum visitors know the rules when it comes to photography. At most New York museums, photography (with no flash) is allowed in all the galleries which house works of the permanent collection. Special exhibitions, however, prohibit photography of any kind. Try to take a quick pic on your iPhone and you can expect one of the guards to admonish you. “Sorry ma’am, no photography”. You will then be handcuffed and escorted to an interrogation room <– just kidding 😉 So imagine my delight when I was told that photography WAS allowed at the recent “Picasso Sculpture” show at MoMA. Yay! The show ended its five month run on February 7th, and I saw it in its final few days, which is how I see most of the big acclaimed art shows in town – when the end date is looming! I’m very glad I didn’t miss this one.

Picasso had formal training in painting and drawing only. So his approach to sculpture was motivated by experimental impulses, ingenuity, and his fertile creative mind, all of which were abundantly on display in this exhibit. What we witnessed, from gallery to gallery, was a man engaged in self-taught exploration, working in three-dimensions, letting his imagination run free, salvaging metal and wood scraps, found objects, paper and paint, cardboard, string, nails, plants, plaster, bronze, and anything he could get his hands on. In a wide array of subject matter – women, animals, children, instruments, etc. -Picasso’s sculptural expressions alternate from childlike to muscular, classical to avant-garde, spontaneous to engineered. He worked big, he worked small, and continued to experiment with sculpture for decades – a perpetual student – up to the mid-1960s. It was a truly fun and fascinating show.

This is just a sampling of the works, and among the ones I’ve chosen to post there is surely something for everyone here. I took all the photos in this post, so feel free to download, keep, and share!

Woman with Hat, painted sheet metal:

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Maquette for Richard J. Daley Center Sculpture, oxidized welded steel:

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Head of a Woman, painted sheet metal and iron wire:

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Little Horse, painted metal with wheels:

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Sylvette, painted sheet metal:

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Kneeling Woman Combing Her Hair, bronze:

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Head of a Woman (Fernande), bronze:

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Guitar, ferrous sheet metal and wire:

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Picasso did six versions of this, Glass of Absinthe, in painted bronze with an actual absinthe spoon. He made the sugar cube also from a piece of bronze. A very popular alcoholic spirit in Picasso’s day, absinthe was prepared by pouring it over a sugar cube and then diluting with water:

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Guitar, painted sheet metal, painted tin box, and iron wire:

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Composition with Glove, glove, cardboard, plants sewn and glued, coated with sand:

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Seated Woman, bronze:

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Part of the memorial monument to Guillaume Apollinaire, French poet and friend of Picasso who died in 1918. Head of a Woman, iron, sheet metal, springs, and painted metal colanders:

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Also from the Monument to Apollinaire, Woman in the Garden, welded and painted iron:

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Head of a Woman, plaster:

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One of my favorites, The Reaper, plaster and wood:

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And another one of my favorites, this rough but quirky Little Owl, painted bronze with nails:

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Woman Carrying a Child, painted wood and section of palm leaf:

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Cat, bronze:

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The Orator, plaster, stone, and metal dowel:

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Man with a Lamb, bronze:

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The Bathers, wood and gesso:

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I’ll let the man himself sign off this post. Picasso’s signature on the back of one of his sheet metal creations:

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da Forlì’s Angels

If the walls of my modest home weren’t already covered with framed artwork featuring one model – yes, that would be me 🙂 – I would want to time travel back to the Renaissance and commission one of the great Italian fresco painters of the 15th and 16th centuries to paint my home’s interior. He could adorn these plaster walls with stories, allegories, figures and faces, depicting themes of theology, philosophy, poetry, and the human condition. I couldn’t afford to pay him, mind you, but perhaps he’d be willing to barter his services for some art modeling.

For today’s Music Monday we have some surviving fragments of a fresco painted by Melozzo da Forlì for the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles in Rome in the late 1400s. Today they are on view at the Pinacoteca Gallery in the Vatican Art Museums. These are “music-making angels”, celestial and beautiful with their lutes, drums, violins and tambourines. The third one would look lovely in my bedroom. Anyone up for a decorative house painting gig? 😉

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DaForli-Angel

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An Artist Unearthed

To disobey a person’s wishes in the event of their death seems an inconsiderate thing to do. I know I’d be pissed if the instructions I left behind were ignored. But in some rare instances it might be wise to respectfully defy the wishes of the deceased. Such is the case of Arthur Pinajian, an Armenian-American artist who died in 1999 and whose body of works were discovered in 2007 in a dilapidated cottage in Bellport, Long Island. With no heirs or loved ones with a vested interest, Arthur Pinajian insisted that after his death his artwork be thrown in the garbage – specifically, dumped into the Brookhaven landfill. His sister, with whom he lived, knew of Arthur’s wish for the works to be discarded but allowed them to languish – paintings, drawings, and notebooks in disorderly piles, under a leaky roof, splotched with mold and mildew. After she died a few years later, two investors, Thomas Schultz and Lawrence Joseph, purchased the property with the intention of renovating it. Little did they know that the angels of fortuity would drop an enormous stash of never before seen art in their laps. Serendipity happens, folks. Believe it.

I feel a bond with this story for two reasons. One is that Pinajian was Armenian, as am I. And when a talented Armenian receives positive attention that makes me happy. The other is that I am an inveterate saver. I can’t bring myself to throw out anything that holds even an iota of value, whether it be sentimental, historical, or practical. I never would have been able to carry out Pinajian’s wishes, and how lucky we are that his discoverers couldn’t do it either. As Thomas Schultz himself explained, “I didn’t want to be the person responsible for throwing a man’s life’s work into a dumpster”.

I was thrilled to see the Pinajian exhibit when I was in East Hampton last week. Howard Shapiro, the curator at Lawrence Fine Art Gallery, was kind enough to let me take a few pictures which I’ve posted here. It’s just a miniscule sample of a breathtakingly versatile artist who, at his best, rides neck and neck alongside Picasso, Gauguin, Kline, Mondrian, and his Armenian brethren Arshile Gorky.

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While Pinajian may not have found his way into the upper echelons of the fine art world, his life and career were not at all misspent. A child of Armenian Genocide survivors, Pinajian grew up in New Jersey and became a self-taught and well-respected cartoonist. He created comic book illustrations during the 1930s and 40s. He won a Bronze Star for valor in World War II, and attended the Art Students League on the G.I. Bill. Pinajian was personally acquainted with his contemporaries, the abstract expressionists who dominated the postwar art scene, and experimented vigorously with style and color. But he was, for whatever reason, unable to break through into Pollock and de Kooning levels of acclaim.

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There is something really bittersweet about this kind of story; an artist toils away in the shadows for decades and can’t get a gallery owner to return his calls, and then after he dies is “discovered”, purely by chance, and galleries clamor to hang his work, some of which is selling for tens of thousands of dollars. My mother owns a Pinajian, a small abstract pastel of gentle colors.

Some good reads on the Arthur Pinajian journey from obscurity to posthumous recognition:

Arthur Pinajian: An art world genius lost, found, and now worth millions

Who Was Arthur Pinajian? Master of Abstraction Discovered

The Pinajian Discovery

Short video on YouTube about Arthur Pinajian

Revealing the Art of Arthur Pinajian, Armenian Weekly

Arthur Pinajian website

and the Facebook page of the Estate Collection of Arthur Pinajian

Chasing Isabel – Gaston Lachaise and his Muse

So fellas, how far would you travel to be with the woman you love? The woman who inspires you? For French-born sculptor Gaston Lachaise the distance was 3,400 miles, though we can presume he would have traveled a lot farther than that for his muse, the person who set afire both his artistic imagination and erotic passions. For an attraction that powerful, a trip across the Atlantic is a mere walk down the block.

She was Isabel Dutaud Nagle, an American woman vacationing in Paris during the early 1900s. Gaston Lachaise was still a young 20 year old art student at the Académie Nationale des Beaux-Arts when he first caught sight of her walking along the Seine. He was instantaneously captivated. There was only one problem; Isabel was married. She was also ten years his senior.

Isabel Nagle photographed in Paris, 1904:

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The son of a skilled woodcarver and cabinetmaker, Gaston Lachaise received training in the decorative arts from the age of 13. Immersed in apprenticeships and a supportive family, Gaston Lachaise was on a solid path to a life of creating art. But then, with a promising career in sculpture ready to break out, Lachaise did the unthinkable. At a time when artists from all over the world came TO Paris, often without a dollar to their name, to study and create and live in the city that was the happening, stimulating hub of vitality for artists during the 1900s  – Gaston Lachaise did the opposite. He made plans to leave Paris and follow Isabel to her home in Boston. On the surface it seemed he was going in the wrong direction. For an up and coming artist in 1904, Paris was the place to be, the heart, the “scene”. But in a choice between hobnobbing with Picasso, Modigliani, and art dealers in Montparnasse, or packing up and relocating to America to be with the woman he loved, Lachaise chose the latter.

But the logistics of such a move were not without snags. In 1903, the year Lachaise turned 21, he was was drafted into the French Army. He served an uneventful 12 months during which he could not see his beloved Isabel. It was also during this time that Isabel had to return to Boston. Her husband was a wealthy businessman who refused to grant her a divorce until their son Edward was grown and enrolled in Harvard. Isabel accepted those conditions. In the meantime, Gaston Lachaise was discharged from the army and, instead of returning to formal study, secured a steady job in the studios of René Lalique where he cast jewelry, modeled vases and other art nouveau objects that were all the rage of the day. Before long he had earned enough money to pay for his passage across the Atlantic plus $60. His girl was waiting for him.

Isabel doing a nice nude twist on the rocks:

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On December 5, 1905, Gaston Lachaise set sail for America. He arrived in Boston one month later and was reunited with his muse. He would never return to France again. Lachaise found work in the atelier of sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson and enjoyed the time he and Isabel were able to spend together. They listened to music, discussed art and books, and attended concerts. When Kitson moved to New York City, to a studio on MacDougal Street, Lachaise followed him. Isabel came soon after. By 1912, Lachaise was assistant to Paul Manship and about to enter the period of formidable personal expression in his own work, driven of course by his enchanting and inspiring muse. Of Isabel he wrote, “through her the splendor of life was uncovered for me and the road of wonder began widening.”.

Gaston Lachaise’s figurative sculptures are known for their Junoesque stature and voluptuous dimensions. Certainly Isabel was no skinny waif, but she was not quite the imposing figure of Gaston’s work either. In reality she was only 5’2″ tall and weighed around 110 pounds. But like many artists are inclined to do, Lachaise exaggerated for artistic effect, amplifying the sensuousness, strength, and vigorous force of the human form. This is one of Lachaise’s most famous works of Isabel, “Elevation”, in bronze. A fascinating sculpture that presents a full-figured torso and thick thighs in an active gesture balancing effortlessly on the tiptoes of tiny delicate feet. It looks as if she could lift off and float away, light as a feather.

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It’s hard to miss the influences of Rodin and Maillol. They along with Lachaise exalted the human form to archetypes of potency, energy, and forces of nature. Committed to his vision of “Woman” as he felt it and experienced it through Isabel, Gaston Lachaise remained faithful to his passions and his artistic vocabulary.

This is Gaston Lachaise’s “Floating Figure” at the National Gallery of Australia, also inspired by Isabel. Completed in plaster in 1927, there are seven bronze casts in existence altogether. At first glance we see an almost caricature-like exaggeration. But Lachaise is presenting us with curvaceous lines and shapes, which are inherently womanly and feminine, a disproportionately small head, and a cross-legged seated pose with outstretched arms that communicates a peculiar mixture of control, tranquility, expansiveness. An odd, original, memorable work of modern figurative sculpture:

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1917 was a banner year for Gaston Lachaise. He became a United States citizen, finally married the now-divorced Isabel, and was preparing for his solo show of sculpture and drawing at Stephan Bourgeois Galleries in New York. The next seventeen years brought more exhibitions, commissions, great success and critical acclaim, and the purchase of a summer home in Maine. In retrospect, Lachaise’s infatuation-induced decision to leave Paris for America was a wise one, however impulsive it may have been. His union with Isabel was happily made official, and his career flourished in his adopted homeland. He called America “The New World” and added that “The American soil is fresh. It is fertile. Flowers and fruit of new species will come forth from it to lighten the world.” The old adage about following your heart is exemplified by the journey of Gaston Lachaise.

And then, in 1935, Lachaise’s life and career were cut short by the sudden onset of acute leukemia. He died just months after a triumphant retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art. Isabel Nagle, who left her previous husband to be with Gaston Lachaise, was now his widow. He had written 567 love letters to her and credited her as his “primary inspiration”. Isabel lived for another 25 years after Gaston’s death.

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An invaluable source of images and information for this post came from the Lachaise Foundation . Definitely check them out to learn more. Also of interest, an old art review from the New York Times