Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



September 2010

"One develops the desire to become an artist in front of paintings, not outdoors in front of beautiful landscapes."


Sylvie Patry, curator of "Renoir in the 20th Century," paraphrasing Pierre-Auguste Renoir, in "Renoir Rebels Again," by Richard Covington in Smithsonian, February 2010.

In the Shadow of Giants

Dear Reader,

This Judy's Journal begins my seventh year of blogging. I have to admit that when I started, the word blog wasn't even in my vocabulary! I have adjusted to being in a constant state of alert for subjects to write about, because my deadline is the middle of every month.

Because it is actually mid-August as I write this, my duo exhibit with assemblage artist Julian Penrose at Gallery Z in Providence, Rhode Island is still up. With seven events during the seven week exhibit, it's been both hectic and fun, with the emphasis on "fun."

These two stories about being part of this exhibit relate to the opening quotation. The first has to do with a young couple who walked into the gallery with their little boy. He looked to be about three years old. This couple obviously believed in art from the start. They walked from piece to piece and talked with their son about the artwork. With parents like these, he could be an artist in the making and/or an art lover.

It was a quiet time during the reception, so I stood back and observed this remarkable family. The time came when they stood in front of "The Bluesman" (Gallery Chapter 7, row 3, number 3), which is 36" by 24". Given his tiny size, the painting loomed over the boy. Something must have struck him about it, and he threw back his head and made one long, distinct sound: "Wow!"

I thought, "I have had my review. I can go home now."

Another event brought more crowds into the gallery. This time, a man and his daughter, a girl about ten years old, were spending a long time in front of a 16 painting grid of twelve-inch squares from a series called Landscape Mosaics (coming soon in Gallery Chapter 8). My husband, John Gaumond, who was doing the noticing this time, came to me and said, "Why don't you go over and talk with them? They have been studying each painting in the grid."

The ten-year-old was very interested in my process. Her questions revealed how much she already knew. For example, "Do you design the sections first and then paint inside them or do you make the painting and decide on the sections?" She is ten years old! It was one of the biggest decisions I had to consider when I was doing the series (Judy's Journal 2008 August), and she saw right into its importance. I asked if she were an artist. She said yes. I asked her how she would describe her style at this point. She said, "Abstract."

I have always believed in the need for artists to look at each others' work. It is a central part of one's art education. To see artwork, not just in books, or on line images, or in slides, but to be able to approach art and become a part if its space. To look at textures, broken lines, shadows of revisions lurking beneath the surface can only happen by being there in the company of the work and the artist, even though she or he may be long dead. That is what I was able to do the first week in August. It was my turn to bask in the shadow of other artists' work.

In one astonishing week, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was an art-gorge-ous week in New York City, with a one-day train trip to Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Museum of Art - "Late Renoir" - After his success with the Impressionists, Renoir went to Italy, saw works by Titian, Veronese, and Raphael, realized that he could "neither paint nor draw," and returned to push himself into an unpopular and uncomfortable artistic place. All this from looking at other artists' work. The exhibit focused on this final phase of his life (Renoir was still painting on the day he died). Also featured were paintings and sculptures by Matisse, Picasso, Bonnard, and Maillol, artists influenced by the late works of Renior, just as Renoir had been influenced by the Italian painters before him. Shadows and giants everywhere!

Whitney Museum of American Art - My two earlier stories about children helped me winnow my response to the Charles Burchfield exhibit, "Heat Waves in a Swamp," to a manageable length. The challenge in writing anything brief about Burchfield is rooted in his obsessive, rich, and complex life and work. He thought his best work was from a two-year period when he was a very young artist and deemed those paintings to be his "golden age." His mature work, indeed, the work that made him popular, was architectural - factories and houses in and around northern Ohio and Buffalo, New York. Then he returned to the motifs of his childhood, when he created abstract symbols for concepts, such as dread, anger, depression, and imbecility. He also returned to his boyhood love of nature - streams, ravines, trees - and combined his ability to create abstract symbols and landscapes, in an attempt to make sound and air visible. He looked back into his childhood and made some of the most luminous, vibrating, oddly beautiful watercolors in the history of art.

The Museum of Modern Art - My link to "Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917" was reading Hilary Spurling's two volume biography (Judy's Journal 2008 September), when I kept stopping to look at my other Matisse books to see the work being described. Here was my chance to see the real paintings, with their brushstrokes and revisions showing through the layers of paint. Matisse, a successful painter, was experimenting his way to critical derision. Look at his beast-faced bather, inspired by Cezanne's series! This period was full of courage and a return to his decorative bent, nurtured in his boyhood, growing up in a town that manufactured fabrics, and revitalized by a recent trip to Morocco. Curtains, drapes, and rugs, rich with shapes and patterns, make these paintings crazy quilts of design.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Jumping into a docent tour (our third this week), was a good decision. A docent can show me ten things I would have never known about an artwork. That's what five years of training have done for docents at the Met. Our docent's theme: artists that were the first to do something out of the ordinary: Duccio, Poussin, Monet, Velazquez were four of a dozen whose work we looked at on our whirlwind tour! Afterward, we saw the Met's Picasso collection (Ah, what a ton of money can do for a museum), Howard Hodgkin's paintings (What a mess, until you get far enough away, then, what a lovely mess!), American Woman (Galleries filled with mannequins dressed in fashions from 1890s through 1940s felt contrived, especially the video montage representing "us" from 1940s-today. I guess that I felt cheated not seeing a real poodle skirt.)

As we stepped out of the shadows of the giants in the Met and into the unbearable heat of New York City, I knew that I had almost exceeded the limit of nurturing my "desire to become an artist in front of paintings, not outdoors in front of beautiful landscapes."