"Mystic" Painters of the Misty Northwest

The jet airliner, internet, and all those other time and distance-collapsing innovations of the past 50 or 60 years might have contributed to a decline of regionalism in painting. That is, if indeed there has been such a decline; I haven't researched this and am relying on impressions as the assertion's basis.

Here in the often dreary, drizzly northwest corner of America we once upon a time had a "regional school" of painting. Because Life magazine said so.

Readers under age 50 might not realize that so-called "mass-market" magazines once were an extremely important part of the shared culture America once had. Publications such as Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Time and Life had huge paid subscriptions in a country with half its present population. Life was a fat, glossy magazine with an emphasis on photographic essays. While a recurring feature was a bit of fluff titled "Life Goes to a Party," it also contained articles keyed to the prevailing "middlebrow" cultural uplift ethos.

So the issue of 28 September 1953 had a full color feature on four painters working in the Puget Sound area (much of the magazine's illustrations were in black and white then, so color was a semi-big deal). The title of the piece characterized them as "mystics" because of their style, subjects and the local grayed-out climate. Naturally we locals were pleased with this important national publicity, Seattle being pretty much a backwater in those days unless one was in the aircraft-building trade.

The four artists featured by Life were Mark Tobey (1890-1976), Morris Graves (1910-2001), Kenneth Callahan (1905-86) and Guy Anderson (1906-98). A Wikipedia entry on "Northwest School" painting is here. Below are examples of their work:

Broadway 1936
This is an example of Tobey's signature "white writing" style. Here one can find recognizable images buried in the line overlay.

Patterns of Conflict - 1944
A later Tobey where the lines become virtually the entire subject-matter. Paintings such as this suggest to some that he influenced the later drip-paintings of Jackson Pollock.

This painting of a bird is representative of Graves' work which featured birds and other objects painted in a wispy style suggestive of Chinese painting with Tobeyesque overtones.

Callahan would often create a swirly soup within which he'd add sketchy human or animal figures.

Anderson's work was bolder and heavier than the others, as well as more purely abstract, as this example indicates. The "mystic" label sets uneasily upon him.

If I had a research budget, I'd put some effort into trying to determine how that Life article originated; for now, I'll speculate. And my speculation centers on the Seattle Art Museum which at the time was the creation and creature of geologist Richard E. Fuller. (A memoir about Richard Fuller by Thelma Lehmann is here.) For many years Kenneth Callahan was on the museum's staff to handle publicity. Callahan also wrote columns about art for the Seattle Times, the leading local newspaper. Given Callahan's public relations skills and Fuller's influence in the museum world, it is easy to imagine that one or both tipped Life editors to the idea for the article. However, this note states that the tip came from Seattle art dealer Zoë Dusanne (1884-1972). (I, along with some other art students, visited her home-cum-gallery not long before it was eradicated by construction of Interstate 5 through Seattle.)

So where do Tobey, Graves and Anderson come into the picture? They were friends of Callahan. Callahan had a wife, but the others never married and, as is suggested in this book, were at various times dear and extremely intimate friends of one another. Perhaps this explains why the not-so-mystical Anderson was grouped with the others.

All four artists matured during the period 1920-40, a time that interests me because it was a time of reflection after the onslaught of movements of the early 20th century and before Abstract Expressionism became for a while the dominant modernist school. In a nutshell, most artists were trying to figure out how to accommodate to modernism while the few true modernists were trying to figure out what next step modernism should take. This is why abstract and representational features intermingle in many works by Tobey, Graves and Callahan.

My rating of these painters? I think Graves was the best of the lot because he strayed the least from representation while creating interesting images. Tobey was the prime innovator. I place much less value on innovation and "creativity" than other observers, but feel Tobey should be given his due. Callahan's work tends to be forgettable as does Anderson's.

I should add that Guy Anderson was my art "instructor" once upon a time. In retrospect, it was probably an example of Richard Fuller helping out an artist in need. What happened was that, during my senior year in high school, the Seattle Art Museum held an all-city art class wherein each of the eight public high schools sent two students to it one afternoon a week. For a reason I do not know, I was one of Roosevelt High's representatives. There actually wasn't much or any "instruction" from Anderson. He'd mostly sit there in his turtle-neck sweater and tweed jacket and puff on a pipe while we students did whatever puttering around we did with our art supplies. The main things I got from the class were a crush on one of the girls and a date for my senior prom with another.

Un lujo

And the World's Best Ice Cream is ...

Actually, I have no clue as to which ice cream is the best on earth. But I do have a leading contender in mind.

Last year in Paris my wife and I became enamored of Amorino gelato, Amorino being a French chain of (currently) around 30 shops in several countries, but concentrated in Paris. We like staying just off the intersection of boulevard Saint-Germain and rue de Seine, which happens to be not far from an Amorino shop.

This year we were taking a crêpe break on the Île Saint-Louis and mentioned to the waiter that we really liked Amorino. Au contraire was his message. We were in serious need of trying out the Île's very own Berthillon ice cream. So we did.

(Berthillon's web site is here and the Wikipedia entry is here.)

The location of Bertillon's intergalactic headquarters is shown here, and there are a number of places on the Île where one can find cones and cups of the luscious stuff. Since the main store was closed that day, we sampled the ice cream nearby. Ditto a day or so later. On our final day in town the Berthillon store was open, so I over-indulged on a three-scoop cup of chocolate.

What is it like? Imagine a cross between chocolate ice cream and chocolate fudge; it's so thick and smooth the spoon meets resistance when you try to scoop some out.

Good for my waistline that I don't live in Berthillon's neighborhood.


Today Ray Sawhill (alias "Michael Blowhard") announced that the 2Blowhards blog was ending its eight-year run.

I was not one of the original Blowhards who gave the blog most of the charm and challenge that made it beloved by many. I signed on in 2005 after "Friedrich von Blowhard" found steady blogging too much of a distraction from time better spent on his family and business. My role was that of Second Banana to Ray, one that suited me just fine.

After Ray retired from the blog, I did my best to carry on. But there's only one Ray, and I could never hope to fill his shoes. Plus, I didn't want to post at a nearly daily pace, so letting 2Blowhards pass from the scene seemed a reasonable solution following the Great System Crash of 2010.

Art Contrarian will continue much of my style of 2Blowhards posting. That's because I've basically written to please myself, with the idea that a few others might also enjoy what I have to say. Political posting will be sparse or non-existent here and there might be a bit less in the way of historical and general cultural material than I produced at 2Blowhards -- this in deference to the theme of this blog.

Posting will be on the order of two posts per week plus or minus one or two. I notice that there are art blogs that do just fine at that pace, which means that readers learn to drop by a few times a week rather than daily.

Let me close by stating my profound gratitude to Ray Sawhill for giving me the opportunity to be a junior blogger on a blog I truly loved.

CHARLEY TOOROP un expresionismo muy personal.


De nuevo partimos desde la exposición de “Realismos Modernos” en el Thyssen. Allí en el apartado de retratos, encontré por primera vez a Charley Toorop en este bello óleo, “Autorretrato de pie y con paleta”, que abre esta Entrada.

Unos años después, entre las artistas que conformaban la exposición de Fundación MAPFRE “Amazonas del arte nuevo” tantas veces mencionada en este blog, tenía opción de volver a admirar otro retrato, concretamente “Autorretrato con tres niños”.


En ambos casos, Toorop era una más. Sobresaliente, pero una más entre muchos otros. Tuvo que ser la retrospectiva que le dedicó el Museum Boijmans de Rotterdam entre 2008 y 2009, la que me proporcionase la ocasión de descubrir en toda su grandeza el arte de esta mujer. Recientemente, de febrero a mayo de 2010, el Museo de Arte Moderno parisino nos dio de nuevo la oportunidad de volver a ver su obra.


Visité el Boijmans cuando la exposición estaba a punto de ser clausurada. Pero una afluencia de personas de manera intermitente mostraba el éxito que había cosechado.

Fotografía del MUSEUM BOIJMANS en 1935

Mencioné el impacto que tuvo en mi la exposición del museo de Rotterdam en este blog en la entrada “El arte de construir ciudades” de 4 de julio de 2009. Y no fue para menos. Nos recibía a la puerta de la exposición, retratos de enorme formato de su época realista, que trabajó como nadie. Su duro trazado y fuerte paleta, así como sus dimensiones resultaban impactantes.


Pero no sólo fue esa etapa de su vida artística la que pudimos admirar. Toda su trayectoria estaba allí presente. Su época naturalista, con esas flores en bouquet cuidadosamente trabajadas.


Toda una perfección de colores, luces y sombras. Sus bodegones con cierta influencia cubista. La obra total de una artista, total y muy especial.

La holandesa Charley Toorop (su verdadero nombre era Annie Carolina Fernhout-Pontifez Toorop) nació en 1981 en Katwijk y está catalogada como una artista expresionista. Recibió de su padre, también pintor, una gran influencia del simbolismo que se apreció en sus primeras obras, pero pronto derivó hacia una pintura muy personal claramente expresionista.


Estuvo casada por un breve tiempo con el filósofo Henk Fernhour y su hijo Edgar Fernhour también se dedicó a la pintura. Su otro hijo John, fue conocido como John Ferno en el mundo del cine en el que fue conocido cineasta.

En 1916 entró a formar parte del grupo Het Signaal (La Señal) que representaban la realidad mediante líneas acentuadas y colores contrastados y fuertes.


Diez años más tarde viviría en Ámsterdam y allí recibió influencia del cine. Aunque la época en la que vivió era un tanto conservadora, la artista fue una persona de mente abierta, tanto en su obra como en el apoyo que mostró al cine vanguardista. Se relacionó con muchos artistas como Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Gerrit Rietveld, Bart van der Leck, Joris Ivens entre otros.


A partir de 1930 su obra está plena de autorretratos de fuerte estilo realista. Gran amante del retrato lo ejecutó tanto a nivel individual como de grupo y en su obra destaca los autorretratos, unos treinta y cinco, de enormes dimensiones.


Charley Toorop sufrió tres accidentes cerebro-vasculares durante los últimos años de su vida. Estos le causaron alteraciones neuropatológicas que tuvieron como consecuencia una agnosia visuoespacial.

La agnosia visual es un desorden que hace que la persona que la sufre tenga dificultades para reconocer los objetos en el espacio, pero no presenta problemas motores.

Es incapaz de reconocer o de copiar dibujos de cosas familiares y cotidianas pero sí es capaz de dibujar objetos de memoria ya que el problema está en la identificación de los objetos desde una información visual.

El óleo “Las tres Generaciones”, propiedad del propio Museo Boijmans, está considerado una de sus mejores obras.


En el están representados su hijo Edgar, una escultura de su padre el pintor Jan Toorop y la propia artista. A causa de la complejidad de la obra tardó nueve años en acabarla, de 1941 a 1950.

Examinando minuciosamente el extremo inferior izquierdo de la pintura, se advirtió unas ligeras ondulaciones causadas por los repetidos retoques de la artista para corregir lo que consideraba imperfecciones y que en realidad se correspondía a una zona ciega originada por la agnosia visual que padecía.


Charley murió en Bergen el 5 de noviembre de 1955, dejando una extraordinaria obra que es ahora cuando más se está conociendo.

NOTA: Para mejor visualizar la fotografía “picar” con el ratón encima de las que interesen.

Para la lectura de entradas anteriores, ir a la ventana de la derecha y “picar” en los años y meses. Se desplegarán los títulos correspondientes a cada fecha.

Fuentes consultadas:

Realismos Modernos. Varios autores. Para la exposición del Museo Thyssen.

Amazonas del Arte nuevo . Para la exposición de Fundación MAPFRE

Documentación del Museum Boijmans de Rotterdam.

Fotografías: Las mismas.

Getting Design Details Right

Guests are coming and my wife decided that today is the day to change vacuum cleaner bags. I had to deal with three different machines. And in the process got reacquainted with the art and craft of the machine-human interface.

All the detachable bags had the same annoying attachment feature -- a piece of cardboard stiffening on the bag along with a hole lined with rubber where the duct of the machine inserts. These are hard to deal with when it comes to actually making the insertion; a certain amount of aligning, pushing, fiddling with the alignment, pushing again -- with success usually coming after two or three tries. Since I'm asked to do this chore only a few times a year, I have no real learning curve to rely on.

I'm sure better bag attachments are possible, but the arrangement I found on three different brands of cleaners suggests that price of replacement bags was the most important consideration, so the arrangement was the cheapest one that would function passably well.

Hoover Portable Canister Cleaner

The little Hoover shown above had the best bag-changing design features. Even though the bag itself had the now-classical cardboard stiffener plus rubber-surrounded hole arrangement, the change operation worked smoothly -- almost.

It has a plastic connector piece where the cardboard could be slid on. Then all one needs to do is set the connector-plus-attached bag into a recess of the machine and close a hatch that has the waste hose attached -- it's aligned so that the hose connector inserts into the bag with no fuss.

But fuss there was. Not having the manual handy, I tried inserting the hose connection into the bag before shutting the hatch. The hatch refused to close. Repeatedly. Until I finally realized that the insertion was related to the closing of the hatch.

Ideally, a piece of equipment should be designed so that no manual should be needed, where everything should fit together only one possible way. That little Hoover comes very close to that ideal and is very nifty once one understands that final step. What's probably needed is a short message molded on the attachment plate stating that it and the bag should be placed in the bag compartment before closing the hatch. Perhaps newer versions than our three-year-old model fixed this detail.

[Cross-posted at 2 Blowhards.]


Esta es la obra de Javier Alonso, artista premiado por Uruguay. ¡EXCELENTE OBRA!

Esta es la obra de Mónica Gadea, artista premiada por Argentina.         ¡SIN PALABRAS!

Insipid Penny

I'm not into coins and therefore was surprised when I glanced at the reverse side of a penny I received in change a few days ago. It seems that after nearly 50 years of having the Lincoln Memorial, the Treasury decided it was time for a redesign. (In 2009 a set of reverses were minted to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, but I somehow never noticed any of those coins.)

Here are the reverses of the main penny designs of the past century:

"Wheat" design: 1909-1958

Lincoln Memorial design: 1959-2008

Redesign for 2010 and future pennies

The U.S. Mint's statement is here, and the Wikipedia entry here.

I don't know about you, but I think the new design is about as insipid and ugly as any experienced committee of camel designers could ever have come up with. It's probably the worst coin design I've ever seen (and as reference, I've got baggies full of old European coins eagerly awaiting to be used again should the Euro meet its demise).

Bring back "wheat" -- at least its design is honest and fills the space nicely.

[Cross-posted at 2 Blowhards.]

Buying art on installments

(By Nalini S Malaviya)

Prices of art are often such that one would require having fairly deep pockets to be able to afford a good, or rather a work by an established artist. A long time ago when people bought art for simpler reasons that stemmed from a passion for art and from a desire to help out artists whom they knew personally, it was common to have informal arrangements with regards to paying the artist or gallery. This could often involve payment in installments over a certain period of time. This not only helped the buyer in acquiring works, which they felt strongly about but also the artist in ensuring that his works kept on moving.

Although, the economics of art has changed form completely from those days, even today there are galleries who are willing to let you own a work of art, even if you cannot make an outright payment. This trend opens up possibilities for the buyer to be able to make the payment in smaller denominations and not feel the pinch to that extent. Today, general financial conditions have improved substantially, yet there is a certain reluctance to invest heavily in art. In such a situation, the option of paying in installments not only helps the buyer but also in ensuring that sales take place.

Incidentally, the younger generation, which is quite used to the concept of owning things first and paying later, is bound to find the scheme attractive. Normally, one does not associate art with such an ‘installment’ concept, but in fact, it has its plus points. A lump sum payment can be a little scary for the first time buyer who may feel more confident in paying in smaller portions over the next few months. Such transactions are usually reserved for trusted clients or when the gallery feels that the buyer is genuinely interested in acquiring the work. Still, these dealings are rarely publicized and usually take place on an informal level.

Published in Financial Times

Mayfair Matte

Maybe it's happening in Palm Beach or the Upper East Side. Or perhaps in Beverly Hills, Malibu or Rancho Mirage -- though I was in the latter three within the last six months and didn't notice it.

That "it" is cars with matte -- rather than shiny -- paint jobs.

I noticed this in London's tony Mayfair district a couple of weeks ago, spotting at least three cars with matte finishes. And each of those cars was an expensive one -- the cheapest of the lot being a Porsche.

Here are some photos I snapped:

Yes, there's one. Parked in front of that shiny new Jaguar XF.

And it's a Bentley four-door saloon costing several times the price of that Jag. The license plates are British.

This is the unloading zone for our hotel. The tan-colored car in the background with a normal finish is a Maybach, what Daimler hopes you'll buy if you think Mercedes' are too ordinary. Closer to the camera is a Mercedes SLS gull-wing door jobbie painted matte white. Both cars carried license plates from the Gulf; the SLS's number was "333333" or thereabouts (I forget how many 3s there were).

Of course one wonders Why?

I have no answer at this point, though my first reaction was that it must be some trendy thing for a small subset of those who buy cars costing more than $100,000.

[Cross-posted at 2 Blowhards.]


Importante experiencia docente  realiza Carina Monasterio con su proyecto "Murales en la escuela" que viene llevándolo a cabo desde el año pasado en el interior de la provincia de Buenos Aires.
Para conocer mejor esta propuesta visten su blog:

Art Buzz (Bangalore)

The d'Orsay Adjusts to a Renovation

Paris' Musée d'Orsay, with its magnificent collection of (mostly French) art for the period 1850 to 1900 or a little later, is undergoing some renovation. The top floor or two are closed while work proceeds.

So what about the visitor spending mega-shekels to get to Paris to view all those goodies in person? Will he be disappointed? Feel cheated?

Probably not.

I entered the d'Orsay last Tuesday wondering about those matters, but a quick walk-around revealed that most of the important works were still on display even though a subset had been sent off to San Francisco for the duration.

Here's how they pulled it off. Galleries on the level above the main floor that usually are devoted to special exhibits were used to display paintings formerly found in the galleries on the highest floors. And it's possible that some paintings were re-hung closer together than previously in some other galleries (though a number of galleries seemed the same as they were last May when I paid my previous visit).

So, if you have tickets to Paris this summer or fall and want a good d'Orsay experience, you will find one.

[Cross-posted at 2 Blowhards.]

GIORGIO DE CHIRICO, el metafísico que influyó en los surrealistas.


La exposición “Realismos Modernos” del Museo Thyssen mencionada en la anterior entrada del día 11 de julio, tuvo una interesante división temática.

A través de los diferentes apartados, muchos de los pintores volvían a mostrarnos sus obras acoplándose al tema que correspondía. Estas temáticas abarcaron naturalezas muertas, retratos, figuras en la ciudad, figuras en escenarios íntimos y un interesante apartado de paisajes agrícolas, urbanos e industriales. De esta manera nos mostraba al mismo artista cual experto paisajista o en un íntimo retrato.

El pintor que hoy nos visita también formó parte de la exposición. Sin embargo, no fue un tema urbano ni un cuadro de su época metafísica el que nos ofreció, sino que lo encontramos con un tema de “naturaleza muerta”: el lienzo “Las calabazas”.


Pero fue la arquitectura ficticia y esos paisajes urbanos el sello de la obra de Giorgio De Chirico, el pintor admirado por los surrealistas y que sin duda influyó tanto en ellos. En donde más percibimos esta presencia es en la obra de Magritte y de Dalí.

La pintura metafísica también tuvo otros seguidores como Carrá que junto a Morandi y De Chirico formaron el trío clave en la pintura futurista, pero sin duda fue De Chirico el metafísico por excelencia. Y teniendo en cuenta la estética de la metafísica no es raro que los surrealistas quedaran marcados por la pintura del maestro greco-italiano.


¿Qué es un cuadro metafísico, o una pintura metafísica?

Para conseguirla, el objeto real no puede ser utilizado porque sería parte de la vida cotidiana, así que debe ser extraído de su función. Por ejemplo una plaza está ahí para ser atravesada. Si se pinta repleta de gente, es decir en su uso cotidiano, se está utilizando. Pero si se pinta, tal cual, lejos del tiempo y del espacio, lejos del resto del mundo, se la está dando el valor absoluto que le corresponde. Eso es la pintura metafísica.

La estética resultante tiene mucho de onírica, de un objeto visto en un sueño, pintado bajo una luz de fantasía y en un ámbito urbano. Sin duda fue fuente de inspiración para el surrealismo.

La etapa más singular de De Chirico fue precisamente ésta, la metafísica que se prolongó hasta 1918-1919. De esa época datan sus cuadros más conocidos como el aquí presente “El enigma de un día”


El cuadro presenta, como muchos de esa etapa, una plaza dónde solo hay dos figuras y una estatua. Los arcos son los de una galería clásica. Al fondo, las chimeneas son el contraste de la arquitectura industrial frente a las arcadas clásicas que evidentemente son la parte “soñada”. También la soledad o el vacío del lugar es algo que se repite en sus cuadros.


Giorgio De Chirico nació en Vólos (Grecia) en 1888, de madre genovesa y padre siciliano, así que se le puede considerar greco-italiano. De hecho, De Chirico estudió en Atenas y en Florencia. Vivió en Munich, dónde leyó a Schopenhauer y a Nietzsche.

Más tarde abandonaría la vanguardia pictórica para buscar un camino dentro de un clasicismo muy personal. Se alejaría de la modernidad, pero para entonces había legado a ésta una serie de elementos con los que se le iban a identificar como son las plazas, las arcadas, las torres, columnas y estatuas.

TORRE 1913

Y también esas sombras que dejan asomar la silueta de alguna persona solitaria y misteriosa.


Se podría decir que arquitectura y pintura se encuentran en un cómodo terreno. La arquitectura diversa que presentaba era fruto de su imaginación y de esa pintura metafísica que el creó de manera única.


Hacia 1919, cuando su época metafísica termina, comienza a defender el regreso a la tradición. Empieza a copiar a los maestros renacentistas y a elogiar a los grandes maestros del color, como el Renoir anterior al impresionismo. Poco a poco las composiciones se fueron volviendo más complejas y a la vez más confusas y para cuando los surrealistas llegaron a él sobre 1925, ya había abandonado la pintura metafísica.


Fue entonces cuando escribió un ensayo titulado “El retorno a la Artesanía”. Con ese y otros ensayos similares, no sólo confirmaba su retorno a los maestros, sino que parecía renegar de su obra pasada. No obstante, aun queriendo “borrar” su etapa metafísica, fue el creador de ella y como tal pasó a la Historia del Arte. Murió en Roma en 1978. Existe una página oficial del artista en: http://www.fondazionedechirico.it/


NOTA: Para mejor visualizar la fotografía “picar” con el ratón encima de las que interesen.

Para la lectura de entradas anteriores, ir a la ventana de la derecha y “picar” en los años y meses. Se desplegarán los títulos correspondientes a cada fecha.

Fuentes consultadas:

Arte del Siglo XX. Varios autores (Ed.Taschen)

Realismos modernos . Varios autores ( Exp.. del mismo título en Museo Thyssen)

Los pintores más influyentes. David Gariff (Ed.Electa)

Historia del Arte. E.H.Gombrich. (Ed.Debate)


Las mismas. Archivo propio. La red.


Junto con Catriel Torres y Guillermo Gonzalez hemos advertido sobre grados de similitud compositiva entre "Tags" de artistas grafiteros contemporáneos y un artista francés de la década del '60 llamado George Mathieu que ha sido influenciado por el arte de la escritura japonesa.
Tal vez la genesis de su idea no haya sido la misma, ni tampoco su finalidad; lo que sorprende es el grado de acercamiento compositivo y el punto de partida: "la firma", la identidad del autor como hecho estético.