Bow Brush Body

I have known Fred Hatt for almost 12 years. Over the course of our friendship, his inexhaustible well of artistic expression and experimentation has never ceased to amaze me. I’d like to share this mesmerizing Fred Hatt project with Museworthy readers. From Vimeo:

Strokes of a violin bow, traces of a paintbrush, and the gestures of the body: dancer Kuan-Ling Tsai, artist Fred Hatt, and musician Andrei Matorin bring three art forms together in a collaborative shadow-screen performance.

Where’s My Kale?

Leafy greens have rarely let me down in my modest, space/sun challenged little garden in Queens. Lettuces especially perform with gusto. This year I decided to add kale to the mix, planted in its own separate tub. The seedlings were off to a fine start, looking cute and perky. I checked them everyday, until one morning a few weeks ago when I went outside to the garden and the kale was … all gone! Poof. Eradicated. Annihilated. Devoured overnight by a mysterious ravenous pest! Nothing else was touched, only the kale. It was funny though and I laughed about it after my bewilderment passed. It felt like the vegetable gods declared, to paraphrase Seinfeld, “No kale for you!!

But my swiss chard survived the assault unscathed. Yay for swiss chard! Some of my early batch:

I’m no expert gardener by any means. I just wing it most of the time and the results are hit or miss, varying from year to year. I’ve had excellent carrots and so-so scallions, wayward dill and respectable mint. It’s all part of the fun for me. Plant some seeds, water, and see what happens. I’m eagerly awaiting my tomatoes which aren’t ripe yet but the plants are healthy and pest free.

Vegetable Gardens, Mikhail Berkos, 1895:

So Museworthy readers, what’s growing in your gardens? Any kale? 😆

Miss Gardner’s House

I took a day trip to Boston recently and if it turns out to be my only excursion out of New York this summer, that would be just fine. Because what a marvelous day it was! I took the train up to Beantown for two reasons: to see my dear friend Bill MacDonald and to visit, finally, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which was closed for renovations the last time I was in Boston a few years ago. The phrase “must see” might be overused at times, but in the case of the Gardner Museum it is truly appropriate. For art lovers of all stripes, the Gardner is absolutely a “must see”. What a great place! It is the embodiment of its founder – the flamboyant, eccentric art collector and philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner.

Painting of Isabella Stewart Gardner by Anders Zorn:

Bill led me first to the courtyard garden and I was instantly captivated. An exquisitely designed space that combines sculptural, architectural, and horticultural elements in beautiful, serene harmony. As I wandered around, it reminded me somewhat of The Cloisters gardens/courtyards in Fort Tryon Park.

Isabella Stewart was born in New York City in 1840 to a well-to-do family. When she was 20 she married John Lowell Gardner, a successful Boston businessman, and the couple spent years traveling the world collecting art, furniture, objects and antiquities. After John Gardner died, Isabella began to fulfill their shared dream of building a museum to house their treasures and display them for the public. On a marshy plot of land in Boston’s Fenway district, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was built. The maverick spirit of its patron infuses the place. Isabella Stewart Gardner served champagne and donuts on New Year’s Day, kept a pet lion, drank beer, was a faithful Red Sox fan, and a devout Episcopalian. She was Boston’s “Bohemian Millionairess”.

Light conditions inside the Gardner are not very conducive to photography, as it leans toward the dim. But I’ll share some pictures I took anyway even though they’re less than perfect. This one will be familiar to many of you. Nestled in its own private nook is this John Singer Sargent masterpiece, his famous El Jaleo:

Beautiful wall tiles around the garden perimeter:

One of the Gardner Museum’s quirks – an endearing one in my opinion – is its seemingly haphazard arrangement of its art and objects. The orderly, heavily curated groupings we usually see at other museums don’t exist at the Gardner. Instead, the randomness of a religious Renaissance painting hanging a few feet from a Degas pastel, or a hunk of medieval stained glass in the near vicinity of a Japanese screen, provides a peculiarly pleasurable experience in which you are not having a structured art history lesson forced upon you. You’re just enjoying Isabella’s treasures and seeing them arranged as she wanted you to see them.

The Gardner Museum was the site of a notorious art heist back in 1990. The thieves got away with thirteen works of art, among them a Vermeer and a large piece by Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Bill showed me the empty spaces on the gallery wall where those missing works used to be. But there are other Rembrandts there to see, notably one of his finest self-portraits, along with works by Titian, Raphael, Whistler, and Fra Angelico. Drawings, prints, decorative arts, Islamic, Asian, European, American … a magnificent medley of tastes and genres. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is without a doubt in my top three favorite museums.

After the Gardner, my gracious host and Boston tour guide Bill walked us just a short way over to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. What treasures awaited us there? Oh just some paintings by a guy named Botticelli, and another guy named Matisse. It was a damn good art day 😉

The icing on the cake of that lovely day was the cooperation of Mother Nature. The weather could not have been more perfect. Sunny, warm but not hot, a little breezy. Warm thanks to Bill for taking the time to spend a few hours with me. You’re my Boston man!

Swan Song

Artist’s models ply their trade in an assortment of venues, posing everywhere from prestigious fine art academies to grimy basement studios. We regard each of our venues in various ways based on our experiences: the one that pays us well, the one with clean fabrics and ample cushions, and the one that causes us aggravation, pretentious people here, nice, down-to-earth folks there. We feel appreciated at some, under-appreciated at others. Comes with the territory.

The National Academy, for me, is the place where my full time art modeling career was launched eleven years ago. I had gone up there just a week earlier to get my name on file, fill out the necessary forms, and let them know I was ready to start whenever they needed me. I had done the same at the Art Students League. Both schools gave me the old, “We have nothing right now but will call you if something comes up”. But lo and behold the call did come, just a few days later from Amelia, the then-model coordinator at the National Academy. With only 24 hours notice, she asked if I was available to fill in for a model who had to cancel. I was thrilled, and grateful for the opportunity. The class was Tuesday evening life drawing with Henry Finkelstein and, to my delighted surprise, it went spectacularly well. Within five minutes of being up on that platform I knew I wanted to do more of this work. I can honestly say that I was sorry the class had to end after three hours! Sitting on the train going back home to Queens, I knew my life was about to change.

In the years since that class, I’ve modeled continuously and steadily at the National Academy. I’ve seen model coordinators come and go, administrators come and go, models, instructors, and building staff come and go. But despite issues with management, model pay rates and other minor turmoils that institutions are prone to, I’ve never wanted to eliminate the school from my modeling roster. I couldn’t. My sentimental attachment to the place, primarily its role in giving me my first ‘break’, was too strong.

An old early photo of me posing for Sharon Sprung‘s painting class at the National Academy. Around 2007 I think:

So it’s with great sadness that I share the news that the historic National Academy, founded in 1825 by a group of Hudson River School artists, is closing this summer. It’s a major bummer for many reasons. Models are losing a work source, teachers are losing jobs, and the students – the eminently loyal, steadfast, longtime National Academy students who register for classes there every quarter – are losing their place of learning. The final summer sessions are underway and I am modeling for Dan Gheno‘s morning and afternoon Saturday painting class – a class I’ve modeled for more times than I can count. In a few weeks, on August 6th, the National Academy on East 89th Street in the Carnegie Hill section of Manhattan, will close its doors … permanently.

A photo of Dan’s class in Studio 2 from last week, with a work-in-progress painting of me by Diana Martocci:

The two painting studios in the National Academy are really fantastic. High ceilings, spacious, bathed in natural north light. Perfect conditions for painters. It doesn’t get much better than this. Photo of Studio 1 on the second floor:

I’ve always thought of the National Academy as the Art Students League without the drama. New York art people who read this blog will probably understand what I mean by that. While the two schools share a few instructors, and some students, the National Academy is devoid of the crowds, cramped spaces, politics, and weird tensions that exist at the League. What the National has been able to achieve all these years is strike the perfect balance between providing solid art instruction in an atelier style while also allowing students to freely express their individuality as artists. Throw in a warm, laid back, convivial environment and a superb location in the rarefied “Museum Mile” strip on Fifth Avenue, and you’ve got a pretty fine place.

Love this engraved lettering on the exterior of the school building:

The list of Academy members throughout its history reads like a who’s who of art luminaries. John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Helen Frankenthaler, Chuck Close, William Merritt Chase, Richard Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman, Philip Pearlstein, and Frank Gehry are just a few of its famous inductees.

I should clarify that the National Academy’s official announcement is calling this a “hiatus”, implying that the search is on for a new location where the school can be resurrected. I guess we can keep our fingers crossed and hope that happens. The museum part of the National Academy closed last year and the building sold. It is an elegant little gem of a Beaux-Arts mansion and I wonder about its fate. The school was the second shoe to drop. It’s a shame what’s happened. Now I can’t really speak intelligently about the issues which led to this, like how to manage a nonprofit while running on a deficit. I hear it can be done. But I suppose it’s always better to have balanced books, and better still to maintain a clear vision of an institution’s purpose, and engage in sound decision-making.

Then again, nothing lasts forever. Change is inevitable. And while I’m very sad about the Academy’s imminent closing, I’ll always cherish it as the place that set me on my art modeling journey. Thank you National Academy 🙂

In The Stillness

“Burnt Norton”, Four Quartets – T.S. Eliot

Time and the bell have buried the day,
The black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?

.  .  .Chill
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

Flower Clouds, Odilon Redon:

Ignacio Pinazo Camarlench

I posted a figure painting to my Tumblr a couple of weeks ago that has received over 200 likes and reblogs. And we all know that accumulating “likes” on social media is the most sought-after form of validation in our culture, right? Do we even matter if we’re not getting “likes”? How are we to measure our popularity and worth if not by “likes”?? 😛 I’m kidding of course, but there was an eye-catching Impressionistic quality to the painting that appealed to many of my fellow Tumblrers.

By the way, does everyone know that I have a Tumblr? In case you don’t, it’s called meanderings and it’s a collection of images that I find interesting, fun, or intriguing. No commentary like here on Museworthy, just a potpourri of cool stuff. Art, photography, animals, etc. Feel free to check it out and assess my curatorial skills.

So the painting I posted was this nude by the 19th century Spanish artist Ignacio Pinazo Camarlench. In addition to the lovely swimming figure, the teal color is great.

Camarlench was born in Valencia in 1849. He grew up poor and worked in various jobs to help support the family. By the time he was 21 he was enrolled in art academies and on his way to a successful career as a painter, doing commissions, receiving awards, and teaching.

I looked at a lot of his work, and I especially like when he worked in a more painterly style with conspicuous brushstrokes. But he really mixed it up over the course of his life, shifting gears in both style and palette. His subjects range from portraits to landscapes to nudes, and many works of his children. I’ve selected a few to share here with my readers.

Clavariesas:

Nude:

Lovers:

The Procession in Godella:

Icarios’ Games:

Marisa, the artist’s granddaughter:

Mounted Guards:

Nude

And the man himself in a really cool self-portrait from 1895. I dig the hat 🙂

For more Camarlench, including some drawings, go to Museo del Prado.

Bison and Bucket Lists

Over the long break at a modeling job recently, some artists were chatting about their summer plans. Travel, naturally, was the main subject with one person talking about heading up to Maine for a relaxing couple of weeks, others hoping to go to Europe for painting sojourns in Italy and elsewhere. One of the artists mentioned that she was likely going to visit one of the National Parks with her husband, which particularly struck a chord with me. With the exception of a Hajian family vacation in 1973, which included a visit to the Grand Canyon that I can barely remember given that I was five years old, I’ve never set foot in any of America’s National Parks. State parks sure. But no Nationals. Not Yellowstone, not Yosemite, not the Everglades, none of them. And it kind of disappoints me.

When I think about the magnificent North American landscapes – their wildlife, rivers and hot springs, deserts and lakes and coniferous forests, flora and fauna and waterfalls, wolves and otters and eagles – I feel like an American who is missing out on “America’s Best Idea” as PBS called it. I really want to see bison. I do! I’m somewhat obsessed with bison. Why, you wonder? Well, why not? They are the largest land mammal in North America. They are herbivores who will charge your ass at 30 mph if you threaten them. They are the tough, enduring symbol of the American West. They have outlasted adversity at every turn. Bison have been slaughtered by Indians and ranchers alike. Bison bounced back from the brink of extinction in the late 1800s. Bison survived the Ice Age. They are sturdy, stubborn badasses who just don’t give a fuck. This is their continent, we just live on it. Also, their babies are incredibly cute.

American Bison photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

The explorers Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals that enormous herds of bison “darkened the whole plains”. And in 1871, U.S. Soldier George Anderson wrote in a letter that it took a full six days for his men to pass through one herd of what seemed to be “millions” of bison in Kansas.

The Bison Trail by Charles M. Russell, 1908:

Although it can be an interesting, and at times revealing, exercise in exploring personal aspirations, compiling a “bucket list” isn’t something I’ve given much thought to. But to the limited extent that I have, going to Yellowstone National Park and seeing the bison would definitely be on my bucket list. Maybe the time has come for some of us who are middle-aged to start contemplating bucket list goals after so many years spent in a carpe diem style existence. I’ve never been much of a long term goal planner. Nor do I possess a go-getter, ambitious nature. I just don’t have that driven, ‘make things happen’ personality. But hey I can still assemble a bucket list! I think all the summer travel talk at that art class triggered something in me …. regrets over the places I’ve never been, and the things I’ve never seen or experienced.

But imagine a bucket list that allowed for time travel! Now THAT would be tremendous, because we could involve scenarios with individuals who are now dead. For me, that would include being a back-up dancer for Prince, getting bombed on gin & tonics at a bar in Paris with F. Scott Fitzgerald, seeing Charlie Parker perform at Birdland, and modeling for Raphael. Hell yes to all of those.

So here we go … my bucket list. One of these might actually happen and is sort of in the works. Another one was supposed to happen several years ago but never materialized. The others, well, let’s just put them in the “never’ category … for now 😉
1) Go to Burning Man
2) Get up on stage and tell a story at The Moth StorySLAM
3) Visit the Holy Land
4) Open a no-kill animal shelter
5) Snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef
6) Yellowstone + bison
7) Learn to play Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #23
8) Help build a home with Habitat for Humanity

So what’s on your bucket list?