Friday, June 28, 2019

Remember The Ladies

Here are three artists I adore—I love them so much I’d like to be them but, oh, right, I gotta be me.  What I mean is, I look at their work and think, “Gee, I wish I’d thought of that.” But I didn’t, so I stick with what I do, inspired by all the different ways there are to make art.







First, Rest in Peace, Gloria Vanderbilt.  She personifies this quote from Robertson Davies,
“Money can’t buy happiness but it allows us to endure unhappiness with exemplary fortitude.”

She endured unhappiness beyond what most of us can imagine and her fortitude was more than exemplary. She just kept on keeping on.






I love her aesthetic.  I had trouble finding images of her paintings but she was often photographed in the midst of her creation. Like Aunt Connie, she made her home her magnum opus.

A wealthy woman who showed that money is nice but not everything, she was classy and not snobby—she’ll always be an inspiration.


 Florine Stettheimer 1875-1944

Born into a wealthy Jewish family in Rochester New York she had rigorous academic training in Europe and at the Art Students League, where she also served on the board. Never married, she led a lively social life with her mother and two sisters. (Carrie Stettheimer created a magical dollhouse, decorated with tiny works of art by Marcel Duchamps and Gaston Lachaise. You can now see it at the Museum of the City of New York.) They were shut out of New York society because they were Jewish but created a circle of artists and intellectuals that was probably  more interesting and fun than Mrs. Astor's 400.

Florine had one gallery show and didn’t enjoy the experience so decided to show her work in her own home—then wrote this poem:

 Florine Stettheimer 1875-1944
Born into a wealthy Jewish family in Rochester New York she had rigorous academic training in Europe and at the Art Students League, where she also served on the board. Never married, she led a lively social life with her mother and two sisters. (Carrie Stettheimer created a magical dollhouse, decorated with tiny works of art by Marcel Duchamps and Gaston Lachaise. You can now see it at the Museum of the City of New York.) They were shut out of New York society because they were Jewish but created a circle of artists and intellectuals that was probably  more interesting and fun than Mrs. Astor's 400.
Florine had one gallery show and didn’t enjoy the experience so decided to show her work in her own home—then wrote this poem.

OUR PARTIES

Our Parties
Our Picnics
Our Bouquets
Our Friends
Have at last a raison d’ĂȘtre
Seen in color and design
It amuses me
To recreate them
To paint them.






From then on she painted in a new, personal style, loose and faux naive; she made her life into her art and her art into her life.

Carl Van Vechten, noted art critic at the time, wrote, “The Lady had gotten into her art a very modern quality. A quality that ambitious American musicians will have to get into their compositions before anyone will listen to them. At the risk of being misunderstood, I must call this quality jazz.”

You can see her work in the Whitney’s permanent collection and the Jewish Museum gave her a huge show in 2017. You can read about her in Peter Schjeldahl’s piece in the New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/15/revisiting-florine-stettheimers-place-in-art-history



 When I taught Art at Trinity School I often painted in the studio alongside my students. I did a series of large cheerful paintings and hung them in the cafeteria—flowers, vegetables, a swan, a rooster, all with checkerboard borders-appropriate for a room where children eat lunch.  A friend said, “Jeez, where’s the angst? I thought artists were supposed to get drunk at the Cedar Tavern and beat each other up, throw paint around, cut off their ears, live a life of misery and die young. Your work is so ….nice.”

I took it as a compliment.


I don’t think I’m the only woman artist to hear that.



Red Rose Cantata, by Alma Thomas




I first encountered this painting in a staircase at the Museum of Modern Art.  It’s 69” x 60”—bigger than me.  I raced to the gift shop to buy a print and I’ve kept it on my bulletin board ever since.  






The artist is Alma W. Thomas, an African American woman born in 1891 in Columbia Georgia. A graduate of Howard University she taught art until her retirement. She said,  “The use of color in my paintings is of paramount importance to me.  Through color I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.”
There was a gorgeous show of her work at the Studio Museum of Harlem in 2016.You can read about it here: https://www.artsy.net/show/the-studio-museum-in-harlem-alma-thomas.


Three extraordinary women, so different, so amazing.
 They make me want to keep working.











Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Sea

My friend, Jim, took his elderly father to the beach.. The old man sat all day watching the waves and as the sun began to set he said, “It never gets tired.”




 That makes me think of this poem by Mary Oliver:


I go down to the shore in the morning
and, depending on the hour, the waves
are rolling in or moving out,

and I say, Oh, I am miserable,

what shall--
what should I do? And the sea says,
it its lovely voice:
"Excuse me, I have work to do."



The sea may never get tired, and it may have work to do, but we’re putting an enormous burden on it.  It’s choking to death on plastic garbage.

What can we do about it?  When I walk on the beach I try to remember to take a bag and pick up trash.  People see me and thank me and I think, “You could do it too.” 

But what do I do with what I pick up?  I put it in a trash can but can I trust the ones who empty the trash to dispose of it properly?   And what’s proper disposal?  Whee does it all go?

 I carry a reusable bag to the store, and I only buy vegetables that aren't wrapped in plastic but plastic is extremely difficult--actually impossible--to avoid.   I’m making a collection of plastic bottle caps with some kind of art project in mind but really that will just eventually end up as trash.  I feel overwhelmed.


How did we get here? 



FAT FREE OCEAN 




 "Fat Free Ocean" is by my friend and neighbor, Stephen Hall, husband of my pal, Samantha. You can see more of his work at www.stephenhallart.com.

He addresses big questions with exquisitely crafted, powerful images in oil paint.  You should see what he does with guns.

The question I've been wrestling with and we all should ask ourselves is; why are we using indestructible materials for things we use once and throw away?  Because they're cheap?  they're not at all cheap when you factor in what they do to the earth.

 Midway Island, halfway across the Pacific Ocean, is drowning in plastic garbage. We've all seen pictures of birds who've died with a belly full of plastic crap.

We drink water to keep ourselves healthy and we value its purity but we drink it out of a plastic bottle and then the earth chokes on it.

My Dad used to say, "If everyone picked up just one piece of litter everyday, it would clean up the city. Nice thought.

So I've taken to picking up garbage on the street.  Every piece of plastic I see makes me think of what it will do to a fish or a bird.  When I see those styrofoam peanuts flying around I can't breathe.

Do you think I'm crazy?



THE SEA IS RISING







Thursday, June 13, 2019

June is the Month of Dads and Brides

Sunday is Father’s Day,  so here’s an album of some of my favorite Dads.





This is my grandfather, Harry Brown, with my mother and her big brother, Alan.  Sorry it's so fuzzy, but I love this picture. Note the Model T in the background.






My Dad and his Dad, Robert Swanson, Sr. and Jr. I can tell by the shadows and their clothes that it's early morning and they're about to start a big work project.






Dad and his three sons, clockwise from Dad, Alan, Robby and Larry.






Arthur with Jessie and Sam.






My brother, Rob, and his daughter,  Katie.

Last weekend the Bob and Ginny branch of the Swanson clan met on a mountaintop in Vermont with the Pratt family and a multitude of friends to celebrate Katie and Eben’s wedding.

As Justice Anthony Kennedy said,
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were."

Now marriage is for everybody.

This month we celebrate Loving Day, the anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the aptly named 1967 Supreme Court decision which vacated the two 1-year sentences of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter Loving who each pled guilty to a law criminalizing marriage between persons of different races, on the grounds that the Virginia statutory scheme violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.  

That decision was relied upon in U.S. v. Windsor, which granted Edith Windsor a marriage exemption of $363,053 after her Canadian-wed wife passed away and the IRS denied her estate tax refund, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional in the process.
It was most recently cited in Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee’s statutory definition of marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment and recognized a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawful licensed and performed out-of-state.

On June 26, 2015, when that decision was announced, my neighborhood bloomed with signs that said, "LOVE WINS!"

At my church this Sunday we'll have heart shaped sugar cookies and chocolate kisses to share the sweetness becauselove is love is love.








Thursday, June 6, 2019

June 6, 1944

One of the highlights of my week is opening the mailbox and seeing the New Yorker cover.  It’s alway a treat.  Sometimes it’s just a nice picture but more often the artist pinpoints a moment in our collective consciousness.  Like the silhouette of Notre Dame cathedral before a fiery background, titled “Our Lady.”




It makes universal a grief that transcended national and religious differences.  Our Lady survived the fire and the people are already at work restoring her.  There are flames behind her but the orange and yellow could also be the sunrise and we’re reminded that “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.”

As Francoise Mouly, the New Yorker’s art director, said in an interview with Lawrence Weschler, “The artist doesn’t function in a vacuum.  He doesn’t create the feeling that is in the air, but he has a way of catalyzing it and forcing one’s attention to it.”

I have a book of all the New Yorker covers from the very first, February 1, 1925 up to 1989.  It’s a treasure. All those issues, all exactly the same size, week after week. One in particular grabs my attention—July 15, 1944-and today is a good day to talk about it. It commemorated D Day, the invasion by allied forces on the coast of occupied France.

The artist, Rea Irvin, depicted the planning and execution of that monumental effort in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry.

What’s the Bayeux Tapestry? It’s not actually a tapestry but embroidered wool on linen. Measuring 20 inches by 230 inches, it  un-scrolls from left to right like a movie reel to tell the story of a momentous event in our history.

1066 is a date everyone knows; the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror are familiar to us all from History class. Remember the story? Duke William of Normandy decided to cross the English Channel and invade England.  He gathered his forces at Saint Valery-sur-Somme, building long boats, powered by wind and oars, big enough to carry soldiers and horses.







Then he crossed the Channel and landed at Pevensy. He defeated Edward the Confessor, King of England, at the Battle of Hastings,






became William the Conquerer, and ruled England. It’s a turning point in Western Civilization.






 In the days before Gutenberg the Bayeux Tapestry told this story  and preserved it for history.
     Then comes 1944, and the world  is overrun by the forces of evil—Nazi Germany occupies most of Western Europe.  Now an invasion is planned to cross the channel again, not to conquer France but to liberate her. This was Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history, the greatest amphibious operation ever launched. It was a mighty endeavor, a great and noble undertaking.
Rea Irwin told the story with the same colors as we see in the tapestry. Instead of 23 by 230 inches, he had only 7 by 10 inches to tell the story, so he used a comic book format.






In the first row of images we see the Allied leaders planning in secrecy; King George of England, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  Then we see Field Marshall  Montgomery and Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, (I don’t know why Irwin made the slim Eisenhower so chubby.) Above them are the words, “George Rex, absit invidia: Monty et Ike.” “Absit invidia” means “no offense.” It was meant to deflect the evil eye, “lest the hubris of the braggart attract jealous deities.” There were all sorts of prayers being raised. This was a daring venture with much depending on the weather and no guarantee of success.  When it was time,  Eisenhower said, "Okay, Let's go."

In the second row, the invasion—landing craft loaded with troops, soldiers coming to shore, one swimming, and in the background a massive fleet of battle ships with planes and parachuters overhead.  Above, as in the tapestry, are the words “Mare Navigavit” or "sail the sea" and the date, June 6,1944 AD in Latin numerals.  What would William the Conquerer have thought of such a navy? 6,000 ships!

In the third row is the battle; one frame shows tanks and a soldier with a bayonet confronting the Nazi’s in green uniforms. Above this image it says “Bayeux-June VII; allied forces landed there the next day. In the next frame Cowardly Hitler hides under a table in his bunker. Above him it says “sic semper tyrannis.”  On the bottom we see rats fleeing.

This was the triumph of democracy over totalitarianism.    This week, the seventy-fifth anniversary, everyone will be making speeches and honoring the brave sacrifice of so many. We mustn't forget that they saved the world.

I admire the way this artist memorialized it for us.  By replicating the style of the Bayeux tapestry, Rea Irvin placed the Normandy Invasion firmly in the annals of history, in the company of heroic events.




Another Artist I love: Wayne Thiebaud

This is a good time to Celebrate Wayne Thiebaud, American painter, born in 1920; that makes him one hundred years old; at least he will be o...