Archive for March, 2014

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Annotate a portrait

Maurice Felton Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark

Maurice Felton
Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark
1840 oil on canvas 142.5 x 114 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection
/works/117.1974/

For this exercise I have chosen a painting from just a few year’s after Law’s sculpture Trucaninny, wife of Woureddy (see post 13-Mar-2014).

Maurice Felton’s painting Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark brings us north to Sydney and a world away in terms of social strata at the time. The first impression on viewing this portrait is of ostentatious display of wealth. That impression persists – this portrait is a clear declaration of wealth and social position. The artist has lavished attention on the silk, lace, pearls, diamonds, sapphires and exquisite detail of the ensemble. “Mrs Spark’s fine gown features the decade’s distinctive V-shaped waist and lace bertha” notes a volume on the history of Australian fashion, which devotes a full page to this image as an exemplar of the fashion and aspiration of the period (Joel, p. 17).

felton_03The lady looking out at the viewer is not overwhelmed by her finery. She appears calm, clear-eyed, a firm chin, a hint of a smile. She has a book with her – a flash of red and gold that lifts the image, on the leather binding a family crest with the crest “Virtute et valore”. There is education, virtue and valour with this beauty and wealth. The book also gives an opportunity to display a delicate wrist and hand loaded with gems.

felton_02She stands on a terrace with a broad expanse of land behind leading to an expanse of water. The empty space balances with the foreground figure while a tree frames and curves protectively around her. Angels Trumpet flowers echo the white and curves of the clothes and jewellery, and give a hint of the exotic. The straight lines of horizon, balustrade and book play against the curves throughout the image.

felton_04One technique I haven’t noticed on a painting of this age before is the use of what may have been the end of the paintbrush scrapped through the paint to form the stitching on the fur-trimmed glove.

The frame adds to the impressive size and decoration of the picture and is the restored original.

Maurice Felton Mrs [Anna Elizabeth] Walker

Maurice Felton
Mrs [Anna Elizabeth] Walker
1840 oil on canvas 74.8 x 62.2 cm
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
http://www.acmssearch.sl.nsw.gov.au/search/itemDetailPaged.cgi?itemID=404700

Maurice Felton arrived in Sydney in 1839. He was a qualified medical practitioner, but appears to have spent most of his time in Australia in his secondary occupation as a painter. In the few years before his death in 1842 Felton painted many society portraits. The example on the right shows many similarities – a woman with carefully dressed hair, similar face and expression, well dressed, framing foliage, view to the horizon and the pop of red this time provided by the shawl. Not all Felton’s subject appear quite so similar. In the collection of the National Gallery of Australia is A woman of NSW, which shows an older, larger woman with decided features, wonderful earrings and a most remarkable headdress (http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=200464).

Apparently Felton painted some landscapes as well as portraits, but I have not been able to locate any examples. Much early colonial art has this focus on specific people and places, with few if any paintings of “higher” historical or mythological themes. This could be related to the “provincial” nature of the colony. Joan Kerr wrote “In fact, the primacy of some non-aesthetic purpose might be said to be a distinguishing characteristic of provincial art. In colonial New South Wales, painting or collecting portraits and views might be summarised as souvenir hunting for a specific purpose: … to prove one’s triumphant survival…” (Kerr, p. 15).

Sydney’s economy had boomed in the 1830s and the wealthy wanted to advertise their fortune and raise their social standing. Joanna Gilmour has explained “Felton’s subjects, though from a mix of spheres and origins, largely shared the supposed taint of commercial motivations and the experience of finding in colonial life and enterprise a high degree of wealth or social profile… In their ornate gold frames (some supplied by Felton’s brotherin- law, Solomon Lewis) and in his attentive rendering of fabrics, fashions and jewellery resides proof of the aspirations, pretensions or vulgarities of Felton’s sitters” (Gilmour, 2011). The fact that Felton worked in oil made it even more attractive to the very wealthy. The picture was commissioned by Alexander Brodie Spark, who “grew from a speculative trader to a rich banker and merchant, churchman, landowner and private collector. In the artificial aristocracy of the colony he was established as a leading citizen who had to ear and favour of the governor” (Abbott and Little, p. 1). Spark had married Maria 27th April 1840 and engaged Felton for her portrait on 18th May. The frame was chosen in June (from Lewis) and the final touches on the portrait completed 18 August. (Spark maintained a diary, giving a helpful amount of practical information from the period). Spark also used his wealth building his home at Tempe (architect John Verge, the same who oversaw the building of Elizabeth Bay House – see 30-Nov-2013). The extensive garden combined both kitchen and ornamental plants, with cuttings provided from Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and a team of 13 convict labourers working under an English gardener (Morris, p. 70). It seems likely that the extensive view and exotic plant in Felton’s painting is another reminder of Spark’s wealth and taste.

In November 1841 the Sydney Herald opined that Felton’s work signalled that “the day was not far distant when we should no longer be characterised as a mere money-getting and money-loving people; but that we should become conspicuous for the … cultivation of those arts that at once improve the heart and mind” (quoted in Gilmour, 2011). As it happened, in the early 1840s the economy crashed, undermined by over-speculation in land and a prolonged drought. This was the same crisis that brought an end to Alexander Macleay’s control of Elizabeth Bay House, and it eventually bankrupted Spark. He and Maria survived by tending the garden themselves and selling their produce.

In evaluating this painting I would like to compare it with another hanging nearby at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Violet Teague Dian dreams (Una Falkiner)

Violet Teague
Dian dreams (Una Falkiner)
1909 oil on canvas 159.0 x 108.2 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection
/works/60.1975/

Dian dreams (Una Falkiner) by Violet Teague was painted around 69 years after Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark, and I suspect in Melbourne rather than Sydney. Both pictures are of beautiful women in fashionable, luxurious, expensive gowns.

teague_03Both contrast and stabilise a series of curves with shorter straight lines. Both echo colours and lines of the figure with a cream/white blooming plant on the right (magnolias in this instance).

The differences are significant, beginning with the genesis of each painting. Unlike Felton who made his living from commissioned society portraits, Teague was a financially independent woman. At times she chose to accept commissions, but this painting was not one. It was included in the Women Painters Exhibition of 1911 for sale at £105, a premium price.

felton_teagueFelton’s work is a familiar composition, the subject standing at a slight angle (more visual interest, a display of womanly curves) and gazing towards the painter / viewer. In a more modern composition Teague’s woman is seated with her back to the viewer, her face in profile. It is a very conscious pose, displaying a graceful, feminine form, but the subject is allowed her own thoughts. Anna Clabburn suggests Teague provides “a consistent sense of the sitter’s inner energy” in her portraits of women (Clabburn, 1999). “Her averted eyes are not deferring to a pressured male audience… but instead suggest a quiet independence and sense of self” (Neville, p. 56). The self-possession of this figure has disturbed some viewers. In a London exhibition in 1911 the painting was “attacked by a ‘madman’ with a knife, who justified his actions, ‘because she wouldn’t look’ at him” (Holmes, p. 42). At some time after the subject, Una le Souëf, married the next year, her husband purchased the painting and is reported to have “complained that his wife would ‘not sit with her back to a party'” (Neville, p. 53). Although not traditional a similar pose can sometimes be seen in works by other artists. John White Alexander was mentioned by Neville as one of the artist who influenced Teague, and his 1898 work The Blue Bowl (risdmuseum.org/art_design/objects/1016_the_blue_bowl) shows similarities. A Capriote (1878 https://www.mfa.org/collections/object/a-capriote-32955) by John Singer Sargent shows the subject woman’s back and profile, but in a more twisted pose that links her into the countryside. Closer to home, Tom Robert’s La Favorita (c. 1889 http://www.portrait.gov.au/magazine/article.php?articleID=354) could well have been seen by Teague in Melbourne.

Felton’s work displayed “the technical skill and showy sensibility that lent [his] work so effortlessly to the requirements of colonial clients” (Gilmour, 2011). Teague had more painterly ambitions. Her “rich dark palette … shows a keen sense of the chiaroscuro light contrasts used by Velazquez or the Italian masters Titian and Carravagio… ” (Clabburn). Teague was exploring colour and tone and shows the influence of Whistler. Neville claims “her paintings were more than portraits: they were as much about the act of painting and her ability to orchestrate a tonal palette as they were about people” (Neville, p. 53). There is a certain flattening of space, any depth limited by the flat geometry of wall and piano, a deceptive simplicity in the design, showing Teague connected to the sweep of painterly concerns in the late nineteenth and through the twentieth century.

I wonder if Teague also placed her work in the “higher” realm of mythological painting. Internet searches on variants of “Dian dreams” have yielded limited results. Endymion slept and perhaps dreamed of Diana, moon goddess – which doesn’t fit here. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummernight’s Dream Hermia is given a choice of accepting her father’s choice of marriage or lifelong chastity worshipping Diana as a nun. Apart from the possible link in the title I have no reason to suggest that Una was reflecting on her options the year before her marriage to Otway Falkiner. It seems clear that Felton had no deeper purpose than celebrating the prosperity of the new Mrs Spark and her husband. Just possibly her face is a touch tired, a touch sad, hinting at her previous marriage at age around 16, the eight children of whom five had died young (cholera, drowning in shipwreck, fire), or perhaps a more recent loss suggested in her husband’s diary entry of 8th June during the time Felton was painting her portrait: “Drove Maria to town for another sitting. She complained of a pain in the side, extinguishing late hopes…” (Abbott and Little, p. 120).

So clearly showing a person in her particular culture, meeting that culture’s specific needs and concerns, Felton’s Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark now appears almost ethnographic in nature. Teague’s Dian dreams seems more introverted, less focused on the needs of the viewer, both in the averted gaze of the subject and the painterly concerns of the artist. There is thought and emotion, but a slight separation. Neither work shows the open depth of emotion of Truganini’s portrait bust by Benjamin Law (13-Mar-2014), bowed with grief and loss not only of herself and her family but of her people. Another link of the three works is Teague’s efforts raising money to bring a permanent water supply to an Aboriginal Mission suffering under a long-term drought. Her letter to the editor of The Argus in 1934: “Sir, Many people, among them artists, think that the best way to begin the Centenary year is to do something useful for the Australian Aborigine – for some of those who have survived the 100 years of our occupation … When it is remembered that all the land and all the water were the aborigines’ inheritance, this will seem a small act of restitution” (quoted in Clabburn).

There is a lot more information available about the women I have recently researched – Truganini, Frances Maria Spark, Una le Souëf Falkiner and Violet Teague – that hasn’t been included in this post / annotation. It would be interesting to revisit using a feminist framework, focusing on the challenges and constraints in their lives, and the choices they made.

Reference

Abbott, G. and Little, G. (1976) The respectable Sydney merchant: A.B. Spark of Tempe Sydney: Sydney University Press.

Clabburn, A. (1999) The art of Violet Teague: Education Kit. [Parkville, Vic.] : Ian Potter Museum of Art. (sheets unnumbered).

Gilmour, J. (2011) More cash than dash. Portrait: Magazine of Australian & International portraiture 41 (October – November 2011) [online] Available from http://www.portrait.gov.au/magazine/article.php?articleID=349 (Accessed 15-Mar-2014)

Holmes, K. (1992) Diaries as Déshabillé? The diary of Una Falkiner: A careful dressing. Australian Feminist Studies 7 (16) [preview online] Preview available from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08164649.1992.9994660#.UydaNPmSzCZ (Accessed 14-Mar-2014).

Joel, A. (1998) Parade: The story of fashion in Australia Sydney: Harper Collins Publishers

Kerr, J. (1988) “Views, visages, invisability: Themes in the Art of colonial New South Wales” In McDonald, P. and Pearce, B. (ed) (1988) The Artist and the Patron: Aspects of Colonial Art in New South Wales. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Morris, C. (2008) Lost Gardens of Sydney. Sydney: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales

Neville, R. (1999) “Violet Teague’s Portraits” In Clark, J and Druce, F. (ed) (1999) Violet Teague 1872 – 1951. [Roseville, N.S.W.] : Beagle Press.

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Annotate a portrait
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Project one: The portrait
Exercise: Annotate a portrait

Jennifer Boldt, OCA postgraduate student and weaver

Jennifer Boldt, a postgraduatestudent of the Open College of the Arts (OCA) from Chicago, Illinois, has been shortlisted in the 3rd International Emerging Artist Award (OCA press release here).

Jennifer’s website: http://jenniferboldt.com/

Jennifer’s work is an exciting, contemporary, use of weaving. This is absolutely the sort of work or approach to work that I want to get to. Even more exciting is that she has chosen to be a student at OCA. The undergraduate course doesn’t seem to have much specifically focused on constructed textiles and I sometimes wonder if my OCA studies are a diversion, an interesting sidetrack. Asked and answered?

Hannah Gadsby’s Oz

http://www.abc.net.au/arts/HannahsOz/

I’ve just watched the first episode of this series (on ABC1 Tues, 10:00pm). I’m going to have to watch it quite a few more times – it speaks so directly to some of my current reading and thinking for the OCA course. I hadn’t heard the phrase “scar tissue of history” before and it resonates – except so much of my concern isn’t history, it’s what’s happening today.

Interesting to see the different perspective / emphasis to the 3 part series presented by Edmund Capon last year (http://www.abc.net.au/arts/artofaustralia/default.htm).

Some of the artists included in Hannah’s episode 1:

Julie Gough
http://juliegough.wordpress.com/

Dan Boyd
http://aboriginalartandculture.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/daniel-boyds-historical-reversals/

Joan Ross
http://www.gbk.com.au/artists/joan-ross/the-claiming-of-things
http://artblart.com/2013/06/23/exhibition-joan-ross-touching-other-people%CA%BCs-shopping-at-bett-gallery-hobart/

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Research Point: Portrait sculpture

For this Research Point I decided to start my investigation with two portrait busts I saw recently when visiting the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in Canberra.

Benjamin Law

Benjamin Law
Bust
1936
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Trucaninny, wife of Woureddy (1936) by Benjamin Law is a painted cast plaster sculpture. In primary school I was taught that Trucaninny was the last Tasmanian Aborigine.

Benjamin Law

Benjamin Law
Bust
1935
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Woureddy, an Aboriginal Chief of Van Diemen’s Land (1835) was made by the same sculptor a year earlier.

There are multiple cast versions of these busts. The photographs here are from the British Museum because my use falls within their terms of use. Their colouring and condition are different to the ones I saw at the NPG which are painted black. The Australian Museum has two sets – one painted black, the other with more detailed paintwork. The Australian Museum photographs provide particular interest which I’ll mention later. The direct links are: British Museum –
www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx?museumno=2009,2025.1
www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx?museumno=2009,2025.2
NPG – www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?irn=1721
www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?irn=1722
Australian Museum – australianmuseum.net.au/Truganini-1812-1876

A very brief and rough history. Tasmania is a state of Australia, a large island and many small islands to the south of the main continent. Aboriginal people have been living there for 45,000 years or so. The British began to settle in southern Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen’s Land, in 1803. There was conflict virtually from the start, over land, food sources and abductions (for sexual partners and labourers). The situation worsened significantly from 1824 as the colony expanded and population grew. The Aborigines resisted with guerrilla war tactics, the colonial government declared martial law between 1828 and 1832 – the Black War. The Black Line in 1830 was a chain of colonists – convicts and freemen – which over several weeks swept across the settled land in an attempt to drive the Aboriginal people onto a peninsula where they could be contained. Disease, fighting, massacres had decimated the Aboriginal people. Eventually in 1833 around 220, given various promises, were persuaded to surrender and were moved to Wybalenna on Flinders Island. By 1835 there were fewer than 150 alive, by 1847 just 47, and the last, Trucaninny, died in 1876. Tasmanian Aborigines were said to be extinct. It wasn’t true, and there’s lots of scholarly and not-so-scholarly debate about the rest.

The busts are life-size. At NPG the Woureddy bust is set on a plinth putting it at an average man’s height. He looks out confidently, directly. Close by the Trucaninny bust is on a lower plinth – a small woman. Her gaze is down and unfocused, I couldn’t find a position where I could meet her eyes. Both are dressed in what appear to be animal skins. The contrast in their stance is striking. The simple explanation would be that this portrays the individual personalities, but from various accounts I have read Trucaninny was not a shy or easily overwhelmed woman, and the sorrowful, passive, submissive posture of the bust is extreme.

Benjamin Law arrived in Tasmania in 1835 and created the bust of Woureddy soon after. It could be that Law was not well informed of the history and situation of the aborigines in the colony and that he saw Woureddy as the “noble savage” of Rousseau, free of the vices of civilized men, peaceful, content, without foresight. When working on Trucaninny the next year Law may have been more informed about the devastation of her people and reflected that knowledge in the bust.

The contrast between the busts could been intended as a symbol of the binary nature of men and women. Europa and the Bull (see 28-Jul-2013) shows the strong, active male and the woman acted upon, with no voice in her situation. That explanation leaves a nasty taste, given both Woureddy and Tucaninny were ultimately unable despite their efforts to help their people against the power of the colonists (that is, they were together on one side of a different binary (power) relationship).

Benjamin Law Bust of George Augustus Robinson 1836

Benjamin Law
Bust of George Augustus Robinson
1836
State Library of Victoria
handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/71284

Of interest here is a third bust by Law, apparently dated between Woureddy and Tucaninny. George Augustus Robinson was the “conciliator” or “pacificator” who persuaded the remaining Aborigines in Tasmania to surrender and accept relocation. Robinson commissioned his portrait bust from Law. I saw a similar ones at Elizabeth Bay House (see 30-Nov-2013), although the one shown in my post was marble rather than plaster and commissioned by the Linnean Society rather than self-commissioned. Robinson’s bust is in neoclassical style, showing him draped in a toga, fit but slightly older than his age at the time (around 45), wise, calm, noble, with the authority of antiquity behind him. Woureddy and Trucaninny are depicted in the skins of the savage, deliberately stressing the primitive – at a time when they would have generally dressed in european style clothing. Combined they could be viewed as a Dying Gaul (see www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/press/exh/3655.html), defeated yet still in death noble, dignified.

Similar approaches can be seen in images of Native Americans, for example the sculptures of Ferdinand Pettrich (see www.skd.museum/de/sonderausstellungen/archiv/tecumseh-keokuk-black-hawk/index.html. His c. 1850 Bust of Kee-o-kuk (Watchful Fox) shows the proud, erect head of the chief of the Sauk-Fox, while The dying Te-cum-seh depicts the fallen, dying warrior. These works were created at a time “when the US government’s policy towards the Native Americans was becoming increasingly hostile and the young nation was striving for further expansion and a national identity, while the native inhabitants were fighting for their physical and cultural survival” (Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2013).

As mentioned above, Robinson commissioned his own bust. Law acted as an entrepreneur when he created the busts of Trucanniny and Woureddy, reproducing them multiple times in a money-making venture as a memorial to the end of the Black War. Public reactions at the time were quite different. A number of contemporaries saw Robinson’s bust as a vanity piece, self-aggrandisement by a man who had managed to make considerable money doing his “humanitarian” work with the natives. The other two busts were a commercial success for Law, but not as works of art. Instead casts were purchased by museums and individuals for their ethnographic value as a record of what was assumed to be a primitive and dying race.

There may be an extreme example of this ethnographic focus, seeing the casts as specimens rather than portraits of individuals. In the copies of Trucanniny shown above and at NPG the figure is shown wearing a necklace of shells. A staff member at NPG explained to me that these were a tangible sign of Trucanniny’s connection to land. The shells were a kind found at her traditional home, and the necklace was knotted in a specific way which she would have been taught as a young woman by tribal elders. I was taken to another part of the gallery and shown a later photograph of Trucanniny, still wearing the shells (see www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?searchtype=basic&searchstring=aboriginal&irn=1401&acno=2009.4). It seemed a small positive in a very difficult life that she had been able to keep the necklace and the connection to land. I was shocked later when researching for this post to find that on one of the versions of the cast at the Australian Museum the shells are absent – yet another layer of dehumanisation.

Researching these portrait busts I keep coming back to the beliefs and attitudes of the colonists. There was an assumption of superiority and often an expectation indigeneous people would die out. People acted in an involved web of financial, religious and humanitarian motives. Benjamin Duterrau’s painting The Conciliation (1840 – see foundingdocs.gov.au/enlargement-eid-49-pid-66.html) shows Robinson shaking hands with one of a group of Aborigines, bringing peace and fellowship after the dreadful Black War. It could be likened to Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (1771-72) by Benjamin West (see http://www.pafa.org/museum/The-Collection-Greenfield-American-Art-Resource/Tour-the-Collection/Category/Collection-Detail/985/mkey–2609/). I don’t know American history so can’t comment on the earlier image, but Duterrau’s image of peace and harmony, the suggestion of equality in a handshake, the idea of a “treaty” is far from the actuality. Over 150 years later the Aboriginal Lands Act 1995 (Tas) “acknowledges the dispossession of Tasmania’s Indigenous people and recognises certain rights of Tasmanians of Aboriginal descent. It is the first such legislation in Tasmania, where the assumption that no Aboriginal people remained after the first 50 years of the Colony meant the issue of reconciliation in law was ignored” (Museum of Australian Democracy, [n.d.]).

Reference

Arnoldsche Art Publishers (2013) TECUMSEH, KEOKUK, BLACK HAWK (catalogue entry) [online] Available from www.arnoldsche.com/en/New-Books/TECUMSEH-KEOKUK-BLACK-HAWK.html#/16/ (Accessed 8-Mar-2014)

Museum of Australian Democracy, [n.d.] Documenting a democracy: Aboriginal Lands Act 1995 (Tas) [online] Available from http://foundingdocs.gov.au/item-did-79-aid-7-pid-66.html (Accessed 13-Mar-2014)

Resources

‘Robinson, George Augustus (1791–1866)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robinson-george-augustus-2596/text3565, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 March 2014.

Delaney, JJ ([n.d.]) Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712—1778) Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy [online] Available from http://www.iep.utm.edu/rousseau/ (Accessed 9-Mar-2014)

Knapman, G. (2010) The Pacificator: discovering the lost bust of George Augustus Robinson. The La Trobe Journal 86 (December), pp. 37 – 52. Available online at http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-86/t1-g-t4.html (Accessed 8-March-2014)

Lyndall Ryan and Neil Smith, ‘Trugernanner (Truganini) (1812–1876)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/trugernanner-truganini-4752/text7895, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 13 March 2014.

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Research Point: Portrait sculpture
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Project one: The portrait
Research Point: Portrait sculpture

James Turrell Within without 2010

These photos have been sitting on my PC since last November while I tried to fit them into a post about modern art and movements and labels and what is art and … Really, this is Art to be experienced. I don’t want to dissect it or label it.

James Turrell
Within without 2010
lighting installation, concrete and basalt stupa, water, earth and landscaping
National Gallery of Australia
More information: http://nga.gov.au/turrell/; http://jamesturrell.com/

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UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Looking at cartoons

This Part of the course starts with a challenge to assumptions by examining newspaper political cartoons. Two points in the course notes attracted my attention – ‘tabs of identity’ (quick and clear ways to identify the person) and a tendency to be coarse in line due to printing constraints. Is the quality of newsprint still an issue given modern printing technology and online distribution?

In Canberra last month I visited two relevant exhibitions at the Museum of Australian Democracy – Behind the Lines 2013 (moadoph.gov.au/exhibitions/behind-the-lines-2013/) and About Face: the art of caricature (moadoph.gov.au/exhibitions/about-face-the-art-of-caricature/). Relevant to the topic – but perhaps difficult for my British tutor and assessors. This led me to wonder about how ‘international’ cartoons can be. I searched on the internet for cartoons from different countries on a common topic – the current ongoing Russian incursion into Crimea.

http://www.kudelka.com.au/2014/03/sympathy-for-the-devil/: An Australian take is given by Jon Kudelka in a cartoon published in The Australian 4 March 2014. On the left is the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, identified by his red speedos (lycra swimming trunks – he is / was a volunteer surf lifesaver) which can’t actually be seen (an invisible but clearly present tag of identity!), sharp features and large ears. Abbott is on the phone to Vladimir Putin who is identified by his bare chest and muscular arms, large nose and short fair hair. There is a sparse economy of line – for example a puff of exhaust smoke, a single loopy line and a few brief marks behind the ear show the movement of Putin’s tank across the landscape. Colour shading takes advantage of new technology to a minimal extent. The men are clearly distant – Abbott in a small boat defending our borders, Putin in his tank – but the two sides are linked with a common horizon and blue sky. The politics are mainly local, referencing the Australian government’s responses to questions about people-smugglers / asylum boats, and a cheeky quote of an infamous phrase from a past Australian politician.

www.cagle.com/2013/09/putin-and-obama-2/: The first American cartoon I found, drawn by Nate Beeler, turned out on investigation to be related to a different, earlier crisis. Both line and colour here are more complex, but still clearly within the cartoon genre. Barack Obama can be recognised by his elongated head and exaggerated ears, nose and mouth. Vladimir Putin is once more shirtless and muscular, enormous as the school bully giving the scrawny kid a noogie. The politics are locally focused, but in the context of international relations. While searching for a stable link (I hope!) I came across two other cartoons by Beeler with art history links – www.cagle.com/2014/03/obamacare-changes/ and www.cagle.com/2013/09/syria-policy/. Whether the policy relates to healthcare or Syria, Obama remains the failed abstract expressionist painter, recognisable by long head, prominent nose, mouth and ears combined with a stick thin body.

www.independent.co.uk/incoming/dailycartoon20140303jpg-9164083.html: A European perspective is given by Brian Adcock’s cartoon published in The Independent 6 March 2014. The lines and shading maintain the cartoon appearance, but the use of white writing on shaded backgrounds could make it difficult to read if converted to black and white or gray-scale. Putin remains muscular, shirtless, fair haired with a large nose, large and controlling. His confident power play on the map of Europe is watched by Barack Obama (elongated head, prominent nose, mouth and ears) and two others. The middle aged woman with bobbed fair hair and a hint of double chin is clearly Angela Merkle. I was fairly sure the middle figure was British, given the location of both newspaper and cartoonist, but being unfamiliar with British politics I had difficulty with identification. The identity tags – short, almost bald, pug nose – don’t fit UK Prime Minister David Cameron. I found the same figure in another Adcock cartoon showing signatories to the Iran nuclear deal (www.cagle.com/2013/11/iran-nuclear-deal-3/), leading me to UK foreign secretary William Hague who appears to match the tags nicely.

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/ukraine-crisis/russian-papers-cartoon-takes-aim-putin-over-crimea-crisis-n40876: Moving to a different alphabet was difficult – I was not successful. This link shows a cartoon from the Moscow Times. I’m fairly sure the artist is Sergei Elkin. The hard black line of the other cartoons has largely disappeared here, and even more so in some of the other work on Elkin’s blog. Putin’s fair hair and large nose remain, but the figure is dressed in a neat gray suit. The cartoon refers to a problem at the Sochi games, now overtaken by the Crimea story. International politics are certainly relevant to both the Olympic Games and the military movements, but the focus appears to be internal.

http://www.kyivpost.com/multimedia/cartoon/cartoon-285-338659.html: This cartoon in the KvivPost newspaper doesn’t have a signature or any helpful meta-data so I haven’t been able to identify the cartoonist. It uses a black to gray line like a marker pen, a softer effect. I find the colour selection and shading unsettling, adding expressively to the mood of the cartoon more than the examples above which are roughly life-like. Based on cartoon text and caption I gather overthrown President Viktor Yanukovych is shivering under a table. Although all the identity tags have changed I believe the second man, seated at the table, is Putin. He is dressed in a gray suit. The short hair is now brown. The headshape, ears and cleft chin are different but recognisable. In the country directly affect by the incursion the focus is on their previous leader and his relationship with the Russian President.

While each artist brings a different style to their cartoons, the general approach of tabs of identity, clear and simplified line, and shading in a limited colour range is common to all.

Back home, a very direct reference to art history can be seen in Alan Moir’s cartoon Raft of the ALP published in Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 2013 – http://behindthelines.moadoph.gov.au/2013/a-broken-budget-promise/cartoons/210. Moir appropriates Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa to illustrate the dire situation of the ALP government, inserting political identities such as then-Prime-Minister Julia Gillard (identity tags red hair, long pointed nose and glasses).

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Looking at cartoons
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part four: Portraiture and figure painting
Project one: The portrait
Exercise: Looking at cartoons

UWA-WA1:P3 Review

My tutor has suggested that after finishing the exercises in a Part of the course I take some time to look for connections and comparisons between works.

The most obvious comparisons can be made about the nature of painting. Particularly when doing a course like this which races through centuries, the history of modern painting seems to be a long series of move and countermove as artists react against their predecessors (or their previous selves) as they explore art. I started my study of this Part with Fauvism (see post 8-Dec-2014), noting those artists tended to be reacting against Impressionism, were anti-theoretical, and did not feel constrained to represent an objective world. Cézanne’s techniques (30-Jan-2014) were both additive and subtractive, making clearer the tension of artificial space, three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. Very relevant here is a blog post by my tutor, Gerald Deslandes, in which he commented on a recent exhibition in which the organisers focused on the particular light of the Mediterranean (see http://geralddeslandeslongerstuff.tumblr.com/post/69168538922/aix-marks-the-spot-post-impressionists-rodin), allowing perceptual Impressionism to be followed by conceptual Post-Imnpressionism. “Their argument was that only as a direct result of their exposure to the Mediterranean, did artists come to concern themselves with the flatness of the picture plane and with the expressive power of their emotions. Hence no longer were they concerned with merely copying nature through the conventions of perspective” (Deslandes, 2013).

Braque, previously a Fauvist, learnt from rather than reacted against Cézanne’s discoveries, shattering perspective and somehow creating volume without depth (9-Feb-2014). By the time of the abstract expressionists Clement Greenberg was able to assert that “Realist, illusionist art had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art. Modernism used art to call attention to art” (27-Dec-2013). Greenberg championed the work of Jackson Pollock, focused on the flat surface of the canvas and the physical presence of the paint, but was less convinced by later works such as Blue Poles, where a hierarchy of sorts was re-introduced (26-Dec-2013). Pop art (7-Feb-2014) reacted against the heroic gestures of abstract expressionism, downplaying the hand of the artist. Space was flattened, but there was a definite foreground and background. I’ve had a post about conceptual art semi-written for some time, hoping for the right moment to finish it. The label covers a wide range of artistic practice but could include a total absence of the artist’s hands, either with assistants following instructions to create the artwork (as with Sol Le Witt) or by regarding the concept itself as sufficient.

Only a slight digression from the above, one comparison I find interesting involves use of space. Cézanne created space, contracted, expanded and distorted it (30-Jan-2014). Braque created space without distance using the relationships of parts (9-Feb-2014). The interesting addition is Henry Moore (15-Dec-2013). The space between the components of Hill Arches both separate and connect the work. It gives the viewer something to work with, to engage with. It also makes the location, the space around, a significant part of the sculpture.

Together with the nature of painting, the role and status of the artist has continued to evolve. It’s not a recent thing. Arachne’s fate was determined by her challenge to the authority of the goddess Minerva. Peter Paul Rubens’ Pallas and Arachne (see post 8-July-2013) shows the proud young Arachne at work at her loom, the artistic triumph of her tapestry, and the vengeful response of the goddess to such presumption. Painted in 1854, Courbet’s Bonjour M. Courbet (http://museefabre-en.montpellier-agglo.com/index.php/Know/Main_collections/Modern_movements/Modern_art_from_1850_to_1914/37/(num_oeuvre)/musee:MUS_BIEN:3655) shows the deferential attitude of collector Bruyas and his servant to the artist Courbet – a free man with his feet firmly in nature. During his life Cézanne was famous amongst other painters but by the time of Jackson Pollock the idea of the heroic, tortured and flawed artist was well established (post 26-Dec-2013). Later artists including Andy Warhol have very consciously sought celebrity (7-Feb-2014). When it came to Yoko Ono, I was so conscious of her celebrity status that I found it difficult to see the art (31-Jan-2014).

Contemporary politics, particularly the expansion of Europe, colonialism and post-colonialism has been examined in a number of works. Rembrandt’s Two old men disputing (13-Sep-2013) has a globe in the background which reflects the thirst for knowledge as well as wealth in the society of the time. The vanitas still life paintings around the same period responded to the religious unease of some in Holland when spending the new wealth that exploration and trading provided (11-Jan-2014). The defence of Rorke’s Drift 1879 by Alphonse de Neuville demonstrates an imperial power’s ability to take a country by force and to write a history that makes themselves heros for doing it (24-Oct-2013). Whether that action was for economic or political purposes is not clear. Europe’s colonial and economic might has faded over the years. The American Abstract Expressionist movement was heavily influenced by the Second World War, the related arrival of many Europeans in America, the relocation of the cutting edge of art to New York. The Cold War also played a part (27-Dec-2013). Currently, proppaNOW is a highly political collective, raising the concerns of urban aboriginal Australians (5-Jan-2014). The ongoing discrimination and disadvantage highlighted by this group is the direct result of European politics and colonisation. The politics shown in the other works I have mentioned is indirect, reflective of their times. ProppaNOW is deliberate and focused. As Richard Bell declares, “There is no better platform for politics than art … this way I don’t get arrested”. Finally I’d like to reference my recent Reflection (16-Feb-2014). While talking about art rather than art itself, the remarks that concerned me came I believe from a post-imperial mindset.

I hope to continue to explore some of these themes in later assignment choices.

Reference
Deslandes, G. (2013) Aix Marks the Spot: Post-Impressionists, Rodin, Photography, Contemporary Art [online] Available from http://geralddeslandeslongerstuff.tumblr.com/post/69168538922/aix-marks-the-spot-post-impressionists-rodin (Accessed 2-Mar-2014)

UA1-WA:P3 Review
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part three: Modern art and still life


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